…confined in some kind of plummeting spacecraft, unfamiliar controls, banks of switches and gauges, a bewildering array.
Extreme disorientation, not helped by the jolting descent, my capsule pitching and rolling, a sense of increasing speed and friction–
Fire! Fire! Engulfed in a sheath of flame, watching helplessly as long, thin tracks of plastic slide down the porthole-like windows.
Turbulence reaching maximum intensity, violent gyrations and bumps, hearing the roar even through my helmet.
A shooting star.
Something…heaviness! Good old gravity. Like a slow-settling weight. Or turning to stone.
The fires are going out, leaving behind a blackened cinder.
Outside: purple. Purple-blue. Blue.
Bobbing on a choppy sea, weeping with relief.
Waiting for someone to come and get me.
Wondering how long it will take.
Copyright, 2014 (All Rights Reserved)
A number of longtime readers have written to me, noting the recent updates and retooling on this blog.
It was time for a change. It always bothered me that I’d chosen a lunar motif as a background—it brought to mind Buzz Aldrin’s famous depiction of the moon as “magnificent desolation”. While that phrase may have been in the back of my mind, a subconscious influence when choosing a title for this blog, the allusion was not a deliberate one, I assure you.
I recall quite clearly when the name came to me. March, 2007. Sherron and I were standing in a school library and she was trying to interest me (for the umpteenth time) in giving the on-line universe another shot. She told me the technology had changed since I made the first, tentative foray into cyberspace—she showed me the WordPress site, a sample template…
I finally gave in. Why not? I was a fool to ignore the march of progress; miles behind the technological curve, trying desperately to play catch up (still am). But I knew one thing: wherever readers went, it behooved me to follow.
“What are you going to call your blog?”
Ah, now, that was a poser. Obviously the purpose of the site was to highlight my writing, but just calling it “Cliff Burns’ Blog” or what have you sounded rather self-centered and pompous to me. “Hmmmm…” Wracking my brain.
“You can always change it later.”
I think I might have been channeling Bob Dylan. “Beautiful desolation,” I blurted.
Sherron said it a few times, pronounced it acceptable.
And that’s what it’s been ever since.
Sorry, Buzz, but no homage intended.
Before I go, a tip of the hat to photographer Alain Derksen for allowing me the use of his eye-grabbing picture. I found a number of images relating to Mario Irrarrazabal’s amazing sculpture but Alain’s was the one that, to me, perfectly captured the piece’s remote, austere beauty. Sadly, the sculpture has been defaced by graffiti and messages left by stupid tourists with no respect for a cultural artifact.
There’s a special ring of hell waiting for them. Gibbering demons poised with blunt tattoo needles, hydrochloric acid instead of ink…
I know, it seems like I’ve had the moon on my mind since the beginning of the year. The whole 40th anniversary thingee really got to me for some reason. Made me ponder how much time has passed and (perhaps) how little time remains.
A busy, creative, exhausting summer and those 4 linked short stories grow ever nearer to completion. Stay tuned, I think this quartet of tales is going to make a definite impression on you.
But I decided to take this past weekend off, rest up, read a couple of books (both on Orson Welles, as it turned out) and build another plastic model.
And, sticking with the moon theme, the model I chose was the Heller Apollo 11 lunar lander. This is a none-too-detailed, cheapish reproduction of the fragile craft that took Neil and Buzz down to the surface of the moon…and back up again (to rendezvous with Michael Collins). Found it on eBay for a small stipend but it took me forever to set aside some time to put the bloody thing together. And I’ve got eight or ten other model kits in the basement, waiting their turn. Everything from an X-Wing fighter to a German zeppelin. Sheesh…
I set up on a table on our back deck–the weather for the past week has been perfect, clear and hot and not much in terms of a breeze. I got myself settled, arranged my parts and glue and paints and commenced work.
There were a few minor annoyances. First of all, none of the instructions were in English. Second, this model is quite small and that means small parts that resist and defy my clumsy, shaky fingers. I had…difficulties. Mainly with the struts. Oooo, those bleepin’ struts. I still break into a sweat when I think of them.
Sherron found me some terrific copper-tinted paint that went on thick, allowing me to apply a bit of texture, a convincing impression of the gold foil we see in pictures of the lander, a blaze of colour on the otherwise monotonously grey moon.
Finished the model and thought it needed a little diorama so I made one of some papier mache stuff Sherron had lying around. Spray-painted it while it was still wet, hoping to give a better illusion of the fine lunar regolith.
It’s not perfect but it ain’t half bad.
Have a look…and then sit down and tell me story about a model you built as a kid, a memory you treasure (or rue) to this day.
C’mon, don’t be shy…
Finally, I have some new work to share with you. Recently I’ve been moaning about this being a blog that’s supposed to prominently feature my fiction, drama and poetry and, meanwhile, I’ve been debuting very little new material on this site for some time.
But that’s about to change.
Expect a flurry of stuff in the coming days and weeks, the product of many months of labour and struggle on my part. Oh, I could be one of those hapless dolts who loads every snippet of juvenilia, first draft and/or literary belch & fart on their site, seeking as much scant praise they can garner from sympathetic fellow wannabes. But I’m afraid I veer in the opposite direction, sweating out short stories over weeks, months, revising and polishing until the very thought of the tale in question makes me want to upchuck. Which, as you can guess, is an approach to writing that tends to play hell with productivity.
But when I do release something, it’s ready. It’s been through the meat grinder, Sherron has signed off on it, the end result microscopically examined and painstakingly dissected; I know that story or poem or novel like I know the inside of my own skin.
And that’s what you’re getting whenever I offer new work.
“The Innocent Moon” is my best radio play. Bar none. I put all I learned about radio drama into this little beauty. It’s the one I submitted to the BBC competition. Kind of hurt my professional pride when I didn’t make the shortlist but c’est la guerre. It would have been difficult to produce; very complex in terms of mixing as it involves “samples” from dozens of movies and newsclips and songs. You’ll see what I mean.
This sonofabitch took forever to research and pull together (as documented in previous blog entries). The final result pleased me beyond measure. I love the the flow and ebb of voices, the way it fuses together and perfectly illustrates my fascination (obsession?) with all things relating to space.
Click here to download free PDF of “InnocentMoon“
“The Innocent Moon” is dedicated to my chum and fellow writer and moon nut, Ian Sales.
…and to all of us grown up children of the space age.
When the future seemed so bright.
The First Man must be humble yet self-possessed in times of crisis confident, as one who's been sorely tried. Drop him, spin him, shake him race his heart, see if he dies. Undaunted by fame, puzzled by all the fuss, natural in the glare. Stick him in a close compartment, sling it into the girding dark; crown him with hero's laurels should he return. *******************************************************************************************************
As that date draws near, I’m filled with equal parts nostalgia and melancholy. In July, 1969 I was five and 2/3 years old and still believed anything was possible. I recall being absolutely entranced by the thought of a man, a human being just like me, walking around up there on the moon.
Not sure why I’ve been so hung up on the moon this year–there’s the radio play I wrote, “Innocent Moon”, for the BBC contest…and later on in July we’ll be posting a special treat Sherron helped me put together, a short but sweet homage to Neil and the lads, using some of the fancy gear that came with this iMac. I’ll say no more. Watch for it in a couple of weeks.
And I came across this fantastic site real Apollo aficionados will love: you sign in and you can relive every moment of that four-day mission in real time. Take a trip to the moon with Neil, Buzz and Mike Collins. Only recommended for those with strong bladders and 96 hours to kill.
If anyone knows of other interesting sites celebrating the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, use the Comments form below and give us a head’s up (be sure to include a link).
Personal reminiscences are also welcome: where we you forty years ago and how did that one small step affect you, your life and your outlook on the universe?
Let’s set the Wayback Machine to last Friday, Sherman–the 13th, appropriately enough.
Seven or eight people were gathered in my living room, preparing for a readthrough of my radio play The Innocent Moon.
I think you could describe The Innocent Moon as a very personal homage to the Space Age–a a celebration of what was, an elegy for what might have been. There are six voices, each vying with the others to make their viewpoint known. Beyond that, I’ll say little. No spoilers or cryptic hints. Not my style. Although I do make reference to Werner Von Braun and “Rocketship X-M”–
Since around mid-January I’ve been doing a ridiculous amount of research. Most of it was purely background, boning up on my history, trying to stir up some strong visual images…and maybe there was a touch of nostalgia involved as well. I’ve been a space nut for forty years and looking through books like National Geographic’s Encyclopedia of Space gave me goosebumps. I made copious notes and then commenced arranging what I had into a coherent narrative.
Editing is a nerve-wracking process for me; the level of sustained focus that’s required, pure concentration. It’s very draining and at that point I am totally immersed in the world of the piece I’m working on. I lose track of the hours and days flit past.
For more than six weeks I bent to the task of making something worthwhile out of a hodgepodge of prose bits, poems, quotes, factoids and ephemera. Most of the time the work felt inspired and I liked how everything seemed to come together so seamlessly…
I felt quite confident and more than a touch self-satisfied as I watched people arranging themselves on the sofa and the chairs we’d provided. They quickly flipped through their scripts and then Sherron and I made some preliminary remarks, introducing the play, providing some information on the characters and framework.
I checked my watch and took note of the time as the reading commenced.
Sherron and I had agreed beforehand that neither of us would read. She would handle the direction: cue the actors, read the linking passages and indicate the sound effects. My role was to sit back and listen, stay alert for any minor glitches, a troublesome spot or two besmirching an otherwise masterful literary offering.
As the reading progressed I sank farther and farther back in my chair. Ours was an amateur cast, even my two sons assigned roles (we needed all the male voices we could get) but they acquitted themselves well.
No, the problem wasn’t with the acting.
For one thing The Innocent Moon was long. Wayyy overlong. As in close to twenty minutes past its due date. The BBC competition has a strict 60-minute time limit and I had blown that all to hell.
Okay, the length was one thing but the play was also listless, ponderous, meandering. Maybe even (choked sob) pompous?
I tried to hide my dismay from the readers, most of whom found the run through quite enjoyable and were happy to share their thoughts. It might have been all the wine we provided and Sherron’s tasty snacks. The atmosphere was downright festive.
And meanwhile I was thinking holy shit, I have got a massive amount of cutting to do and that fucking radio play has to be away by Wednesday at the latest. Whenever I could, I’d sneak away from the gathering, run up to my office and make notes about revisions.
The following morning, Saturday, I got to work.
I was fucking ruthless.
In the original draft, I used a lot of quotes and excerpts from various literary works. There was one big snag when it came to that: copyright. From early February I revised the script repeatedly and it wasn’t until around March 10th that I had a workable draft. The contest closed March 31st. Which didn’t give me a lot of time to secure necessary permissions.
But I did my best.
It’s a pain in the ass trying to find out who own the rights to poems fifty or sixty years old, the authors no longer among the living. I contacted publishers and sometimes I got replies and sometimes I didn’t. Ditto with agents.
But after enduring the readthrough redux, I decided to cut all but a few of the quotes, simplifying matters nicely. I was still going to have trouble explaining all the moon-related movie and music sound bites included in the text but I’d deal with that when the time came.
For five days, I went at the script with barely controlled ferocity. Anything that wasn’t fucking nailed down, was out. The script was pared, carved and whittled to the bone…and then the most beautiful thing happened. Without all the surrounding clutter, the characters’ voices emerged and for the first time I really heard them and developed a better understanding of what differentiated them, as well as their relationships to each other. As always, Sherron’s love of good, strong, distinctive characters came in handy and her advice really helped as I worked on the final draft.
Yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, Sam and I walked downtown and mailed The Innocent Moon to the BBC Playwriting Competition.
It was an extraordinary process, yet another valuable learning experience. I debated whether or not I wanted to submit The Innocent Moon to a staged reading but, in the final analysis, it was the wisest possible choice. Without hearing it read out loud I would never have recognized the piece’s many flaws and shortcomings. I would have gone on believing it was the masterpiece it wasn’t. An important object lesson.
I’m sure there will be many fine entries to the Beeb’s contest and the chances of my even making the shortlist are mighty slim. But win, place or show, The Innocent Moon is a worthy contribution to the field of radio drama. And while it would be challenging to produce, my play has all the merits of a work that would appeal to those who are fans of “theatre of the mind”.
I hope you’ll get a chance to hear The Innocent Moon some day.
What started out as a lark, a chance to write something on the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, ended up an hour long radio drama.
And now you know a little about how that came to be…
I’m a Space Age guy, wired up wrong for the IT revolution that’s in the process of transforming our world into the inside of a video game. Me, I’m still stuck with Neil Armstrong on the Moon while the rest of modern civilization rushes toward The Great Singularity.
The Singularity is like the Rapture, dig, you get taken up, leave your earthly body behind and, like, evolve into a higher state. The difference is, with the Rapture you have to earn your way into heaven…the Singularity doesn’t discriminate. As long as your credit is good and you can afford the technology, you can spend the rest of eternity fucking Marilyn Monroe senseless in the honeymoon suite of the Hilton. Virtuality allows for limitless possibilities and is capable of reproducing any era, any conceivable reality. The interface between humankind and machines. The beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?
Our family has finally joined the 21st century—yup, we now have a home internet connection, a computer on-line 24 hours a day. I’ve ducked and bobbed and weaved and tried my damnedest to avoid this day. So now we’ve got a window on the world, a valuable resource, an educational aid, a tool like no other in the history of the world—my question: when I turn the fucking thing on, what’s looking back at me?
But Sherron needs to get on-line because she’s doing her Master’s and the boys can use it for their homework assignments and research projects. And with all the weird, esoteric shit I put in my tales I can benefit greatly from access to the all-knowing, all-seeing Google.
Then again, it also means I can now spend hours fucking around on favourite sites like Senses of Cinema and Book Forum…or checking to see if there are any cheap plastic model kits for sale on eBay (don’t ask)…or “tag surfing”, looking for kindred spirits out there in cyberspace, posting comments on sites of interest, only looking up when I hear the boys’ bus stopping in front of our house after school…
What next? Cable TV? Stuck in front of the Space channel when I should be bending my brain on new fiction? Right now we have two channels and don’t feel we’re really missing anything. We, my family and I, aren’t the hippest people around. Not into brand names, fashions, trends. Big readers. About the only program we follow with any regularity is the new “Dr. Who” series. We’re completely out to lunch when it comes to what’s hot and what’s not.
Confession: I have no idea what’s on the bestseller list.
I can’t tell you one of the top-selling music CD’s or singles.
I don’t remember the last recent movie I watched. “300”? God, no wonder I haven’t seen anything since. The last new release I can remember liking is “Lord of War”. The opening title sequence of that movie is…stunning.
And these are not the least of my crimes:
I’ve never seen a single entire episode of “Lost”, “Amazing Race”, “Friends” or “The Sopranos”.
Have watched less than a nanosecond of “American/Canadian Idol”.
Reality TV? What the fuck are you talking about? It’s TV, dummy. None of it is real.
To those people who arrange their schedules around a beloved TV program or camp out overnight in front of their local theatre to be first in line to see the latest, greatest sequel of a sequel of a remake, let me ask you one simple question:
WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU FIND THE TIME?
There’s a line in a very under-rated little movie called “Those Lips, Those Eyes”. Frank Langella’s character is an aging actor, clearly talented but stuck in a shitty little touring company, playing to rubes. At one point he complains bitterly of his lot, shouting: “Time’s winged chariot is flying up my ass!”.
That’s the way I feel. I’m killing myself on this writing gig, going at it seven days a week, 6-10 hours a day, keeping up a murderous pace for months on end…and meanwhile looking over my shoulder, a la Satchell Paige, wondering what’s gaining on me.
You have to understand, the men in my family are prone to shortened life spans. And it isn’t the usual suspects—heart disease, cancer—that hand them St. Peter’s calling card. Oh, no. Details are hard to nail down; secrets are tightly kept in my family. It’s like an iron curtain descends. When you ask about what happened to Uncle So-and-So, dead at thirty-two, or cousin Fred, felled in his early forties, you receive unsatisfactory, even curt replies. “Lockjaw” or, just as likely, “Lepers got him.”.
And that’s it. No amount of questioning will pry loose anything more significant or helpful than that. “Some things are better left unsaid.”
It’s likely some old, half-forgotten scandal, a small nugget of shame but people act as if the government is involved.
Now, I happen to be a particularly morbid individual and so I look at this dismal track record (Burns male = early death) and I begin to consider my own circumstances. I’m forty-three, soon to be forty-four. What grim fate awaits me?
Will it be (reluctantly, through tightly pressed lips): “Furnace explosion”? “Spontaneous combustion”? “Gangrene”? The suspense is starting to get to me.
It’s too bad. I think I’d like to live to a ripe, old age. Work right to the bitter end. Celine finished the last draft of Rigadoon, told his wife he’d completed the book and died that evening. That’s the way I’d like to go…but it’s unlikely I’ll be that fortunate.
Allergy to book dust…
Bad paper cut…
Whatever happens, it’ll have to be sudden, unpredictable and utterly preposterous. After all, I have a family tradition to uphold…
* * * *
News and Updates
This blog has grown rather large and ungainly. There are plans currently afoot to organize it. Nothing will be lost, just a reshuffling of the deck, posts filed under their proper designations, the home page slimmed down. If you can’t find something, drop me a line and let me know.
Had a busy summer, lots of writing, a few stories, many prose poems, everything still pretty much in the first draft stage. Seem to be scribbling constantly but there isn’t any focus, can’t latch on to a project that really engages my faculties. Plenty of candidates, no clear favorites. Some of the projects I have in the bin require enormous amounts of research, time and energy that I don’t possess right now. The failure to find a publisher for So Dark the Night has damaged my confidence and I feel daunted by any project longer than two or three thousand words. I spent three years on a terrific thriller that I can’t get anyone to seriously consider.
Right now, So Dark the Night is under consideration at five different (very different) publishing houses, including Ace Science Fiction (New York), who have had the manuscript for over sixteen months. In all, I’ve contacted sixty-four (64) publishers and only a small handful agreed to have a look at it. Many begged off with form letters, saying they no longer considered unsolicited manuscripts. A few didn’t bother replying at all (despite the self-addressed, stamped envelope I enclosed).
Some good news though. Kelley Jo Burke, producer for CBC Radio’s “Gallery” program, bought my short story “Matriarchy”. It should air some time in the new year (I’ll post times and dates when I get the word). It’s a mainstream offering, set immediately after a funeral. I really love the story and it’s perfect for radio. Hope you’ll be able to tune in.
Also, miracle of miracles, someone actually accepted a poem of mine. You’ll find it at the Words on Paper site. Should take you about a second a half to read it. Go ahead, time yourself.
I note that Peter Watts didn’t collect the Hugo Award he so richly deserved for Blindsight. Peter really showed a lot of growth with Blindsight and I especially admired the way he was able to make the transition to the deep space environment (Peter’s an underwater guy, not of them thar physicist-hacks). Better luck next time, Mr. Watts…and there will be a next time, bet on it.
On a personal note, our albino hedgehog Ponyma is ailing. Yeah, I said hedgehog. You just knew we wouldn’t have conventional pets, didn’t you? We have two of the buggers, part rodent, part pin cushion. Low-maintenance creatures, I’ll give them that. And they both seem very devoted to my eldest son. Even after two years I still shriek like a high school girl whenever one of the things ventures anywhere near me.
Losing a pet is tough and I think it will hit my son hard. Death rearing its ugly head. He’ll be angry, wanting answers. What kind of God allows wonderful creatures, good friends to die? Tough one. But we’re a family, we’ll get through it. And, who knows? Maybe they’ll manage to convince me to accept another oddball pet into our oddball home.
Does anyone out there know where I can lay my hands on an armadillo? A platypus on the cheap? Call this number…
* * * *
I’ve been playing lots of music lately, accompaniment for my aimless scribbling. Faves right now include Interpol (they just released a new album, “Our Love to Admire”), Grandaddy (“Just Like the Fambly Cat”), Aqualung (“Strange and Beautiful” ), Wolfmother, White Stripes (“Icky Thump” and “White Blood Cells” ), Jesus and Mary Chain, Elbow (“Asleep in the Back”), Beck (“The Information”), Ministry (“Rio Grande Blood”), Audioslave (“Revelations”), Eels (“Shootenanny”) and NIN (“Year Zero”).
In terms of my viewing pleasure, I found a site where they archive TV shows and you can tune in for nuttin’. Finally got a chance to see “The Mighty Boosh” after hearing rumblings about it for ages. Great stuff. And “Black Books” is wonderful—Dylan Moran should be declared a national treasure. And then I couldn’t help myself…I watched the very first episode of “Land of the Giants”. For old time’s sake. And reacquainted myself with “Mystery Science Theatre 3000”, a show I’ve always found hilarious.
A friend of mine (hey, Mark!) was good enough to send us a compilation of the Quay Brothers short animated flicks and that was smashing. I’ve also recently developed a passion for the films of Henri-Georges Clouzot. I’ve seen his three most notable efforts, “Le Corbeau” (1943), “Wages of Fear” (1953) and “Diabolique” (1954). I’ll take this guy over Hitchcock any day, folks. Sherron and I also viewed Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”—very powerful. Not as visually arresting as we would have expected (Sven Nykvist was his cinematographer, after all). The vengeance von Sydow’s character wreaks at the conclusion of the film renders him almost an elemental force. And then the miraculous finale…
An author should plug a few books: I finished Margaret McMillan’s account of Nixon’s 1972 trip to China and didn’t find it nearly as interesting as her previous effort, 1919. And, yes, I made it through the last Harry Potter book. Let me quote from the notes I scrawled afterward:
“Give the gal credit—Rowling brings back practically everybody for one final appearance, including the whomping willow and the Chamber of Secrets. Lots of battles and close scrapes—some of the magic of the movies has rubbed off on Ms. Rowling. Animated suits of armour leap off the walls and there are Star Wars –type firefights in the skies over England…The conclusion seems to go on forever, another byproduct of a clunky, rather tuneless book. Rowling is determined to get the job done, gritting her teeth and winding things up with a flourish, trying her best to satisfy Harry’s myriad fans and wash her hands of the whole thing.”
I guess you can tell I wasn’t impressed.
But I was impressed by Gerard J. DeGroot’s myth-busting take on the “real” story behind the events leading up to that great day in July, 1969, Dark Side of the Moon. I’ve been an astronaut buff for years but some of this stuff was news to me. Humankind’s greatest feat was achieved with the aid of Nazi war criminals (whitewashed for public consumption), the space race only an expensive diversion for successive adminstrations who couldn’t solve thornier issues like civil rights and poverty.
In my dreams, I’m the first man on Mars. I place my right foot on the dry, rust-coloured soil, making sure to leave a deep impression, an imprint easily visible to the folks at home. Settling my full weight on an alien land. Pausing, clearing my throat. “I claim this world in the name of the people of the planet Earth…and the corporate sponsors of this mission, which include WalMart, Sony, Compaq…”
Within five years there will be gigantic billboards on Olympus Mons.
The human stain, spreading ever outward…