Friday, September 21, 2018

The Windmills of My Mind

I feel that I am surrounded. Surrounded by silence where even my voice is not heard.

I have never excelled at verbal skills, whether this be the reason for my being an introvert or the result of being one. And the more my verbal skills deteriorated, so did my social skills, until they became almost totally non-existent.

But there has always been my writing. There can be found my love for words and the key to opening up the hidden secrets of my mind. My writing has enabled me to live in a world which is bearable and allow me to express myself, for better or for worse.

But things have changed. A few years back, I started my second book - When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots - on a low flame but it soon became all-consuming. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. My body and mind both told me this, but not in unison. They had gone renegade on me and this lack of coordination between the two would become my greatest enemy.

I became a man with a mission. I was now writing a confession. Not a confession of things past, or things that still hadn't happened, but rather a confession of what it was to be human. And to finish it, I only had until the end of time.

It was with a sense of release, then, that I finished the book. It was out there now and no longer haunted me from the inside. I know that many who read it, especially those who know me, found it difficult to read. For they couldn't detach their knowledge of me from the main character in the book and it didn't make any difference to them that the events had never really happened. One close friend who read the first draft of the book told me to never have it published. "It will be your ruin," he said. Another reader - an English teacher - said that the whole book was just smut.

Do I regret the graphic portrayal of desire and search for intimacy? No, I don't. The book was not meant to make you feel comfortable.

For better and for worse, I am leaving this part of me behind. Call it a legacy, if you must.

It was not long after the book was published that I was diagnosed with Parkinson's. It was as if I had been working in the dark and somebody had suddenly turned on the light. The good news was that they knew what was wrong with me. The bad news was that it was only going to get worse with no chance of a cure. One of the many things that I was warned about was increasing speech abnormalities and I felt myself going full circle.

A year has passed since I wrote my last blog entry. I must do better. For if I lose my ability to write, then I have lost all. Right now I am working on my third book - a work of dystopian fiction which mirrors the type of world we live in today. And no, you will find it difficult to find a character who strongly resembles me. How close am I to finishing? Let's say that I am rounding third base and am on my way home.

It is a journey. You are welcome to travel it with me. Maybe at times, I will cause you to smile or even shed a tear. I will be happy to have you as a travelling companion.

And one day, in the distant future, a grandchild of mine may pick up my second book and try to attach the written voice to a vague memory of an ageing man with kind eyes but a stern expression.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Do the clothes really make the Man?

When I was a young brat, I abhorred going to church. This was not because of the empty teachings in Sunday School or the seemingly meaningless collection of different coloured stars for memorizing parts of the Bible. No, it was because of what I was supposed to wear. I dreaded the approach of Sunday, knowing that I would have to put on a suit and tie.

"Doesn't he look cute!" my mother would remark. "It's a shame that he spoils it with his penguin walk."

My penguin walk, as my mother called it, was walking with my arms rigid to the sides, trying to let the coarse garment of the suit touch my skin as little as possible. But my mother only saw this as an expression of rebellion, on my side. She didn't realize what a torture this was for me. God knows what psychological impairment in later years could be traced back to this Sunday ritual.

It was only in my adult years, when I was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), that we came to the realization that this had no connection to my being a spoiled brat, but rather was a neurological disorder which had only gotten worse over the years. It was then that I publicly announced to family in Canada and in Israel that I would no longer put appearance first. I was now a cranky old bugger who had certainly paid his dues to family and society over the years and was now putting himself first.

But of course, nothing is that simple. As the OCD got worse, I could not wear any shirt with a stiff collar (what I considered stiff). Which made shopping with me a real pleasure. First of all, to get me to go shopping for clothes was a challenge in itself. I still have shirts that I have been wearing the past forty years. For me, they are extremely comfortable, for they have been worn in, Adva insists that what I call comfortable, she calls sloppy, and I shouldn't be seen like that in public. I tell her that they are just for the comfort of the home. But then she catches me outside, wearing my old shirt from ulpan days, its colours extremely faded.

"You promised not to wear this in public," she says.
"I was just taking out the garbage," I reply, innocently.
The next day I find the shirt in the garbage. It is days like this when you have to count your losses and take it like a man.

"The clothes you wear to work is also a sign of respect,"Adva liked to say.
"Respect to whom?"
"To the people you work with."
"I have to crawl under desks to check connections and schlep computers. I'm not your typical office worker choosing his clothes to beautify himself."
"That's just an excuse," she says.
That is a real show stopper. She doesn't recognize my situation when it interferes with what she deems should be. And I thought I was the master of denial.

The thing is - Adva works in a high profile job and I am tucked away in a back office where most of my communication with fellow workers and colleagues from other parts of Israel and beyond is done mostly through virtual means. When I mention this to Adva, that most of the people that I work with don't even see me, she replies, "That doesn't matter. You see yourself."

That's another cryptic comment that I don't quite understand and thus cannot effectively respond to. Which is probably what it is meant to do - knock me completely off-balance.

So, what does all this have to do with the old adage: It is the clothes that make the Man. (Please note that this is the generic use of Man.)

Well, Adva - whether it is connected to her professional life or not - is continually looking more and more distinguished, while I am becoming more and more haggard. If I were to come to work, dressed the way that Adva would want me to dress, co-workers would probably ask me, "What, are you going to a wedding or a funeral?"

So, maybe I am beyond hope. Although, Adva would beg to differ. She views me as a modern-day Pygmalion. She would love to have the opportunity to dress me and make me into a real mensch.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

Holding virtual auditions for characters in my third book

I am presently holding virtual auditions for characters in my third book (fiction).  You are welcome to virtually audition a character for a part in this book by going to the following link.

At this point in time, I will not reveal the book's title nor what it is about (already partly written) However, the inclusion of your character in the book after a successful audition will have a definite effect on the further development of existing characters as well as additions to and changes to the plot and sub-plots.

You may suggest characters based on yourselves or characters you have made up or are loosely based on people you know. As such, you may give the character your own name or a made-up name. (If you are basing the character on someone you know, do not give that character their real name.) Your character description can be as short or as long as you wish.

This is the first time I am writing a book this way and I think it may bring about some interesting results. You will be given credit in the book introduction for inspiring the writing of the book (unless you request not to be mentioned) and I will send you a paperback and ebook copy of the book when it is published.

If interested, please send me your character audition by filling in this form

Thank you,

David

 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

How many ears does it take to renew a Canadian Passport?

Those of you who have read my two previous posts:
will know of my Love Affair with the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv. But, as with many relationships which seem so simple at first, things have become complex over the years. And the chief culprit in complicating this relationship is the Canadian Passport Photo, which caught us all by surprise when the new photo requirements were released many years ago. Take a look at how complex they have become:

Photo Requirements

  • required height and width of photo and height and width of face in photo
  • be clear, sharp and in focus
  • show a neutral facial expression (no smiling, mouth closed) and look straight into the camera with eyes open and clearly visible
  • have uniform lighting - no shadows, glare or flash reflections
  • show a full front view of the face and top of the shoulders squared to the camera (face and shoulders centered in the photo, head not tilted or turned)
  • reflect natural skin tone and be taken against a plain white or light-coloured background with enough contrast between the background facial features and clothing, so that your features appear clearly in the background.
  • be originals that have not been altered in any way and not taken from an existing photo;
  • be taken within the last six months from the date the application is submitted and reflect your current appearance
There is more, but I don't want to lose you, if I haven't already.

Shorty after the new photo requirements came out, so long ago, my son had his Canadian Passport photo taken in Beer Sheva. I took his filled out and signed application form together with the photos to the consular section of the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv. As usual, I started passing the form, pictures and cash through the protected window apparatus (back then you could still pay in cash). 
"Whoa," the consular official said, "Not so quickly."
That was when everything sacred about our relationship changed.
"Your son's mouth isn't closed."
I had no idea what he was talking about.
"It looks closed to me," I said, "and he isn't smiling."
"There is a small gap between his lips. You will have to get new photos taken."
Taken again? And then back again from the Negev, leaving very early on a Friday morning to beat the lineup? And still not sure that the new pictures will meet all of the requirements?
"I can hardly see the gap," I said, Canadian to Canadian which is supposed to mean something.
"There is nothing I can do," the official said, "I can't accept them now, knowing that they will be rejected in the end."
So I took the pictures back and gave them to my son, explaining the problem. He took them back to the photo shop where they had been taken.  This time when I took them back to Tel Aviv, they were accepted.

After this traumatic surprise, and with the date of my passport renewal and my daughter's passport renewal approaching quickly, I turned to my Israeli English Teachers group, asking for the name of a photo shop which already knows how to successfully take a Canadian Passport photo on the first try. I was sent the name and address of Photo Zion in Renaana and was told that the consulate unofficially recommended this photo shop. Since then, over the years, I have made a number of trips to Renaana (a two and a half hour drive, one way) to get a Canadian passport photo taken. A long way to drive, I know, but worth it for peace of mind.

Now, let's move to the present. Over ten years have passed since my first trip to Renaana for this purpose. I figured that, by now, there must be at least one photo shop in Beer Sheva that knows how to take a Canadian Passport photo. So I put out feelers to a number of facebook groups where Canadian expats were lurking and requested any info that someone might have about a photo shop in Beer Sheva that knows how to take Canadian Passport photos. Someone recommended Photo Life in Beer Sheva, stating that they knew how to do this. Buoyed by new hope, I set out for Beer Sheva. The Russian at the store - let's call him Boris - said that he knew how to do this. I am used to the photographer taking a number of photos, making sure that he got everything correct and then showing me the final photo for my approval. But, exuding confidence, he appeared satisfied with the first picture taken and then set about setting it up for printing. I was then given the two photos. Everything, in the long list of requirements, was apparently correct and I was ready to make the two hour drive to the Canadian Embassy.

Adva told me that she would go with me to provide moral support. We left early on a Friday morning and were at the consulate at 07:35. (It opened at 08:00 and I was already the third in line.)
"If the photos turn out okay," I told her, "I will make the Photo Life photo shop famous. I will let everyone know in the relevant facebook groups that this is the place to go in the Beer Sheva region."
"Why wouldn't everything be okay?" Adva remarked, the eternal optimist.
"Why are you taking your computer?"
"Oh, just in case it takes longer than expected." (Maybe she wasn't as optimistic as I thought.)


I am a natural worrier, but I did feel that everything was on board this time.
Pushing through my Adult Abroad Simplified Passport Application to the other side of the window, I followed with the photos. The consular official momentarily placed the photos aside and went through the form to make sure that all was there. She then went back to the photos.
"Just a second. I have to check something," she said, leaving with one of the photos. After a few minutes, she came back. "The automatic photo check is not up, but I see a problem with the photo."
That is when my stomach fell and the trauma returned.
"You are not totally squared to the camera."
"I'm not?" It looked kosher to me.
And then it came, after worrying all about smiling, mouth closed, proper contrast and measurements...
"I can only see one of your ears," she said.
Ears? When did ears enter the equation?
"They won't accept it," she said, "you will have to have it taken again. You should be able to have it taken for free at the same photo shop."
I carefully studied the photo.
"There," I said, "I see a part of the missing ear."
"That's just a little dust on the picture."
"No, I really think that is an ear."
She did me the favour of peering over at the photo again.
"Even if it is, we need to see both ears equally."
(You can see the passport photo at the top of this page.)
I began to wonder whether they keep making these things up. The idea of going back to Beer Sheva to get the photo taken again and waiting until next Friday to see if it was now okay was too much for me. I also was not in the mood to bring all this back to Boris at Photo Life.  I don't do well with Russian authority figures. Check out my blog on this subject: You want to leave Moskva!
"Is there a place nearby where I can have the photo taken? Where they really know what they are doing?"
"Yes, at the other entrance to the building. They are good, but expensive."
"No matter. I am not leaving Tel Aviv today until everything is done."
She put everything into an envelope with the Consular Section address stamped on it.
"You can put the new photos into this envelope and drop it into the Consular Section box."
"No, I will come back with them this morning to make sure that they will be accepted this time."
When I returned with the photos, I was directed to another consular official. I told her the story and she authorized the new photos and continued processing my request.
"What's wrong with these photos," she asked, referring to the old photos as she took the documents out of the envelope.
"The other official said it is not squared properly. You can only see one ear."
"Oh. Okay," she said.

So that is it. I am not setting out to make Photo Life famous among us Southerners. And if you are eligible for the Adult Abroad Simplified Passport Application, which most of you should be, then I suggest that when everything is ready, you go and have your photo taken at the place by the Canadian Embassy and submit your application directly after that. Take into account, though, that it costs 80 shekel to have the photo taken there. (It cost 29 shekel at Photo Life, but then, they weren't worth anything in the end.)

I am sure that other Canadians would be most interested in hearing about your own experiences in this matter and tips for survival. I know that I would.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Writing ourselves into oblivion

"I don't want to get up. I can't go on like this," my character said, lying in the bed I had written for him. "How do you get up in the morning?" he asked me.
"I pretend that I am you."
"How does that help?"
"For a moment nothing appears real."

Ah, the luxury of being a writer. Writing yourself into a little oasis in an otherwise turbulent world. Or is it the opposite. Is it the turbulence you seek? Somewhere to direct the pain which would otherwise consume you. To help convince you to get up at least one more day.

"And when you know what is real, how do you go on then?" " he asked,
"I have responsibilities."
"Family?"
"Family, yes. Do you want me to write you a family?" I asked.
"Will they be less dysfunctional than your family?"
"My family is not dysfunctional."
"Really?"
"You have to get out more," I said.

There is pain in writing. Most people don't know that. There is even greater pain in not being able to write: a verbal constipation where words remain locked inside, wanting to get out.

Writing, for me, is directly linked to survival. It wasn't that way once, but it is now. A very good friend of mine told me, "It is the DOING of it that matters." And she is right. I am first and foremost writing for myself. Facing my demons face to face. Listening carefully to hear if I still have a voice. But I also would very much like to be read.

And now I will let you in on a little secret. Many of us make New Year Resolutions but rarely expect to carry them through. But I have made a New Year Resolution for 2017 which I have every intention of carrying through. And that is writing a new blog entry every two weeks. Since beginning this blog in 2011, it has never gone this long without a new entry. There are many reasons for not writing. And some may appear quite valid, but none are justified.

When I was diagnosed with Parkinson's, the pivotal moment was whether I would decide to fight it or not. At first, I was stunned. But it only took a short time to make a decision. I wouldn't go out easily. I was left with body and mind and each had declared war on the other. It was for me to keep it all together.

First I began with the body. I went to the gym for two to three weekly workouts. I joined a weekly Pilates class. We could clearly see what was getting better and what was getting worse, and adjust accordingly. But the mind is much more complex. When the body stumbles, you just begin to be a little more careful and put more work into your physical balance. When the mind stumbles, you aren't quite sure what to do, or where it may lead.

The key, I have found, is in finding your rhythm. The more you physically exercise, the better you fall into this rhythm. The more you write, the better the words naturally flow through you. My New Year Resolution is meant to keep me writing, to keep to a rhythm which will keep me moving forward.

And then there is my third book, a very different type of rhythm. It demands all of me at times and takes me to places that I didn't even know existed: some dark and others very bright.

And now that my new characters have begun waking up, I find them beginning to speak to me, and not just through the pages of the book. They appear to have confused what is real with what is unreal and their place in it. I would try to show them their correct place, but that might simply lead to an all out revolt, leaving me with no voice at all. So, the only divisions I can form are by answering back.

The one thing I haven't been able to escape, though, is their critique. I have found my characters to be my harshest critics.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

When Lolita meets Dr. Frankenstein

This was the original working title of my latest book - When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots.

Why is this original title - When Lolita meets Dr. Frankenstein - nowhere to be seen in the final published copy? Another story to be told. Perhaps if you read the book (if you haven't already done so), you will have a theory to offer.

And today and tomorrow: July 29-30, you can still download the Kindle version of the book for FREE.
Click here to go to Amazon and download a FREE copy.

Your comments are more than welcome. You may find this hard to believe, but even scathing, negative criticism is far better than no feedback at all. For your comments and reviews feed my writing and give me reason to press on.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Here's looking at you, kid.

In my early years
I like the early summer mornings, stepping out of the shower to feel the cool breeze on my naked skin. Slowly letting my body air dry. This is my hour, not to be shared with anyone else as I move through the house, still dripping wet.

A few days ago, while nearing the end of this intimate moment of privacy, I stepped out onto the open balcony to hang up my wet towel. And, as is often their habit, a small herd of Ibex had collected on the lawn below, munching contentedly on the grass offering. I stood there quietly for a moment watching them, when suddenly an ibex, one of the younger ones, looked up and saw me standing there, totally naked. He froze in utter fright. Others sensed his fear and looked up, also. It only took a few seconds for the stampede to begin, the ibex making a hasty retreat, back to the wadi from whence they came. Should I have taken offence at this comment on my natural state of being? No, I have learned to roll with the punches and look on the bright side. I may have stumbled across a solution to thwarting their marauding ways: the human scarecrow.

These are the same ibex that allow me to walk slowly and steadily through their ranks on my way to work. Seeing me approach, they will pause their munching for a moment, and then, registering no great danger,  return to their early morning breakfast while keeping track of me through a corner of their eye. How do we explain the former chaos, then? Why should my not wearing clothes make such a difference? Could it be that they do not recognize me in my nakedness? Doesn't that conflict with our instinct? Shouldn't I be most recognizable when I have no masks to hide behind?

As for the neighbours, I haven't received any complaints... so far. Most people are still not up by the time I complete my naked ritual. Although one morning, I thought I caught a few flashes going off from the neighbour's window opposite. Someone taking pictures? Collecting nude pictures of me, perhaps, that could be used against me in a future neighbourhood dispute? I doubt if they were doing this for their own artistic pleasure.

What is it about our bodies, then? Why do some bodies attract and others repel? Why do some look better covered up in clothing and makeup while others look best in their natural glory? Are we genetically programmed to find certain bodily structures more pleasant to the eye? Is this a part of our cognitive structure? And why do we describe one person as merely attractive, while we describe another as stunning? I must admit that I enjoy watching attractive women. One of my guilty pleasures. Come on... aren't we all like that? "You can look, but no touch," Molly told Andrew as he appeared excited by the Israeli female form - quite unlike what he was used to in Oregon. If we aren't flustered at times by a beautiful human figure, then it may be time for someone to check our pulse.

But it isn't all about the curves, all in the right places, is it. As a seasoned armchair woman watcher, I maintain that there is much more to it than that. The eyes have it.
"Oh no," you say, "you aren't going to tell us next that the eyes are the window to the soul. When all you are really interested in is looking at her butt."
Well, call me abnormal. I have been called abnormal about so many other things. But while I may find a woman attractive upon first look, my interest quickly fades away if an attractive figure is all there is. And forgive me for harping on this, but it is in the eyes. If the eyes are vacant, she simply becomes another faceless figure in the crowd.

*This is the time to remind you that I am married and this is merely an armchair sport. Especially since my wife and inlaws sometimes read my blogs, as well as my children, sister and mother...
"You've been dodging the silver bullet for some time," my good friend says to me. "It may have just caught up to you."
I shift uncomfortably in my chair. "They will understand," I say, but this time with a little less conviction.

But let's forget the attractive human body and go back to talking about mine. I do think that after that rather quick response of the Ibex to my naked body, I do deserve a second opinion: this time human. But how do I go about that without appearing to be a pervert? I don't want to make the morning headline - "Naked man shot by police as he reached for.." what exactly?

If we look at my 19-year-old figure above, I once had a body worth keeping. But we can't, can we. Keep it, I mean. Nobody can. Not even those celebrity stars with their botox filled frozen faces. As if someone would really want to kiss that. Much scarier than my naked body, in my humble opinion. But then, I am subjective, aren't I.

In my winter years
The irony about it all is that I probably look better now than I have in the last ten years. I have lost a lot of weight, although I consciously haven't done anything to explain that change. My posture is much better than it has ever been and I am walking much more naturally. I guess I should thank Parkinson's for this. It threw down the glove and I am trying now to gain early ground.

And I have two secret weapons to help me in this struggle:  a badass Pilates instructor and a badass neurologist.  They leave no room for self-pity. The Pilates instructor reminds me of an unwavering drill sergeant. Nothing gets past her. "Body straight, shoulders back! Do you think I don't see you slouching!" My Russian neurologist reminds me of the Russian woman officer at passport control at the Moscow airport where, at one point, I thought she was about to send me to a Russian jail. She didn't understand why I had only a visa for Kazakhstan when I was going to Kyrgyzstan, albeit through Kazakstan. And of course, she didn't speak any English.

You see, that is exactly what I need. Not someone to let me cut corners and try to warmly encourage me. No, they have to be ruthless, within reason. So maybe the ibex had it right, all along.