Annie…Are You Okay?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Today’s post is courtesy of “Random Internet Searches.” Well, really, not so random…I was doing some research on CPR manikins for my fiction. So, there was, at least, sound reasoning for the search before it branched off into the hinterland.

Here’s the useful thing I learned: “manikin” is the appropriate spelling for manikins that serve medical training purposes. “Mannequin” is still appropriate for the insensate figures that model clothing in the few remaining brick-and-mortar stores that employ them.

What follows are the probably-not-as-useful things I learned.

I dug a little deeper than I needed to, because I wanted to learn whatever became of Resusci-Anne. I’ve had CPR training in the past three years or so, and had access to some pretty high-tech manikins, and not one of them was named Resusci-Anne. I was a bit disappointed by that. Anne is both my pen name and the first name I’ve answered to all my life, and I’m partial to it.

Turns out, she’s still around. She’s trademarked by a Norwegian company called Laerdal. But there are plenty of other alternatives available. Kind of like smart phones. If you don’t want to go with Laerdal, you could go with Simulaids Brad and Paul, or CPARLENE, or Fat Old Fred. (As impolitic as that last name may be, I have to admit, it’s memorable.) I think Resusci-Anne might be like the original iPhone.

And her story is kinda fascinating. She was developed by toy maker Asmund Laerdal and anesthesiologist Bjorn Lind, and made her debut in Norway in 1960. She got the name “Anne” after a popular doll in Laerdal’s line of toys. But what’s really trippy is how she got her face. According to the Internet, Resusci-Anne’s face is modeled from a death mask of an unknown woman pulled from the Seine River in Paris. In the 1880s. I guess death masks were a thing back then, and hers was one of the biggest things going as the twentieth century approached. She was known as “L’Inconnue de la Seine.” Apparently, Asmund Laerdal was taken with the story, and that’s why he chose to let L’Inconnue de la Seine’s face live on in Resusci-Anne.

Finally, why did I title this post with the refrain from Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal?” Because (according to the Internet), Michael Jackson reportedly picked up the lyric from a CPR training course. Decades ago, back when Resusci-Anne was still young, CPR instructors would begin the practical training on the manikin with the words, “Annie…Annie…are you okay?” It has since been modified to simply, “Are you okay?” Presumably because not every person needing assistance is named Annie.

According to one source, CPR training was also the inspiration for the Bee Gees’ “Stayin Alive.”

I love Random Internet Searches.

Pink Floyd

The moon was directly overhead as I wrote this. Coincidence? Oh yeah, and check out that pink sky.

I’ve been at this blogging thing for roughly three years now. And it’s somewhat shocking to me that I’ve never written about Pink Floyd. The British prog-rock band, formed in London in 1965. The creative force behind The Wall, and The Dark Side of the MoonThat Pink Floyd.

‘Cause here’s the thing about me and Pink Floyd. They laid down a musical track in my subconscious over the course of my late teens and early twenties, and I’m pretty sure not a day has passed since that I have not accessed that music. Most of the time, it’s an internal accessing–a snippet of song weaving through the space between my ears.

My point being: the music of Pink Floyd is always with me.

It’s like the scene in The Shawshank Redemption, when Andy Dufresne talks about how he had music to keep him company while he was in solitary confinement. “That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you. Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?”

Tim Robbins’s character was specifically referencing Mozart, who does not have a prominent spot in my subconscious soundtrack, but hopefully, you get the idea.

I’ve tagged Pink Floyd all of once in over 150 blog posts. Fittingly enough, it was a year ago, before I traveled to Tennessee to witness the total solar eclipse. In Total Eclipse of the ’80s, I wrote about the last song on The Dark Side of the Moon, “Eclipse.” That particular song is less of an earworm than the one that precedes it, “Brain Damage.” Meaning: the only way I can get to the lyric “…and everything under the sun is in tune / But the sun is eclipsed by the moon,” is to first sing “The lunatic is in my head…”

Speaking of earworms, here are my (likely) top five internally-referenced Pink Floyd lyrics. The order will change, and other ones will nudge up in the ranking, depending on what’s going on in the world and in my life, but this is more-or-less reflective of the now-now:

5. “And the general sat / And the lines on the map / Moved from side to side” (“Us and Them”)

4. “The one regret, you will never forget / There’ll be no sleep in here tonight” (“One Slip”)

3. “And did we tell you name of the game, boy? / We call it ‘Riding The Gravy Train'” (“Have a Cigar”)

2. “Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day / Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way” (“Time”)

1. “There is no pain, you are receding” (“Comfortably Numb”)

Oh man, I could write volumes more. Just on “Comfortably Numb” alone. And I haven’t even mentioned Animals. Or Syd Barrett. Or how even though Roger Waters had no part in A Momentary Lapse of Reason, I still love it and it’s still very much Pink Floyd to me. Or how when I swim, there’s always a Pink Floyd song in the rotation, or else I might as well not swim. But there’re always several laps dedicated to Daft Punk, too, so maybe my internal swim track is a post for another time.

So I guess I’ll conclude with: Isn’t this where…we came in?

Distant Worlds

Hello, dear readers! This is a departure from the regularly-scheduled content in this space. (If you’ve figured out what the regularly-scheduled content is, could you please let me know?)

I’m taking part in a science fiction / fantasy giveaway and book fair that begins today, and I want to spread the word. Read on for all the details. Good luck, and see you next week!


Science Fiction & Fantasy Giveaway

August 1-21

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So, I watched Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo recently. Decades have passed since the last time I’d seen it. And really, I’ve only seen it one time through. It’s not like I spent a long-ago summer watching and re-watching it. Though I might correct that mistake this summer. Thanks to Amazon, I now own a digital Criterion Collection version.

Two things stayed with me, from that single viewing years ago. One–the theme. It’s this fascinating mix of sounds. Opens with amazing percussion, then horns, and strings. And the second thing is the way Toshiro Mifune fights. It’s cemented in my memory as this mind-boggling run-run-stab-stab dance. No, not so much a dance, as an obstacle course. Like American Ninja Warrior, but with a lone Samurai killing machine.

Actually, it was modern-day killing machine John Wick that inspired me to revisit Yojimbo. The first John Wick was playing on TV, and something about the scene in the night club, where John Wick is going after the bad guy who murdered his puppy, made me think of Toshiro Mifune. Except with Keanu Reeves, it was more of a run-run-shoot-shoot kind of movement.

There’s so much I could write about Yojimbo. There are so many more masterly details I picked up on. But I’ll try to be succinct, and I’ll start with the two items that have stayed with me through the years. They’re both pretty elemental, and they didn’t disappoint.

  • The theme: in the beginning, Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) is wandering, and encounters a couple at a home on the outskirts of the town. The woman is inside at a silk loom, and the sound of it is very pronounced: two beats, a lull in between, two beats, all in an even rhythm. The theme mimics the sound of the loom–those same two beats, done via horns, thread through the music of the film. Subtle yet phenomenal.
  • Toshiro Mifune: it’s not just the way he fights, it’s the way he inhabits the character of Sanjuro. He’s shot from behind quite a bit, so the viewer sees right over his shoulder. You see the way he adjusts his shoulders in his kimono right before he fights. And sometimes after. He’s pretty badass.
  • Yojimbo as inspiration: I think its pretty widely known that Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing are retellings of Yojimbo’s story. But maybe less well-known is that my favorite comic book of all time, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, was inspired by it. Usagi is this awesome bunny, a masterless samurai who wanders through feudal Japan, helping the helpless along the way. If memory serves, his long-gone lord whom he could no longer serve (because he was dead) was named Mifune. Usagi was the reason I first checked out the movie Yojimbo so long ago.
  • And one last bit of trivia: Yojimbo is distributed by Toho Co., Ltd., one of the big film studios in Japan. The main reason I know Toho? One word; one big, green, word: Godzilla. So I was pretty thrilled when I received the production schedule for the cover art and layout for my next novel, The Trouble on Highway One. The designer had abbreviated the title on the schedule. Wait for it, it ties together, I promise. My new novel’s abbreviated title? TOHO. (Yes!!)

Hall of Mirrors

The view when I look left from my writing desk

I saw Skyscraper this past weekend, the latest movie starring Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock). The movie ticked all the right boxes for me–wildly implausible but enjoyable. If there’s one thing I can say about the Rock, he sells the wildly implausible like no one else. He makes a bad movie better, and a good movie great.

Don’t think I’m spoiling anything by talking about the ending scene…it takes place in a hall of mirrors. A super-updated, high-tech hall of mirrors that viewers are introduced to in the first third of the movie. A not-so-subtle telegraphing of “you know the thrilling conclusion is going to take place here.”

Hall-of-mirrors fight scenes are pretty memorable, when done well. Watching Skyscraper’s version, I recalled the most recent one I’ve seen. It was in John Wick: Chapter 2, and it was Ruby Rose stealing the show there.

But given Skyscraper’s Hong Kong setting, and the visual element of the dragon used throughout the movie, I have to think that the mirrors were a nod to the ORIGINAL mirror fight scene in 1973’s Enter the Dragon.

It had been a while since I’d seen this seminal bit of cinema, and it’s been a pleasure watching it again and again on YouTube. If you’ve never seen Bruce Lee in action, don’t wait, and don’t finish reading this post. Skip straight to YouTube and check him out.

If the mirror scene in Enter the Dragon was an homage to some pre-cursor movie, I don’t know it. And given that it was Lee’s final film, it’s okay by me to let the movie claim “we did it first.”  Bruce Lee was another bright star that left too soon.

Personally, I encounter mirrors all the time, but I’ve never had a mirror fight scene. Don’t really want one. I’m not the most coordinated person around, and I don’t think I’d fare well in a fight. But I think there’s a way to take the elements of the scene and apply them to the skill I do possess–writing.

Bruce Lee’s character in Enter the Dragon (the character’s name is also Lee) hears the words of the Shaolin Abbott during the mirror scene:

“The enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy.”

While that quote definitely works for the scene, it’s kind of tough to extrapolate meaning to apply specifically to my writing. But digging a little further, here are Lee’s words that precede that quote:

A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.

Substitute story for fight and opponent, and writer for martial artist and I, and there are some seeds of wisdom I can get behind.

An Auditory Detour

I heard a woodpecker somewhere in those trees

The hawks were yelling at me. I don’t think I stumbled upon a quarrelsome moment amongst the raptors; I’m fairly certain they were aiming their shouts my way. And I’m pretty sure they were telling me to “Go away.”

It all began when I went out early one morning, just after sunrise. Just a jaunt around the neighborhood, to get a bit of exercise.

Headed north on Marconi Drive, I strayed to see if I could get a better look at Popp Fountain and the Arbor Room. I’ve seen Popp Fountain before, it’s one of those City Park staples that’s been around since 1937. But I’ve yet to see the Arbor Room from the inside, it’s one of the newest event venues in City Park.

As I approached an oak tree near the fence line, I heard a very distinctive cry coming from its branches. Not a chirping, not a raven’s “caw,” but similar in cadence. Higher-pitched and not as caustic as a raven, and it finished with a bit of a whistle.

Looking for the source, I spied a large bird with a white speckled breast, maybe twenty feet dead ahead and twenty feet above. A hawk! I scrambled for my phone, but the best I was able to capture is the picture at the end of this post. The hawk took its squawking to a higher, less visible branch of the oak tree right after I took that photo.

But it got me thinking–so much of what I love about meandering through City Park are the sounds.

So in the interest of “show, don’t tell,” here’s an attempt to “show in words” some sounds I noted on that same jaunt.

  • The haunting notes of a train horn, miles away
  • The staccato beats of a woodpecker across the lagoon
  • The caustic caws of a pair of ravens (yes, I realize I’m re-using that description)
  • The subversive trill of crickets below
  • The “ga-dunk” of cars passing overhead, as I traversed under the I-610 overpass (yes, this is a direct reference to my novel, The Incident Under the Overpass)

As I concluded my exercise loop, I returned to the hawk’s oak tree, to see if the bird of prey was still there, hoping to get a better photo, if so. And to conclude this post’s loop, I’ll go back to the beginning. Said hawk was still there…with reinforcements. And they were yelling at me. At least two birds aimed their plaintive cries my way. And by plaintive, I mean pretty wretched. My guess is they were protecting a nest, and didn’t want curious bi-peds (or predatory quadrupeds, for that matter) lollygagging around.

I got the message.

Natural camouflage, indeed


Glorious Summer

July 1, 2018
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York…
–from Richard III, by William Shakespeare

**I haven’t forgotten it’s Independence Day. There’s a bit about American literature and the American author John Steinbeck below. Happy 4th of July!**

I have to confess, I’ve never read Richard III. The 1995 movie version with Ian McKellen was on television the other night; but I have to confess again, I only caught a few minutes before falling asleep. Even the movie was pretty dense. Hamlet has always been my go-to Shakespearean tragedy, he seems so much more relatable. The hapless victim of a murderous king, rather than the murderous king lui-même

But the quote featured above? That’s another thing altogether. It will pop into my head in the midst of winter, and in the midst of summer. And the time I traveled to York in the summer of 2002? (Yes, the original York, in England.) Fuggedaboutit.

I first encountered the quote over thirty years ago, in high school, when I had to pick a subject for a term paper in my American Lit class. Being an angsty teenager, I was immediately drawn to the title of John Steinbeck’s novel, published in 1961. “The Winter of Our Discontent? That is SO my life,” I probably thought.

Regarding the novel and Steinbeck: I remember liking it, though I don’t remember it having much in common with Richard III’s story. And I think I got a good grade on the term paper. I also went on to read more Steinbeck around that time.

But my biggest takeaway was the quote. I found out pretty quickly that Steinbeck didn’t invent the title; I might have been vaguely disappointed by that. Though I was pretty impressed that it came from Shakespeare.

Thirty years on for me, and more than 425 years for Shakespeare, there’s still so much humanity to ponder in those two lines. How subject we are to seasons, how easily we can be persuaded that something as formidable and harsh as winter could be its exact opposite.

It might be my go-to Shakespearean quote. I’m going with that, until another one pops up to prove its leadership in the clubhouse of my head.

I wish I could say with certainty that I was not the one who wrote on the cover of this book, but I can’t. I don’t remember doing it, at any rate. Though I did have a thing for Donald Sutherland back in the day…

ALA Annual Conference

The American Library Association held their annual conference and exhibition in New Orleans this past weekend. In a stroke of kismet, I was able to attend via my membership in IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association. In an even luckier stroke, I got to promote my book, The Incident Under the Overpass, during a Saturday afternoon time slot at the IBPA booth. (Okay, so, that last part wasn’t just luck—I paid a modest fee for the promotion).

It was great to be able to reach out to a receptive audience of librarians (readers-for-a-living!) But the highlight for me was getting to see the opening general session: former First Lady Michelle Obama sat down with the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, and discussed her forthcoming memoir, Becoming. I could go on for a very long time about the fascinating stories she shared; her obvious devotion to not just family, but to a life of service; and just how impressive she is, without being intimidating. But I have a feeling all of this will come across in her book, which is scheduled for a November 2018 release.

I’m a big proponent of grace, in all its meanings. Both the descriptor implying elegance and poise, and the spiritual (Christian) meaning: God’s favor, the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was very reaffirming to see so much grace in action this past weekend: in Michelle Obama, in Carla Hayden, and in the thousands of people who traveled to New Orleans with the ultimate aim of providing access to mind-opening content.

Library of Congress booth was pretty cool. This was during set-up, it was the only time I didn’t see it packed full of people.
IBPA is headquartered in California

A post card with the forthcoming book cover, and this week’s inspiration (which happens to be about inspiration)

City Park Pictorial, Part 3: The Couturie Forest

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost

There was nothing snowy nor frosty about the Couturie Forest, when I finally returned there one morning in early June. But it was so quiet and tranquil, the “lovely, dark and deep” line immediately popped into my head. I felt my mother with me—she was always one to quote poetry, or song lyrics.

I was glad the magical power I experienced there, during my trip last month, still held. To recap, the Couturie Forest is a part of New Orleans City Park, described on the City Park website as “the perfect place to escape from the city without ever leaving town.”

Indeed, the transportation spell is cast as soon as you cross the bridge into the forest. The sounds from the nearby road disappear. Signs of pestilence dissipate. (Prior to entering, I had some really bothersome horseflies after me. They did not follow me into the forest.)

The pictures featured here are all from the visit I made two weeks ago. I’ve returned once more since that time, and I intend on making many more visits in the days ahead. When there’s a surefire way to recharge my spirit in such close proximity, I’d be a fool to stay away.

The view from the bridge

Laborde Mountain, the highest point in New Orleans. A map of the city marks the spot.

Each visit reveals some new detail

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Last weekend, I took a break from my City Park wanderings and attended “Signing in the South,” a meet-and-greet event matching up more than thirty local authors (myself included) with readers. Many, many thanks go to author Taylor Anne for launching this inaugural event. It was wonderful! I met new readers, handed out nearly all the bookmarks I had promoting my soon-to-be-relaunched novel, and met some other writers face-to-face. I definitely plan to reach out to these authors in the future.

And, not only was the weekend a nice boost to my career as a fiction writer, it also turned out to be a really fun and memorable road trip. Niece Nicole and Niece Cece accompanied me on the three-hour drive to Lake Charles, Louisiana. “Signing in the South” took place there, at the Isle of Capri Hotel and Casino. I feel really blessed to share so many interests with the younglings in my family. Not only does it make communication easier, it makes for a lot of good times. And since these two particular younglings are in their twenties, we could go about the casino at will.

A few memories from our time in Lake Charles:

This is where the gambling took place. I was the only one to partake. I lost $4.75.
Nicole observed that the carpet looked like the Cephalopods’ language in the movie “Arrival.” What’s the message here?
On our way home, we stopped for boudin balls in Iowa, Louisiana. Trust me, they’re delicious!