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.



Friday, January 15, 2016

The gift that keeps on taking

They say, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." But when Michael J. Fox deemed Parkinson's disease to be a gift, many people - especially those suffering from the disease - took offense at his choice of words. Nonetheless, Michael continued to describe Parkinson's as a gift, but with the following clarification:

“Because Parkinson’s demanded of me that I be a better man, a better husband, father, and citizen, I often refer to it as a gift. With a nod to those who find this hard to believe, especially my fellow patients who are facing great difficulties, I add this qualifier — it’s the gift that keeps on taking...but it is a gift.”
~ Michael J. Fox

A gift? Really? Can I return it then? Where's the exchange slip?
But there is no exchange slip in the box. It even came without wrapping. No, it appears that it is mine to keep. But what do I do with it now?

Michael certainly wouldn't have called it a gift the day he was diagnosed with what is usually known as an old man's disease. He was at the tender age of 29 and at the height of his acting career. He had wed Tracy Pollan, the love of his life, a few years earlier and they had already started a family. One might say that he was living a charmed life at the time. That is, if it weren't for his excessive drinking and workaholic habits that kept him away from his family and fed on his constant worry that it all would somehow dry up if he didn't keep pushing himself.

And then the sky fell in and the next day was the first day of his life.

Michael's immediate reaction to the diagnosis was to drink even more and take on even more projects to bury himself in work. At that point, it appeared that he had entered the early stage of denial - which lasted for the next nine years as he tried his best to hide this disease from the general public - even from his co-workers on the set of the hit TV series: Spin City, where he was filmed from every angle.

What changed, then? What brought him out of the closet?

"Humility is always a good thing. It's always a good thing to be humbled by circumstances so you can then come from a sincere place to try to deal with them."
~ Michael J. Fox

Michael's coming out had a great effect on the Parkinson community. Parkinson's was a disease that was generally pushed into the background. There was no cure for it. The most you could do was to try and slow it down. It was a disease that many felt ashamed of, because it was so noticeable and socially ugly. And here was Michael, whose warm and expressive boyish features had once won us over in Family Ties and Back to the Future, now exposing the haggard features of his Parkinson to the world - no longer feeling the need to hide his symptoms.

"Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there's got to be a way through it... I often say now I don't have any choice whether or not I have Parkinson's, but surrounding that non-choice is a million other choices that I can make."
~ Michael J. Fox

Michael was surprised by the strong positive reaction of the Parkinson community to his news. It was then that he realized that it was within his grasp to do much more. He set up the Michael J. Fox Foundation to provide significant funding for promising Parkinson research in the hope that it would lead to a cure. And he set out into the world, speaking at fund raisers and agreeing to give interviews to the media, so that Parkinson's might take on a new face in the public eye. He even continued his acting career, appearing in guest spots in many different TV series. All this, despite his being told at the time of his diagnosis that he might still have a good ten years of work ahead of him. And here he was, ten years later, about to set out on a crusade to find a cure for Parkinson. His work had just begun.

What can we learn from all this? A good friend of mine once said: "It's not the disease which is at the heart of the matter, but rather how we react to the challenge." It is what it is, and we must decide what we will do with it.

We never know how we will react to a situation until we are there. My father was diagnosed with cancer at the age of seventy-six, I was the first one to visit him in the hospital after he had received the diagnosis. "Well, I have had a good life," he told me. That moment has stayed with me ever since.

I am a recluse. I admit that. No matter how many people surround me at times. I am invisible to most. I know that most of this is my own doing. And when it comes to medical challenges, my immediate reaction is to keep it all to myself. This is a result of my upbringing - or at least a significant part of it. But that is another story. I will tell you about it when we know each other better.

As for now, it may be time to change. If Michael could change in his own way, so can I. For I am fortunate to be loved, and fortunate to be surrounded by such a beautiful family. And as long as I am not a heavy burden on them, there is still reason to pull myself out of bed on a cold winter morning.

Humility. Acceptance. Can we do without denial?
"How can you possibly leave yourself so open and vulnerable?" you ask.
"Have I? But you must realize that this blog is not about me. It is about Michael J. Fox."
"Yeah, right," pipes up a little voice from the back. "It's about you and Parkinson's."
"Okay, since we are in a giving mood, I will give you that," I respond. "It's about Parkinson's."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why give Expats the vote?

There is nothing funny about Canadian politicians. They are a bland lot making their way (plodding their way, I should say) toward election showdown. Or is it me? I can't see the humour. The joke is on the inside, leaving the expat outside, knocking on the door.

Which may be more reason why I, and other long-term expats, have no right to line up with resident Canadians on voting day.

As a Canadian expat, do you bemoan the fact that the right to vote in a Canadian federal election has been taken away from you? Or are you even aware of the fact - never having had the inkling to vote while living abroad? There are approximately  2.8 million Canadian citizens living abroad and 1.4 million of them have lost the right to vote, as a result of a recent ruling in a Court of Appeal.

Let's take a quick look at the recent history of the expat voting debate. In 1993, a court ruled for the first time that expats living abroad for longer than five years could no longer vote in federal elections. However, the five-year clock was reset for expats who returned for even short visits. Then, in 2007, Elections Canada began to enforce a requirement for expats to resume residency in Canada in order to regain their right to vote abroad. In 2014, two Canadian expats living in the United States launched a constitutional challenge to this law restricting their right to vote. A Superior Court Justice threw out this voting ban, thus giving long-term Canadian expats the right to vote again in federal elections. However, in July of this year (2015), a Court of Appeal, in a split decision, overturned that ruling and the right to vote was taken away from long-term expats yet again.

And many Canadian expats are crying foul - among them, a number of well-known celebrities. Actor Donald Sutherland published an editorial stating that not only is he a Canadian through and through, but that he was honoured as an Officer of the Order of Canada - and yet he is not allowed to vote in Canadian elections. To stress their case, expats point to countries which do not hold such restrictions on expat voting. Poland, Venezuela, Russia and Japan provide polling stations at embassies and consulates. France and the United States allow online voting for citizens abroad. Italy and France have created members of parliament to directly represent their expats. India has even created a government ministry dedicated to its expats. But supporters of the most recent ruling argue that many countries do have similar or harsher restrictions. UK citizens cannot vote after living abroad for more than fifteen years; Australians are restricted to six years and New Zealanders to three years. Irish citizens cannot vote while living abroad at all. Nor can citizens of Zimbabwe or Nepal.

And what about Israel? We can't forget Israel - my country of abode and the other half of my split personality. You may be surprised to hear that there is no absentee voting for Israelis, unless they are in the service of the State abroad. But Israelis living abroad can return to Israel at election time to vote. And many do so. Why doesn't Israel allow Israelis living abroad to maintain their ties to the mother country through voting? Maybe they don't want to encourage the mass exodus, or they are punishing those who won't stick it out with the country through thick and thin. Perhaps it is ideology. You can choose your own conspiracy theory.

So, who do you think is right in all of this? Let's look at the reasoning behind this ruling:
Canada's social contract entails citizens submitting to laws because they had a voice in making them through voting, the ruling states.
"Permitting all non-resident citizens to vote would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives. This would erode the social contract and undermine the legitimacy of the laws," Justice George Strathy wrote for the majority of the court's judges.

I must admit that, despite my anarchistic tendencies, this makes sense. Sometimes being on the outside looking in offers a better perspective. But not here. Why should I have the right to vote on things that have little or no practical consequence for my own daily life?

"Okay then," you challenge, "why should you be able to still hold Canadian citizenship? You have lived most of your life outside of Canada. What makes you think you can still be Canadian?"
"Ah, read my blog," I want to say. But I know they won't. How do you explain it, then, to a non-believer?
"That is different," I argue. "Being Canadian is also a state of mind. Growing up in Canada is a part of who I am. You can't take that away from me. Being a Canadian is also something that I share with my children. I would like to say, "and also with my children's children," but according to a 2009 amendment to the Citizenship Law, automatic citizenship extends only to the first generation born abroad. What do I think of that? Once again, I can understand the reasoning. I just hope my legacy outlives that decision.