Whatever strikes my fancy

I’m a writer and photographer. I’m working on my autobiography. Funny thing, but if people learn this they will often ask “is it finished yet?” Umm, unless you’re using a spirit board to ask that, the answer is obviously “No”. I’ve stopped it at the point I received my new birth certificate with new name and gender, but I’m still here so it could continue.

I write speculative fiction, also called science fiction and mystery and these pieces usually start with asking myself “what if …?”, then answering that question. That “what if …” could be on any topic – as the title indicates “whatever strikes my fancy”. I’ve destroyed cities and other planets (usually with classical music playing in the background as I write) and in the late nineties I chronicled a war that destroyed this planet. What prompted that was the debate over whether the 21st century would start January 1, 2000 or 2001. I think the answer depends if you ask an historian or a mathematician.

With my blogs, again I write about any topic that strikes my fancy or irritates me. I enjoy writing about various online scams as warnings to my readers. For the most part I stay away from American politics. I’m not American so unless what’s-his-name in the White House had done or said something exceedingly stupid, I ignore it. Having said that, living in Canada and being reasonably intelligent, I am aware that events in the U S may and can have a tremendous effect on us as well, so I do pay attention to American politics. I have however taken Canadian federal politicians to task on many occasions over their pronouncements or actions. And with the current regime in Queen’s Park, I can see that Ontario Premier Doug Ford will become a frequent target.

I prefer to write and edit in longhand, then once I’m satisfied I transcribe to the computer. By doing so, if inspiration strikes while I’m out I can capture the thought at the moment as I usually carry paper and pen.

I use this same approach with my photography. If something catches my eye, I’ll take a photo. A flower, a sign, interesting architecture, a scenic vista or sometihng whimsical such as this shot below taken outside a local shop on my phone, it doesn’t matter. There are occasion , such as grocery shopping, when carrying a camera is too awkward, by my phone has an excellent camera.

I use digital cameras (Canon ever since my first film SLR in the seventies) and have what I consider to be good software – Corel Paintshop Pro for processing. I can usually find something in the raw image to turn into a photo. And of course, by using digital cameras and processing, “undo” and “delete” have become my best friends.

I’ve had various people who like my work suggest to me I should give courses in both writing and photography. Such course would be very short indeed for here’s what I’d say:

Writing: write about what interests you. If that requires research, great – you’ll learn something new. If writing fiction or topical blogs, write the way you speak. If people who know you read it, they’ll hear your voice speaking the words and for others, it will sound more natural. Don’t use what I call “ten dollar words” in an attempt to sound more intelligent. If you don’t normally use them in everyday vocabulary, you’ll probably use them incorrectly.

Photography: if it catches your eye, snap it and sort it out later. Remember, “delete” can be a powerful tool.

There’s the essence of any courses I’d give.

Now, go create something and remember to hug an artist, no matter what their field of endeavour, for we need love too. And to my Canadian followers and visitors, have a safe and happy Canada Day weekend.

Cat.

A sad day approaches

The town I live in has announced that October 26 they are closing the local branch of the public library, citing lack of use. This is a small branch so patrons don’t have direct access to the same resources available at the main branch. I’ve frequently used this branch and know they can, and do, bring in material from other branches when requested, therefore the physical size isn’t important. The library is located next to one of the high schools and hours have been structured in a manner convenient for students wishing to do research.

In my opinion, technology is partly responsible for the reduced usage. When the branch opened, people had to go to a library to do research; the internet was something found in science fiction. But today, there is a wealth of information available at the fingertips of anyone with a smartphone or a computer. That makes trips to the library unnecessary.And people rarely get to experience the sensual pleasure of actually holding a book. The smell of the ink, the texture of the paper and the rustle of pages being turned have been replaced with an electronic device.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against electronics. I’ve got a smartphone and computer as well as digital cameras, so I’m not a Luddite by any definition. But I’m also a writer and I get much more pleasure seeing my work in print than seeing it on a monitor or screen. Useless info: I write these blogs in longhand, then copytype.

It is sad that a building and service dedicated to preserving the written word must close. Village Branch, you will be missed.

Cat

Do it your way

Every once in a while, someone will look at some of my photos, or read something I’ve written and suggest that I should teach photography and/or writing. That presents a problem for me.

I’m sure that each of you is very good at some pastime that gives you a sense of accomplishment. But, how would you go about explaining to somebody else just how you do it? That’s the problem with my photography and writing. Oh, I could probably teach each, but the course would be twenty minutes tops. I’ll try here to explain how I do what I do.

Photography: My philosophy is simple – if something catches your attention, snap it. You may look at the image on the camera screen and not see what you expected, but wait until you get it up on the computer screen when you process it. (I do digital photography, so my comments are restricted to computer processing.) The larger image may show you something surprising that you can turn into a beautiful photo. The photo at the top of this is an example of a photo I thought was “okay” until I saw it on the monitor, then it went up in my estimation.

Take advice if offered. I’ve had some free-lance photographers give me some advice that I think is worth passing on. First, remember that a digital camera darkens an image about 30 – 40% from what you see with your eye. You’ll want to restore that brightness before anything else. This of course wouldn’t apply if you feel the darker image is more effective.

Next, a free-lancer told me to avoid weddings if at all possible because you’ll never please everyone.

Finally, if you want to be a free-lance news photographer, the best advice I was given for this was “f8 and be there”. You can’t take the shot if you aren’t at the scene and an aperture of f8 will give you a decent depth of field.

As I said, I do digital photography and process my own work. There are many photo processing programmes available. My personal preference is a Corel programme called “Paintshop”. Some people prefer Adobe’s Photoshop. I’ve used both and prefer Paintshop. If you can, try as many as you can – some places offer free trial copies – before spending your money on one.

The choice of camera is up to the user. Many of my best work was done with a Canon point and shoot, including the header photo. I currently use a Canon DSLR, but depending upon my plans for the day, I have often used the camera in my phone. The quality of phone cameras has improved greatly.

I’m torn about suggesting photography courses. Yes, I can see the benefits for some people, but when I told an artist friend it had been suggested I take one, her comment was “Why? That would only ruin you. The course would only teach you to take photos the way the instructor does.” If you feel you’d benefit from one, go for it. As my friend said, if you feel competent, save your money.

In photography the most important advice I was given was that you have to have imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Photography is as much about feeling as technique.

Writing: I’ve always written, at least back as far as Grade 5. I was fortunate in having teachers who encouraged my writing and have since received advice from others. There are many courses in creative writing available through community colleges that you can take. My ex-partner was part of a group of writers who would meet once a week and present short stories for criticism. Some members were published authors; some were taking courses and others just sat down to write. Through the members of this group (I was a casual member since they often met at our house) I learned the proper format for submitting stories, but that’s about all.

Most often, aspiring writers are told “write what you know”. That is fine if you’re writing factual articles and stories. I have a blog and frequently write opinion pieces that I laughingly refer to as “rants, raves and reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.” The main exception to that is a series of blogs under the general title “Bring him to justice”. This series concerns the attempts by the Toronto Police Service to arrest a man charged with several counts of aggravated sexual assault. This series is factual and, full disclosure here, I’m doing it because I know several people he dated.

For my fiction, it’s rather difficult to write fiction strictly sticking to “what you know”. If I’m writing fiction, the process usually starts with me asking myself “what if…?” then writing a piece to answer the question.

Perhaps the best advice the writer me was given was “write the way you speak.” If you don’t use multi-syllable words as part of your usual vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing. I sometimes paraphrase this as “if you don’t use ten dollar words all the time, don’t use them in your writing, even if you get them half-off. You’ll probably mis-use them.” Something else – spelling counts. Spell-check is great in most cases, but if you use a homophones – and yes, I had to check the definition of this – such as “hear” or “here”, spell-check won’t catch it. Proofread, then proofread again.

There. My courses on photography and writing are finished. As the title suggests “do it your way.” Class dismissed.

Remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

Alert! Text message scam

About fifteen minutes ago, I received the following text message:
INTERAC E-Transfer: You’ve been refunded 175.00 due to an overcharge on your last payment. Click here to claim your funds:

Someone obviously has no idea how payments work. It’s been my experience that if you overpay on a bill, rather than issue a refund, the company will simply apply the overpayment as a credit on your next bill. Also, if you did overpay, any message would refer to it as an overpayment, not an overcharge.

The telephone number this was from had a Los Angeles area code. Were it not for the fact I’m in Canada and have no dealing with American firms who might be expecting payments from me, I might have been suckered in, Any payments I make all go to companies located in or near Toronto, which is not in area code 310.

When are these scammers going to realize that people aren’t as gullible as they once may have been. Many of these scams are well-known or, if egregious enough, are reported in various news media? For example, the so-called “grandparent” scam. You know the one – an older person gets a telephone call from someone purporting to be their grandson and he’s in trouble and needs a sum of money (usually in excess of $1,000) for bail or whatever. The grandparent, out of concern, sends the funds through Western Union and never hears from the supposed grandchild again. That one has been publicized quite a bit recently.

In this case, something the scammer wouldn’t have had knowledge of is that I’m on a pension and am very careful about my payments, so it is impossible I would have overpaid by $175 unless of course I didn’t want to eat for the month.

If you get a text message like this do not, under any circumstances, click on the link. You will find yourself opening a whole lot of trouble you don’t need.

Cat.

Enjoying summer safely

Summer is almost upon us which, if you live in a climate that has four seasons (five in you include road construction), means we’ll be shedding our bulky winter clothing. That also means keeping ourselves safe. I’m not an expert on personal safety, but having survived a stalker, I think I can offer some suggestions that may help.

One thing that can help you is your smartphone. It can be used for more than selfies or food photos. For example, if you are, or suspect you are, being followed by someone who may not have the best of intentions, take their picture. Now, I don’t mean when you’re walking down the street and someone is behind you, you should automatically snap a photo. They may have a legitimate reason for being there. But, if over the course of a couple or three days the same person seems to always be everywhere you are, then take a photo and don’t be subtle about it. You want them to know. If they have less than honourable designs upon you, that you have captured their image may discourage them.

Something else to consider, which works well in daylight. When you go out, you’re probably dressed attractively. Don’t be afraid to check out yourself in any window or reflective surface you pass. Not from any sense of vanity – girl, you know you’re lookin’ good – but it will give you a chance to see if there is someone creepy behind you. If you’re out at night, especially on a side street, pay attention to shadows. Try to walk on whichever side of the street is illuminated best by streetlights. Shadows can warn you if someone appears to be closing on you quickly and give you a chance to take whatever action you feel may be necessary. And where possible, walk facing traffic. Trust your instincts.

To borrow a line from “Hill Street Blues” – be careful out there.

Enjoy your summer.

Cat.

Caitlyn, cabs, caution

I’ve tried, but I find I just can’t watch “I am Cait”. Her life bears no relation to any other trans* person I know. Most of us do not come from privilege, instead we have to work and fight for everything we have or hope to have. Yet the media seems to have made her a spokesperson for the trans* community. Maybe if she would get out of that bubble she appears to live in I could take her more seriously. For example, she is reported to have said “lower income transwomen are lazy.” I honestly hope that was either misquoted or taken out of context. In my case, I had the good job, the paid-for house, the kids, the pets, the cars and I left it all behind. I spent 12 hours a day driving a taxi trying to make ends meet. I’d hardly call that “lazy”. In my opinion, the media have made her a spokesperson because they want someone with a recognizable name and right now Caitlyn Jenner is that person. A better person would be Jazz Jennings. She is young and the family support she receives is absolutely amazing. As she goes through this process, she is probably doing more for trans* awareness than Caitlin Jenner could ever hope to do.

 
There was a shooting at a night club in Toronto this week in which two people were shot and killed. One of them was a man “known to police” to use their phrase and apparently he shouldn’t have been anywhere near that club on the lakeshore, but rather at his home some 30 miles away under house arrest. The other victim was a young lady who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She and her friends were trying to get a taxi from the rank outside the club to escape the gunfire. Not one cab would take them because it was only a short run, about $8. The drop in a Toronto taxi is $4.25, so this was obviously only a couple of blocks. As I wrote above, I drove a cab for seven years and never once turned down a fare because it was a short run. The way I looked at it, the run was short, but it was money in my pocket and the fact it wouldn’t take long meant I’d be available again in no time at all. According to the Toronto taxi bylaw, drivers can refuse fares if they deem the destination to be dangerous; the person won’t give them a proper destination address; the person owes them money from a previous ride, or the person is “disruptive” (read “drunk”). I know from talking with friends that Toronto drivers have also been known to refuse fares because the destination is too far. A friend hailed a taxi outside her office one winter night to drive her home to Pickering, a trip of some 20 miles. About half-way there the driver realized how far it was, took her to a nearby coffee shop and left her there saying it was too far. Fortunately for her she had my number and called me. Despite the bad weather, I drove from Pickering and picked her up, so she got home safely. But, had she not had my number, or the number of another cab driver, she’d have been stranded. No, no. You can’t turn down a run because you don’t think it’s worth your while.

 
Aah, summer. Time we shed our winter clothing and wear as little as decently possible to stay cool. We walk out of the house, feeling cool and looking hot, taking in the admiring glances from men we pass. Keep in mind however that not all those looks may be admiration. Some of them could be from men assessing you for other reasons. I’m talking stalkers here. Just because you couldn’t be Beyonce’s body double doesn’t mean someone hasn’t taken an interest in you. I was stalked for over a year. Yeah, me – 5 foot 11, about 185 at the time and trans*. Yet someone decided to make me prey and stalk me. It was frightening and in my case was made worse by the fact my stalker was an EMS supervisor and would use his work vehicle to stalk me. This vehicle carried the same colour scheme as the local ambulances, so whenever I saw an ambulance coming, I’d search for a place to hide not knowing if it was him or an ambulance.

If you see someone who appears to be following you and it isn’t in a place such as a local shopping area, be careful. If you see them twice, it could be coincidence, but three times is probably stalking. My suggestion if this happens, is take their picture. Don’t try to be subtle about it – just hold that phone or camera up in plain sight and snap that shot. If they are indeed stalking you, that action may deter them. Always, always be aware of your surroundings and who is around you. To borrow a line from “Hill Street Blues” – “be careful out there”.

Cat.

Customer service – an urban myth?

Recently I took a friend to a Virgin Mobile dealer so she could hook up her iphone.  One reason she wanted Virgin is that Virgin is the company I’m with and I can get phone reception using my iphone in her basement while her husband, who has his Blackberry with someone else, can’t.

The salesman was very helpful, going through the various plans and explaining what things meant.  The plan she eventually chose was better than the plan I was on, so I asked if I could switch.  I asked about any charges for the upgrade and was told any charge would appear on my bill.  When the bill came in, it was four times the usual amount.

Examining the bill, I noticed a charge of $150 with some cryptic description, which I eventually deciphered as the charge for the upgrade.  Feeling this charge was out of line, after all I’d upgraded to a more expensive plan  therefore they’d be getting more money from me, I called customer service.  When I finally got a real person on the line, I explained what I wanted and questioned the amount.  This lady asked if I could hold while she checked my account.  After a few minutes of some weird music, she came back and the first words out of her mouth were “well, your balance is quite huge…”.  I told her I knew and wanted an explanation for the hundred and a half they charged me.  I was told I’d have to take that up with the store.  My friend and I had gone to a store near her home, which is not in the same city I live in.  So to dispute it, I’d have to pay $60 round trip cab and train fare at a minimum.  Somehow, when someone calls in to question something on their bill, telling that customer their balance is “quite huge” doesn’t exactly seem like customer service.

If any of my readers live in an area where Rogers is the cable/internet/landline provider, here’s something to keep in mind.  I have all of the above from Rogers, for which services I was able to get some discounts through various promotions when I signed up, which was good as my sole income is a (small) government pension.  My cable was for a one year term and near the end of that year, I called Rogers customer service, asking if there were any discounts or promotions I could take advantage of for the cable portion of the bill.  I was told there wasn’t but I’d still get my three dollar discount for something or other.  Not being satisfied with this, I thanked her for her time, and hung up.  A few minutes later, I called Rogers back and this time asked to speak with someone in sales.  I explained why  was calling, mentioned the pension and said if there was nothing I could take advantage of, I’d have to consider cutting services.  That was all it took.  By the time the gentleman was finished, I had new discounts on all three services, and the total was less than I’d been paying previously.  By calling sales, rather than being content with the three dollar discount mentioned by customer service, I’ve saved about $60 a month on my Rogers bill.

Years ago I was a cab driver and dispatcher for a small fleet in Pickering.  Based on the ethics of the owner, a couple of others and myself referred to him as “the eighth dwarf – Sleazy”.  He had no qualms about lying to customers on the phone, as was shown one night when I was dispatching and he happened to still be there.

If you call for a taxi, it is common to be told approximately how long it will be before a cab arrives.  This particular night it was especially busy and we were running late in servicing calls.  He heard me tell one customer it would be about twenty minutes.  His response was to tell me – loudly, he never used a normal voice with me – I should have told them ten minutes.  He couldn’t seem to understand my logic as I explained we were busy and by saying twenty minutes I was being truthful with the customer.  He was also lost when I said that had I told them twenty minutes and we have a car there in ten, they’ll think we’re great, but if I told them ten and it took twenty, that customer would call our competitor next time.  To this man, “customer service” meant “what can the customer do for me?”

It is unfortunate that so many places seem to hire people for customer service who haven’t the faintest idea of the concept of “customer service”.  These people are no doubt also those who would complain loudest if customer service at some place with which they deal couldn’t solve their problem.

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.