Wise Words: Margaret Atwood

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: There’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially, you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

Time Stacks Photography

Capturing the passage of time with some form of imagery holds a certain fascination for us, probably because the activities of daily life seem to be such a blur as we’re living through them.

When still photography, and then motion pictures, gave us the chance to preserve our important events and fleeting moments on film, many of us stopped there. We filled our albums, shoeboxes, and scrapbooks with the paper artifacts that represented the historical record of our everyday experiences and special life events.

But some continued to dream and experiment — and the advent of digital photography has only opened more doors to the imaginative spots in their brains.

One such interesting vision comes from the photographer Matt Molloy, a young man from Michigan, who combines time-lapse photography techniques in his digital camera with the image-manipulation software on his computer to create composite-image studies he calls “time stacks.”

In addition to applying his eye and equipment to make star trails and traditional images of landscapes and sunsets, Molloy spends computer time to edit a staggered sequence of frames that end up offering a new take on the typical time-lapse photo or motion picture.

Take a look at his “Twenty Minute Sunset” or his Time Stacks set. Then, explore more of Molloy’s 500px portfolio and his Flickr photostream for a fascinating vision of time and our natural world.

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

Treehouse Masters

Who doesn’t love a treehouse?!?

And what about the crew of folks who make their living creating these amazing elevated spaces? Dream job, right? Right!

You won’t get any disagreement from Pete Nelson, the treehouse master builder who hails from Fall City, Washington, a small town just south of Seattle, nestled in the lush old-growth forest greenery of the US Pacific Northwest.

Pete and his wife and daughter run Nelson Treehouse and Supply, based at Treehouse Point, a beautiful location with its own collection of treehouses that have been known to harbor a vacationer or two or even a honeymooning couple. Pete and his hardy gang, including riggers, carpenters, builders, the ace interior decorator Tory, and his own sons, travel all over the world to make the fantasy of living in the trees a very comfortable reality. Although most of their work remains within the United States, Pete and his crew go anywhere at any time of year to bring a treehouse vision to life.

Watch Treehouse Masters on Animal Planet or Discovery Channel — or catch up with episodes, behind-the-scenes time-lapses, and more at the Treehouse Masters website — and you can see these incredible treehouses emerge from initial conversation with the customer and Pete’s on-site sketches. You’ll go inside the fabrication shop at Treehouse Point, and, ultimately, watch the reality of weather and unexpected events on the ground unfold while the skilled, enthusiastic, and well-matched crew put up a magical structure at the client’s property.

Makes you start scouting the backyard for a place to put a treehouse of your very own…

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos


In this online community by and for photographers — as well as those who love great imagery and want to learn more about how to create it or use it legally — you’ll find some of the most amazing photos available in the cloud.

Calling itself “the premier photography community” is not really an understatement. But 500px (meaning 500 pixels) is also a sandbox for exploration and a source of great images available for licensing. Which has the benefit of providing at least a bit of income for the creative souls who share their work here. Which means they/we can afford to keep doing it. Big win for all concerned.

In the current climate where anyone with a smartphone has at least one high-powered camera with them at all times, making a living with photography has become even more difficult than it was in the days of celebrity shooters such as Galen Rowell, David Muench, and Jim Brandenburg, let alone the Kodachrome masters and Pan-X pioneers like Pete Turner and Ansel Adams. Websites like 500px.com build on the Flickrs of the world to create a spot where photographer and user/buyer can come together for the benefit of both.

Whether you’re a photographer looking for an online space that appreciates your energy, talent, and effort, as well as the business aspects of this creative field, or you love finding cool images to put on your website or use elsewhere — licensed legally and for a reasonable fee — check out the collaborative community at 500px.com. Enjoy!

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos


— insider source for and about broadcast network and cable news — 

Nobody has to tell anybody that we live in a 24/7 news cycle.

But the nature of ‘news’ has changed dramatically in a very short time. Some would even say that what passes for news these days is just a lot of celebrity gossip with a snippet of war-zone coverage and a political scandal or mud-sling thrown in for good measure.

Regardless, we still want to find out what’s going on in the world or our little corner of it. So do the folks who actually work in the news biz. Who knew?

So. Where do the news “professionals” go for the latest on their industry?

To a blog-cum-website, TVNewser from mediabistro.com. Launched in 2004 by Brian Stelter, a reporter for The New York Times who was then a 20-year-old senior journalism student at Towson University near Baltimore, Maryland, the blogsite provides up-to-the minute daily info about what’s happening in the teevee news biz. You’ll find ratings stats, who’s watching what (demographic breakdowns by program), links to major cable and broadcast resources, and lists of topics, archives, and recent ‘newsworthy’ events.

Great quote from one day’s entries on the TVNewser website —
The Hollywood Reporter: “Tune in to Fox News for comedy done right.”

If you’re really into this stuff — as most of the well-known talking heads seem to be, you can also sign up for the “Daily Media Newsfeed” via email to get your fix.

Be warned: news, blogs, email — all this electronic buzz about the electronic buzz can be addictive….

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

I Am Sam

Even with Academy Award® nominee Sean Penn in the pivotal title role, there are all kinds of ways this film could have gone south — but it didn’t. Big-blue-eyed, wispy blonde seven-year-old Dakota Fanning found a spot on everyone’s radar with this older-than-her-years performance. She more than holds her own with Hollywood A-listers Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Dianne Wiest. So do challenged actors Brad and Joe from L.A. Goal, the sheltered workshop where filmmakers did months of research before beginning to write the script.

I Am Sam is a well-realized story of love and family that transcends place and time. In fact, the main characters show us two ends of the parental and social spectrum, which are not as far apart as it might seem at first. Who’s to say that the obsessive-compulsive perfectionism of the high-powered lawyer is any more or less dysfunctional than that of the mentally challenged father who must have order in his world?

The story revolves around the parental rights of Sam, a single father with the mental age of about seven and who’s daughter Lucy has, in many ways, surpassed him. As Lucy nears her seventh birthday, nightly story-time reading expands beyond Sam’s favorite Dr. Seuss — Green Eggs and Ham (Sam, I am) — to Stellaluna. Sam struggles with the new book and wants to return to familiar territory. Although Lucy has no problem with the new story, she doesn’t want to say the word “different,” because she realizes that it describes this man she loves.

As the child struggles with her emotions about her father and her friends, a series of misadventures leads to the intervention of social services, with Lucy ultimately taken away from Sam. The film then immerses us in Sam’s journey, as he links up with a powerful “four-name” lawyer and encounters the courts and foster-care system, to bring Lucy back home. It’s an emotionally engaging and fulfilling film experience.

When the filmmakers do a good job of developing the film, one of the best things about a DVD version is all the “extra” stuff and backstory that ends up on the disk. In the documentary about Becoming Sam, writer/producer/director Jessie Nelson describes how the seed of the film came from her own experience as a new parent who was at wit’s end in caring for her sick child.

There’s also fascinating background about the research, casting, character development, look and feel, and the music, which is based on Beatles songs covered by artists like Eddie Vetter, Ben Harper, Rufus Wainright, Ben Folds, The Black Crowes, The Wallflowers, Sarah MacLachlan, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, Sheryl Crow, and others.

Cast: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianne Wiest, Dakota Fanning, Richard Schiff,
Doug Hutchison, Loretta Devine, Laura Dern
Writer/Producer/Director: Jessie Nelson, with assists
Theatrical release: 2001; available on DVD

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

Great Museums

— celebrate America’s ‘year of the museum’ — 2006 — anytime online —

No matter where you travel in the United States — or, for that matter, around the world — you can find some kind of museum to visit. And why not give it a go?

Whether you enjoy the Old Masters, contemporary art, sculpture, historical memorabilia, rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis, farm life, classic cars, giant balls of twine, or anything else, some organization has probably collected it, catalogued it, and put it on display. The Great Museums website offers a chance to learn about places and spaces online that you might never have the chance to visit in person.

Based on Marjorie Schwarzer’s book Riches, Rivals & Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America, the original series of videos was shown on PBS and can now be found online at Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and elsewhere. Beyond links to the videos, the Great Museums website continues to expand its collection of video tours of America’s museums and offers a wide range of collateral materials, including DVDs and books. Choose Explore Great Museums to see video clips of places across the country.

Get even more information at the website for American Alliance of Museums. Then, after finishing your online visit, take some time to get out and see the real thing.

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

The Ultimate Gift

Put the dynamite young actor Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) in just about any film and you’ll likely have a winner. But The Ultimate Gift also brims with a wealth of additional talent both in front and behind the camera. Then, too, there’s a pretty good story to work with — from Jim Stovall’s best-selling novel of the same name.

The opening titles flash forward and back to reveal information that’s crucial to the narrative, alerting us to pay attention early and throughout. Soon, we encounter Jason, a spoiled trust-fund twenty-something intent on disrupting whatever’s going on — or sullenly refusing to participate. When his grandfather dies and the entire family is called together for the reading of the will, the truth about this seemingly privileged life becomes painfully clear.

Watching this family self-destruct over the dividing of material wealth calls into question whether any of them can be redeemed. Grandpa ‘Red’ seems to think Jason can — and he’s left a unique message for the young man. But Jason’s inheritance depends on his ability to complete twelve challenges and receive twelve gifts. While what Red has in mind might not seem like gifts to someone from Jason’s background, eventually, Jason realizes their value. And the end titles do a nice job of enumerating the list.

At a time when many films are filled with horror, destruction, abuse, and harsh language, a film like The Ultimate Gift could seem like a throwback to Pollyanna thinking. But it’s not syrupy at all. Yes, it has a ‘message,’ and, yes, some of the circumstances conveniently work out for the benefit of the story line. But tell me about a film that doesn’t rely on such techniques.

The Ultimate Gift is not heavy-handed in style or tone, and it’s a real treat to see so many fine actors truly enjoying their work together. The DVD offers several short additions to the film, including a behind-the-scenes look at the “Making of…” the film and the interactions of cast and crew.

As Red says, “I lost everything three or four times. It’s the perfect place to start” searching for the ultimate gift. So what’s your dream?

Cast: Drew Fuller, Bill Cobbs, Abigail Breslin, Ali Hillis, James Garner,
Brian Dennehy, Lee Meriwether
Director: Michael O. Sajbel
Theatrical release: 2007; available on DVD

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos