Thursday, December 20, 2007

November 2007

Books Read:
Halloweenland By: Al Sarrantonio
Now and Forever By: Ray Bradbury
Split Screen By: Brent Hartinger
The Mist By: Stephen King
CliffsNotes on Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales By: James L. Roberts
The Psychology of Survivor Ed: Richard J. Gerring
*Superman: Kal By: Dave Gibbons & Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Movies Viewed For the First Time:
The Mist
The Running Man
Beowulf
No Country for Old Men

*Denotes a graphic novel.

November provided me a little more time to read because of Thanksgiving. I went through a wide variety of material. If you enjoy Ray Bradbury's writing, you might want to check out Now and Forever. It's a collection of two novellas that have appeared in various different forms over the past forty years. I'm a pretty big fan of Stephen King and am a huge fan of the directorial talents of Frank Darabont, so I had to read The Mist before watching it in theatres. More on that later. I'm also a big fan of Survivor and really enjoyed reading the collection of psychological essays about the show in The Psychology of Survivor. I picked up a few tips that might even come in handy on future auditions. Lastly, Superman: Kal is a graphic novel telling the story of Superman if it was set in the Middle Ages.

As for movies, I highly recommend The Mist and No Country for Old Men. Be forewarned, however, that both films are incredibly bleak. I was really excited about The Mist. It was adapted, directed, and co-produced by Frank Darabont, aka the guy who brought to screen The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Darabont made the movie on a budget of around $10 million, a feat unheard of in Hollywood. I was, however, diappointed a bit by the ending. Stephen King's original tale is very dark, but literally ends with hope. Darabont's adaptation does not and ends in nihilism. Other than that, it's a great film.

No Country for Old Men is the latest film from the Coen Brothers. I love the Coen Brothers. All of their movies are witty and quirky and highly entertaining. Sometimes they are even thought provoking. No Country for Old Men is an excellent film, full of subtlety and meaningful messages. At the same time, I was so depressed by the end of the movie I was on the verge of crying.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cultural Deprivation and Depravation of Youth

Yesterday about 75% of the students at school were gone for the day on an "honors" trip. It's two days until exams and for most of the classes we watched the first part of THE MUPPETS CHRISTMAS CAROL. I thought it would be a nice way to spend the day, yet also have a connection to a famous piece of English literature. I didn't expect many students to know anything about Charles Dickens. However, I though many of the students would at least have known who the Muppets were. I was wrong. Almost all of the students I had in class had never heard of the Muppets. I thought the Muppets were a group of characters that were a part of American pop culture, like Charlie Brown and the Simpsons. The Muppets are a part of Americana, but most of the students I teach have never even heard of them. How depressing is that?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Enchanted

I saw the movie ENCHANTED yesterday. There are a lot of reasons to see the film. However, the best reason is Amy Adams.

Ah, Amy Adams.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Grammar Wanted

Last week I had something happen to me that I thought would never happen to me as an English teacher. I actually had one student say to me, "Why do we have to read these stories and do all these presentations? Can't we just do a bunch of grammar worksheets and stuff?" I almost fainted. I would never have believed I would ever have a student pleading with me to do more grammar work. Of course, if I give them the grammar stuff that the student requested, that same student will be complaining about all the boring worksheets and editing they will be doing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Silence of God

I found this posted on another blog that I frequently. It sums up much of what I've been feeling and struggling with lately, so I thought I would widen the audience some.

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It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart
When he has to remember what broke him apart
This yoke may be easy, but this burden is not
When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God

And if a man has got to listen to the voices of the mob
Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they’ve got
When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross
Then what about the times when even followers get lost?
‘Cause we all get lost sometimes…

There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a stone
All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God”

- Andrew Peterson, “The Silence of God” on the album Love and Thunder

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

October 2007

Books Read
Love, Stargirl By: Jerry Spinelli
Amadeus By: Peter Shaffer

Movies Viewed For the First Time
Resident Evil: Extinction
Mirrormask
The Squid and the Whale
30 Days of Night


Due to the new teaching job, the play I was acting in, and a variety of other things (such as a couple of weddings), I didn't do hardly any reading or movie watching in October. Love, Stargirl is the sequel to Spinelli's highly-acclaimed and popular book Stargirl. That book remains as one of my favorite books of all time. Love, Stargirl not so much. In the introduction to the book, Spinelli attempts to justify why a sequel was written. Frankly, I think he should have let well-enough alone. Stargirl is an almost flawless novel and if it can ever shake the stigma of being classified as "young adult literature" could become something like a classic novel. I was excited and terrified when I learned about Love, Stargirl. I was excited because I love the characters from the original novel, but terrified because a sequel was unnecessary and might destroy what had been created. The book does do some damage, but it isn't terrible. If no one had ever read Stargirl they would probably really enjoy Love, Stargirl. After all, Spinelli is a top-notch writer and even his lackluster prose is better than most drivel one reads. Still, the book does take something away from the magic of Stargirl. Yet, I can't recommend one not read the book.

As for Amadeus, that's the play I was in and I always read the script ahead of time before the first rehearsal of any show.

As for movies, I'll only comment on two. First, there's The Squid and the Whale. It's a straight-forward , dramatic, coming-of-age story set in 1970s New York City. The writing is brilliant. There are some rather bizarre (some would say disgusting) incidents in the film, but none of it seems out of place. I wish I could make a movie as good as this one. If you love film, you'll probably like The Squid and the Whale, but if you're just a casual filmgoer, you probably won't.

Besides The Squid and the Whale the other film I enjoyed was 30 Days of Night. Sure it's based off a comic book and is a bloody, mind-candy film about vampires. But, lately I've found myself attracted to films about vampires, werewolves, zombies and the like. I'm not sure if it's because I know those movies are usually much cheaper to make than a typical film or maybe it has something to do with the idea of the half-existence those creatures have that interests me or if it's some other reason. What I do know is that I saw 30 Days of Night and liked it. Not recommended for the faint of heart.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Addendum.

Though nothing wicked this way has come, darkness has. Doom, doom, doom the bell tolls. No happiness for you.

But...

Then I remember something a wise man told me once: that as a Christian no matter how bad things get in life, it will always be better than Hell.

Later surprises from family and friends illuminate the darkness around me and at least for a few moments, I can see once again where I'm going.

Monday, November 12, 2007

?

Though nothing wicked this way has come, darkness has. Doom, doom, doom the bell tolls. No happiness for you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Re-Arisen Dreams Vs. Present Life.

The play I’m in just finished the first week of a two week run. Things went really well. I’ve really enjoyed the show. I’ve made some new acquaintances and seen some old acquaintances transform into friendships. I’ve been able to use the gifts and talents God has given me and I expand my talent as an actor ever so slightly.

The new job is…going. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been incredibly challenging. Every time I feel like I make a little progress, I find myself further behind than when I began. I don’t feel at all like I did when I was student teaching. Back then, I was sure I wanted to teach. I enjoyed it. Sure, there were rough days, but despite those I knew it was something I wanted to do. Now that I’m doing it, I’m not so sure. I’m going to give it some more time, though.

For the past month I feel like I’ve just been living in a haze. So much has happened in such a very short time.

Something I have learned this past month is that if I’m ever presented with the choice to work in film or education, I’d choose film. When I first answered that question a couple weeks ago, I was a bit shocked. I mean, I gave up the opportunity to move to L.A. and pursue a career in the motion picture business six years ago. I felt called to become a teacher. I fought God for months over that one. I gave it up, but He promised to give it back one day.

In the past six months, there have been signs that that the dream was being restored and the promise would be fulfilled. I took great comfort, joy, and happiness in that. Then the darkness began to settle in and now I’m not so sure anymore. At another point in my life I would have confidently said that I know without a shadow of a doubt that the promise would come true and the dream would be restored. I can’t say that with confidence right now. God has been rather silent with me lately. Like I said, it feels like I’ve been living in a haze. The soft whisper of God that has been so clear to me most of my life has been silent. Every once in awhile he shows me something (the vapors rising off a lake as the sun rises, for instance) to remind me that he is there, but the constant back and forth communication that I have grown so used to having hasn’t been happening. I miss hearing him. I’d grown accustomed to hearing him. I know I’m not alone, but at times it feels like I’ve been abandoned. It’s a very unpleasant sensation.

I want to make movies so bad. I want to go to New York and visit and join my friends living there. I want to get home at a decent time in the evening so I can sit down and write and finish a couple of the stories I’ve begun. I want to always act and perform for people on stage, screen, and radio. I am an Artist and I have to create.

Will I hear his voice again? Will the haze around me lift so that I can once again see where it is I’m going? Will I do the things in life that I really want to do? I think so, but I’m not sure. I’m not much sure of anything right now.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

September 2007

Books Read:
The Enlightened Bracketologist Ed: Mark Reiter & Richard Sandomir
*The Sopratos By: Stephan Pastis
Over Sea, Under Stone By: Susan Cooper
The Dark Is Rising By: Susan Cooper

Movies Viewed for the First Time:
Wedding Crashers
Friday Night Lights
3:10 to Yuma (2007 version)
Wild Hogs
**Our Time Is Up
**The Runaway
**The Last Farm
**Cashback
**Six Shooter
**Badgered
**The Moon and the Sun: An Imagined Conversation
**The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello
**The Fan and the Flower
**Imago
Delta Farce

*A collection of comic strips
**A short film

Both book reading and film watching was rather light for me in September. I don't know why, but in the fall it always seems I do less of both anyway.

The Sopratos is a collection of "Pearls Before Swine" comic strips. I highly recommend it because "Pearls" is the best comic currently being published in newspapers around the country. I had read both of the Susan Cooper books when I was in high school, but wanted to re-read them since the movie The Seeker, loosely based upon The Dark Is Rising was coming out in theatres in October. The Dark Is Rising is the richer of the two I read last month, but both are worth reading (there are five books in the series altogether).

As for films, I tried catching up on a few films I hear people talk about and quote from all the time, but hadn't had the opportunity to watch all the way through myself: Wedding Crasher & Friday Night Lights. Of the short films I watched, I'd only recommend Our Time Is Up, The Runaway, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, and The Fan and the Flower for casual movie goers. I also saw one of the best pictures I've seen all year in September, 3:10 to Yuma--why do people think the Western is dead?

Paycheck to Paycheck.

How is it that I earned just as much if not more money subbing than I am now that I'm teaching full time?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Alone and In the Dark.

I just got back from seeing the movie 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. It's a vampire flick set in Barrow, Alaska where for 30 days out of the year the town never sees the sun. It was pretty much what I expected (except I figured the vampires would be speaking in English) and there were some really interesting visual effects. The movie got me thinking.

Take away the vampires, and I feel like some of those people in Alaska. Right now, I feel like I'm in a murky haze I'm stumbling through with no sense of direction. I can't seem to think clearly. The direction that I thought my life was supposed to be headed according to the compass I was following isn't picking up any readings and I can't figure out which way to go. Granted it has been an incredibly busy two weeks for me and I am physically and mentally exhausted. Things will lighten up some, but with AMADEUS coming up, there won't be much slack until just before Thanksgiving. Anyway, at this moment I feel very confused and alone. I know that I'm not, but that's the way it feels.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Teaching Briefs.

I survived my first two weeks of full time teaching. The teaching I'm enjoying, but it's all the other stuff that comes with it (piles of paperwork that has to be read, but not graded; meetings; etc.) that I'm really having a difficult time dealing with right now.

Parent Teacher conferences were last night and this morning. I wasn't nervous about those at all. I was told ahead of time that I would probably get a lot of work done because not many parents show up at high school parent teacher conferences. That wasn't the case. I saw about 25 sets of parents which might not seem like a lot, but is about 20% of the parents of my students compared to the average of around 5-10% that most people at the school see.

Yesterday a dog wandered into my classroom. Students have to go outside to the ag building and this little grey and black dog got through the door and was wandering around the hall until he found his way to my classroom. That is one of the more unusual things I've seen in all my experiences in education so far. Later in the day more dogs showed up as the school went into lock down mode when the police showed up with the drug-sniffing canines.

American Citizens Turning On Each Other & Illegal Chinese Reincarnation

Listening to the radio today at the top of the hour I learned that in some Chicago suburb, the police have given radar guns to some citizens. In exchange, these citizens are clocking cars that go by and writing down their license plate numbers and submitting them to police so that the police can send them a ticket. I find that rather frightening. I'm all for citizens taking power back from the government, but that's not what this is. It has some very strong overtones of fascism, McCarthyism, and the Salem witchcraft trials. Big Brother is becoming far too big of a bully.
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In other news, the Chinese government recently issued Order #5 which makes it illegal for any Buddhist monk to return from the dead by means of reincarnation without government approval. Are the Communists worried that the Buddhists are going to secretly overthrow the government in their next life? I just don't get it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Have a Great Life.

Last weekend I attended two separate weddings for three dear friends of mine. The weddings were on different, but consecutive days and one of them I was a groomsman in. It was a very hetic week for me (especially with the added pressure of having just started the new teaching job), but one that was also a huge blessing. I got to hang out for a short time with some old friends that I don’t see very often, I made some new friends, and I just basked in the joy and happiness around me. Yet, (and with me there almost always is a yet—I must be addicted to melancholy), the experiences were tainted with a twinge of sadness. I know that I will stay in contact with and probably see on occasion my friends who were married, but for many of my other friends that I saw, these weddings were probably the last time I will ever see them again on this Earth. I wish it wasn’t the case, but experience has taught me otherwise. Life moves at a rapid pace and many times old friends fade into memory and become little more than forgotten acquaintances. I know it’s just another result of the fallen world in which we live and it makes me long for the Great Reunion to come. Still, it doesn’t wash away the sadness of the bittersweet feelings rushing through one’s body. So, have a great life.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Take Me Back to Manhattan Or Have I Sold Out?

Some good news is that last week I was offered a high school English job teaching almost all of the English classes at a small, rural high school. I took the position. I was in shock for two whole days. Having had nineteen other teaching interviews, I had assumed that the interview I had for this job would end up with the usual result of rejection. But, it didn’t. I’ll be teaching all the freshmen, sophomore, and senior English classes at the school as well as a writing composition elective. I’m very excited and am looking forward to it.

A couple days ago, I was running all over the place doing all sorts of errands. I was at a Borders bookstore looking around for some possible teaching aids I might need in the coming weeks when I saw something that caused me to stop and stare. There in front of me was a table filled with things about New York City: books, maps, a couple of games, and a few trinkets. I just froze for a few moments looking at the items and found myself filled with self-doubt.

As a result of some experiences this past spring and summer, I had decided that I would be moving to New York City, hopefully as early as March ’08, to pursue a career in the production side of the film industry. I was also planning on taking a trip to New York State to visit a couple close friends of mine this January. Because of the new job, both the vacation and my planned move will have to be postponed.

Please don’t get the wrong impression. I’m very happy and excited about the job I’m starting. I’m very much looking forward to finally having a classroom of my own and foster an appreciation of the English language upon young minds. This is something I felt led to do six years ago and I’m eager to see what teaching will actually be like.

Yet, I really want to go to New York. I’ve wanted to make movies since I was a kid. I love the entire filmmaking process and I would wager that film is one of the, if not The most persuasive and powerful art known. It appeals to several senses at once and can leave inerasable imprints upon one’s mind and memory. The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was when about six years ago I gave up my opportunity to go to California and attend film school. I wrestled with God for months over that. In the end, I knew what he was asking of me and at the time I wanted it, too. I knew I was supposed to go back and teach. And so I did and though I went through a ton of chaos, I felt totally at peace about it. It’s something I very much want to do. And, yet I still want to make movies.

At the end of this summer, I thought things were starting to make a little sense in my life. Even though I wasn’t teaching, yet, I knew I wanted to go to New York and make movies. I started applying for film related positions in the St. Louis area, including non-paying gigs, in the hopes of getting experience. Apparently, though, no one was interested in bringing me on.

Not only that, but searching for work doesn’t earn any money. I’m in debt and have bills to pay. Moving costs money and at minimum I needed enough cash saved up to pay my bills for a couple of months while in transition. That didn’t happen. I applied for one job after another. I tried temp work and part time. However, other than some sporadic substitute teaching and a one-week stint stuffing boxes full of bags of air (literally), I couldn’t find any work. To have enough cash just to get by I signed up for and participated in a week-long sleep study. I was looking at some medical studies to raise enough money for next month. The pressure was starting to drive me batty. Then I got the job and things seemed much better.

Except, they aren’t because as much as I want to teach, something tells me that I’ve sold out. This something tells me that the only reason I took the job was for the money and now I won’t be able to visit my friends in New York in January and I won’t be moving there this March. I tell myself that’s not really true, but there is a grain of truth there. I really needed cash and the job will help with that for the time being. Like I said earlier, it costs money to travel and move and even though I won’t be earning gobs of money, I should be able to save some so that I can eventually do those things. But that’s not the main reason I took the job. I spent two and a half extra years in college just to get a teaching certificate and almost two years of consecutive substitute teaching. I’m ready to teach.

Yet, I want to go back to Manhattan and I kind of feel like I’ve sold out. Have I?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Postscript.

The storm has passed and for now peace is here.

From AMADEUS.

"You gave me the desire to praise You--which most do not feel--then made me mute. Grazie tanti! You put into me perception of the Incomparable--which most men never know!--then ensured that I would know myself forever mediocre. Why! What is my fault? Until this day I have pursued virtue with rigour. I have laboured long hours to relieve my fellow men. I have worked and worked the talent You allowed me. You know how hard I've worked!--solely that in the end, in the practice of the art which alone makes the world comprehensible to me, I might hear Your Voice!"-- Salieri in AMADEUS, Act I, p. 43 by: Peter Shaffer
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At my core, I don't agree with the sentiments of Salieri in this scene, but I can relate. It is the voice of of the older brother in parable of the prodigal son. At my core, I know these feelings aren't healthy. They lead to bitterness, jealousy, envy, rage and such, but I've felt them before in my life and to be honest I kind of feel that way right now.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wrestling With God.

This past summer I heard a camp speaker whom I respect a great deal talk about how that if you decide to follow Christ, he won’t ask you to do something you really won’t want to do. He gave an illustration about a girl who wants to devote her life to Christ, but is afraid to give everything up because she’s afraid that he will ask her to go to the remote jungles of Africa and she really, really doesn’t want to get sent there. When the speaker spoke about this, I thought to myself, “That sounds good. I’d never really thought about it like that before.” Yet, there was something about what the speaker said that left my soul unsettled, as though something weren’t quite right. I wanted to believe what the speaker said. I wanted to believe it wholeheartedly, but the experiences of my life and some of the things God has asked me to do didn’t match up. I struggled with that then and I found myself still struggling with it today. Today I realized something. As I said before, I respect this speaker a great deal and I believe that’s why I wasn’t able to bring myself to the conclusion that I knew was true even at the time. You see, that speaker was wrong.

It is true that much of the time, God doesn’t ask us to do things that we don’t want to do or wouldn’t be inclined to doing anyway. Sometimes these things might be a bit uncomfortable, but they are not things that we are truly fearful of doing. However, there are times when God does ask us to do things that aren’t just uncomfortable, but are things that make us afraid. They are things that we vehemently fight against God about because they seem so contrary to reason, logic, and even our emotions.

There have been several times God has asked me to do things in my life that I was fearful of doing and did not want to do. Some of those things still don’t make sense to me today. I fought with God against these things, yet I know he wanted me to do them. When the speaker told us that God wasn’t going to ask us to do something we didn’t want to do, I knew from my life experience that wasn’t true. At the time, I couldn’t think of any Biblical evidence to support my claim., but as I was walking home from church this morning, and trying to figure out why things were so difficult I was reminded of several Bible stories. There’s Jonah. For many people, the Book of Jonah seems out of place with much of the Old Testament. I now have a better understanding of why it is there. God asked Jonah to do something he really didn’t want to do. In fact, Jonah thought it would be wrong of him to perform the task that was being asked of him. Jonah fought with God and even tried to run away, but in the end he did what God asked of him. Or take Gideon. Gideon knew God was leading him, a simply farmer, to lead a rag-tag army against the army of an empire. He didn’t want to do it. He knew what God was asking him, but he kept telling God that he needed to see signs to know for sure. Or how about Ezekiel? Ezekiel was a very faithful prophet but at one point in his life God asked him to spend over a year lying first on one side of his body and then the other and to cook his food using his own feces. I’m sure if you’d ask Ezekiel if he wanted to do that he would respond that he was happy to do anything God asked of him, but I bet if you kept pestering him about it he would eventually respond that no he really didn’t enjoy laying on his side all the time or eating food cooked over his own burning crap, but he knew he was supposed to be doing it.

Or take Jesus himself. Jesus was fully divine, but he was also fully human. In the Garden of Gethsemane he asked God three times to save him from having to be sacrificed. Jesus knew what had to be done, but he would have rather avoided it if he could.

I keep reminding myself of that; every moment is a Gethsemane. Still the struggle continues and there’s a whole lot of stuff happening that I don’t understand and that upsets me. Life doesn’t seem any easier and I feel more confused than ever, but the remembrance and knowledge is encouraging. I guess it’s like they used to say at the end of every G.I. Joe cartoon: “knowing is half the battle.”

Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetic Paragraph

Dancing with sadness I find my melancholy-tainted soul strangely strengthened by a sublime movement from beyond the spheres. Despite knowing from whence the movement comes, I continue to struggle through the emotions that I’d rather not feel, but am drawn to wrestle through. It is something I have to work out for myself. Still, the movement comes when most needed. It gives me the sliver of peace and hope that allows me to push beyond the caressing touches of sweet torment onto a small plateau of eternal joy and temporary happiness.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

August 2007

Books Read
I Sold My Soul on eBay By: Hemant Mehta
On Writing By: Stephen King

Movies Viewed for the First Time
Changing Lanes
The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Illusionist
Without Limits

Due to a variety of circumstances, August was a very slow month for me both in reading and watching movies. I only finished two books. The first, I Sold My Soul on eBay, is written by an atheist who basically put himself up for sale on eBay. The person winning the auction was able to send Mehta to church one week for every $10 they spent. The book came about because of the experiment. It has some good information about what many atheists believe as well as some suggestions about how Christian churches can become more welcoming towards non-believers. It's not a must read, but it does have some good points. If you want an honest and well-written perspective about Christian churches from someone on the outside, then this is the book you want to read.

The second book I read is On Writing. It's a book about writing written by Stephen King. I've read a lot of books about writing and this is the best one I've ever written. If I ever taught a college writing course, we would use this book as the text.

As for movies, I really enjoyed both The Illusionist and Without Limits. The Illusionist is a period piece with Paul Giamatti and Ed Norton about an 18th Century magician who falls in love with the fiance of the Crown Prince. Solid acting and good writing. It's much lighter in tone than The Prestige and is basically a love story tied together with some mystery. Without Limits is a movie about runner Prefontaine. The movie was well-down and the cinematography of the Oregon locales are gorgeous.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remember

I remember. Do you?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Explain This One To Me.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow announced his resignation. I'll admit that I had occasionally listened to Snow on his radio show before he became Press Secretary. I didn't always agree with what he had to say, but I found that overall he seemed to be more reasonable and respectful than most of the blow-hards on talk radio. My opinion of him has changed now. Snow said that the reason he was resigning was because, "because I ran out of money. A lot of people at home are saying, well, what do you mean, you make all this money. Well, you know what, I made more money when I was in my previous career. And I made the decision not to say to my wife and kids, you know, we've finally saved up all this money and done these things, and you're just going to have to give them away so Daddy can work at the White House." The White House Press Secretary position pays $168,000 a year and even though Snow gave up a very lucrative career in radio and television to come to the White House, his wife didn't have to give up her job.

Now, someone please explain this to me. You make $168,000 a year and that's not enough money to live on??? I know that Washington, D.C. is an expensive place to live, but come on. $168,000 a year??? For that amount of money I would be able to pay off ALL my debts, buy a car that I don't have to worry about breaking down, build my Dad the dreamhouse with the ground level swimming pool that he's always wanted, and still have enough money to live off for the rest of the year. And that would be on just that salary for one year. A second year earning that amount of money would allow me to save enough money that I would never have to worry about retirement.

Can you say, "disconnected from the people?" Good. I knew you could.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Happy 125th Birthday, Sorento!

"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name."--from Cheers theme

I grew up in a place where everybody not only knew your name, but everything else about you as well. It'll always be my hometown, no matter where I go and this weekend the village of Sorento, IL is celebrating 125 years of being around. Happy 125th Birthday, dear old hometown.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Here's the Deal.

The journey of my life has taken some really strange turns the past several years, but the path I’m on now is the strangest of all so far. I’m in Wonderland and that crazy Cheshire Cat keeps creeping me out. He’s got some great advice, but he’s also really dangerous because he plays for both sides. I’m feeling really confused. I’m living in two different worlds at the moment and I feel ready to rip apart at the seams.

“Long ago
In someone else's lifetime
Someone with my name
Who looked a lot like me
Came to know
A man and made a promise
He only had to say
And that's where he would be
Lately
Although the feelings run just as deep
The promise he made has grown impossible to keep
And yet I wish it wasn't so.”

The things I thought I was supposed to be doing, or rather the things I WAS supposed to be doing are no longer the things that I’m supposed to be doing now. A dream delayed might not be denied any more; I can see it waving at me in the door beyond. And that man from long ago has told me the vow is complete. With a wink and a nod, he said I’m free to go.

The journey has brought me through many Bang-Ups and Hang-Ups and even a Slump or two. I’ve heard voices all around me, mainly children’s voices. They’re good, strong, and solid voices. They are voices from The Waiting Place and they are voices that any dullard with any amount of common sense would listen to. But I’m no dullard; my head is full of brains, my shoes are full of feet, and I’m much too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

I’ve gotten mixed up of course and despite knowing better I’ve even mixed up my left foot with my right sometimes. But I’m on my way out to find the bright places; places where some Boom Bands are playing. I’m ready for anything under the sky, ready because I’m that kind of guy.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself. The Waiting Place isn’t the best place in the world, but it is a definite place. It’s also really comfortable, too. And all those voices. None of those voices sounds at all unreasonable. I’m the one who sounds unreasonable. In fact, I act like I’m insane. Me, the guy who has tried to live life according to logic and temperance is probably the craziest person of all.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I really don’t. I’m trying my hardest to hang on and enjoy the ride, but I’m about ready to crap my pants.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Dog in the Sidecar

Below is a short story I finished this past spring. It's already been rejected from one journal and is probably in the process of being rejected from some more. However, it's a decent story. I like it and want to share it with people. So, enjoy. Feel free to leave comments about it.
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“The Dog in the Sidecar”

Tom Varner
The smell of dog urine drafted across the bedroom and awoke the old gent from his peaceful slumber. “Barney. Not again,” he spoke aloud as he maneuvered his legs out of the bed onto the carpeted floor. It irritated him that he would be spending his waking moments soaking, shampooing, and vacuuming the bedroom floor even though it was a ritual that he had become accustomed to doing.

Barney was a small black and white rat terrier. The old man had picked Barney up from the dog pound about ten years ago. It had been several months after his wife, Nelda, had died. A person could go to a pet store or the Humane Society to pick up a pet, but the old man went to the pound because he knew many of those critters were dead dogs walking. He picked Barney from all the other dogs because he was the most ordinary and average-looking dog in the pen. Until a year ago, Barney was well-trained and never went to the bathroom inside the house. He was a playful dog and gave the old man hours of enjoyment as they wrestled over one of Nelda’s old nylon stockings on the hardwood living room floor. Most folks who took time to visit the old man could only find one fault with Barney: he madly barked anytime a stranger arrived at the door. Visitors found the bombardment of barking a nuisance, but the old man took comfort in Barney’s exclamations because he knew it was Barney doing what he could to assist his master. They were a perfect match.

This still was true in spite of Barney’s recent kidney problems. The first time it happened the old man was shocked. He had owned Barney for nearly ten years and the dog had never had an accident in the house once. This was even more surprising considering that Barney was at least fifteen years old. The old man took him to a vet right after picking him up from the pound and after the animal doctor gave Barney a thorough examination, the old man was told the dog was between five and seven years old. The old man occasionally lied about his own age, so he didn’t see any harm in lying about Barney’s age, too.

After the shock faded that first morning, the old man was filled with even more compassion for the creature, “Penis problems, huh? Well, that’s to be expected. I have penis problems sometimes, too. It happens when you’re our age. It’s not like you’re pushing a hundred or something.” That was the first time Barney peed on the carpet. The dog didn’t have another accident for two months. A month later it happened again. That went on for several months. Recently it was happening about once a week.

With the grogginess still seeping from his eyes and a bit of morning gas passing through his bowels, the old man walked into the bedroom bathroom to get some paper towels to soak up the urine on the floor. Barney hid beneath the bed, afraid that his master would smack him or say a harsh word, but the old man had never done either of those things to Barney and as long as he had control of his mental faculties he never would. He loved Barney too much.

The old man soaked the urine up with a wad of paper towels. He threw the paper towels away in the bathroom trashcan. Then he lurched to the hallway closet to get the carpet shampoo and vacuum. At the accident site he poured the cleaner on and proceeded to use the toilet in the bathroom as the shampoo soaked in. With his business finished, he washed his hands, brushed his teeth, and washed his face. Then he returned to the accident site and sat on the bed to give the cleaner more time to do its magic. While sitting there on the edge of the bed, the elder fellow thought about Nelda.

He and Nelda had been married for nearly fifty years. He had been married longer than he had lived as a single and widowed man combined. Nelda was a beautiful and vivacious woman when they first met. She had red hair, bright blue eyes, and creamy-white skin. She had a great sense of humor and was always smiling. She had her moods, usually when dealing with the curse, but more often than not she was a very happy and joyful person. He felt more alive when he was around her than when he was by himself. It might be cliché, but she made him want to be a better man.

After they were married he discovered something else about Nelda: she was a hellion in bed. They were religious people and had resisted the temptation to have sex before marriage. Before their marriage, he had worried that Nelda would grow weary from his sexual appetite and desires. He learned otherwise during their honeymoon. Their lovemaking sessions lasted five or six hours and he would often find himself completely drained, lying on the bed naked, trying to find enough strength to continue as Nelda panted for more. That was in the early days of their marriage.

When the children arrived, things began to change. Their lovemaking was still fierce and passionate, but it didn’t occur as frequently. They decided before they were married that if they ever had children, Nelda would quit her job and be a stay-at-home-mom. After the first child arrived, Nelda retired from her seamstress job at the factory and he began working longer hours to make up some of the lost income. Eventually he picked up a second part-time job working in the shoe section of a local department store. He tried very hard to make Nelda happy and for awhile they were happy and at peace.

They had three children all total, two sons separated by one girl. They were a close-knit family. They went to the movies every other Friday. They played games together during the weekend. At night, they would shut the tv off and he would tell the children grand and marvelous stories before they went to bed. Every summer they took a family vacation and every month the kids would spend at least one night away from the house so Nelda and he could be alone. Those were golden years.

Their relationship changed drastically as the children grew up. Their youngest son joined the Marines and was killed during a secret mission in North Korea. They gave him the Medal of Honor posthumously and buried him in Arlington. Nelda’s mother and father died soon after that. Six months later her only brother died from lung cancer. It was a strange and freaky way for him to die: Nelda’s brother never touched a tobacco product in his life, he was a leader of an organization that lobbied and protested against tobacco companies, and no one on either side of Nelda’s family ever had lung cancer. Her brother’s death affected Nelda greatly.

Two years later more tragedy struck when an FBI officer arrived at their front door to inform them of their daughter’s rape and murder. Their daughter was a business executive in Chicago. She was on a road trip out west with some friends to celebrate her recent job promotion. While sleeping in their hotel, an escaped convict broke into their room. He tied all three women up and raped them. The death had been accidental—as he raped their daughter the convict grabbed her neck in ecstasy and unintentionally broke it during his spasms of pleasure. The convict was eventually captured and sentenced to death. He never made it down the green mile; other prisoners made sure of that.

The convict’s trial and eventual death didn’t really matter to the family, because by that point Nelda was pretty much insane. The vitality and joy that had filled her in her youth evaporated. She never would admit it, but she gave up on living and just starting existing. She gained over one-hundred-fifty pounds in a year. By the time of her death she weighed over four-hundred-fifty pounds. She stopped going places and just sat at home watching tv and dwelling upon the misery befallen her life in recent years. She would waddle out of her chair three or four times a day, but only to eat and use the bathroom. The beautiful nymph became a weebling hippopotamus burdened by both blubber and sorrow.

Their eldest son and only remaining child moved closer to home to try to help out, but after two years he couldn’t take it—the negativity and pessimism constantly spewing forth from his mother’s mouth was too much for him. He took a job as an English professor at a college in Arizona and broke off communication with his mother. The last time the old man had spoken with his son was a week after Nelda’s funeral. They had remained on good terms during his son’s self-produced exile, but two weeks after the funeral his son took a missionary job overseas teaching English to Chinese children. He had recently become engaged to a young Russian woman teaching at the same school. They were to be married this spring back in the states. His son couldn’t call, but wrote frequently.

After his son left for China, the old man realized something. He was alone. He hadn’t lived alone in nearly half a century and he was surprised at how difficult it took him to adjust. That’s why he adopted a dog. He was nearing the end of his life and felt lonely. So he adopted a dog. Now, Barney was approaching the end of his life, too.

These were some of the things the old man thought about each morning as he waited for the carpet shampoo to set in. Then he would get up and vacuum the floor. Once finished, he would return the supplies to the hallway closet and get dressed. That’s when the real fun of the day began.

“Barney!” he would call. “It’s time to go.”

Barney would come bounding from beneath the bed and run around his master’s legs with his tongue sticking out.

“Are you ready to go outside, Boy?” and the dog would bark and bark and bark.The old man would walk out of the bedroom, down the hall, and down the stairs with Barney following close at his heals.

At the bottom of the stairs the old man would slip his feet into his shoes, put his coat on, and attach the extendable leash to Barney’s collar. After unlocking the door, he and Barney would go on their morning walk. They would walk for nearly a mile in one direction before turning back towards the house. Usually, the sun was just rising as they started back to the house. Seeing the sun rise above the Earth each morning encouraged the man. Barney seemed to like it, too, and would patter more fiercely as the orange orb flooded the horizon with light.

Barney usually went to the bathroom during their morning walk and even though the city had laws about cleaning up animal messes, the old man had stopped using a pooper scooper years ago. He first stopped about two years after Nelda’s death. He was walking Barney and had forgotten the blasted contraption behind. Barney had to go and the old man let him. He decided then and there that he wasn’t going to use the damn thing anymore and went home and burned the pooper scooper in the fireplace.

Three years ago, after watching Barney do his business behind a tree, a neighbor approached the old man to remind him about the town ordinance. The old man told his young neighbor, “Screw the city council! Most of them are worthless bums without an ounce of fire in their balls. I don’t give a flying fiddler’s fart anymore about stupid, silly laws. I’m too old and life’s too short.” The neighbor liked the old man and never said anything again, but his wife wrote a complaint to the city council. Like a great many other things he said and wrote that no one paid any attention to, the old man had been right about the city council. No action was ever taken against him for not using a pooper scooper.

As much as the old man and Barney enjoyed their morning walks, the real highlight of the day came when the duo returned home. Instead of going back into the house, the old man and Barney would enter the garage. One of the old man’s most prized possessions was a genuine World War II U.S. Army motorcycle complete with sidecar. He had bought the vehicle with the royalties received from a novel he had written that had spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list.

Every morning, upon entering the garage after their morning walk, the old man would unhook Barney’s leash and lift the canine up into the sidecar. Then the old man would take four items down from the garage wall: two helmets and two pairs of coke-bottle goggles. The smallest pair of goggles he placed on Barney. Then he would strap the miniature helmet to Barney’s head. Next he would place Barney’s leash at the bottom of the sidecar. Then he would place his own goggles and helmet on before proceeding to sit down and turn the motorcycle’s ignition. He kept the garage locked tight and never bothered to take the keys out of the ignition.

Then the old man would turn around, look at Barney, and say, “Ready, Barney?”

Barney always barked back in the affirmative.

“Well, then. Let’s go.”

Without another word the man would push the garage door opener and as the door began to rise, the old man riding a motorcycle with a dog in the sidecar would pull out into the street, facing the coming twilight together. Never was there a happier pair than they.

Monday, August 13, 2007

July 2007

Books Read
Prairie Dogs By: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows By: J.K. Rowling
The Mote in God's Eye By: Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
*Love, Sex, and the I.R.S By: William Van Zandt & Jane Milmore

*Denotes a play.

Movies Viewed for the First Time
Ratatouille
Transformers
Orange County
Little Miss Sunshine
Pan's Labyrinth
Shooter
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Wet Hot American Summer
Rescue Dawn
The Simpsons Movie


For the past several years, I have been waiting until the paperback version of the Harry Potter books came out before reading them. Since Deathly Hallows is supposed to be the last in the series, I decided to read the book as soon as I could. I work with a lot of youngsters and I felt it best to know how it ended myself rather than having someone spoil it for me. I have to say, it is the best book in the series. I really didn't think Rowling was going to tie all the loose ends together but she did.

As for the other books, Prairie Dogs is a great introduction to those adorable little creatures, The Mote in God's Eye is considered a masterpiece of science fiction and deservedly so, and Love, Sex, and the I.R.S. is a hilarious farce.

As for films, I was pleasantly surprised by Transformers. Ratatouille is another great addition to the Pixar collection and is worth seeing for the water sequences alone--truly amazing. I was blown away by Pan's Labyrinth. Order of the Phoenix is the second-best Harry Potter movie. Finally, Rescue Dawn is a brilliant piece of filmmaking--it has Christian Bale and Steve Zahn in the role that might just re-define his career. Zahn is one of the most underrated actors in the business.

Something From the Summer

In the spirit of reflection, here are some things that I learned and experienced this summer.
· I gained a greater appreciation for many different styles of music and I was introduced to some great music that I never knew existed before.
·
My taste buds overflowed with the sensation from new foods and beverages.
·
I really like making movies, even ones that are made on a budget around $300.
·
I now know why sometimes people in countries that seem to be doing really well take up arms and revolt against the oppression, corruption, and hypocrisy of their governments. The Truth of what is going on can rarely be found on the surface.
·
I find prairie dogs to be adorable.
·
The imagination is a wonderful gift and tool from God.
·
It’s great to have friends that you can actually hang out with.
·
I smoked a hookah.
·
The Office is one of the best shows currently on television.
·
It’s both disheartening and infuriating to watch a baseball field being destroyed.
·
I was reminded of just how beautiful life truly is.
·
I’m a great storyteller.
·
You can make a difference in a person’s life even just working behind a store counter.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Recession

A recession is coming. Perhaps it'll be the start of something grand.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

'Tis finished.

Monday, July 30, 2007

June 2007 & Some Other Tidbits

Books Read:
Rupert: Just Being Me By: Rupert Boneham & Lester Thomas Shane

Movies Viewed For the First Time:
Ocean’s 13
Night Watch
Beerfest
28 Weeks Later
The Departed
Live Free or Die Hard
Hot Fuzz

Since I was at camp all through June, I didn’t have much free time for reading or watching films (not to mention we were filming another movie ourselves, too). Rupert: Just Being Me is the life story of Rupert Boneham, one of the most memorable people to ever be a contestant on Survivor. I’m a huge fan of the show and was pleased to read about Rupert’s life. It’s a very straight-forward book and though there might not be much interest for people who aren’t fans of Survivor, I do think it is a good book illustrating how many interesting stories each of us has in their own life. Life is an adventure. Don’t forget that.

As for movies, I highly recommend Hot Fuzz. It’s one of the best comedies I’ve seen in years. It will probably be on my Top 10 List this year. Night Watch is a great film about a war between forces of good and evil and I eagerly am awaiting when I can watch the sequel, Day Watch. 28 Weeks Later was a well done sequel to a great zombie movie. The Departed was good, but there were other movies released last year that were better. Lastly, Live Free or Die Hard is a great addition to the Die Hard series.

Next month I should be writing this summary much sooner.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
The Gorilla has risen. Want to know more? Let me know.
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If you are a praying person, pray for me if you think about it. I’m about ready to jump into a major transition time in my life and I have no idea when it will end, where I will end up, or exactly what I will be doing. I intend to write more in the future about this because it is something I have been struggling with since May. However, in just a few days is when I will be attempting to implement some of the things I decided as a result of the struggle. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Flamethrower.

I got to use a flamethrower last week to kill some weeds. 'twas sweet.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Camp Stories

Below are some of my favorite conversations I either heard or were a part of during the first week of camp this summer.
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Tuesday night I was walking outside of the chapel building and noticed a boy sitting on some steps by himself. He looked lonely and knowing what it’s like to be alone, I decided to sit down with him and try to begin a conversation with him.

I found out his name and that the reason he was sitting outside was because the music inside was too loud for him. I then asked him some questions about the speaker. The speaker was speaking about Moses and I asked him questions about that. His reply was a mixture of several different Bible stories in one (according to the camper Moses was the guy who got trapped in a whale and after he got out he got better by eating some fruit and then was shipwrecked on an island and was bitten by poisonous snakes but didn’t die and eventually was murdered). I carefully went through the first part of Moses’ life with him. Ten minutes later the conversation concluded as follows.

Camper: Moses’ mom was Mary, right.

Me: I don’t think so. I’m not sure what Moses’ mom was named, but I don’t think it was Mary. Mary was Jesus’ mom, though.

Camper: Oh. Moses lived a long time.

Me: Yes. He lived to be 120.

Camper: Jesus lived a long time and died an old man.

Me: What? No, Jesus didn’t live very long and he was crucified.

Camper: That’s right. He was crucified. Do you know how the world will end?

Me: Well, kind of, but not exactly.

Camper: I know.

Me: Really? How?

Camper: It’s going to end in a giant waterfall that falls off into space.

Me: What?

Camper: At the end of the world there’s going to be a giant waterfall and everything will fall off into space.

Me: Where did you hear that?

Camper: It’s in a movie, At World’s End.

Me: That’s the pirate movie.

Camper: Yeah, but I also read it in National Geographic.

Me: What was it called?

Camper: “World’s End.”

Me: Not the movie, the article.

Camper: The MOVIE is At World’s End. The NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC is “World’s End.”

Me: Oh. Do you know what issue it was in? I’d like to read it myself.

Camper: Oh, you can’t find it online, Tom.

Me: I didn’t say I was going to look it up online. I’d just like to find a copy to read for myself. It’s sound interesting.

Camper: Oh. Let’s go inside now.
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On Wednesday afternoon I took the Science Center’s 7 foot red tailed boa, named Rose down to the beach. I didn’t actually make it into the beach because I was mauled by kids outside the gate. The kids seemed to be having a great time. Then one of the campers began asking me some really unusual questions.

Camper: Do you use dummies?

Me: Excuse me?

Camper: Do you use dummies?

Me: I’m not sure I understand what you are asking?

Camper: Do you use dummies?!

Me: Dummies?

Camper: Yes, dummies!

Me: I don’t understand.

Camper: You know, like the dummies they use in cars they test crash.
Me: Yes, I know what dummies are. But why would I use a dummy?

Camper: To practice on.

Me: What???

Camper: To practice on with the snakes. You know, to see how much pressure the snake uses to kill a person or what it does when it bites someone.

Me (holding back laughter): No, we don’t use dummies. It’s an interesting idea, though.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
While sitting at lunch one day one of my former campers started questioning one of the band members.

Camper: You like being on stage.

Band Member: It’s okay.

Camper: How come you guys aren’t a real band?

Band Member: What do you mean? We are a real band. We make cds and everything.

Camper: No you’re not. You’re just a bunch of wizzy guys some guy put together and put on stage.

Some more conversation followed and then…

Camper: How come every Christian camp I go to all they play is David Crowder. I like David Crowder and he’s a good musician, unlike you, but come on people. I was at FCA camp last week and all they played was David Crowder, too. What’s the deal?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

May 2007

Books Read
Jack Knife by: Virginia Baker
Reliquary by: Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
The Polysyllabic Spree by: Nick Hornby
A Year with the Hooper by: James Hoby
Children of Hurin by: J.R.R. Tolkien

Movies Viewed for the First Time
12 Angry Men (original)
Spider-Man 3
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
Smokey and the Bandit
Shrek the Third
Seed of Chucky
Lord of War
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Thank You for Smoking
Smokey and the Bandit II

I know that this is a couple weeks later than normal, but I’m at camp and have been busy and don’t have much time to write things for cyberspace right now. However, I intended on keeping this up for at least a year. Anyway.

Out of the books I read only two or worth noting. The Polysyllabic Spree is a collection of essays about the books Nick Hornby has read and bought. He then writes a column about them for The Believer magazine. This is the book that gave me the idea to do this in the first place. If you like reading and don’t mind a self-defacing, witty, British author then you might just enjoy it, too. The other book of note is The Children of Hurin. It’s a post humonous work of J.R.R. Tolkien that has been edited together by his son, Christopher. The book takes place millennia before The Hobbit and reminded me of a Greek tragedy. It’s not for everyone, but if you like Tolkien and Greek tragedies, be sure to check it out.

As for films, only two are noteworthy, also. The first is Lord of War with Nicholas Cage. The second is Thank You for Smoking. Both films are films that deal with serious issues and use the art of satire to do so. Lord of War is more dramatic, but it has its humorous moments. I highly recommend both.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Audition Vs. The Teaching Interview

Several years ago when I first began making a serious attempt to enter the entertainment business, I was told by my theatre teachers and some people who already had experience in the profession that I should prepare myself for failure and rejection. I like to read and I read dozens of books about acting, auditioning, and attempting to make a career in the business. Almost every one of the authors I read said something along the lines of “That for every 1 role you get or project you are hired for, you will have 100 that you are rejected from.” I remember reading in particular one book that said growing “rhino-skin” (an emotional toughness similar to the skin of rhinosaurous’) was a must in order to survive for any length of time in the world of entertainment. Time after time I was told that failure and rejection would become two of my closest companions and that chances for success would be very, very, very small indeed.

All of these voices were mostly correct as experience has shown me.

The entertainment business, whether you want to act, write, or direct is an incredibly difficult business to make a living in. The guy or gal working a 9-5 job behind a desk would probably be so discouraged after the first audition that they would go home crying and never come back.

One of my friends gave the following rules to me when I was first in college and for the longest time it was a mantra of sorts for me:

  1. Life is unfair.
  2. Theatre is less fair than life.
  3. Acting is the least fair part of theatre.
  4. Humans submit themselves to nothing less fair than the audition.

For many years, I thought that was completely true. I have discovered that it isn’t. I’ve discovered something that is even less fair than the audition: a teaching interview.

When you audition for a play, commercial, film or some other project there are a myriad of reasons why you might not be chosen. You might have more talent than the person cast, but you just didn’t look like the role. Perhaps you looked like the role, but you didn’t look right with the rest of the cast members already hired. Perhaps the reason you didn’t get hired was because you wouldn’t sleep with the casting director. Maybe you had some words with that creepy high schooler in front of theatre, but you didn’t know he was related to the assistant director. You’re too old. You’re too young. You’re too fat. You’re too thin. You’re not muscular enough. You’re not chubby enough. You’re teeth aren’t white enough. You’re teeth aren’t yellow enough. You sneezed when you stepped into the room. The director hated the one play that you acted in and got rave reviews for. The reasons are endless. The thing is, if you want to act (or direct or write for that matter), you can’t let it get to you. That’s the nature of the business.

I thought education was different. When I felt called to teaching instead of going to film school in California, I thought I was entering a noble profession. I had several education teachers insist that was what teaching was a “noble” profession. I entered that profession because I felt led to. I also entered it because instead of working crappy jobs to support myself, I wanted to do something that was significant, meaningful, and full of purpose. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to change many lives, but I felt that I would be able to at least engage students enough that one or two might be affected in some small, positive way. Unlike many starting out in the profession, I didn’t have very many high and lofty goals. I had spent 6 months substituting in all kinds of schools in Indiana and I didn’t have any of those idealistic expectations. People told me all the time when I was in school, that I shouldn’t have any problem finding a decent job. I wish people would keep their petty b.s. comments like that to their selves because it isn’t true.

A year and a half later after I received my certificate, around 100 applications later, and 17 interviews later, I still haven’t been offered a teaching position. I’ve tried everything I can think of. I’ve been myself, I’ve told people what I thought they wanted to hear, I’ve been completely open and honest, I’ve been confident and reserved. Nothing seems to work. What’s more frustrating is that many times a principal or committee will tell you “well, we’ll let you know for sure one way or the other by such and such time” and then you never hear back from those people. You send thank you notes and sometimes even little reminders. If you’re lucky they might send you an email saying, “Thanks for contacting us about the position, but sorry, we’ve already hired someone else.” Why didn’t they tell you that three weeks ago when they said they were? Why does someone I’ve barely met and who I very much would like to work for and with lie to me? You would think that in a profession that’s supposed to be nondiscriminatory that looks, social class, and where you’ve lived will have nothing to do with you getting a job, but it’s not true. Statistics have shown time and again that more men are needed in the teaching profession. What those statistics don’t tell one, though is that if you’re a male your chances of getting a job are actually less if you’re a female. Out of all the teaching interviews I’ve had, only one went to a male. The principal there told me he was wanting to hire a male for the staff because he didn’t have many and he was true to his word, three of we four finalist candidates were male. Sometimes a committee won’t hire you when they find out where you live and grew up. Other times they might offer you an interview, but it’s really just for show because they have already decided who they are going to hire, so-and-so went to the school or so-and-so’s wife coaches cheerleading, or whatever. Education shouldn’t be political. I know it is very political, but that doesn’t mean it should be that way.

Humans submit themselves to nothing less fair than the teaching interview. Trust me, I know.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Book Review

The following is a review that was recently published in a local paper.

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“Book Review of Twisted by Tom Varner

Laurie Halse Anderson is an author who has gained prominence in recent years for her powerful and engaging novels examining the frustrations, struggles, and trials facing Americans told from the perspective of teenagers. Most of Anderson’s writings so far have centered upon female protagonists, surrounded by mostly female characters. In her latest work, Twisted, Anderson has abandoned the female mindset and has written a novel told from the perspective of a typical American suburban teenage male. In facing the challenge, she has written a forceful and provocative piece of literature that is one of the best examinations of the suburban American teenage male mindset ever produced.

The story is told from the point of view of Tyler Miller. Tyler is just an average, overlooked high school student. He does well in most his classes, has an easy-going attitude, and is rather friendly. However, he doesn’t play sports, come from a wealthy family, or have a great physique and is therefore just one of many nameless faces at George Washington High School. Tired of being a nobody, at the end of his junior year he commits the Foul Deed. The Foul Deed gains him high school infamy, but also trouble with the judicial system which sentences him to a summer of community service and probation. He spends most of his summer tarring roofs and doing landscaping work. At the end of summer, he finds he’s grown to almost six feet and his flabby frame is as solid as chiseled granite.

People start noticing Tyler, including the queen bee of his high school, Bethany Miller. Bethany is Tyler’s dream girl, but there are some major obstacles that lie between them. To begin with, Tyler is middle class and Bethany is from a very wealthy family. Her father also happens to be Tyler’s Dad’s boss and her twin brother is Tyler’s arch nemesis. At first, Tyler seems capable of dealing with these issues, but events at a rowdy party after a football game leave Tyler facing a possible jail sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Dark thoughts pound his mind and the only thing he is sure about is how complicated and twisted his life is.

Though marketed as a young adult novel, Twisted is a book that cannot be pigeon-holed by genre because it examines issues that face each of us as we try to live our lives as best we can in the hyper-post-modern era. We live in a culture and society that is constantly changing. Some people would argue that these changes are for the better. To an extent, I would agree, but only to an extent because change just for the sake of change is seldom a good thing. Traditions and the status quo sometimes are a barrier to creativity and originality, but they have a place in society and culture for rational reasons, but they are unfortunately systematically being slowly erased. For example, there used to be a time when boys were boys and men were men. There was no in between phase and no one had to be explained the difference. In our current culture, boys no longer know how to become men. Physically, many boys appear to be men, but their emotions and mentality remain that of a boy. Advertising saturates us with messages that conflict with our innermost sense of self but also appeals to the most primal urges within each of us which causes old boys and young men to have a mental life full of anger, confusion, and frustration.

Then there’s the public education system itself. Anyone who doesn’t want to acknowledge that our public education system, especially at the high school level, is living in an imaginary world. In the U.S. we have attempted to do what no other country in history has ever done before by providing the same basic education to everyone regardless of ability. It’s a noble ideal. Unfortunately the ideal will never be realized if the current system remains the way it is. Extremely talented and creative children are being left behind, their gifts and talents unacknowledged and unrecognized. Instead of being the pantheons devoted to education, civic training, and morality that they were built to be, many of the public high schools in America have become little more than semi-restricted centers of social experimentation. These are just a few examples of the issues that Twisted examines.

The book is prefaced by a short warning that declares “NOTE: THIS IS NOT A BOOK FOR CHILDREN.” That warning is necessary because even though TWISTED is marketed as a young adult novel, it’s a novel not intended for children. There is some crude and foul language, there is a great deal of violence, and includes some images of sexuality. There are many teenagers will read this book and I hope that when they do they can take something positive away from it. This author hopes, however, that more adults than teenagers will read it. It is so insightful and powerful that any adult who works with teenage boys should require themselves to read it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

April 2007

Books Read
Eldest By: Christopher Paolini
*Eyewitness: Acts of the Spirit By: Robert James Luedke
*Da Brudderhood of Zeeba Zeeba Eata By: Stephan Pastis
Twisted By: Laurie Halse Anderson
Last Child in the Woods By: Richard Louv
The Neverending Story By: Michael Ende
*Birth of a Nation By: Aaron McGruder, Reginald Hudlin, and Kyle Bako
A Mormon in the White House? By: Hugh Hewitt
Everything's Eventual By: Stephen King
**The Lady's Not for Burning By: Christopher Fry

Movies Viewed for the First Time
Comic Book: The Movie
Meet the Robinsons
Click
Sabotage
Dark Water
Jamaica Inn
Easy Virtue
Are We Done, Yet?
The Nutty Professor (1963)
Lonesome Dove
Jesus of Montreal


Another month has come and gone. Despite having a slightly more hetic schedule than usual that included a trip to the Chicagoland suburbs for a couple of teaching interviews and a couple of weekends spent doing a medical study to earn some extra cash, April 2007 proved to be a fruitful month of reading and movie watching. If I can keep up this pace every month for the rest of the year, I will accomplish my long-time goal of having read 100 or more books in a year at least once in my life.

Of course, three of the books I read were either graphic novels or collections of comic strips. Ten years ago I probably wouldn't consider that to really be reading myself, but the graphic novel is a bona fide genre of literature now and most English students now have taken at least one course in which graphic novels are studied prominently. I enjoyed all three of those books immensely. Eyewitness is a visual re-telling of the Biblical book of Acts tied together with a relevant modern storyline. Birth of a Nation is a story that has the City of East St. Louis ceding from the Union to form their own country after most of the city's citizens are disenfranchised during a Presidential election. It's co-written by the guy who writes the comic strip Boondocks but in my opinion is a much better and more humorous story. Da Brudderhood of Zeeba Zeeba Eata is the latest collection of Pearls Before Swine comic strips. Now that Fox Trot is no longer published daily, Pearls is the best comic strip currently in circulation; even Dilbert has recently begun ripping on some of the post-modern humor and tricks that have made Pearls such a delight.

Eldest is the second book in the "Eragon" trilogy and quite frankly was a huge disappointment. Very little action, highly derivative, and weak character development of the major protagonists. Still, it can be entertaining, but it's not as engaging as the first book.

Of all the books that I read last month, Twisted is the one that I recommend that everyone read. Especially anyone who works with pre-teen or teenage boys. For you females out there, if you've ever wondered how a teenage boy thinks, you're probably not going to find a better example. The book is disturbing at times and also illustrates how different those who don't know Jesus must live.

Last Child in the Woods has a great message about how children in America have become nature deprived and how that is affecting their behavior. At time the book slows down as it jumps from one point to another. Nevertheless, it has some highly valuable points. It's a book that I recommend anyone who has children or works with youth giving at least a surface reading to.

The Neverending Story is the novel that the movie was based upon. The book is extremely imaginative and much better than that beloved film.

A Mormon in the White House? was my attempt this past month at reading a political book. The book is about Mitt Romney, former governor of Mass. who is a 2008 Presidential candidate. If you're an independent, Republican, or conservative I suggest reading it because it basically explains everything you need to know about Romney. If you're not one of those, you probably won't want to read the book until after we know for sure who all the candidates are going to be.

Everything's Eventual is a series of 14 short stories by Stephen King. First of, I'm a big fan of King. He's a popular author and 20 years from now will be studied on a regular basis in classrooms around the country. Secondly, I love reading essays and short stories. The short story is a wonderful genre of literature, but one that is slowly dying out. It's ironic that as our collective attention spans become shortened to the size of a soundbite that the shortest form of literature (not including poetry) is on the verge of extinction. My favorite tales in the book are "The Man in the Black Suit", "In the Deathroom", "The Sisters of Eluria", "Everything's Eventual", and "Luckey Quarter". Another story in the collection, "1408" has been made into a film and will be coming soon to a movie theatre near you.

I try to read a play or screenplay at least once a month and this month's piece was The Lady's Not for Burning. The book is supposed to be a comedy written in verse similar to Shakespeare. I know there are many who love this little play by Christopher Fry. I also know that reading a play is nothing like seeing it performed on stage. Usually plays are better when seen performed, though occasionally a piece is written that reads better than when it is acted. Anyway, all I know is that I did not like this play at all. I thought the gimmick was a good one, but the overall pacing of the writing atrocious. Also, the play didn't seem very funny to me. I love Shakespeare and have acted in a couple of his plays. I was one of those weird kids in high school who became drawn to Shakespeare because of the poetic language he wrote in. However, the poetry in The Lady's Not for Burning turned me off. I found it a chore to read through the dialogue and had a difficult time of remembering which character was who.

As for movies, I had a mini-Hitchcock film fest watching three of his movies in as many days: Sabotage, Jamaica Inn, and Easy Virtue. As a hopeful future filmmaker, I have become more and more impressed by Hitchcock's master of the medium and will continue to learn more by watching his films.

Lonesome Dove is actually a 6 1/2 hour miniseries that I first saw as a kid. It's one of those things that left a definite visual impression upon my mind and I enjoyed watching it again.

The last film worth mentioning is Jesus of Montreal. The film is in French with subtitles and is about a group of Canadian actors who are hired to update a Passion play that has been performed in Montreal for many years. As the actors beginning performing, their lives begin to change and they begin reflecting their characters and the loving nature of Christ in their own day-to-day lives. It takes some time for the film to get moving and since it is a foreign picture, many people will have difficulty adjusting to that. However, it's a powerful film about redemption worth your time to watch.

That's all for now. Until next time.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Gasoline

Two years ago for the first time the average price of gasoline topped out at $2 per gallon. Gas had been selling for about $1.70 and then within a few hours spiked to above $2. I remember the time when it happened rather vividly because I was living in Edwardsville, IL at the time and doing my teaching observation in Bethalto. For about two weeks whenever I needed gas I would drive across the bridge in Alton, IL into Missouri so I could get gas that was still less than $2 a gallon. Once that station went over $2 a gallon I knew that I would probably never see gasoline that inexpensive ever again. The usual b.s. was spinned through the media about why things were so high. Everyone knew it was a bunch of b.s., but we couldn't do anything but complain. Talking heads and bad writers kept trying to tell everyone that we should keep things in perspective because in terms of inflation, gas really wasn't that expensive and it would have to go above $3 a gallon to reach the prices in terms of inflation of what gasoline cost in the early 1980s.

Five months later gasoline did spike above $3 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina hit. It stayed that way for a couple of weeks and then hovered around $2.80-$2.90 for the next six weeks. We were told that was just temporary, too, and that once the refineries ravaged by the hurricanes were once again fully operational prices would drop to their pre-Katrina rates. I knew that was a crock. It was and prices never did drop to their pre-Katrina levels. That hurricane was just an excuse because the oil companies had already busted the $2 a gallon bubble and were just itching to get prices above $3 a gallon. Oil companies posted recorded profits for the next two years. Not just one oil company, either. They all had record profits.

Now, those companies have gotten what they want again. Prices across the country are above $3 per gallon and the talking heads and spinning columnists are telling us that it's only going to get worse as summer approaches. In some parts of California and New York prices are already almost $4 per gallon.

For some people in the country this might not be much of an issue, but I believe those people are few and rare. Every time I pass a gas station, whether I'm driving, walking, or riding a bike, I check out the price of gas. Everyone I know does the same thing. I wish I lived in a culture and society where it wasn't necessary that one has to own a car to get around, but unfortunately I do. I don't live in a city or metropolitan area. I can't just hop on a train or ride the bus. Those things aren't an option for me and as appealing as certain aspects of a metropolitan lifestyle might be, I really don't want to live in a large city. Throughout time cities have been the downfall of civilizations. Therefore, I and millions of others like me or forced to drive places. Most people I know would take a different form of transportation or drive a vehicle that didn't run on gasoline if it was possible, but neither of those things are available. The gatekeepers don't think public transportation in rural areas is worth building and the few forms of alternative vehicles are way too expensive for poor hicks like me to afford.

What's more frustrating is that there really isn't much I can do about it. I've written some letters, but have heard nothing from them. I haven't been gifted with a mechanical mind, so I haven't been able to invent anything that I could use and even if I did I have no rich friends who would be able to fund the original production of such a revolutionary device. So all I can do is grit my teeth every time I pull up to the pump. Quite frankly, it's really pissing me off.