Sunday, April 15, 2007

Read This Book

Twisted by: Laurie Halse Anderson. Anyone who works with American teenage males should read this book.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Meaning of Chicago.

My friends from the northern part of the state will probably hate me for this, but having grown up downstate Illinois most of my life I really don't care. I read a book last month that was filled with little tidbits of trivia about Illinois. The thing I most enjoyed discovering was that Chicago is named after the grass that grew in the area when white settlers first arrived. There are 39 variations of the spelling, but Chicago literally means "stinking weed".

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Always the Sidekick, Never the Hero?

When I was a junior in college, I got this great idea for a novel. Actually, it started out as the name of a title. I’m an extremely introspective person. I think about myself, my friends, my family, the world, and life quite a bit and not just in artificial, superficial, surface ways that many people seem to do. The deepest thoughts that many people seem to have is what they are going to wear to work, what to eat for dinner, the score of the game last night, etc. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think about these things, too, because I do. However, that’s not where my thoughts end. Many, many, many times these thoughts are just a small chain of the grand narrative and adventure that I see happening around me and that I am living. And even at the times that I don’t imagine that this grand narrative is taking place (which happens more often than I’d like to admit) I still feel it within me. I also like watching movies and I’ve noticed that I see events happening more in more in my life accompanied by scenes from movies (for example, when something exciting happens I keep seeing the scene from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK when the Rebel conveys first get away and the troops cheer for joy over the announcement).

Anyway, when I was a junior in college I was thinking about my life and got this great title for a novel, Always the Sidekick, Never the Hero. I thought that title summed up my life perfectly. I was sitting in a car with a friend who was driving me back to campus from the bus stop and I told him about it. He thought it was great, too. Then I thought I would collect some stories about my life and collect them in a book for a memoir and title it that. However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that the title would make a great title for a novel.

As the years have gone by, I realize now that my initial impression was wrong. I thought that Always the Sidekick, Never the Hero was a great title for my life, but now I realize that I was wrong. In actuality, I’ve always been the hero and never the sidekick.

I realize how egotistical and arrogant that might seem. But it’s not meant to be. I’ve been doing a lot of researching and thinking about heroes the past six months (actually the catalyst was over a year ago when I first saw Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong) and I’ve discovered some stuff I knew, but just never understood.

Until recently I always imagined heroes being tall, buff men who most people adored and whom women were constantly falling in love with. In my mind, heroes never had worries about growing old and not having anyone to share their life with. In my mind, heroes never worried about the little mundane details of life, such as what to wear to their “real” job, what to eat for dinner, and who won the big game the night before because they had other people that took care of those things for them, for example Bruce Wayne has Alfred, Beowulf has Wiglaf, etc. If a hero didn’t have someone to take care of them they were either too nerdy to care or too cool and where above petty things like that. I had always looked at sidekicks being the people who got the raw end of the deal. Sidekicks constantly live in the shadow of the hero or heroes that they serve under. They could never have a serious relationship because they were always at the bidding of the hero that they worked under. They never got any fame, wealth, or glory of their own because they were the hero’s sidekick. That’s how I used to view things. Then I saw how wrong I was.

I was confused and had gotten it all wrong for years. Heroes might get fame, but they also get all the scrutiny and criticism. Sidekicks can always just blame the hero for mistakes and never have to take responsibility. Heroes are the ones who take care of others, not the other way around. Sure Bruce Wayne has Alfred, and even though Alfred is incredibly loyal, Bruce is still the guy who pays his salary and makes sure he has a place to stay (some will argue that Alfred is the real hero of the Batman stories and I won’t argue about them with that; there’s a lot of validity to the claim). Or take Don Quixote, he loved Dulcinea and viewed her as a lady, but she didn’t return his affection. Heroes are the ones who never are able to have a serious relationship, while the sidekicks can have a girl for every day of the week if they like. Heroes don’t get much sleep. The walk around concerned not so much about their own lives but about the lives of all those around them. It’s a difficult life and a thankless job. Watch the television show Heroes when it returns in a few weeks or read some old Hal Jordan Green Lantern comics and you’ll understand. Re-watch King Kong and keep in mind that Jack Driscoll is the sidekick and King Kong is the real hero and you’ll see. No, I’ve never been a sidekick, but I’ve always been a hero.

Friday, April 06, 2007

March 2007

Books Read:
Superman/Batman Public Enemies By: Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines
Teach With Your Heart By: Erin Gruwell
Me, Myself, and Bob By: Phil Vischer
House of Hilton By: Jerry Oppenheimer
Loser By: Jerry Spinelli
Mirror on America Ed: Joan T. Mims & Elizabeth Nollen
Illinois: Art of the State By: Joanne Trestrail
The Diviners: A Play in Two Acts and Elegies By: Jim Leonard, Jr.*
*This work is a play.

Movies Viewed for the First Time:
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
The Love Bug**
Facing the Giants
Hell's Angels
Silent Hill
The Brothers Grimm
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
The Gollum
Blades of Glory
The 39 Steps
Are We There Yet?

**Originally saw this film befre I was in grade school.

From the books I read this last month the top three that I read were Me, Myself, and Bob; Loser; and The Diviners. Me, Myself, and Bob is by Phil Vischer, the guy who created VeggieTales. It's basically a memoir of his life. For those of you who don't know, Big Idea Productions (the company behind VeggieTales) went bankrupt a few years ago. The company basically grew too large too fast, took on too many big projects, and in the end faced a lawsuit from an evil distributor that forced the company into bankruptcy (the decision was later overturned). VeggieTales is now produced by a different Big Idea. Vischer doesn't hold much back and talks in depth about the failure of the company he founded and what he ended up learning from it. One of the themes that the book deals with is that sometimes we have to let our dreams die before God because sometimes we come to love our dreams more than we love God. I can relate to that. I had a dream once and God asked me to give it up. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done. It's not that our dreams aren't important, because they are. Many times our dreams come from God. It's just that the most important thing in life is loving and following God and sometimes even the best dreams can become a distraction to that and the only way God can get our attention is to have the dream die. That doesn't mean the dream will stay dead because God can resurrect those dreams in a new, different, and better way than anything we can imagine. In other words, a dream delayed is not necessarily a dream denied. (That's an original Tom Varner quote so you might want to write that down ).

Loser is an amazing piece of literature. It follows the life of a boy from just before he enters school through middle school. It is full of insights and captures the essence of the innocence and wonder of childhood; something that many of us lose as we grow older, but something that is essential to discovering the kingdom of Heaven. Jerry Spinelli is an amazing writer. He's one of my favorites and if I can write one work that is as deep and meaningful as many of his books, I will be a happy writer indeed.

Lastly in literature, there is The Diviners. It is a play that takes place in southern Indiana during the early days of the Great Depression. The story revolves around an "idiot-boy" named Buddy Layman and a former preacher who has given up preaching named C.C. Showers. It illustrates the profound friendship that can develop between a teacher and a student. It also illustrates the difficulties and tragedies that occur when wisdom and love are forced to fight with ignorance and indifference. I first saw The Diviners nearly a decade ago. I highly recommend that if you have the opportunity, go see this play. Be warned, though, it's incredibly sad.

As for movies, I don't know where to begin. Lon Chaney starred in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and it is an excellent example of how talented "The Man of a Thousand Faces" was. I love Hugo's novel and sometime I would like to make the ulimate film version of the story.

I really enjoyed 300, but it's very much a guy movie. It's all about honor, glory, and doing the right thing. Things that I know many women just can't understand. It's violent, but not as much as I was led to believe.

Facing the Giants is a great family movie that is a great example of how a movie can honor God. For a "Christian" movie, it's not too bad. The acting is pretty good and the story is well written. What I found most amazing about the movie is that it was entirely made by a church. Everyone involved was an amateur. It's one of the best all amateur films I've ever seen.

TMNT was pretty good. It was just nice to see the Turtles back on screen. The Brothers Grimm showed me once again how great a director Terry Gilliam is (he's one of only a handful of people who can use film to tell a fairy tale and do it right). I was disappointed by Blades of Glory. I've become a Will Ferrell fan, now. Blades of Glory had so much potential, but it just didn't live up.

Here's a little something of what I've learned these past few weeks: life is incredibly difficult and full of challenges and trials. You can strive your entire life to do the right thing only to be faced with one obstacle after another. The temptation to give up will be incredibly strong. Don't give up. Don't give in. As I've often told my youngest brother: never give up, never surrender. Give your best. Keep pressing on. Afterwards when you look back, you'll realize that the journey was much more fun and enjoyable because you gave it your all. Most importantly, love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Great Quotes

"You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket."
--John Adams

"I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading."
--John Adams

"There should be no hesitation ever about giving anyone a book to enjoy, at any age. There should be no hesitation about teaching future teachers with books they will enjoy. No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read."
--David McCullough, "The Course of Human Events" , 2003 Jefferson Lecturer in Humanities