Monday, July 28, 2008

Treasure Inside

"Hello, Benny," Mrs. Starrett said. Like Mrs. Douglas at school, she genuinely liked Ben. Grownups, especially those who sometimes needed to discipline children as part of their jobs, generally liked him, because he was polite, soft-spoken, thoughtful, sometimes even funny in a very quiet way. These were all the same reasons most kids thought he was a puke. "You tired of summer vacation yet?"
Ben smiled. This was a standard witticism with Mrs. Starrett. "Not yet," he said, "since summer vacation's only been going on"--he looked at his watch--"one hour and seventeen minutes. Give me another hour."
[...]He looked up after [reading] three chapters [of his book], and his eye was caught by a brand new display. The poster on top (the library was gung-ho for posters, all right) showed a happy mailman delivering a letter to a happy kid. LIBRARIES ARE FOR WRITING, TOO, the poster said. WHY NOT WRITE A FRIEND TODAY? THE SMILES ARE GUARANTEED!
Beneath the poster were slots filled with pre-stamped postcards, pre-stamped envelopes, and stationary with a drawing of the Derry Public Library on top with blue ink. The pre-stamped envelopes were a nickel each, the postcards three cents. The paper was two sheets for a penny.
Ben felt in his pocket. The remaining four cents of his bottle money was still there. He marked his place in Hot Rod and went back to the desk. "May I have one of those postcards, please?"
"Certainly, Ben." As always, Mrs. Starrett was charmed by his grave politeness and a little saddened by his size. Her mother would have said that the boy was digging his grave with a knife and fork. She gave him the card and watched him go back to his seat. It was a table that could seat six, but Ben was the only one there. She had never seen Ben with any of the other boys. It was too bad, because she believed Ben Hanscom had treasures buried inside. He would yield them up to a kind and patient prospector...if one ever came along.

--IT, Part 2, Chapter 4, Section 7; Stephen King

This is me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Temperate Thoughts

I have a confession to make. There is something within me that is attracted to darkness. When I say that, many people will assume that I like doing evil things, but that’s not what I mean at all. I really don’t like doing evil things (at least most of the time). No, what I mean by darkness isn’t evil, per say. What I mean when I say there is something within me that is attracted to darkness is that for some reason at times I have an attraction to pain, suffering, unhappiness, etc.

Overall, I am a fairly optimistic person. I try to see the best in people and in circumstances. In general, I take people at their word unless they give me reason not to. I’m a joyful person (I was once nicknamed Mr. Joy). I am an extroverted-introvert and therefore despite my seeming reserve and shyness, love experiencing new things, going to new places, meeting new people, and making new friends. I truly believe that hope is one of the best things in the world and that love, usually in agape form, can conquer all. As an example, my favorite film of all the Star Wars films, much to the chagrin of other fans, is Return of the Jedi. That movie flows with messages about grace, mercy, redemption, the importance of not giving up, and ultimately good triumphing over evil. I have a worldview that reflects those values.

At the same time, I’ve lived through enough pain, sorrow, and sadness to know that the happy ending of Return of the Jedi (and most chick-flicks that so many of my female friends are fond of), isn’t what usually happens in life. Those endings reflect something within us all that tells us, “This is how the world SHOULD be.” We want the world to be like that. We want people to end up falling in love with the people they are supposed to and living happily ever after. We want adventure and romance. We know that there will be conflict, but we want things to work out in the end. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world usually IS. I’ve experienced enough and seen enough in my life to know that in the world in which I live bad things sometimes happen to very good people, nice guys often end up finishing last, and the good guy doesn’t always win.

I want to always be a hopeful, joyful, and happy person. Like most people (including Jesus just before his crucifixion) I’d prefer to avoid pain. I want to make others happy and see them smile. It troubles my heart every time I see someone suffering. I’ve yearned to be able to heal people in their sickness and like John Coffee in The Green Mile and take the sickness and suffering of others and bring in within myself. I’ve tried to keep a positive outlook on things, but despite my best intentions, I’ve digested a lot of the sorrow, suffering, and sadness I’ve seen and felt. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily. However, I do know it is a problem when I feed upon that darkness.

The darkness makes you strong, but it also turns your outlook of life into one of bitterness and apathy. Take my writing or conversations I had with friends a few years ago. I wrote some really powerful writing a few years ago and around the same time, some of my friends were telling me I should go into stand-up comedy. There’s nothing wrong with that either. The problem for me was that I was feeding on the darkness. I was drinking from it, which was emotionally and spiritually unhealthy, and much of what I wrote was very sad and much of what I said was extremely bitter and vitriolic. There was some truth to those thoughts, but just a nugget. That nugget of truth didn’t really mean much because it was cloaked with superficiality and wasn’t tempered with the joy and vitality that also surrounded me. It just wasn’t me.

That brings me to the crux of the matter which is the issue that I see as the defining issue of my life: temperance. Most people who hear that word think it has something to do with not drinking alcohol. That’s because some very well-meaning, though narrow-minded people took the word to define their crusade to ban alcohol. That’s unfortunate because temperance has so much more to do with living life than how much or how little alcohol a person drinks. I know that words change over time and sometimes lose their original meanings. Yet, words like people are redeemable and if nothing else, let it be known that I intend to redeem temperance to its original meaning.

Anyway, temperance means balance. Plain and simple. When something is tempered, metal for example, it is brought to as close to perfection as it possibly can. Living a temperate life means living a balanced life, and therefore living as close to perfection as one can.

I will never be perfect in this world. No matter how hard I strive and in all honesty, I don’t want to be perfect. I have just as many flaws and faults as anyone. I have been broken and battered. My heart has been crushed. People I’ve loved have died. I’ve seen other people I love suffer unnecessarily and there hasn’t been a thing I’ve been able to do. I’ve also hurt people, sometimes unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally. I can be selfish. I am proud and sometimes greedy. After all, I am human. But, I can and do strive to live the temperate life. I am in the world, but not of it. The great challenge of our lives is in attempting to reach temperance, to live in balance. Go too far one way and you become rigid, dogmatic, self-righteous, and pessimistic. Fall to the other extreme and everything is care-free and happy until the trials and tribulations of life start which then turns you bitter, jaded, callous, cynical, and pessimistic (both extremes lead to pessimism). I want to live in the middle. I want to enjoy each moment of life given to me, but not be crushed when the challenges of life set in. I want to live the temperate life.

So, go live life. Do the things you enjoy doing. Do the things you are called to do. Do things that make you and others around you happy. Be joyful and when the trials and tribulations come (for come they will), try not to fall too far from the middle. As Dr. Seuss wrote, "Step with care and great tact and remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft."

Friday, July 11, 2008


I just wanted to let all of you know that I'm in another play. The group is Hard Road Theatre and the show is BYE BYE BIRDIE. I'm the everyman of the cast and although I don't do much singing, I'm portraying about five different smaller characters. Information about the show is below. Let me know if you have any questions.

7:30 pm July 25, July 26, August 1, August 2
2:00 pm July 27 & August 3

All performances are held at the Highland Upper Elementary Auditorium located at 1800 Lindenthal in Highland, IL 62249.


Also, next Thursday (July 17), we will be appearing on "Show Me St. Louis" at 3:00 pm on Channel 5.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Some Comments About ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's 1000th Issue

Recently ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY published its 1000th issue. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY is one magazine that I try to read on a regular basis and have had a subscription to. I've always considered it kind of an Average Joe's VARIETY or HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. For the 1000th issue, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY made a list of the "new" classics from the past 25 years (1983-2008). Movies, television, albums, books, style, plays, video games, and technological achievements were all categorized. In general, I like reading E.W., but I do have to take issue with some parts of the list.

#1 Pulp Fiction
#3 Titanic
#31 Brokeback Mountain
#36 Spider-Man 2

Pulp Fiction is a great movie. However, it's not the best film to come out in the past twenty-five years. Titanic as #3? Really? I'm sorry, that movie doesn't even belong in the top 100 movies of the past twenty-five years. It may have made more money world-wide than any one single film so far, but it really isn't that great of a movie. Same thing with Brokeback Mountain; the only thing people will ever remember about that movie is that it's about a couple of gay cowboys. As for Spider-Man 2, I think Spider-Man is a much better superhero flick than its first sequel.

#20 Beverly Hills, 90210

The television selection was much better for this list. I only have one complaint. I hate to admit it, but I watch most of the first season of Beverly Hills, 90210. Sorry, but it's definitely not one of the best 100 television shows of the past twenty-five years. It just isn't.

# 96 The Da Vinci Code

Once again, the book list is fairly good. However, there is one blatant book I have to disagree with. The Da Vinci Code? You have to be joking. This hodge-podge of a who-dunnit thriller may make for page-turning reading, but if it wasn't for the controversy the author purposely started, there wouldn't be anything to remember about the book. As a teacher of English, I can say with authority that it isn't written very well. The book will be forgotten in another ten years or less. I'm also disappointed that only one of Stephen King's books made the list (On Writing #21). King is not only a popular author, but his story-telling and writing skills are superb. He's already been added as a part of the official English canon in many schools and his works will continue to be published centuries after his death.

#1 Angels in America

Really? That's the best play you can think of that has been performed on American stages in the past twenty-five years? Even though I have an interest in theatre, there are lots of shows I haven't seen, but I will say that I've seen and read several that are better theatre than this seven-hour grueling marathon of a show.

Monday, July 07, 2008

America's Addiction to Pills

In Aldous Huxley's novel A BRAVE NEW WORLD, most of the world's population live in a hazed stupor. They are bombarded constantly by entertainment and consume a constant supply of pills so they don't have to feel anything. Though there are some differences, we are well on our way to the world described in A BRAVE NEW WORLD. On the front page of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH today (Monday, July 7, 2008) there is an article about the American Academy of Pediatrics releasing guidelines recommending that children as young as 8 be placed on cholesterol-lowering drugs and that children as young as 2 (TWO?!!!!!) be given cholesterol tests. Some of the doctors and academics quoted in the article say that the reason for this is because of the obesity epidemic in the United States.

Don't get me wrong. I know obesity is a problem in our country. We've become used to a sedentary lifestyle of sitting in front of televisions and computer screens for lengthy amounts of time with very little activity. I'm just as guilty as everyone else. However, prescribing pills to eight-year old kids and giving cholesterol tests to two-year old toddlers is NOT going to even slow down the widening girth of Americans. The only thing it will do is net the pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals (aka doctors) a lot more money and cause medical insurance rates to rise even more. This is morbidly ironic because the American Academy of Pediatrics is supposed to be an organization devoted to helping protect children and keep them healthy. Well, that's obviously not true now that they have sold out to the drug companies.

Instead of giving your eight-year old a pill, here are a few better, more healthy alternatives. Go outside. Take a walk. Stand out in the rain. Go puddle-jumping. Sit in the grass. Visit the park. Go to the zoo. Mow a yard (I started mowing yards when I was nine). Don't be afraid to sneeze a little. Don't be afraid of getting a little headache. Don't be afraid of a few healthy germs. Try not to even be afraid of getting hurt. Pain may not be pleasurable, but pain is a part of living. But whatever you do, for Pete's sake, don't take another pill or start giving more of them to your children, no matter what your doctor might recommend. Pills should be an exception, not the rule of thumb.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

What I Saw While Walking Along Lake Ontario

Last week (not this past week), I took a "vacation" for the first time in several years and visited a very close friend who lives in Rochester, NY. Due to work schedules and what not, I was left to my own ends during the day. During my first day there, I rode a bike to the beach near Port Rochester and walked along Lake Ontario.

While walking along one of the piers that stretched out into the lake, I noticed an unusual sight. There were two women who were fishing. One of the women was dressed in African clothing and had a mid-Eastern accent. She apparently knew the other woman because they were involved in a seemingly meaningful conversation. Anyway, I noticed that as the African woman pulled her fishing line out of the water there was no fish hook tied to the end. Instead there was a toe nail clipper tied to the end of the line. I had to control myself to keep from laughing until I got further down the pier.

Something else I noticed while spending the morning and early afternoon in the park was a group of homeless men sitting together at a picnic table. There were about five or six of them sitting together around a table. They arrived shortly after I got there and were still there when I left mid-afternoon. I was later informed that they are there almost every day. I'm not sure why, but the Roundtable of Homeless caused me to chuckle, too.