Monday, November 28, 2011

The Best Christmas Ever

We’ve had some “good” Christmases and some “rough” Christmases. I know just about everyone has experienced this as well. It seems like it was more important that there were gifts galore when the kids were young. So we would buy the gifts; which just made the tough times even tougher. As I remember it, though, gifts never really made good times better. (Yeah, I almost said “gooder”, but knew my kids would never forgive me!)

I’m happy that the family has grown and I don’t just mean in years. As most of you are aware, Charlie and I are extremely proud of our offspring. All three are intelligent, funny, well-educated, loving, kind, gentle and tough. They are in their mid- to late-twenties, but they have not stopped learning and seeking their understanding of the truth.

This year is probably going to be the toughest we’ve had financially in a long, long time; but, that is not going to ruin the holidays. Not in my house!

I don’t know how many of you have been on Short Term Disability. Receiving only 60% of your pay – before taxes – is ridiculous. I can certainly understand why people return to work before they are truly able. Survival is tough in this economy in the best of circumstances. Having such a large chunk of your income stop at the same time as you are physically and mentally incapable of dealing with the stress of the situation…well, you know what I’m saying.

This blog is going to be much shorter than usual. I just want to say that I believe that the circumstances that prevent you from giving gifts to your loved ones often make the Christmas Season better than the ones when you are able to give gifts. It puts more value on what Family is all about. Not just the love that you feel for one another, but the understanding and support.

I am so blessed. Time shared together is, in my opinion, the best gift of all. This year I get to have Charlie, Lauren, Templeton and Dashiell with me. There have been Christmases when all of us haven’t even been in the same country. Those were the toughest. Hopefully, I will also be able to spend some time with my brother, Tom; his wife, Michelle; and their amazing kids, Dylan, Brenna and Macklyn.

This Christmas Season surround yourself with those you love and stop worrying about where you’ll get the money to buy gifts. You will not only find that you have less stress in your life, but you will find that it is the most wonderful and rewarding Christmas ever!

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Now?

I received some rather disconcerting news at the neurologist last Monday. He let it slip that it was a probability that I would never be able to return to work. Now, I can understand his thinking. I have permanent left temporal lobe brain damage. Damage in that specific part of the brain will cause difficulty understanding spoken words; difficulty communicating verbally; disturbance of selective attention; short-term memory loss; difficulty identifying and categorizing objects; and difficulty recognizing faces and visually locating objects. I also have damage in the occipital lobe. This damage inhibits visual perception and visual processing.

My brilliant nephew, Sean Flannery, posted a video on Facebook that was fascinating and actually helped me to understand the ramifications of my problem. The video was by Dr Iain McGilchrist, a well known psychiatrist in circles where I don’t normally don’t run. In this video, Dr McGilchrist explained how our brain actually works. I’m placing the link to this amazing video here rather than trying to explain it and will wait for you to watch it: http://IainMcGilchrist

♪♫ ♪♪♫♫ - (elevator music playing)

Are you finished? Good. So, Dr McGilchrist is saying that unlike what people believed in the past, one side of brain doesn’t only deal with reason and the other side imagination. The brain is profoundly divided; however, both sides of the brain do (and must) communicate directly with each other in order for us to correctly function.

Very basically, the left hemisphere handles details and the right hemisphere deals with global or the overall world. [I say “basically” because they really do much more than this.]

I especially like the Albert Einstein quote: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant…”

My problem is that the communication between the two hemispheres has been hampered and, in some ways, completely blocked.

I won’t get into too much more detail; but, in a nutshell, I have great difficulty understanding things people SAY to me and, conversely, have trouble making myself understood verbally. What I believe is extremely interesting is that this does not involve the written word. Fortunately, in the era of computers, email and closed captioning, this does allow me to live in a fairly normal manner. What it may not allow me to do; however, is return to a work environment where verbal communication is not only involved, but necessary.

So you may now understand my trepidation, apprehension – actually, downright fear, that I may not be able to return to my job.

Add to this the fact that the brain damage has also affected my short-term memory. So, I often have to read something a few times to fully embed it into my brain. When I write my blogs, I have to read them several times and still need to have someone else read through them to check for words I think are there, but aren’t.

So where does that leave me? I’m not sure. Thus, the title of this piece: What Now?

I’ve had friends tell me: Become a writer! That’s not as easy as it sounds. Yes, I can write, but getting someone to publish a manuscript, in order to actually receive payment for the work, is much more difficult than you would think.

My eldest son, Templeton, is a prolific writer. An amazingly, gifted young man, who has been writing since he was able to hold a pencil and understood the concept (about 5 or so) and has written plays, screen plays, television series, short stories, novels…well, you get the idea…and, as yet, has been unable to successfully get something published. In fact, other than an outstanding Christmas play that was produced during his time at the University of Kentucky and another play that was in the process of being made into a movie by a local group (this didn’t finish due to financial constraints), he has received rejection after rejection. This is something I truly can’t understand. I’m not just stating this with a mother’s prejudicial viewpoint. Many, many others feel the same way.

If Templeton can’t get published, how do I expect to be published with my lowly gift of verbiage?

I feel as if I’m on a threshold. I’m waiting to see what door or pathway opens up to me. I know something will do. It always has in the past. The fear is always in the back of the mind, though; isn’t it? What if I am stuck on the country’s dole? I am only 57. I am aware that to some readers this may seem ancient, but it really isn’t. Not in this day and age.

So What Now? I guess I’ll have to wait and see. In the words of Willie Wonka: “The suspense is terrible…I hope it lasts.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The "Twilight" Moan (By Templeton Moss)

Stories about vampires and humans loving one another are hardly new. In the consummate vampire tale, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Count falls madly in love with the human Mina, and tries to make her his bride, only to be thwarted in the most anticlimactic final scene in literary history (they stabbed him while he was asleep. Very heroic). In popular culture, this motif was applied most successfully by Joss Whedon when the remorseful Angel (the first vampire in history to have a human soul) falls for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Their relationship, like all other such relationships, is ultimately doomed making it a popular vehicle for tragic romance in modern literature.

And, yes, TV shows count as literature. If a writer wrote it, it’s literature. Especially if that writer is Joss “Oh my God!” Whedon.

But today, in these early years of the third millennium, the vampire/human love story has taken on new life thanks to the pen of Stephanie Meyer who, with her Twilight books and the subsequent film adaptations, has re-imagined the story as a teen-friendly melodrama with action and romance. She has, claim many, taken some unacceptable liberties with the mythos and laws governing the habits and practices of vampires, changing them, through the character of Edward Cullen, into soft, cuddly, sparkly animals who are very spiritual and loving.

Needless to say, these stories have been widely ridiculed by peoples in all walks of life.

I admit, with no small amount of shame, that I too joined in the lambasting of Ms. Meyer’s world and works. My main complaint was the fact that Joss was able to do the same thing without totally rewriting the rules of vampirism and it was excellent writing. As the books are often found on the teen lit shelves at Barnes and Noble, I assumed I would not find the same level of humor and sophistication from the chronicles of Edward and Bella.

But then it occurred to me: Isn’t it totally unfair of me to criticize these stories without checking them out for myself? Of course it is, and I didn’t want to be one of these people who jump to conclusions about someone else’s artistic efforts. I know that if someone judged my writing without at least reading it first, I would feel myself ill-used. So, I recorded a cable screening of the film adaptation on my DVR and sat down to watch it yesterday, keeping my mind open to what I might see and hear.

Again, in the interest of fairness: Here be spoilers.

The film opens with moody outcast Bella Swan who moves from sunny Phoenix, Arizona to a small town in rainy Washington State, which is almost perpetually under cloud cover. There the attractive (if unusually pale) Bella is immediately welcomed into the community with open arms. The first person her age she meets is a very nice Native American boy from the local reservation called Jacob, but he doesn’t go to her school. Luckily, when she does arrive at school, lots of nice kids make friends with her and include her in their group. Putting aside for the fact that, no matter how hot someone is, nobody makes that many friends on day one at a new school, you would think that this would make Bella happy, right?


For no reason that the film explains, Bella doesn’t seem to care about being well-liked by her classmates, loved by her father and otherwise made to feel accepted. Since acceptance is the main ambition behind most teenage action, it is a mystery how these stories have reached such a wide audience.

It is at this point in the story that we are introduced to the Cullen family. Evidently, Dr. Cullen is the patriarch and he had adopted a lot of kids who are all mysterious, pale, and generally unsettle the population of the school (especially as some of them seem to be “together” which, even given the knowledge that they’re not biologically related, is a little icky). The exception is Edward, described by one of Bella’s new friends as “gorgeous, obviously!” This I don’t understand because, to my eyes, Robert Pattinson looks like someone who has just gotten over a terrible, debilitating disease and was then immediately struck several times in the face with a two-by-four. Of course, I’m writing this from a male perspective, so maybe women are seeing something I’m not. In any case, Bella becomes fascinated with Edward, though he seems openly disdainful of her.

After seeing a few examples of strange behavior from Edward, including traits that can only be described as “super speed” and “super strength,” Bella begins to suspect something. Her research leads her to the self-evident conclusion which it nevertheless takes her close to forty-five minutes to reach: Edward is a vampire. She confronts him on this and he tells her the story. How Dr. Cullen is a vampire who, on several occasions since the early 1900’s, has been “rescuing” people on the verge of death by turning them into vampires. This is not easy, as the taste of human blood effects vampires in much the same way it effects sharks, and it takes a lot of restraint to just turn someone, rather than going to town on them like a big, person-shaped juice box.

Yeah, that was kind of gross, huh? Sorry.

Anyway, Edward explains that he and his “siblings” eat only animal blood and never kill humans. “It’s like a human living on tofu,” Edward explains. “It gives you strength, but you’re never really satisfied.” He also takes Bella up a hill, above the clouds, so she can see him in direct sunlight, which is the point where most vampire aficionados (and me) first begin to cry foul…

He sparkles.

In direct sunlight, Ms. Meyer would have us believe, a vampire’s skin sparkles like diamonds. Every other writer in the history of vampires says they turn to dust in the sun, but Edward looks like the front window of Tiffany’s. This, he explains, is why his people avoid the sun. Because everyone would know what they are.

Really? If I saw a dude sparkling, I wouldn’t think “vampire.” I’d just assume he rubbed himself with that diamond stuff from Arrested Development…remember? That body lotion with diamonds in it? Tobias covered himself with it to spy on Lindsay? Anyone? Okay, never mind.

So Bella finds herself hopelessly in love (or what melodramatic teenagers call love) with Edward…Who, in the space of exactly one dialogueless scene depicting he and Bella lying on the grass together, has completely changed. Before he was very brooding and serious, “We can’t be friends,” and “I don’t have the strength to stay away from you,” and “I’m a killer.” Now, all of a sudden, he’s joking about how he’s going to hell and making light, careless remarks about his family of vampires. One is inclined to hope that there is at least a chapter or two in the novel which explains this transformation but which, somehow, didn’t make it to the film. But, for whatever reason, the idea of her new boyfriend suddenly losing control and devouring her is laughed about, despite having been established as a very real possibility.

Their increasingly disturbing relationship continues to develop as only a relationship between two moody teens in a movie can. Meanwhile, Bella’s father, the local chief of police, is investigating what looks, at any rate, like an animal attack. It's not until he discovers human footprints in his investigation that the trouble starts. It just so happens that there is a group of “evil” vampires (led by, apparently, the only black person in the city) who frequently cause trouble for the Cullens. When they discover that Bella is hanging out with Edward and his family, one of these bad guys, name of James, decides it would be a lot of fun to hunt and kill her.

At last! Over an hour into the movie and something exciting finally happens.

So, the chase is on. The Cullens split up to hide Bella and prepare to fight and kill James the Bad Vampire and his girlfriend (which, admittedly, is pretty cool of them to do for someone they only just met). Quite how they decided that a luxury hotel was the most logical hiding place, I can’t say. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter where they decide to wait for the inevitable gruesome death at the hands of a killing machine because Bella is lured out of hiding to save her mother who, it turns out, is in no danger whatever. It was all a trick to lure Bella to her old ballet studio in Phoenix, which looks more like a cathedral than the kind of studio a public school student could afford to go to.

Also, since Ms. Meyer decided that vampires do have reflections (again, in flat contradiction to virtually everything ever written about them before now), it’s unclear why a studio full of mirrors was chosen for the final battle scene, except that the broken glass makes it easy for Bella to get cut and bleed, though the same thing could’ve been accomplished in a rose garden or any number of dangerous locations. In any event, Edward and his family defeat the evil vampire, but not before he gets a bite of Bella. His venom (which is a thing vampires have all of a sudden) is coursing through Bella’s body and she’s losing a lot of blood…

So there’s a choice to be made.

Edward does manage to save her life without turning her into a vampire…for some reason. Personally, based on her previous behavior, I can’t help but wonder if Bella wouldn’t be happier as a vampire. I mean, heck, she’s almost there already. She’s a pale, moody outcast (by choice, mind you), a vegetarian, and she has what is, apparently, the most important part of being a vampire: A bountiful supply of estrogen! I kept hoping Sarah Michelle Gellar would turn up and put Edward out of my misery, but, let’s face it, Xander could take this wimp!

When she wakes up in the hospital, Edward says they have to be apart. He’s obviously been thinking about it for a long time, feels very strongly about it…so, it makes perfect sense that Bella is able to change his mind by saying “No!” sixteen times. I’m not even sure why they included that scene if that’s all it was going to amount to. But Bella and Edward go to the Monte Carlo themed prom (cuz that has symbolic relevance to the rest of the story!) where Jacob warns her about Edward, and there is some fairly clumsy foreshadowing to Jacob’s role as Edward’s werewolf rival in future installments. Then, at the dance, Bella says she will always want to be with Edward and basically agrees with my point from before that she wants to be a vampire. Edward, finally showing the wisdom that comes with his advanced age, refuses to turn her into a monster, but not after some dialogue which could’ve been a watered-down version of about seven episodes of Buffy.

Thus, the movie (and two precious hours of my life I’ll never see again) comes to an end. The events are wrapped up neatly, the story arc is complete, but the groundwork for the sequels has been laid and those who wish to can enjoy many more adventures with Edward, Bella and the other stultifying boring teenagers they are, for some reason, so entranced by. I am given to understand that Ms. Meyer wrote another novel, which is basically this first one from Edward’s point of view rather than Bella’s. I for one would rather see the story from the point of view of Bella’s friends at school who, while not possessed of special powers, or as hot as the two leads, are at least interesting.

The truth is there’s really nothing technically wrong with the story. And the casting is actually ideal. I was also impressed to learn that British actor Robert Pattinson was able to perfect his American accent without coaching. Plus that bit with the apple was pretty cool. It’s guilty of a few “teeny-flick” transgressions, but the same can be said for any drama aimed at pubescent boys and girls who don’t understand Shakespeare because his plays are taught wrong in our schools (which is another tirade for another day). So why am I not rushing out to buy my copy of the sequel and jump on the bandwagon?

Because, while the story works on the most technical of levels, it fails artistically. How much of this is due to the transition from page to screen, I can’t say and, honestly, don’t care. The casting may be ideal, but that’s because the characters are, almost without exception, entirely two-dimensional and thoroughly dull. At no point did they engage me on any kind of personal level and even when Bella was hanging between death and becoming one of the grateful undead (yeah I did) I didn’t really care one way or the other. Call me old-fashioned, but I feel that, at the very least, a writer should see to it that the audience cares whether the good guy lives or dies.

Also, and I realize that I’m not exactly an expert on the mythology of the vampire—I’ve seen the movies and read the stories, but I haven’t made what could be called an “exhaustive” study of the—but I’m more than usually certain that, if there were such a thing as vampires, they would not play freaking baseball!!

In conclusion, the movie was not as terrible as I was expecting, but still pretty awful. On the other hand, that’s all it is: A bad movie. It’s not exactly dangerous, and, if anything, it might encourage young people to read and seek out more vampire stories (like the oft-cited and infinitely superior Buffy, for example). And, as Craig Ferguson so wisely said on his TV show lately, he’s done getting mad at stuff that’s not for him. At twenty-seven, I’m outside the scope of these stories’ target audience, so I can’t get too pissed off about them (though, as this essay will show, I have no trouble getting sarcastic). If dumb teenage girls (cuz, let’s face it, you won’t see this book in too many football players’ lockers) want to waste their time on these stories, I’m just going to have to live with that, and hope that they’ll grow out of the “I kissed a vampire and I liked it” phase as they get older. The best way I, as an artist in my own right, can fight this wave of highly-acclaimed mediocrity is to keep producing quality fiction, as I do every week at my own site, “Once Upon a Time and Long Ago.”

I know, maybe fairy tales aren’t your cup of tea, but put it this way: It can’t be worse than Twilight!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The One Thing I Know For Sure Is That I Don't Know For Sure

I remember being in my early 20’s and thinking that I knew everything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that kids in their early 20’s are arrogant and stupid, just that they haven’t lived long enough to realize that it is not possible to know everything. You can argue that there is “too much stuff” to be able to learn everything or that our inability to use all of the brain’s true capacity makes it impossible to know everything. I simply think that we are not supposed to know everything. But, I don’t know for sure.

As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, I believe we are on this planet to LEARN. As that belief implies, if we have learned everything, then what purpose is there to our further existence? And would Mankind simply cease to exist should we obtain “total knowledge” or is there another a deeper purpose to our existence? Maybe we are here not only to learn, but to use what we have learned. But, I don’t know for sure.

Many are disgusted and disappointed in the current common use of the English Language. Words that many would call “expletives,” “rude” or “cuss words,” have increased greatly. As Stephen Fry has written, “There is no right language or wrong language, any more than there are right or wrong clothes. Context, convention and circumstance are all.” Further, he stated in a recent interview:

I’ve never met anybody who’s truly shocked at swearing. Really. They’re only shocked on behalf of other people. Well, that’s preposterous. Or they say it’s not necessary. As if that should stop one doing it. It’s not necessary to have colored socks. It’s not necessary for this cushion to be here. Yet, no one writes in and says, ‘I was shocked to see that cushion there. It really wasn’t necessary.’ No. Things that aren’t necessary are what make life interesting. The little extras in life. (

Is it possible that the increased use of such words is just the natural evolution of the English Language? But, I don’t know for sure.

There has been much discussion recently about the end of the Mayan Calendar on December 21, 2012. Will the World, as we know it, truly come to a grinding halt on this date? Does the ending of the Mayan Calendar at that time mean that they had special information? Did they just figure they’d add more dates later and died out before they had the chance? As noted by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki:

The claims for 21 December 2012 cover a lot of ground. They range from 'nuclear holocaust' to 'Harmonic Convergence of cosmic energy flowing through the earth, cleansing it and raising it to a higher level of vibration', and along the way they include 'the death of two-thirds of humanity' and 'the north and south poles will split' - you get the picture.

But there are two problems with this.

First, when a calendar comes to the end of a cycle, it just rolls over into the next cycle. In our Western society, every year 31 December is followed, not by the End of the World, but by 1 January. So in the Mayan calendar will be followed by - or good-ol' 22 December 2012, with only a few shopping days left to Christmas.

And the second problem is that it is always remarkably difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, and things that haven't happened yet. (

Food for thought. End of the world, or 4 more days until Christmas 2012? Maybe it is silly to think the Mayan people could predict the end of the world, but couldn’t predict the end of their own civilization. But, I don’t know for sure.

I am currently (and not surprisingly) taking more of an interest in others who have epilepsy. To name a few: Julius Caesar, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Alexander the Great, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Aristotle, George Frederick Handel, Martin Luther, Peter Tchaikovsky, Robert Schumann. Does the “misfiring” of the brain, which causes epileptic seizures, actually awaken areas of the brain that lead to increases in mental capability? I like to think so, of course; but, I don’t know for sure.

What about other “disorders” of the mind? Is it possible that, while they are considered “disorders” or “illnesses,” they are examples of the next genetic upgrade of the human species? Possible. But, I don’t know for sure.

Why do people do what they do? What are their reasons? The Theory of Reasons is a field that Jonathan Dancy, Professor of Philosophy, has developed. As he says, “The theory of reasons has to say something about what it is to act for a reason.” (http://jonathandancy) In his book, “Ethics Without Principles”, he stated, “People do ‘have’ principles, and they do (sometimes, at least) appeal to them in making their own decisions and in judging the actions of others. They condemn anyone who fails to act on his own principles, or whose principles they take not to be the right ones.” Are we correct to judge others whose opinions or actions are different than ours? I don’t think so; but, I don’t know for sure.

To sum up: Let’s listen, rather than speak. Try to understand, rather than judge. Love others, rather than hate. Learn for ourselves, rather than just accept what we are told. But most of all, we need to realize that the ONLY thing we know for sure is that we DON’T know for sure.