The Ferguson Truth

Have you been watching the news, following Twitter, listening to the radio talk show hosts lately? It’s all about Ferguson and it should be, but are you getting the whole picture? Probably not. You’re most likely getting a version of the picture as repainted by a talking head with an agenda. Beware.

I’ll start off by saying that I’m not angry about the shooting of Michael Brown. I don’t know enough details about the shooting, whether he was a threat or not. I’ve heard conflicting accounts, but that doesn’t mean anything. The truth is something that will come out in the investigation, which includes forensics, eye-witnesses, the officer’s report, time stamps, and recordings. The law will abide and it will comb every detail and it will answer the hard questions with answers we may like or that we may not like, but they will answer them. I’m willing to wait for those answers and accept them. That is, if the authorities leading the investigation can conduct it without outside influences. And just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about Ferguson PD as the authorities. For crying out loud, the State of Missouri and the Justice Department are vying for position here and the world is watching. There’s no room for covering anything up, assuming that authorities would attempt to cover up the details, of course. But that’s a large assumption.

Instead, what I am angry about is the handling of the protests. My anger isn’t reserved for one side, either. I am upset with both sides. I am upset that there are those that will take advantage of a tragedy for gain, for ideology, for crime, or just because they are bad people. I am upset that law enforcement is ran like a para-military group, goose-stepping across Ferguson, suppressing the media, unable to isolate the bad guys, strong arming innocents and making a mockery of the Second Amendment and the American way.

There is no doubt that law enforcement has mishandled the protests. They should be embarrassed, even held accountable. However, the protesters, the organizers, the people that truly care about rights, about justice, who want nothing but the truth and who want their voices heard should also be embarrassed. There are wolves among the sheep and the sheep welcomed them with opened arms. The wolves are not working for them, but they are working against them, using the sheep for their own personal gain. They darken the silver-lining and remove true hope and community then eventually turn the sheep on one another, while placing the blame on the “other side”. The wolves want only chaos, because in chaos they gain power.

I am also upset that there are those on the sidelines, watching on their televisions that have strong, uninformed opinions, spreading half-truths while making bold declarations. Nobody knows anything even when they think they know everything. The color of our skin does not make us experts on any subject, white or black. We are only experts on ourselves, our experiences, our hearts and we project those things upon what is happening around us and somehow think that makes us right. It doesn’t. Only the facts will clear the air and by the time the air clears, no one will care. We will have moved on, latching onto some other national tragedy or agenda. The only people that will care are the family and friends of Michael Brown and the officer that shot him. We get to go on with our lives, forgetting all about the chaos. They will live with it forever. It will keep them up at night. It will hit them at odd moments throughout the day, weighing them down, reopening wounds they thought time had healed.

You may be angry now– We may be angry now, but we get to move on with our lives, free and clear of guilt, lasting anger, heartbreak and pain.

So, while you are spitting your venom at the police or at the protesters, take a second and gain a little perspective. There are real people involved here, not characters in a story, not just organizations, but real people. They have real losses to deal with and it isn’t about the big picture that worries the rest of us. It’s about their small world, their neighborhood, their lives.

And the truth will prevail when the storm quiets.

Take a hold of your self worth

I’ve narrowed down the reasons why social networks drive me mad. It’s a bit of a quandary as I enjoy the use of social networks. But it’s safe to say that I want to quit them on a daily bases, as well.

First the good.

I like keeping up on what’s happening within my network of friends, family and news feeds. I have an eclectic group of friends that have varying political views, social views, senses of humor and lifestyles. Keeping up with what they are doing and thinking helps me better understand my world, keep a level headed perspective and appreciate all that I have, even during those moments when I don’t think I have much.

I aslo don’t watch television news, so I depend on my social networks to browse headlines that interest me. There’s a downside and an upside to this. The upside is that I can choose the information I want to digest. The downside is that I sometimes don’t get the entire picture and miss stories that are relevant to my world. However, I am able to filter out the fear mongering and hyperbole that is usually associated with broadcast media. I should say that for the most part I am able to filter. There are those occasions when those type of stories sneak through.

Now for the bad.

Van Gogh, the King of Selfies.

Van Gogh, the King of Selfies.

I hate selfies. I am of the belief that a selfie is a mental disorder. I’m not talking about a group selfie with your friends or family. I’m talking about that bathroom selfie, car selfie, sad face selfie, pouting selfie, on my way to the doctor selfie. It screams of desperation and desperation is one of the least attractive attributes of a human being. More on that in a moment.

Note: I’m using the word “hate” here and just so there are no misunderstandings, I mean hate in the harshest manner. If you want to tell me that no one should hate and I should choose a softer word that is more appropriate, send me an email and I’ll tell you what you can do with your suggestion.

I hate the incomplete, open ended status or tweet. The following examples are real:

“My life is over.”

“Nothing like having a doctor give you horrible news.”

“Is it even worth it anymore?”

“Don’t even ask.”

and of course

sadface

 

These type of statuses and tweets are followed by a slew of concern from friends and followers, questions concerning the writer’s well-being, encouragement, etc. They also rarely get a response from the original poster.

Selfies and status baiting aside, there is the one thing that absolutely drives me bonkers, the one thing that stirs within me a blackness, a deep seeded loathing that makes me scream at my laptop, and it is the tweets or statuses that declare despair or extreme joy based on a current relationship status or lack thereof.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about someone announcing their breakup with their girlfriend or boyfriend. I’m not talking about someone who is in the middle of a divorce. I’m also not talking about an engagement announcement or a wedding anniversary. Those are noteworthy and understandable.

So, what am I talking about?

I’m talking about the young lady that posts, “I wish I had someone to hold.” I’m talking about the young man that tweets, “All the good women are taken.” I’m talking about the young lady that posts a selfie of her and her new beau with “My life is finally complete” written above it. I’m talking about the young man that posts a photo of his new girlfriend that says, “I don’t know how I lived without you all these years.”

But it doesn’t stop there. These same poor souls go on for weeks, months, even years posting and tweeting how incomplete, sad, or unlivable their lives are. Or they go on for the same amount of time posting and tweeting how amazing and fulfilling their lives are.

Of course, it all changes when they find someone or lose someone, but it’s all the same, good or bad.

What do I scream at my laptop? I scream, “Where’s your self worth?”

Self worth is lacking to such an alarming degree among people that it’s frustrating and sad. Yes, we all want to be loved. We’re human beings. We write poems, stories, books, make movies, paint pictures, sculpt and write songs about love. It’s with us in the morning when we wake up and it’s with us when we go to bed. Love motivates us in just about everything. It’s what separates us from the animals.

Exactly what am I getting at here?

You, the desperate one longing for love, are refusing to accept the love that is already around you. In other words, unless you are a complete asshole, you are drenched with love.

You are not finally worthy of someone’s love because you have a new girlfriend or boyfriend. You are not unworthy of someone’s love because you broke up, either. You are still you either way.

And about desperation…

Desperation breeds disappointment. It raises expectations that most cannot meet. Then it lowers your expectations to dangerous levels, leading to further disappointment. A desperate man or woman has never found true happiness or a way out of desperation. They are always desperate unless they choose not to be any longer. Circumstances normally never cure desperation. Circumstances only suppress it.

So, here’s my advice to those desperate souls, the ones longing for love:

  • Learn to love yourself, but keep it to yourself. No one wants to hear how much you love being you. There’s a reason Kanye West gets on everybody’s nerves.
  • Learn to appreciate the good in your life now. Most of us take for granted the good we have in our lives from time to time. Most of us are also able to realize we’re taking the goodness for granted. You, however, are not, do not, cannot. Take a step back and look at the good and behold.
  • Learn to accept the things you cannot change. You cannot control or change another person. You cannot change your race. You cannot change your past. You cannot see the future. You cannot change the weather. You cannot change how tall you are or how short you are. You cannot change your nationality. You cannot change your age. You cannot change the fact that you are going to die some day. You cannot change how strangers behave or react. Learn it and accept it.
  • Understand that the odds are in your favor. There are 7 billion people in this world. There are over 300 million people in the United States. In my town alone, there are 90 thousand people. The odds of you finding someone to love and someone to love you are great. If it’s not working with one, move on. As the saying goes, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.”
  • Understand that life is short. Too short. You can either spend it being miserable or you can enjoy it and live completely. Stop letting others decide how you will feel each day. You make the choice.
  • Finally, if you can’t do any of these things, then please, for the love of all that is holy, quit your public whining. At the very least, gain some perspective. While you’re crying that no one loves you or shouting to the world that your life is now awesome because you have a girlfriend, there are people in the world wondering if today will be the day someone cuts off their heads. Perspective is a beautiful thang.

That’s the rant. Thanks for reading and feel free to add your two cents in the comments.

Pope = Happiness

popePope Francis recently gave his top 10 secrets for happiness. They are what you would expect: treat others well, be giving, forgiving, etc. However, that’s just vanilla Pope PR. Here are his real top 10 secrets:

  1. Be a Pope. Let’s face it. Nothing groovier than being the Rock. Just ask Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. But a pope rock comes with an extra dose of holy goodness, Batman!
  2. Live in Vatican City because, well, you’re the pope. It’s a city and it’s a country and it’s surrounded by Italy, Rome to be exact. Location! Location! Location!
  3. Have a throne. Not a crapper, but an actual golden throne to sit upon and look regal. Nothing beats a big chair that’s reserved just for you.
  4. Change your name to something cool and meaningful… because you’re the pope. How many Melvins out there wish they could change their name to something cool like Mark, Luke, Peter or Bartholomew? Okay, forget that last one.
  5. Make sure all of your needs from the smallest to the greatest are met… because you’re the pope. From socks to air travel, having your every need met is the bee’s knees. Worry about gas prices? Not if you’re the pope. Price of milk is going up? Who cares? You’re the pope!
  6. Remove yourself from any real accountability, but don’t take advantage it… because, well, you’re the pope. This is tricky. Granted you’re in a position that God ordained you for and, therefore, only God can remove you, it’s still not a good idea to let that go to your head. Half the world already hates you. No reason to give the other half fuel for the fire. But it’s still pretty cool not being accountable to anyone on this rocky cesspool of a planet.
  7. Wear a ring people will kiss when greeting you. It’s way cool. A lot like kissing your ass, this is more socially acceptable. When someone kisses your ring, there’s an air of respect involved. When someone kisses your ass, it’s disgusting.
  8. Have an array of funky hats. Nothing says I’m my own man like a collection of bad hats, Harry. Wear them with pride and wear them often.
  9. Wear a dress almost every day. On second thought, make it every day. Ditch the trousers and go for the muumuus. Great for all occasions and they are cool in the sweltering Roman summers.
  10. Two words: Pope selfies. Nothing says, I’m a good guy and I’m having a blast like a holy selfie. Live it up and tweet to the rest of the world the look of the day. Throw in a pic of you shaking hands with a cripple kid and watch the love pour in like a heavenly waterfall. You’ll be glad you did.

If you would like to see the original article listing Pope Francis’s top 10 vanilla secrets to happiness, click here.

Inside There is a Season

TIASSince the publishing of my novella There is a Season, I’ve received letters and emails, as well as had conversations with readers about the book, the origins of the story, and how it has impacted lives. I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them, good and bad, but mostly the good.

I thought I would write an article about the book, answering common questions and addressing aspects of the book that usually come up when talking about it with readers.

There is a Season was my first long form story. It’s a novella because it isn’t long enough to be a novel, nor is it short enough to be a short story. I like novellas, but I didn’t start out writing one. My hope was to have a novel; however, during the writing process, I realized that it was not to be. The best part about writing a novella is that it’s great practice for a novel. Forty-thousand plus words is no small feat, and it prepares you for the grandness of a novel, which I eventually wrote with The Final Round.

I’m often asked if There is a Season was based on a true story. I’m happy to say that it was not. Although, it was inspired by bad news that ran wild with my imagination.

The character of Tom Hatcher was tromping through my head for years before I sat down to write the story. I had the idea of a man that had everything and was living the American dream, only to have it snatched away by tragedy. Often the idea mirrored my worst fears and other times, it had a life of its own. Then one day, a very good friend of mine called and told me that doctors had diagnosed him with cancer. If you’ve ever had a close friend or family member share this sort of news, it has the ability to hit you square in the jaw, making you dizzy and sick with fear.

As I dealt with the news in my own way, Tom Hatcher kept knocking on my door. I didn’t realize it then, but he was also my muse and was telling me that I needed to write his story.

My friend had it all: a wonderful family, great job, a nice home in the country, friends everywhere he turned. He was living the American dream and loving it. The fear that swept through everything when he was diagnosed was unavoidable. Yet, my friend was a rock. Eventually, after surgery and treatment, he was declared cancer free, and all was well.

Yet, Tom Hatcher continued hounding me.

Finally, it was too much. His consistent knocking and nightly badgering was becoming a problem. He insisted on me telling his story, but I had a problem. Tom Hatcher didn’t have cancer. He was a picture of health. He was climbing the ladder of success and enjoying the ride. I knew something bad had happened to him, but I had no idea what. That is, until I took a look at his family.

Cancer is a terrible disease. I’ve lost family members and friends to it. I’ve watched family members and friends battle it. I’ve heard stories of triumph and defeat. Even the triumphant stories are terribly gut-wrenching. It’s something that just about everyone in the world has dealt with in one way or another. And I was going to make Tom Hatcher deal with it, but as a powerless bystander.

Tom’s daughter, Tiffany, is a precocious six years old. She’s adorable, friendly, instantly liked, and well loved. Giving her cancer wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. The only way I could show Tom Hatcher overcoming his greatest obstacles was to destroy the very thing he loved the most.

I had no idea how the story was going to end. I didn’t outline. I only had a vague idea of how Tom was going to come out in the end. Ultimately, I was just as surprised by the ending as every reader who has written to me. I cried, also, and my heart broke to pieces. It was a magical moment as a writer, but a horrible one as a reader.

There is a Season is a tragic tale, but I didn’t want to end on a tragic note. Some readers have disagreed with my choice, but in order to show Tom’s growth as a man, I needed to carry it through.

Another aspect of the novella that many have written to me about is the religion woven throughout the book. Some were pleased, even happy with its message. Others were disheartened by it. What readers don’t understand is that There is a Season is not a religious book or story. I didn’t sit down with the thought of writing a message story. I had no purpose other than to tell the story of Tom Hatcher. Religion just happened to be a part of it.

I don’t consider There is a Season to be a spiritual book or Christian fiction. It is merely the story of one man’s tragedy and how he dealt with it. What is important to note, however, is that no one in There is a Season is perfect. They are all flawed characters, just as it is in real life. And we all react accordingly.

There is a Season is a special book for me as it was my first. It is also special because it has had a positive impact on readers. A writer can only hope for such praises.

For the summer, this little book is at a special low price of $0.99 for Amazon Kindle users. If you haven’t picked it up, give it a shot. It’s worth the time.

Thanks for reading.

 

You’ll shoot your eye out!

As I talked with a friend this morning, we were discussing the trial and errors ofTFR independent film making, particularly the trial and errors of our own journey with producing The Final Round, a period boxing film based on my book of the same name.

Five years ago, we bravely, and ignorantly declared that we were going to make The Final Round. We had big plans, but we didn’t have a script. I wrote the script. Then I rewrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it and… Well, you get the idea. Eventually, we ended up with not just a satisfactory screenplay, but a great one (Toot! Toot!).

We had  meetings with money, executives, agents, producers, actors, more producers, directors, even more producers, investment firms, millionaires, billionaires, groups of millionaires, production companies, and studios. We attended conferences, had readings, I thought about jumping off a bridge, made changes to the script, had more readings, made even more changes to the script. We met with big talkers, liars, thieves, crazy people, has-beens, wannabes, mystery men, shady characters, and people with strange accents.

We hired producers and fired producers. People threatened lawsuits and we threatened lawsuits right back. Men in three-piece suits offered custom fittings for cement shoes. We had “A” list stars on board, “B” list stars, “C”, “D”, back to “A”, and back on down the line again.

To say that this job has its ups and downs is putting it mildly.

Anyway, we’re on an up and were talking about how naive and egocentric we were five years ago. I admit, I’m still a little naive and my ego has not taken any major blows. It rarely does. I’m confident and patient, a deadly combination and one many should aspire to having. See?

My friend then made the comparison to the movie A Christmas Story. You know the one where Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB Gun.ACSmovieposter

He said that we were like Ralphie with his essay on why he wanted a Red Ryder BB Gun. It was a masterpiece and he had visions of praise pouring from his teacher and fellow students. Then he received a low grade and the note, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Ralphie was bummed and I laughed at the comparison, because my friend was right. But it started me thinking.

A Christmas Story is a perfect analogy for the film business.

Film makers have one goal and one goal only: We want to get our movies made. It’s that simple. We will do anything to get it done. Some have gone as far as doing everything to get it done. That’s gross. However, one thing that we all have in common is that our lives revolve around getting our project done.

We talk about it constantly, always on the lookout for who’s who. We work every angle, search every crack in the wall, get brave and make that cold call and spend an hour talking on the phone with a legendary producer, only to have a great story to tell at parties, but still no money for the film.

It’s the same thing poor Ralphie did in A Christmas Story.

Ralphie wanted nothing else for Christmas other than that Red Ryder BB Gun. He would stop at nothing to get it. He dropped subtle hints to his mom and the Old Man. He wrote an essay to get his teacher on his side. He fantasized about what he would do once he had the gun, the heroism, the glory. Eventually, Ralphie grew desperate and decided to take it up with a legend – Santa. But that jolly elf was of no help. Everywhere Ralphie turned, he was met with rejection. Yet, he still held onto hope.

Then, as it usually goes in the film business, on Christmas morning his dream came true via someone close to him – the Old Man. It was everything that Ralphie thought it would be and he couldn’t wait to try out his shiny, new gun. If you saw the movie, you know what happened next.

He shot his eye out!

ACSRalphBut like any good director, writer, or producer, Ralphie blamed his mistake on something else and came out on top.

So, what’s the lesson of A Christmas Story? There are a few.

  1. Never give up – You have a dream. It’s your film and your film only. No one else will make it for you. Keep the dream alive.
  2. Work every angle – Never leave a door unopened. Knock on every one of them. Open a window if you have to. The point is, get inside no matter what!
  3. Don’t burn bridges - You never know what may happen down the line. A rejection can come for many reasons. Most of the time, it’s because the story wasn’t good enough or you didn’t have a sound business plan or you’re too inexperienced. Other times, it’s just not the right moment, but moments can change in a flash in Hollywood. Keep everyone close.
  4. Sometimes, it’s exactly as everyone said it would be – Yes, you just might shoot your eye out. Your movie might stink, the studio might fire you, they’ll rewrite it, or it will never see distribution. It happens. It will hurt. You may even cry.
  5. Never admit failure – So you shot your eye out. Big deal. Take the spotlight off your failure and point it in another direction. Try not to throw anyone under the bus, but hey, you have to look out for numero uno, pal. The important thing is that you get to shoot your gun again.

That’s it. Thanks for reading. What are some lessons you’ve learned in film making?

Let Them Fight

Dear President Obama, House of Representatives, The Senate, Secretary of War Hagel, Secretary of State Kerry, and every other war mongering U.S. politician with ears:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. This is true for all men, everywhere.

On March 20, 2003, the United States Government invaded a sovereign, though flawed nation, Iraq, in order to impose the philosophical and governmental beliefs of the United States, and remove a tyrant of the Iraqi people from office, a reason created in light of new evidence that the nation of Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction as the people of the United States and the world were initially told by the Government of the United States, including the President of the United States, Secretary of War, Secretary of State, United States Senate, and the House of Representatives.

For nine (9) years, armed forces occupied the nation of Iraq, assisting in the creation of a new constitution and securing freedom for the Iraqi people. The United States military trained Iraq forces, supplied them with state of art equipment and the Government of the United States poured trillions of dollars into the Iraqi infrastructure. Thousands of U.S. military personal died or were wounded defending Iraq in the course of theses actions.

On December 18, 2011, the United States withdrew its forces from Iraq, leaving the Iraqi people, its armed forces, and politicians to defend its new found freedom.  In June, 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) invaded the cities of Mosul and Tikrit with less than 1,000 troops, besting a division of Iraqi soldiers, estimated at 30,000 troops. The Iraqi soldiers, once trained and supplied by the United States military, threw down their weapons, abandoned their posts, shed their uniforms and retreated. They left in their cowardly wake, billions of dollars in U.S. military hardware for the ISIS to pillage.

These unalienable rights  are free to those who choose to accept them and, in threatened times, those that have chosen are forced to fight for their rights, independent of outside forces, in order to secure in blood and sacrifice a more meaningful and protected love for their rights. The Iraqi people have chosen not to fight for their freedom. They have chosen oppression.

The United States military is sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and defend the freedom to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. You, the United States Government, have taken advantage of our patriotism and love for our country. You have put our children in harms way for the interest of foreigners and corporations. You, the United States Government, have exploited our military, our resources, our money, and our trust. You are not only judged by a higher power, but by the people, of whom you have failed to represent with good intentions, honesty, and integrity. You, the United States Government have been weighed in the balances and are found wanting.

We, therefore, the people of the United States of America, absolve with conviction the proposed obligation to defend Iraq and its people with military and monetary support. If the people of Iraq are unwilling to defend the freedom that so many have died and suffered for, then the people of the United States are unwilling to send its fighting men and women to defend Iraq’s freedom.

 

 

 

5 Most Overrated Books

As a writer, I hesitate to slam a book. I know how difficult it is to write one. I know how many hours, days, months, and sometimes years it took to get a book out there. Every day, a writer sits down and beats out words that he or she hopes will tell a fine story. A writer does it whether the mood strikes him or not. It’s his job. When it is finished, he takes a few seconds, breathes a satisfying sigh of relief, and then starts a new project.

That’s the creative process. Add in all the business and marketing, and publishing a book can be overwhelming. So, I tread lightly. Which is why the five books I’ve chosen as the most overrated were written by people who are now dead.

The Great Gatsby

220px-Gatsby_1925_jacketWritten by F. Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925, literary critics have called Fitzgerald’s tiny book his greatest creation.

In its initial printing, the book only sold around 25,000 copies. Fitzgerald was deeply disappointed. However, after he died and during WWII, the military handed out free copies to soldiers. They gobbled it up and after the war, the book was resurrected. It is now required reading in many schools. Six movies were made, a few stage adaptations, and a few radio plays, too. And it is often referred to as the greatest American novel of the 20th century.

Poppycock!

The Great Gatsby is a glossy overview of the 1920s. It’s a fast read because it was written quickly. Fitzgerald was known to chase the dollar, which is why he freelanced in Hollywood. He had to pay for the lavish lifestyle he and his wife Zelda were so used to living. It was a money grab using Fitzgerald’s fame as an unmatched short story writer. He had hoped it would be a huge financial success. It wasn’t until the military found cheap entertainment for the men on the front lines in Europe and South Pacific that it saw a steady increase in sales.

After the war, the book was beloved by many of those that returned. After all, it kept them sane during an insane moment in their lives. They told people how meaningful the book was to them and interests sparked. Many of those fighting men went on to teach and therefore, continued the nostalgic look at a book that saved their sanity. Today, we now have a thin story, with vague direction, and wooden characters that people declare the greatest book written.

It’s a nice little book, but it’s no masterpiece. Fitzgerald was a much better short story writer and The Great Gatsby pales in comparison to his shorts. You want to read a masterpiece? Then I suggest F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story Babylon Revisted. Now that will get your blood boiling!

For Whom the Bell Tolls

ErnestHemmingway_ForWhomTheBellTollsWhat can I say about Ernest Hemingway that hasn’t already been said? Plenty.

First, he is my favorite writer. I’ve read everything this man has written. I’ve read letters he wrote as a boy and, most recently, a hamburger recipe. I cannot get enough of Papa Hemingway. That is, unless we’re talking about For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Not only is this a terrible book, it was made into a terrible movie starring the terribly boring Gary Cooper. It’s as if the powers that be were dead set on killing society with boredom.

The book was published in 1940 and it takes place during the Spanish Civil War. The main character is dull, the rebels are dimwits, and the women are simple. The pacing of this story is as fast as a jaunty reading of the Book of Leviticus and Numbers. The drama is equally the same, too.

Many call For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway’s greatest work. Snobs full of hogwash! Try Farewell to Arms or that hamburger recipe. Anything is better than a long, drawn out story about the Spanish Civil War.

Ulysses

200px-UlyssesCoverWritten by James Joyce and consider the most important book in modernist literature, Ulysses is about… Well, I’m not sure. I’ve never been so confused and frustrated in my life. Call me a dimwit, but this book reads like it was written by a mad man who couldn’t quite make up his mind.

I’m not so sure what is meant by “important”, unless it is meant to show what not to do. After reading Ulysses, I have no doubt that Joyce was a nut that struggled with the English language. If I’m missing something, that’s all right. I can live with it.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

220px-DoAndroidsDreamWritten by the much talked about, but rarely read science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick, this book was first published in 1968. Fourteen years later, Hollywood would make a movie based on Dick’s book called Bladerunner.

Yes, Phillip K. Dick was a visionary, but he wrote like a sophomore in high school. Whew! That was harsh. I apologize and that was probably unfair. However! I challenge you to read one of his stories, any story, and walk away from it thinking, “I’m glad I spent my time reading that.”

I don’t know, maybe I’m not reading his stories in the context of time that they were written. But, to me, they are simple little tales told by firelight for the tribe, this book included. Hollywood has improved on his written tales considerably.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

220px-Huckleberry_Finn_bookWritten by Mark Twain and published in 1884 (UK) & 1885 (US), Huck Finn is a much talked about book. Ernest Hemingway himself even said that “All modern American literature comes from” Huck Finn, and that it was “the best book we’ve had.” However, he went on to say that the reader should “stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is cheating.”

So what’s wrong with the book?

Huck Finn is a dirty little rat of a kid with the mind of a marble. He’s a racist, a liar, a cheater, and a hooligan. When people saw Huck Finn coming, they locked their children up and hid their valuables. He played with dead cats, and was lazy and shiftless. I hate this kid.

Yes, the book was a social commentary on the times, but who gives  a dead cat’s behind. You feel dirty after reading the book and Hemingway was right, the story does end when Jim is stolen.

Instead, I prefer The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It’s fun and it’s funny. Yes, you put up with Huck Finn for a little while, but it’s worth the time. Skip Huck and go for Tom.

That’s it. What are some of the most overrated books you’ve read?

5 Most Overrated Films

I have great respect for people that make movies. It’s an impossible feat that many attempt, but few succeed. It takes a lot of hustle, money, and balls to make a movie. Most people have one of the three, a few obtain two of the three, the people that actually make a movie have all three. However, just because you can, does not mean you should.

I have listed five films that, in my opinion, are overrated. You may or may not agree, but allow me to make a case for each. Enjoy.

The Departed

thedepartedThis film won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. So, how in the hell can I even dare suggest that The Departed is overrated? Easy. It’s a hodgepodge of scenes loosely tied together by an over performed part by Jack Nicholson.

The Departed was Martin Scorsese’s shining moment according to the Academy and critics. The film was a remake of a Hong Kong film called Internal Affairs and its two sequels. Internal Affairs was a huge success in Hong Kong. The Departed uses all three Hong Kong pictures as a source.

The problem I have with Scorsese’s film is that I think it plays like a long music video with interludes of dialogue. Wahlberg was wonderful, DiCaprio, as well. Damon was a charming maniac, but failed to show the same depth as DiCaprio. Alec Baldwin was funny, but a caricature. Nicholson was awful. Oh sure, Jack had his moments, but overall, it felt thin and forced.

As for the story… Well, it’s no Internal Affairs. Like most films these days, it wasn’t allowed to grow slowly, ease into the drama, develop the characters. We are immediately thrust into a world where empathy is scarce for both characters and audience. The web gets so tangled, you find yourself listing the plot points in order to understand where this thing is going. The ending is less than satisfying and is only saved by Wahlberg’s final act. Then there is the laughable imagery and blatant symbolism. I couldn’t wait for this film to end.

Before many of you go crazy and start calling me an idiot, let me just say that I saw the movie four times. I wanted to like it. I wanted it to be Scorsese’s actual shining moment. But it’s not. I’m afraid the awards are a giant apology for the Academy stiffing poor Martin all these years. When it comes to Scorsese’s body of work, The Departed ranks at the bottom. Now you can call me an idiot.

The African Queen

africanqueenThis film was directed by John Huston and stars Humphrey Bogart and Kathrine Hepburn. It was produced in 1951 and was labeled as an “adventure” story. However, The African Queen is anything but an adventure.

This is the movie that finally won Bogart his Academy Award. Really? Out of everything this dude made, he gets it for putting up with Hepburn on a river in a boat. Granted that does deserve an award, but not Best Actor. Then again, he didn’t strangle her to death.

The African Queen is actually a slow boat to China when it comes to moving the story along. It’s a long movie even when you’re just 15 minutes into it. For an adventure movie, there isn’t much to talk about. Everything happens in the final act, but it’s too little too late and really not that impressive to begin with. I’ve never been so bored in my life watching a Bogart film. Hepburn, yes. Bogart, no. That must have been one hell of a campaign during the awards season.

American Graffiti

amergraffitiNostalgia is a terrible disease that eats away at the marrow of society. American Graffiti is a film about the cruising days of 1962 California. It’s filled with cool cars, great music, and a thin story. If it wasn’t for Wolfman Jack, there wouldn’t be a reason to watch this movie.

The film was co-written by George Lucas, Gloria Katz, and Willar Huyck. Lucas directed it and it stars Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, and Paul Le Mat. There’s some other familiar faces in it that you’ll recognize from television, making American Graffiti the launching pad for some great careers. However, the movie itself is like looking at old photographs of some car nut’s love for the past. If you want to see what brought on Happy Days, then check it out. Otherwise, just watch Happy Days.

True Grit

truegritLet me start by saying that I love this movie starring my favorite actor John Wayne. But I also know that it is a poor adaptation of a book and a so-so performance by the Duke.

True Grit was produced in 1969 and directed by Henry Hathaway. John Wayne won the Oscar for Best Actor after being snubbed for his performances in The Sands of Iwo Jima and The Searchers. Seven years later he would give an Oscar worthy performance in The Shootist. Looks like the Academy jumped the gun, so to speak.

The film also stars Glen Campbell and Kim Darby, with an appearance by Robert Duvall. It has grand landscapes and humorous moments, but it lacks depth. Forty-one years later, Ethan and Joel Coen would make their own adaptation of the book starring Jeff Bridges. It is a far more superior film.

Forrest Gump 

forgumpYes, Forrest Gump is a beloved film, groundbreaking in special effects, and woven together like a fine Persian rug. The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects and Best Film Editing. It was directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, and Gary Sinise. It has a great score and is beautifully shot. So, what’s the beef? Jenny.

Forrest Gump is a lovable idiot that fumbles his way through historic moments while longing for the love of his life, Jenny Curran. He befriends dimwitted Bubba and melancholy Lieutenant Dan. He becomes a successful businessman and worldwide sports figure. He helps his community, keeps his word, and defends the weak.

Jenny, on the other hand, is a cold-hearted whore trying to dull her painful past with sex, drugs, and deceit. She snubs Forrest at every turn, until finally, after years of partying, she comes home, worn out and depressed, only to give Forrest a pity love making session. Then she splits, leaving Forrest pining over her, once again. A few years later, doctors diagnose Jenny with AIDS and she reaches out to Forrest so that her son, Forrest’s bastard child, can have a home when she finally croaks. Jenny marries Forrest then kicks the bucket and Forrest and his son, Little Forrest, live happily ever after.

Need I say more?

That’s it for the list, however, I’ll include one as honorable mention.

Mrs. Doubtfire

This little gem stars Robin Williams and Sally Field. I hate mrsdoubtthis movie and I have good reasons, too.

Williams is great in it, but let’s break the film down in simple terms. It’s about a vindictive bitch of an ex-wife that has a court remove all rights to her ex-husband’s children. The only way he can get close to his children, is to dress like an old English woman and become their nanny. WTF? There’s nothing charming or funny about divorce and their certainly isn’t anything wonderful about a dad having to dress in drag just so he can see his children. Giant turd of a film.

Words to live by

This is a message to all you youngins out there who think you have it all figured out.

I get it. You’re a high school graduate or on your way to becoming one. You’ve completed your freshman year in college, maybe even your sophomore year. I’ve been there. I know what you’re thinking, feeling, and hiding. Most of us that have gone before you do. You’re not fooling anyone, nor are you impressing anyone. So, I’m going to give you some friendly and much-needed advice.

But before I do, you should know that there are rules to follow in society. These rules are normally unwritten, fine tuned over years of trial and error. Time has perfected many of these rules, made some obsolete, and even written new ones. These rules are important because they are the glue that binds us all together. When they are broken, we start to fall apart.

I know you think rules are written so that you can break them. For the most part, that is true. However, that line of thinking doesn’t apply to every rule for every situation. The following are the rules you should follow, even perfect, if you want to get along in this world without getting your face caved in by a meaty paw.

  • Manners – It is imperative that you conduct yourself accordingly when in the presence of another human being. Don’t chew with your mouth open, say thank you and please, and use your indoor voice. Those are the basics. But more importantly, the reason for manners, is that you are aware of your surroundings.

NEWS FLASH: You are not the only person in the world. YOU walk among US. Pay attention to the people around you. Get off your damn phone for five minutes and look up. You’re walking against traffic and pissing people off. Try opening a door for another human being. Help pick something up that someone dropped. When another person thanks you, say, “My pleasure” and not “No problem.”  Manners get you farther in life than you realize, kiddo.

  • Shut-up – Listen, I know you think you have all this worldly knowledge and have the need to share it with everyone. You know how the world should work, which politicians are right on and which are not. You know who’s going to heaven and who is not. You’re pretty sure anyone that isn’t doing what you are doing, reading what you are reading, watching what you are watching, or thinking as you are thinking are complete idiots and deserve to die a fiery death in public. Well, I hate to break it to you, bub. You don’t know half of what you think you know and every time you open your mouth, you look and sound like a fool. Some time, later in life, you’ll regret many times that you flapped your gums without thinking.

Luckily, you’re young and there is much grace for a young and foolish mouth. However, that grace begins to disappear when you don’t know when to shut-up. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you to look and sound stupid. Don’t be in such a hurry. If you take time to snap that gum chewing trap of yours shut long enough, you’ll actually hear some fantastic tales and maybe even learn something about people. Because here’s the plan truth. You don’t know squat about people. Shutting-up is the beginning of wisdom, my friend.

  • Sex – Sex is good. We all like sex. Most of us over the age of thirty have had sex. It’s no big deal. It’s natural. Eventually, we all do it. Here’s what we don’t need to do, though. Talk about it… in public… pulling everyone within earshot into your perverted, free-thinking, free-wheeling verbal tirade of your latest conquest or fantasy.

Sex, believe it or not, is a private matter. To openly talk about it in great detail and vulgarity is not only rude, but appalling. There are two things most of us realize when we hear you spewing your filth: One, you’re lying. Two, you’re an animal that shouldn’t be trusted. This is the impression you’re leaving with the rest of us that have half a brain knocking around in our thick skulls. You’re not being clever or funny. You’re being an asshole. Do yourself and the rest of us a favor. Keep it to yourself. If you need to seriously talk about it with someone, pick one person. Please and thank you.

  • Words – Your words mean something. Every word carries with it a definition. Look up any word and it will have a definition. There’s no escaping it. You take vocabulary tests in school in order to learn the meaning of words. However, here’s something else that words carry: emotion and history.

You may think that the word “Nigger” is just a word and has no meaning but that which we give it. And if you truly believe that, then I challenge you to put that which you preach into practice. Use that word in the presence of a black man or woman. Let me know how that goes. If you are black, you don’t get off that easy. You should be thinking the same thing when you use that word, as well. Our words having meaning, regardless of color. They can be daggers straight to the heart or a soothing balm for the soul. You choose what you want others to think, even if you don’t care what they think. So, choose wisely.

Cursing is a favorite pastime of the young. Suddenly, when everyone reaches the age of 13, they become sailors and truckers. Fine, but this takes me back to rule number one: pay attention to your surroundings. Not all speech is acceptable in every situation. Sitting at a restaurant within earshot of a table of old ladies trying to enjoy a nice night out, means that you should give a second thought to using the word “Motherfucker” when telling your story.

Your words mean something and can be the sound of clanging cymbals in the ears of many when used inappropriately. You may have this philosophy that words are meaningless and we can only give them power, but you’re all alone on this. It’s a nice thought and I would tend to agree to a certain extent, but society, i.e. the people around you, don’t want to hear it. Save it for the locker room, your car, or when you’re alone with your friends. How you use your words says a lot more about you than about the people that react to them.

One final thought on words having meaning. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. If you make a commitment, keep it. A yes is preferred, but a no is much more acceptable than a maybe. Have a backbone and say yes or no. Get rid of the word maybe. Banish it from your vocabulary. But remember, if you say yes, you better damn well mean it and stick to it. Be a man or woman of your word.

That’s it. These are some very basic rules for conduct that will help you get ahead, not by, in life. Most will not adhere to these rules, which means that those who do have an edge. Which one will you be?

Thanks for reading.

Memorial Day Redux

This is one of three annual articles that I like to write. The other two are a birthday reflection and a rant about Christmas in America. The Memorial Day one is my favorite of the three.

Memorial Day in American is a solemn day. Well, it should be. Unfortunately, it is a weekend filled with barbecues, beer, and the most unfortunate holiday greeting, “Happy Memorial Day!”

It’s also a weekend riddled with an erroneous honoring of the living.

I am a veteran of the United States Navy. I served four years and am very proud of my time. Some of the best people in my life are the shipmates I worked alongside with during my time in service. I still keep in touch with many of them thanks to social networking. They are the most dedicated and honorable individuals I know. But I don’t know one that seeks public recognition for their service on Memorial Day.

Here’s a little secret for all you civilians out there that have never had the pleasure of serving in the Armed Forces:

It’s not a sacrifice. Unless, that is, you were drafted. However, for my generation, it was a privilege.

We volunteered. Many of us had nowhere else to go. Others weren’t sure what they wanted to do with their lives. And there were some that always wanted to serve. Most of us never regretted it no matter how we came to be in uniform.

When you thank a veteran for their sacrifice, it falls on deaf ears. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the sincerity of your thank you, it’s that we know in our hearts that it isn’t deserved. It isn’t humbleness you are witnessing when you thank us for our sacrifice. It’s embarrassment and you put us in an awkward position.

It is not the living that have sacrificed but the dead.

WWII Memorial 011Me

Memorial Day has a deep meaning for veterans and a much deeper meaning for those that lost friends and loved ones. But it is the families that lost their loved ones that should be honored and thanked. We are in a period of war and there are freshly broken hearts all around us.

So, this Memorial Day, don’t thank a veteran. He or she is still living and is glad for it. Thank the parents that lost their son or daughter. Thank the widow that cries at night while her children wonder why daddy will never come home. Thank the husband whose beautiful wife is only a photograph now. Thank the child who bears a resemblance of his hero dad or mother, but wishes he remembered them better. Leave some flowers at a grave of a local service member we lost in battle and thank God it wasn’t you or someone you know. Then enjoy your barbecue and  the life you have, because those that are not with us would do the same if they were here today. Life is good and should be celebrated, but know that your life comes with a sacrifice that you did not have to give.

And if you want to thank a veteran or a service member on active duty, there are two days a year set aside for you: Veteran’s Day and Armed Forces Day. As a veteran, I can say with utmost certainty that I’ll gladly take your thank yous then and I welcome gifts, as well.

Enjoy your weekend and, as always, thank you for reading.