North Pacific Supply Company’s “Mary B.”

Standing less than five feet tall, she easily commanded the attention of everyone around her with her confident persona. She always honored her commitments, expecting nothing less from employees and professional partners. Owner of North Pacific Supply Company for nearly forty years, Mary Barbagelata “Mary B.” showed up for work every weekday, from the early 1950s to the early 1990’s, until the age of 87.

Born March 6, 1905 in Portland, Oregon, Mary B. was the bookkeeper for the company (located at that time in northwest Portland) when it became North Pacific Supply in 1953. In 1956, a time before women-owned businesses were prevalent, she became the majority owner and slowly bought out her partner to achieve sole ownership.

With Mary B. at the helm, North Pacific Supply became the private distributor for Whirlpool and RCA, which led to expansion into the rest of Oregon and southwest Washington. The company’s prosperous growth allowed for a new 100,000-square-foot office/warehouse complex in Clackamas. It was 1979 and Mary was 75 years old, but that didn’t keep her from actively overseeing the planning and construction. After she passed away, in May of 1995, the ownership of the company passed to Mary’s daughter and granddaughter.

In every endeavor, she personified passion tempered with practicality and competence completely devoid of conceit. At times when someone fell short of her expectations, they could expect to receive a “creative letter” hand-typed by Mary B. from her trusty upright typewriter, reminding them of their obligation. In these ways, she was much more than one of the first female business owners in the Pacific Northwest. She was one of the region’s finest business owners of her time.

Today, North Pacific Supply operates cellular, construction and property-management divisions in addition to its central remodeling business. The company specializes in appliances and cabinetry for kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, closets and much more. The name has become synonymous with quality in Oregon and southwest Washington and prices remain very competitive as the company buys in bulk at wholesale. With two additional locations in Bend and Medford and a showroom with 25 complete kitchen examples at its Clackamas location, North Pacific Supply has the high-end brands and the expert knowledge to easily outshine its regional remodel competitors.

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Siskiyou Massage

Type of Piece:        SEO/Sales Web Content

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Written For:            Siskiyou Massage

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Can an Author Boycott Amazon and Still Survive?

I have a question for my fellow writers/bloggers. Is it possible to boycott Amazon and still give your book a fighting chance?

I’m definitely getting ahead of myself here, because I’m not yet a traditionally or self-published author of any type of book, but like so many, I plan to be some day very soon. I’d like to think it will be one of my many novel starts, but more likely I will complete and self-publish (and self market) a guide to business social media before finishing anything else, but I digress.

I already know the P.O.D. publisher I will approach first. I’ve been a fan of Angela Hoy and her Writers Weekly newsletter since about 2002. Her other business she shares with her husband BookLocker.com will be my first choice for publishing for a number of reasons, which don’t particularly matter for the purposes of this blog.

I closely followed BookLocker’s antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, and some of you may also remember when your “buy” buttons disappeared on your Amazon listings. After reading about the incredible fight and “settlement” (in my opinion, Booklocker won), and hearing about all the ways Amazon is trying to take control of books away from authors, I’ve developed a healthy distaste for this Goliath of the industry.

So that’s why I’m asking, do you think any book has a fighting chance if it’s not listed through Amazon? I tend to think if an author is doing his or her own marketing anyway, where the book is available doesn’t really matter, but I recognize that’s likely wishful thinking and/or naivete. If you’re driving traffic to your book, that traffic should follow the roadmap you give them to get to your book, shouldn’t they?

I also live in the Pacific Northwest where Powell’s Books is a regional leader. I tend to think an online listing with them would be almost as good, and certainly ethically preferable, to listing on Amazon.

Thoughts anyone? Have any of you out there chosen not to list with Amazon due to ethical objections to any of their business practices? Please comment and educate me.

Sweet Envy

(Wrote this misbehaving little ditty in March of 2005.  Wow, that seems like a lifetime ago!)

I don’t know who to envy more
my new friend caramel
my old friend cream
two dreamy sweets
sweeter made
in mixture seemingly richer
each alone, select
but when combined,
Perfect

And I’m wrecked
because I dream
beyond tasting
I dream of
hopping their dish and
laying wasting
joining their measure
for a fix
of scrumptious crime
I’d almost do the time
for the pleasure

But what a shame
to taint them
I have no place in their taste
and blame is bitter ruin

Not to mention jealousy
from my own
partner flavor

We too are savory
complimentary
meant-to-be

And I would never risk
our classy confection
for a brief caramel cream stint

For my own peppery part
I’ll stick with mint

Parts of Speech

Recently, Pastor Tim Brown wrote an article “Five Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say” about how he despises the use of the word “Christian” as an adjective (e.g. “That’s not Christian!”). I whole-heartedly agree with that as well as with his overall thesis in the article which generally addresses how many modern Christians use their faith to exclude and dismiss broad groups of people and practices from relevancy in their lives. Extrapolating to something I believe about all world religions, when followers of any spiritual path extract specific beliefs and teachings and focus on those components in absence of the greater belief-system as a whole, they cease to be true followers of their faith, and in most cases, end up drawing errant and misguided conclusions. When, as Pastor Brown discusses, they use those “conclusions” to belittle and make “other” of their fellow man (especially considering the hubris and condescension inherent in such an action) the only result is further division of mankind, which if left unchecked, manifests, as we have seen in the middle east, into theocracy and, eventually, literal religious warfare.

Getting back to parts of speech, to Pastor Brown’s plea of ceasing to use Christian as an adjective, I would like to add, we need to be well aware of the use of the word “other” as a verb. When someone uses one of those errant conclusions discussed above to draw distinctions between his or her own spiritual beliefs and practices and the spiritual beliefs and practices of someone else, he or she “others” the person in question. True, there are clear differences among the world’s dominant spiritual belief systems. Recognizing those variances without judgment is simple educated awareness, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The “othering” occurs only when an errant conclusion has been used to label and separate one’s own beliefs and practices in distinction from those of people practicing different faiths. Borrowing again from Pastor Brown’s article, here’s an example of “othering” in action.

Pastor Brown writes, “I once told a person that I meditated. They responded, ‘Well, that’s not Christian you know…’ Sigh. See, the problem with that line of thinking is that it narrows what can be identified with living a life in Christ.” In this example, both the practice of meditation, and by extension, Pastor Brown himself, were “othered out of Christianity” by the person claiming meditation was “not Christian.” Realizing that meditation is more traditional among eastern religions is, again, simple educated awareness. “If the person in this example had instead responded, “I’ve only heard of meditation being used in Buddhism and other eastern religions. Can you tell me more about how you apply its practice to Christianity?” that would not have constituted othering, and could in fact, have lead to an intellectual and spiritual discussion bringing two people closer together. Unfortunately, that person, instead, chose to focus on the fact that meditation is not extensively used in Christian practice, and ignore the numerous references to meditation in the Bible, such as Psalms 1:2, Psalms 48:9, etc. to draw and errant conclusion which he or she then used to other Pastor Brown.

Some would argue that the person making the claim was not trying to exclude Pastor Brown himself, but only persuade him to reexamine his use of meditation which that person didn’t feel fit into a “Christian lifestyle.” Pastor Brown makes another important and valid point in response to that assertion when he discusses the ridiculous catch-phrase, “Love the sinner – hate the sin.” He writes:

I’ve only heard it used when people are talking about identity.
“I love gay people, I just hate that they act on their homosexual orientation…”
There we go. There’s an honest statement. And an unhelpful one. It’s unhelpful because, you can’t love me apart from my sexuality. I really don’t think you can. It’s part of what makes me who I am, even if it’s not the whole of my definition. So, if you were to say to me, “I love you, but I hate that you’re heterosexual…” I would probably stop listening right then and there because, well, I wouldn’t believe you. You can’t love me and yet hate an essential part of me. This phrase is disingenuous.

Othering is quite rampant in the U.S. We have but to look at the political wars raging over the issue of homosexual marriage. Some politicians citing their “Christian beliefs: (and I put the words in quotes, because there are plenty of true Christians who do not choose to extract specific Bible passages (1Corinthians 6:9-10, Leviticus 18:22, etc.) interpreted as forbidding homosexuality and ignore the rest of the Bible which clearly directs them to love their fellow man as themselves (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:36-40, etc.) and keep their faith out of the political arena (Matthew 22:21)) are working feverishly to make sure no two men or two women in their state or in this country really, will ever be able to take advantage of a secular, government sanctioned marriage partnership. These politicians extract those particular Bible passages mentioned above from the entirety of the Bible and try to use the inherently misguided conclusions they’ve drawn from focusing on a single piece of a whole belief system to other an entire group of people. This is no less than an attempt at theocracy!

But it’s important that this not become a conversation only about gay marriage or the current political struggle over what should never have become a political issue. Othering happens daily, hourly, minute by minute, and it’s passed down through generations. Just as Pastor Brown says, when you other someone, you narrow the definition of what it is to be good person and indeed a person at all. We all need a moral compass, but a Christian choosing to meditate or a person born Jewish choosing to get baptized should not cause the slightest tremor in that needle. The truth is you don’t know what kind of relationship that person has with the practices or teachings of their chosen belief system, so you should not comment on it. There’s no need to other the practice or the person. In every case, othering is hurtful and it’s harmful.

And it’s hateful. And it’s unbecoming to any belief system when its followers stray from its sum total in pursuit of focus on a single extracted idea. It is malpractice of the faith! We may fail in the attempt to revoke adjective status to the word “Christian.” And if you look through history, extreme othering is an inextricable part of it with examples such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust and the atrocities happening all over the world today, but must we continue to make it a part of our future? For my part, I’m praying for unity among mankind.

Lexington

I.
My city waits for me – her straying wisp –
who fell in love with her from rooftop views
who held her hand the way she would insist
before she’d let me cross her avenues.

She nursed me with the knowledge of her streets
and nourished with that knowledge I would roam
through red mud, bluegrass, blacktop, til my feet
turned toward the blue glass tower leading home.

Though born of her, I lived inside her still
enwombed in urban flesh that never broke
I cleaved to her as offspring often will
adoring how she thought, the way she spoke.

Her downtown scrapers growing toward the skies
were mother features to my daughter eyes.

II
Summer
sticky heat
such heat
to make me high
on High Street where I found
Common Grounds
always changing hands
(changing styles between its
wooden floors and ceiling fans)
but always open
Coffee anytime
sweetened with packets of
pink people
blue art
or clear conversation

a gift from my
mother-no-more
I fell infatuation
and lay with her enraptured
eyes to eyes
she guided my palms
over her brick belly
concrete breasts and sidewalk thighs.
We thrilled each other till
we body wept.

Kept women we were
neither shameless
nor bearing shame
in our immaculate embrace.
Each morning, I covered her face
in footstep kisses.
Each evening I praised her shape
from my rooftop vista.

Dressing to please my tastes,
she pulled the Kentucky Theater
from its waste in the back of her closet
re-stitched its plush red curtained proscenium
dusted and shined its stained glass ceiling
and put it on again

powdered her downtown cheeks
with painted horses for weeks as I rode
one to the next in delight.
Bottle-capped, stone-fenced
whirly-gigged, dream-coated
they nickered and gloated
necks arched in
equine pride.

Now thoroughly decked
she brought me on her arm
to the Beaux Arts Ball
a masquerade in her honor.
The cold damp stone
of the Radisson basement
transformed by her
builders-to-be
the architecture students from
her largest university.
Their painted faces praised her
as rhythm raised us both
to ecstatic pitch
and we tangled our limbs in music
not caring whose was which.

Wholly each other’s
till the day my eyes strayed
to a man of my own flesh
and I woke one morning
(body next to his)
to her silence.

III.
Such silence without anger or reproach
not mother’s punishment nor lover’s spurn
releasing me, resolving but to watch
through leaps and falls the lessons I would learn.

And when through panes of glass she saw me cry
she summoned Loudon House to deck its walls
Its courtyard rock and roll a lullaby
reverberating through the gallery halls.

And with such gifts she eased my zigzag mind
my friend whose love was great enough to slack
her stride from by my side to just behind
so she might help, though never hold me back.

I left her with a loving thank you kiss
and now she waits for me – her straying wisp.

 

Whitman – All Washed Up

(originally posted 2/14/2001)

In his poem “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” Whitman endures several almost violent transitions in his thought, as the narrative progresses. He splits the poem into four sections, each of which signals one of these transitions. The first section seems to set the stage and describe the coming together of conditions that all lead up to Whitman’s revelation. The second section describes his realization of the meaning of the vision he’s experience. In section three, he describes the intense emotions and his subsequent loss of control due to those emotions, as he turns to nature for comfort. Finally in section four he accepts the new way of thinking he’s come to understand and finds a higher connectedness not only with nature but with God as well. Most of the lines in the poem are long and he seems unconstrained by any metrical detail. This gives the poem a breathless and in some places uneven sound and flow. Whitman of course meant to prompt this kind of reading since it works well with the spinning-out-of-control theme that he wants to convey. With a closer look at the rhetorical situation and four-part structure of the poem, as well as a verification of the dual symbolism of the ocean, Whitman’s meaning floats to the surface more readily to be examined.

In section one Whitman begins, “As I ebb’d with the ocean of life,” (line 1). He establishes here the metaphor that he will use throughout the poem, that of the ocean as symbolic of all human action and human experience. If Whitman is ebbing with the ocean of life then he is allowing himself to be pulled back, to contract in upon himself, just as the ocean seems to contract and expand on the shore with the tide. This first line communicates to Whitman’s reader that he’s in a specific state of mind. He’s ebbing, and what this means becomes more obvious later on. He continues, “As I wended the shores I know, / As I walk’d where the ripples continually wash you Paumanok,” (2-3). Now Whitman establishes place in a more concrete way. He describes himself as wending on the shore of Paumanok, the island of his birth. So literally he walks on a seashore as well, “Where the fierce old mother endlessly cries for her castaways,” (5). The word endless, in connection with a seashore implies for the reader a description of the tide and thus the ocean. So Whitman is comparing the ocean to a fierce old mother. Also since he places this personification right after a description of where he literally is, the reader can assume that he’s personifying the literal ocean and not the metaphoric ocean of life. Now Whitman sets the scene for the vision he’s about to experience. In lines 6-8 Whitman describes how his frame of mind is as perfect as the setting for the vision about to take place. He says, “I musing late in the autumn day, gazing off southward, / Held by this electric self out of the pride of which I utter poems, / Was seiz’d by the spirit that trails in the lines underfoot.” So he is at the very edge of his egotism about what he has written, similar to the tide when it has reached as high as it can on the shore and is about to ebb. In the next few lines several likenesses strike him. First he decides in line nine that where he is on the seashore is, “the sediment that stands for all the water and all the land of the globe.” By likenesses here he refers to this state of representation. He brings up in the next several lines specific examples of the muck washed ashore and sees it all as symbolizing the contents of the ocean. This symbolism will lead him in the second section to find himself symbolic of all humankind.

In the second section, having established that the small patch of shoreline he stands on is representative of all land and water, and in the mood to be looking for objects and ideas of similarity, Whitman defines himself as representative of all humans and human experience. This becomes problematic for him in that realizing that he represents all humankind, he comes to the conclusion that all the poetry he’s written before is no longer pertinent, and that no poetry ever can be. He begins this section, “As I wend the shores I know not,” (18). Before he was wending the shores he new. Metaphorically speaking now, he’s on shaky mental and emotional ground. He’s unfamiliar with this feeling of being representative of everyone, even though looking over some of his other poems this is a position he adopts frequently. In this poem, however, he makes it out to be strange and disconcerting for him. He continues, “As I list to the dirge, the voices of men and women wreck’d, / As I inhale the impalpable breeze that set in upon me, / As the ocean so mysterious rolls toward me closer and closer,” (19-21). In 19, he provides evidence of his feeling symbolic of humankind in general. If he’s listening to the dirge of voice, he must be hearing many voices, and in true Whitmanian fashion he feels that he represents them. His reference to the breeze as impalpable provides a clue to the reader about the ocean in the next line. When her refers to the ocean as mysterious, the reader knows he’s not referring to the earthly ocean that just a stanza before seemed mothering to him. Rather, he feels mystified by this ocean of life, that he hears through the dirge of men and women’s voice, the ocean of all humankind’s experience. His next few lines reveal that while he feels representative of, he also feels trivialized by, the sheer size of human experience. He says, “I too but signify at the utmost a little wash’d-up drift, / a few sands and dead leaves to gather, / Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and drift,” (22-24). Seeing his small part in the greater ocean of humankind, he indeed feels much less significant and this leads him to say that he feels, “Opress’d with myself that I have dared to open my mouth, / Aware now that amid all that blab whose echoes recoil upon me I have not once had the least idea who ore what I am. / But that before all my arrogant poems the real Me stands yet untouch’d, untold, altogether unreach’d,” (26-28). Having found his simultaneously representative and trivialized place in the whole experience of humankind, Whitman feels ashamed of the poetry he’s written before, as though nothing he’s yet written has expressed the essence of what it is that now surrounds and permeates him. He describes that untouched self as, “Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,” (29) and he says, “I perceive I have not really understood any thing, not a single object, and that no man ever can,” (32). Now that Whitman’s completes his mental revolution, he begins in the third section his turbulent reaction to it.

In the third section Whitman completely abandons the idea of himself and a poet and furthers his ebbing process, turning to nature in his sudden humility for some feeling of connectedness. He begins, “You oceans both, I close with you,” (35). So finally he makes direct reference to the duality of his symbol of the ocean, on the one hand meaning the real ocean that seems motherly and helpful to him and on the other hand the ocean of life which symbolizes all human experience. He can only say this temporary farewell to two oceans, if he is indeed using two oceans in his thought process. He makes one last reference to his poetry by comparing himself to the ocean saying, “We murmur alike reproachfully rolling sand and drift, knowing not why,” (36). By this Whitman means that the literal ocean’s carving of the shoreline gets at the randomness with which he feels he has constructed all his poetry up to this point. Far from the electric prideful self at the beginning of the poem, now he gives himself little more credit as an artist than anyone would give the ocean for purpose in the way it shapes the coast. Now he turns to the island for comfort saying, “You fish-shaped island, I take what is underfoot,” (39). He next compares himself to the debris thrown up on the shore as he says, “I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float, and been wash’d on your shores, / I too am but a trail of debris, / I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped island,” (42-44). Having been thrown into a mental tailspin by his revelations, he feels as out of control of his own fate as the scraps and muck thrown up on shore by the sea. He indicates how helpless this makes him feel and seeks comfort from the paternal island crying, “I throw myself upon your breast my father, / I cling to you so that you cannot unloose me, / I hold you so firm till you answer me something. / Kiss me my father, / Touch me with your lips as I touch those I love,” (45-49). In his anguish here, he cries out to the island for comfort from the sensation of having been shaken loose from all the confidence he had. His near hysteria ends only with his command to the island to breath to him in line 50 and further releases him in section four.

In the fourth and final section of the poem, Whitman seems to have come to terms with his simultaneous significance and insignificance in the ocean of human experience. He begins, “Ebb, ocean of life, (the flow will return,)” (51). His acceptance of the ebb and his calm tone regarding the return of the fuller tide indicate that he’s resigned himself to his newly discovered position as representative but still small part of the ocean of life. Next he addresses the physical ocean once again personifying it as motherly saying, “Cease not your moaning you fierce old mother, / Endlessly cry for your castaways, but fear not, deny not me,” (52-53). He articulates his understanding of his position as well as the position of all humankind in the ocean of life in lines 56-58 where he says, “I gather myself and for this phantom looking down where we lead, and following me and mine. / Me and mine, loose windrows, little corpses, / Froth, snowy white, and bubbles.” By me and mine he means the human race, and again he compares himself and everyone to beach debris. He breaks from this though momentarily to say, “See, from my dead lips the ooze exuding at last, / See, the prismatic colors glistening and rolling,” (59-60). This image of his death indicates his total acceptance of his newfound role. His next several lines provide more examples of the sea slough tossed around by nature that he compares humankind to. Finally in line 68, Whitman shifts his focus. He says, “Just as much whence we come that blare of the cloud-trumpets, / We, capricious, brought hither we know not whence, spread out before you, / You up there walking or sitting, / Whoever you are, we too lie in drifts at your feet,” (68-71). Here Whitman comes full circle, alluding to the beginning of the poem when he was walking on the edge of the sand surveying the debris tossed up on the shore. Now he is that debris, and another entity, God, walks on the shore of the ocean of life, as only God can, and surveys him as debris on the shore. This sudden shift seems almost its own section, being as it breaks from the theme of nature as ultimate power and moves to the figure of God as ultimate power, but Whitman seems to included it in his final section so that he might really demand his reader’s attention and signify the importance of this shift which is really a turn back to the beginning image.

Whitman uses the earthly ocean to symbolize a motherly force matching the islands fatherly force, and his visionary ocean of life to symbolize the magnitude of human experience. Twice in his poem, Whitman refers to the material ocean as motherly, fierce, but motherly none the less. This provides a clue to the reader that he refers to more than one ocean. In line 21 after all he calls that ocean mysterious and his tone indicates apprehension as he describes it, “roll(ing) toward me closer and closer.” He would not fear the motherly ocean, fierce though it may be, because he has that ocean figured out. He knows her endless cry is simply the tide endlessly splashing on the shore. For him to be nervous about the roll and approach of the ocean indicates that he must be referring to a different ocean, an ocean with more serious implications for him. The reader finds out this is definitely the case in line 35 when he says, “You oceans both, I close with you.” To refer to two oceans Whitman must be visualizing two. If the reader had any doubt about what the ocean of life (the visionary ocean as opposed to the tangible ocean) is, that doubt cannot exist after he represents himself as sea debris on the shore, especially after he refers to God as the new walker.

Having properly observed the progression of Whitman’s narrative broken into four parts and taken a scrutinizing look at the duel symbolism of the ocean in the poem, Whitman does seem to be laid out for any curious inspection of his meaning to take place. The theme of simultaneous connection with and alienation from all of society resurfaces often in Whitman’s poetry. If the rhetorical situation of this poem reflects upon any real events or revelations in his life, it seems unlikely that the experience was as revealing for him as he asserts, since so much of his poetry speaks to the same intertwining feeling that he shares with all humankind.

Fatherhood: Having the Heart of a Hero

(originally posted 6/10/2010)

I was watching the movie Taken recently, a great father / daughter movie (or not) about a dad (Liam Neeson) who used to be a secret operative of some kind and who revisits his “glory days” saving his daughter when she is kidnapped by Albanian sex traders and sold to some sheik.

Oh sure, it’s fun to watch a righteous Liam Neeson cracking skulls and electrocuting the bad guys all out of fatherly love, but it occurred to me, how unnerving must it be to most fathers to watch that? After all, just how many dads have all the fighting, spying, interrogating, bridge-jumping, okay let’s just say it ASS-KICKING mojo displayed in this movie? You can love your daughter (or your son) more than any other dad on the planet, and that love might even give you super human skills, luck, etc, but, even so, it’d be hard to live up to the model presented by the movie Taken. Watching that movie has got to leave most dads feeling a bit inadequate. And I bet there are many dads who can remember feeling that, to some extent, when they reflect on the memorable scenes of that movie.

But a lot of those dads shouldn’t feel that way. A lot of those dads were sitting next to their daughter in that movie theater. A lot of those dads put in loving hours with their children every day. A lot of those dads, while they know they haven’t been perfect, could not be labeled abusive or neglectful by any means. In a less memorable scene of that movie, some of Neeson’s character’s friends bring up the fact that he’s given up his career in order to try to “make up for lost time” with his daughter. So there were months or years in this character’s history when he put his career ahead of the relationship with his child. This character is far from a perfect dad.

Fathers of the world, I say to you, you don’t have to be like the father portrayed in Taken to save your children, especially your daughters! You don’t have to have bad-ass hand-to-hand combat skills. You don’t have to be smart enough to outwit the French government or a good enough driver to evade Albanian pursuers through a maze-like construction site. You really don’t and for the great majority of you, none of that crap will ever matter! All you have to do to save your daughters is show up. Save your daughter’s heart and her soul and her spirit with loving words. Praise her. Encourage her. Compliment her efforts and guide her lovingly and you will have saved her a thousand a million times over and in ways infinitely more important.

For I’ve seen the daughters who have been truly failed by their fathers, and it’s shown me, in stark contrast, what a WONDERFUL father I had myself. I didn’t know when he made me laugh that he was armoring me against men who would make me cry. I didn’t know when he refused to raise his voice that he was guiding me away from men who would not only raise their voices, but their hands against me. I didn’t know when he treated my mother with the utmost respect that he was clothing me in pride and self-respect of my own. I didn’t realize that my father so strong in peace could be the greatest fiercest knight to my heart and soul. I didn’t know then, but boy, do I ever know it now.

Dads, if you want to save your daughters from Albanian sex trade workers, from abusive boyfriends and husbands, from their own self-loathing, you don’t need any particular job or unrelated skill-set. You just need to show up. You just need to build her up, and if these things don’t come naturally to you, you need to admit that and work on developing those skills, the skills of loving her, encouraging her, guiding her with compassion. That is ALL you need. And if you can’t develop those skills on your own, swallow your pride and find someone to help you. These are the skills that will save your daughter from herself, from others, from a dangerous world. Save her heart and you will have saved every bit of your little girl.

My first post about a real brainy teen!

Last fall, I started strong, but then abruptly let die, a new blog BrainyTeen.net.

I even established contact with a few interview candidates and even received a prolific and heartfelt response to a full set of interview questiosn from one.

And then NaNoWriMo happened, and it was my first year as a regional ML for that…

…and then the holidays happened…

…and then the new year rolled around, and I hadn’t even gotten back to the fine young man who had spent so much time carefully answering my questions, and I was more embarrassed than anything at having let my new project fall off a cliff.

And then whatever magical unsticking, of whatever mental roadblocks had been holding me back, gloriously happened an now… today… FINALLY, my first post about a real live brainy teen at http://brainyteen.net/2012/03/15/jacob-fisk-part-i/

Walking on air right now! So happy!

Truth, Justice and a Fragmented National Identity

Review of Superman Returns

(originally posted 6/30/2006)

Has ever a director/producer spoken so directly to his audience as Bryan Singer does through Superman (Brandon Routh) in his movie Superman Returns? As Superman holds Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) close to him high above Metropolis, he says, “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.”

Superman speaks with Lois Lane 1000's of miles above Metropolis

It was clearly Singer who heard this nation’s cry for exactly that, and in true Hollywood style, he took the cries he heard about the problems facing this country and the world, the things that are “society’s broken bones” and, to quote film critic Tay Fizdale, “stuck a band-aid on them.”

That’s not to belittle Singer’s efforts at all. The last time we saw Superman on the big screen was in the thick of the Cold War. The U.S., and indeed the world, cowered under the possibility of nuclear war. Who didn’t wish that some higher power would come and rid the planet of these horrific weapons, and that’s exactly what 1987 Superman IV director Sidney J. Furey had Superman do. Unflinchingly, writer Mario Puzo’s Superman (Christopher Reeve) said, “I fight for truth, justice and the American way!”

Singer is doing an admirable job of addressing our modern fears in the same manner, though you won’t hear the words, “the American way” in his film. When Perry White (Frank Langella), Editor in Chief of the Daily Planet, is addressing his staff, he charges them with finding out whether Superman still stands for “truth, justice…all that stuff.”

Clearly Singer, who also wrote the screenplay, couldn’t stomach the words “the American way” coming out of any of his characters’ mouths, which gives us a clue about the real question posed by this movie’s arrival on the scene.  It’s not, “Why does Metropolis need Superman to return now?” It’s clearly, “Why doesAmericaneed this film franchise to return to the big screen at this particular time?”

It seems Superman has always had a good sense of when to land in movie theaters. He first appeared on the silver screen in 1948, played by Kirk Alyn, in two serials produced by Columbia Pictures Superman and Superman Versus Atom Man. This places his original big screen debut just three years after the end of World War II. America, through its engineers’ genius, having harnessed forces far greater than ever imagined in the atomic bomb, was perhaps feeling smaller and questioning its own wisdom more than ever before.

Kirk Alyn played Superman in the late 1940's in two Columbia Pictures serials Superman and Superman Versus Atom Man

Enter Superman, an energetic Alyn, to remind the generations of the 40’s and 50’s what being an American was really all about. As movies are designed to do, Columbia’s Superman serials let viewers escape, if only for an hour or so, from the dark clouds of reality. That escape, however, was tempered with enough pertinence to real world events to keep the movie relevant. After all, who was Superman’s nemesis in the second serial? ATOM Man. A coincidence? With such appealing movies, who cared to ask?

When the Vietnam War broke America’s heart again in the 60’s and 70’s, Superman was soon to be found on the scene, and the big screen. Veterans of the conflict had watched their fathers and uncles come home from Koreaas heroes, but they themselves were greeted with cries of “Babykiller!” Those involved in the protest movement were wondering why it had taken their government years to respond to them, how their voices could have been ignored for so long. After fifteen years of strife, bewildered and divided Americans had a common legacy: exhaustion.

True to form, Superman showed up just three years later in the 1978 Warner Brothers production Superman: The Movie.  Super villains General Zod (Terrance Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) used the term “regime” to describe the system they would use to rule Superman’s home planet Krypton. Americans were all too familiar with that term, and didn’t blame Superman’s father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) or the judicial council on which he sat for banishing the evil trio from Krypton. In Superman: The Movie and in the 1981 Superman II, both written by Mario Puzo (who also wrote the screenplay for The Godfather), Superman dispatched villains who were unquestionably evil. As before, Superman’s dealings with these criminals provided a relevance to reality, with just enough escape from it to spell relief.

To Americans struggling for clarity and identity after the demoralizing war in Vietnam, such a black and white presentation of good and evil refreshed them. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his self-interested plot to blow the West Coast off the map pulled the eyes of 70’s audiences away from their tattered vision of Americaand focused them squarely on someone who was easy to hate. In Superman II, the return of Zod and his wicked companions brushed subtly closer to the issues at hand (global supremacy, threatening ideologies) but reassured Americans that regardless of what America was, it was not a “regime.” It couldn’t possibly be as bad as those they’d been fighting against. Superman was here to say so!

Superman’s cinematic “band-aids” couldn’t heal society’s wounds, but they did ease the sting for a little while. Thus in his very failure to save America from its real fears outside the movie theater, Superman assured his continued success in it with two more movies emerging before 1988. Clearly, the country needed another dose of his vaccine against the loss of national identity.

In the 1983 Superman III, he tackled the nation’s issues more head-on than ever before when he became evil under the influence of the synthesized kryptonite given to him by Gus Goreman (Richard Pryor).  As the evil side of Superman split from the good side, represented by Clark Kent, and the two identities began to battle each other in the abandoned junkyard, 80’s audiences might as well have been watching their own eroding trust in “the American way” and America’s rights and responsibilities in the world. Of course, Superman’s good side triumphed and reemerged as strong and pure-hearted as ever. If only America could have felt its own redemption so swiftly and completely.  If only a real Superman could have wiped the world clean of nuclear weapons as Hollywood’s Superman did in 1987. Instead, fears over the atomic bomb, its implications, America’s humanity remained untouched, continuing to plague the national conscience forty years after the wholesome hero’s arrival on the big screen.

And now, almost twenty years later, Superman has spotted us plunging in an ideological freefall once again. With the last two presidential elections painting a picture of a country more divided than ever, and popular support for the current administration at an all-time low, is it any wonder that with 2006 comes a new Superman swooping in to catch us and place us safely in a theater seat? Luthor, played by Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns, is as easy to hate as ever in his selfish plot to flood the entire U.S., killing “billions of people” and establishing himself as the sole proprietor of the new land mass he’s going to create. It seems the perfect evil plot, especially since he’ll be growing his new continent from the crystals Jor-El placed in Superman’s escape pod from Krypton combined with some kryptonite that’s been hanging around in the Metropolis museum since 1978.

Superman Returns came in out the summer of 2006

Will Superman let him get away with it?  Not likely, but it will be a tough job for the Man of Steel, since the very ground Luthor stands on was created by, and is infused with, the one substance that can rob Superman of all his powers. Still, we’ll all be there again to cheer our hero on! Though Singer can’t bring himself to include the phrase “the American way” in his script, it is still part of what we’ve all come to recognize as an integral piece of Superman. Even at a time like this when the divided nation can no longer put its finger on just what is the American way, we still want to believe in it. This is evidenced by the fact that the movie has been number one at the U.S.box office since its release on Wednesday, June 28, with a five-day domestic gross of nearly $85,000 as of Sunday July 2.

Though it may not seem so, my hat is off to Singer for bringing Superman back into our lives in 2006. Just as his hero speaks directly for Singer in the earlier scene withLois Lane, it is Lois herself who speaks for all of us later in the film. Her fiancé Richard White (James Marsden) asks, “Were you in love with him?” An emotional Lois replies, “He was Superman. Everyone was in love with him.”

And, evidently, we still are.

Sources:

Harrington, Wallace, Synopsis/Review: Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman III & Superman IV, Superman Homepage, http://www.supermanhomepage.com/movies.php

Smith, Andrew A., CAPTAIN COMICS: A Glance at the Various Superman Presentations, Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.sacbee.com/24hour/entertainment/books/news/story/3318725p-12224719c.html

Tistaert, Lee, Daily Box Office, Weekend Box Office, Lee’s Movie Info, http://www.leesmovieinfo.net/BoxOffice.php

The Vietnam War, The History Place, http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/vietnam/index.html

World War Two in Europe, The History Place, http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/ww2time.htm#1945