Sunday, July 31, 2011

Living Within the Present

If you're anything like me, you may have a soft spot for television shows dealing with the topic of time travel. I still enjoy watching classic Twilight Zone episodes because of the high quality of storytelling usually found in those programs--and the time travel ones are often some of the best. I have to admit, there's another program called Dr. Who from BBC which we also enjoy watching as a family. The truth of the matter is, however, that we're all time travelers. It's just that our traveling tends to leave us all a bit the worse for wear--unless your a "Time Lord" from Dr. Who.

Lately, I'm noticing that it's increasingly hard to concentrate or feel a part of what I am presently doing.  My mind is always racing ahead to some other activity or project.  I listened to a strange movie trailer this morning for something called Suing the Devil.  While the movie might not exactly be my cup of tea, I did like Satan's dialogue towards the end of the clip where he expounds upon the wonders of all the technical distractions he's created: the noise of modern life.  

It's hitting on a point I raised in an earlier in blog entry I wrote called "The Connection Illusion," but it bears repeating.  With all of us becoming so accustomed to the electronic distractions of daily living, I wonder if it subtly changes our mental perspective, contributing to the difficulty of focusing upon our present?  In addition, I also fault our cultural inclination to schedule our time to such a degree--especially for children.  Kids, in particular, need free time to play and enjoy childhood.  This sort of soccer mom scheduling may seem good at the time, but it simply burdens children with living on a schedule much more than should be necessary.  A better approach for young people may be what a college friend did for (or to) me once while riding a Washington State Ferry back from Bremerton.  She simply took my watch.  It was quite effective for getting my mind off time and any pressing engagements--for a while, at least.

It's interesting to reflect upon our vacation in the mountains last month and remember what it was like to temporarily abandon virtually all handheld electronics--with the exception of my daughter's Kindle.  Time did seem to slip by at a slower rate, yet we accomplished more.  Even there, though, there was still very much the sense  that time was slipping away, but it was less pronounced than a typical day in the city.  What I encountered in the forest was perhaps more akin to the joy C.S. Lewis described in Surprised by Joy.  It's the savoring of the moment.

 The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else.... I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic... in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.

In my mind, then, living within the present is the only way to truly prepare for the future that awaits us.  This living within the present requires us to focus upon it, not watch it out of our peripheral consciousness as we stare intently at our iPhone.  It requires focus and concentration, as well as perhaps a conscious trimming of those distractions around us.  

Even when we return to places we remember fondly, it's seldom like no time has passed in the interim.  It's difficult to reclaim a true sense of how a particular place struck us at a particular past point.  Time changes everything--including our perceptions.  This dimension of time is what I wrote about in a 2002 essay for Episcopal Church News entitled A Week on Whidbey Island Shows Changes, Eternal Truths.  It's not that we can't remember the past with clarity, but we can't return or reclaim it; it can't be re-lived.  Here's how I put it in that article for the Episcopal Church News.

When we recently had the opportunity to spend a few days at Seattle Pacific University’s Camp Casey, situated on the Admiralty Inlet side of Whidbey Island across the choppy strait from Port Townsend, it reminded me of some experiences I had working there as a college student during the summer of 1988. I decided to take my daughter Sarah on a walk one cool afternoon along some of the forest trails to the north of the conference center grounds. The path wound its familiar way up among the wind-swept evergreens and the occasional madrona.  We paused to explore an old fort from the 1890s; its once busy walkways and concrete bunkers now quiet and much overgrown with blackberry bushes and tall weeds, and its stories and pictures slowly fading from collective memory.  (Fort Casey State Park itself lies a mile or two to the south.) 

We then proceeded on along the needle-lined trail, heading up a gradually leveling incline with the forest on our right and a cliff overlooking the crashing surf some twenty feet off to our left. Making certain that Sarah was safely standing on the trail, I carefully stepped towards the left, searching for the place where I recalled having devotions from time to time during the summer of 1988. I found what appeared to be the right location, but its look was quite different now. Instead of the broad sandy cliff face with a fairly clear path to its center that I remembered, the cliff now seemed much higher and closer to the trail. Not being particularly comfortable with heights (just try to get me on the 4-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge again!), I returned to the path, and we resumed our trek to the north for a time until the trail faded and then disappeared entirely among the grass and trees.  We plodded back to Camp Casey to watch and wait for the late afternoon’s arrival of the grazing deer.

It occurred to me recently that this experience was instructional in a spiritual sense. When we return to places from our past, they frequently seem smaller--not more expansive. It’s something akin to visiting your hometown for the first time after being away in college (depending on where you're from). This homecoming is reminiscent of times long gone and the community may stand smaller than recalled.  So, this experience of returning to a place I held close from younger days was odd in that it did not conform to the usual and comfortable perceptions. The vantage point from which I recalled reading and gazing upon the gray heaving waves below had changed a great deal over the past decade.  Considering the winter storms that lash Whidbey Island, that alteration of scenery and environment should not have been so surprising. 

What it does remind one of, however, is that while much concerning us personally, and the landscape surrounding us for a time, undergoes a continual "sea change" or evolution, our God "does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17).  Instead, He is the same yesterday as He will be tomorrow. In a time of national crisis and an uneasy future, there is something comforting in acknowledging this simple, yet profound, attribute of our God. No matter what changes here, we hold that what is most important stands eternal, and that we need not be pulled-down by the continual disintegration and moral entropy surrounding our lives from all sides. 

Like the Eagle Cap Wilderness river photo I captured above, the flowing, rushing water is constantly changing; the river, then, becomes an excellent metaphor for time.  As Plato quoted Heraclitis,"You can't enter the same river twice."  The contemplative life seems to offer refuge from this cultural scourge.  Reading Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, for instance, doesn't paint the picture of someone obsessed with the passage of time--or "multitasking," which just means learning to do simultaneous activities poorly.  It seems to show someone living each day to its fullness for God.

I wish you well in learning how to be a good steward of your own time, both savoring and learning from it,  as we traverse our allotted span of time here.  After all, we look forward to living the eternal present someday in heaven.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My First Coffee Table Book

I found myself a bit between projects this weekend after a great deal of writing lately, and I didn't know what to do.  That being the case, I decided to write another book.  

Well, not exactly.  For a while now, I have wanted to create a book collection of my photos of northeast Oregon, but I didn't know precisely where to start.  Using the self-publishing site, I created a coffee table book entitled Oregon's Blue Mountains, A Photographic Journey.  

While it's not particularly slick or professional, it does include some lovely photographs of the Wallowas.  I realize it's expensive (more so than I expected), but you can use the preview function to look at the first few pages, if you like.

I hope you can check it out!

Updated August 14th: Today, I decided to replace the book with a calendar.  Selected twelve of my favorite NE Oregon shots.  I hope you can pick one up!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Black Wolf's Den (Fr. John Corapi)

Father Joe's Blog made some particularly good observations recently regarding the unfolding tragedy of Father Corapi's fall from grace, and I thought it might be of some service to my readers create a bit of a one stop location as it relates to some of the factual information associated with Fr. Corapi.

FATHER JOE: The sheep dog has no occupation separated from the chief shepherd or bishop. A dog that runs after the sheep on its own is not a true sheep dog, but rather we use another name for that canine… we call him a wolf. I would suggest that Fr. Corapi change the name of his blog and new label to BLACK WOLF. Indeed, in the future, if he carries out his intent to keep selling his wares and writing and making radio broadcasts, that is what I shall call him.

For instance, it's easy to perhaps look the other way when it comes to a decade-old driving under the influence charge, but it's worth noting how seriously the court took his sentence.  For the BAC of .09 (CA minimum threshold is .08), he was sentenced to a week's incarceration and three years of probation.  Given his conversion story featuring drug, alcohol, and other assorted addictions, this demonstrates a complete lack of regard for his position and responsibility as a priest.

Much been said about Father C's holdings, but do you realize how significant his personal and business assets are?  For a glimpse, check out the following link to the Flathead County Land Information System.  Go to the Find Property by owner option on the inquiry screen, and you can check out this humble servant's holdings--both under John Corapi as well as under Santa Cruz Media.  I have to say that my favorite is probably the boat slip at the Eagle Bend Yacht Club.  While there is no doubt significant variation in price of these slips, I found one for sale at almost $95,000.  

Speaking of Santa Cruz Media, it's somewhat enlightening to read a redacted copy of the lawsuit brought against his accuser.  When he speaks of an inability to get a fair case of canonical adjudication , he could be right; he's doing everything he can to silence the woman accusing him. 

There's been a lot written on the Corapi situation.  In fact, I have written on the matter twice before: An Open Letter to Father Corapi as well as Spiritual Fidelity and Father Corapi.  I would encourage readers to take a look at some of the insightful commentaries written by apologists such as Jimmy Akins and fine Catholic broadcasts such as those found on EWTN

Some of the non-Catholic commentaries have also been good.  For instance, Redding's Record Searchlight did an interesting piece that shed's light on the financial issues here.  In short, Father C doesn't appear to have acted much like a priest when we look at things a little more closely.

If we recognize a priest as having a vocation similar to that of a husband, what does his behavior of betrayal after the announcements really demonstrate?  It suggests an individual too caught up in his own self-importance to approach the situation with humility and contrition.  Take up your cross, Father C--not your pocketbook.

To wrap it up, I find it somewhat amusing that the Montana Secretary of State identifies Santa Cruz Media as an entertainment/video game company.  It's certainly behaving like one.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Breath of Life: A Most Unusual Anniversary

This essay was previously available through a now closed company called Churchmouse Publications.  As tomorrow is the second anniversary of this special day, I thought it was a good time to share this piece.  Hope you enjoy it.

This one's for you, Bob.  :)

It was a hot summer day, and I was driving in an area I hadn’t even intended on visiting.  It seemed that I was making one wrong turn after another, and I was beginning to get a little frustrated when I noticed a group of people gathered on the side of the road.  Next, I saw a collapsed man lying there on the sidewalk.  I stopped my state car and ran to help.  

The individual had signs of life for the first couple minutes, then he quietly died there on the hot pavement.  Almost simultaneously, two of us were down on the ground beginning CPR.  I worked the compressions while my assistant did an expert job giving breaths to the individual.  After a set or two (30 compressions to 2 breaths is a set), we turned the person on his side because of what we thought was either breathing or choking, but it may just been what’s called agonal breathing.  Later that afternoon, I learned from the fire department that the individual arrived at the hospital with good vitals; he was alive. 

The experience for me has taken on a spiritual dimension.    God used the two of us to return a man’s life, to give him a second chance.  I am particularly struck with the symbolism of the breath of life.  In Genesis 2:7 we read, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”  Life is infused through breath, and in its absence there is only death.  Our very lives have us moving inexorably towards either everlasting life or everlasting death; the choice is ours.  How do we breathe the “Breath of Life” into lives which are moving the wrong direction, away from God?  Here is how Saint Augustine put it eloquently in Confessions.

You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.  You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.  You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now I pant after you.  I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

Saint Augustine recognized that even good things could distract him from God’s presence.  A life without Christ at its center is a living death, a pale reflection of what could be.  When we turn to Christ and follow him wherever He leads (and whatever the personal cost), we are becoming the men and women we were created to be, turning our backs on the world.  For Catholics, in particular, the sacraments serve as a physical manifestation and reminder of God’s grace and boundless love.  Each time we take communion, we are in essence calling out for the breath of God to blow away our imperfections, our failings as we endeavor to become better servants and co-workers of Christ.  The exhortation of the first chapter of James is powerful reminder of what it means to be for Christ and against the world.  
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Crime and Punishment: Justice for Leiby

When I read of the heartbreaking murder in Brooklyn of an innocent little boy named Leiby Kletzky, I felt sick.  (The New York City Police Department did some amazing police work in making their arrest so quickly and professionally.)  Without retracing the tragic events, the horrific crime sparked new personal reflections on the morality of the death penalty for a society such as ours.  
When I wasn't that much older than Leiby was, I went through a peculiar little reading phase where I started taking an interest in Sociology and criminal science.  Based on the little bits and pieces of information I was gleaning from those books, it seemed to me at the time (as a kid) that the death penalty was immoral.  As I recall, this opinion was based largely on the fact that it didn't seem to be an effective deterrent.  In my mind, there was also the legitimate concern for the rare occurrence of the innocent person being convicted of murder.
As I got older, I came very close to pursuing a law enforcement career.  As part of that process, I spent a lot of time with city, county, and federal law enforcement agents.  Being there with police as they responded to emergencies had a way of sparking a cynicism and disillusionment with some of my past opinions--such as my opposition to the death penalty.  I began to see crime and punishment in what I thought were much clearer terms.
When I finally agreed that God had other plans for me,  some of those feelings softened a bit with the passage of time.  I think one could say that I went from an uninformed, naive position in which I believed that the death penalty was always wrong to the far extreme in which I believed the sentence was most often just.  While it may sound like a cop out (no pun intended) today, I feel like my views have moderated considerably.
Still, when I'm faced with horrific violence such as that committed against little Leiby, I have to admit that I see the death penalty as moral and right.  In fact, I would argue that it's a form of self defense that a country and society undertakes to prevent the perpetrator from ever escaping justice and murdering again.  I realize that my view may seem hypocritical for a Catholic who honors life from birth to natural death, but I believe the Catechism of the Catholic Church  doesn't deny me this personal position with regards to the most extreme and heinous cases.  The quote below is from paragraph 2267.
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

I suppose that one of the reasons I posted this was to encourage some thoughtful responses.  As a conservative Catholic who embraces the beauty and authority of our church home, do you believe I am in error?  If so, why?  
Because, as the way I see it, those monsters who  murder the innocent children like this are too much of a risk to allow to remain...even in prison.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Writing Tip or Two

Hope you enjoyed Friday's interview!  More surprises on the way, so "stay tuned," as they say.

Shortly after getting back from the Blue Mountains, it was time to put down the work on my mystery novel and start revising a children's book I wrote almost a decade ago.  (Once the publication time nears, I'll share more details.)  I thought I'd share several practical techniques with which the aspiring/perspiring writer may wish to experiment.

First, reading aloud is a great way to check general readability as well as the flow of the narrative.  Does it sound choppy or smooth, forced or natural?  Unless your aiming for a technical or academic audience, this technique works just as well with a children's book (intended to be read aloud) as with an adult mystery or fantasy.  In other words, it doesn't need to be a "read aloud" kind of book for this technique to prove helpful.  It's also helpful at times to have someone close to you read it aloud to you.  This let's the writer be even more ruthless in his slicing of the text.  Of course, reading it aloud to family and friends can also be useful--especially when the kids start giggling (at the right spots).

Second, try selecting and writing down the first three words of each consecutive sentence for two to three of your paragraphs.  When finished, glance down the columns to easily identify repeated sentence patterns. Sometimes this can also be used as confirmation to your auditory test of the material: does it read well?

Third, every author knows a phrase--e.g. passive verb constructions--or words that he has to avoid using too frequently.  (The perfect example of this kind of thing is a PE teacher in high school who mysteriously was selected to teach health.  His favorite word in the 1980s was basically.  On one of the more boring class days, I recall making a mark on my notebook every time he used it throughout the day's class.  I think he must have said that word close to fifty times by the end of the day; I began to really hate that word.  Oh, I think impacted was another favorite of his.  Moving on from the Ferris Bueller era...)  If you're a smart user of Apple products, use your Pages word search function to search for those dangerous words or phrases.  If you are sadly stuck with a Microsoft product, you'll just need to toss it and buy an iMac--and iWork's Pages software!  :)  Seriously, though, a repeated phrase or word in a book is just as annoying as a yawning teacher who's saying the same words aloud over and over; it drives the reader crazy.

Not to digress too much from my original revision and review theme, but remember one of the cardinal rules of writing: write what you know.  This has been very helpful to me in the writing process.  In fact, I tend to imagine the setting or environment of my story to be like a character in and of itself.  Not to put a plug in...but, if you look at Tristan's Travels, you'll see that there is a sense in which the ocean and the north Oregon Coast setting is like a mischievous character.  

Even taking photos or a short video of an important place can be helpful to you later in recalling the look, feel, and sounds of a particular setting.  Another good technique is carrying a small notebook with you for jotting notes when doing research trips.  If you choose to write about places and things you know little or nothing about, you will come across as someone who is not serious about his craft.

An aspriring writer recently inquired about some good books to read to become a stronger writer.  Everyone seems to want a shortcut, but, besides practicing writing as often as possible, I  really think READING the classics is one of the best things any writer can do to sharpen his skills.  In Sean Astin's book There and Back Again, he mentions Christopher Lee's practice of re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings on a continual basis as an actor because of its powerful epic qualities of myth and story.  When I'm actively writing, I also tend to crave good fiction like a thirsty person longs for cold water.  It's a kind of mental exercise that's helpful in training yourself how to write "right."  

That's not to say there aren't some great books on writing, too.  Two fine suggestions focusing on the art and mechanics of writing would be Eats, Shoots, & Leaves as well as Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  Although I'm not a particular fan of Stephen King, he's also written some excellent essays on the writing process. 

Well, I think I've thoroughly over-written this topic for today.  Sorry...  If you have other writing questions, feel free to pass them along.  I may choose to write (less) on them in the future. 

(Update)  If you want to check your dependence upon passive voice, try searching your manuscript for "ing" to pinpoint problem areas.  This, combined with other techniques, can stengthen the narrative.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sean Astin Interview

As promised, here is the first installment of the new interview series.  As long as there are readers and I’m continuing to enjoy the process, I’ll endeavor to keep the interviews coming along.  New interviews are already underway for future months.  (Two interviewee initial hints are: RA and LR.)  As I mentioned last time, if there are new public followers of the blog, I will donate a copy of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars to one randomly-selected follower.  We may also donate a signed copy of Tristan’s Travels.  The cutoff for the giveaway is 5pm (Pacific) on Monday.
Again, a big, big thank you to Sean Astin for answering all of my questions--in record time, too.  So, turn up the Return of the King soundtrack and get ready...

1.  After reading There and Back Again, An Actor’s Tale, it seems to that you have a healthy caution or ambivalence towards success.  What does true success mean to you?

I love success absolutely, in all of its myriad definitions, applications and relative doses. I think the ambivalence you infer, comes from my antipathy for the anxiety laden stress that comes from depending on other people’s decisions. In large measure, it is that anxiety that pushes success further away. I also think that it is unhelpful for actors to organize their thoughts along ‘success’ paradigms... While being inspired by others and studying their careers is critical to success, there is a languid quality that runs throughout ‘the actor’ tradition, a pointless but familiar wallowing, that actors, heck everybody has to some greater or lesser extent... It’s natural but should be kept in it’s rightful place...

2.  In your book, you talk about Christine’s faith, but you don’t really share many details concerning your own faith.  Did your faith strengthen and sustain you through the hard years of filming Lord of the Rings?  Do you consider yourself a Catholic?
Big question. I’m either an honorary Catholic or a Catholic with a lot of time owed in purgatory. I’m getting more comfortable talking about my spiritual life in public and in writing. I think I’m developing a vocabulary that is useful. I leaned on my wife a lot during LOTR. I think in our marriage we take turns being the dominant  believer in the house. Doubts and frustration and pain bring out such truth in our character...Christine and I have relied heavily on each other to reinforce our relationship with God. Oh, and then there’s the kids :-) 

3.  How do you top your Lord of the Rings performance as an actor?
Can’t. As Helen Mirren one said to me, ‘gotta just keep slogging on.’

4.  In your own experience, what’s a characteristic of most celebrities that might surprise readers?

Celebrities are the most Generous and Petty people. When observing a celebrity in their natural habitat, be prepared to give swag or receive gifts :-)

5.  I happen to be a BIG Peter Sellars fan, so please excuse this question...  When I think of your adoptive father, John Astin, I’m also reminded of other great comedic stars such as Peter Sellers.  Actors like this are not “settling” for comedy, but possess such a depth of talent that they can successfully act within a comedy or drama.  Did John Astin perhaps know Peter Sellers?  If so, can you share a thought or anecdote on Sellers--or their interactions?

I think a lot of people get them confused actually. They have a very similar pathos...big eyes probably. I would bet a nickel that they knew and liked each other a well as admire each other’s work.  I’ll ask my Dad the next time I see him. Being There is in my top ten...

6.  How did you feel about LTR character Tom Bombadil not being included in the Fellowship of the Ring movie? 

Relieved. The best part about Tom Bombadil is reading out loud and trying to come up with a fun melody for all of those wonderful and sometimes tortured poems. But, I was worried that the Hobbits my come off too silly, like in the cartoon...axing Tom Bombadil from the trilogy was a great thing.

7.  Is it true that you will not be starring in The Hobbit in any capacity?

True. I’m asked a lot, but no I’m not in the Hobbit adaptation. I’m rooting for its success and will watch it when it hits the big screen.

8.  As an actor, director, or writer, which role do you prefer?  Does the ability to switch from acting to writing, for example, help to avoid "burn-out" at times as a performer?

Listen, if I’m gainfully employed of a given week I thrilled. I probably prefer directing, it suits my controlling personality. And yes, it is always nice to have a change of pace. Acting has made me who I am and directing allows me to strive for who I want to be. Or vice versa.

9.  What captured your attention first about Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars and its young protagonist, Annemarie Johansen?

Christine and I were searching for a family film to make. I wanted it to be important. The Newbery books were the obvious place to look and our Daughter Ali had read it in school. Lois’ story was a perfect fit for us. If I had to pick one thing, it would be the idea of citizenship. Annemarie and her family were simple, simply doing the right thing. When neighbors do that, block by block, before you know it, you have an entire Nation that can hold its’ head up high. I could go on for hours. I’m grateful we’ve been able to spend a couple of years with it so far and more to come!

10.  When do you plan to begin filming, and when should we watch for the movie to be released?

I don’t know. We are raising the money now and it is a long process. I’m praying for a Fall 2012 release.

11.  Do you plan to film in Denmark?


12.  In the Hitchcockian tradition, should we watch for you in the background of an NTS scene or two, or will you also be acting a role within this movie?

Good question :-)

13.  Has LTR piqued your interest concerning the other writings of Tolkien, or any of the other “Inkling” writers--e.g. C.S. Lewis?  What do you think of Lewis' writings?

Mere Christianity was important in my life. Sister Mary Imelda sent it to me after the Fellowship came out. I wish I could have been an Inkling... I’m sure I would have said things like, ‘Wow’ ‘Really?’ and ‘Come on!’

14.  Are screenplay adaptations of books usually best carried out by professional screenwriters--as opposed to the author?  It seems that the greater objectivity of the professional screenwriter might be helpful in the success of the project.  (Question edited slightly post interview.)

Historically, I think so. William Goldman did alright with Princess Bride, but...if a studio is paying for a screenwriter, you know you are in the game... If you feel yourself wondering most of the time how someone else might treat may be a good idea to find the right person and let them do it. Even if you do it yourself, I am certain you will often wish that you’d let someone else do it as you move on to fresh new stuff.

Updated December 2016:

As if the 2016 election wasn't divisive enough, I seem to have lost my friendship with Sean over his loyalty to Hillary Clinton.   It's sad that politics can come between friends, but that's the way of it.  Next time you hear Sean talking about the importance of dialogue or respectful disagreement, bear in mind he silences those with whom he disagrees.

An open letter to Samwise.

So, you’ve shut me off on account of political disagreement?  That’s certainly within your right.   I ask you, though, every time you hear something negative about your candidate will you shoot each messenger bearing those unhappy words to your ear?  If Vox Populi, which I played a minuscule part in funding through Kickstarter as I recall, meant anything it meant dialogue between those of differing opinions.  To disagree respectfully has always been the aim of civilized society, but…are you desiring those of Wormtongue’s ilk now—those whose words drip with fawning insincerity and a lack of truth?  If you silence those voices that honestly and respectfully disagree with you…is it your goal to be surrounded only by those exactly like yourself—yes men?  It certainly would yield more Facebook likes, I suppose.

No matter who wins the election the day after tomorrow, we’re all the losers.  We’re losers because the way this election is separating and alienating friends, family members, and colleagues from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  What’s more disheartening to see than an alienation between men, however, is to see the ever widening chasm between God and man.  Of particular concern…the quiet genocide taking place in mother’s wombs ever-championed by your candidate.  I pray that you will not turn your back on your faith... 

I ran an honest campaign for the Oregon House of Representatives.  I was respectful to everyone, and I didn’t lie to promote myself or my causes.  Even though it would have helped my campaign, I refused to go along with those blindly calling for mass deportations and the like.  I told the truth.  Your candidate lies with the ease of breathing.  Yes, she’s a woman, so…I guess that makes it okay now?

It was enjoyable to get to know you, but I guess, in the end, you weren’t the kind of class act I took you to be.  You’re just like everyone else we hear about in the motion picture industry: a bundle of insecurities orbiting an artificial core: a fleeting shadow.  Do you even know yourself?


Karl Bjorn Erickson
Monmouth, Oregon
November 6, 2016

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Short Review of Sean Astin's "There and Back Again" (and book giveway details)

Before diving into this review, I should make a few personal disclosures.  Sean Astin has been one of my favorite actors for a very long time. His performance in  Lord of the Rings as the hobbit Sam Gamgee was a heroic interpretation of a challenging and often misunderstood character.  As J.R.R. Tolkien has always been one of my most loved authors (I still enjoy re-reading the LTR books.), Sean's absolutely masterful nailing of this character as a performer made a huge impression.  Last, but not least, his gracious review of my children's book, Tristan's Travels, was deeply appreciated.  

I wanted to also briefly announce that my interview of Sean Astin will be shared on this blog on Friday evening.  If you would like an opportunity to win a copy of Number the Stars, all you need to do is (publicly) follow the blog.  (The book selection is to celebrate Sean's current movie project.)  If new followers come along in the journey, I will donate one copy of the book to a randomly-selected follower.  (I'm sorry, but I need to exclude immediate family and immediate friends.)  Depending on the numbers of new followers, we also may include one copy of Tristan's Travels to a second person. 

The description of There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale that most often comes to mind is open and honest.  Sean Astin, star in movies from Goonies to Lord of the Rings and Rudy, holds virtually nothing back, as he bares his soul to the reader.  It's written in a very conversational tone, which is really a remarkable achievement for a book of this type.  I don't usually care for books by actors, but this is clearly a book by a strong writer, one who understands how to tell a story.  

The narrative is often punctuated by perfectly-timed flashbacks on earlier points in his career or personal life that illustrate the chapter's present focus.  When done incorrectly, flashbacks are an interruption and a distraction to the reader.  Sean's flashbacks, however, strengthen the narrative as a whole, painting a more complete picture of the performer and his journey.

Of course, as a huge Lord of the Rings fan, the insights into the filming, production of the movies, and other cast members such as Elijah Wood is a fascinating journey in and of itself.  In fact, I'd go on to say that the arduous and painful process of making those three movies exemplifies what it means to be on one's own personal journey.  Do we sit back and allow ourselves to be satisfied with who and what we are and have done, or do we try to improve ourselves and accomplish greater things?  The book really is an inspirational work.  While Sean's account can be heartbreakingly honest, it really is a story of a man's maturing and growing as a husband, father, and world class performer.  I look forward to reading and watching more from this writer, performer, and director.

As a final aside, I even briefly alluded to Frodo and Sam in one of my favorite articles: "Mysterious Tools," published by America, the National Catholic Weekly.

*Enjoyed reading this?  For the more Sean Astin information, please see my new e-book!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Quest for Beauty in Northeastern Oregon

Tucked away in the northeast corner of Oregon is a fairytale place of lush green rolling hills, quaint old barns and pioneer-era homes, sparkling blue lakes and thundering rivers, snow-capped mountains towering against the blue skies of summer, and, of course, wildlife everywhere.  The kind, gracious, and authentic locals also have a way of making the trip even more memorable.  Understandably, this picturesque place is also often referred to as "America's Little Switzerland."  Covering thousands of square miles, it includes both the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.  It's indeed a landscape that will take your breath away.

My first visits to the enchanting Wallowas (pronounced Wul-OW-wuhs) occurred in the capacity of a state employee.  Now, I seldom visit for business purposes, but we love to vacation there as a family.  (This latest trip also served as research for my mystery novel.)  Having the opportunity to stay there last week (without television, cell phone coverage, wi-fi, etc.) was a powerful reminder of the craving I have for beauty as well as meaningful connection with family--as well as the land itself.

Let's face it, as a kid raised in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, I probably get on people's nerves when I visit other places in the country.  "Where's the green?" or "Why is everything brown and flat?"  I ask myself these questions (a little louder perhaps than intended).  In short, I am probably very spoiled when it comes to scenic beauty; it's hard to beat Washington, Oregon, and California.  From our home in the Willamette Valley, for instance, we're an hour from the Pacific Ocean and lush forests to the west, and another hour or two away from the mountains and high desert to the east.  Crater Lake and the northern Redwoods lie to the south, as well.

When it comes to the Wallowas, though, it's more than just the place.  Off the beaten path as they are, the people are indeed a unique and close-knit group.  I recall, for instance, trying without success to salvage horrible Google Map directions to a friend's home in Lostine, Oregon.  When it looked like we were going to be late, I finally pulled over and spoke to a postal carrier in nearby Enterprise, Oregon.  Her first question was who was I visiting--not where.  I gave her the name, and she instantly recognized the person, providing the directions we badly needed.

Of course, if you annoy the locals, you may find yourself taking the longest "short cut" you can imagine.  One local confided that a sweet old lady she knew had finally lost patience with an out-of-towner bearing a laundry list of complaints: the mountains weren't that special, the weather was too hot, there were no stores in which she cared to stop, etc.  Having finally had enough, the old woman carefully gave the complaining visitor detailed instructions to Hwy 3 out of Enterprise to Lewiston/Clarkston.  She explained that this route might offer her exactly what she was seeking.  Now, as someone who accidentally took this frightening little stretch of asphalt (again, thanks go to Google Maps) back in 2007, I can understand the humor here.  Still, I have to say I feel a little sorry for the complainer, too.  

Imagine a narrow road weaving steeply towards the hilltops, and you have some inkling of the drive.  There was beauty, too, of course: wild deer and a huge owl to name a couple examples.  As I recall, when the road began to feel more like a paved walking trail, I remember my wife asking me to drive slower and slower until we were inching along at less than 20 mph.  When I expressed concern about traffic, she insightfully pointed out that no one else was stupid enough to take that particular road.  Enough said.

There was also a remarkably astute local when it came to discerning a good book from a bad one.  Walking into one business in Joseph, Oregon, we noticed a local shaking her head as she read The Shack.  When questioned a bit, she admitted that her teachers had always taught her to finish those books she started...but this was her second attempt at reading it.  Besides sensing something wrong with the theology, she said that the place names in the book didn't match the descriptions.  It was like the author had just used a map to write the book, she said.  I kept my mouth shut (mostly), but I was excited to learn yet another reason to thoroughly dislike this poor little excuse for a book--but I digress.

At any rate, that is a little snapshot of our vacation.  In short, it was wonderful to visit a place where shocking beauty and majesty come at you from all sides.  I hope that you can make it there yourself some day.  From fishing, hiking, horse-riding, general exploring, photography, and riding the tram to the lofty top of Mt. Howard, this area really does have it all.  It's a great place in which to be reminded of the beauty and power of God's creation.

In the meantime, if I should happen to pay you a visit in the midwest or southern United States, and you wonder why I am looking a bit glum, it's just because I'm spoiled; I live in Oregon, you see.  This being the case, I hope you will have patience with this west-coaster.  Perhaps if you come to our neck of the woods, it will make more sense...

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

Update: Please check-out my new calendar featuring my Wallowa photography!