Monday, June 29, 2015

No Longer A Vet--Now I'll Pay the Toll at the Gate

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know I never write about my job.  Few of you know what I do for a living, and any reference to it in a comment--good, bad or neutral--makes me delete that comment.

For the most part, that won't change now.  I won't write about the job, but I do have an announcement to make.  In keeping with my policy of not writing about my job, it may seem like code to those who aren't associated with it.

This entry is for those of you who are.

It is with great regret that I have to announce that I am [see title].  This was a brutal decision to make, and I even (almost) had an emotional moment after it was said and done.  There was paperwork to sign, and a long walk back to my seat.  (And they forgot to sign something, so I had to do it again.) I'm told that I made that walk both times with my head down, and that I did not look happy.

Though the job itself remains the same, I will be at a different building, working with a different community.

(However, it seems like I will be allowed to continue with the after-work program at the first building, so stay tuned for that.  It is still on my way home, and so I can still run the program on Wednesdays, from 2:30 to 3:00, which was the plan anyway.  Stay tuned for further details on that.)

I worked for 14 years at the building I left.  I ran an after-work program there for 14 years, with good-to-great success.  I served the same building in a different capacity for 4 years a long time ago. Overall, I spent 18 years--a large percentage of my life--in that one building.

But the building will be a different type of building in two years, and I could not see myself being successful with the new job requirements.  I may have been transferred to another building anyway--quite possibly to the building I am now.  But there was a small chance that I would have been transferred to another building, or asked to stay where I was, with new workers and new requirements, where I felt I may have been less successful at my job.  The bottom line: for me, and to support my loved ones, I felt compelled to switch to a different building so I can work with the same type of workers--the same ones I've worked with for the past 14 years.

I will miss the workers I worked with, many of whom joined the after-work program I ran, as well as the other workers who stated they were very happy to be able to work with me again next year.  Some of them had to talk to people to make that happen, and it seems like they went out of their way to do so.  Now that won't happen.  I do feel, a little bit, that I have left you and that I have let you down.  I hope you don't feel the same way, and I hope you understand my explanation.

Job certainty is an important thing.  So is knowing I will be able to stay in the same type of work environment for the foreseeable future--now, and long after any current worker has moved on. Hopefully, I'll be doing this for the next 25 or so years.  We'll see.

And I may be seeing some of you again in two years, when you are sent to work at my new building.

I also look forward to the challenge of my new building.  I have already met with some of the other workers (literally, the workers) and everything seems great.  This new building also has an after-work program of the same type, so it would be cool to compete against this building's after-school program, should I be allowed to do so.  Maybe I'll be asked to anchor it.  I'd rather anchor the program of my former building, but we'll see.  I look forward to a successful year with my new fellow workers--both literal and figurative--and I look forward to every challenge this building offers.

I take my job very seriously--perhaps too much so, on occasion--and I take the responsibilities of supporting my loved ones very seriously, too.  As much as I, they deserved to know that I had job certainty, and that I was able to work in a situation where I felt I would do the most good, and to be the most successful.  If I am not successful at my job, I am not happy.  Nothing else at work matters.

I did what I could for the building, for its workers, and for the community--for 14 years.  I spoke publicly against those who wanted to shut down or transform that building.  I care for the building, its workers and its community, and don't let anyone tell you different.

I will always be a vet; I'll always be very pro-veteran.

And so I say goodbye.  Maybe just for now; maybe for good.  Even if we had our differences, I hope that you agree that I did the best I could at my job, every single day.  And that my best was good.

Be good.

Be safe.

Be happy.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jesus, Mary and Joseph (and Pantera)

Despite the title, the beginning of this blog is about the book The Lost Testament, by James Becker.

A really really really badly written book I read because of the premise and because I'm researching bestselling thriller authors.  But this was truly bad:

"Excellent," the emperor purred.  "Now summon help." (5)

"This is a private matter," he said.  "Kindly leave us."  (2)

That's Emperor Constantine, perhaps from the 60s Batman show.  But that dialogue is terrible.

Characters are always "suddenly realizing" things.  And I love this one:

"Instantly both figures froze into immobility beside the wall." (7)

If you freeze, of course you're also immobile.  And when a reader sees "instantly," he expects to see some kind of action, not a lack of action.

(And, yes, I realize I've quoted from just the first seven pages.  I did read the whole thing, and I'm tired and lazy, and it's 1:07 a.m.)

The lost testament of the title is shown only a few times in the book, and for some reason nobody seems in a hurry to translate it.  People associated with it are dying all over the place, and the flaps tell us the real document it's based on, yet we're not told what the document in the book says until the very last few pages.  I'll ruin it for you: It says what the flaps say the real thing says.  Ugh.

There's an ex-husband and ex-wife team, but they don't seem excited or scared about anything, and neither's smart enough to be another Robert Langdon.  Chris Bronson (not Charles Bronson) is an ex-cop, but he doesn't seem to know the laws of anything.  It's unclear if he's on vacation, on sabbatical, or on suspension.  He doesn't seem to know where he is much of the time.  Angela Lewis is a historian, but she hates dating things, especially old jars, and she doesn't seem terribly interested in the document, which could blow the lid off the Church and make blowhard politicians in the American South rather unhappy.  (This is actually hinted at in the book.)  The author and characters seem to be British, but you only know that because British towns are frequently mentioned, and words like "tram" and "lift" are used.  Yawn.

Though most of this book takes place in and near Vatican City and Cairo, none of that is described.  The Vatican isn't described.  Neither is Rome, or any city in Egypt, or the document itself.  Later the book takes place in Portugal and Spain, but you only know that because the characters say so.  Bleh.

The document in question, for real, is much more interesting than this book ever hopes to be. It's a document of a trial, supposedly written by a lawyer-ish guy. The trial is of a Roman soldier, a certain Panthera (or Pantera) who has raped a local woman, and impregnated her.  Raping your captives during times of military occupation or war was a crime then like it is now (though it happens all the time now, and I'm sure it also did then.)  Anyway, Panthera is on trial for this rape, and the document insinuates that he's clearly guilty, and witnesses are produced to prove it.  This would often lead to the rapists death, as the military, then and now, wants to show it's in charge of its own soldiers.  However, then as now, such things are hushed up.  In this case, he was found not guilty.

All of this refers to the Pantera Rape, which if you don't know, [if you're a severely religious Christian, you might want to bow out here] is the story that Mary was not impregnated by the Almighty, but (as alleged by a man named Jerod of Cana) by a Roman guard named Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera (or Panthera), who rapes her.  (Or it's consensual, as was the belief at the time, for those who believed this to begin with.  Scholars have complained for years how the many Marys of the Bible seem to be confused with each other--not good, if one is the mother and the other a reformed prostitute.)  At any rate, a Yusef bar Heli (Joseph) of around Tzippori (a town in Israel attacked by the Romans in 4 BCE) is upset with her (and not the Roman archer, per se) because she's pregnant, (and no longer a virgin, nor a woman first taken by her husband) and so, as she's now considered defiled, he turns her out, and she gives birth to Jesus in the middle of nowhere.  She would've been barely in her teens at this point, perhaps 11 or 12.

This is actually not a new story, as this book and my research point out.  It may even pre-date many of the Gospels.  An ancient writer / philosopher, named Celsus, was the first to fully write of this, but a great many others did soon thereafter.  Celsus and the others say this story was widely known during their day, and during the days of the Disciples.  Celsus's work, titled The True Word [or Account, Doctrine or Discourse] is lost, but much of it is quoted by Origen, about a hundred years later, so he can refute it in a book of his own, which is called Against Celsus [Contra Celsum].

Whether you accept this or not, this is already more interesting than a book written by a guy who's watched too many bad 50s beefcake gladiator epics and bad 90s cop shows, right?

A few points Celsus (who was clearly biased and anti-Christian), in about 177 A.D.(when the Christians were being persecuted in Rome, and long after Jesus and Paul and the others had died) made in defense of his belief that the original Christians were maybe a little confused:

--If Jesus is born as an infinite God, why would an angel warn Joseph and Mary and Jesus to hit the road before Herod kills Him?  Furthermore, wouldn't God, His Father, be able to protect Him from Herod, a finite human?

--How can an immortal man die, on the cross or otherwise?  If you're resurrected, you've died first.

--It's said that Joseph and Jesus were carpenters.  But Jesus is also said to have taught at a synagogue.  Would the Jewish leaders let a carpenter from a tiny backwater teach at the synagogue?

--If not, then the word in this document attributed to Jesus and Joseph being carpenters (vulgar Latin "naggar") could mean its other connotation: "craftsman." As in, a "craftsman of words," perhaps.  Like I would be a wordsmith, but not a blacksmith, today.  But, either way, a "craftsman."

--Why didn't His disciples fear Him as a God?  Instead, one betrays Him, one doubts Him, and another perjures Him.

--And why didn't they cease these actions, if they thought of Him as a God?

--And if they didn't think of Him as an infinite God, who else ever would?

--Celsus mentioned it was commonly known in his own time (and that of the previous 80-100 years of the NT) that the Bible had been "corrupted from its original integrity" and "remodeled" to try to explain discrepancies or paradoxes in the text.  I'll provide an example from the OT: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" and "Thou shalt not kill."  Can't be both, right?

--If Jesus is descended "from the first man, and from the kings of the Jews" then why are Joseph, Mary and Jesus seemingly unaware of their "illustrious descent?"  If I'm descended from Adam or from King David, I'm always going to know it, and I'm going to let it be known.  Several times.

--"After so long a period of time, then, did God now bethink himself of making men live righteous lives, but neglect to do so before?"  I've pointed this out before: Since the first man walked, why would just one Savior appear only at that one time in human history?  Why not also at any other time thousands of years before--or about 2000 years since?  The OT is at least 3,000 years old, and the NT is about 2,000 years old.  A novel-in-progress of mine now is about a small group of people who attempt to write their own Bible.  "It's overdue," one of them says.  "It's time," says another.

--Celsus is amongst the first to point out that the Bible uses the word "day" before the heavens, the sun and the Earth are fully created.  Without all three in existence already, there is no "day."

--As I've also mentioned: Why does God need to rest?  "After this...He is weary...who stands in need of rest to refresh himself..."

Lastly, one of my preferred beliefs: "One ought to first follow reason as a guide before accepting any belief, since anyone who believes without first testing a doctrine is certain to be deceived."

Indeed--How strong is an untested belief?

Anyway, whether you're with him or not, it's more interesting to research the Pantera / Mary document than it is to read this book.  So read the Bible, and read Celsus, and Origen, and ponder all this stuff, and don't waste your time reading Becker's book.

In fact, the book didn't make me want to know more about this stuff, like Dan Brown's books (not masterpieces, either) do make me want to know more about the Vatican, or the Louvre, or D.C., or Da Vinci or Michelangelo and The Last Supper, and---Yeah, I had to supply the interest with this one.

The only kudos here to Becker is that he brings up the document to begin with.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jaws Re-Release



Photo: The iconic movie poster, from the movie's Wikipedia page.

I saw the re-release of Jaws at a local Showcase Cinema today--the kind where there's a waitress and you can order from a menu.  Nice, but weird.  Very few people ordered anything; but two who did were, of course, sitting beside me, and had the poor waitress running up and down the aisle in front of me all night.  Grrrrrrrr...

But the movie was worth it.  The film holds up very well after all these years--40 of them!!!  And, no, I didn't see this movie when it first came out, as that was a bit before my movie-going time.

And so a few quick thoughts:

--I'm not sure Jaws could be made today, and I mean that as a slap to today's movie-going public.  It has too few shocks, and they're built up with very solid character-building and reality-defining that unfortunately take quite a bit of time.

--The running time of about 2.5 hours is just a bit too long for a horror movie today.  Fantasy / sci-fi pics--Yes, those can still be long, especially if there's a lot of special effects.

--A character-sketch horror movie just wouldn't fly today.  The Exorcist could be thrown in here, too.

--Jaws the shark (or Bruce, if you're in the know) was effectively handled as Stoker handled Dracula: More scary the less you see him.  If you read the original Dracula, you'll notice you see the Count frequently in the beginning and in the end, and only fleetingly in the middle.

--I remembered that Hooper's heart was broken my Mary Ellen Moffat, because I'm messed up like that.  I also knew the shark's name was Bruce, and that the book's author--Peter Benchley--was the reporter on the beach.  But those last two are common.  But Mary Ellen Moffat?  That's messed up.

--Roger Ebert loved it in 1975.  Gene Siskel didn't.  Like, at all.

--I have the autograph of Susan Backlinie, who was Chrissie, the famous blonde attack victim in the opening.  And so when I had a conversation with someone about it, I said, "That's Susan Backlinie," and I got a weird look.  She was at a recent convention in Providence.  You can see a lot of props from Jaws at one of my past blog entries about the convention:

  http://stevenebelanger.blogspot.com/2014/07/jaws-and-me.html

--I read today that Quint's place was the only set made for the film.  Everything else was on location.

--Mostly in Martha's Vineyard, of course.

--Spielberg returned to this area to shoot Amistad in Newport.  I know---I was an extra.

--I spoke to him a little bit.  Fascinating guy.  Wore a super-heavy winter jacket in the super-hot Newport courthouse, with all the lights, cameras, and everything else generating even more heat.

--Robert Shaw was the fourth actor offered the role.  He and Richard Dreyfuss apparently did not get along.

--Shaw's Indianapolis monologue was improvised, as was Orson Welles's famous "Cuckoo Clock" monologue from The Third Man.  I wouldn't be surprised if Marlon Brando's in Apocalypse Now was, too.

--Peter Benchley wrote some articles a few years after Jaws came out, explaining how harmless great whites really are, and how most of their attacks are accidents.  I'm gonna guess he cashed all the book and movie royalty checks first.  I'm so young, yet so cynical.

--3 Biggest Differences Between Book and Film: In the book, Hooper's character gets killed by the shark, gets an arrow through the neck while in the shark's mouth, and sleeps with Brody's wife.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Finders Keepers by Stephen King



Photo: from the book's Goodreads page.  (Yes, I review there as well.  Feel free them up.)

After finishing this book, which was essentially a good book and an okay way to pass the reading time of three days (in my case, anyway), I am nonetheless compelled to write the following:

Things That Have Annoyed Me in Stephen King's Latest Novels:

--His tendency to focus almost exclusively, at least for the first half, on the character normally considered to be the antagonist.  In this case, Morris Bellamy, who kills John Rothstein (a thinly-disguised combination of J.D. Salinger and John Updike) and steals his money and notebooks.  This is not ruining anything, by the way, because the inside flap tells you this faster than I just did.

Anyway, there are problems with doing this.  As I've mentioned in other recent reviews of King's work, the tendency to do this insinuates to the reader (again, at least this one) that King finds his antagonists more interesting than his protagonists.  (Or, at least, that he feels his readers will.)  This reminds me of actors who say they prefer playing the bad guy because he's usually more interesting than the bland good guy.  If this is the case, the answer here is to simply make the protagonist more convincing, or less bland, or whatever.  Often, an interesting protagonist will come to mirror the antagonist, thereby creating some depth.  (Hopefully this is what happens in my with-beta-readers-WIP).  King has done this focus-on-the-character-who's-normally-the-antagonist thing so frequently lately that it has to be by design.

The other problem with this is that it creates a cartoonish novel.  This novel will be compulsively-readable--which this one certainly is, as I finished it in a few days--but that doesn't mean it's satisfying.  I mentioned in a recent King review that his books have satisfied me less and less even though I'm reading them as quickly--if not more quickly--than ever.  I don't mean this as a snotty criticism, but I do mean it with seriousness.  By starting off with the antagonist, and by staying with him for so long, it creates the mirage (or, not, if you're strict about this sort of semantic thing) that the antagonist is actually the protagonist, and the protagonist, who's out to stop the bad-guy protagonist from doing bad things, is actually the antagonist, by definition.  This is how the old Tom & Jerry cartoons worked.

And it sucks, because it feels fake.  Because, really, it's backstory made into story, and you compulsively read it because it's there and that's all there is, but...it's not satisfying.  There's something wrong.  I'm not critical because it's not literature (somebody hit me upside the head if I ever get that snotty); I'm critical because it's not story.  Though story is what happens, and maybe why it happens, there's something more that story's supposed to be.  Something more real.  More weighty, perhaps, but that's entering Elitist Land, maybe.  But really it's just like watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon, which I tired of in my teens.  And I've tired of it here.

I'm sure King has done this purposely lately because it also falsely creates momentary cliffhangers at the end of every section.  And that's not done with realness, either.  It works like this: Protagonist, who's doing bad things that you want to read because we all want to see the dead body under the sheet at the car accident (King's frequently-used comparison, not mine), does bad things but comes upon some roadblock that stops him and allows the writer to introduce the protagonist--who's actually the antagonist here, by definition, because he's trying to stop the main character.  (Morris Bellamy, book advertising aside, is the main character here.  The cop from Mr. Mercedes, who's advertised as the main character and the star of this trilogy, does not appear in this one until literally half-way through.  And he's got remarkably little to do.  He really could be any retired cop from anywhere, from any novel from any writer.)  In this case, that roadblock is jail time.  Bellamy gets out and the game's afoot.  He does something.  Bill Hodges, the retired cop, does something, and catches up a little with the program.  In the meantime, other characters become more important and do more important things than Hodges does, and do so right until the end.  In this case, Pete Saubers is the other main character here.  Hodges is maybe third or fourth in line.  Anyway, the sections get shorter (yet another fake way to create tension: James Patterson-like short chapters or sections--and lots of them) and the back-and-forth gets more frequent and creates tension even when the story itself doesn't.

Fakery, I tell you.

If you've read King's books before, especially the recent ones, there's never any doubt about what's going to happen.  If you've read Misery, there's never any doubt about how it's going to happen.  And the little ironic twist in the last 5% of the book, that part about where the notebooks were after all--well, it made me roll my eyes.  Let me know if it did the same for you.

Bleh.  Compulsively readable bleh, but bleh nonetheless.

You expect something more.  And maybe that's part of the problem.  Maybe we shouldn't be expecting more from him anymore.  Can I say that out loud?

The other thing that needs to be said out loud: His stuff isn't scary anymore.  It's not even chilly.  (The ending of Revival is a blessed exception here.)  The only part of the novel that does that is the very, very end--an ending with a character that was in this book for .01% of it--and never in a relevant to this story kind of way.  That part--smack!--is the only even closely resembling creepy part of this whole thing.

That's what we want from King, right?  If I'm not going to get the real-life creeps and genius of "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," "The Body" or even Misery, than I want the creepiness of The Shining and IT.  The stuff he's giving us lately is nothing more than bad Dean Koontz.  This was especially true of Mr. Sleep, which was so bad I literally got angry.  (And was reminded of Dorothy Parker's quip, about another bad book, that it wasn't something to be put aside--but should instead be thrown with great force.)  But I don't want the back-and-forth of guns and robbers and that stuff.  I want little boys crawling underneath the snow, being chased by an unseen something that sticks its hand out of the snow, very suddenly.  I want he thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.  This is TV show crap we're getting now, since Under the Dome did so well (in the ratings, during the summer, anyway), and I don't want it.  (Under the Dome is a classic example of King focusing almost-exclusively on the character who normally would be the antagonist, but isn't because of King's POV focus on him.  And the "protagonist" of Under the Dome was surely a bore--Steven Seagall in Under Seige.  A special-op hiding out, in retirement or not, as a cook.)

Anyway, this wasn't scary.  It wasn't intense.  It wasn't creepy.  It wasn't memorable.  It was compulsively readable--but I could say the same about my journal entries and even my shopping list.

And I'm still optimistic enough to want more out of Stephen King than this.  But maybe I shouldn't be.


Monday, June 1, 2015

A Few Things

Just a few things I need to point out.  Minor things that have accumulated over time:

--A hearty THANK YOU (that's right, I shouted that out) to all 10 of my beta-readers.  You guys rock!  I owe you, big-time.  I won't forget the kindness that you've been showing me the last week +.

--If you like a blog entry, or if you just want to help me out, please mention it on your media, or like it, or comment, or something.  Any of that is supremely appreciated!

--I cannot accept comments from Anonymous.  I have very good reasons for this.  Commenting is really, really appreciated, but please leave your name or avatar (preferably, both), or I'll have to press DELETE when I go over the submitted comments.

--Please comment anytime, on any blog entry, even if it's not a contest.  Your comments are very important to me, for many reasons!

--If you don't want to leave a comment, but want to say something or enter a contest, please feel free to email me--but not anonymously!  (A surprising number prefer doing this.)

--Please remember that I have many blogs, the most important (to me, anyway) being this one and my published works blog.  Please visit them!  All of the tabs are above.

--I should read the blogs more of people who follow mine, read mine, add me to Google +, etc.  When you comment, it's okay if you remind me of this.  I'll get there, I promise.  And I comment on anything I can for my friends / followers / readers, etc. because I know how important that is.