November 01, 2002
Can You Provide the Caption?

Every so often, I download the photos we've taken on the digital camera and select a few to send to Alexander's paternal grandmother, who then posts them on her site. I know I've mentioned this before.

Lately, when I do this, I try to come up with clever captions. Some of the recent photos have had a bit more liveliness to them... Alexander's coming up with all sorts of new facial expressions, etc. I love his expression in this one (for comedic purposes, of course... this isn't an expression I want to see on an everyday basis!):

Cornell's going to cost *how much?*

My original caption for this one was "Cornell's going to cost how much?" But I'm not so sure that works. What do you think?

What would *you* suggest as a caption for this photo? Click on the comments link below and share! :-)

--Allan

Posted by at 03:04 PM in the following Department(s): The Boys | Comments (5)
 November 11, 2002
Never Be the Same

Wayback (not "way back," but "wayback") when I was in college, a good friend and I enjoyed watching a television show called The Wonder Years, which focused on the coming-of-age of a fellow named Kevin and his friends and family during the 1960's. The story was told like one big flashback, narrated by actor Daniel Stern as the adult Kevin, even though we only saw the young Kevin (played by Fred Savage) on screen.

My friend pointed out on some rainy Tuesday many years after we'd started watching this show that every single episode seemed to involve the narrator saying something along the lines of, "I knew then that things would never be the same."

Kevin kissed his girlfriend Winnie for the first time, and he "knew then that things would never be the same." Winnie's brother was killed in Vietnam, and Kevin "knew then that things would never be the same." Kevin played hookey from Coach Cutlip's gym class, and he "knew then that things would never...."

Well, you get the picture.

It was sort of a funny formula, the kind that drinking games are made of. "Next time Kevin says he knew then that things would never be the same, everyone drinks a shot." Whatever. Despite this predictability, the show was fun to watch. Even as I type this, I realize that there may even be a little bit of "Wonder Years" that was lurking in the back of my mind as I began exploring the good and the bad of 1980's Buffalo in my recently completed novel.

But that's not why I bring this all up.

It seems that most days with Alexander are producing in me the same kind of "and I knew then that things would never be the same" response that seemed to fill up the ficitional Kevin's life. Ferinstance, Alexander (three and a half months old at this point) completely rolled over from lying on his back to resting on his tummy all by himself yesterday. More than once. After rolling over, he started trying to crawl. He moved around a bit, but didn't quite manage to get anywhere. But you could see he was figuring things out.

Once he rolled over the second time, I knew then that things... you know.

Allow me to point out that we don't currently have a television feed in our house. We rent movies, borrow DVDs, etc., to pickle our brains as necessary, but we don't have cable or satelite or anything like that. And yes, this is a little odd, given that my current project (near completion!) is a pilot for a television series being written on spec. It's also a little odd, given my role as some sort of pop culture consumer type guy. I'm catching up on my pop culture reading though. :-)

Anyway, this all means that Alexander hasn't been spending much time plopped down in front of the television. In fact, he hasn't been spending *any* time in front of the TV.

Until recently.

Now I must point also out here that there's this little device called a "pacifier" which is a pretty magical gizmo. You place the little rubbery thingy in his mouth when he's crying, and he stops crying. If he doesn't seem tired and you want him to sleep, you give him this wonderful invention, and he goes to sleep. I knew from the first time we gave him a pacifier and he took it that, well, things would never be the same.

Recently I was watching a video course (this is like an audio course, only it's... oh, you know) from the Teaching Company about detective fiction. I no longer get my pop culture the old fashioned way; now I watch videotaped college lectures about pop culture. (Actually, I'm learning more about the form of the detective novel because I think I can learn from these kind of thrillers as I put together my next novel.) As I was watching this very dry presentation by a rather high-pitched professor, I noticed that the previously-antsy Alexander had moved around on the floor where he was babbling so that he could see the screen. He was fascinated. Completely drawn in. The television was acting as uberpacifier. He watched until I was done with my lecture.

We are not using the television as a baby-sitter for Alexander, and we have no intentions of doing so. But now that I've seen the immense power of the television on our child, I can't unlearn that knowledge. Things will never be quite the same.

...I gotta say, though, that the television makes the pacifier look much less of a controversial choice than it once had seemed. :-)

Posted by at 12:23 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Essays , The Boys | Comments (1)
 November 17, 2002
The State of the American Sitcom

Many people I know spend a great deal of time lamenting the deterioration of our society. The news has shifted from reporting to opining and entertaining. Politicians are sleazier and sleazier. Crime is up. Education is down. And our popular culture is dumbing America noticeably.

As one who was trained as an historian, I often find it necessary to point out that these things come and go in cycles. That the so called "news" today may be bad, but the same kind of scandal-centric infotainment was all the rage back when Hearst's papers inspired the term "yellow journalism." That Clinton was hardly the first President to be accused of inappropriate liaisons while residing in the White House... nor the first to be re-elected with that reputation. That crime is always going up... and down... and up... and down. That Johnny, by and large, can read. That our pop culture is just as varied in its quality today as it ever has been... but that the good selections from the past have survived in our memories while the inane selections have been conveniently forgotten.

I stand by these observations. By and large, the world is a better place today than it was ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand years ago. A hundred years ago, the average life span in America was what, forty-eight years old? It's now in the seventies. Sure, AIDS is bad and cancer worse, but so were polio and TB and smallpox back in the days of our grandparents and great-grandparents. The world political situation is a bit edgy these days (is that a gross understatement?), but do you remember the cold war and fears of nuclear armageddon a not-too-distant decade-and-a-half ago? Not so long ago, we were taught to "duck and cover" because we lived in a world gone mad. The world may not be sane right now, but my point is that not all things are always getting worse. We simply don't always acknowledge to ourselves where things have gotten better or are getting better.

Still, every once in a while, I find something to remind me that in some respects, we are in a "trough" for various quality cycles. Take television writing, and sitcoms in particular. Sure, there have always been bad shows and good shows, relatively speaking. But the writing for the past ten years has been arguably awful, and there's little sign of improvement (for now).

I want to take a moment here to talk about the Dick Van Dyke Show.

What is the best written sitcom today? I'm going to go with "Frasier." Formulaic, certainly, just like any sitcom must be. But, there's a lot of cleverness that manages to come through even within the constraints of the formula. Do you think there's better writing in a sitcom today? Please comment below, as I'd love to know.

During a recent trip along the West Coast, my family and I were staying at a hotel and we chanced to watch some television one night. We don't have a television feed at home (long story), and haven't had one for about three years. There is something very liberating about not having television at home. Something isolating, as well. So, for the first time in a while, we surfed through what cable had to offer, and found the Dick Van Dyke Show on Nick at Night.

The episode involved a golf outing where Rob (Dick Van Dyke) encountered a fellow who used to date Rob's wife Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) back in college. Unbeknownst to Rob, the fellow is now a priest. The priest doesn't realize that the Mary he talks about is the Mary who is married to Rob. As the episode unfolds, Rob confronts Mary about the priest (neither one knows that he's a priest, remember), Mary invites the priest over for dinner, Rob invites his female officemate to dinner as a blind date for the priest, and much hilarity ensues.

This is sitcom plot number five. There are only seven, I'm told. This plot is the comedy of insufficient information and incorrect assumptions.

I was expecting the withheld information (the priest's identity, Mary's identity, et al) to be kept from the participants for the duration of the episode, which is a common ploy these days. But instead, the characters figured out the errors of their respective ways pretty quickly, which was both MUCH more believable and MUCH more funny. Everyone copped to their various mistakes, and moved forward while still providing a great deal of laughs at a ridiculous-but-plausible situation. The writing was positively brilliant.

The episode then threw me for another loop in the epilogue, when Mary brings out an old shoebox of letters and poems that the priest had written her back in college. She reads Rob a sonnet. Here I was expecting the sonnet to be particularly bad or humorous. Instead, it was... beautiful. Touching. A completely non-funny, totally romantic love poem. And Mary makes a very interesting observation about the sonnet that is also not funny, but appropriate. The result? A sitcom episode that was both hilarious and deep. It was moving as well as entertaining.

And this was a typical episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show. This wasn't a "Very Special Episode, in which Rob Discovers He Has the Disease of the Week." While Frasier (or the sitcom of your choice) may have writing that is above average for today's television drivel, the characters are all caricatures. They react neither the way we would react, ourselves, nor the way we would hope we would react. As a result, they don't engage us. Without engagement, there is no tension. Without tension, the humor is forced.

(Why do I hear the voice of Yoda in the back of my head just now, saying "pain leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, suffering leads to pain, pain leads to codependency," etc., etc.?)

I do not subscribe to the philosophy that everything is getting worse all the time. Nor will I go so far as to say that television writing is on a one-way slide into oblivion. Except when it comes to Saturday Night Live. Nonetheless, I think television humor has become substantially less sophisticated in recent years. "Edgy" or "cynical" is not the same as sophisticated.

One thing about being in the trough, though... things will get better. Someday soon, this may even be said of the Great American Sitcom.

Posted by at 11:40 PM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Essays , Humor | Comments (3)
 November 22, 2002
Family Men

Alexander Benjamin's paternal grandfather came for a visit a couple of weeks ago. One of my father's passions is flying. While he was in town, he bought the coolest little flyer outfit for Alexander, complete with leather airman's jacket and sharp khaki pants. We'll show a photo of that once Alexander is old enough to fit into the new ensemble. (There's also a body suit with airplanes on it that grandpa bought that fits Alexander now; I'll post a photo of that one soon. I guess I'm becoming a fashion photographer. Ack.)

As you can see, both of these Rousselles are fine looking fellows... and they're both looking funny at the Rousselle behind the camera.Alexander and his Grandfather Rousselle I have no idea what the I was doing at the time to earn these reactions.

We've been fortunate so far to have had a chance to introduce Alexander to both of his paternal grandparents, plus his maternal grandmother (who was here to help out during the week before and the week after little Alex was born), and most recently his Aunt Sandra and Uncle Michael. My own Aunt Ginny (my father's youngest sister) lives not too far away from us, and we get to visit more frequently. With any luck, Alexander will meet his other three uncles and his godmother before too long. Family is assuming a completely different kind of importance to me now that I am raising a family of my own. The connections run deeper -- with siblings as well as parents and grandparents. I don't have the words to describe it... yet. But I'll figure it out. And, no doubt, I'll put it down on paper. Writers are funny that way.

I'm looking forward to Alexander meeting his great grandparents. I'm looking forward to spending more time with them, myself. I'm older now than my father was when I was born. I hope Alexander nonetheless will grow up knowing his extended family, including his grandparents and great grandparents, aunts and uncles. They're all good people.

Now, his dad, on the other hand, could still stand some improvement....

Posted by at 11:53 PM in the following Department(s): The Boys | Comments (0)
 November 27, 2002
The Cure May Kill You

First of all, let me apologize for the lameness of my posts lately. I'm not only not posting very often, but I feel that my posts these days don't say very much. I assure you, it's not a function of having a kid in the house. I think it's the result of a number of things, including (but not limited to) being in a generally crabby mood these past couple of months, being overworked, underfunded, etc., etc.

One contribution to my crabby mood in the past two weeks in particular has been an ear infection. I blame my last post on the ear infection. (I mean, really, all I wanted to do was post a picture of the kid, but I found it necessary to speak vaguely about "family" without actually saying anything meaningful. Sad, sad, sad.) The earache was painful. So painful that it hindered my enjoyment of talking (something you know I love to do). Chewing was a problem. Even eating M & M's was problematic.

No, not problematic. It HURT.

The doctor prescribed ear drops. The pain got worse. He prescribed pain killers. The infection continued to worsen. He prescribed antibiotics and steroids. Things have gotten better.

But you might get a kick out of the "Cautions" for one of the drugs he prescribed for me. After reading this, I wasn't sure if the cure was better than the problem:

DO NOT STOP TAKING THIS MEDICINE without checking with your doctor. Stopping this medicine suddenly may cause serious side effects. KEEP ALL DOCTOR AND LABORATORY APPOINTMENTS while you are using this medicine. BEFORE YOU HAVE ANY MEDICAL OR DENTAL TREATMENTS, EMERGENCY CARE, OR SURGERY, tell the doctor or dentist that you are using this medicine. THIS MEDICINE MAKES YOU MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO ILLNESSES, especially if you take it for an extended period of time. Prevent infection by avoiding contact with people who have colds or other infections. If you are exposed to chickenpox, measles, or tuberculosis (TB) while taking this medicine or within 12 months after stopping this medicine, call your doctor. Report any injuries or signs of infection (fever, sore throat, pain during urination, or muscle aches) that occur during treatment and within 12 months after stopping this medicine. Your dose may need to be adjusted or you may need to start taking this medicine again. CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE HAVING IMMUNIZATIONS (VACCINATIONS) while you are using this medicine. BEFORE YOU BEGIN TAKING ANY NEW MEDICINE, either prescription or over-the-counter, check with your doctor or pharmacist. [pregnancy warnings omitted]

...and this was before listing possible side effects, which included: difficulty sleeping, mood changes, nervousness, increased appetite, indigestion, swelling of feet or legs, unusual weight gain, black tarry stools (whatever that means), vomiting material that looks like coffee grounds (I'm not making this up), severe nausea or vomiting, headache, muscle weakness, and prolonged sore throat, cold, or fever.

I'm pleased to say that I feel much better now. Today should be my last day on *that* particular drug, which is also a good thing.

Posted by at 03:08 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Humor | Comments (0)
 November 28, 2002
News Flash

We put the rabbit ears on the ol' tele to tune in NBC so as to see a grainy rendition of this year's Macy's parade. During a local station break, our crack news team broke in to tell us:

"Pickpockets on the streets of Seattle, Friday at 7."

So, naturally, we've decided not to go shopping in Seattle on Friday anytime near seven (in the morning *or* evening). I'm glad they warned us. If we hadn't tuned in, we wouldn't have known.

Hopefully, this tip from the local news will make it easier for the cops to catch them!

Posted by at 11:16 AM in the following Department(s): Humor , Tidbits | Comments (0)
Thanksgiving, 2002

Today is Thanksgiving Day, as celebrated in the U.S. What are you thankful for?

I'm thankful for the things I am so often able to take for granted: my excellent health, a comfortable place to live, and plenty of food, clothing, and other essentials to go around.

I'm thankful for my family: wife and baby son, mom and dad, sister and brother-in-law, maternal grandparents who are still living, memories of paternal grandparents, so many wonderful aunts (including one who lives nearby) and uncles and cousins, brothers-in-law, parents-in-law, aunt- and uncle-in-law, second cousins and first cousins-once-removed. I love my family. I am also thankful that *they* enjoy good health, ample food and clothing, and shelter.

When my healthy baby boy smiles up at me... that's just magic.

I'm thankful for so many wonderful friends of so many different kinds: friends from high school days, college days, grad school days, continuing education classes, writing workshops, martial arts schools, workplaces, political organizations, social clubs, and writing groups, plus friends I've met through other friends, online, at conventions and conferences, and who knows where else. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful friends, and I love them all.

I'm thankful for my talents (be they real or self-delusions!) and interests, and the occasional opportunity to find fulfillment within them. For example, I love to work out ideas in public (being somewhat of a social animal), and it's gratifying to occasionally hear back from people (new people, old friends) who stumble upon my essays here on my website. As a story-teller, I love having so many wonderful adventures that I always have an ample collection of stories to tell!

I'm thankful that I can enjoy many of the blessings of both liberty and safety in a world where both are at a premium. Where I live, people don't generally shoot each other in an effort to express their religious and political views.

And while we're at it, I am also thankful for the natural beauty of the land in which I live. The mountains and lakes are breathtaking, the trees majestic, and the architecture a joy to see, every day. I'm thankful for the cultural richness of my environment: the poetry, the paintings, the sculptures that fill my world.

I'm thankful for humor in all its many forms. And the ability to laugh.

I'm thankful for tasty food and melodious music.

I am grudgingly thankful (ha!) for those challenges that continue to push me forward when I'd rather just sit down and read.

I'm thankful for good books to read.

All in all, life is very good to me and those in my life, and I think it's worthwhile to stop from time to time to take stock of life's blessings. Of course, there's always room for improvement, and I'm thankful for *that*, as well. It's good to have things to work toward. I guess we traditionally take stock of our goals around New Year's Eve. But as tradition dictates, I'm currently taking stock of what I have to be thankful for now.

Thank *you* for indulging me this public declaration! I wish you, my friends -- whether we've met before or not -- a most wonderful day of thanks and joy.

Posted by at 12:00 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 November 30, 2002
Harry Chamber and the Potter of Secrets

(Some mild spoilers below.)

I don't get to go out to see movies as often these days as I'd like, but I did somehow manage to get out to see "Harry and the Chamber Pot of Secrets" a couple of days ago.

I've never read the books, but I'm beginning to feel like I should. Soon. The story is decent enough: the standard good versus evil tale with lots of fairy tale imagery (step-parents are bad, natural parents are good) and appropriate PC morality (prejudice is bad, tolerance is good, etc.). The evil wizard Valdemort (sp?) is a suitably racist, fascist thug who seeks to destroy the fabric of the world order (in this case, the school where the story is set). The hero, Parry Hotter, must break all of the rules and risk the lives of his friends in order to keep things right.

As is true in most fairy tales, as well as in the world in which we live, Potter's results are rewarded and the illicit means of his success are disregarded. That the ends justify the means is generally understood both to parents and children alike, even though we'd like to pretend otherwise. But it did surprise me a little just how boldly this theme was played in the movie.

"Harry Potter, you have broken countless school rules and jeopardized the lives of your friends," says the headmaster, "but since we agree with your results, we shall overlook your transgressions." Okay, I'm paraphrasing. But not by much.

Sometimes fairy tales reflect reality more closely than people give them credit for doing. Change the school from a "wizards' academy" to an NCAA athletic program, and you'll be hard pressed to see any difference at all between the fairy tale and reality.

What did disturb me, however, was an image that seemed to not be noticed by other friends of mine who'd seen the movie. In order for Harry to defeat the villain, he must DESTROY A BOOK! With the exception of this scene in the movie, Valdemort is very clearly an analogy to Hitler... even down to the idea that he is of "mixed blood" while he defends the idea that only pure-bloods should be allowed to live. And yet, it is Harry who literally destroys a book in order to silence Valdemort. The evil Valdemort even notes something along the lines of, "See how much trouble a book can be, especially when in the hands of certain girls?" Ack! Not only are some books *evil,* but particularly in the hands of *girls!* It is after Valdemort makes this pronouncement that Harry desecrates (any relation to Socrates?) the book, and we learn that Valdemort was right: the book was dangerous.

Yes, some books are dangerous -- some *ideas* are dangerous -- and the debate over whether some books should be banned (whether Mein Kampf or the Harry Potter books themselves) remains alive and well. I am not among those who favor book banning. Given Hitler's own penchant for book burning, I found this particular imagery in the movie disturbing.

Some have suggested that the imagery is there to make a point about the calls for banning the Harry Potter books. If so -- and this is entirely plausible -- I'm sure the connections won't be lost on many of today's young viewers. Nonetheless, I tend to favor heros who find other ways to destroy villains.

To give the movie credit, though, it is exactly this kind of solution that is both morally ambiguous and, as with the ends justifying the means, a reasonably accurate reflection of the real world, even if it is a disturbing one. As such, this second installment in the Harry Potter movie franchise is about as strong a tale as one is likely to find, for children or for adults.

Posted by at 09:49 PM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music | Comments (3)

Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
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The author. January, 2010.
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