April 03, 2007
So, this blonde suicide bomber walks into a club...

Am I still allowed to reference blond[e] jokes, even though my hair is getting darker?

This just in: blonde suicide bomb attack leaves one dead...

Wish I'd thought of that one myself.

[Addendum: I just re-discovered where I first found that idea. It's on topfive.com.]

Posted by at 12:03 AM in the following Department(s): Humor | Comments (0)
 April 04, 2007
Rev. Evelyn L. Maring (1921-2007)

This morning, my grandmother Rev. Evelyn L. Maring, retired Methodist minister and former missionary to Pakistan, died in her sleep. She was 85 years old. This marks two years -- nearly to the day -- since my grandfather, her husband of 63 years, passed away.

In addition to her calling as a Methodist minister, she was a talented artist (sketch and painting), calligrapher, and organist/pianist. She leaves behind many dear friends and family members who cared a great deal for her. As was true of her husband before her, she leaves the world a better place for her having been in it.

October 9, 1921 - April 4, 2007

Posted by at 12:43 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (3)
 April 14, 2007
My Grandmother's Offical Obituary

REV. EVELYN L. MARING, 85, of Tonawanda, NY died Wednesday, April 4, 2007 at Elderwood Crestwood Nursing Home in Niagara Falls.

She was born October 9, 1921 in Huntington, WV to William L. Dial and Grace Trainer.

Rev. Maring graduated from Huntington East High School. She studied at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Asbury College, Morris Harvey College, University of Pennsylvania and Drew University. In the 1970’s, she felt the call to preach and went to Duke University Divinity School where she took the Course of Study for Ministry.

For thirteen years she and her late husband, Rev. Dr. Robert M. Maring, served as missionaries of the World Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in the Methodist Church of Pakistan. She received her license to preach in 1976, was ordained Deacon in 1977, and she served as pastor for six different United Methodist churches in West Virginia until 1987 when she and her husband retired from the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and moved to Port Charlotte, FL.

In addition to her calling as a Methodist minister, Evelyn was a talented artist (sketch and painting), calligrapher, and organist/pianist.

During her 20 years of retirement, she was active in the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church by singing in the choir, assisting with communion and speaking on missions there and in other local organizations. She was a Chaplain and past President of the Port Charlotte Woman’s Club and former Secretary of the China-Burma-India Veterans. Evelyn was a world traveler, having visited over 75 countries with her husband and hosting tours to many of them through Educational Opportunities.

She is survived by her only daughter, Karen (Lee) Rousselle of Tonawanda, NY; two grandchildren, Allan (Paulette) Rousselle and Sandra (Michael) Hanagan; 4 great grandchildren, Alexander and Nolan Rousselle, Devon and Sierra Hanagan; a brother, C. Harold (Jackie) Dial; and 13 nieces and nephews.

In addition to her husband and her parents, she was preceded in death by a sister, Letha Schultz and a brother, Luther Dial.

A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held May 9, 2007 at 1:30 p.m. at the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church with Rev. Douglas H. Zipperer officiating. Inurnment will follow at 3 p.m. in Restlawn Memorial Gardens, Port Charlotte.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Mission Fund of the Port Charlotte United Methodist Church, 21075 Quesada Ave., Port Charlotte, FL 33952 or to the Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Floor 17, Chicago, IL 60601-7633 or on the internet at www.alz.org.

Posted by at 10:39 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (0)
 April 17, 2007
Diet Versus Lifestyle

As I've commented elsewhere, I've become a bit of a butterball in the years since graduating from university. As much as it pains me to say so publicly, my maximum weight since college was a hundred pounds over my average weight during my senior year of undergraduate work. That is not a typo. One hundred pounds. And the last time I was at this fabled maximum weight? Oh, a few weeks ago or so.

I also grew an inch in height in the first couple of years after graduation. Alas, alack, one inch in height does not correspond, in any healthy way, to ten or so inches added to the waist.

A few interesting twists and turns have cropped up recently, and I appear to have accidentally begun a turn-around on this journey of a thousand pounds. It started with the coincidence of my most recent bout of vertigo (which has not gone away yet), my recent birthday (which was horrible, by the way, but for reasons having nothing to do with me being fat), and running out of Pepsi at home (even though I still had plenty at the office).

The inner ear problem I've been experiencing includes not only occasional vertigo, but also headaches. Having been in a foul mood on the weekend of April Fool's Day (and, sadly for me, having no inclination to play any pranks on anyone this year), and already experiencing headaches, and having run out of Pepsi at home, I accidentally ended up going a few days without any carbonated beverages at all. The caffeine withdrawal headaches can be a bitch but, well, I was already having headaches. And after I was a few days into this pattern, it became easier to turn it into a new habit.

I'm kicking the soda (can) habit.

It's a modest change, but combined with a few other minor tweaks to my eating habits, it has so far accounted for a ten-pound loss in weight. [And yes, this kind of weight loss is much too fast and it neither could nor should be maintained for any prolonged period.]

According to a recent study, diets do not work in the long term. The only way to successfully lose weight and keep it off is to make 'lifestyle changes.' What is a lifestyle change?

I posed this question over dinner recently with some extended family, and their response was the same as my original thought: if I never have a can of soda again, it's a lifestyle change. If I ever do have another can of soda, then kicking that habit was just a diet. Voila!

When I read the article on the failure of diets more closely, however, they seem to indicate that the only real success can be managed by incorporating more exercise into one's "lifestyle".

(Great. Now exercising is a "lifestyle choice.")

So I guess if I'm to build on any progress I'm making now, I'm going to have to start introducing tweaks to my patterns of physical activity before my 'diet' attains its maximum statistical threshold (ie, before I've lost 5 to 10 percent of my total weight).

I do know this: I don't want to go back to swimming three hours a day like I did when I was in high school. Uh-uh. Not only is it too time consuming; I've simply gotten sick of the smell of chlorine. Literally, I get sick from the smell. Oh, and swimming is boring, especially when one is no longer in high school, swimming alongside attractive and physically-fit high school girls. [sigh]

But according to that study, I'm going to have to do something. Otherwise, I'm doomed to gain all that weight back. Doomed!

Behind every diet silver lining, there's a dark lifestyle cloud.


Posted by at 01:48 AM in the following Department(s): Journey of a Thousand Pounds | Comments (3)
 April 28, 2007
Somewhere in the Lake House

WARNING: THIS ENTRY CONTAINS "SPOILERS" REGARDING THE MOVIES "SOMEWHERE IN TIME" AND "THE LAKE HOUSE". And "Sliding Doors". And "Romeo & Juliet". And a few others. If you have any interest in seeing these movies but haven't done so, then you are advised to rent and see them now and return immediately to read my timely comments.

Heh, heh. I said "timely."

I've been thinking a great deal about fiction and the defense of the status quo, lately. To wit: most (but not all) commercially successful popular fiction, be it in print or film, ultimately embraces accepted social norms. This is important to me right now, because of the novel that is brewing in my head and threatening to spill onto the electronic page before too long.

Stephen King wrote an excellent essay in his non-fiction book, Danse Macabre, in which he points out that the horror genre is particularly conservative (that's "conservative" as in: defending tradition and demonizing -- literally, in this case -- any departure from the status quo). His point is very well made, and I highly recommend you seek out his comments. In short: the horror genre is all about doling out punishments for breaking the rules.

Most other genres are about doling out rewards for following the rules, which is what makes horror the flip-side of the mainstream coin: it's a focus on the negative, but it's still supporting the status quo.

Consider navel-gazer movies like "The Family Man" or "Me, Myself, I", where the protagonist gets a chance to compare "what if?" lives of having pursued career versus having pursued love and family. In all such movies, the protagonist ultimately realizes that even though their life in which they pursued the career was fabulously successful -- bringing them fame and money and a fantastic quality of life -- still, it's better to have the life of mired suburbian mediocrity with the noble-yet-imperfect mate and the infants who pee on you and all the similar joys of middle-class conformity because, hey, it's more emotionally fulfilling than driving fancy cars and eating at the best restaurants and wearing tailored clothes.

In short, these movies are pandering to their Western Civ, middle-class audience. "Hey, you there! In the middle-class! You made the right choice! Don't you feel affirmed?"

Occasionally, you'll see an excellent and commercially successful story that doesn't pander. The movie "Sliding Doors" has a similar "what if?" opportunity to see a life go in two different directions at a decision point, and the ending of the story is quite satisfying while, at the same time, it doesn't hand the audience a pat judgement on how love always triumphs and all that rot. Actually, it had quite a different premise: that, when all is said and done, we will be who we will be... that single decision points do not a life make.

Since there is such a thing as excellent, commercially successful fiction that also manages to not pander to the audience and endorse the status quo, I need to come to terms with how that works. I want the novel that I'm working on to be such a story; to challenge certain societal norms and still be compelling and satisfying.

I was hoping to find such a story in the movie, "The Lake House." This is a recent flick that falls into the "time-travel romance" sub-genre. The previews implied that it might have a subversive take on the status quo.

Of course, in the romance genre, the rules are: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. If the story is a comedy, the successful conclusion of the formula is kisses and happiness ever after. If the story is a tragedy, then the last piece of the formula (boy wins girl back) is thwarted, and everyone dies as punishment. See "Romeo & Juliet".

Both the comedic and the tragic variation are satisfactory endorsements of the status quo, since successful completion of the formula means life and goodness, and failure to live up to the terms of the formula means death and sadness. If only Juliet dies and Romeo goes on to live a happy life of debauchery, then the status quo is not supported, and the audience gets mighty cheesed.

When a story is successful even though it doesn't pander, it is because the story still resonates with Truth. To bring up "Sliding Doors" again as an example, it is satisfying because it acknowledges that the consequences of our choices are more complicated -- and more interesting -- than simply "good" and "bad". The movie endorses hope, even while it denies the "happily ever after" myth.

Which brings me to "The Lake House", which I had picked up for a few bucks at the local DVD store's sidewalk sale. I was hoping to see some interesting choices in the storytelling, because the premise is kinda neat. Boy doesn't meet girl, because boy and girl are living in two different time zones. As in: two years apart. They correspond via a magic mailbox, fall in love, and get really, really frustrated with their timing woes. Surely, this must resonate with middle America. Isn't the middle-class all about frustration?

[As a side note, I'd like to recommend that the designers of the back cover of the DVD case be arrested and sent to a Turkish prison. The blurbs on the back cover keep saying, "Can the two ever meet?" while half of the photos show the two main actors together in the same scenes. I mean, what the intercourse is up with that? It's like putting on the back of "The Empire Strikes Back" the question, "Is Darth Vader really Luke Skywalker's father?" with a picture of Vader holding up a baby photo of little Luke nestled serenely in young Darth Vader's arms.]

The problem with the Lake House is not simply that it violates all concepts of time-travel causality. This wasn't supposed to be a science fiction flick, strictly speaking. Rather, its fatal flaw is that it tries so hard to pander to the audience ("Love rulz! Woo-hoo!") that it violates its own sense of Truth. It tries to give us the Happily Ever After ending, even after it very clearly set up the tragic death ending. The movie held open the possibility, right up until the final scene, that there could be an interesting, sophisticated Truth that would allow one character to live on while the other one dies. Instead, we get this pandering message: because he "waited", everybody lives happily ever after, after all.

Oh, by the way, that was the spoiler I warned you about.

Pander, pander, pander.

When I was a young'un, there was a movie called "Somewhere In Time" that also had the ill-fated time-travel romance kink going on. It starred Superman and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and the story was, as in "The Lake House," cleverly laid out right up until the last scene. "Somewhere in Time", however, managed to pull off an emotionally satisfying resolution without pandering *too* much. It managed to have both its tragic cake and happily eat it, too, by allowing the boy to die *and* get the girl. Oh sure, it was a sappy reunited-in-death kind of thing, but dude... the guy's death was *so* satisfying that it made the whole thing work. I don't think it would have worked as well if it had only the tragedy, nor only the happily-ever-after. What it did was offer us a third alternative: rather than "love is good" versus "losing love is bad", we got "love can make you lose your mind as well as your appetite. And then you die." Now *there's* a Truth that resonates.

Now that I think about it, "Sliding Doors" also managed to have both the tragic ending and the (nominally) hopeful ending all rolled up together. And the guy died in "Ghost", too, and that was popular. And same for "Titanic". Hmmm.

But not "The Lake House." It sets up for both possibilities, but then instead of choosing a third alternative, or even the more plausible tragic ending, it short circuits itself and makes a break for the happy ending. It doesn't work.

As an extrovert, I'm inclined to throw my ideas out there and see what shape they take. While my original intention of writing this little missive was to rail against the maddening ending of "The Lake House" -- I mean, really, all that wasted set-up! -- I realize now that this is really about the novel I'm constructing. How do I make it commercially viable and still not pander?

The answer is simple. It's not enough that I'm going to kill two of my main characters. I'm also going to have to add a romantic element. And pathos. [sigh.] Writing is such hard work.

Posted by at 01:01 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Writing | Comments (4)

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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