Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.


I'm cheating this week.  The following isn't my own, but I wish it was.  This famous editorial was originally published in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897, and is widely available on the internet today.
But no one under thirty I've spoken to in the last few years has heard of it or it's one-time famous proclamation.  The writing is antiquated, using the masculine for the collective whole, but it's the idea that still resonates.
The writer?  Francis Pharcellus Church (pictured).
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
Dear Editor—
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon
115 W. Ninety-Fifth Street
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas went on to a career as an educator that lasted nearly half-a-century.  Until she died in 1971, she would send a nice copy of the editorial to anyone who wrote to her.

Maybe one day I'll write something as good and as lasting.

See y'all next week!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hello, Harry

I just saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One today.  And what a wonderful movie it was.  Just after walking out, I marveled at how fortunate moviegoers have been to have such a wonderful cast, for the most part intact, throughout the series.  The one notable exception resulted from the death of Richard Harris.  Even with that, Michael Gambon stepped right in and played a very different but just as brilliant Dumbledore.

Like the books, we've had the opportunity to watch the trio and company grow into adults.  This last movie doesn't have any of the whimsy of the first one, and shouldn't to my mind.  By now the perils in the wizarding world are coming to a head.  Childhood is at an end.

I've seen a few movies series, and read a fair few novel series.  In both areas, Harry Potter is the best.  Yes, better than Star Wars.  Better than Indiana Jones.  Better than Sherlock Holmes.  The stories have deepened as they've gone along, both in the books and the movies.

This is what I love about storytelling.

I told some folks after reading the novel of the Deathly Hallows, that taken as a single work ... and I do think of the Harry Potters as one long novel in seven parts ... then it supplanted David Copperfield as my all time favorite.  I'll back off a little on that, but depending on which day you catch me, one or the other will be at the top of the list. 

I can't remember if I've mentioned it in this blog, but I'll write it again anyway, I think writers everywhere should bow to J. K. Rowling for nearly single-handedly creating a new generation of readers.

I can't claim to have my finger on the pulse of society now or at anytime, but it seemed that in the time before Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone came out, video games took up an amazing amount of time in a lot of kid's lives.  Harry Potter didn't stop it, but did wedge into it just enough to show folks the joys of reading and of imagination.

I was actually a late convert to Harry.  Didn't really jump in until I heard rumors that movies would be made.  So I hopped on the train early in 2001, reading all four (by that point) just in time for the first move.  I loved it.  Totally.  Completely.  No, it didn't conform to how I envisioned the story and characters, but I didn't care.  I started seeing them as different ways of telling the same tale.  Kind of like one parent will tell you the story of the Three Little Pigs, one way.  The other parent will tell it totally different.  And you love both.

Ah, then I got serious.  After a two/three year wait, I pre-ordered my copy of Order of the Phoenix and picked it up at the midnight party.  Sat it down on my nightstand and tried to go to sleep.  I couldn't sleep.  I had to read a chapter ... or two ... or three.  I set it down at about four in the morning, woke up at eight and started some more.  My friend Bruce called and asked if I would like to join him and his family at a Ranger game.  We went.  They lost.  I read through until the next morning loving every minute of it.

A similar thing happened with the Half Blood Prince, only I didn't go to a Ranger's game.

I made no pretence of sleeping when my friend Jill and I picked up our copies of the Deathly Hallows.  I read taking naps until I finished the whole book.

What a time I had with each one. 

So, having read all seven more than a couple of times, and having now seen seven of the eight movies, I'm so looking forward to the completion of the tale in July, but will be sad to see the final "new" Harry Potter of anything on the other.

Wow.  There will be a day when nothing new will emerge from the Potterverse.  Whoa!

Then again, like Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris, we'll always have the books and the movies.

Here's hoping that Part Two will live up to the magnificence of Part One.

I weighed in at 264 last Sunday.  Down a total of 21 pounds!

See y'all next week!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This Is What I Know

I just read a wonderful blog entry by Roger Ebert.  Actually, all of his blog entries are wonderful, he happens to be one of the best writers in the country, but this one resonated.  It was about loneliness.

His previous entry had inspired some 400 replies, many from people who had no friends or never spoke to their family or were just recluses.  Some were victims of abuse.  Some not.  Some had never had sex or even dated.  Some not.  Some relished the solitude.  Some not.  All found solace on the internet.

It made me think about my own writing; the characters I create.  To one degree or another nearly all are lonely.  There is a reason for that, I suppose, and I’ve been thinking about it all morning.  Looking back, my parents were horribly lonely people.  For the better part of my acquaintance with them, they could not, for the life of them, get together for any length of time.  They were two people under the same roof, but they didn’t like each other.  They loved each other, but neither knew how to express it.  How they managed to produce my brother remains a mystery.  One night they must have independently decided any port in a storm, and turned to each other for some comfort.

My mother told me after a couple of glasses of wine, that she decided the moment she laid eyes on my father that she would marry him.  Looked back with regret that he didn’t have a chance.  My father wanted a Southern Belle for a wife you see, and my mother played the role brilliantly, bringing up the curtain on the real Janell only after the wedding.  It didn’t come up at once, though. They had me a month after their first anniversary.  I have pictures of them from back then.  They were in love.  Their eyes shouted it through the black and white image into the real world.

My sister came along four years and two days after me.

The love was still there.  Then my father had what he called a “nervous breakdown.”  Totally lost control of his emotions.  He wasn’t violent, though he possessed a temper he struggled to control with every ounce of strength he could muster.  He couldn’t stop crying, you see.

He checked himself into a mental hospital and went through something they called “shock therapy.”  Quite literally, they attached electrodes and shocked him when his behavior deviated from the desired.  He claimed until he died that it helped.  I don’t believe a word of it.  Like a prefrontal lobotomy, it changed him.  Made him distant, even cold.  And didn’t even come close to addressing the cause, which we discovered in 1979 was a hereditary brain tumor.

From here things went south for my parents.  We moved from Memphis Tennessee to Dallas Texas (my mom wanted to move to Phoenix, which may have contributed to their issues).  My father’s father came with us.  Once there, my mom immediately found work, but my father didn’t.  Mom took on a second job, and a third.  My grandfather rode my father hard for not having a job, particularly when Mom was supporting the family.  The old man was born in 1890.  His values wouldn’t permit the “little woman” supporting the family.

So he left on bad terms.  My father found a job not long after, but the loving part of him became a shadow.  Only once since then did I see real tenderness from him, and that was when I caught him in a bout of insomnia petting our dog Trina, talking to her.

She understood.

By the mid to late seventies, no one in our family knew who the others were.  We existed.  That was all.

I’ve written about spending entire summers alone with my own imagination from sun up until my parents got home, traveling the area on my bicycle, or, occasionally on foot through the sewers (how I never got lost is as much a mystery as my brother’s conception).

I’m sure that whatever I write loneliness will be a theme.  Write what you know, they say.  I’ve known loneliness since childhood.

I should say here, before I’m accused of another round of self-pity, that I’m blessed with wonderful friends, even friends who consider me part of their family.  I certainly didn’t follow the path of many of those Roger Ebert wrote of, the ones his friend the late Studs Turkel would have beautifully profiled in his many studies of people.  Too, loneliness is universal.  People read and watch stories about it because all of us understand it like Trina understood my father.

I’m a happy person overall.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s what matters.

Stay tuned.  On one of the Sundays past Thanksgiving, I will post my favorite piece of Journalism.  It is, to my mind, brilliant old-fashioned though it may be.

I weighed in at 266 last Sunday, nineteen pounds down from my high.  See y’all next week.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Shout Out to William Martin

Let me introduce you to Peter Fallon, a character who plunges into history seeking anything from a Revere tea service made for George Washington and missing since 1812 to an unpublished Shakespeare play supposedly located in the hallowed halls of Harvard. These are the setups to William Martin’s novels Back Bay and Harvard Yard. Three years ago saw another Peter Fallon tale called The Lost Constitution hit the stores. This year features City of Dreams.

I highly recommend all four.

I love Peter’s character and am secretly in love with his fiancĂ©e Evangeline Carrington. Both are complex characters plunged into complex plots that take place in modern day and back in American history. William Martin effortlessly blends the past and the present, giving us powerful characters from different ages.

Let me introduce you to William Martin (on the right with me).

I first met him at the Maui Writer’s Conference in 2006. I was studying with his friend Gary Braver (another wonderful novelist), and approached him to sign a copy of Back Bay and Harvard Yard after one of his wonderful presentations. He did so, inscribing the latter with “For Rocky, who has a great writing teacher ... Bill Martin.”

For now, though, let me say that Bill Martin is what I would like to be as a novelist. He tells a great story, and he’s a great guy. I can’t think of any better combination for me to try to emulate. AND, Bill loves secrets and hidden things.

I like those things, too.

Therefore, let me issue a challenge, if I might. Read City of Dreams. Then read Back Bay, and Harvard Yard. Then read his other novels.

I’m challenging you especially on the Peter Fallon novels because ABC has optioned City of Dreams and is developing a series based on Peter’s and Evangeline’s adventures. Wouldn’t you like to say you know them BEFORE the series? Of course, you would!

Now, on this day after the first day of deer hunting season, let me do a little “scattershooting.”

First, my dad took me deer hunting a number of times. More than a couple of times I had a deer lined up in my sites and just couldn’t pull the trigger. Some will know, some may have guessed that the movie Bambi was responsible. With the barrel aimed at the deer’s heart, I heard a voice in my ear. It was the old stag after man had entered the forest. “Bambi, your mother can’t be with you anymore.”

My father was disappointed in me. But ‘twixt you and me, I would have been better served with a camera. I may turn that story into something for my other blog.

Next, I need to say that I’m so proud of my Texas Rangers, who boldly went where no other Ranger team has been before. Here’s wishing them a wonderful offseason. Can’t wait ‘till next year, guys!

I’m signed up for the San Francisco Writers Conference. You know that. I also have my hotel reservations. All I need to do now, is to book the plane fare. I’m hoping I get a bonus later this month. If not, then I’ll figure something else out. But I’m going. And I will have Catch a Falling Star ready. And it will be amazing.

Last Sunday, I weighed in at 270, down two from last week. I’m anticipating another couple of pounds lost when I weigh later in the day because I really did eat healthy this week, adding the occasional homemade smoothie to my diet ... Acai berry juice, soy milk, Greek yogurt, frozen fruit (blueberries and strawberries last night) and a banana. Mmmm.

I do need to start commenting on my friend’s blogs. Yesterday, in a bit of a misunderstanding over a bad joke I made on my Facebook status update, I was properly admonished for not doing so. Some of my friend’s have so many followers, I wrongly assumed that my comments wouldn’t really matter. That’s my own self-esteem issue that I need to get over pretty quickly.

There is a give and take here, isn’t there?

I do appreciate all of you who read this and my other blog whether you comment or not. I write this for me, but it wouldn’t be complete without you.

And, I’ve decided to post this blog on EITHER Saturday night or Sunday morning rather than dogmatically waiting for Sunday. Sometimes (like now) I finished writing on Saturday. :-)

Dogmatic? Sounds like a contraption that will feed and walk your dog, doesn’t it?

So, back one last time to the challenge. Add William Martin’s novels to your various lists of books to be read. I didn’t mention earlier that I was a fan BEFORE I met him, and am a bigger fan now.

OH! And most of you should have already done this (or will be doing this soon), but don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour, or you’ll be early for everything until you do.

See y’all next week.