The Blind Side: Inspiring, Illuminating and Instructive

Published by Parcbench on February 11, 2010:

As someone with a strong aversion to liberal orthodoxy — no matter how subtle — masquerading as entertainment in major motion pictures, I can count on my hand the number of yearly visits I make to the movie theater. Contrary to popular media opinion, even politically astute conservatives enjoy a little escapism every now and then, whether in the form of action, adventure, drama, romance or historic films. Alas, with so few worthy offerings at the cinema, an activity that was once an enjoyable addition to my leisure time has become a  rare occurrence.

That’s sad because there’s nothing quite like viewing a great film in the Palace Premier at Muvico in Boca Raton. The problem is, like most conservatives, I don’t want to be lectured about how “greedy” (like those “evil” Hollywood executives or overpaid actors, perhaps?) our corporate CEOs allegedly are, or how careless with the environment our middle-class citizens supposedly are (compare and contrast the condition of D.C. after the inauguration, and after the 9/12 March on Washington for the real story).

Those of us who proudly cling to our God, guns and patriotism, or at least appreciate our country and military, know that America is mostly made up of decent, hard-working, charitable people. While far from perfect, we recognize that the USA truly is “the last, best hope on earth”, even if our moral superiors in Hollywood don’t.

And when we fork over our hard-earned money for two hours of entertainment, we expect to be entertained, not demeaned for rejecting the “values” of Tinseltown and believing in the goodness of Americans, including our military members — even those who happened to hail from the south, a typical target of Hollywood derision.

Which makes my review of The Blind Side all the more satisfying to write: not only is it based on a true story of Christian charity and faith, it takes place in Memphis, Tennessee, in a part of the USA liberals refer to as “flyover country”. Or in other words, a vast, non-coastal area populated with nothing but racist rednecks who shoot off their guns indiscriminately and inbreed with close relatives.

Academy Award nominee Sandra  Bullock stars as Leigh Anne Tuohy, an upper-middle-class interior designer and married mother of two who lives a comfortable life in an upscale neighborhood.  One cold, late-fall evening, while driving home with her husband Sean (played by country singer Tim McGraw) and son S.J. (Jae Head) from a Thanksgiving play at her kids’ prestigious Christian school, she encounters homeless, shivering “Big Mike” (Quinton Aaron), the latest addition to the student body.

What begins as an act of compassion leads to a positive, life-altering experience for both Michael and the Tuohy family. In a definitive demonstration of the superiority of decent, determined  and committed individuals over the failed policies of the nanny state, Michael flourishes under the care of his “adopted” parents and siblings, who recognize his potential as a human being, athlete and scholar.  And while the newest addition to the family confronts seemingly endless obstacles on the way to his ultimate triumph, none of them are a direct result of racism — at least not on the part of his caretakers, for whom the color of his skin is irrelevant.

Michael himself is a living, breathing testament to the enduring spirit of the individual. In spite of the circumstances of his birth to a welfare mom living in deplorable government housing, he never succumbs to the anger, bitterness and violence that consumes his peers in the projects. Instead, he develops into a young man with a remarkable protective instinct and a heartbreakingly gentle disposition that endures, whether he’s rinsing out his only shirt in the washtub of the laundromat or quietly seeking shelter in the cold, long after the school day has ended.

In one telling scene toward the film’s conclusion, Leigh Anne — having  just spent hours searching for her “son” amid the slums of Hurt Village — asks how he managed to survive in such a soul-killing environment. Michael explains that whenever something bad would go down, his mother would instruct him to close his eyes and not open them until it was all over, until it was “good again”.

“I only saw the good,” he tells an emotional Leigh Anne. And it’s precisely that ability to block out the pain of the past and stay focused on whatever good he can find, that prevents Michael from descending into a life of crime and despair. As an individual, he manages to rise above the dire consequences of oppressive statism masquerading as government benevolence.

And in the Tuohy family, we witness the results of faith in action. While I fully acknowledge it’s not necessary to believe in God in order to have the capacity to demonstrate meaningful compassion toward others, given Hollywood’s proclivity to denigrate Christians, it is gratifying that the real people behind the story just happen to be followers of Christ. Oh and yes — they also happen to be southern. The more I think about it, the more amazed I am that the powers-that-be in the entertainment industry even made this incredible film in the first place. Lucky for us, even Hollywood hypocrites embrace the “dirty”, capitalistic concept known as profit — something they’d make more of, if only they’d produce more positive, uplifting films like The Blind Side.


Palin, Paulnuts and the Tea Party Movement

Published by Parcbench on February 11, 2010:

When Governor Palin confidently stepped up to the podium at the Nashville Tea Party Convention last week and began her passionate address to an enthusiastic crowd with a scathing rebuke of Obama’s perilous foreign policy, I knew it was only a matter of time before we’d hear from them.

No, I am not talking about the vast, elite liberal intelligentsia that has for the most part, abandoned any pretense of objectivity in favor of raw contempt for the moose-huntin’ mom from Wasilla. I’d actually be disappointed if the usual suspects on the left failed to pounce on the “dumb” woman whose every move they scrutinize with an intensity best reserved for oh — I don’t know — presidential candidates with questionable (at best) associations?

So it was no surprise when the hypocritical, left-leaning media hammered Palin for scribbling a few notes on her hand as a prompt for remembering the points she wanted to cover in her speech. Yes, their chosen one can use a teleprompter that scripts every word, line and pause in the deliverance of everything from a press conference to a talk with elementary school children — and that is somehow evidence of his remarkable, superhuman intelligence. But the former Governor of Alaska jots a couple of notes on her palm, and it’s proof of her astonishing ignorance.

Such is the hypocrisy of what Bernie Goldberg rightfully terms the “slobbering” media.

However, the reaction from the Ron Paul right is not only incendiary, but much more troubling (to use a term bandied about by congressional Democrats), at least in terms of  taking back control of the House and Senate in 2010. Within hours of Governor’s Palin’s address, the far right went into fits of hyperventilation, accusing Palin of regurgitating GOP talking points and “hijacking the Tea Party.”

Poster Kleinheider lamented it was “the beginning of the end,”  as Palin used her platform not to encourage and inspire more grass-roots activism against massive government spending, but to set herself up for a 2012 run. On a personal note, one of my Plaxo contacts repeatedly posted a succession of status updates, asking if Palin had deliberately “stolen” the Tea Party from Ron Paul.

Excuse me, but Ron Paul’s Tea Party? When did a movement started by fed-up, everyday Americans become the domain of any politician, let alone Ron Paul?

I have news for the Paulnuts: I’ve been involved in the Tea Party movement in South Florida since it began a year ago on the corner of US 1 and Oakland Park Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. And from the very first day, not only were participants equipped with signs decrying bailouts, stimulus and socialism, but also placards of support for the US Military, strong national defense, waterboarding, Gitmo and treating radical Islamists as the enemy combatants they are — not as common criminals.

Having been fortunate enough to attend the 9/12 March on Washington last year, I can honestly report that the vast majority of the approximately one million in attendance were just as concerned about Global Jihad as they were about crony capitalism, the welfare state and the assault on individual liberty. Keep in mind, this was before the Fort Hood massacre and the Christmas Day underwear bomber, two events that dramatically underscored the abject failures of this administration in terms of foreign policy. Kind of ironic that by placating their loony left base,  Team Obama also soothes the ruffled feathers of the civil-rights-absolutist crowd, many of whom border on anarchy.

This fusion between left and far-right is rather disturbing. And it is the stubborn allegiance among some Tea Party protesters to Ron Paul and his shockingly naive foreign policy that gives rise to third-party movements that will only serve to elect more liberals into congress, and thus push the country further to the left.

In her speech, Palin correctly pointed out that protection from enemies foreign and domestic is listed among the limited responsibilities ascribed to the federal government by the US Constitution. Therefore, much like Reagan’s approach to communism, our philosophy in regard to Global Jihad must be “we win, they lose”. So while she excoriated D.C. to get out of the way of small business by obliterating  oppressive, job-killing regulations and to remove the barriers to the pursuit of individual happiness by reducing taxes, she also demanded that our president start behaving “like a Commander-in-Chief, not a law professor standing at the lectern.”

And for those who believe Ron Paul can do no wrong, cheer his calls for the CIA to be taken out, and approve of his false rants about US occupation leading to the attempted Christmas Day terror attack, Palin’s accurate assessment of Obama’s foreign policy weakness is simply too much to bear. Thus the accusations of setting up for a 2012 presidential run (which she admittedly would consider), and regurgitating the GOP platform (which in theory at least, is in alignment with the Tea Party movement, notwithstanding the fact that many elected Republicans had all but abandoned fiscal conservatism over the last decade).

In a post-9/11 world, I  shudder to think what it would take to get elected officials like Ron Paul and his devoted followers to accept reality, if indeed they are capable. If my Facebook debates with some of them are any indication, it is an impossible task. However, their actions should serve as a warning for the formerly Sleeping Giant who is now fully awake and attending town hall rallies and protests across the USA, that we must keep one on on the left and the other on the saboteurs on the right.


Using the Flashback Literary Technique in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

Using the Flashback Literary Technique in Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

Since this technique is such an important element in Water Signs, in terms of creating intrigue, I decided to devote an entire post to the topic. Given that readers know the ending of the story the moment they read the Prologue, I had to employ every possible literary tool at my disposal to build suspense and maintain a good pace throughout the novel. I’ve noted most of them previously, but wanted to delve into the flashback technique in greater detail, since the entire work of fiction is, in essence, a series of smaller flashbacks within the context of one big 16-year flashback.

Part One begins in 1992, with Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey (i.e. Greater Philadelphia area) as the setting. The Prologue, set in Deerfield Beach in 2008 at St. Ambrose Catholic Church (a place where I regularly attend Mass), has just alerted readers to the significance of the nuptials about to take place between Ken Lockheart and Madeline Rose, “by the grace and mercy of God” and “at the end of a long, arduous and oftentimes broken road.” Considering I’ve now piqued their interest in the long journey leading to this momentous occasion for my two main characters, I next had to focus on crafting an interesting, page-turning tale worthy of the intrigue generated from the outset.

Of course, it helps that so much of Water Signs is based on real life, proving the maxim “write what you know”. And in spite of a well-meaning editor/friend’s advice, I declined to change the geographic locations of the story from Southeastern Pennsylvania to Illinois, and from South Florida to Southern California, for this reason (along with a few others). I didn’t want to agonize over describing unfamiliar locations, or researching the local culture and traditions of unknown parts of the country, and then trying to infuse them into the makeup of my characters.

Easter Sunday in Ocean City, New Jersey, circa 1970.

I know what constitutes a Philly girl versus a suburban Philly girl versus a Boca Babe, and a South Jersey guy versus a South Florida guy. I feel passionate about Philly sports, food, culture and history. I spent countless summers at the Jersey Shore during my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. I’ve lived in South Florida most of my adult life. Therefore, immortalizing these characters and settings was effortless. And the result is an authentic work of fiction that simultaneously uplifts, instructs and and tugs at the heartstrings.

However, I still had to make many necessary adjustments and/or embellishments to certain plot points because — let’s face it — sometimes actual events do not quite have the same dramatic flourish required for compelling fiction. Case in point: the night Maddy and Ken peruse his old US Navy photo albums while hanging out at his house (Chapters 4 and 5). While this is a true-to-life occurrence, it took place in “Ken’s” living room, while we were both seated on the couch in broad daylight, not in his bedroom in the late-evening, as is the case in Water Signs. I changed the locale from living room to bedroom, and time period from afternoon to the almost wee-hours of the morning, to increase the sexual tension between the characters, as well as to test Ken’s ability to respect his new love’s clearly articulated boundaries, and in turn, her willingness to trust in his sincerity.

This incident is also a great example of the flashback technique. Although the scene begins in Chapter 4 and continues into Chapter 5, it’s not until later in Chapter 5, when Madeline is cruising along the highways of suburban Philly conducting sales calls for her job that we learn the full extent of what transpired during the previous night’s intimate moments. Prompted by the song, Just Another Day, she reminisces back to Ken’s recounting of his broken engagement, complete with raw emotional betrayal and visceral heartbreak. This gives readers another insight into Ken’s history, and his motivation in wanting to marry and settle down with his true love. It also offers a window into Maddy’s soul and the extent to which her lingering insecurities — exacerbated by a previous relationship — will cause problems in her nascent romance with Ken.

Much later in Chapter 31, an older, wiser and recently reunited couple are cruising down Camino Real on the way to Ken’s parents’ home in the Royal Oak Hills section of Boca Raton, Maddy embarks upon a silent remembrance celebrating the history of her family. This provides readers yet another new insight into her character and conveniently (for the author) lays the groundwork for future prequels featuring the entire Rose clan.

Look for the strategic use of flashback throughout the novel.

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