Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sons of Anarchy: Over 60 Hours of Tragedy

It's gripping, it's addicting, it's tragic, it's FX's series Sons of Anarchy.

Loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet, Sons of Anarchy is about Jax Teller, the "prince" of the motorcycle club Sons of Anarchy, trying to deal with the problems of his kingdom: his father's death, his mother's moral ambiguity, and his own life's path.

The production, direction, casting, and acting of the series is a black hole of entertainment that produces a gravitas that cannot be denied or resisted. One cares for the principal characters; one appreciates the unfoldment of the flaws and strengths of the "crew"; one wallows in the dark humanity of the series, hoping and praying for light.

The sun does not break through the clouds of violence and despair.

The classic purpose of tragedy is for the audience to experience a tragic hero's attempt to rectify his screw-up, to heal his tragic flaw, and to purge the kingdom of the "rot" that he has created. Sons of Anarchy fits this mold, with Jax Teller's attempt to break free of the motorcycle gang's evil ways and to follow the vision of his dead father. Jax is the Hamlet of the series, the son of the gang's founder. There is a Claudius, a Gertrude, an Ophelia, a Polonius, a Fortinbras, and a "Ghost" of the father presented as a journal that Jax finds. A sense of fate and a subtle sense of the supernatural flavors the series.

In tragedy, the audience is supposed to leave the theater purged of dark emotions, having experienced a catharsis and realizing that one must be a better person, live a better life, and leave a better mark upon the world. This is the playwright's challenge, to cleanse the audience with a bitter brew of one afternoon's or evening's partaking. "I can do better, be better," thinks the audience upon leaving the theater, the stage littered with bodies.

After 60 hours of hoping the characters in Sons of Anarchy would get it right and extricate themselves from a morass of violence and deceit, when that doesn't happen, the end result is not rebirth but depression. In the end, even though this series is done so well, my cathartic realization was that 60 hours of tragedy was not a "purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions." Rather, viewing such suffering and failure for such an extended time causes its own sorrow.
Suit the action to the word, the word
to the action; with this special observance, that you
o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so
overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end,
both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere,
the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure.
     Hamlet, Act 3, scene 2
My thanks to Kurt Sutter, the show's creator, executive producer, writer, and director. I do want to be a better person. Mostly, though, I just want to avoid watching the long-suffering of extended tragedy that such a series as Sons of Anarchy brings.

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Thursday, February 12, 2015

My Dad, Mark Wilkins, and a New Maharishi School Kiln

Maharishi School ceramics instructor Mark Wilkins, CrowdRise fundraiser
When I was a kid, I remember my dad showing me a ceramic seal he had sculpted when he was a student at Oceanside, California, in his art class. 

He showed it to me and my brother when our family was getting ready to travel south to vacation with my aunt in San Diego. It was Dad's introduction for us to the environment where he was raised: ocean, waves crashing upon the beaches, and seals sunning on the rocks.

It was a new environment for a boy used to valley heat and mountain pines. The pose of the sculpted seal was my introduction, touching the lines of musculature in the sculpture, the arched back and the nose pointing to the sky. Later, my brother and I saw these same poses in real-life seals, heard their barking and saw their awkward on-shore flippered shuffling. The sculpture my dad created contains all those elements, created 75 years ago, and now part of the legacy of my dad's time on earth.

This is what came to mind when I learned of Maharishi School's CrowdRise fundraiser campaign to buy a new kiln for the school--not the students now, but my father as a student 75 years ago, given the at-school opportunity to sculpt into being some aspect of his life. I wish I could show you a photo of that sculpture, but it's 2,000 miles away, still in California with my mother.

Seeing Mark Wilkins in his ceramics class, guiding his students as they take clay and shape it into art, provided me with a revelation of the continuity of our lives and how our lives affect our children and grandchildren. When I was in the Cub Scouts, my dad carved a kerchief clip for my Scout uniform. I remember watching him carve and seeing the wolf's head emerge from the wood. It was a magical moment for me, and I wonder how much of my life as a writer, a creator with words, owes itself to moments of watching my parents create, of seeing those artifacts of my parents' artistry--objects my dad sculpted or carved, sketches that my mom had produced while in school. How much of my life as a writer owes itself to those teachers who let me create with words when I was at school?

We now have a chance to help Maharishi School continue its tradition of establishing an educational environment that promotes creativity in all fields of life. A ceramic cup today, a new medical device years later. We have alumni producing such innovations right now. It's time now to purchase a kiln for the next 30 years of creative young students at Maharishi School.

So get fired up about our new kiln and connect with the CrowdRise page. Listen and view a video clip about our ceramics program by Mark Wilkins. We're about 25% on the way to achieving our goal, having only been fundraising for less than a week. Most likely, 75 years from now, someone will be drinking from a mug or looking at a sculpture and just plain feeling good that creativity and expression exist in the world. They always have and always will, especially with a little extra boost from us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Success and Fulfillment

I was a school teacher for thirty-four years. I remember during my student teaching experience, one of my supervising teachers telling me, "You learn a lot of things in those education classes, but one thing they don't teach you is how to be a dedicated, effective teacher and still have time for a successful marriage." He was divorced at the time. I also remember reading an interview by a well-known contemporary poet who said that the time and commitment necessary to become a successful writer could be hard on a marriage.

One measure of success as a writer (and some would say the only) is how many books an author sells. I'm not going to bother debating that mindset, since there is some obvious sense to it. However, at just past my 63rd birthday, I find I've lost my desire to work full time, help my family full time, and then to write full time. There was a time when I did that all at once. I don't begrudge that time; I just feel the need to adjust the "timing" of my life. And, luckily, I think I have the opportunity to adjust without discomforting anyone.

I find myself more interested in the success of my total life, not just my writing life. I find myself not wanting to defer fulfillment in one area of life in order to shift that "currency" to some other area of my life. I think I've had considerable success in my life, and now I want to experience the fulfillment that has come with my dedication and commitment. Each in its own time, including fulfillment.

I intend to write; in fact, I've never stopped writing. I just think I'll focus on managing my time so that I do one thing at a time, do each thing well, take the time to enjoy the fruits of my action, and then move on.

Heck, I should have been doing that my whole life! Too much multi-tasking makes Tom if not a dull boy, certainly a frenetic one.

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

10 Reasons Why I Approve of My Niece's Fiance

Of course, I trust and respect my niece's judgement, but I'm glad my first impression was a good one. I'm glad niece and fiance came to meet the Keplers. Below are the details that influenced my positive impression (sometimes iterated through negative definition).
  1. He drove up in a mild-mannered, pale blue car, possibly a Toyota or Honda. I didn't pay much attention. It was not painted with flames, though, and it was not a monster truck. I did not hear the bass-booming of speakers before the car appeared.
  2. Getting out of the car, he did not flash about eight inches of underwear because of his low-hung pants. His baseball hat was not on backwards or sideways. In fact, he was not wearing a hat. No facial tattoos or lip, eyebrow, nose, or tongue piercings adorned his face.
  3. He shook my hand, no knuckle bashing. I don't remember his first words, but they were something along the lines of "Hello," or "Nice to meet you." He might have used "Tom." I remember being grateful that he didn't call me "Kepdawg."
  4. He brought flowers for my ninety-year-old mother.
  5. At one point, he stood and looked at displayed photos of my father, commenting on the WWII photos of my dad in Alaska. He had lived in Alaska also. At one point, my niece moved so that her fiance could sit next to my mom and talk into her good ear. (Well, her better ear, anyway--25% with her hearing aid.)
  6. He is a web developer. When I asked the difference between a web designer and web developer, his response was articulate.
  7. Keeping in mind that he will be contributing to my niece's happiness: he is tall, has dark hair, and is handsome. You go, Karen!
  8. When I asked if anyone wanted tea, he didn't say, "Got a brewski?" nor did he say, "What, no booze? WTF?!"
  9. When leaving, he bent way down to hug my five-foot-tall mom. Later, she said, "He's a tall one!"
  10. He was dignified and respectful his entire visit. On leaving, he didn't peel out, burn rubber, smoke the tires. I always thought doing that with front-wheel drive looks kind of silly anyway.
I've only met him once, but I think he has special qualities. My niece and he look at one another as if they share a special universe. There's this special force that surrounds them.

I plan to do my best to make it to the wedding. I hope nobody minds if I show up on my bike!

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved