Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Blogs They Are a-Changin'


Come gather 'round readers
Wherever you roam
And admit that the blogs
Around you have flown
To places that leave you
Confused and alone
If your time to you is worth savin'
Then you better start readin' by laptop  or phone,
For the blogs they are a-changin'

Imagine harmonica riffs in the background as I tell you I'm transferring one of my two blogs to another platform and adding a third blog. This transfer and adoption will better meet my needs and locate my posts in a more reader-invested environment.

First of all, this blog, Tom Kepler Writing, will remain the same. I use it for writing about the process of writing, for writing about my writing, and for premiering my writing. My attention has been more on my family lately and these posts have been few, but this is a good blog for me, since I've been writing--for my own joy--for the last fifty years. However, sometimes I find posts slip in that are outside the original scope of this blog. That's why I started a second blog about bicycling, another great joy in my life.

My second blog, Tom Kepler Bicycling, is going to be dropped, at least how it is now structured. I still ride and enjoy writing about bicycling, but I feel the blog never had the audience I wanted. The solution? Crazy Guy on a Bike. This is a website, crazyguyonabike.com, that I already use because the website is used by thousands of other bicyclers interested in bicycle touring, so when I post a journal of a ride I've finished, or of a product I've reviewed, or an essay on bicycle riding, I have an instant audience. Therefore,I won't be dropping my bicycle writing, just moving to a more lively platform. (In fact, what I've been doing is double-posting my bike writing to both my blog and CGOAB. I'm just simplifying.) When I post a journal or article to CGOAB, I'll then post that information on Facebook and probably also develop a list of emails of readers who would like to be informed by email.

I now have a new blog, Green Goddess Glamping (greengoddessglamping.com), which focuses on my adventures with my new teardrop travel trailer. I'm excited about this new blog because I write about what's important in my life--yes, even with fantasy writing, which is still about people and how we perceive reality and live in it. Green Goddess Glamping isn't just about a little RV travel trailer. It's really about sharing this new adventure with my wife. I love bicycle touring, but I do it alone. In fact, that's one of its attractions. However, I've missed having adventures with my wife. With little-trailer camping, we'll be having adventures together. We'll bring along our folding bikes and pedal together. Also, my wife will have a chance to get out of the office more because we are learning how to make the teardrop her mobile office for her consulting work.

Of course, this specialization could get silly-ugly. I could have a cooking blog, I could have a gardening blog, I could have a movie review blog, I could have . . . well, you get the idea. However, Facebook must have some utility, so gardening or cooking posts to FB can provide me with some interaction with Friends (with a capital "F"). I can also differentiate between posting on my Facebook page, Tom Kepler Writing, or on my personal page, although to be honest, there does seem to be a good dollop of crossover.

Let me repeat myself:

Tom Kepler Writing

Green Goddess Glamping

Tom Kepler Bicycling Profile at Crazy Guy

Tom Kepler Writing Facebook Page

So gather 'round readers
Wherever you roam
And visit my blogs
In their new, tiny homes
For the blogs they are a-changin'

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Netflix's The Ranch: Exploding the Strong, Silent Male Stereotype

It took my wife and I a while to finally try Netflix's series "The Ranch." We liked and were curious about the cast, a talented ensemble, many of whom we'd seen before on "That 70's Show," not to mention Sam Elliott and Debra Winger. However, the concept of curmudgeonly father and dysfunctional family was not a new premise, and we weren't sure we wanted to once again sit through ludicrous fails at familial harmony. Was that ever really funny? We finally decided to sit down and see if "The Ranch" could pull it off.

It was a while into the series before we noticed that Sam Elliott produced the series, and it was Elliott's character Beau Bennett that first attracted our focus. Beau Bennett is the modern-day version of those characters Elliott played in westerns--right and wrong are clear-cut (and punishment trumps forgiveness), there's no need to discuss something because you either know it or you don't (and if you don't know "it," you're not worth knowing or respecting), and ultimately no one lives up to the standard (which is why they spend most of their lives alone). This last personality trait is what must have inspired the show's theme song to be Willie Nelson's classic "Mothers, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," who are always alone, even when they're with the one they love.

My wife and I watched the first couple of shows, each episode being a half hour long, in the great tradition of TV sit-coms. We almost stopped at that point because of the excessive bickering within the family. With us, anyway, a little of that goes a long way. Then Ashton Kutchter's character Colt came to the foreground, Kutcher displaying a remarkable ability to move from very real emotion to two-dimensional comic characterizations and slapstick. This is especially true with the interaction between the Bennett brothers, Colt and Rooster (Danny Masterson). What further kept our interest was the inclusion in the series so many members of the cast of the "That 70's Show"; it was interesting watching those actors interact with one another within their new roles on "The Ranch."

The script writing was sharp and lively, especially the ability of the writers to introduce and integrate material for a joke early in a show but not hit the punch line until much later. Script development continually evolved to include more drama, increasing the intensity of interactions between the sons and Beau, and Beau and his wife and later . . . let's call them girlfriends for lack of a better word. For us, Kutcher pulled the show for quite a while, the other characters being foils to Colt's foibles and foolishnesses. Although the cast really has ensemble status with all characters pulling a great share of the emotional load of the series, Kutcher's acting heightened the comedy of Colt's return to his hometown of Garrison, Colorado. His character was the locus, and Kutcher pulled off the highs and lows like a trapeze artist.

The character of Beau Bennett is also a focus for the storyline. He owns the ranch, action focuses on his relationship with his wife and other women, and his sense of right and wrong is the reference point for the actions of the characters. Because of the courage of the series' treatment of the conflicts of the storyline, a great deal of action transforms from comedy to drama, transitions admirably accomplished by the cast. Much of the drama and comedy of the series is derived from the stereotype of the strong, silent male--so aptly portrayed through the years by Sam Elliott's acting. In "The Ranch" we see this stereotype in all its aspects, warts and all. We see its strength in holding up under adversity, and we see its weaknesses in terms of the ability to interact with others as fully realized adults. The male characters here don't get to shoot someone and then ride off into the sunset. They have to talk and share to succeed; they have to forgive rather than judge for the relationships to continue. This dynamic fuels much of the show: both the comedy and the drama. Danny Masterson with great acting precision displays the stereotype at its most two-dimensional worst, walking that knife's edge between hilarity and tragedy within the dysfunctional parameters of his characterization, maintaining just enough good-guy saves to keep his character fresh and believable. The character of Colt is the rebel for the cause of the strong, silent stereotype. He's willing to cry, to wear Uggs, to use hair products. He's willing, again and again, to denounce the myth, and therefore to be the true-to-life version of that stereotype (albeit a comedic version), expanding its boundaries to show that strong and silent doesn't mean rigid and mute.

Even Beau Bennett's character changes, slowly and painfully, and that pain is experienced by Beau (the strong, silent hero tearing up and admitting that he has done wrong) and by his family when his unbending, rigid response to human emotions and frailties causes divorce and ruptures in his closest relationships. The series portrays real human drama in its latter episodes, the drama becoming so intense that the canned laughter at the jokes jarred with obvious artificiality. This was great stuff, superior work by the entire series' production personnel. The last two or three episodes of the fifth part reveal how serious the production was of exploding the myth of the strong, silent male. I'm going to add a spoiler here for analytical support, so those who don't want to know, stop reading.

When Beau denounces Colt as a thief and initiates action that will result in Colt's conviction, I told my wife, "The writers had Beau cross a line here. He's no longer a good guy with flaws. He's a bad guy." Later, Beau is persuaded by his girlfriend Joanna to fix the situation for his son, and Beau bravely and honorably, with understanding and remorse, does so. However, for my wife and me, we were not convinced. Beau states that he will change, that he understands the need to do so. We are not convinced, though. The pain and suffering Beau's rigid self-definition has caused his family is immense. If every dog gets one bite, then Beau's had his. There really isn't any hope, though, that he won't be jarred from sleep sometime and wake up snapping. The success and sweetness of his relationships are due more to others than Beau. He is incapable of catching up and provides too little to late. He even says so when he states that at seventy-two years of age, he doesn't think he can change. The myth of the strong, silent male only works if you (and those within your circle) can stand the pain and isolation

Part 5 ends with hugs between Colt and his dad, but as viewers, we want to tell Colt: "All those denouncements you shouted at your dad, how he always hits the negative--Colt, those were accurate." OK, Colt and Beau hug, but it's as if one of Beau's hands holds a knife, forgotten by both in the fullness of the moment. At some point in the future, Beau will shove that knife into his son's body, either that or the writers will cop out and Beau will mysteriously morph into a different person.

Do my wife and I want to hang around to see the blood and hear the screams? Only if we acknowledge that the show itself has morphed from comedy to horror. "Colt, don't go into the basement with your dad! Don't go down those stairs with him right behind you! Don't, you fool! Don't!"

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Traveloging Is a Natural

Lake Sugema, SE Iowa, Rustic Trails Teardrop Camper
Two weeks ago I listened to an owl declaring itself in the rainy darkness, its quavering call drifting into my awareness, waking me as I slept for the first time in my new teardrop trailer. What better subject to write about but the rain striking the roof of the trailer with sharp raps, then fading to a soft whisper? Now I sit at a different campsite, a lake brilliant with morning sunshine, the sky a cloudless blue and--a Midwest item of significance--the humidity low.
 
I have written before about traveloging and tried my hand at it when I've toured by bicycle or ridden the rails with Amtrak. I've researched the topic, re-read my Thoreau, and dabbled in Teddy Roosevelt's meanderings. It seems that writing about traveling encompasses three areas: describing the place, describing the journey, and describing the process. The gravy on the biscuits, though, is the personal experience: destination, route, journey, and traveler.
 
Recently I've been reading some vlogs, and especially for those who have published their YouTube vlogs for quite a while, the destination, route, journey, and traveler categories fit quite well. I ran across the Long, Long Honeymoon, a travel trailer vlog produced by a married couple, Sean and Kristy. They have an Airstream travel trailer, and I watched their videos on the art of towing and backing a trailer. Informative! They have produced many videos with how-to tips (and how not to), places to stop if you're in the area (bars, restaurants, national parks), equipment reviews (appliances, generators, gps), and personal posts (Q & A, chats, and posts on health and various dramas and adventures). They have managed to combine the objective, individual opinion, and personal experience into an enjoyable cocktail for viewer consumption. On a personal note, their videos on backing a trailer accelerated my learning curve quite a bit. My thanks to them!
 
My wife is working in her mobile office, and I sit outside, enjoying the cooling breeze, the blues of the lake and sky, and the process of writing. This trip is our first real camping experience with our new trailer, although we did park it for a week at the campground just outside our town, field testing the trailer and some of the equipment we've bought. That was two weeks ago when the owls certified our rig. Now we're thirty miles from home. We've packed our food and sleeping gear, our clothes and campchairs, axe and portable toilet (no connection between the two). The trailer pulled well for the thirty miles even though I listened to every little clunk and clank, analyzing and worry-wondering. We're enjoying ourselves and checking out our set-up, making a list of what should be changed. We have verified once again that macaroni salad is a must-have for a happy camp trip, with watermelon coming in a close second.
 

As always, there are two journeys and destinations, the inner and outer. Oddly enough I have moved forward as a human being by learning how to back up. Or is that so odd? I can tell you one thing, I'm in a very beautiful spot right now, and I had to back up to get there. It took me a few tries, but that's OK. I'm right where I want to be. For the moment, anyway.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Netflix "Bright" Tarnished After Reflection


The concept of Netflix's movie Bright really revved my creative juices: a fantasy world like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings but in modern-day times, during the age of men, elves and orcs and men interacting with their guns and cars and cell phones. A great idea! My original review Netflix's Bright, Shiny with Hope, focused on this urban fantasy concept.

However, after another writer that I know commented on my post, saying that Bright was just too violent for her taste, I realized that I have this Netflix habit that I have to consider when reviewing--the habit of backing out of the streaming, skipping scenes, and then continuing with the movie streaming. I did this quite a lot with Bright because there were too many prolonged instances of violence and torture.

What does it mean when I opt out of the flow of the story. It means that I don't like it, essentially and simply. Much of the movie is just one long series of battles the buddy cops engage in, so much that automatically I would say to myself, "OK, a long gun battle. I get it," and then fast-forward to where the scene changes; or I'd realize the protagonists had been captured by the orcs and torture would ensue to garner essential information. Fast forward.

If Netflix continues to feel that excessive violence is the prescription for success, then I feel that the bright hope of their company's future will be tarnished; no matter how lucrative the endeavor, it's just blood money.

Friday, February 2, 2018

A Family Celebration of Mom's Life

January 23 was when my brother and I celebrated my mom's life. Mom had wanted a small memorial service, so we planned a private ceremony with two cousins at Mom's home. Afterwards, neighbors visited to express their respect for Mom and their condolences at her passing. 

One neighbor said afterwards that she felt there was a warm, close feeling at the celebration. Sharing photos and stories about Mom and Dad, there was a true appreciation of our parents and their contribution to the little mobile home community where they lived for so many years. The time my brother and cousins spent together was also healing and unifying. We shared our memories and re-established our family ties. 

I am including in this post a poem I wrote and shared at our family service. I'm also including a video of photographs that provide a picture into the wonderful, loving life Mom lived. God bless her, and thanks to everyone who found a way to support me during this time of transition.

Prayer to Mom

Mother, 
you gave us everything.

You gave us life and warmth.
You taught us kindness.

To you, we give our thanks.
We give kindness to others,
As you taught us.

Your home was your chapel,
And we, your family, your congregation.
Through us you gave your devotion.

We hold you in our memory
As you held us in your arms.

We are your legacy.
In your name, we meet today,
And by celebrating you, we celebrate the divine.



As Mom is continuing her journey, I know she wants me to continue mine, to find the means to give love and happiness to those around me, to continue to grow in life, and to honor the women in my life all as representations of the Divine Mother. I look forward to my time with my loved ones and know that my mother will always be an inspiration to me.