Monday, May 22, 2017

Delicate Nature of Creativity

I am a writer. I'm a solid writer. I was a Senior Technical Writer for companies like US West Technologies, The Regence Group, Holland America Cruise Lines and others. It's not a job for the weak of constitution. Managers do not hold back on critiquing your work, your writings. But after years of that job, I had gotten pretty damn tough on a mental abuse standing. Something my childhood fed into quite well.

Anyone getting through a childhood like I had or my last marriage for that matter, isn't a weak minded person. It didn't make for a weak minded artist in my endeavors either. I have written much non-fiction, horror and sci fi. My book Death of heaven testifies to that.

I am now striving to be a filmmaker. I've produced two documentaries. One at Western Washington University in the Psychology Department, one for Public Access Cable TV. I would have done more for cable and would probably have gotten my own show on a fledgling Cable TV industry back in its beginnings, but as it happened, I moved out of town and got involved in other areas. All water under the bridge now.

My first film now is a short horror film. Shooting for three minutes, at seven it was only half done. Now I'm at 9.5 minutes. I'm doing it all by myself with the help of two others living in my house. Family and friend. But it's led to an interesting epiphany and a realization in working with family rather than a crew you hire on.

There came to be a few issues in viewing the dailies. I now understand some directors locking down the dailies for only a select few. Some comments are useful, most aren't. Some also, considering how they are delivered and the mindset of the messenger, can be somewhat damaging. Both to the project and the creative involved. Me. I'm the creative I'm referring to.

This has been going on for weeks on this, my first narrative film project titled, "The Rapping". An issue came up about an F/X shot. I knew it would be judged as weird, but then that was my purpose. Over a week or so it kept coming back up. The two others in a relationship discussed it separately, then it came up in a viewing of the latest version. All as I'm building the shots into the project as new shots become available.

Understand, I've been studying cinema since before these two crew member and talent (it's a small production), were born. They are viewing this as if they have as much experience as I do. Yes, they have watched films. Yes, they are both very intelligent. Yes, their views have relevance. Yes, I try to listen and adjust accordingly. I have after all cut some shots that took a lot of time to get. I have even altered the pacing (in one instance, I cut shots, then later heard it was now too, too slow or too fast, make up your mind?).

The point I'm trying to make here is that I know what's best for my own project. I have the talent, skill and experience. It's the confidence, and the desire to be polite (and not lose volunteers, always a problem in situations like this), that are the problem.

They do also have cred for being an audience. Trouble there being, it takes skill to watch dailies or rough cuts of a film and "see" where it's going, or "see" the screenwriter's and the director's intentions and overall vision. But that's not all of it.

I admit it. I have an odd creative style. I don't know where I'm going much of the time, but in my subconscious, from what I see in the end products, I do know where I'm going. I just don't always see it or understand it until much later in the project. That's not only hard on others, but near impossible for me sometimes to see exactly where I'm going.

Example. I went through the same experience with every manager on my technical writing. And at every company I worked at. It goes old always having to prove yourself again and again. However once they got used to me, to my style, they got very comfortable and trusted me. Depended on me. Sometimes to absurd degrees and impossible deadlines. But up until then, I had to listen to their vision. I had to attend meetings. I had to research. Then I would take my notes and write.

When I turned in my first draft (second draft really, NEVER show ANYone your first draft), things got interesting. Frustrating, but after a while, after getting used to it, it became an interesting test of patience. Both mine, and theirs.

I'll use one manager and paper I wrote as an example. On his reading my first draft (second, remember?), I warned him that it was only an initial draft. He read it. He was horrified. He said in fact that he was worried I wasn't getting it at all. But I took notes from hism and told him to relax, it will come out fine in the end. Still, he wasn't so sure. I remember his worried look on his face as I headed back to my cubicle.

I wrote a second (third) draft and showed it to him. This was days later. He read it and said that although it was better, he still doubted I could finish it in time and get it correct, as he still thought I way off path from what he wanted. So again, I took my notes from that meeting and went back to writing.

A few days later, only a couple of days before the paper absolutely had to be perfected and finished, I showed him my third and final draft. Typically, I never hod to do more than three drafts but also typically, it usually took me three.

Tenuously he took it and read it while I waited. This time he was quite excited, and pleased. He said he couldn't see how I got to that draft from the previous drafts. He said it was far better than he had expected even before he had read any of my previous drafts. I then handed him two other very different forms of the finished draft, again much to his surprise.

That was something that happened again and again just like that throughout my tech writing career. I would go through three drafts, they wouldn't like what I was doing until the final draft which they would then simply love, AND, I would give them two other very different forms of the same product. I also always finished this much faster than any other writer they had worked with.

That's just how I worked. The first time that happened I was myself very concerned. But then it kept happening that way so that whenever a manger reacted poorly, even angry almost, it just no longer bothered me. I understood my process.

Now that I'm producing a film, once again I'm not concerned that I'm the only one who can see my personal vision of where I'm headed and what I'm doing. When I tried to explain that to my helpers on this current project, blank stares and a belief that perhaps I don't know what they were saying.

In reality it is actually they who cannot see what I am doing. To be fair, we're all new to this. Although I have done other projects, documentaries, but it was years ago. Honestly I have probably forgotten more than they ever knew about cinema and filmmaking. Still, in the end I would expect them to stick to their guns as an audience, even though in watching the final form they will hopefully no longer see their concerns on screen with what I have been doing.

I'll even give it to them that there could be negative audience comments about the shot in question from its initial public screening. And yet, the overall piece will still be cohesive and work just how I planned it. One has to be careful in forgetting the forest for the trees. A short shot zipping by can be lost as an issue, if it blends with the narrative, supports the vision, enhances the format, uses the movie magic that is being applied overall.

"To thine own self be true" never meant more than this. Stick to your guns, and work toward making your truth a reality.

My first screenplay ever is titled, Ahriman. I wrote it in 1984, the summer after I received my university degree in Psychology from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. I had taken one final summer quarter just to finish a screenplay. I wanted to leave my college years with a completed screenplay.

I wrote it for two professors, one in psychology and one in the Theatre department. I got As from both of them on this. This was all after a year long special team screenwriting and script writing series of classes I had been chosen for from a playwriting class. One I was sent to take because my first fiction writing professor said I needed practice writing dialog. Mostly because I hated writing it into short stories. Also, I had been disappointed that we didn't get to write a full screenplay to take into the real world with us, in our post university years.

One professor asked me why I had written three screenplays in one. I told him, I was trying to blend things. To experiment. One experiment was never to see the lead character. Well, that didn't' work out so well. But at least I tried.

I also tried to peddle that screenplay for several years but didn't have the connections and it never got sold. Actually, years later I worked remotely as an unpaid screenwriter for over five years with a production company. One of the producers nearly sold it to exactly who I told him not to market it to. A group of Middle Eastern investors.

Angra Mainyu (also: Aŋra Mainiiu) is the Avestan-language name of Zoroastrianism's hypostasis of the "destructive spirit". The Middle Persian equivalent is Ahriman (Anglicised pronunciation: /ˈɑːrɪmən/). - Wikipedia

Ahura Mazda (/əˌhʊrəˌmæzdə/;[1]) (also known as Ohrmazd, Ahuramazda, Hourmazd, Hormazd, Harzoo and Hurmuz, Lord or simply as spirit) is the Avestan name for the creator and sole God of Zoroastrianism, the old Iranian religion which spread across Asia predating Christianity, before ultimately being almost annihilated by Muslim invasions and violence. - Wikipedia

I had warned him that I had taken ancient deities of Ormazd and Ahriman and reversed them. I was sure they'd hate it and I didn't want anyone tracking me down and killing me out of disrespect for their beliefs. To the contrary, he laughed and said that was one of the things they loved about it. Alas, he had a falling out with the east coast executive producer and he headed for Hollywood. He said he'd be in contact and I never heard from him again.

Ahriman is a story about a  prophet prince on a desert planet. Scientists on Earth accidentally sucked him up during an experiment and he was transported to Earth. His people were a warring people and he knew they would attack Earth once they knew of a portal. Once they found a way to get to Earth, they would attack.

It was a bittersweet story with a great ending. It also has another relevance in this story about the current issue I'm writing about. About the delicate nature of creativity. My point there being that it was ten years before I saw in other films some of the things I had written into my own screenplay. Which sucks because once that starting happening, if I did sell it, someone would say "but that's been done in other films." Yeah, but I wrote those ideas years before those were done. Which in the real world has no bearing. If you don't sell it, don't produce it, you don't count. Tough beans old man.

Apparently I was ahead of my time. So I must have some kind of understanding for film, something I've studied all my life since childhood as well as in college. And I'm twice the age of my current crew and talent for the current production. Just saying.

Years after I wrote Ahrman, web sites popped up like Keven Spacey's, so named for his childhood street he grew up on. It's gone now. Another similar screenplay peer reviewed web site lab was Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Project Greenlight. Many may now know that name as something else.

On those sites, you posted your screenplay and you reviewed other's works in a quid pro quo format. I rewrote my 100 page screenplay nine times one year, taking comments and reviews from others and incorporating them.

Finally one day I read my now 180 page basically, a mini series and realized I had completely lost myself in other people's opinions. Some not such great opinions. But it was a great learning experience. There is after all a balance in following your own vision and taking constructive criticism and comments and incorporating them. But it can most definitely get out of hand if you're not careful and protective of your original vision.

To get to the point.

In sitting here one night this week alone and yet again ruminating on this situation about the commentary from my crew (and talent), something unmanageable was happening to me. It was damaging my vision, my creative understanding of my screenplay and my production.

I likened it in my mind to a road (the screenplay) supported by an intricate and delicate framework of underlying supports, the concepts. I was seeing this in my mind as a train trestle.

Holcomb Creek Train Trestle
That underlying structure isn't just the screenplay, but my mind as elements in the screenplay are situated therein and the supporting structures in my mind as they created and supported the overall concept and storyline.

Each critique from my crew alters or removes one of those struts, the top beams touching and supporting the road that is the story. Changing one of any of those alters the overall structure, if not in the overt storyline then in my underlying understanding of the story structure. That also delves into emotive elements, my self esteem, even more dangerously, my motivation.

When I said I'm a solid writer, I'm also a pretty tough individual. I won't bore you with proof of that from my history and experiences. Just know it's true. To say these critiques to affected me emotionally, isn't quite accurate. But then they did, at least somewhat.

I came to realize all this the other day. While I had been greatly enjoying producing and directing this film, it was becoming a burden. But why? Not because of the critiques that were going against what I was doing, but because of their recurrences.

On set if a director asks for critique, opens it up for comment, make it brief, positive and production. Give it once. If you think it's not being understood, you can push the point, making it clear that you do not think your concern is being understood, or given the weight you believe it needs. . For the good of the project.

However once the director understands, or even if it's simply made clear to drop it, then drop it. Because as important as your concern maybe, and this is important, it is the director's vision that is most likely going to be more important not to disrupt. While one shot or issue may be important, it cannot possibly be as important as maintaining the integrity of the director's focus and therefore the project overall. While a single shot affects a portion of the film, the director affects the entire project.

I was losing the momentum, the energy I had used in order to work on and finish this project. Hearing critiques is one thing. Hearing them again and again and it turning into an argument, is counterproductive. Even damaging.

A film is indeed a collaborative process. Even if you're an Alfred Hitchcock. But there is one head to it, the director. It is in the end a kind of dictatorship. The director takes the screenwriter's vision and the screenplay and runs with it.

The screenwriter can at times become disheartened over what is being done to his or her work because of money, direction, producers, studio, or any of various elements. But the screenwriter has typically finished the job by time the production begins. Whereas the director is dealing with all this in an ongoing manner.

While the screenwriter can have a nervous breakdown over all this, he can. While the director has to be there, day in and day out, in top form to complete the project. The crew, simply has to do what they are told to do, to find ways to do what is being asked of them. The talent (actor) is the same with some more need and input to the process because they are the focus of the action and the camera. Same can be said for the sets and costume and so on, but it can be argued that the talent have more directly invested in an ongoing manner.

Still, the weight of all this rests on the director's head (and to be sure above that level, the producers). The crew (and talent) need to remember that. As long as they do their jobs well, the overall potential for failure of the project is not on their heads. Not if people can point to their work and say, "Well, they did excellent! The direction, or editing are what suck."

This is why on most, certainly larger productions, there are people to screen and protect the director. Like the assistant director (AD) for the most part, or production assistants (PA) who can take the brunt of these interactions that would otherwise be aimed directly at the director. Something the director cannot suffer because they for one need to helm the project and see it to its finish.

In the end the creativity needs to be protected, not so much the individual. In the end, the project has to be completed as well as it can be done. To thine own self be true, is true enough. But also to the project be true. The mission, in any endeavor is important to complete in the best form possible.

Sometimes that simply means one has to protect one's own vision, and oneself.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hanging with Alison Arngrim at Dragonfly Film Festival

Last weekend was the first annual Port Orchard (WA) Dragonfly Cinema Film Festival. It was awesome! They have stated that they plan for a second one next year. I went to a film festival, and ended up getting to hang out all weekend with local director and friend Kelly Hughes and actor Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson on the TV show, Little House on the Prairie). Alison looks quite different now in Kelly's new horror film than her younger self did on that world famous TV show.

Alison Arngrim
I've known Kelly for a couple of years now. I first met Alison last year when her character killed me in a film. My first on screen death. So I was looking forward to having a fun weekend. It turned into a fun working weekend and potential for learning and making new friends. And getting to better know the town of Port Orchard, WA.

I got my weekend pass and showed up to do nothing by enjoy the festivities. Well, thankfully, that was not what happened.

Director Kelly Hughes with actor Alison Arngrim on shoot
Friend and fellow director, Kelly Hughes invited me to a shoot he was doing early on Friday May 5, 2017 on a friend's thirty some acres out in Olalla next to Port Orchard.

Last year I had the honor and pleasure to first meet and then play a scene with Alison in one of Kelly's film, The Mephisto Box, for his company Leprechaun Productions. Parts of that film, as well as the head shot of Alison above, which I had her sign at her recent book signing at the film festival, was shot at my old house.

For fifteen years we lived on a couple of park like acres and Kelly took advantage of it while we had time. I was also previously in Kelly's short horror film, Don't Kill Grandpa Until We Strangle the Babysitter. That's me as Grandma's ghost in the trailer with my son as crew dumping fuel on the fire. What a day that was!

I've since sold that home in Suquamish, WA and moved to Bremerton, right next to Port Orchard. As always it was a good deal of fun on this new filming and I learned new things simply from being on a film production set around an experienced director.

My first time on a film set was in 1986 in Seattle. It was the set of the pilot for the TV version of the John Carpenter film, Starman, with Robert Hays. A single season sci fi series, it was an interesting day. I got onto two set locations that day (the other on Queen Anne Hill) and was befriended by the location manager. He put me right next to the 2nd unit director and camera at the Monorail at the Seattle Center. We were all there until about 3AM. Extras were all over the place off camera, just hanging out and being bored as is normal. The location manager was starting and stopping all the rides and lights in the background as the camera and director required. Nice guy. It was a busy set.

Robert Hays, with costars
It may have been even later that night that we got out of there but I wasn't leaving until I had absorbed all I could. I'm being conservative here since I don't clearly remember what time they broke for the night.  I do remember that I was exhausted. I would have been standing just to the right of the camera that took that photo above, only with the stand ins. I never got to see the lead actors.

But back to our shoot at my old house. I wish I had a cell phone back then with a camera as I have no record of that night.

Alison slashed my throat in our scene, during that, my, first ever working with a SAG/AFTRA actress. Even though I'm related to one myself. Like my brilliant and beautiful niece Brandi Nicole Wilson, my sister's daughter. But I have never actually acted in a scene with one before. It was a lot of fun and we had a great day. Alison is a funny, bright light of a professional. Because of some scheduling issues, I even got to host her for the night at my house.

I showed up this past weekend just to help out as I have many times on Kelly's shoots. But I got wrangled into a speaking part (yay!) in his film from which Kelly said he saw some real acting from me (Yay, finally! Progress!).

See, I never wanted to be in front of the camera, just behind the scenes as writer, producer, perhaps director. Indeed, I have resurrected my old production company from the early 90s (Last good Nerve Productions) which produced one of only two 25th anniversary documentaries of the 1960s TV show, Lost in Space. The other was by an Australian production company.

My current and first new small horror film project, The Rapping (no, not Rap music, think, Edgar Allan Poe), will be much higher production values and is using much better equipment. And, it has Alison as The Narrator, an awesome win for our first project.

We shot Kelly's latest project, a continuation of his Mephisto Box project, in the woods. I had read my lines, but hadn't had time to read the script, so what I saw being shot in the woods was pretty unusual. To say the least. There was a lot of work, and laughter, as usual.
Actor Jennifer True after losing an eye to Alison's character
Aside from my scene, five guys around a  fire in a kind of guy's anti adultery support group, I shot footage for a behind the scenes piece, something Kelly has been lacking. Also, I shot some footage in such a way that could garner me some 2nd unit IMDB credits. Racking these credits up!

Me on left shooting, Kelly back to camera - photo by Stan Wankowski
After we shot for the day, and we were running late to get to the film festival, we headed into Port Orchard. I for one was beat and headed home for the day, only to return on Saturday.

JZ Murdock, Ernie (thanks for photo) and Alison Arngrim in Port Orchard
I showed up on Saturday in a hooded sweatshirt and a black leather jacket, thinking (mistakenly) that I could just watch films and take it easy. Instead I ended up (happily) as Kelly's assistant and Alison's support team. It was an experience.

Alison and "King" Louie
We went to the opening of the season" for the local museums and Alison cut the ribbon. The Mayor of Port Orchard was even there. A log cabin museum, another called the Snider Museum which is situated in an old Freemason's Lodge. I am a Mason myself as was my Grandfather who was also a Shriner.
Louie and Allison at Sidney Museum in period costume
I made new friends, got to see two museums in Port Orchard, met "King" Louie who runs a couple of museums and is a photographer in his own right. Also met filmmakers and got to see Alison do her show. She was brilliant.
Screen 2 at Dragonfly Cinema Film Festival
35mm print of Rocky Horror Picture Show - Dragonfly Cinema
As I told her at one point, the more I get to know her, the more impressed with her I am. She is one huge bundle of professional and talent in a rather small package. After her show (I highly recommend seeing her do this if you ever get the opportunity), we held a book signing for her at the next door Bay Street Bistro.
Alison Arngrim book signing with fan and actor Ernie
Alison at book signing at Port Orchard Bay Street Bistro
How to sum up the weekend?

That's difficult. I made some great new friends. Got to know Alison better, more impressed with her at every new encounter. And I heard some amazing stories (like the William Shatner one if no other, and learned about "shipers" (relationshipers who wish characters in shows would get together, if not the actors themselves), and really, just so much more. Yeah, I'm not getting into that mess....

Film festivals are a lot of fun. Especially when you get to meet new and interesting people and see such creativity played out before you. Get out, check out, support your local creative community, if you're so inclined. Because if you wait you're really just keeping yourself from a good deal of what makes life so great to live in. And in these times, can't we all really use a healthy does of that?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Dad... Capt. Kirk?

Capt. Kirk? My  Dad? Okay, not really. But to explain my ancient William Shatner story I have to relate several stories and in part one told to me by actor Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie) one night last weekend at dinner...but it's a harmless tale. I also acted in a film with her last weekend, and she had previously "killed" me in a film a year ago.

And, I officially have Alison's voice reading The Raven, for my first and currently in production film, The Rapping (no, not rap, think, Edgar Allan Poe).

This (for me anyway) is a fun tale. One originally told and excerpted here in this blog, from a previous 2012 blog of mine and now expanded upon by way of Alison's input. I'm still chuckling over this. I just wish my little brother had lived to hear the end of it. Closure is a great thing.

William Shatner as Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock on set of Star Trek
Finally! Here it is! @WilliamShatner speaking (tweeting) at me. I'd waited so long with no expectation of it ever happening. I'm sure he's heard many, many stories like this one. How can you not when you're that famous, that much of a cultural icon?

Allow me to explain, to give you a bit of background on this joy, exclamation...and closure.

Back in the 1960s my younger and late brother and I tried to talk to "Capt. Kirk". Not on a communicator, but on our home phone while the actor who portrayed him on TV every week, was at the Jerry Lewis Marathon in Seattle.

He was there with Leonard Nimoy who played Spock. Do I even have to say he was the half human, half Vulcan character on that "wagon train to the stars", that " 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to the stars" TV show known as Star Trek? And now due to it's longevity and popularity, known lovingly as Star Trek-TOS (The Original Show).

One called into the week long 24 hour a day Telethon, offered to donate money to Jerry's kids for MS, and maybe got to talk to a special guest. In the end we did get to talk to the also late Leonard Nimoy. Who couldn't have been nicer. Shatner was swamped with people wanting to talk to him so we never got to. But the person answering the phone asked if we'd prefer Nimoy. Our mom, also on one of the three phone extensions at our house, was paying for this long distance call, so she said, "Yes, please."

We never did get to talk to Shatner. We were at first disappointed, but in talking with Nimoy, we were pretty floored. Like forever after that call. We talked to Spock! We actually talked to him!

Years later I came to appreciate Nimoy even more. Decades later even, my kids did too. Not just through Star Trek, though that's a big part of it, but also through his project called, Alien Voices. An awesome attempt to bring people to the spoken word of classic literature that is interesting to the masses, bringing it alive for us. One of my favorites among their catalog are the two Spock vs Q shows. Which oddly enough isn't on that Alien Voices site.

Indirectly, thanks go to actor Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie fame and many of her projects since then), Because of her, finally, I got William Shatner to say something to me!

So this one is for my long passed, little brother, Kim.

At dinner last night as of the writing of this at Puerto Vallarta Mexican restaurant in Port Orchard, Alison was sitting across from me. There were four of us. Kelly Hughes, and our actor friend Ernie. Alison and I got to talking and she started telling me this long story about Bill Shatner and her Twitter account... and "shipers".

So damn funny how this all worked out. By the way, I just realized, that for lunch today I ate the other half of my huge and tasty dinner from last night, and the rest of Alison's. She had asked if someone shouldn't take the last of her fajita plate (from the hot side dish). So I dumped it on mine and no one else spoke up.

Therefore this next day I ate the rest of Alison Arngrim's dinner. Fans. Such odd ones. But, it's all out of love. I never had watched "Little House", but I became a fan of Alison's anyway, once I got to know her, and in spending time working with her.

Back to Shatner. Beginning in 1966 (until 2010) while Star Trek was still on, while I was a kid, we always watched the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethons. We loved watching them. He'd get little sleep over the weekend of stars and entertainment 24/7 on air. It was interesting and entertaining, fascinating one might say watching someone deteriorate on screen and for a cause. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were on it one year in Seattle. We lived a mere thirty miles away in Tacoma.

I was a huge Star Trek fan. My little brother too. I remember the first episode I ever missed. I was at a store with my mother and grandmother. Mom went into the store to return something and when I realized we'd miss Star Trek, I broke into tears. My poor grandmother couldn't figure out how a TV show had such a hold on me.

I didn't have a great fatherly parental situation. My own dad had remarried and then had eleven kids so I never really had him as a dad after I was three. My step father didn't much like me at all and we had a turbulent relationship. So instead I emotionally bonded with my "TV Dads". Positive (in my mind) role models like Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) on The Rifleman. Lloyd Bridges on Sea Hunt. There were others. And there was Kirk on Star Trek. Hey, that's just how it was in my childhood brain and it got me through my childhood, sooo....

My little brother Kim, five years my junior, liked Star Trek too (my step dad  by the way, was HIS dad). Kim later died of liver cancer in 1975 after a couple of difficult years after diagnosis. He died days from being 15 in 1975. A real MOW story, that one. Painful.

Mom had said we could call the Telethon, donate a few bucks just to get to talk to Kirk. So me, my little brother and mom got on the phone long distance to Seattle. We waited on the line for nearly forty minutes before we got someone on from Star Trek. Kirk was the end all be all for me and my brother at that time and always had been.

Though after a short time, Spock did somewhat overshadow him. But it really was always the team of Kirk and Spock, and Bones, and Scotty, and the others. That's just how that show was. It was family.

We never did get to hear from William Shatner that day. Never have since, not that he knew any of this. Not until he tweeted back at me yesterday, May 7, 2017. Finally. I got closure to this story after nearly 50 years! I can now die a happy man in that realm.

Here's an excerpt from my 2012 blog on this:

A few years before I read the LOTR trilogy, my little brother by five years, Kim and I got to talk to Nimoy when he and Shatner were in Seattle for the Jerry Lewis Telethon in the late 60s. We badly wanted to talk to Capt. Kirk. He was after all, "The Man" (or "The Captain" if you prefer). And so we waited on the phone for forty minutes! It was long distance and my brother and I, both breathless, and our mom, all waited on different phone extensions.

Finally the phone guy who answered the phone at the Telethon said, "You know, Mr. Shatner is just too much in demand. It's going to be hard to get him online. Everyone wants to talk to him. Would you like to talk to Leonard Nimoy, Spock", instead?"

Our mom, knowing this was costing us maybe as much as the little she was going to pledge, convinced us to talk to Nimoy. We were a bit crushed. We said okay, but we were a bit disappointed. Then we realized, were going to get to talk to Spock!

So he gets on the phone and says, "Hello boys, how are you doing?"

I'll never forget it. That Nimoy/Spock voice. Amazing. We were on the phone with Spock! Hearing his voice locked up our own voice/brain/life and no one said a word. Finally our Mom said, "I think the boys are in shock. Say something boys. Mr. Nimoy is busy. Talk to him."

Nimoy just chuckled. I'm sure he was used to it by now. So he just stated talking, getting us finally to and tentatively speak to him. We talked to him for a few minutes and then he thanked us for our pledge and mom talked to him for a second; and then... it was over.

Later, when we got the phone bill, our mom almost had a heart attack. She said maybe there is a way around this. So she called the phone company and complained at there being a forty minute long-distance bill to the Telethon.

She called the phone company and reasoned with them, "Why in the world would we call and talk for forty minutes when all we were doing was to call to make a quick pledge"

That sounded rational to the operator. So they removed the charge from the bill and we got a free forty minute phone call to Seattle to talk to Spock, for free. She thought that was cooler than our getting to talk to Leonard Nimoy and would mention it from time to time. She had gotten one over on "Ma Bell"!

This is funny. About the Shatner thing yesterday.

I was (still am) beat to hell from this weekend (and allergies aren't helping...I had one beer on Saturday but yesterday probably looked like I'd been on a three day bender).

I had more fun this weekend than I've had in a month of Sundays. After telling my son that William Shatner tweeted back too me, my son said yesterday that I should tweet to him about our unknown-to-Shatner, 1960s connection... and finally how finally we communicated after the debacle of trying to talk to him decades ago when I was just a kid (see previous post). And he never even knew about it. As I'm sure there are so many of these kinds of stories when you are someone as famous as Shatner.

As a side note, it was late yesterday when I was tired and just wanted make it, staying up late enough to go to bed and get some sleep. My son said I should tweet to Shatner about this connection I had with him from my childhood. I said to my son (to paraphrase), "Maybe I'll post something tomorrow about it. What If he called me or something, who knows? I'm not really even functional at this point."

Then today my son tweeted something himself about it. So feeling rested finally, I went ahead and responded. I got that out to where Shatner could see it. He did, as you know he responded, and thus, this blog came into being.

But my son last night had started laughing when I said I might tweet something after I get rest, the next day. I asked why he was laughing. He said (again to paraphrase), "Listen to yourself. You'll post tomorrow in case William Shatner might call you? Think about that? How cool is that even to be able to say it?" And he laughed again. I thought about it, and so did I.

Point well taken.

And finally...Thanks, Mr. Shatner!

Monday, May 8, 2017

America's Existential President

a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.

the science of phenomena as distinct from that of the nature of being.
an approach that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience.

When I was getting my degree in psychology from Western Washington University, I began to notice two things.

Of my fellow students there were some who went the existential path and others, fewer (and I was one) who went the phenomenological path. We were all similar, but with an important difference. Myself and my phenomenological friends were observers. The existentialists wanted to affect things, to put their imprint upon it. And this is important, if it pleased them. And they had many rationales for that. I was surprised they couldn't see it, no matter how much I (we) tried to explain that orientation to them.

My girlfriend and I lived together through our college years, and took many of the same classes. We studied together. We finished each other's sentences to an absurd degree that caused our professor one day in class to stop us and make us prove we were actually saying something. We were. He was stunned, because we were carrying on a conversation in paragraphs by using single words.

The first thing I noticed was that those who went the existential path, leaned toward a more hedonistic view of life. The second was, my girlfriend was heading down that path.

So what?

What I started to notice was those who took the existential path seemed to be using it to justify their doing whatever they wanted. They were the ones who were having affairs, who were stepping out on their significant others. The phenomenology students seemed to be more centered, more socially responsible (both groups were, but the latter seemed to put themselves forward as a primary element).

Once I started to notice that, I noticed how self oriented the existential people's arguments were. Sometimes to the point of invalidating their arguments. I liked hedonistic pursuits as much as they next person, I just wouldn't put my own desires or needs before that of others, if those others might suffer for my actions.

I wasn't seeing that in the existential crowd. They were simply narcissists of varying degrees. Yes, college is that time to be that way. To test limits, to experience the novel situation and environments. It is something however that you should resolve before you are into your mid twenties, or you twenties overall. It is not something we should be seeing in your 60s or 70s.

I should have seen it coming. I never went out on my girlfriend. But in the end, after we graduated college, after we moved back home into a house together, I discovered she was having an affair with a coworker. That ended our many year relationship. I took it hard and it literally nearly killed me over that next eighteen month period.

And yes, in the end, after it passed, after I survived it, I was much stronger for it. I just had never had a girlfriend (or wife) have an affair on me. Or for that matter, break up with me. I was thirty when this happened and I simply had no coping mechanisms to deal with that kind of thing. So I partied myself nearly to death. Slept around. Kind of went off the deep end.

I'm seeing now so much of all this in our current president. In my experience, this isn't a good thing. Because no one is as important, as that individual, to that individual. We are at the whim of what he wants, what pleases him. At our expense, because we simply do not count. Unless it affects him.

Obviously, this isn't true of all existentialists. But it certainly is true about Pres. Donald J. Trump. I also notice this in many Republicans. Though those who are beginning now to oppose him, simply aren't as much the narcissist as he is.

Since a stopped clock is always correct twice a day, every day of the week, 24/7/365, Pres. Trump will surely do some things that are good for us. It's inevitable. However, I do not expect great things to come of a Trump presidency. Far from it.

The concept of existentialism can be intoxicating
phenomenology to me, just seemed more mature, enlightened.
A coherent and educated individual, observing.

Allow me to leave you with this....Fascism.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Conservatism and Self-Righteousness

Originally I wrote this for our 240th Independence Day. It seemed appropriate to wish America a very happy birthday and all the best for us and the world in all our joint and separate, future endeavors.

It's been almost fifteen years since the 9/11 attack. An attack by foreigners. Enough of the conspiracy theories already. Enough of diluting reality to support conservative agendas. Supporting ignorance, fear, stupidity, greed, self absorption and now with Pres. Trump, self aggrandizement.

It seems appropriate at this time to discuss this, our national, and international, conservative diseases.

That means Trump is merely symptomatic of this social disease, along with other authoritarians worldwide and, modern conservatism in general. Original conservatism from previous centuries wasn't such a bad thing. But today, it most certainly is. It has become the internal slayer of nations.

Newt Gingrich was in many ways our most recent conservative patient zero. Our national case of herpes. Does hearing that annoy you? Yes? Are you a conservative? Does hearing that annoy you but you're not a conservative? Yes? Are you slamming liberals or the democratic party?

Ask yourself if you find you are expounding conservative beliefs... and really don't know it. Or won't, or perhaps simply can't admit it.

Just for a focal point, are you purely anti-Hillary? Do you know why? Exactly why? Have you vetted your beliefs and reasons? Or do you just read memes on Facebook? One thing America has way too much of right now is the armchair political quarterback. People who "know" what's best, but best on very suspect information.

However this is not just the common "Joe" at home with a beer anymore. Now it's professional pundits and news presenters too. For profit news has ruined our country and world in many ways. You don't feed the public news they want, you feed them what they need. You certainly don't lead with what they want, you lead with what is most important on that day with a consideration for the long term. Otherwise, what in the hell do you think you are doing? And, why?

Anyway, we cannot just solely blame the little guys anymore. Although the information is out there. But when you have such bad information and web sites, it's hard for some people to know what is what anymore.

How many of your reasons against Hillary were from decades of building and reinforcing the conservative bubble? Are you only seeing her down sides? Because everyone has them as all their opponents have pointed out. And then, there's the Russians. Now an officially acknowledged fact and no longer conjecture.

Well we're all human, after all. Though considering Trump. maybe not so much, I really donno.

Hillary was originally against gay marriage, but she was not against gays. Considering what she went through and her background, that she ever changed on that is something to consider. I don't care if it seems someone changes just for political expediency, as long as they do and stay the course. How does it matter? At issue is whether she chooses a position and leaves it once as President. Just as it is with any candidate. Just as Trump has failed to do now.

If someone makes bad choices and then they start making better choices, who cares why the reason, as long as they start onto that better path? Trump is a special case however because he cut himself off at the knees over all that during his campaign. But other than with him, that is the American way. For some of you that is the Christian way.

So if you are a Christian, get with your own program.

If you're not, then just try being rational.

Do you feel that feeling of revulsion against her in explaining why you're anti Hillary? Do you feel it possible you could be wrong about her? No? You know what that feeling is? It's self righteousness.

The core of the conservative movement, and of the Republican party anymore ever since it was taken over by foolishness, by divisiveness, by extremism. This is really all about extremism masked as conservatism. Either way it's here to stay. For now, anyway.

It's addictive, it's pleasurable and it comes out of the religious right. The NRA has used it to boost their agenda. Republicans have picked up on it and used it to boost theirs and the NRA's agenda and they dovetail it nicely into the Christian right's agenda.

Are you self righteous? Because if you think you are a left wing liberal and yet you are pushing these right wing bubble points, well, there's your sign. You're now a cloaked conservative.

Don't get me wrong. Self righteousness can be fun. But it's masturbatory. It's stroking one's own ego. It feels like it's right all through you, and through your understanding of things. Even, if you like, up through religion to God. So how can you NOT like that, love it, immerse yourself in it?

Even if you're not religious. Even if you're an atheist, or just a so called atheist.

This is why we're in this situation today in America, and around the world. WE have allowed untruths to propagate because of self-righteousness, because of...religion. People talk about all the good religion has done in the history of the world, which is really kind of countered by all the bad it has done. All in order to be "Truthful".

There is one truth however that we have failed to notice and that we are now seeing run rampant around the country, both in our politics and around the entire world. Believers are following false beliefs. Many are now using those beliefs against others for their own benefit and to our great comparative detriment both indirectly and directly, and of  perfectly innocent people. Many who simply do not know any better.

Be careful the environment you find yourself in, it can seep into your consciousness and you can start to view things differently. If not from "Stockholm Syndrome" then at least from the old adage, "we are what we eat". Or more directly, you can start to view things in the ways that are basic to your normal environment.

This is the reason why we need to push back against religion in general as a force to be reckoned with, to be dealt with. Otherwise we will have this insanity just continue on and on. The sooner we all start to believe in reality and not beliefs from ancient times, the sooner we will start to get a handle on world problems. The sooner we will begin to put down and disallow these sociopathic abusers to take advantage of society and our resources for their own and only their own benefit.

I don't have a problem with anyone being a believer. IF it is kept in perspective. Not just with reality, where especially in America all are welcome to choose a favorite delusion. But we really need to if not keep it to ourselves, just not to force it onto others. Especially not at the end of a knife, a rifle or that of a bomb's destructive sphere.

It's dense information sharing time....

Check out atheist AmonRa's video in part about this: AronRa's Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb's questions for "evolutionists".

Merrian-Webster defines self-righteous as:

:  convinced of one's own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others :  narrow-minded moralistic

It is a component of the addicted brain, and there is a chemistry to it.

One researcher in Psychology Today labeled it The Goody Two Shoes Syndrome.

"As much as we loathe hypocrites, we may dislike the self-righteous even more. Any person who presents himself as morally unimpeachable is making an "implicit indictment" of everyone else that is "irksome to the mainstream," finds a recent study in Social Psychological and Personality Science."

Which is also to say, not just that we don't like them, but they find and revel in their "implicit indictments". We internally object to their narrow self justifications, which frequently aren't based on reality. Ever talked to a staunch conservative about guns?

The thing here is that we tend to severely dislike those who are self righteous and obviously wrong with the added issue of knowing that they are foolish and ignorant. Even in the face many times of easily attainable and actual facts. They make conclusions without enough information out of a frustration typically due to a lack of that information, and of control over their lives. Sometimes, merely over a false sense of their lack of control over their own life. I get that. But we have to be careful.

For those others however it is also seriously dislikable in experiencing the self righteous in those who are absolutely right and correct in their beliefs and contentions. The issue there especially when you actually are right, is a degree of intensity. IF you are correct, you do not need to force excessive amounts of emotion or disdain into it. If you're right, you're right. Truth usually does win out in the end. The trouble comes where and when that will finally happen.

An article in Huffington Post pushes further into the self-righteous syndrome:

"We often engage in internal dialogues with ourselves, some of which we never evaluate or examine. They keep going on and on, driving us to judge and react to situations and people without even being aware of why. We all do these self-talks, but we mess up when we let these have power over us rather than the other way around. There are many irrational thoughts that have no basis in reality. Here are a few of the irrational thoughts that bring about a state of self-righteousness (i.e., “I am right and you are wrong”):"

1. All-or-nothing thinking: When one sees things in black-and-white terms and has very limited vision. If something, someone, or some belief falls short of what this individual sees as perfect, he or she sees it as worthless or a total failure.
2. Overgeneralizations: People who over generalize take a single negative incident and exaggerate it. These individuals have a lot of use for words like “always,” “never,” “all” and “no one,” extreme words that by themselves can create radical thinking.
3. Mental filters: This is when a person picks one or a few negative events and dwells on them to make them look much bigger, darkening his or her vision of reality. It is as if you drop one droplet of ink into a whole bucket of water.
4. Discounting the positive: This is when the person rejects anything positive related to a situation, thinking that they “don’t really matter.”
5. Jumping to conclusions: This is when a person comes up with conclusions when there are no logical, scientific, or unbiased facts to support those conclusions.
6. “Should” statements: This is when a person tells herself that everyone and everything “should” be the way she thinks, functions and is comfortable with. People who make a lot of personal “should” statements usually experience a lot of negative emotions like guilt and frustration, or even anxiety. Should statements that are directed at other people, or at the world in general, lead to anger and frustration (e.g., “He shouldn’t think like this”)? This way of thinking is counterproductive, because it creates feelings of rebelliousness and separates you from those who don’t think the same way.

Then there is this article from Psychology Today:

"The specter of mental illness does indeed loom large over creationists, but they are not alone. Signs of psychopathology can also be seen among their political bedfellows, conservative politicians, especially when you consider a wide range of illness indicators. In his award-winning 2005 book, Dr. James Whitney Hicks discusses 50 signs of mental illness including denial, delusion, hallucination, disordered thinking, anger, anti-social behavior, sexual preoccupation, grandiosity, general oddness, and paranoia. Now I'm no clinician, but in my (admittedly biased brown) eyes it seems that prominent Republicans have evidenced each of these ten telltale signs of mental illness over the past year:"

1) Denial: humans did not evolve;  Obama is not a native-born American Christian
2) Delusion: climate is not changing
3) Hallucination: God ordained me to be President
4) Disordered Thinking: being for small government that's huge in the bedroom;  being anti-contraception and anti-abortion
5) Anger: Newt Gingrich’s perpetual scowl
6) Anti-social Behavior: toward women, gays, minorities, anyone without an umbilical cord or trust fund
7) Sexual Preoccupation: a fervent compulsion to control when we can mate, with whom we can mate, and precisely how we are allowed to mate (which I lampoon in Why Do Politicians Want to Police Dick and Jane's Private Parts?)
8) Grandiosity: even Rick Santorum recognizes Gingrich’s “over the moon” grandiosity
9) General Oddness: Ron Paul
10) Paranoia: pretty much all of them, all of the time
Even (the not necessarily dumb) Pope Francis appears to recognize that “it is a serious illness, this of ideological [conservative] Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

Back now to less dense information....

Conservatism and self-righteousness, these are just other flavors of a few knuckle draggers who exist in our country and the world over. Those who drag along with them the masses who do not see what is being done to them. It is a disease that has long been coming out of the woodworks of the world. Like mold on food in the back of a fridge that has not been managed well or often enough.

We let this happen to us in not standing up to the nonsense from conservatives and religious nutcases, their nutgroups and their nutbelief systems. But be careful, they will mix in just enough truth and reality to poison choosing not to believe once you are assimilated into their mindset. It's like quitting smoking to a smoker, for some, it's impossible to quit, even when you know better. For those who do smoke, they can be overly aggressive against their old addiction. Which is offputting to many and counterproductive to the "anti" activist, the anti smoker, anti drinker, or anti conservative or theist.

We have really kind of asked for this and now we are reaping the detrimental misfortunes of it.

And so we can also rectify it by doing what manages it correctly and by paying attention, standing up to it, speaking out against it and shouting down idiocy whenever it crops up. But it has to be done in such a way as to allow those types to save face and find it in their hearts and minds to alter their addictions. Even then, just as in how long this has taken to get here, it will take time to rid ourselves of it.

I'm talking about pushing reality on people who purposely avoid it, who fear it, because of either defective belief systems, selfishness, or outright greed.

It will happen, not to worry. Remember when I said that truth always wins out?

More so, reality always wins out. I just hope it's before we destroy ourselves and not through this planet reclaiming its original natural beauty... without humankind.

We have to be careful about delving into the skewed psyche of these new kinds of "news" entities and the conservative mindset or numbset itself as it exists today. The question is, does information coming from sites like those count, is it accurate? Specifically and potentially at times perhaps, but in the general and long term, typically no. And that is what you have to be aware of, every second.

Now that being said, and you won't hear conservatives saying this, we also have to be careful of our own beliefs and our greater political leanings. But that does not mean you should abandon your own beliefs for a skew that makes things merely appear real. I noticed this in someone once years ago. 

Listening to this person I too was upset at what they were telling me until...I left them that day. It took about fifteen minutes after I left them before reality started to seep back into my consciousness. I just (luckily) happened to have some relevant facts at my fingertips. When I compared the reality I knew to be true against what this person had told me, the world they had been weaving for me fell quickly away. 

I was stunned and realized that I had been sucked into their delusions, their negative delusions about people we both knew, and the world at large. But while I was with that person listening, I fully was taken in. They were being disingenuous, and negative but I also knew they didn't know what they were doing. I realized two things at that moment. 1) they were delusional, seemed authentic but 2) they were exhibiting evil in a pure, nearly autonomous sense. 

It was that day I realized that true evil existed in the world and it wasn't just murderous warlords or terrorists, but was also simply when someone or some entity professed something to be true for their own devices (or not, though in that case they too are their own victim) while it was not. People then go and act on that incorrect belief and all the bad that comes of it affects many, not just the one.

Thus it is the basis of conspiracy theory to weave truths with lies (misinformation), and to skew reality (disinformation) in such a way as to be indistinguishable from the truth, while performing some directed intention away from its original course. 

Enter the world of the insane, while you to them are the ones who are insane.

The conservative model of political monitoring as we've seen repeatedly (though apparently only of their opponents as you may (should) have noticed) is that there seems to be a ghost around every corner. Or a commie or a gay or ethic whomever the latest flavor of disdain might happen to be.

Trouble is, odds of there being a ghost around most of those corners is niil to zero for most of the time.

How does one get to a point of distrusting literally everything they disagree with? And one's self? Broken childhood obviously. Which most of us have had in one way or another.

Or a disillusion of some sort. also possibly from childhood. Something deep seated, some unfilled hole in your logic when one day you find a "logic" that fits and seals up that hole. Even if it couldn't be more inaccurate, more incorrect.

So why did just some of them choose to not trust anything, anywhere? A perceived lack of control in childhood? Raised in a family too religious or strict? Thing is, once we become adults we need to own it. Shrug off the fears, the distrust, the scary monsters and face reality. To think. Not to overthink, but to accurately think. Not finding "truth" through a lack of information, but truth through and when you have enough information.

Study conspiracy theory and those personality types who adhere to it. It's interesting reading. The trouble with most conspiracy theory types is that they never study conspiracy theory itself. They just dive in thinking they have the skills to survive it. Those who don't are typically the ones we hear from the most and the loudest. 

If someone says something they agree with, even if it's nonsense, then it must be true. Why bother checking into it when there are so many they disagree with, so many they can simply push all their fears and distrust upon, their anger and bigotry into? 

Just makes sense, right? And who cares. It just feels good!

Besides if you never see the world as shades of grey rather than black and white, only right against wrong, you are always right half of the time. Right? Or no? Like the stopped clock, always right twice a day. It's safe. It's too safe. It's defective. 

The most concerning element now a days are these current forms of extremism (see, How extreme beliefs, not mental illness, may fuel mass shooters), which are the brainchildren of instant media, and of for-profit news, of the internet in general, but not of bipartisanship as it should be taken to its natural conclusion.

Now that anyone can speak out to the masses, we are seeing a great deal of ignorance being sold online as knowledge and insight. When really it is just the lowest level of intellect mixed with a lot of negativity, being sold as correct and proper information. Even though it is the antithesis of the definition of real information and just comes off as insane to anyone with a valid sense of what was once called, common sense. What is taken now for common sense is simply that, common. Lacking much if any sense at all.

So. In just being negative, sooner or later you'll probably be right. Besides, most of those liberals are retards and corrupt, unlike good Christian conservatives and Republicans. Right? Those types never do bad things. Right? Name one Republican governor or congressman who has done anything bad, ever. Right?

Best of all? You only need two brain cells to rub together in order to make that model of self-righteousness work. Even if you ARE wrong most of the time, it lights up your inner self-importance and who doesn't just love that? Self conflation is the order of the day, it would seem.

Kind of brilliant if you think about it. And what a form of energy conservation!

Finally if you cannot buy any of this as presented above, perhaps this presented below will make you happy:

Obama Outed As Secret Muslim By Anonymous - Conservatives Said 'We Told You So.'

Happy "the lunatics have taken over the asylum", America!


Monday, April 24, 2017

Evolution of a Conspiracy Theory

The difference between a professional and an amateur in this game...

Professionals connect the dots between seemingly unrelated things that actually do have a foundation or a connection in their relationships and evaluate degrees of viability and veracity.

Amateurs simply assume there are these connections because they want them to be there, and/or they simply "believe" they "might" be there. To be fair many amateurs are semi professionals and the true issue is with those who simply do not know what they are doing, don't take the time to learn what and how they should be doing things, and throw caution to the wind, typically for benefit of an ideology or an agenda. All too typically, foolish ones.

There is also a degree of their wanting to appear smarter than they are, also typically without putting in the grunt work to build those mental muscles and skills. Then even when they do put in the grunt work, they end up building those mental muscles in all the wrong ways, leading them further from the truth rather than ever getting closer to it.

Professionals on the other hand, get better and better at their deductions deliberations. While those amateurs seem to simply get worse and worse as their beliefs become more and more far fetched.

It's rather like navigating a ship. If you chart a course at the beginning and it's wrong (because you really don't know what you're doing), in your being off by even a degree at the start, you will eventually end up in another and wrong country at the end. One also has to do course occasional corrections.

Two things conspiracy nuts typically don't seem to even know about. There are a few things one can do to avoid these mistakes. Like starting out to shoot down your accept beliefs. Searching for the "Truth" regardless where it leads you. And being willing to keep an open mind. Whenever you fun into something that seems too good to be true, because you want to believe it, be wary of that and dig much deeper.

There is truly little reason to be made a fool of, by oneself.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

1972's 3rd Earth Day (repost)

Today, is Earth Day! Hurrah Earth! One wonders how we'd like it if the Earth treated us how we treat our planet?

This is a repost of my original blog about my first Earth Day event on the third ever, back in 1972.

We really do need to push ourselves and our governments (and other's) to leave things better than when we found them, rather than abusing things for fun and profit. Existence on this planet, IS a profit for us by the way.

We need to do big things as well as the little things to sustain and fix our planet. The biggest thing we can do however is to change our ways of thinking, especially as it relates to big money and governments.

As individuals, we need a paradigm shift in our thoughts about how we live, how our community and country lives and how others live in their countries. The world is a contained unit. It's like we all live in the same room and if someone lights up a cigar, we all suffer for it through their pleasure. If someone does one bad behavior, it does have a ripple effect across the room, or the world.

Like the burning of tropical forests to plant palm trees for palm oil. A hugely destructive and yet, profitable behavior. Insects are dying off, like bees and when they go, they say, we go. Insects after all, do not need us, we need them for survival.

We need to act on climate change whether or not is is affected by our activities as there is great debate among the laymen about that, although there is not among informed people, like scientists. We need to at least think about our planet and our actions. We need at least one day a year to think about it. We need to therefore think about it, at least, on that one day.

Wednesday April 22nd, 2015 - Earth Day
Earth Day is an annual event, celebrated on April 22, on which day events worldwide are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970, and is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and celebrated in more than 192 countries each year. - Wikiipedia

It's a day of respect for the planet we live on. I reflect on how we have and are treating it, and to feel gratitude it would deserve just as if it were a person. It's what we humans have to do sometimes, to anthropomorphise things in order to see the degree of respect that we should attribute toward them, for our own benefit.

Here's an interesting web site for today,, the Earth Day Network. Also, there is BTNW to take a different slant on things..

I first because aware of Earth Day when it was started. I took a NAUI certified SCUBA class that year in 10th grade at and through the Tacoma, Washington Lincoln high school that I was attending, eventually to graduate from in 1973.

I started this blog only about Earth Day but then in the writing of it something became obvious to me and that was that my famous diving instructor, Bert Thomas, seems to have disappeared in history.

Allow me to say that I'm a better person for having known and learned from Mr. Thomas, as is much of the world. As a SCUBA diver and one trained by Bert Thomas, as well as having been a life long resident of such a special place as the Pacific Northwest with it's many waterways, diversity of population and life, and its amazing places to visit on land, I could only grew up with an innate sense of ecology. I also took two quarters of Oceanography in college.

So I'm going to tell you a little story and give you some background. Allow me to explain....
Bill's Boathouse 2013
When I was just starting high school, a local dive shop called Bill's Boathouse located on American Lake in Steilacoom, Washington, wanted to run a trial to train and certify local high school students toward their SCUBA certifications. This would increase awareness of SCUBA diving overall as the infant recreation diving sport that it was, as well as increase sales for the products the dive shop was selling.

Lead by Bert Thomas, world famous for a variety of things such as attempting to be the first to swim the English Channel, and successfully swimming Seattle to Tacoma as well as helping Jacques Cousteau in the development of the aqualung or S.C.U.B.A. system (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) back when Bert was a Navy hard hat deep sea diver.

Bert also swam non-stop from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada and there is now a plaque on Ediz Hook indicating the location he swam away from at Port Angeles..He swam the 18.3 mile distance in 11 hours on his fifth attempt on July 8, 1955, almost two months before I was even born. 1,500 people where there to meet him when he arrived in Victoria, BC.

Port Angeles, WA
Although he had failed in his attempt to be the first person to swim the English Channel, he then not only crossed the channel from Cape Griz Nez, France to Dover, England, he was then "pulled from the water after reaching about midway on the return trip."

May 15, 1956. 
Bert was born in Durango, CO, but called the PNW and Tacoma, Washington his home.He was a Marine drill instructor in San Diego and a platoon sergeant in a demolition unit. Later he was a Navy frogman instructor at Pearl Harbor.

Odd. My first Ishinryu Karate Sensei the also great bear of a man, the great Steve Armstrong was also a Marine DI only in Okinawa. I don't use "great" lightly with either of these men, either. Bert has been described as a "human polar bear" and a "professional cork".
"Description: Tacoma distance swimmer Bert Thomas is embraced by his wife Mary at the end of his swim from West Seattle to Old Tacoma on May 15, 1956. Thomas swam the 18.5 miles in 15 hours, 23 minutes in 40 degree water battered by high winds and the tide. His feet touched the bottom for the first time at 3:05 a.m., 15 feet out from the shore. Visibly exhausted, he staggered in to shore and collapsed in his wife's arms. He appeared ghostly white with blue lips. His wife struggled to get him into his bathrobe to warm up. When he could speak, the ex-frogman's first words were "Man, it was quite a haul." Mrs. Thomas had supported him on the swim, aboard the "Sharon Two." She fed him through a tube every hour and lit the cigarette that he smoked, continuing the swim on his back. Also aboard the craft was his 12 year old daughter Sharon and Erling Bergerson. The other support craft was the "Memories," skippered by George Peterson. (TNT 5-15-1956, p.1) ALBUM 9". -

Oddly, coincidentally enough (considering this blog today), Bert ended his 15.5 hour swim from Faultleroy, Seattle, 18.5 miles on May 14, 1956, at the Tacoma Old Town dock (I'll get back to that in a minute) where there were 5,000 people to meet him.

Having known him personally, he and his wife also got to be friends with my mother and sister, both of whom who were motivated by my achieving my own SCUBA certification in getting their certifications. I can honestly say that Bert was a truly great man to know and be trained by. My NAUI certified SCUBA card was signed by the great Bert Thomas himself. It indicates that I had 41 hours of training and I received my certification in May 1971.

In writing this blog, I found very little record of Bert online (there are however these interesting photos and descriptions I did find). So, I thought I'd go into a little more about him out of respect so at least he will be slightly memorialized in more detail, somewhere.

My SCUBA card signed by Bert Thomas and dated 1970
Bert was a great bear of a guy and a pleasure to be around. When they opened their second dive shop, Philippe Cousteau sent a bouquet of flowers to the shop. The dive instructors were a great bunch of guys and Bert was a real character. As was old Bill, who owned Bill's Boathouse, though he was old even back then when I knew him.
Bert Thomas Obituary, 

Bert's fatal event, as it was explained to me, was in attempting to stop a student surfacing too fast during an open salt water certification dive. A new diver thing to do which can be potentially lethal, as it was for Bert. As one of his students was rushing to the surface, Bert raced up after him to stop him from getting the "bends", also known as decompression sickness, divers' disease, or caisson disease.

Officially, Bert died on Thursday, June 8, 1972, having suffered a heart attack at Tacoma General Hospital. It's been conjectured however by one of his dive instructors, that it was that event with the student that led to his passing. 

The student came to his senses and stopped on his own, but by then Bert had too much momentum and couldn't stop himself from surfacing too quickly himself. He was rushed to the hospital but didn't make it which isn't unusual in this kind of thing.

However, he died doing what he loved, diving and teaching.

Before all this happened, we had started a SCUBA club at my high school.

Lincoln High School Newspaper Oct. 22, 1971

Those teachers in my high school SCUBA class also included Mr. Vincent, my biology teacher who initially didn't want me in his class, kept throwing me out of his class (usually for good reason) and just didn't much like me. But after we had to do ditch and don in he school pool where you have to dive to the pool bottom and ditch your gear, surface, breathe, then dive and don your gear, his attitude about me from that day forward dramatically changed for the better.

Mr. Vincent, Biology Teacher May 1971
He nearly drowned (he thought so anyway, though he was fine aside from a little sputtering) and I was there to help him. Being the fish in water I had always been, I gave him some support and advice and did not make fun of him, but showed him compassion.

The Author (right) on open (saltwater) certification dive May 1971
I had several years of search and rescue experience, being a commander of others in Civil Air Patrol and before that in Karate. Yes, I was a pain in class for a teacher sometimes. But in a real life situation, especially a dangerous one, I was very effective both as a leader and a companion in arms, so to speak.
Diving in 1978 in Hawaii at a vacant Hanauma Bay on O'ahau Island.
Once he saw that side of me, everything changed between us. We never became best buds, but he did have a respect for me from then on that equaled the one I had always had for him, from the beginning.

Over that next year or so the now officially certified students of the first 1970 Lincoln High school graduating SCUBA class, all kept talking. At first we joked that our next effort would have to be sky diving and for some of us, that happened (for me nearly two years later when I was 17, then ended up a parachute rigger in the USAF years later, among other things like working on the B-52 nuclear bomber\weapons platform).

We started the Lincoln High SCUBA Club. One day someone brought up that we needed to do something to raise people's awareness of SCUBA diving and concerns about our planet, conservation, and clean up. Someone mentioned the new Earth Day.

If you lived in Puget Sound, you'd know many of us who grew up here are highly concerned about our environment.

It's like living on a microcosm of an ocean at your front door. We are seafood lovers, nature lovers, mountain climbers and hiker.

Washington state has just about everything here other than tropical environments, though we do have rain forests (I live in one), but we also have deserts, mountains, waterways and so on. You can go to where there is snow, and that same day to a desert, any time of the year.

We kicked around ideas of what kind of event to plan, where, why. We finally decided on cleaning up under the Tacoma Old Town Dock.

Tacoma Old Town Dock History
"Old Town Dock was first built in 1873 and served the shipping industry until trade operations moved to the Tideflats. After that it quickly transitioned into a popular public space. It was closed in 2008 after an engineering study found it to be too weak for pedestrians. After five years and $2.3 million in renovations, it reopened May 15, 2013."

Our thinking was that this dock had been around "forever" and had to have a lot  of junk under it that didn't need to be there. We knew we couldn't even make a dent in it, but it was a statement and figured, wasn't that was Earth Day was all about? To bring things to people's attention and in the course of that, do even a little good?

It was agreed and decided to go forward with it. It occurred to me that without people knowing we were doing it, it wasn't much of a statement. So I mentioned that if we were going to do this, someone needed to get the attention of the media, so people would hear about it in a timely fashion, or at all.

I was designated to find the attention. I wasn't exactly thrilled with that as it seemed a bit daunting for an 11th grader, but I brought it up, so...I got it. I followed through. I called TV stations. No one would bite. I'm still not sure why they found it uninteresting but concepts like Earth Day back there were still thought of by many as just "more hippy crap".

It seemed like an obvious video event to shoot and a good news piece as a human interest story, though admittedly, someone contacting the media wasn't thought about until the last minute and so I was calling mere days before the event.

One TV station suggested newspapers and so I called around from bigger to smaller. Finally I got one to bite who said they''d send a photographer. Success! They were a small publication called the "Tacoma Review (Combined with Tacoma Buyer's Guide)".

Sure enough, the Tacoma Review photographer showed up.

1972 Tacoma Earth Day Old Tacoma Dock SCUBA clean up
From the article: EARTH WEEK PROJECT - Lincoln High School's SCUBA Club and ecology class cleaned up the area around the Old Town Dock and their Earth Week project, a different approach to the ecology movement. A diver enters the water [me] and later [actually another diver] brings up some debris below the surface. An added bonus is shown in the right photo, a hitchhiking starfish is brought up to aid in the study of marine biology. - Tacoma Review photos

Under the docks we found trash, lots of it but I also found a few antique bottles I kept, some medicine some alcohol but all small at around six inches high. Within a year, I donated them to an older friend of the family, to her husband who had a bottle collection and was old and very ill. He died within a year or so but the bottles had cheered him up. Although I'd love to have those bottles now, I simply cannot feel any  regret in my actions.

LHS SCUBA Club Diver extracting under dock garbage
We also found several bicycles, and more than a few fishing poles. We assumed that people biked to the dock to fish and wind or accident found their transportation and fishing poles in the deep water, lost to them forever.

It was eerie diving under that dock, among the wood pilings encrusted with sea life, barnacles, mussels, sea anemones. That previous Christmas, I had gotten some SCUBA tanks from my parents. Duel 72 cu. in. US Divers brand, black, steel tanks. I could stay down for about an hour around 30-40' with proper and controlled breathing, which takes a little practice (first rule of SCUBA diving: "Stay Calm!" always, breathe slow and easy).
Your humble narrator diving under the  Old Tacoma Dock 1972
When the newspaper came out and I saw the diver with the dual tanks, being the only one in the club with duals, I knew it was me and that I had made the front page! Pretty cool, especially since I called them to come shoot photos of us. I got ride of the gear over the years as it got older but I still have those French, Flotante fins as well as my US Divers Turbo fins (which didn't float) and my wrap around mask, though I haven't been diving in some years.

In the end, this was the end of this event. The few who read the edition of the Tacoma Review with us on the front cover knew about it, but no one called, and I didn't pursue more media attention even though we had made it into a local newspaper. Now I know, I should have followed up, but I was sixteen. The event was Saturday, the newspaper came out on that next Wednesday. And that was the end of it.

After high school graduation the SCUBA club fell apart, or at least, I wasn't around anymore. We had done the Earth Day event. We had done several group dives. And that was it. I'm not even sure if there were other dive classes, but I believe there were until I graduated and I know they had moved into other area high schools to teach, but I don't' know how that all turned out. I know they had expanded to another dive shop and were doing well last I heard around that time.

All of this led to my producing a wood block print (linoleum block actually) of a free diver. Not great but for a 10th grader with no talent for art, not too shabby either. This is the only surviving print of the eight print run in Mr. Thomas' Creative Crafts class.

"Skin Diver" print 8 of 8, May 1971
Now, getting back to the original point of this little jaunt into history back to the beginning of the advent of Earth Day....

We all need to help our most favorite planet, to consider how we relate to it, and how we should act toward it.

It doesn't have to be a large effort, some international committee you set up, or even a small Earth Day SCUBA diving clean up under a dock type of event. It doesn't in fact have to be any kind of event at all as it is more about how we act on a daily basis that most counts. It can merely be in the way you talk to others about the earth and how we treat it. Or in your posting about it, or simply in your altering your habits even a little bit toward the better.

The earth is not unlike having a car when we were teenagers. It may get messy inside that car, after all its yours and you don't have to keep it as clean as your parents car, but eventually and hopefully, we mature to the point that we realize our environment indicates a big part of who we are and how we want to live.

If not taking care of that car leads to a lack of care about more important parts of the car than just the interior, things like the engine or the brakes, then eventually things will start to break down and one day, probably when we most need it, it will simply stop working.

When I think about Earth Day, I can't help but think about my first foray into environmental activism. or about Bert Thomas. Or the waters he swam in to break those records back even before I was born. I think about our Puget Sound waters and how there are places where there is so little oxygen in the waters now that there is nothing living there. I think about the huge ball of plastic the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I think about Japan's failed nuclear plant due not really to a tsunami but due to it's poor design and maintenance of their Fukushima plant, its radioactive materiel still floating around in the Pacific Ocean. I think about coal burning, carbon issues, war zone pollution, the killing off of the Amazon basin's forests. I wonder why we are so bent on killing ourselves, just for more money.

Take a moment this Earth Day to consider your environment, think about our truly amazing world and make a change. Or, two.

It's really not that hard to do and it's really the least we can do.

Not to mention it's really only in our benefit to do so.