Just Keep Swimming…

I have just now invoiced for seven different pieces I’ve written since the 26th of this month. It’s been a busy–and therefore good time. But that’s not all that was happening.

My wife Sue had been having some problems for sometime of the female variety and they’ve been going on for almost a year, now. However, pre-occupation with other things and Sue’s neglect of making an appointment led her to just recently deal with them.

Uterine cancer runs very strongly in her family with both her Aunt and her grandmother dying of the disease. When she finally told me the symptoms that she was having were those of the disease, well….you know what happened. No-honestly, I didn’t panic. But, I did get pretty scared. The thing about me is, I married a steady and calm woman and if she does get scared–and I’m sure she does–she doesn’t show it.

So, off to the Doctor of Female-ness (a gynecologist) where an examination was done and of course-a test. And, of course, the test came back abnormal. And then, of course, we had to wait for a time until they set up an ultrasound….on my birthday.

So, yesterday, my 44th birthday, we were fortuitous in Peanut’s invitation to her friend’s house to go swimming. We dropped her there and then off with us to the ultrasound room at the doc’s office. Paula, the technician, was more than nice. She was outstanding, completely trustworthy, kind and compassionate and with her words of “it’s your body and you have a right to know…” we were off and running. Well, I wasn’t. But…you get it.

The good news is that the examination revealed none of the signs typical of cancer. No fluid retention, no thickening of the uterine lining, no polyps or fibroids–none of those things. We were more than pleased–ecstatic was my word of the day. It was the best birthday present I could have gotten.

Still-there was a problem. Sue seems to have (and the doc will confirm that with her in a day or two) a condition known as Adenomyosis. I linked it here rather than go into any detail. She’ll probably require a hysterectomy at some point in the near future, but the condition is not life threatening. It is, however, painful.

So, combined with a wonderfully and blessedly busy schedule and a bit of stress that has resulted in nearly the best news possible, I write tonight with a new-found sense of relief, the likes of which I have not enjoyed for almost a year. I feel a kind of freedom tonight that has been missing for some time and I’m hoping it translates into a few days of much needed rest.

By the way, I have joined the Commemorative Air Force, which has a wing right here in Camarillo. I’ll be doing information and publicity for them and I’m excited about it. It’s worthy of its own post, though and I’ll do that on Friday.

Peace, gentles.

New digs, new gigs

A busy time, gentles, as I have spent the week hooking up, finishing up articles, bringing on new ones and interviewing various parties. I turned in six different pieces today alone. Good times.

So, I get to make the official announcement that I’ve got two new homes on the web, one of which I already mentioned and that is that I now contribute to The Disney Blog, John Frost’s inestimable site on all things Disney. Since I’m kind of a Disney fanatic, I really wanted the opportunity to write about it–and John has kindly provided that opportunity.

The other one that I am truly excited about is trueslant.com/markstorer

Trueslant is a website that touts itself as the future of media and there’s some validity to it, actually. My page is called, appropriately enough, “wino” and it deals with all things wine. I humbly ask you to visit and bookmark the site. Feel free to comment, to send me messages there and to participate in the process. It’s pretty cool. I’ve begun posting already and have two articles up. I anticipate signing a contract with them in a week or so after they see how well the site does. So–the more, the merrier.

I’ve also begun writing for Wine and Jazz magazine and have just finished a piece for them on my colleague Tom Wark, one of the finest P.R. representatives in the wine business. We’ve never met face to face, but have spoken a number of times on the phone and e-mailed. I did a profile feature of him that will appear in September’s issue.

Finally, my friend Cyrus Nowrasteh’s movie came out today and it is opening to strong reviews. I urge you to see the film as soon as you can. It is a powerful movie based on a true story.

That’s it, gentles. I’m all typed out. Peace-

15 years

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller is talking with Ryan about how to deal with his memory of his brothers. He tells him that he simply needs to remember the events that happened, the situations that each went through and then he’ll remember them.

Ryan asks Miller about some of his memories of home, of his wife and asks him to share one in particular. “No,” says Miller. “That one I’ll keep for myself.”

15 years ago today, Sue and I got married. There are a million stories and some of them, as John Steinbeck once wrote, “some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever”

And those memories I’ll keep to myself tonight.

The Stoning of Soraya M.

Author’s Note: I saw this film a few months ago as Cyrus Nowrasteh is a friend of mine, father to a former student of mine, and a one-time guest speaker in my Composition class. It is why I refer to him by his first name here and so I come at this with intimate knowledge of the making of the film and having written about Cyrus previously. I just finished another interview with him and that piece will appear in the Ventura County Star Thursday or Friday. Link will follow when it appears.

The richness of the images of The Stoning of Soraya M. caught me well off guard. I know the director of the film, Cyrus Nowrasteh and know his work as a screenwriter mostly. I’ve seen his HBO film called The Day Reagan Was Shot starring Richard Dreyfus. It was a fine movie and while I was teaching American Studies, I used it in my class. I saw and helped to promote (not professionally) the film The Path to 9/11 that Cyrus wrote and produced. These docudramas are excellent film-making and extraordinary in their ability to relate complicated and nuanced moments. But “Stoning” is something else entirely.

To begin with, the recent press attraction to the film is because of what is happening in Iran right now. The true story based on the book by journalist Freidoune Sahebjam (played by Jim Caviezel in the film) is one that Cyrus says he knew he wanted to make, but his cynicism told him that it would never sell.

The story is simple. A young woman in a small village in Iran just after the 1979 revolution is accused of marital infidelity and “conduct unbecoming a wife and mother.” None of the accusations are true, but they are forcefully pushed by the young woman’s husband who is looking for a way out of the marriage and knows that if she is convicted, she will be killed by stoning. The rest is inevitable and powerful and so incredibly moving and sad that as I watched it for a second time, I couldn’t hold back tears.

The direction in the film tilts toward nuanced and beautiful patterns that arise not out of the simple social injustice that is taking place, but out of the relationships that each of the main characters have to each other and how they deal with their own obligations and senses of right and wrong. The most conflicted character in the story, the Mayor of the town, is ultimately the arbiter of Soraya’s life and he seems to take the job quite seriously. In the end, however, the absolutes of Sharia law leave him no choice and in a film dominated by boorish, chauvinistic and even murderous males, one cannot help but feel pity for the Mayor.

The musical score, a work of art in its own right, captures the tension, the grace and the tragedy in the story. Cyrus took pains to paint the film with the landscapes of the Middle Eastern desert and though he cannot say for practical and security purposes, it is rumored that the film was made somewhere in Jordan. This combination of landscape and sound, desert and mountain, add to the emptiness one can only feel when faced with the injustice that Soraya faces.

Mozhan Marno plays Soraya and it is her grace and beauty that carry her through a heart-wrenching portrayal. Shoreh Aghdashloo, the Academy Award nominee for her work in House of Sand and Fog, plays Zorha, Soraya’s Aunt who tells her story.

Through memory, reflection, tight scene direction and a sparse and elegant script by both Cyrus and his wife, Betsy, The Stoning of Soraya M. is a film that transcends entertainment and moves into the best of what film, and even television when given a chance, should be–and that is a vehicle for transmitting important and timeless lessons about humanity, the human spirit, justice and ultimately, love.

Night at the Museum: The Battle of the Smithsonian

What’s funny about Night at the Museum: The Battle of the Smithsonian is that it’s a movie that you assume you know from watching the trailers on TV. Even if you didn’t see NATM 1, you can tell from the trailers what it’s about-or so it seems.

But, it’s not really true. In fact, the movie is far funnier than even it appears. The first movie was indeed very funny and Ben Stiller was at his usual best, which I don’t think he is in this movie. Stiller has produced some really fine comedic “everyman” films from Reality Bites to There’s Something About Mary and he deserves his due for this. And while he certainly has some very fine moments in this movie, some that make you laugh pretty hard, he may well reach the “everyman” part just a bit too far. He’s almost too likable and it seems that this is done on purpose as a kind of cinematic fait accompli–“we know what you want from this character, Larry-so, we’re going to give it to you” and they do. In fact, they serve up Stiller’s character on a silver platter.

But that’s really the only strong criticism I have of the movie. It’s funny, though it’s not very original. In fact, its lack of originality is one of the things that makes it funny and allows it to capitalize on the first film. Hank Azaria’s villainous Pharaoh come back to life is an absolute show stealer. Why Azaria has remained on the b-list of Hollywood comedy is beyond me. This guy’s talent is undeniable and his ability to do voices and accents, here he presents a profound lisp and deep, resonating European accent, is beyond remarkable.

Amy Adams
turn as Amelia Earhart and later, a young lady who flirts a bit with Larry, is also undeniably delightful. Look, she’s a beautiful young woman and her talent at playing perky is real and even varied. Being the father of an 8 year old girl, I saw Adams in Enchanted and thought her tremendous in that role. Without a doubt, her naivete and energy were downright infectious as they are here. Yes, she’s also very easy on the eyes and the camera makes that altogether clear, following her for long shots as she walks in and out of scenes. It just had to be said.

The story is secondary, a kind of total reconnection to the first film. In many ways, it’s a trick on the audience. If NATM 1 was so good, then NATM 2 can be even better, but only if we do more of the same kind of stuff. There’s nothing terribly new here or any real dramatic range being portrayed. There’s no real change from the first film as far as the plot. The only real difference is the characters are in a new museum, the Smithsonian, and there are a few new characters. And yet, the film is able to pull off this seemingly mundane retread with verve and a kind of lighthearted and yet totally uproarious fun.

NATM 2 is a really fine and silly comedy. It’s totally suitable for the family and the special effects, not to mention the fun bits of history that it briefly brings to life are great fodder for discussions with the young ones. Peanut wanted to know more about Amelia Earhart and I was more than happy to oblige. She laughed as hard as anyone in the theater when General Custer tries to pronounce Sacagewea’s name and fails more than a few times.

So, there it is–it’s a silly, fun comedy that doesn’t take itself or its audience very seriously and it stimulates family discussion. What more do you need?

Uploads and Uplinks

Well, I dare say-the past few months I’ve introduced some new writing projects and had some other irons in the fire that are still cooking. One, however, that I can now tout, came to fruition today at The Disney Blog.

For those unfamiliar, the Disney Blog is run by John Frost, a former inmate of the House of Mouse and he now comments at his blog on all things Disney. He’s got a good eye for news and he certainly tells a lot of otherwise ignored stories. I humbly ask you to follow the link above and read my first post there.

Meanwhile, a few other opportunities have appeared as well and I’ll be pursuing those as soon as tomorrow. I have a number of deadlines I’m preparing for Monday which is, of course, a cheap way of saying tonight’s post will be short. But tomorrow is an honorable day, if I may be so bold as to namedrop:

Your humble correspondent will be interviewing:
Cyrus Nowrasteh-the writer and director of the films The Path to 9/11 and his latest-The Stoning of Soraya M. The latter will be released this coming Friday and because of events in Iran, the film takes place there and is a retelling of a true story about a young woman unjustly accused and punished, the piece has a timely ring to it.

Tom Wark-the inestimable Sonoma County wine blogger and PR rep. who, with his blog Fermentation, has impacted the wine world greatly.

Alice Feiring-The extraordinary wine writer and speaker who speaks “truth to power” when it comes to honest, natural and serious wine. I’ve been an admirer of hers for a long time and those of you in the wine and food world know her well. As my daughter might say, “she’s be-awesome!”

So–a busy day ahead, gentles. And a lot for which to prepare. Good night one and all….

Dad

P4090021Well, the hits keep on coming, I suppose. In many ways, we are seeing the blessing of the body’s warning systems in the Storer family. My recent posts on Mom and her TIA highlighted that the TIA, while a serious concern, is not a major stroke and, if the person who has the TIA listens to their body and treats it with the respect, medication and seriousness it deserves, then the warning can serve its purpose.

Well…

Pop wrote us an e-mail, which is what dad does when he needs to communicate heavy news, that he was diagnosed with “V-tach” or ventricular tachycardia. This is a potentially serious condition, the causes of which are multiple and the symptoms of which are variable. For Pop, there doesn’t seem to have been any symptoms at all. He reports no fainting, dizziness, lack of oxygen, etc. In fact, he walks every day and works to keep his cardio health strong.

However, an episode of some kind led his doc to implant a monitoring device in his chest that gives a readout every couple of months. The doc apparently expected to find some minor issues–but what appeared instead was v-tach. By the way, the condition, if you don’t already know about it, is potentially very dangerous and can kill.

So, we’re grateful that the monitoring device picked this up. Pop had a blood test to rule out blood chemistry issues yesterday. I don’t know the results of that yet. On Tuesday of next week, Pop will have an angio-gram and if warranted, angio-plasty or, if ultimately necessary, open heart surgery. We, of course, will hope to avoid that and pray for a simple explanation that meds can assist.

So, there’s that.

It’s just not proper for me to write a philosophical treatise on how my parents are now getting older, etc. etc. Of course they are. We all are–that’s how it works. I think for now, I’m thankful that the early warning device gave us a heads up and dad is getting the proper care he needs.

Sigh.

And we shall roll onward. I’ll review Night at the Museum 2 tomorrow…

Home for Real Food

Home again after venturing out for our annual Disneyland and Sea World pilgrimage. This trip was as fun as any of them have been and included a grand hotel stay at the Sheraton Marina Bay Tower. We were on the 10th floor and had an incredible view that included the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, North Island Naval Air Station and the skyline of San Diego. It was incredible. On June 16, the USS Bonhomme Richard, a Naval Amphibious Landing ship came through the channel right near our hotel on its way to a burial at sea ceremony it was conducting. Truly a powerful image to behold. Yes, I have a picture and I’ll post it tomorrow morning.

I won’t recount the whole vacation here as I did that already in e-mails to family and friends. No need to bore the rest with the details. Suffice to say that Disneyland, Sea World and The San Diego Zoo were all wonderful–if somewhat more expensive, especially Sea World. We avoid using credit cards whenever possible and one of the more powerful side effects is that there are very few times when you say, “ah, what the heck–it’s only money….” In fact, I’d venture to say that this axiom has only come around with the advent of the credit card. It’s easy to say, “it’s only money..” when you’re not actually paying it. When you are paying it—it’s not “only” anything. It’s what you have earned and what you can do to get the most out of it.

One of the most curious things I noticed this year was food. I’ve spent the past couple of months radically altering my diet–not in order to remove or add certain things or calories, but to pay closer attention to quality ingredients. For instance, I won’t buy chicken anymore unless it is hormone and antibiotic free–the same for beef. If I have to pay more, and I usually do, I will gladly do so. With veggies, I go organic in almost all instances and the incredible thing–let’s not talk health benefits, or sustainability or any of that–is the taste.

Yes, you will find that chicken breasts actually do not measure a foot across when they’re free range and hormone free. In fact, chickens are pretty small and so the portions should be as well. But we’ve gotten used to buying whatever is on sale and we end up with tasteless meat textured protein. It’s just simply not that good. I found this out first hand some months ago.

We had two chickens that I was preparing on the grill. These were whole chickens and I was doing the infamous “beer can” chicken also referred to as “beer butt chicken” for obvious reasons. Anyway, one was some brand name that was on sale in the store–the other was a Trader Joe’s free range chicken with no added hormones nor antibiotics. Note–it was not a fully organic chicken. I’ll eat those, too–but they tend to be more pricey and the flavor of organic meats takes some getting used to. It’s not bad–it’s just different.

Anyway, the two chickens were prepared the same way and the result was night and day. The free range chicken tasted like chicken. I found myself saying, “Oh, that’s what chicken is supposed to be like…”

So, yeah–you could say we’ve joined that foodie revolution. We’re growing our veggies now in the back yard. Why not? Camarillo has some of the very best topsoil in the world, you know? Corn, bell peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, herbs and some other goodies along with our ever prolific plum tree are now part of our lives. It’s odd, because I have not thought of it this way, but in this house–we make our own wine, our own plum preserves and jams, we grow vegetables–it’s pretty darned cool.

And this is why when doing the California tourist vacation, eating the food was an exercise in futility. Nothing at Disneyland tastes very good, with the possible exception of the Fantasia Freeze. And that, of course, isn’t real food in any way.

By no means am I insinuating that one should never eat junk foods–or meats that are prepared in this way. Sometimes, you cannot avoid it and that’s OK. But where I have a choice, I am going to choose wholesome foods now: raw milk cheeses, meats without chemicals or drugs, organic vegetables and fruits. What you find when you eat them, by the way, is that you eat less of them. Why? Because they are so full of flavor. Case in point: Gruyere cheese.

Big brother Doug had been espousing the virtues of a raw milk, cave aged Gruyere he was getting. I’m a fan of Gruyere and have bought it, at times, to excess. When I slice it, I’ll eat between four and six pieces of it I like it so well. But I took Doug’s advice and bought some of the raw milk cave aged kind. Now, Gruyere is a sharp cheese with a kind of pungent taste–but this stuff made the stuff I’d been buying look tame. It was intensely delicious and much like eating good meat or organic veggies, I was left saying, “Oh, that’s what this tastes like…” The flavors are so intense, you simply don’t need to eat four to six pieces. You slice off two or three and you eat them with some fresh bread or some good crackers and a glass of wine–and you realize that your tastebuds have been satiated. It’s remarkable.

I urge you to try it, if you get a chance. No big sweeping changes–just start with meats. Buy meats to which no hormones or antibiotics have been added. You can find them at most grocery stores, though I do spend a lot of time at Trader Joe’s because their prices are so good. Whole Foods has them, but be prepared to lay down the green.

OK–I’m officially tangential now. Good night. Good to be home.

A Journalist's Journalist on Iran

Michael Totten is one of the finest correspondents working today. His site is a hotbed of activity from the Balkans to Lebanon, from Aghanistan to Iraq and now Iran. Totten has reported from all over the world and has been involved in reporting some of the most revolutionary events to take place in recent decades.

That’s why following him is essential right now because he blends years of experienced, hard-hitting reporting with incisive and decisive commentary. Iran and its thug government have finally shown the world what they are made of—it wasn’t bad enough that our timid and weak American administration is trying to “reach out” to the criminals. Now, after a sham election, they’re turning on their own people.

If you want to read the real thing–and the future of true journalism in the world, I urge you to check out Totten’s site. I’m a correspondent and a journalist, yes-but I don’t have the courage, nor the desire to travel the world that Totten has. I’m happy reporting on skate parks and graduations in my own back yard.

Most importantly, Totten is reader supported. If you want the real story-and you feel it’s worth something, offer up a little compensation at his site. It’s news and commentary that are hard to refute-in fact, only a fool with a very high opinion of him/herself who listens constantly to NPR could think what’s happening in Iran right now is “democratic.”

Shame

The appropriate function of societal shame has largely been lost. We no longer feel it justified to point out the actions of another person’s unacceptable behaviors as shameful. Political correctness, by the very fact that we actually use that term, has effectively gotten rid of the necessity of shame publicly.

So it is that the political left has succeeded in doing the opposite of what it originally set out to do. In her book, It Takes A Village, Hillary Clinton wrote about the necessity of community, the power of groups and the positive influence that a society has on its members when it seeks to act for the common good. Unfortunately for the left, that cliched road to hell was paved all along and as they continued to look for ways to grow government influence for the betterment of individuals, they eroded further the very values that they, at one time, perhaps, sought to maintain.

The fact is that history is replete with examples of communities working best together, most effectively, when they allow individuality to be at their center. In fact, in one of the great paradoxes of life, the more individuality, the more community. People are more aware of their need for each other and therefore more apt to give back to others when they are feeling their most independent. That’s why the statistics are clear that when taxes go up, charitable giving goes down–and vice versa. Allow people to find their own way, to achieve their own dreams, and they will help others achieve their dreams. Provide a one size fits all solution, and people will simply retreat to their own barriers, their own ramparts and society will shrink, not grow–not only in size, but in the size of its goals and dreams.

The Christian community, my community, however, has not lost sight of this fact. If one follows Christ, and really, if one follows any real religious faith–allow me to be ecumenical in the best sense of that word, one does feel the necessity of shame. One knows ones mistakes are not private and hidden. And more importantly, one knows that forgiveness is a forgone conclusion, not an entitlement per se, but a very real and tangible thing that is promised.

We live daily within our pain and our mistakes. We make them because we know no other way. We choose to escape from our daily toil, or even our own lives that somewhere along the way we forgot to love and trust, and we ignore our own warning signals that we’ve gone too far. In this sense, individuality is truly present as everyone’s knowledge of themselves is at different levels.

Again, for Christians, Christ calls us to have deep and intimate knowledge of ourselves and to enter into relationships with people for whom this knowledge is vital. We cannot allow effrontery and walls built for protection of our fragile egos to stop us from understanding each other. We must have each others’ honest selves, our honest souls, or we should wither into the things that 21st Century Americans wither into: drugs, alcohol, meaningless attachments, etc. At our worst, we wither into our own egos, feeding them alone only to discover that by doing so, we increase our pain until it becomes truly unbearable. This is the breaking point, of course-the ultimate self-delusion of self-loathing and finally, self-destruction.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that in the dark night of the soul, it’s always 3:00 A.M. What he meant was quite literal. 3:00 A.M. is well into the night, the dark interlude between dusk and morning where Midnight is now gone by hours and sunrise is still a distant dream. Fitzgerald knew well in his alcohol soaked spirit that his own self-loathing would do him in eventually. He died too young, unable to accept the wreckage that he’d created with his wife, Zelda, and unwilling to move past her own descent into the terrible.

We all have that in us. We all have our demons, or harbor secrets that don’t allow us to reach our full potential. That’s what faith is for, then. Faith has it its core the human essence, the desire to achieve our very best because that is, after all, what God wants from us. We cannot and must not allow the demons, the secrets, to change us. If we do, then we become become so selfish that in the end, they are all that’s left in a life that has descended past the point of wanting to reach out, to give and receive compassion, to love and be loved.

And so shame becomes a useful and necessary, even desirable quality. Those without it lack a deep sense of self and are therefore incapable of having a deep sense of anyone else. Their relationships are sought for the purpose of mirror-gazing, of self-aggrandizement. They seek others because they want others to validate them. But that pain, Fitzgerald’s “dark night of the soul,” will never be a source of joy. By its very definition, it cannot be.

No, in the end, if we cannot seek God in our daily lives, if we cannot seek that which is greater than ourselves, then we are fated to live a life that generates plenty of heat, but no light.

And that’s a shame.