Friday, November 30, 2018

to campbell, on your 7th birthday

Dear Campbell,

You know, we do this every year. I always start out this letter by exclaiming first how old you are (SEVEN??) and then that we cannot believe you are that old (SEVEN??)... but it's so true. Your Mommy and I are in disbelief that out of nowhere, you are seven years old.

You know what this means, right?  This means that in 3 years, we're going to have to purchase you an adult ticket for Disney World.

But that's then. Let's look at now... and it just struck me last night, as I thought through what I'd write today, that this is the first birthday letter that you could actually probably read out loud.  I mean, you've only been reading maybe a year now, but your teachers tell us that you are on a somewhat advanced reading level -- you are learning words like crazy, you are reading things all the time, you are bending over toilets in public bathrooms, putting your hands on the rim, to read the manufacturers label on the back... so, let's not do that part okay? And even though we are in Whole Foods, that doesn't mean the toilet freshener hanging on the side is there to take off and hold.  Let's move on, kid.

The list of books you've read or enjoy reading is slowly growing, though I think "Me & My Dad" and "Me & My Mom" are your faves right now, as we read them to you every night... but "Jack B. Ninja" is closing in fast, as that's one you also want to hear daily.

As part of your learning and growing, it's been a big year for you!  You graduated from Mitchell's Place in July, reading out loud your favorite thing about MP ("Water play!"... or "wah pay!"), and looking dapper and awesome in your cap and gown. And then, we moved on to public school!

You started Greystone Elementary School in August, and out of myself, your Mommy and you, I think you were the only one who wasn't worried.  We should have known you'd have it taken care of, and you did. You adapted quickly, you made friends, friends who love playing with you, and you are doing amazing right now in school.

Your friend Jack making sure you don't run off during the class picture
I've been fortunate enough to see you around school, like going with you on the bus to the Pumpkin Patch, and to watch the boys -- Ahmed and Jack and Yoto -- all want you to sit with them, and to see the girls, like Lilly and Bella, talk to you and want to read to you before school starts. It's so great and an answer to our prayers!

And you love your teachers -- Ms Carns (because her name is Kim Carns, I still call her "Bette Davis Eyes", though that's a joke you won't get for like, 8 more years or so), and your helper Ms Allie and then Ms Lenoire, and then  the other teachers that I don't know because you say their names and we can't understand it.

As always, the year itself has been interesting.  I usually stay away from politics and will do so here -- by the time you get old enough to not just read, but comprehend these letters, we can discuss, but just know for now Trump is still President, and like any other before him, or that will come after him, he has his hits and misses, and his detractors.  Politics is an ugly game, and frankly, if you never get involved, I'm fine with it.

Like last year, I have paid little attention to the music scene... in fact, I just looked at the Billboard Top 100 charts for this week, right now in 2018, and I see the top songs are "Thank U, Next" by Ariana Grande, "Sicko Mode" by Travis Scott, "Happier" by Marshmello & Bastille, "Without Me" by Halsey, and "Lucid Dreams" by Juice WRLD... out of six artists mentioned, I have only heard of three of them, and am only familiar with one of those songs.  Music has passed me by, kid, as I'm still stuck jamming to "Exes & Ohs" by Elle King from a few years ago, which might be the last really good song that was released.

I am convinced that if you want a record deal and to make a lot of money as a musical artist, you can do so, because Cardi B is rich, and this guy named Mo Bamba has a hit called "Shack Wes", and its legit one of the most excruciating pieces of crap to listen to that I've ever heard. Then again, you may like it, who knows. When you are ready, we'll pop in some Hootie & the Blowfish.

For now, though, I think your own personal top five, as listed by songs that you sing over and over and over, are "Wheels on the Bus"... well, maybe top one. You have learned "Jesus Loves Me", and "Glory in the Highest", the latter for the kid's performance at the choir event coming up at church, but you do love you some "Wheels on the Bus".

And I do love that you are really recognizing church as the place to be, because you love being around Kingdom Kids, especially with Ms Lisa when she helps you. And for someone who struggles with saying the letter "L", you manage "Valleydale" okay -- "VAH AH DAYH".

Your favorite toys this year have undoubtedly been your school bus and your airplane, as you love Southwest Airlines so much that you watch airplane videos on YouTube... and you type in "SOUTHWEST" and "TERMINAL" in the search bar to find them.  It's crazy, and funny, and super smart.

And for whatever reason, you watch elevator videos. Like, you watch videos of people walking on and off elevators.  Your Mommy remarked to me, "Why do people film... elevators? That's so weird." Quite simply, people film everything. And yes, its weird.

My fave movies of the year included a documentary called "Won't You Be My Neighbor", about a man named Mr Rogers, who I can only hope you will be able to watch one day, and Tom Cruise still doing his thing in "Mission Impossible: Fallout", plus another superhero movie called "Avengers: Infinity War". I look forward to watching superhero movies with you, as well as Star Wars stuff (like "Solo" which came out in May of this year)... but your movie jam this year has definitely been "Inside Out".
Learning to float with Coach Mary

The old faves have resurfaced, like "Cars 2" and "Rio 2" and "Frozen", but "Inside Out" has been a daily mainstay in our home for months, which is cool because I think you are learning about Sadness and Joy and other emotions, maybe putting names to your feelings, which is important so you'll know how you are doing.

We had our season passes to Alabama Splash Adventure and went several times, and you loved it! Don't worry, we'll go back next year too. And good thing, because we need to keep working on your swimming. You had Ms Keri last summer, but this year, you got to work with Coach Mary... you didn't like it at first, but it was so cool that by the end of the week, you were getting rings off the bottom of the pool, and jumping into the water, and swimming around like a little fish. So proud of you!!

And the talking... my goodness, are you a chatter box. I can barely remember a time when we were worried you'd never talk, but here you are. Of course, admittedly, our worry now is that you won't be able to carry on a conversation with us, instead speaking in just a word here or there, but I have no doubt that will come in time too. Everything about your development has come in time, and that's been a blessing.

Oh, how much do you love your Mommy. SO MUCH.
You are still in piano, now with Mrs Alaina and Mr Mark, both of which you like very much, and are playing songs like "Old McDonald" and "Twinkle Twinkle", and even though you graduated, we still visit Mitchell's Place twice per week for ABA therapy.  And you get to work with Jordan and Audrey, and see your friend Piper!

Finally, some of the "firsts" for you... your very first trip to Vulcan... your first cave and waterfall (Rock City in Chattanooga)... your first Monster Truck (the Touch a Truck event)... your first bowling (you bowled like, an 88!)... your first traveling carnival (the power went out while we were atop the ferris wheel)... your first game of catch with a baseball and glove (thank you Ethan Bryan!)... 

Okay, I'll wrap this up now, as these letters might get longer and longer every year, and I'm sure I'm leaving stuff out... but know that we love you so, so much, Campbell.  Everyone does. Your Pops and GG, and your aunts and uncles, and your Granny Jan, and Aunt Becky and your friends and their parents too... you are more popular at 7 then I ever was at like, 10. You're doing a great job.

Last year's letter talked about "Respect".  This year, I want to teach you about "Truth".  Truth is very important because honesty is a huge part of your character, of who you are, and of who people think you are. Tell the Truth.

See, there are many people out there who don't. Maybe they are trying to hide something small, or something big, maybe they are trying to hurt someone else on purpose, or make someone else fail by not telling the truth, and that will happen... and maybe someday, someone will lie about you to hurt you.  You stick with the truth. You stick with what's right. You stick with the facts, whether you are talking to your mom and myself, or your friends, or your teachers, or even strangers, you stay on the side of right, and it will be okay.

Remember, the Bible is Truth. We haven't really dug into that yet, but we will soon. We want you to understand what Jesus says about love and compassion and that sometimes those things means saying things people don't want to hear -- but in the end, Truth will always win out. And be Respectful as you stay Truthful.

You'll always have challenges that other kids won't have. But keep your faith in Him and it will work out.

We love you, son. And no, you cannot have your iPad until 6pm, so stop asking.

With Love,

to campbell, on your 6th birthday
to campbell, on your 5th birthday
to campbell, on your 4th birthday
to campbell, on your 3rd birthday
to campbell, on your 2nd birthday
to campbell, on your 1st birthday

Heading to the doctor and getting the diagnosis


Sunday, November 18, 2018

missing writing

I miss writing!

I miss it so.much!

Anyone who is a writer will understand. You just miss it. In the busy life I lead, which seems to only get busier as time goes by, there are a few things that have gone by the wayside... sitting down and reading a book. Binge watching a TV show.  Playing tennis so long I can barely stand.  Running. Biking.  These are things I all used to do (granted, the tennis and biking was more of early in marriage, but with no one to serve to and no bike to ride, these are harder).

All things I loved doing and have had to just simply put aside to make way for things like planning Disney trips.  Taking the kid to piano. Running to Publix for the turkey that only they sell. Taking the kid to therapy. Planning more Disney trips. Watching a movie while I plan Disney trips. Taking the kid to school. Working on the website. More kid activities. Also trying to make sure I'm a good husband who makes The Lovely Steph Leann feel appreciated and worthy.

And amongst all of those things, is writing.  I literally have 66,110 words written in my movie book... that's not an exaggerated number, because I just looked.  Sixty six thousand, one hundred and ten books. And thanks to TimeHop, I know that I've been working on this book for over a year.

And I just miss writing on the website. Thoughts and stories and anecdotes. I know someone is reading, as I check the numbers every few days, and they continue to grow (unless someone who really likes me is just sitting there clicking refresh on my website a few hundred times per day... but in 13 years, since June 2005, this page has been loaded over 433K times, which is humbling.

So someone reads what I write.

I just need to write more.

And I will.  I promise.


Sunday, November 04, 2018

somebody to love

Queen is one of those bands who's music is so engrained in our society, so deep in our brainwaves -- from "Somebody to Love" to "We Are the Champions" -- it's easy to forget just how brilliant Queen, an in particular, Freddie Mercury actually was. Is? Are?

And that's the highlight of the just released "Bohemian Rhapsody", which I saw in a late show last night. 

Let me back up and say that earlier this year, on The Deucecast Movie Show podcast, I made two bold predictions:  

1) If "A Star is Born" is a good film, Lady Gaga will be up for an Oscar.  
2) If "Bohemian Rhapsody" is good, Rami Malek will be up for an Oscar. 

Results?  Lady Gaga has received widespread acclaim for "A Star Is Born", and will likely get an Oscar nod.  Rhapsody, however, has mixed reviews, and I'd heard a few movie pundits say that they didn't expect the movie to do well. In fact, the common criticism about it has been that it's a "fluff narrative", which only shows you the good stuff, barely touching on the bad.  And to a major extent, this is very true, so it depends on what you want to see out of this movie. 

My bar for the movie had been lowered since I'd been hearing the negative (though it's 7.4 on IMDb, so that's not nothing), but I had every intention on seeing it anyway.

The movie starts with Freddy Mercury preparing himself for Queen's 1985 LIVE AID concert..

Y'all may know Rami Malek from the acclaimed series "Mr Robot", but
he'll always be that goofy Steve kid from the Tom Hanks / Julia Roberts
movie "Larry Crown"
SIDEBAR:  For those of you not around in the 80s, or not paying attention, that's when concerts for plights of the world came to prominence.  From the "Do They Know It's Christmas?" music to "We are the World" to Willie Nelson's Farm Aid to help farmers, the 80s were a time where rock stars of the day would play music and you'd send in money to help that cause. Live Aid was a global concert to help the children in Ethiopia, suffering due to a destructive drought happening. The concert was taking place simultaneously in, among other places, Canada, The Soviet Union, Japan, Yugoslavia, Philadelphia PA and notably, Wembley Stadium in London.  An estimated 1.9 billion people watched at least some of it, which at the time was around 40% of the population of Earth.  Massive.

...and as he takes the stage, it cuts to 1970, showing him working as a baggage handler, then coming across the band Smile, which featured future bandmates Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy).  Freddie joins the band, then they bring on John Deacon (played by the kid from Jurassic Park, of which I was stunned when I saw him), and soon after, Queen is born.

The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, and though long (and it does drag in a few parts), it covers so much ground at a breakneck speed. One minute they are selling their van to buy studio time to record an album, and two minutes later, they are the biggest band in Europe, working on their 4th album, fighting for the right to release "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a single. 

While the movie is about Queen. it's the musical life of Mercury that drives it. His rise, his falling in love with Mary Austen, his peak, his sexuality, his bottoming out and his return to the stage, with the movie ending right where it started -- him going onstage, followed by the rest of Queen, for their Live Aid performance.  Incidentally, I didn't know until yesterday that many critics consider the 21 minute set to be the greatest live performance of all time, with his acapella back-and-forth with the audience containing what is called "The note heard round the world" (you'll know it when you hear it)

I actually watched the real 22 minute version of the concert set, and honestly, the movie is pretty close.  My movie was at 10 last night, and when it was over, I walked into the IMAX theater (theirs started at 1030p) just in time to see the concert scene again, which I enjoyed even more than when I had seen in 20 minutes prior. 

The critics weren't wrong, by the way, when they said it was a fluff piece. It is a bit uneven, as it gives you flashes of Mercury's demons but never digs too deep or spends too much time in the mud, and even his breakdown ends up turning into his shining moment at the end. His sexuality is treated with kid gloves, showing how he slowly realizes he's gay, then faces no consequences for being so (this is the late 70s, early 80s by the way).  In one scene you can see he's been doing cocaine, but that's the only time before or after that hard drugs are even mentioned -- much of it is implied, but never shown. The only bits of intimacy truly are him kissing Mary, the girl he loved early on, then later kissing a couple of guys.  Sex is also implied, but never shown and only alluded to once or twice.
L-R The Kid from GI Joe Retaliation, Ben Hardy, Rami Malick
and Gwilym Lee as Deacons, Taylor, Mercury & May

The supporting cast is outstanding, especially Gwilym Lee as Brian May, who, if Freddie is the heart of the band, is the moral compass that keeps it together.  The Kid from The Social Network and Ben Hardy (Deacons and Roger, respectively) both play their part well, and Lucy Boyton is wonderful as Mary, the lover turned best friend of Freddie. Of course, the star of the show is Rami Malek, who is balls to the wall the entire movie, embracing every nuance, every quirk, putting that little umph into every skip step  that Freddie takes -- with the flamboyance ever growing as the movie goes on, this was not an easy role to master.  Whether he mastered it or not is up to the viewer, but I'm not sure you could ask for much more. 

One of the real treats of the movie is watching the small scenes as the now familiar classics start to take shape for the first time... where Brian May, Freddie and Roger are all in an argument while The Kid from The Lost World: Jurassic Park begins to strum a riff on his guitar, one that is unmistakable and becomes "Another One Bites the Dust". Or where Brian May gets everyone in the studio on the stage and leads them in a series of stomps, saying he wants a song that the audience can participate in. "Okay, after you stomp twice, let's clap." STOMP STOMP CLAP... STOMP STOMP CLAP.

And as the trailer shows, a good 15 minutes is lent to the creation of "Bohemian Rhapsody", including the stares from the bandmates as Freddie wants to use opera themes, and the resistance from EMI Record exec Ray Foster (an unrecognizable Mike Myers)

All in all, it's a good movie. Not a great movie, but a good movie. One that a day later still has me humming the chords to "Somebody to Love" and "Fat Bottomed Girls" (though that one isn't really even referenced in the movie). I can see how diehard Queen fans will love this, or even hate it for not being as truthful as they may want.  In fact, the movie does take some wild swings with truthiness, showing the band breaking up due to a decision Freddie makes, and reconciling later, when in truth, the whole band was ready to walk, and they had reconciled long before the movie suggests, as well as Freddie telling the band he has AIDS before Live Aid performance, when in real life, wasn't diagnosed with AIDS until 1987, two years after the concert.

At one time, actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was slated to play Freddie Mercury, but he dropped out because of differences between he and Queen band members May and Rogers... 

SIDEBAR:  John Deacon has very little to do with the band at this point -- his relationship with May & Rogers is reportedly good, he just decide to retire after Freddie's death, performing with the band less than five times since 1991, and not at all since 1997 -- he didn't even attend the band's induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, though May has said that Deacon approved of the film "Bohemian Rhapsody".

...because Cohen wanted the movie to be solely focused on the rise, fall, rise and death of Freddie Mercury while Queen wanted the band to be more central to the story (and likely taking out some of the edgier and more terrible parts).  Ultimately, the band won, Cohen walked and Rami Malek was given the part.  
Anyway, I liked the movie... I didn't love it, but I really enjoyed parts of it, enough to be satisfied with... still, I would have enjoyed more a deeper dive, perhaps an R rated film and not just PG-13, to give me more about Freddie Mercury than a few bad incidents..