Off to The Emerald City...

So, on Thursday I'll be flying out to Seattle for the first time.  I'm really excited about this trip, mostly because I'll finally get to see a region of this country that I've wanted to see for so long.  I'm also excited because it's an opportunity for me to stop and reflect on where life is going at the moment.  I always seem to grow more contemplative when I'm in a foreign place, and I expect that Seattle will be no different. 

I thought it would be fun to post pictures and short updates during the trip here on the blog.  It will mostly just be me reflecting on whatever I've seen or what I might be thinking at that moment.   Hopefully you'll get a little picture of my experience in Seattle!

On Unwrapping the Mind and Political Circuses.

I’m very glad to be writing again.  

There are certain types of people who struggle with putting the myriad of thoughts and ideas storming through their head into words.  I would say that I’m one of those people.  When issues regarding projects at work come up with my coworkers, they will often turn to me and ask what I think.  It’s really flattering, of course, but I sometimes have to excuse myself and ask them to come back to me.  It just takes me longer to work through an issue in my head.  I need time for reflection and contemplation.  When I do speak, the ideas rarely come out the way I want them to.

Often, though, I feel that I take in so much information yet rarely put what I’m thinking about it out there.  Writing is my preferred method for doing this, because it gives me time to formulate precisely what I’m thinking.  Writing is how I unwrap my mind.

I recently finished a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly (which I referred to in the last post).  The key idea of the book revolves around the need for vulnerability and being open to living wholeheartedly.  According to Brown, it is only by being vulnerable that we can be truly engaged in our lives.  I will admit here that me starting to write again, after 3 years, is my attempt at trying to be more vulnerable.  

In the interest of being vulnerable, the Simpsons video below sums up much of what I think about the 2016 election at this point.  Since I’m a historian, I’m well aware of the ridiculous elections (and the aggressive verbal jousting that took place) of years past.  For example, during John Adams’ presidency he was often referred to as “His Rotundity” by the press.  But in my lifetime at least, this election has just felt like an 11 on the outrageous-meter.  I’m not sure I really trust any of the candidates, and I’m dumbfounded at how Donald Trump has taken control of the Republican Party.  It’s going to be a fascinating book someday…but for right now, it just downright scares me.  What are your thoughts, dear reader?

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CHQlZiJ8YM

 

On Being Thirty and Seattle Trips.

I recently turned 30.  How did I get here so fast?

I somehow thought that I would have more things “figured out” in my life by this point.  Who I would marry, where I would be living, what career I would be in.  Currently, I have answers to none of these questions.  But I think I’m beginning to learn that it’s OK not to have it all figured out.  In fact, maybe it’s an illusion that we’ll ever have life “figured out”.  That’s where God steps in.  That’s where we either run to faith and trust or doubt and uncertainty.

Part of me was dreading the inevitable decade change.  There were these uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy, that I had somehow failed the 30’s entrance exam by not meeting the requirements of established career, wife and kids, and home.  In the world of social media, there is often a great temptation to compare our lives with others.  But in reality, who of us really have life figured out?  The people I know have just as many struggles despite the happy pictures on Facebook.  

Then I think about the faithfulness of God, and everything that He has led me through.  I’ve been incredibly blessed in my life, with more than I could ever deserve.  I didn’t think I would even be able to finish my MA last year, but it happened.  While I haven’t seen the fruits of that achievement appear yet, I know that I’m better off now (and wiser) than I was.

Maybe in a world that is so dependent upon instant gratification, and snap judgments, we begin to apply that thought to our own lives.  I’ve fought against a growing sense of impatience as of late, wanting to get on to the next thing.  But I’ve had to regularly remind myself that God is more concerned with the long term and who we are becoming.  I’m thankful that God is using this time to shape me and remove my impurities.  That He is patient with me even as I’m impatient with Him.  

That’s why I’m praying that my 30’s would be less about me and more about what I can do with my gifts to serve others.  I’m taking a short trip soon to a city I’ve wanted to visit for a while, Seattle, partly to think and pray about where God is leading me next.  I often find that getting into the foreign and unfamiliar is a great way for me to break out of old patterns of thought and hear from the Lord.  While I’ll certainly be enjoying myself (Seattle looks great!), I want this trip to be more than just a vacation from ordinary life.

In the words of Brene Brown (and Teddy Roosevelt), I want my 30’s to be defined by “daring greatly”.  God has given me an incredible gift of freedom and mobility at this stage in my life, and I’m genuinely excited to see where He leads me in the next decade.

Oh, and hey!  I’m writing again.  Sorry if this is a little rambling, but I just had to get my thoughts out in some fashion.  I plan to write more, and I promise it will be a little more focused.  I hope you’ll continue reading!

OSS and Propaganda.

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Well, my topic has changed since the last post.  I'm no longer planning on looking at Russian spies in the US.  I'll actually be researching the OSS, which was the American wartime intelligence agency that eventually became what we now know as the CIA.  There's a branch of this organization called Morale Operations, which used psychological warfare in the form of propaganda to affect German morale on the military as well as civilian side.  I'm specifically looking at radio operations, in which a radio station would broadcast  anti-Nazi propaganda across Europe.  Both US and British intelligence utilized these tools of warfare, but from my reading I've gotten the impression that the two Allied countries didn't always agree on the methods used to conduct psychological warfare.  In fact, there was even disagreement within the OSS itself over just how far the US should go in messing with the German psyche.  How far is too far during wartime?

This is the large, overarching question of my research.  To what lengths are we willing to go, as human beings, in order to "succeed" in war?  

 

I recently saw the film Zero Dark Thirty, which received a lot of flack (no pun intended) for its portrayal of torture.  Some of the same questions apply there too….just how far do we go during wartime, in order to achieve our goals?  The film is brilliant, by the way.  The last shot in particular too….wow.  Powerful.

 

So those are the questions I'm dealing with.  It's been a fascinating topic to look into so far, and I can't wait to explore the holdings of the National Archives to see what they might have on this topic.

 

In other news, I've been reading Shakespeare's play Coriolanus.  I'm still in Act 1, only because of my WWII reading, but it's been great so far.  I'm not quite sure why this play doesn't get the recognition of some of Shakespeare's other works…the language is equally powerful.  I'm hoping to see a stage version of the play while I'm out in DC doing research, but we'll see.  I'll definitely check out the recent Ralph Fiennes/Gerald Butler film adaptation, which I've heard is excellent.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for Shakespeare.

WW2.

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Well, I've finally discovered a reason to return to this blog.  I apologize, for those of you reading, that it's been forever since I last updated it.  Life has had many twists and turns (as it does), and 2013 is shaping up to be quite the interesting year.  In a good way.

The class I'm taking this semester is going to deal with a huge topic…World War II.  Believe it or not, I've never tackled this subject in very much depth apart from the general classes that everyone takes in high school and college.  Here, I'll be diving into the origins of the war, the war itself, and more specifically secret intelligence operations that occurred on both sides.  I had the idea to document some of my research on this blog as I go forward, since I'll be making a trip to DC in April to look at some primary source documents that I might be able to use for my paper.  This paper will most likely become my masters thesis, so I thought it would be interesting to have a record of how this project evolves over time.  At this point, I really have NO IDEA what the topic is going to be.  I'm hoping (and praying) that it will reveal itself to me as I do more background reading on the war.

I've had some thoughts, however, that I might be able to tie this in with a previous paper I wrote on Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy.  Since my topic will most likely be US-focused, I've been thinking about looking at some aspect of Soviet activity in the US during World War II.  Believe it or not, there was a much greater level of Soviet activity in America during the war than in the McCarthy era of the 1950s.  Perhaps most famously, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg selling the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians.

Some other possible topics at this point…the Jedburgh missions into France, OSS policies in Europe (the OSS was the predecessor to the CIA), as well as any other OSS topics I come across.

I hope that you, the reader, will find this process at least somewhat interesting!

 

 

The Joker.

 

Inspired by the fact that this week is "Batman Week", I've decided to do a series of pieces on various characters and elements of Batman.  Tonight's piece, as you might have guessed by the title, is on Batman's arch-nemesis, The Joker.

 

The Joker is a villain that continues to frighten me even today.  He is without a doubt one of the greatest villains of all time, simply because of the fact that he is STILL so terrifying after all these years.  Sure, a normal man who is both a killer and a psychotic is scary enough.  But when you add the clown makeup and that hideous grin, the scare factor goes up by several notches.  He is a man with no moral code, a person who delights in the pain of others.  His origins have always been largely unknown, so there is no one true answer as to how he became the crazed lunatic that he is.  In one of the most famous (and best) Batman graphic novels, The Killing Joke, Joker even says that "..if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!  Ha Ha!!"  Was he burned by acid?  Tortured by abusive parents?  Who knows…perhaps the imagination of the comic book reader is enough.

 

The Joker has always been such a perfect foil for Batman, because where Batman seeks to restore order and justice in Gotham, The Joker seeks to create chaos.  This is illustrated so clearly in Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight, where Joker in fact states that he is indeed an agent of chaos, as he sets about rampaging through Gotham.  What's so frightening is that because of his clownish personality, the "games" that he plays often vary between being both threatening and at certain times non-threatening.  He uses all of the clown gags…but those toys hide a much more sinister creature.  While Batman has his one rule not to kill, Joker has no such rule.  Life is a trivial thing to him, a big gag where he gets to deliver the punch line.

 

There have been many interpretations of The Joker, some of them more comical and clownish than others.  One of the more recent was, of course, Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight.  This Joker was almost devoid of mirth, a much more sadistic portrayal than even I expected at the time.  Yet it made sense considering the realistic world that Christopher Nolan had placed these characters in.  Another of my favorite interpretations came from Batman: The Animated Series, in which actor Mark Hamill voiced The Joker.  While this Joker was also quite evil, there was a lighter and more playful side to his character as well.  The number of different laughs that Hamill offered as The Joker is still amazing to me.  There were cackles, giggles, roars, and guffaws of laughter that contributed so much to the overall feel of the character.  

 

One thing that I've found fascinating is that even though Joker has always been Batman's main foe, he has never posed a serious physical threat to Batman.  The Joker, in person, is usually not a physically intimidating presence.  He often relies on the use of weapons, his other henchman, or traps set in advance for Batman.  By himself, with all of the artifice stripped away, The Joker is a pathetic human being.  Like all of our worst fears, The Joker folds like a house of cards (pun intended!) once confronted.  Watch Jack Nicholson's Joker in the original Batman….while he isn't my favorite Joker, he illustrates the deeply pathetic nature of the man in the last fight scene within the bell tower.

 

As long as there's Batman, there will be a Joker out there causing mayhem.  They are drawn together, two opposite and opposing forces, inevitably leading to conflict.  And what a joy it is to watch that epic confrontation.

The Batman.

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Ever since I was a kid, I've loved Batman.  He appealed to me probably for all of the same reasons that he appealed to countless other little boys…because he was just so darn cool.  Sure, there was always Superman, who had every possible superpower under the sun and was virtually indestructible.  He was a godlike being, removed from common humanity and swooping in at the last minute to save us all.  But Batman…Batman was different.  He was one of us, and he fought for us.

 

Batman had limits…he was no superhuman being like the other superheroes.  Sure, he had more money and status than most of us, but he was still human.  He personally crafted all of the gadgets that he used fighting Gotham City's villains, and exercised his detective skills by tracking those bad guys down.  He was also trained in martial arts and quite adept at physical combat.  While he did have a pretty strong suit of body armor, it would not protect him from everything.  He was driven by a painful loss, as both of his parents were shot by a mugger while he was still a child.  But rather than turn inwardly after this tragic loss, he chooses to fight the evil that plagues Gotham.

 

Batman was an important part of my childhood.  While his actions labeled him as a "vigilante", he was committed to a cause much bigger than himself.  As a kid, I had all of the Batman action figures, including his famous rogue's gallery of villains, perhaps the best collection of baddies of any comic.  How can you beat the likes of The Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow, and The Riddler, just to name a few?  I would stage massive battles which by necessity included not only Batman heroes and villains, but GI Joe characters, Star Wars characters, and any other action figures I happened to have lying around.  These had to be EPIC battles!  The Joker would find an ally with Darth Vader (ridiculous, I know), and they would conspire to stop Batman by any means necessary.  I read the Batman comic books, I watched the excellent Batman animated series on FOX, and I wanted to BE Batman if only for one day.

 

The dark, mysterious nature of Batman, that always watchful protector hovering over Gotham City, still captures my imagination.  As The Dark Knight Rises approaches this Friday, I can't help but get excited.  While I'm sad that this will be Christopher Nolan's last Batman film, completing his trilogy, I'm quite glad he was committed to telling a Batman story that honored the character's true nature.  His movies are gritty and realistic, and they broke away from the silly, campy nature of the 1960s Batman TV series and the Joel Schumacher films.  Batman's story must be dark by nature, but just because it's dark doesn't mean there's no hope.  The darkness of Gotham, a world consumed by twisted villains, necessitated a dark hero who could face fear and turn that fear against his foes.  His one rule, not to kill, separated him from psychos like The Joker who got a laugh from the pain of others.  Yet there was always that moral line, and the question lingered about whether Batman would cross that line.  The same line exists for all of us, and no human story is fully honest if it fails to address our struggle over that line.

 

The line represents whether we will take the easy or more satisfying way, throwing morals and ethics to the wind, or if we will truly honor our beliefs.  I admire Batman because through it all, despite the violence and tragedy he faced in his past and continued to face throughout his crime fighting career, he didn't give in.  He took the harder, more difficult, and therefore more honorable path.  Regardless of what you think about fictional comic book heroes, that is a character trait that we can all aspire to.

 

Daniel Day-Lewis Film Marathon

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So I'm back, and writing, after a 1-year hiatus. Let me explain.

Last fall, I started graduate school (for history!) while also working full time. Needless to say, this left me with very little free time. On the average, I was reading two books a week, while also writing at least one response paper per week. As much as I wanted to be committed to this blog, it was simply impossible.

But now it's summer, and I can once again write freely. The big dilemma, however, revolves around one question. What do I write about?

The everyday facts of my life are pretty boring, so I don't want this to be a journal. I need a topic to write on that's independent of what I do each day. And I think I've found one.

A movie marathon!

I've decided to watch one movie featuring Daniel Day-Lewis each week for the next ten weeks. Yes, that's ten movies. Then I'll write about each one.

Why do this, you ask?

Well, it's quite simple. If I had to choose a few actors currently alive who I would love to spend a few hours talking to, Daniel Day-Lewis would be at the top of that list. His commitment to each one of his roles is fascinating and at times a little troubling. He is the epitome of a "method" actor, often spending the entire shooting schedule of a movie in character. He goes to great lengths to learn not only the language of his character but also just about every aspect of how that character would have lived. He's extremely picky about the scripts that he chooses, often taking a break of 4-5 years in between movies. This dedication to a character intrigues me, and since I've only seen a handful of his films I felt that this would be a really cool viewing experience.

I also just need some experience writing…and now that my interest in theatre and film history has been revived, I thought studying and writing about a few films would be an interesting experiment.

I'm happy to say that many of his films are now on Netflix streaming, and the ones that aren't are often on Amazon instant watch or iTunes. I'm going to work through his films chronologically, starting with the 1985 film A Room With A View. This film is on Netflix streaming, so if you have Netflix I invite you to watch it with me.

After viewing, I'll write my review of the film, with special attention to DDL's role. I might also share some trivia on the film, how he prepared for it, things like that. I'm wanting to incorporate clips from YouTube if possible too, and I'm still toying with the idea of sharing some of my thoughts in audio form.

So, that's about it. I would love for you to watch A Room With A View and tell me what you think. My post on the film should be up by this Sunday or Monday. Happy viewing!

Writing thoughts.

How is it that the things we’re great at doing, that other people tell us we’re great at, are the most difficult things to do?

We encounter a “resistance” whenever we approach something that we feel called to do.  For me, it’s writing.  For others that I know, it’s probably theatre.  Whatever it is, starting it and then practicing by repetition is usually the only way to get better.  But we struggle as we drag our feet to the starting point.  Often, we will simply walk away from it if we don’t succeed after attempting to start however many times.  However…

If we love it, if we truly love that thing…why aren’t we bringing ourselves to it each day? 

I can’t complain of not having enough time to write…because again, if I truly love it, I will MAKE the time.  Even if it’s only an hour a day.

I’ll sometimes get frustrated with myself, because I make all of these half attempts at learning something new, never devoting my full attention to it.  I might start it, do it a few times, but after a short period it will be forgotten as other things come up.  This drives me crazy!  I hate leaving things half-finished.  You can look next to my bed right now, and see a couple stacks of half-finished books.  It’s a terrible problem.

Anything good in this life takes work…that’s no mystery.  Right now, it’s difficult to find work that I can both enjoy AND get paid for.  But rather than waiting for the perfect job, I’ve decided to do my own work.  Not for long periods of time, just short bursts.  Just enough to know that there’s something which is totally mine that I’m creating, that perhaps may lead to something someday.  I have no guarantee that it will lead anywhere, but I do it regardless.

We should all find something we’re passionate about, and work at it.  It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t lead to a paycheck.  Perhaps it will turn into a blessing for all of humanity to enjoy.