A review by another Matt
, Matt Zoller Seitz, convinced me to watch Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine
, and I'm glad I did. I wasn't going to, but these sentences got me curious: "It is wrenching but never exploitive. It is impressively skeptical of the same mission that it takes on its shoulders: to make something positive from a senseless crime without diminishing its senselessness."
What kept me from the film had been a fear of it being maudlin or superficial. I know the Shepard case well, I've seen The Laramie Project
a couple of times, I've heard Judy Shepard speak about her son's murder. I didn't think more could, or even should, be made of it. The film proved me wrong.Matthew Shepard
was only a year (and a couple months) older than me. He died a few days before my 23rd birthday. Despite the barrage of national (and international) news coverage, I didn't learn of his murder for a few weeks, because I was in the midst of my first year working full-time at a boarding school, and I barely had time to sleep, never mind keep up with the news. At some point, a friend from college emailed and asked what the climate was like where I was, given how rural and isolated it seemed in my notes to her, and she worried, she said, because of what had happened to the boy in Wyoming. I didn't know what she was talking about at the time, but I soon did.
A rural gay man killed by homophobia. Once I knew about the story, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I followed the trial coverage obsessively. I thought I knew the story pretty well, but one of the excellent things Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine
does is shift the angle. It's no longer the story of someone defined by his murder, though the murder is of course important, but rather the story of Matt Shepard, his friends, and his family. It tries to recover the Matt Shepard who became Matthew Shepard, a symbol for the world. That turns out to be a powerful, gripping, and deeply moving quest.
|Michele Josue & Matt Shepard|
It works so well because director Michele Josue is perfectly positioned to do this work — she went to high school with Shepard, but doesn't seem to have stayed closely in touch with him later, and so the film is partly about her own recovery of Matt, her own quest to fill in gaps. What she discovers and chronicles are both the material remnants of his life and, more importantly, the network of people who knew him and remember him. She finds his presence by mapping his absence.
While the film is informative and quite moving with regard to his murder, it's not so much a true crime movie as it is a story of how friendship works and how friendship lasts. It's significant that Josue made the movie fifteen years after Shepard's death, because the time is enough to allow some perspective and to allow us to look back on the legacy, but it's also not so much time that major figures within the story are no longer available. It's also not enough time, if there is such a thing as enough time, to get rid of the pain. A significant section of the film explores Josue's desire to escape grief, and her realization that such escape is not only not possible, but not desireable.
A question that comes up repeatedly, though quietly, throughout the second half of the movie is: Why did this particular crime capture the world's attention? As multiple people point out in the film, gay bashing wasn't (and isn't) especially rare. Dozens of other people were killed for being (or being perceived as) gay in 1998, but it was Shepard's story that moved the world. There's no single answer, and no really definitive answer, though some good partial answers surface, the most convincing being how much Shepard looked and seemed like an ordinary (white) boy from down the street, and how particularly brutal his murder was. (I suspect it resonated, too, because we couldn't help imagining the many hours he spent bleeding alone before he was discovered and helped, though it was too late, ultimately, to save his life. If we imagined that unimaginable time, and if we did so as someone who lived or had once lived in terror of being hurt or killed if our sexuality were known, the resonance was overwhelming and devastating.) He could have been anybody's son, somebody says in the film, which isn't exactly true, of course, but it highlights one of the perceptions that made Shepard's such an irresistible story — his was a familiar sort of face, his family a seemingly familiar sort of family, and his story came from the heart of the American mythos: not just rural but frontier
America, where he was left to die while tied to a fence post. (Later, Brokeback Mountain
would further publicize the idea of all-American gayness through its setting.)
It doesn't feel to me like a long time from Matthew Shepard's death in 1998, and yet it's more than 17 years now. Had he lived, he would have celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday at the beginning of this month. It's hard to imagine Matthew Shepard, the symbol, at thirty-nine, but Josue helps make a thirty-nine-year-old Matt imaginable, and thus makes his death all the more heartbreaking.
That heartbreaking quality surprised me in the film, because after the initial shock of the story, for those of us who weren't friends with Matt Shepard, his death actually came to stand for a lot of good progress that was made afterward. I have very mixed feelings about the assimilationist success of Gay, Inc.
, but I really never expected to see federal gay marriage in my lifetime, to see gay kisses become relatively normalized on tv and in mainstream movies, to see anything remotely like Sense8
from anyplace other than the very indie and very queer world, etc. Watching Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine
, I remembered what it used to feel like to live in terror of anybody finding out, or even just suspecting, that you're not entirely heterosexual. It's not that the terror's all gone, or that we're all safe and happy and prosperous etc., or that there aren't still bashings and murders (in 2014 the FBI counted
"1,248 victims [of hate crimes] targeted due to sexual-orientation bias" and suicide remains
an ever-present problem). But in many places of the U.S. now, it is easier to live openly as a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person than it was fifteen or twenty years ago. The culture (or, at least, part of the dominant culture) has shifted, and Matthew Shepard's murder — and the conversations and work that murder inspired — contributed to the shift.Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine
reminds us of this, and it does a lot more besides. It pays close attention to how people continued their lives after his death. It shows why his death remains meaningful, and why his life deserves to be remembered. It suggests much about forgiveness, about grieving, about news media, and about living with questions that can't be answered. It is, finally, a beautiful tribute to a friend, and to a grief that cannot, and should not, be lost.
Hope and Celebration - Light in the darkness, time out for happiness, wonder and magic.
Enter the world of tales told by people, of stories that live on. of tales of wonder, fairy tales.
Santa Claus, the man in the red suit stepping out of the chimney, comes to us from the talented Thomas Nast; his popular 19th century illustrations helped to popularize Santa Claus as we know him today.
Charles Dicken's, A Christmas Carol, and the power of story.
This book influenced the thinking of generations of readers, and transformed the spirit of the Christmas holiday. The transformation was guided by Dicken's passionate belief that the true Christmas spirit embodied caring and generosity -- especially for those less fortunate.
A Christmas Carol was written with the passion born of his painful childhood as an impoverished 12 year old boy from a broken family.With his father in debtor's prison, Dickens was forced to leave school and work ten-hour days for six shillings a week under harsh conditions (the factory was home to multitudes of rats) in England's new industrial economy.
Much has changed with the passing of time and the commercialism of the marketplace has brought an endless stream of marketing -- more games, toys and advertising -- to Christmas.
But the Spirit Of Christmas does live on.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ...Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
Scrooge Lives On...
Viking has recently published (October 2015) a well reviewed book by Charles Lovett, The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge. For more information, visit his website: Charles Lovett
The above illustrations are by John Leech from the original A Christmas Carol.
The Legend of Santa Claus
IN the USA, the legend of Santa Claus was greatly enhanced in the early nineteenth century by the poem, A Visit From St.Nicholas.
The popularity of this story-poem, first published in 1823, continued to grow with the passing years. It was originally written for his children by Clement Clarke Moore.
Later in the century, popular illustrations by Thomas Nast, including Moore's poem, A Visit From St Nicholas, firmly established Santa Claus as a jolly, rotund figure in a red suit with a white beard. Nast's images of Santa and his red suit became accepted and remain the norm today.
The illustration is by Thomas Nast.
The Fairy Tale Moves On Its Own Time
"It all adds up to this: the fairy tale narrates a wish-fulfillment which is not bound by its
own time and the apparel of its contents. In contrast to the folk tale, which is always tied to a particular locale, the fairy tale remains unbound. Not only does the fairy tale remain as fresh as longing and love, but the evil demons that abound in fairy tales are still at work here in the present, and the happiness of "once upon a time", which is even more abundant in the fairy tale, still affects our vision of the future..."
The above insights into the role of fairy tales are from an essay written in 1930 by the German scholar and philosopher, Ernst Bloch. I believe that the context in which they were written adds to their import. Germany in 1930 was in the grip of the Great Depression. Poverty and uncertainty had swept the land. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party were feeding on people's fear and rising in power. Bloch later escaped to the USA where he wrote his renowned three-part treatise, The Principle of Hope (1938-1947).
The illustration from the Secret Of The Kells is by Tomm Moore. The painting is by Gerard Dubois.
The Elves and the Shoemaker
Here is an excerpt from a fairy tale by the Grimm's that came to be a Christmas story. It tells of the elves who helped a hard working, but impoverished shoemaker and his wife ...they, in gratitude, surprised the elves at Christmas time.
"About midnight in they came, dancing and skipping, hopped round the room, and then went to sit down to their work as usual; but when they saw the clothes lying for them, they laughed and chuckled, and seemed mightily delighted.
Then they dressed themselves in the twinkling of an eye, and danced and capered and sprang about, as merry as could be; till at last they danced out at the door, and away over the green..."
Here is link to read it all: The Elves and the Shoemaker The illustration is by Lucy Crane.
The Saga Of Santa Claus
Who is Santa? Where did he come from? How did the toy workshops get started? Where did all the elves come from and why did they agree to move to the wintry north and make toys for Santa? And how about the flying reindeer...where did they come from? These are among the many heretofore unanswered questions about the orgins of Christmas and Santa Claus.
Now, at last, author Mark Couturier has written The Saga Of Santa Claus, a fascinating book telling the complete story of the ancient origins of Christmas and Santa Claus. For a comprehensive picture of this original book, check out the enthusiastic Amazon reviews.
"The year 2015 will see the 49th annual Kwanzaa, the African American holiday celebrated from December 26 to January 1. It is estimated that some 18 million African Americans take part in Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, nor is it meant to replace Christmas. It was created by Dr. Maulana "Ron" Karenga, a professor of Black Studies, in 1966. At that time of great social change for African Americans, Karenga sought to design a celebration that would honor the values of ancient African cultures and inspire African Americans who were working for progress.
Kwanzaa is based on the year-end harvest festivals that have taken place throughout Africa for thousands of years."...Kwanzaa ends with gift giving and a celebratory feast.
This post is based on a comprehensive article by Holly Hartman.
Christmas Lights Moving Through the Hills...
A Holiday treat, and a wonder to behold, the moving lights are on hundreds of sheep, running in the darkness, guided by sheepdogs...this is a classic video...Here is the link: Moving Lights
Penn Vet Working Dog Center Philadelphia, PA is a recent recipient of a Planet Dog Foundation (PDF) grant. The goals of the Penn Vet working Dog Center are "national security, fields of detection work, canine health and performance, and to enhance that unique bond between humans and man’s best friend". The Planet Dog Foundation has awarded grants exceeding one million dollars to fund "the training, placement and support of dogs helping people in need."
"The Penn Vet Working Dog Center is part of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, and serves as a national research and development center for detection dogs. They work to train elite detection dogs to assist in medical research, national security, and finding victims of disasters. PDF has awarded a $10,000 grant in support of Punches, a female Labrador Retriever named in honor of Jack Punches, a victim of the attacks of 9/11. Punches is training to detect explosives, explosives residue, and post-blast evidence. Trained explosives detection dogs can also detect firearms and ammunition hidden in vehicles and containers, on persons, or buried underground."
Learn more about Penn Vet Working Dog Center here.
The Ghost Dog of Christmas Past
Here is an an excerpt from the dog lovers book, Circling the Waggins, by CA Wulff. The dogs seen in the ebook cover are the current residents of the cabin in the woods wherein this saga of a life with rescued dogs takes place. The book is a journey into the heart and mind of a dedicated pet lover who shares her experiences, concerns, and deep emotions with the reader.The setting is a cabin-home in a national park forest. The characters are several adopted dogs, cats, and, for a while, domestic mice -- and two compassionate women.
"I feel like we are haunted by the ghost dog of Christmas past. The season brings a million reminders of our Troll, a dog who had loved Christmas more than any other time of year. He would get excited at the first signs of holiday decorations, and his eyes would shine with a child’s wonder. On Christmas morning, he would race to be the first dog under the tree, to tear at the packages full of biscuits and rawhides. Each of the dogs would tear at a package, but Troll unwrapped with such gusto and fervor, that they would all abandon their presents to stand back and watch him, and then make off with whatever treats he had revealed."
CA Wullf also created the cover for her book.
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale
Review... Loved it… This delightful conclusion to the Planet of the Dogs series just caps off a wonderful tradition. The story is well suited to be read aloud to younger children and as chapter book for the older ones. All of your favorite dogs help rescue two of Santa's reindeer from the Evil King of the North. The story also imparts important lessons of cooperation and responsibility." Mary Jacobs, Editor/reviewer Bookhounds
We have free reader copies of all the books in the Planet Of The Dogs series for therapy dog organizations, individual therapy dog owners, librarians and teachers...simply send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you the books.
Our books are available through your favorite independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more. They are also available in digital format at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kobo, Oyster, Inktera, Scribd, Powells, Tolino,
Librians, teachers, bookstores...You can also order Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, through Ingram with a full professional discount.
To read sample chapters of the series, visit Planet Of The Dogs. -
The illustration, above, from Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, is by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty.
"What a truly wonderful and unique Christmas story for the whole family..." Don Blankenship,
Teacher, Reviewer for Great Books For Kids.
Singing One Of The Old-Time Carols
..."'I think it must be the field-mice,' replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. 'They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They're quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over—they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again.'
'Let's have a look at them!' cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door.
It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little fieldmice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, 'Now then, one, two, three!' and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time..."
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Illustration by Ernst Shepard
Interview With Santa
This interview was conducted as part of a program to determine the truth behind the incredible story of Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale....
Interviewer: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions and clarifying things.
Santa: I’m happy that the story is finally coming out.
Interviewer: Is it a true story?
Interviewer: Why haven’t we known about it before?
Santa: I think it was lost in the mists of time…It took place hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
Interviewer: Is it true that there was to be no more Christmas?
Santa: I’m sorry to say that it’s true. Until the dogs arrived.
Interviewer: The dogs?
Santa: It was a surprise to all of us in Santa Claus village. None of us, and that includes all the elves, had even heard of dogs.
Interviewer: Is that because you were so far North and rather isolated?
Santa: Well, that and the fact that dogs has just started arriving on planet earth. Prior to that time, there had been no dogs on Earth.
Interviewer: Really! Where did they come from? And how did they find you?
Santa: They had started coming down to Earth from their own planet – the Planet of the Dogs. They came down to help people. Somehow, they heard we were in trouble, and one day, there they were, just like that...
To read all of the Interview with Santa, click this link: Interview with Santa
"One Christmas was so much like the other, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
All the Christmases roll down towards the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen..."
Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
Light In The Darkness
"The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) supports developing countries to ensure that every child receives a quality basic education, prioritizing the poorest, most vulnerable and those living in fragile and conflict-affected countries.
Established in 2002, the Global Partnership for Education is comprised of 60 developing countries, more than 20 donor governments, and international organizations, the private sector and foundations, teachers, and civil society/NGOs."
Since its inception, the Global Partnership has supported developing country partners to achieve remarkable and measurable results. For example, the number of out-of-school primary school children has been reduced from 56 million to 41 million in 2012. They have also achieved substantial improvements in gender parity and major increases in the number of girls completing primary school in countries where GPE has supplied support and resources.
Here is a link for more ot the remarkable RESULTS, from around the world (updates and photos), of the Global Partnership for Education.
Hope in Dystopia in Mockingjay: Part 2
This film is being seen by multitudes of people worldwide. Based on that fact alone, Mockingjay 2 is an important YA crossover film. It is a rather long, dark, viewing experience, executed with excellent acting and all the traditional elements of a very well done action movie. Mockingjay 2 also deals with issues of morality amidst the painful chaos of war.
Richard Lawson, in his thoughtful Vanity Fair review, considered the film's significance in these troubled times as well as the "entertainment" value of the film. Here are excerpts:
"Mockingjay: Part 2 shows us, in rich and bracing fashion, the Hunger Games movies have been saying something all along—about the tragedy of youth (or anyone) in war, about post-traumatic stress disorder, about the ways we cede our autonomy to notions of comfort, to spectacle, to the easy lies of othering. The film makes these points in a far more clear-headed, more resonant manner than its source material. It’s a rare film adaptation that improves upon the original text, highlighting its crucial themes while streamlining and shaping the action into something legible and gripping...
The Hunger Games films...show us how good blockbuster movies can be. And they beseech us, in their earnest way, to be better, conscientious stewards of our own fraught and fragile world. That’s a useful message for anyone these days, young adult or not."
Here is a link to the article: Richard Lawson
Here is a link to the trailer: Mockingjay 2
Star Wars: The Force Awakens -- in time for the Holidays
The Dark Side Returns Worldwide on December 18-19 in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D...just in time
for the Holidays. Disney executives expect a very happy holiday, anticipating box office records with this $200,000,000 million dollar film. Fans will find that Harrison Ford, Chewbacca, Jedi Knights and light sabers have all returned along with the Dark Side. In keeping with changing times, the good side also has an important female warrior woman, Rey. Played by newcomer Daisy Ridley, she is also a red hot pilot.
Here is a link to Trailer #1: The Force Awakens
Review: In ‘The Good Dinosaur,’ a Reptile Tends to His Human Pet
Manohla Dargis, the excellent NY Times reviewer, wrote a warm review for this latest Pixar production. Here is an excerpt...
"Blink and you may miss the sly joke that sets 'The Good Dinosaur' on its enchantingly eccentric way. It begins with a near apocalypse 65 million years ago and an asteroid racing toward Earth. And while that’s around the time, more or less, that science hypothesizes the dinosaurs bit the dust, the wizards at Pixar have forged another creation story. Instead of crashing, the space rock zips past the big blue marble... "
Here is a link to read all of MS Dargis' review: The Good Dinosaur
Hope and Celebration are here with music... 3 minutes and 40 seconds of joy from singing kids in many places...What A Wonderful World (Playing for Change)
All About Dog Love
Nancy Houser, on her Way Cool Dogs Blog, provides a wide variety of information on dog issues ranging from health care and nutrition to canine science and dog love. On a recent post, How To Love Your Dog, she wrote about many facets of dog love. Here's an excerpt...
"How to love your dog by being a dog is something every dog owner should know about, as long as they do not continuously wag their tail!
And, whether your dog is a mischievous young puppy and full of bounding love, or an older dog that has been abandoned with very little love— it won’t be too hard to play the part.
Loving your dog makes it easy to build positive and loving feelings for this furry friend, choosing what is best to develop a better life. Dogs who are loved not only feel safe, but secure and cherished. But, recognizing if you love your dog does not mean a thing if your dog does not love you back."..The article continues, including a point by point section entitled , "How to tell if your dog loves you back".
Nancy also includes information on fascinating MRI studies regarding a dog's love by neuroscientist Dr Gregory Berns. Dr Berns wrote a book titled "How Dogs Love Us". To learn more about Dr, Berns and his MRI dog studies, here is a link to his Ted Talk.
The photo is courtesy of the wonderful Paws Giving Independence therapy dog organization, Peoria,Illonois. Please click on the photo to enlarge and to see why it was chosen.
Children, War, and Hope
Thirty million children have been driven from their homes by war. In a touching and informed article on refugee children, Jake Silverstein -- in the New York Times Magazine -- writes of this devastating situation by telling the stories of three young girls. Each is from a different part of the world: the Ukraine, South Sudan, and Lebanon. Here are excerpts from this excellent article:
..."Young as these girls are, they have already been asked to bear a profound loss. You can see it in their faces. They appear to be only half children, the other half having been matured ahead of schedule by trauma and displacement. They know what they should not. And yet, there is still that other half. They are still kids. Unlike the adults in the frame, who must be constantly aware of their dangerous ordeal, the girls, from time to time, might forget. If the moment was right, they might play a game...
That children, even under the worst of circumstances, are able to remain children supplies the world around them with the sense of a future, which is the equivalent of hope..."
The photo of the five Syrian children was taken in the Domaz refugee camp in Iraq.The photo of the young girl and her brother was taken in a Syrian refugee camp by Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty
Long Line at the Library? It’s Story Time Again
by Winnie Hu NY Times
"Story time is drawing capacity crowds at public libraries across New York and across the country
at a time when, more than ever, educators are emphasizing the importance of early literacy in preparing children for school and for developing critical thinking skills. The demand crosses economic lines, with parents at all income levels vying to get in.
Many libraries have refashioned the traditional readings to include enrichment activities such as counting numbers and naming colors, as well as music and dance. And many parents have made story time a fixture in their family routines alongside school pickups and playground outings — and, for those who employ nannies, a nonnegotiable requirement of the job...
Libraries around the country have expanded story time and other children’s programs in recent years, attracting a new generation of patrons in an age when online offerings sometimes make trips to the book stacks unnecessary. Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association, said such early-literacy efforts are part of a larger transformation libraries are undergoing to become active learning centers for their communities by offering services like classes in English as a second language, computer skills and career counseling."
The illustration of the rabbits is by Beatrix Potter.The illustration of the Moomins is by Tove Jansson.
Anna Nirva is the guiding light at Sunbear Squad, a leading source for information and guidance in dog rescue and care. Here is an excerpt from their site about fostering dogs