Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are you reading the Manivals?

By Charlie Kondek

The Manival is a weekly round up of great blogging from around the manosphere. I highly encourage you to read it and, if you're writing yourself, submit to it. Simply put, this is great personal writing on fatherhood, marriage, money, character and more that really shows the depth and breadth of what seems to be a growing community of men bloggers. I'm constantly blown away by it.

The current Manival is here at The Night Writer. Virile Lit. is in it! We also got featured in this one over at Schaefer's Blog. Sorry I missed it, Schaefer!

Here's the submission form for the next Manival, #10. There's a fantastic write up of all the Manivals to date here at Daddy Brain. Hats off to all these guys. My "buy a round for" blog roll is going to get too big to fit into my imaginary bar. We're gonna need a K of C hall or a big beer tent or something to encompass all this great content!

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Daddy, what does 'evil' mean?"

By Charlie Kondek

The nature of what my oldest son reads or, more accurately, likes to have read to him is changing. For the first time, the characters and stories that interest him have good guys and bad guys and he is trying to understand the motive and behavior of the bad guys.

Stories are driven by character and conflict. There are many kinds of characters but only three kinds of conflicts; man versus man, man versus nature and man versus himself. Until now, my son's stories have mostly involved man versus nature or, at most, man versus himself. The best examples of this are the Thomas the Tank Engine stories, which normally revolve around trains and trucks working together to overcome obstacles or finding the strength of character to persevere in the face of adversity. Ditto Bob the Builder, Lunar Jim and his other favorites.

Now my son is increasingly interested in stories that involve villains. It started with the Thomas the Tank Engine full-length feature movie, which I despise because it is a betrayal of the original intention of the series and introduces an unnecessary villain character, a train called Diesel 10 with no apparent motive for wanting to destroy everything and who is not answerable to the powers of authority that govern the trains' well-regulated world. This was the first time we discussed evil and tried to understand Diesel 10's motives. My son was absolutely fascinated by Diesel 10, always wanted to include the character in his play, and honestly found the whole situation comical. As a parent and a writer and a participant in my son's play, I rolled with this change in material, under silent protest.

These days, my son is interested in space. In space, space as understood by the makers of children's toys, there are good guys and bad guys. Buzz Light Year is trying to keep "the evil emperor Zurg" from destroying the universe. The Planet Heroes oppose "the evil Professor Darkness" and his henchmen. For the first time, my son has been introduced to the idea that when a bad guy shows up, you may have to shoot him with a laser, punch him in the nose, destroy his base with explosives and other acts of violence.

I'm not the least bit bothered by this and, indeed, am fascinated at seeing the shift in my son's understanding. I must have been just like him at one time, as we all are, innocent children incapable of consciously dealing true, pre-meditated hurt, and justifying that hurt in the name of law, order, righteousness, etc. In truth, I don't remember a time when I wasn't fascinated by an illusion of acceptable violence. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to see good guys punching bad guys, knights in armor, Bruce Lee clearing out a room full of thugs, super heroes knocking each other through walls, the works. I'm sure most boys gravitate toward that material. If you've read this blog at all, it's obvious that it's still the kind of material that interests me.

Meanwhile, I am simply watching my son grow in his comparatively shallow awareness of evil. It's led to some interesting conversations. As any parent knows, you speak of things to kids in a way the child will understand. I have instructed my son that an evil person is one who wants to hurt others and take their stuff. I haven't told him what killing is because he has only a vague idea of what death is. I've told him that sometimes people do bad things but are still good people, and that a truly evil person like Zurg is bad all the time. And I have explained that maybe evil people are the way they are because they are lonely or upset about something, and need someone to be their friend.

My oldest son, who I'm writing about, is almost five and I feel this is enough for now. I am looking forward to enjoying more of this kind of material with him and exploring these ideas further. I think it's useful as well as entertaining, and certainly one of the devices by which I have interpreted the world. You graduate from Alice in Wonderland to Darth Vader to The Godfather to The Great Questions. You grow in your understanding of evil as a humorous obstacle, as a clear cut case of right and wrong, as a complex problem that invades us all. At this point, though, to a boy who is almost five, it's most appropriate to think that evil is a caricature, just another toy, and that the best way to deal with it is to bury it in sand, roll it off the coffee table or drop your kid brother's diaper on it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who are you, Jason Miller?

By Charlie Kondek

Follow my train of thought.

Jason Miller played Father Karras in The Exorcist. He also starred in Blatty's The Ninth Configuration. I got curious about Miller and started reading more about him. Turns out he was a playwright as well as an actor who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, That Championship Season. Made into a movie in 1982. There's a play about him called "The Purgatory Diaries of Jason Miller" that described his alcoholic end.

Who are you, Jason Miller? I want to know more about you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Priests and Policemen

By Charlie Kondek

I'm hooked on the writing of William Peter Blatty.

Blatty is probably best remembered as the author of The Exorcist, the novel and screenplay. I'd seen the movie a few times and for some reason I can't quite remember looked it up online a few weeks ago and began reading more about Blatty. I became curious about him, and drawn to the spiritual, theological and philosophical agenda behind his work. So I finally read The Exorcist. It was terrific; good prose, sharp, compelling pace, strong characterization and dialogue.

I have to confess, though, that picking up The Exorcist was, for me, like picking up a loaded firearm. I had a number of associations with it due to my memories of the movie and my own feelings about faith and spiritual warfare. People of the Christian faith are warned, rightly, to be cautious about material that examines too closely what we call "the adversary." The work has, I think, a polarizing effect on such readers, and it is so prevalent in popular culture and discourse that you can get a feel for it before you even read it or see the film. I feel readers like me either encounter The Exorcist and get the slimy feeling one gets from dwelling too much on the Satanic or you feel empowered by it, encouraged by the fact that it is basically the story of God versus the devil with the good guys naturally and righteously winning. Within a few pages I was solidly in the latter camp, all my discomfort brushed aside. Well, not all of it; the book still made the hair on my arms stand up.

The Exorcist is a psychological thriller - well, a supernatural psychological thriller, a so-called "theological thriller." It's about a girl, Regan, who becomes possessed by a demon. After the girl's mother exhausts every medical and psychological possibility in attempting to cure Regan, she seeks out the help of Jesuit priests. Assigned to her case is Father Karras, a priest and a psychiatrist who has lost his faith in God due to heartbreak and fatigue. The story is, basically, Karras' attempts to find a psychological explanation for Regan's behavior – which includes speaking in multiple voices and languages, violence, changes in appearance, levitation and telekinesis – even as the supernatural explanation keeps hitting him in the face. Finally, Karras calls in the exorcist of the title, a priest named Father Merrin, and here we have a wonderful comparison between Karras, the troubled priest, and Merrin, a pillar of godly strength. The showdown commences, with Karras playing a pivotal role.

There's also a murder investigation afoot, and a budding friendship between Karras and a clever, Columbo-like cop, Kindermann (which prompts the remark about priests and policemen being identified by their uniforms, inside and out). Also examined are basic philosophical questions, namely the problem of evil and the existence of God. Blatty asks the reader to consider that some of the evil in the world is so monstrous it could conceivably come from a supernatural source, and that if you accept that you can accept the opposite, that some of the good in the world is so transcendent it must also come from a supernatural source.

I don't think I can do the strength of the work justice in this blog post, so I encourage you to read it. Be warned, Blatty was inspired in capturing the character of the demon and the work is riddled with unspeakable obscenities. But I'm gonna track down everything Blatty ever wrote. Next up for me is The Ninth Configuration, which I picked up at a dusty resale shop (my favorite kind). There's a great site on the web for all things Blatty here and all things Exorcist here. There's a much bigger story behind Ninth Configuration, a novel and a cult movie, which forms part two of an unofficial trilogy comprising The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration and Legion (later made into the film Exorcist III).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A site we like: GuysLitWire

By Charlie Kondek

Been kinda quiet around here lately. Sorry about that! Been really busy with work. But I wanted to bring this to your attention: a site that's new since May '08, and new to us, dedicated to the love of books and with a focus on young men. May I introduce GuysLitWire?
Guys Lit Wire exists solely to bring literary news and reviews to the attention of teenage boys and the people who care about them. We are more than happy to welcome female readers - but our main goal is to bring the attention of good books to guys who might have missed them. The titles will be new or old and on every subject imaginable. We guarantee new posts every Monday through Friday and have a list of twenty-three individual scheduled contributors plus several additional occasional posters all of whom have different literary likes and dislikes. We hope to provide something for everyone and will strive to accomplish that goal.
Thanks for the tip, COD!