Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Petty Obsession

When not ensconced in Christmas reverie and responsibilies, my guilty pleasure this past week has been indulging an obsession with Peter Bogdanovich's film about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers called "Runnin' Down a Dream."

This four-hour documentary came out about a year ago and it swept me up then. On this year's tour around the Sundance Channel, it held me even tighter, though I watched it in bits and pieces.

I could chalk the film's appeal up to timing, the fact that Petty's first hits occurred as I was graduated from high school and that his music, like oxygen, has been a part of every decade of my life without me making much of an effort to really appreciate or monitor it. Or I could say that I've always had a weakness for cowboys (even wannabe cowboys) with long hair. Maybe I love a musical narrative or Petty's early anti-corporate stance. Frankly, it could be any or all of these or none of them and who cares anyway, really?

Since I had had healthy dose of Bogdanovich's version of Petty, I decided to go looking elsewhere and found Terry Gross's most recent Fresh Air interview with him and one in Rolling Stone where he says it is his last interview for "very long time."

Here's the trailer for the film:

A couple random parts of Bogdanovich's doc:

A panel where Bogdanovich talks about Petty and the film:

And for those even more obsessed than I, here's a link to 125 Tom Petty videos. Oy!

[Update: 1602, the first documentary about an American music icon that caught my attention is "Tom Dowd and the Language of Music." Netflix has it I think.

[Update: (2220) Still on the jag and have to add this Soundstage version of "You Wreck Me"]

New Ground, Sky, Year

Christmas has chewed up more than a week of my life, and I don't mean that in an entirely bad way. Heaven knows I loved cutting the Christmas tree with Eli and Sami; decorating it with ornaments from three generations of my mother's family; weeping at true life stories of redemption and kindnesses; singing Silent Night in a ring of friends holding candles circling a small darkened sanctuary in a church on the east bank of the Sheepscot River; sumptuous, slightly tipsy meals with dear friends; the sensation of sheer cool pouring off my seven year-old as he struts his new black cowboy boots; twinkly lights; visiting a re-urbaned friend in her new city digs; downhill skiing in less than perfect conditions and living to tell the tale; time to stare at the startlingly starry sky last night after tucking my horse in. No, these are not exactly akin to delivering frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child, but these longest, darkest nights afford some introspection for even the most distracted.

How I wish I could say that I have arrived at cogent, universal conclusions. Hardly. Just more reminders of my failings as a human being.

For years I have been neglecting my horse and my friends. After five years, I am still shaking off the isolation of life with my then-husband. So ingrained is this dark, bitter, hard seed that I almost fell into a similar pattern recently with my unwitting beau, Mike.

To my ex-husband, the only social situation worth a damn consisted exclusively of blood relatives. He had 50 within a few miles and some 152 who might drop by at anytime. Since I only have two blood relatives east of the Mississippi and only one in Maine, this considerably shrank my own previously broad and deep society.

Those of us with small families are the outliers at Christmas. It is especially poignant for me and Eli since, partly because of Maine Family Court and partly because of my own wish not to compete with his dad's tribe, I have not awakened on Christmas morning with my son since 2002. I am blessed every holiday, however, with my friend Becca and her crazily extended family. Their acceptance and love has sustained me through some truly dark times.

As I understand it, if Christ said anything, it is that we are all one in love and fellowship, regardless of tribe. As a card-carrying extrovert, this has been reinforced for me over and over. My friends have meant everything to me, especially since my mother died. And the friends who knew and loved my mother, many of whom I see at an annual Christmas party in Wiscasset, hold a special place in my heart.

I will never forget their stalwart support when my ex-husband's family tried to prove that I was unfit to care for my son. In a Rockland courtroom, eight of them stood up to a local criminal defense lawyer famous for crushing witnesses. Sadly, the judge was swayed enough by the pathetic, incompetent, first-timer Guardian ad Litem, Rosemary Fowles who in turn had been swayed by the first GAL, Felicity Myers, who only left the case because a magistrate was about to remove her for bias against me. The judgment left me partly in the same situation I was attempting to escape. That is a story for another day. Suffice to say the false charges my son's father and his family levied were so heinous I certainly would have lost more than I did without the support of those brave enough to tell the truth on the stand.

It would do me well to remember this in every season, not just this one.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Internet Phenomenon Explained

In a DailyKos diary today droogie6655321 makes an excellent argument that we Dems, Progressives and Liberals "need more cowbell." As an Internet junkie for nearly five years now, I inferred what he meant because I've seen a teeny video of Will Farrell banging on a cowbell used in various celebratory contexts since I started visiting forums and blogs.

Thing is, I never knew it was Will Farrell and I never understood the context. Until today. Here's a video from Saturday Night Live that makes it all clear. If you ever liked Blue Oyster Cult or Christopher Walken you'll be happy.

Maine Prisons Continue to House the Nation's Mentally Ill

There's much to be said about this. It's why I link to a news feed on prison reform. For now I will only say that Johnny Okie, a profoundly ill young man, was convicted quickly yesterday by a jury of his peers.

According to a Frontline documentary, a quarter (500,000) of the 2 million Americans in prison are mentally ill with 16 percent (320,000) classed as severely mentally ill. Make that 320,001. A young man who was arguably difficult and a drug abuser was driven to murder a friend and his father by insufficiently treated schizophrenia. He will spend the rest of his life in the Maine prison system. Other than adding him to the list of the suffering who are out of sight, out of mind, how is this in any way a good idea?

I cannot begin to say how disappointed I am in my fellow Mainers, nor how sad I am for his mother, Karen.

The whole public broadcasting documentary, "The New Asylums," can be seen online.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Being Jane Goodall

God, I love this story. Apparently some research scientists are feeling guilty about the plummeting wild chimpanzee population and the treatment chimps get in laboratories. Scientists want to do their research in more "free range" circumstances. They would get better data and the apes would get to live their lives, protected. I want to go.

No, it has little to do with Maine or politics, but articles like this are why I link to Wired.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Stenography

The coverage of our neighbor Johnny Okie's trial has been grim and lazy in both the local paper and the larger ones. Except for this confusing article in the KJ today, this tragic story has consisted of recounting what happens in the courtroom. Of course this is part of the story.

It's like day by day play by play for a sport, except that people probably know the rules of the sports they watch. Court is different. Without serious, professional attention to context and analysis of court procedure and state law, a play by play article for this kind of trial is destined to be crap. Trouble is, this kind of understanding takes hundreds of hours and reliable sources.

Parachuting in, landing in a community and trying to cover a story cold, as Joel Elliot does in the KJ article linked above, is bound to fail because the reporter has only a slight chance of quickly finding people who are both willing and able to be quoted who have useful and true information.

Two years ago Stephen Colbert called out the Washington Press Corps for its stenographic skills, so it's unsurprising that we in the hinterlands have the same problem. [n.b. the Lincoln County News editorial this week is especially to be avoided. My father the 40-year English teacher would have bled red ink all over it, complaining bitterly of vague generalities and painful banality.]

A couple essential questions I want answered, yet no one, as far as I can tell has broached:

I wish someone could explain why is this trial is taking up taxpayers' money, money that could be better spent on mental health training and care for public safety workers.

Why did six days pass and a second murder before the police effectively intervened?

My bias is upfront. John Okie was a friend. He died in a manner so tragic most of us cannot comprehend it. Karen Okie is a friend. Though I've come up short in every measure of that word, the least I can do is lobby for decent reporting of these terrible days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Fragile Mind Meets Blunt Object In Court

Weighted words dominated most press accounts of Johnny Okie’s first trial day Monday. AJ Higgins at MPBN called him a college dropout; the MaineToday site has him “butchering” his victims. What is happening to journalism when we have to go to the television, WCSH6 for a reasoned account of what happened?

There one could find that his lawyers signal that they will have to bludgeon the jury with the level and duration of his mental illness. Apparently it is not enough that Johnny and his family suffered this tragedy for the better part of a decade. He must be shown to have been deeply ill in the days leading up to the murders. A lawyer I know says, “Courts don’t do nuance.”

Saturday I’ll attend the annual party in Wiscasset where Johnny’s father, John Okie, told me five or six years ago how ill Johnny was, how worried John and his wife Karen were, and described the measures they were taking to address Johnny’s behavior.

That fall John and Karen enrolled Johnny in Kents Hill, a prep school northwest of Augusta. They drove to school better than an hour every weekend and, as I recall, sometimes during the workweek. I remember thinking how they passed my house every time and wished they would stop in, knowing well that their errand proved too serious for a chat and a cookie. Their lives were consumed by Johnny’s mental illness, his behavior and his education.

I’m guessing John felt comfortable talking with me about mental illness because he had been privy to our family’s experience with my dad’s bipolar disorder and had seen us survive relatively unscathed. John may have said schizophrenia, I don’t remember, but I know that John and Karen felt burdened by not knowing whether they were doing the right thing.

John Okie had been a family friend since my parents, sister and I moved to Wiscasset in 1972. I worked as a clerk in a pottery/used bookshop he and Peter Green shared on Main Street. John lived across the street. In those early days, John’s dog Wally and my sister’s used to disappear on days long jaunts, probably running deer, and come back gimpy and whipped by brambles.

That horrible summer day in ’07 when it became clear that John had been killed, I had just started a job as assistant newspaper editor for the Lincoln County News. During those early days in the newsroom we didn’t know Johnny’s connection to Aleigh and only had rumors about his whereabouts the night John was killed. As the police let us in on the facts, they confounded us. Why had Johnny been free for six days? How was the accident on the Wiscasset Bridge in the days before Aleigh’s death connected? What clues did it offer to Johnny’s deteriorating condition?

Now that nearly a year and a half has gone by, I believe the exercise taking place in court and in the press this week and next is a kind of torture for all concerned with no redeeming feature.

The trial certainly gives the pro-death penalty contingent something to rant about—hardly a productive use of taxpayer dollars. Johnny is nightmarishly ill and has been for at least half his life. Punishment will make no difference to him and I have to believe Aleigh Mills’ parents cannot have vengeance on their minds, despite the brutality of their daughter’s end.

If there is any justice this young man will live in a hospital for the rest of his life, safe in a place where he can hurt no one else, medicated against the demons that led him to kill those he loved.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Stutter Stepping

Our blog to share the Rev. Judith Robbins' incisive intellect with the planet has been put on hold, open only to authors, Judith, Mike and me.

I feel responsible. I should have known and warned Judith that those who don't live in this medium worry about it in ways those of us who do can hardly comprehend. I should have realized she is part of a larger house, the church, the congregation, and that they could have used some education and information before we launched immediate access to their singular pastor's singular sermons.

This is simply to say Sheepscot Bridges is on hold until the board can get their heads around the notion. It does seem strange putting the term "board" and the notion of blogging in the same space, whether in my brain or on this digital page. Nevertheless, I have faith our goals will be achieved and members of the congregation and everyone else will be able to hear the Rev. Robbins sometime in the New Year.