True/False Film Festival, 2020, Film One: Where Have I Been?

It’s been a long time since I’ve bought a weekend pass to Columbia, Missouri’s famous documentary film festival. It has been too expensive for us lately, is too time consuming for a family with two dog children at home, and too challenging for two people to make commitments to the same five to ten films. So, like recent years, we have tickets to only two films. The first was Saturday, Garrett Bradley, Kellen Quinn, and Lauren Domino’s decade’s-long production Time.

It’s been a long time since I have sat down to create a new entry in my blog, having dedicated myself almost exclusively to reading and new places of employment, to the detriment, too often, of my wife and home. Settling into a velvety seat in Jesse Auditorium with a thousand other festival-goers inspired me to write again, although I can’t say it will become routine again. Actually, it may have been the film itself that inspired me.

It’s been a long time, but for me that time has flown by, filled with love and pain, wins, and losses, lots of television, and more than 100 books read. For the Rich family, time may have seemed crawl, while for nearly twenty years Sibil “Fox” Rich raised six boys alone; her husband behind bars in a Louisiana state prison. He was there for a stupid mistake while the young family was facing desperate times.

I had read “mandatory minimum sentence” in the film’s description and immediately thought, “Oh no, here is another story about ridiculous drug crime sentences that have inequitably punished people of color and lower incomes much more than others.” In the first minutes of the film I was relieved–relieved!–to find out that it was actually armed bank robbery that incarcerated a father of six. I could feel better about the long sentence.

I wrote a paper, near the end of my time in college, on capital punishment. I came to the conclusion that there are times when the good of others calls for the death penalty, but it does not serve its purpose as a crime deterrent. No one expects to be caught, and few vary how much consideration they make before committing crimes of passion or desperation based on the possible sentence to follow it. But bank robbery itself is not a capital crime. It is also not a petty drug crime. Armed robbery is serious. Armed robbery deserves a hefty sentence. But should six innocent children bear a significant part of that punishment?

Of course we must take responsibility for our actions, even if that means our own families and friends suffer unfairly. But Time asks us why our justice system does everything it can to keep its inmates–even first-offenders–inside instead of making efforts to reform them and return them to normal lives. After more than a decade of good behavior by her husband, Sibil is told by a judge that if he is released early, all the other prisoners will want their sentences reduced, too. So what!? That is your job, judge! Keep the ones who need to stay. Review the cases of the ones who maybe don’t need to stay, and treat them independently and fairly.

If I hadn’t been told about the crime behind the incarceration, I would have believed I was watching a beautiful, otherwise healthy and successful family, with a father missing only for some small reason; kids graduating from college despite an absent parent owing mostly to injustice and inequality. That was not the story, however. Victims were scarred by the crime, and Sibil later made amends with them for her own participation. At their suggestion, she also apologized to her mother: No mom raises her children to be lawbreakers.

The heavy subject and artful presentation led me to believe I was into the third hour of the film before it ended, but in fact the film’s length is less than ninety minutes, again pointing out time’s fleeting nature. Kids grow up so fast in fleeting time; shouldn’t a father who made one terrible decision be there with them for some of it, so that they can make better ones?

It’s almost nine a.m., and I have to stop writing, and do some work before another film tonight.

Time is up.


Trivia: Presidential Longevity

With the recent death of George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter became only the seventh former US President to outlive both of his immediate successors in office. He also became only the second to do so when both of his successors died post-presidency (meaning at least one successor of the other five died in office). Here is the list:

  1. John Tyler outlived his first two successors (James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor, who died in office).
  2. Millard Fillmore outlived his first three successors (Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln, who died in office).
  3. Rutherford B. Hayes outlived his next two successors (James Garfield, who died in office, and Chester A. Arthur).
  4. Grover Cleveland outlived each of his immediate successors (he served non-consecutive terms but survived Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley, who died in office).
  5. William H. Taft outlived his first two successors (Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding, who died in office).
  6. Harry S Truman outlived his first two successors (Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, who died in office).
  7. Jimmy Carter outlived his first two successors (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush). So far; he is still alive.



Top Ten Moments that Define America

Ok, so I was searching the internet for this list a while ago, and became rather frustrated with the results. Primarily because not ONE of the lists I found included the Declaration of Independence, which is the document that literally defined this country as a separate entity from Great Britain. Others left out some that I thought were critical. Still others were longer lists, and had most of the events I was thinking about, but maybe not in the top ten. So here is my own list, for future internet-searchers:

1. Declaration of Independence
Comment:  literally defined the country

2. Louisiana Purchase
Defines USA as:  AMBITIOUS
Comment: first of many “land grabs”

3. 13th Amendment
Defines USA as: FLAWED
Comment: freed the slaves, belatedly

4. Civil War
Comment: convictions to die for

5. World War I
Defines USA as: GLOBAL
Comment: 1st joined international allies

6. Great Depression
Comment: stock market crash of ’29

7. Pearl Harbor
Comment: reckless, then brave

8. Hiroshima
Defines USA as: MIGHTY
Comment: D-Day, but in small package

9. Man on the Moon
Comment: flag on another frontier

10. September 11
Defines USA as: ENVIED
Comment: a.k.a., “hated”

At first I had World War II as one event on the list, but couldn’t decide on a 10th item and felt the beginning and end of the war for America are both significant enough to be included.

Obviously it’s very hard to narrow US history to 10 moments, and several of the definition terms are represented by many other events. But this is what I came up with. There is a reason I was seeking a top ten, but it is certainly not to minimize any of the other moments that have made America what it is today.

What are your thoughts….?

The Daily Routine

I’ve logged into WordPress for the first time in too long, and the first thing in my Reader feed I read as the word SCARED, which would be a very appropriate writing prompt for me on this particular morning. But that’s not really what it says. The invitation is to accept the Daily Prompt: Sacred. I can use that, too.

man holding briefcase in hurry to office clipartWhat I have found sacred lately is the daily routine that includes getting up, going to work, coming home, going to bed, repeat. There is a lot more to it than that, of course, but that is what the people that make up the workforce generally consider the basics of it. We live to work, and vice versa, and that is pretty much true for most of us. I’ve been among the many who have been fortunate to be confidently employed for the last seventeen years, and all but six months of my post-graduate life.

That all ended yesterday.

After receiving an improvement plan that I did not see coming, with a time frame and during the time of year when I couldn’t possibly achieve its goals, I decided to resign. I did not want to get fired for Christmas.

I’m not going to take this time to complain about being unemployed, when millions of people know the pain of joblessness much better than I do. Instead, I am discussing only the absence of routine; the unfamiliar abundance of free time I will have in the days ahead. Free time is great when it is paid time off from work, but when it is unexpected, it is a void. Get up,                       , go to bed. Repeat?

I intend to take some well-deserved time off, to revisit my goals and desires, so as not to return to the same field that has twice handed me my hat. I’d like to make a better attempt to do something personally fulfilling. Something more than a paycheck. But that is easier said than done.

Maybe I will finally write something for profit. I don’t know. Maybe I will volunteer for now. Shop local. Attend community events. Talk to people. Make those connections from which I’ve tended to look away, choosing to be buried in work. Whatever it is I choose to do, the challenge is to not stay idle for long. I must develop a new, if temporary, routine.

What ever may be the tasks that occupy our days, be they for profit, for pleasure, or for something else, those are what matter. Life is sustained by activity. Mine was a quite varied work schedule from day to day and week to week, but it was routine nonetheless. The few who can spend their days in frequent new adventures and experiences still have routine in that newness: Routine is knowing what to expect, even if you’re expecting surprises.

I find that routine, while often spoken of as a vile thing, is actually something to be cherished and not violated. It is sacred.

The Aging of My Things

This week began the demolition of another of my childhood landmarks, what I knew as Crestwood Plaza in the suburbs of St. Louis. When I heard a couple years ago that it was going to fall, I felt a need to be there for part of the event, to see its demise for myself. But now I am not so sure I want to do that. I feel like I have personally witnessed enough of my past being physically erased and should keep my attention instead on my future. But I can’t help seeing my life as an internet video that is playing faster than it is loading, the live action bar at the bottom of the screen methodically gaining on the one representing the unknown story yet to come. Continue reading


A Reason to Celebrate, to Mourn, and to Praise God


I just finished David McCullough’s John Adams, and I will admit I got a little choked up at the end, as I tend to do when reading the stories of very real people and reaching the inevitable conclusion that is the same for everyone. But this one was like no other.

John and Abigail Adams left the world an abundance of personal correspondence–enough for us to really get to know them–and McCullough wrapped it up nicely in a 700-page tome. The gift the Adamses left was a window into their very beings. Continue reading

A Simple Man


Just this side of the Delaware River, in the heart of Philadelphia, is a rectangular stone slab that marks the grave of its designer–perhaps the simplest thing he ever created during a lifetime noted for historic inventions.

And                  Franklin

It is remarkable that he made it back to this continent in time to “go to bed,” as he called it, since he spent much of the second half of his life in Europe. But then, after more than 70 years of public service, he still had work left to do in America–a constitution to help write.

His life is presented in 500 pages, in Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. Continue reading