Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Young Dad
For the few regular readers I have, you're family and already know Dad died twelve days ago. For anyone else who wanders onto my blog, that's the reason for the silence the last few weeks.  I'll return to regular posts in March.

Wallace E. Bernhardt was born on September 4, 1935 in Canton, OH, the son of Victor A. and Josephine Bernhard.  (That's not a typo - his mother changed his name.) He was baptized at St. Peter's in Canton on September 20, 1935. He and his mother moved to Detroit when he was young. He loved sailing and was a member of the Sea Scouts in his teens. After graduating from St. Joseph's High School in Detroit, Dad joined the US Navy as a medical Corpsman and was sent to Norfolk, Virginia where he met Frances Stone (also in the Navy). Dad and Mom married in March of 1957 and had four sons: Vince, Barry, David and Tim.
Dad's Naval career included a tour in Viet Nam in 1968-69 and a letter of commendation for his work in the field hospital during the Tet Offensive. Dad was dismayed the Detroit Tigers won the Series while he was in Viet Nam.  During his tour in-country he received his promotion to Chief Petty Officer. 
The highest ranking Corpsman in 1st Marine Division,
he was called "Doc" in 'Nam.
He retired from the Navy in 1972 and moved the family to Rockford, Michigan. He eventually started his own company, WEB Pest Control. I still have one of the ball caps he made for the company. He married Marcia in 1986 and became a father to her two children, Ryan and Jody.
Dad was an avid sports fan and enjoyed softball and bowling in many different leagues over the years. He also went hunting during most years, but I honestly never remember him getting a single deer.
Dad happily supported the youth in his church and was famous for the Papa Wally spaghetti dinners he served for their fund raisers. (This was something he did in his later years; I don't recall Dad cooking at all when we were younger. I never had his spaghetti.)
Dad was on a first name basis with everyone in the world, even if they didn't know it yet.
Dad died on February 8, 2013, after a lengthy illness with a recurring bout of cancer. He will be missed by many.
Fair winds and following seas… 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Hero's Journey

Wow. I don't have notes for 17 stages.

Years ago I read an article titled "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" and very much liked it. After that I gathered some of Joseph Campbell's books and read as much of them as I could absorb. He's prolific and my attention span is like the lifespan of a gnat. I don't recall much of it, but I ran across some notes I took. Here they are.
Star Wars is a “hero’s journey” as defined by Campbell. I always thought of it as a space-based western, but westerns are really our USA hero myths (which is why they are so popular around the world, I suppose). In Star Wars, the story of space faring pilots and their daring escapades is based on the hero's journey, which is an ancient form of mythology.
Now let me shift gears and try to explain my personal definition of mythology in human culture. We start with history, inevitably written by the victors. If the losers write the story also, the better story usually survives. Most people, for example, cannot tell you much about the historical sweep of Persians across the countries of the Mediterranean Sea, but almost everyone knows the story of the Spartans who stalled them. Troy was destroyed in the Trojan War, but notice that it is still called the "Trojan" war - we still celebrate the losers there also.
Once history becomes old enough, it fades, the verifying documentation disappears. Proof of the historical battles are lost in time and eventually lost in memory. Fragments of the tales remain and these become legends. Some truth of the history remains in the legend. Some fictional elements are often added to provide drama. The Trojan War was considered a legend until Schliemann found and excavated the site of the great city of Troy. (I'm not condoning his methods.)
Here people might disagree with me, but I think that legends fade even further, are a bit more embellished and become myth. Some bits of truth will still exist in the myths. For instance, I'm a firm believer that Theseus and Hercules did exist and that Plutarch accurately wrote of them in his works.
So there you have my personal philosophy: History becomes legend and legend becomes myth. I might be wrong, but I am allowed to be and can also remain adamant about my position.
C'mon. You knew I'd find a way to add Leia's picture!
Back to Star Wars! The marvelous special effects of Star Wars provide an artistic rewrite for the Magic of Myth, a space-faring realm where heroes, villains, magic and adversity lead us all on a path of discovery with young Luke, cynical Han and hopeful Leia. Star Wars became the Science Fiction mythological hero's journey that took place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
In the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell outlines the stages necessary for The Hero's Adventure. Here's what I had in my notes (I obviously didn't capture them all!).
The Call to Adventure
In mythology, the hero’s adventure begins with the “call to adventure.” The herald of the start of the quest is usually ordinary - a droid, a pig, a deer in the forest. Though the herald is ordinary, the message for the hero is extraordinary, often dismissed at first glance as impossible for the recipient and rejected by them.
The Wise and Helpful Guide
A hero first encounters “threshold guardians,” beings who block the way to the adventure. This wise mentor provides the advice and encouragement the hero needs to continue. Quite often, these guides then die a painful death leaving a lasting impression on the hero. Fortunately they will pass on the exact amount of knowledge needed to proceed, but not quite enough to excel.
The Threshold
The hero leaves his familiar life behind to begin a journey from childhood to adulthood and to a life transformation. This is the part we all feel echoing through our own lives, regardless of how mundane it seems.
Into the Labyrinth
A difficult journey into the unknown, a labyrinth, then blocks the hero and keeps him from achieving his required goals. Quite often the hero will encounter three main trials because we all feel that two is not quite enough and four would be discouraging. Star Wars is a Trilogy! Coincidence? I think not! In real life, of course, we are beset by dozens of such trials, but we're talking fiction here.
Hero Deeds
At the climax of the story the hero's quest takes the hero into direct conflict with the antagonist, usually involving mortal combat. The hero survives and is fundamentally changed. In fact, should the hero encounter his or her younger self, they'd probably slap them for being so frustrating. Often the final challenge occurs in the sacred grove, another mythic motif, representing the enclosure where the hero is changed forever.

In pondering all this, I wondered about the villain in the stories. The villain is the anti-hero, subjected to many of the same trials and tribulations, perhaps with a different mentor. The trials of the journey create the antithesis of a hero in the villain. Instead of arising after failure, the villain succumbs, taking the bitterness of life and focusing on the negative aspects of the trials. The greater the fall, the greater the villain, the greater need for a hero. So many of us love the stories of redemption, which is simply the story of the villain becoming the hero.
Should I have a point in this one? I don't know. I think each person is on a personal hero's journey through life. Not all of them make it through as heroes, but some choose to become victims, essentially taking the route of a villain in their own life. Some simply stop, choosing not to proceed further and become static. Many of us, I'm afraid, simply become the "almost-hero" and are almost content, sensing the heroic just out of reach.
I wax too long on a subject too arduous for my mind. Suffice to say, the greater the trial the greater opportunity to be a hero.
For those of you with great trials, I'm rooting for you! Some of you are already my heroes!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Heroes and Courage

I love writing and prefer fiction.
So if I think of heroes, I don't immediately think of real life, but of fictional heroes. One of my favorite on-line writing haunts is currently Writers Write. Not too long ago they posted a list of Six Type of Courageous Characters. When I wrote about leaders I began to think of heroes.
Writers Write says there are six types of bravery that create fictional heroes: heroic, steadfast, quiet, personal, devil-may-care and frightened. In my life I have met many of each of these kinds of brave people, and they are all heroes.
The heroic ones are usually easy to spot. I know soldiers who labored to save others, at great risk to themselves. My Dad and brothers fall into this category, as do all the service men and women I have encountered in life. This includes police and firefighters, but doesn't end there. Thank you all.
The steadfast ones are trickier. I know a few people who are missionaries in far away countries who could be arrested and killed at any time. They believe what they are doing is worth the risk. Every missionary takes that risk, even though we don't read about their deaths in the news. Reverend Muhoza Lewi is also such a man. Born in the Congo, now living in Rwanda, he struggles daily to provide for his family and the people in his churches.
In the last year I have encountered dozens of people with quiet bravery, and become aware of dozens more already in my life. Fighting cancer is hard, fighting crippling illness is hard - and enduring this life sometimes is hard enough.
I've known some people who, at least at some point in their lives, exhibited personal bravery. A friend of mine made some tough choices as a young man to turn his life from a drug dealer to a man who helped others in trouble. He's just one example.
I don't currently know of any people who exhibit devil-may-care bravery, but I immediately think of River Song in Doctor Who. I might tend to shy away from these people in a real-life situation. I might not. It depends on the situation and how devil-may-care, I guess. My sweet cousin moved from Michigan to Texas in 1981 in a devil-may-care act, and that sure makes her a hero in my book.
Yet everyone I know shows signs of frightened bravery in their lives. How can they not? In the face of the hardships in life, they still arise each morning, do what they must and remain strong. Sometimes the degree of bravery required is harder than at others. Our friends lost a college-aged daughter a few weeks ago. They exhibit frightened, quiet bravery every day now. A man whose work I admire just lost his wife to cancer. My father struggles in a losing fight to cancer and he struggles to take one more breath. The list goes on.
Leaders are often heroes. It takes bravery to be a leader, to speak up when you fear rejection, criticism or attack. Sometimes you fail, and it takes bravery to simply continue. That's heroic.
My Dad was a leader to each of us boys. So was my Mom. My brothers are amazing leaders in their own families and in their extended circles of influence.
There are heroes all around us in daily life, people of great courage, sometimes simply the courage of their convictions in the face of animosity. Not all of them are leaders. Leadership takes a different kind of courage. In fiction the leaders are usually heroically courageous and then exhibit many of the other forms of bravery throughout the novel.
In real life it is the same, but much more subtle. The courage is all around us; the heroes are not as common. 

Choose your heroes wisely. Emulate them. Become a hero.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Comparing Men and Women

MARRIAGE: A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn't. A man marries a woman expecting she won't change and she does.

NICKNAMES: When Laura, Suzanne, Debra and Rose go out for lunch, they will call each other Laura, Suzanne, Debra and Rose. If Mike, Charlie, Bob and John go out, they will affectionately refer to each other as Fat Boy, Godzilla, Peanut-Head and Scrappy.

EATING OUT: When the bill arrives, each guy will throw in a twenty dollar bill, even though the total is only $32.50. None of them will have anything smaller, and none will actually admit they want change back. When the girls get their bill, they will pull out calculators and compute who owes what, including an exact fifteen percent tip.

MONEY: A man will pay $2 for a $1 item he wants. A woman will pay $1 for a $2 item she doesn't want.

FINDING THINGS: A man will not be able to find the $2 item he bought a week ago. A woman will be able to tell where in the two-story house the $1 item she bought five years ago is. She also knows where the $2 item is that the man wants and is baffled that he doesn't remember putting it on the kitchen counter, in plain sight.

DIRT: A man is genetically incapable of seeing dirt unless it is in a pile or outside in the driveway. A woman will see dirt left behind by the footprints of stocking feet. A woman's ability to discover dirt is magnified when someone is coming to visit.

PHONE CALLS: A man considers ten seconds on the phone a conversation. A woman considers ten seconds on the phone the bare minimum to say hello.

CATS: Women love cats. Men say they love cats, but when women aren't looking, men kick cats. Cats respond in kind.

HEARING: A man can hear a mouse scamper in the walls at the opposite side of the house, but cannot hear a woman speaking to him from across the table. A woman can hear her cat meow in the middle of the driving rain during hurricane winds. She will send the man to rescue the cat.

BATHROOMS: A man has five items in his bathroom: a toothbrush, shaving cream, razor, a bar of soap, and a towel from the Holiday Inn. The average number of items in the typical woman's bathroom is 337. A man would not be able to identify most of these items and would be terrified if he actually knew what some of them did.

ARGUMENTS: A woman has the last word in any argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument.

FUTURE: A woman worries about the future until she gets a husband. A man never worries about the future until he gets a wife.

SUCCESS: A successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man.

DRESSING UP: A woman will dress up to go shopping, water the plants, empty the garbage, answer the phone, read a book, and get the mail. She will spend hours choosing the correct outfit for each. A man will dress up for weddings and funerals. Someone should pick his clothes for each of these occasions, since he still thinks jeans and a sport jacket is pretty fancy.

SLEEP: Men wake up as good-looking as they went to bed which, admittedly, isn't all that good. Women somehow deteriorate during the night.

OFFSPRING: Ah, children. A woman knows all about her children. She knows about dentist appointments and romances, best friends, favorite foods, secret fears and hopes and dreams. A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house.