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Swimming the Echo by Brian L. Tucker

Swimming the Echo

by Brian L. Tucker

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4th of March

Villains are people, too.


DarthVader1

Yesterday, we explored the journey that a hero must undertake in any great story. Likewise, we discussed heroic feats of greats such as Neo from The Matrix, Frodo, and Luke Skywalker.

Those that represent the light. We cheer for them, because we are able to assimilate their victory into our own lives. If young Skywalker wins…we all do. If Frodo destroys the one ring, then, Sauron is gone. It’s an exciting end to an epic saga.

The way it should be.

But, what happened to make the ending so sweet in each tale?

Why was the victory so satisfying? The win awe-inspiring?

I’ll save you the lecture on rising conflict and plot points, but suffice it to say that one thing made each hero’s journey so utterly monumental and terrific–

The Villain.

Yes. I love the cry that we sometimes hear from the bad guy camps around the cinematic (and literary) world: “Hey! We’re people too!”

It’s true. The bad guys make the story a lot of times. Think about it.

  • The Joker played by Heath Ledger made The Dark Knight stand out from other all other Batman films.
  • Voldemort (yes, I typed his name…I didn’t say it) made Harry Potter interesting.
  • Heck, even Agent Smith from The Matrix added layers with his beautiful repetition of, “Mr. Anderson” when addressing Neo.

 

They are all villains drawn up to make the hero’s journey even more epic. The more 3-D a villain becomes it allows the storyline to become even richer. The rising conflict reaches a peak that draws the reader/audience into the turmoil.

Look at how much Anakin Skywalker changes from Phantom Menace (Star Wars 1) to Revenge of the Sith (3). He becomes Darth Vader. Not just a small shift from bad-to-worse but a complete overhaul as a person. The once highly touted Jedi is no more. The seduction of the dark side is too much for him. And thus, a villain for the ages is born.

I want to keep using Darth Vader as an example of the magnificent height that a villain can reach in making a storyline epic. Yes. He gives in to the dark side. But, his journey started as a Hero’s Journey.

Talk about a twist of fate, right?

Anakin was set on a course for greatness…to become a Jedi respected by all. Yet, instead of delivering on those promises, he crushes them. Anakin becomes Darth Vader and rejects peace for war. He unleashes a hell on the goodness around him, and he casts his quest for heaven aside.

It’s heartbreaking and…uniquely its own take on the “hero gone astray” motif. But…there is redemption.

*Spoiler alert*

Darth sees his son Luke in trouble with the Emperer and saves him from death. As a result of his spiritual change, Darth is restored as Anakin Skywalker just before his death. The hero-turned-villain-turned-hero has come full circle. It isn’t something we’re used to seeing in literature (or film), and the range of this villain makes for one of the best examples of all-time.

Please take in this next part, because it isn’t the model of a villain existing for the sole purpose of giving the hero some opposition, someone to fight. Yeah. The fighting is nice and battle sequences are, too. But, it’s the humanity of the villain that makes the story so well-balanced.

Again, think of your favorite story of all-time.

Got one?

Now…imagine that story without the villain roaming around, wreaking havoc.

Is it as good?

I surely hope not.

Stories given 5-stars, 2 Thumbs up, 10/10 ratings have a beginning, middle, and end. The characters depart, initiate, and return. But, the truly great ones also have flesh-and-blood good guys and bad guys fighting for their lives.

And sometimes the bad guys might’ve once been good guys and aren’t quite sure how to become good guys again…And just maybe…they do learn by the end of the tale.

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3rd of March

The Hero’s Journey


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Joseph Campbell claimed that heroes endure 17 stages in a journey, which in turn, constitutes a novel, trilogy, etc.

17 stages. 3 main headings: Depart, Initiate, Return.

How many of these are recognizable steps as you think about your favorite book, movie, TV show?

The stages being:

I: Departure –The call to adventure!

  • Refuse the call
  • Supernatural Aid
  • Crossing the First Threshold
  • Belly of the whale (willing to change)

 

II: Initiation–Road of trials

  • Meeting the Goddess
  • (Woman) as temptress
  • Atonement with the Father
  • Apotheosis
  • Ultimate boon

 

III: Return –Refusal to Return

  • Magic flight (adventure/danger, pursuit, obstruction/evasion)
  • Rescue from without
  • Crossing Return Threshold
  • Master of two worlds: physical & spiritual
  • Freedom to live: no fear, live in moment

 

If you analyze this 17-stage process like George Lucas did, you will definitely see the symmetry between his storytelling in Star Wars and the Departure, Initiation, and Return of young Luke Skywalker.

Similarly, you can note these changes in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as Frodo embarks on his quest to Mount Doom, and in The Matrix, as Neo realizes he is The One.

There are specific stages that heroes must endure, in order to accomplish the tasks set before them.

What is your favorite example of Campbell’s detailed process? Do you have a story that works so seamlessly within this system that you almost forget there’s a storyline behind it?

Maybe that’s the secret of the world’s greatest storytellers…seamlessness.

If a story can be told so flawlessly that we forget we’re being led through Middle Earth, battling the White Witch in Narnia, we’re related to Darth Vader, and/or no longer need to dodge bullets, then, we can fully believe that the 17 stages aren’t what’s most appealing about the journey, but the entire journey itself.

I re-read these stories (and re-watch their film adaptations), and I appreciate the genius behind their storylines each time. Essentially, the 2-D becomes 3-D to the reader/viewer in each rare example. There aren’t any glaring holes or glitches like we used to find in our beloved early video games (RIP Contra).

It’s storytelling of the highest order. I ask again if you have a favorite example that can be put through this 17-stage ringer and come out relatively unscathed, up to par?

No story is completely perfect, but many have the makings of it. Only a select few reach us at a level where we appreciate their creation…marvel at the brilliance of a world newly discovered.

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2nd of March

Etiquette.


top-hat-1395333-mEtiquette.

Not a word that gets thrown around as much in 21st century living as it did a few hundred years ago.

Imagine the streets flooded with men wearing top hats and tipping them at passersby to show their acknowledgement and respect for other forms of human life–not just their own.

The act of holding open a door so that others might enter before oneself was a thoughtful gesture but also a sign of dignity and valuing others.

The golden rule: Do unto others…as you’d have them do unto you.

Politeness was a sign of good decorum. It was reflective of good breeding.

Nowadays, when I think of the word etiquette I immediately think up images of where the salad fork should rest in formal dining settings, and where a server stands while pouring drinks for restaurant patrons.

This isn’t really the context of etiquette that I wanted to discuss. But, I’m sure there’s a right way to eat with 3 different-sized forks, if the situation requires it. (Let’s save that conversation for another time.)

I want to just think about the word holistically, and what it used to mean in 1750, when it was derived from the Old French word estiquette: “prescribed behavior” or, just plain, old good manners.

In the southern US, etiquette often became ingrained with societal rules and conventions, and these weren’t necessarily bad things. Sure, the styles of dress, usage of proper English, and day-to-day etiquette were reflective of a much different US, but the overarching message was still the same.

The golden rule applied then like it does today, 3/2/2015. People still love to have doors held open for them, elevators halted, and places in line saved. Regardless of whether someone is wearing a top hat and 3-piece suit or UK ball cap and blue jeans, the hospitality (and heart behind it) is what matters most.

It’s true that a top hat is a lot of fun, and I pray everyone starts wearing them in 2015 like they did in the past. But, I think a person’s heart is still intact in 2015, despite our change in dress and lifestyle. We might not look as good in our day-to-day functioning as our forefathers did, but we haven’t forgotten our etiquette altogether.

The French got something right in 1750 when they pointed out this trait and gave it a name.

Good old manners.

They’re not something that should ever go out of style. Whether you choose to play on your cell phone while walking out into a busy intersection or forget to wash your hands at a greasy buffet, common sense still applies today.

Ask yourself: Am I hurting others with my actions? Think of that golden rule and ask: Would I do this to myself? Truly? Or, am I treating myself as being better than others?

It might make someone else’s day all the better, if you treated them like a king or queen. It will definitely make yours that way.

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1st of March

Being someone’s keeper.


playing-at-the-beach-196156-m Today – I heard a message at church about being someone else’s keeper…being beholden to someone else. In the case of the Old Testament, it’s depicting the story of Cain and Abel and Cain not owning up to telling where his brother, Abel, was, when asked. (He actually killed his brother out of jealousy and envy.)

This is an extreme case, but still one worth noting where selfishness and self-centeredness can lead a person. It’s fairly safe to say, we have a love affair with egocentrism in our country.

Let me clarify. Many of us have a real ongoing struggle with love of popularity. I know I do. It’s something I battle everyday. Facebook updates, over-booking my daily schedule with hobby-based activities, profile views on LinkedIn, etc. It’s all a status check daily, and it reminds me of the child-like attention craved in grade school.

Like I said, I wrestle with social media and it’s false sense of security. If you don’t wrestle with this, then, I am thankful that you are free of it (or, can balance it with real-world interactions).

At church today, we saw a video of a guy driving a sports car recklessly around a corner with a sharp bluff below, and an on-board camera showing him going over the bluff and crashing. The camera gave us a vantage point that we really (as an audience) didn’t want.

It was a reminder (to me) that life is more than just profile updates and social media feeds. Also, it showed me that people looking out for one another is an essential part of living on this planet. No person is an island unto themselves (thank you, Mr. John Donne). We need others in our lives that can invest and mentor us and vice versa.

Someone should not only be our brother’s keeper but we should be someone else’s too. It’s the way life was meant to be lived. In a community. With real human beings. When a friend drives off a bluff, we shouldn’t stop to watch from a safe distance, but instead, we should run to help them. Letting Cain’s issue with loving his brother Abel be a lesson to us, we should love those in our lives that genuinely are there for us, and continue to be beholden to those that want us around as mentors.

Happy March 1! -Brian

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28th of February

This week: “Baptisms & Dogs” goes to Washington, D.C.


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A dear friend, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Matt Smith, has had quite a run from military service to playing music at the White House with Willie Nelson, John Fogerty, Common, and other cast recently with his Smith Auer Band. I wanted to include a message he shared with me regarding Baptisms & Dogs: Stories and its placement somewhere very cool this week.

Here’s his message below:

At my current duty station (Marine Barracks, Washington) we have this historic officers club. Each member leaves a book for the club’s large library when they leave. They have thousands of books ranging from military focus to novels and the Bible! Well I am proud to say that I presented the club (famously referred to as ‘Center House’) with a copy of Baptism and Dogs! I told the story behind how I know you and already many officers are wanting to read it!

A guy took it home to read literally ten minutes after I presented it.

“Center House” is the officers club at Marine Barracks Washington DC. Each officer leaves a book when they depart the duty station. We also write a short note on the flap to all the Officers of the Center House Mess.

The room has a fireplace as well. Here are the pictures.

11005796_10101251549152743_9675092_n            10927958_10101251549147753_408336355_n

 

I can’t say ‘Thank you’ enough to him sharing my book inside this cool, covert location. It gave me that James Bond, Ian Fleming feeling going into March. I wonder how many people have hung out in there over the course of our nation’s history. Cool stuff!

-Brian

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27th of February

Audible edition of “Baptisms & Dogs” book forthcoming.


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Hey readers, friends, and friends that are readers and friendly readers:

I wanted to give you the update, as soon as I found out that it was gaining some momentum. I have accepted a collaboration with Mr. Barry Newman to have a narration of “Baptisms & Dogs” available soon on Amazon!

Mr. Newman is a pro, and I’ve been able to sample a few of the first run-throughs he’s done on the collection. They sound good. Almost like hearing music played on a record for the first time.

He has a great accent and gets the sense of place just “right”. Here’s a sample of his work from a previous project: http://www.audible.com.au/pd/Biographies-Memoirs/Im-Ugly-and-Broke-Audiobook/B00HLM0F0U. Check him out. Again, his ability to keep the tone of a story serious, darkly comedic, and narrative all at once is quite impeccable.

I hope you’ll support us in this endeavor, as “Baptisms & Dogs” Audible edition will be up on Amazon in the coming weeks (March/April 2015). It adds a WHOLE new level to the Kindle/Print reading experience, and it makes each story come alive.

Hope you are as excited as I am about this opportunity!

Here’s to a great time reading.

– Brian

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26th of February

Underdogs Must Win.


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Saw McFarland, USA in theaters today.

Was reminded of the amazing story of the underdog.

Kevin Costner plays coach Jim White (based on a true story). He moves his family to a predominately Latino community of California and takes over within a P.E. teaching capacity, which, in turn, leads to him creating a track team. The local players we discover do so much more than just compete, as it’s shown how they wake up, work in the fields, run to and from school, and participate in practices after school.

Their work ethic is unparalleled to other athletes across California, and the movie showcases how the coach’s family becomes immersed in a community that embraces them, even when he is reluctant to plant deep roots.

Like many true stories, this one reveals its scope to be larger than the 2-hour film itself. It was uplifting and inspiring sure. But, this one had more than most sports classics. I’d put it in the elite category of sports film greats like–Rocky and Hoosiers.

The underdog story rang true with a lot of life lessons thrown in, and (as is often the case with good intentions) Jim White’s family gained more from the move to McFarland than those they lived alongside that first year.

It called to mind a formative, final year of high school basketball for me. I remember the 2002-2003 senior year at my alma mater (Monticello High School) and playing basketball, as if it were yesterday.

We had a small squad, only won 1 game all year, and that season was the hardest of my life. I remember losing a game and our record moving to 0-10, and I felt like the world had stopped turning at that tournament in northern Kentucky.

I remember our coach not taking it out on us; he knew it was just nearing the middle of a tumultuous storm that wouldn’t let up until mid-February. Going 1-25 was less than ideal…but he stayed with us.

The illnesses, wearing out 3 pairs of shoes, experiencing bad foot problems, broken bones, and broken hearts were just the beginning of what would be the longest year of our lives. But, I was thankful for the teammates I had.

I watched those 7 runners from McFarland High School, and their perseverance made me reflect (if you can believe it…I hardly can) fondly on my own torturous year. FONDLY. Yes. You read that right.

We lost and lost and lost some more. But, somehow our team learned something in the midst of all of those beatings: we were some tough sons of guns.

Some nights we were down 30 points by half-time and some games we lost by a last second 3-pointer that was partially blocked. But, lost we did until the last game of the regular season (and my last home game ever) at MHS (same initials as McFarland, too).

McFarland’s perseverance was in overcoming all of the negative opinions other districts had of them and balancing the hard livelihoods that their families expected of them.

Our perseverance, at Monticello, was similar in regards to the poverty aspects, because we were listed as being the 2nd poorest district in the nation. (Today, we are officially closed as a school system. Our school didn’t have a place to host our 10-year reunion in 2013.) Yet, we didn’t face the finality of not being able to go to college or work in places that we could largely pick on our own accord.

Our options were still fairly limitless.

I’m thankful for the underdog story of McFarland, USA, and it reminded me that my own Monticello, USA story is unique and apart of me, no matter where I go.

Now if I could just get Costner to lace up his Nikes and play Coach Shane Blevins on the big screen we’d be in-business. Does someone know where he can be reached?

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25th of February

Options.


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I have a hard time picking out anything. Just ask my lovely wife.

In a Kroger, I once took 45 mins. to pick out a Hot Pocket.

There were just too many options.

Netflix. Help me please. There are thousands of good, bad, and ugly options in every genre of film.

We bought a car last year, and well, you can imagine how that went. I was comparing makes, models within makes, and cross-referencing dealerships with Kelley Blue Book all at once. And making a decision on that… almost killed me.

Now, imagine my disdain when walking into the new building where I work and discovering that on the first floor there is a bathroom labeled ‘Women’ and one beside it labeled ‘Unisex’ with a man/woman shown on it.

Nature called one day, and I opened the door (cautiously) and walked into the Unisex.

Inside there was a big open space, 1 urinal, and 1 closed-door toilet.

I tried to lock the exterior restroom door–no dice.

I didn’t feel it appropriate to use option 1, and option 2 was the most nerve-wracking 30 seconds of my life.

Suffice it to say that a poor decision-making man shouldn’t tackle these fast-paced locales often.

Much to my chagrin, the world seems to be offering more options than ever before, and I know it sounds ungrateful (because we’ve been blessed with so much in this country), but the overwhelming gift of choice has almost brought my mind to a standstill in recent months.

Phone types, phone plans, Subway submarine sandwich toppings, single or combos, best meal deals, best deal for a cup of coffee, best fuel price, best fuel type 87, 89, 93, trustworthy places to get a car repaired, best neighborhoods to live in, and best and best and best. The options seem to be limitless, and while I love knowing pets can have chips implanted inside them to keep them safe from ever being lost, I can’t for the life of me answer questions like “Would I like to implant my pet?” on the spot when asked.

That is all. Have a great night and tomorrow!

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24th of February

Calamari in the Office.


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I bring some revolting (popular opinion, not mine) lunch items into the office:

-sardines in a can (oil, water, hot sauce, and mustard)

-sauteed onions (day old, reheat)

-hot dogs without a hot plate (for reheating, gets a little messy)

-week old chili (without a cover, again, can be messy)

-fried calamari (rings and tentacles)

And-

Today, was calamari in the office! I love calamari. Have you ever fried your own? I agree, reheating any of the above items can be less than pleasant. But, I get to enjoy the fruits of yesterday’s cooking labors. That has to count for something. Right?

I know…I know. “What about those poor souls that have to be around the reheated funk that you’ve created, inside the close quarters where you work?”

My excuse: I bring it all back to the necessity of assuaging hunger pains, not having the ability to drive to lunch, and being in a bind for time.

My reasoning: I planned my lunch a day in advance. It counts for something. I guess I could take it to another wing of the building. But, I mean c’mon, then I’m just some weirdo eating calamari by himself in a remote section of his workplace.

Let me take it all back to the best argument I can give you…it can always be worse than someone’s reheats. It can.

“What can?” you ask.

And my response is simply, “It can be worse than my calamari’s juicy reheated morsels.”

And I’ll paint the picture for you:

I once worked in an undisclosed location where there was little light, little talking amongst co-workers, and cameras on every corner of the building. This nondescript building (many moons ago, I might add) instilled a bit of fear in everyone that worked there. Even the security guards were rumored to look over their shoulders like they might be snatched away at a moment’s notice.

Wait…

That’s an exaggeration. But you get my drift. This was a bad place to spend your business hours working for the man (or woman). Anyways, there was a co-worker that NEVER and I mean NEVER packed her lunch. Didn’t do it. Didn’t plan to ever do it. Instead, she packed or “found” whatever tasteless morsels she had left (or someone else had) over the years and sampled these things to count as her meal-time options for Breakfast, Lunch, and if the day really got out-of-hand: Dinner.

So…she was a scavenger. Plain and simple. She scavenged for sustenance. Some days it was a simple Pop Tart twin pack she found hidden in a compartment of her briefcase or Twinkies hanging by a thread from a previous person’s failed attempt at using the coin-operated snack machine.

She could shake a snack machine like no one I’ve seen before or since.

Anyways…one day she had met the end of her scavenging prowess and came up empty (or, worse than empty in our collective co-worker minds). She found something I can’t believe constituted “Breakfast” to her at 8:45am. [A time when most people are ether making their real breakfasts or deciding to tough it out until the next appointed meal–lunch.] I was in the toughing it out until lunch crowd, when I smelled what she was making.

Popcorn. Act II Movie Theater Extra Butter popcorn.

The clock read 8:48am when the microwave door was opened, the noise of the bag shook over the tops of our cubicles, and the sound of her chair squeaking back into place.

The smell was overpowering. Many people started coughing (those, like me, that hadn’t been fortunate enough to have already consumed breakfast), and those that didn’t head for the bathroom straight away, tried to work on the other end of the floor until the smell subsided.

The problem with Extra Butter popcorn is that it doesn’t evade. As a smell in an enclosed space goes, it only intensifies. I stayed in the bathroom for a good while and kept looking out at the empty cubicles around Act II.

I say all of this (and relive the essence of Butter popcorn before breakfast) to simply state that calamari kept inside an enclosed jar and walked safely back to a fully enclosed office space isn’t so bad.

Right?

Remember this: it could always be worse. It could always be hydrogenated vegetable oil and artificial butter flavoring wafting through the air before 9am.

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23rd of February

Repairs


the-wall-madness

From a misaligned spine to my car clunk-clunk-clunking, it is evident that things break down.

Never in my life did I think aches and pains would rear their ugly head at me so soon. 30 years old. Alas!

2015 has brought the Boom! (Thank you P.O.D.)

I twist my back to the left and pop. The temporary pain has been appeased. Now, if only it would stay that way…away.

“I got no time for you back pain and old man problems. I need to be running 8-10 miles today. Doing something heroic.”

Like my poorly made Jeep, I find 8-10 miles a long distance to cover in my current shape. Running on a treadmill might’ve been the instigator originally. Whatever the reason, I am sidelined until things are put back into place.

“Friends, I love you. But, I can’t go into that mosh pit and be jostled around. Or, sit in a theater for 3 hours and watch Michael Bay blow stuff up. As much as I might want to.”

I have a newfound respect for those with permanent injuries, and yet, tote them around without grumbling or complaining.

I learn an important lesson through their silence and perseverance. They are mastering their obstacles and blazing new trails, despite their afflictions.

It is amazing, and I want to be more like them.

‘Thank you’ to those fighting through it. I can see something worthwhile in your example everyday.

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