About County Board Candidate Dave Van Allen

If you live in West Bloomington’s District 8, odds are you’ve probably already met County Board candidate Dave Van Allen.  After all, so far he’s visited 1500 households!

I don’t live in West Bloomington, therefore I can’t vote for Dave.  Furthermore, I won’t pretend to be an expert on politics in general, including those of Dave Van Allen.  However, I can comment on Dave as a long-time friend.

I met Dave Van Allen almost seven years ago after he began dating my friend and coworker, Amanda.  Since then, I’ve been to his wedding, played with his adorable baby boy, attended countless dinners with him and his wife, lost innumerable card games along his side, and even helped move him into his 92-year-old house.  In other words, I’ve gotten to know Dave pretty well over the years, long before he ever considered running for the County Board.

Dave Van Allen has always struck me as a calm personality.  I’ve never seen him upset, even when perhaps he had every right to be during some heated card games.  He takes everything in stride, and when met with a challenge, finding a solution is his first objective.  Dave is the antithesis of “erratic”-his words, actions, and demeanor are purposeful, composed, and peaceful.

Consequently, Dave Van Allen is also one of the most business-minded people I’ve ever met.  Though it doesn’t consume his existence, Dave is very enthusiastic about finances and fiscal responsibility.  Finding the most cost-efficient means of executing an action is not only a preference for Dave, it’s a full-on sport!  Watching him spare no effort in finding the best deal has always been both amusing and impressive, and I have gone to him for financial advice on several occasions.

But, even with that being said, Dave is far more than just a savvy businessman.  Dave is also a kind husband and loving father.  He is a devoted Christian and active member in his church.  He cares about his community and is endlessly eager to find ways to improve it.

I assure you Dave Van Allen is a good husband, a good father, a good community member, and a good friend.  In my mind, it only stands to reason he will make a good representative on the County Board as well.  I ask that you keep him in mind come November 4th.

Learn more about Dave Van Allen at his website:

http://www.votevanallen.com/index.php?link=home

-Scott William Foley

Meeting Tim O’Brien

Last Thursday, I had the honor of meeting Vietnam veteran and novelist Tim O’Brien.

Now, first things first: I honestly had never heard of Tim O’Brien before my invitation to attend a private reception for him at the Bone Student Center.  I obviously needed to read one of his books before talking with him, so I got in touch with a few friends and they quickly suggested I start with O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

I ran to my nearest bookstore and picked up a copy.  It astounded me!  O’Brien writes mostly about his Vietnam experiences, but he calls his work fiction, and so therefore the reader never quite knows what “really” happened and what he’s fabricated. 

The Things They Carried utilizes such potent emotional honesty and simple, vivid imagery that it really does haunt me still to this day.  O’Brien cuts to the core of what most of us are really like beneath are words and gestures.  When the chips are down, when we’re called upon to rise above, O’Brien knows how most of us (admittedly himself included) will honestly react. 

His stories dig deep because we see ourselves in each of his characters, and most of us know that if we were put in the place of those characters, the end results would probably remain the same.

I’m looking forward to reading more from Tim O’Brien, but this isn’t a book review, so I’ll move along to meeting the man.

Armed with my (read) copy of The Things They Carried, I put on my best formal-but-not-too-formal outfit, grabbed an umbrella to ward off that day’s never-ending rain, and headed out.  It had been a rough one with the baby that afternoon, so I was both a bit frazzled and running a little late.  When I arrived at the Founders’ Suite in the Bone Student Center, I walked in, realized I had my book in a grocery bag to protect it from the rain, and walked right back out to find a garbage can. 

Good start, huh?

On the second take, I walked in and was quickly greeted by Toni Tucker-the event organizer-and her coworkers and interns.  These friendly faces immediately helped relax me, and so I talked a bit with them, slapped on my nametag, propped my umbrella against the wall, and made my way into the main room where several people surrounded Mr. O’Brien and were having a pleasant conversation. 

Mr. O’Brien wore a black suit with a red tie and his ever-present baseball cap (which was navy blue, if you’re interested). 

I glided right past he and his group and made my way to the tasteful wine bar.

Perhaps now would be the time to mention I get very nervous in general about a lot of things, but especially among people whose work I admire.  For instance, when I met Michael Chabon in Chicago several months ago, I sounded like a total moron. 

I hoped I would do better with Tim O’Brien.

I didn’t.

So anyway, I approached the wine bar, asked for and took the bartender’s suggestion since I know nothing about wine, then grabbed the nearest wall where I could watch and listen to Tim O’Brien’s conversation without a chance of actually being drawn into it.

Pretty soon one of Toni Tucker’s coworkers approached me and we had a nice talk, mostly about Elie Wiesel’s visit from a few weeks before.  Then Toni herself appeared and asked me why I hadn’t spoken to Mr. O’Brien yet.  My heart started racing and I muttered something about not wanting to overwhelm him with too many people, and she quickly scoffed at me and led me right up to the man.

My mind emptied like an aboveground swimming pool full of bullet holes.

I mumbled how thankful I was for his coming to visit us in Central Illinois, and he politely said it was his pleasure.  Toni then asked if he’d sign my book, which he nicely agreed to do.  As he was signing, my chronic verbal diarrhea attacked and I began talking about how happy I was to make it to his reception, that I’d been elbow-deep in poo-bombs all day with my baby girl, and I just wasn’t sure if she’d settle down enough for me to leave her.

When Mr. O’Brien heard the word “poo,” I got the look.

I knew it well.

Michael Chabon had given it to me several months before.

And like with Michael Chabon, I kept talking.  And talking.  My brain yelled “STOP TALKING!” but my mouth wouldn’t comply.

He handed my book back to me, smiled, shook my hand, and then I wished him luck with his talk that night.  Afterwards, I moped away, cursing my incessant need to talk about nothing when I get nervous.

I spent the rest of the reception talking with a former coworker, his father, and some other nice people all-the-while wishing I had been more articulate and intelligent when meeting Mr. O’Brien.

When I got home from the reception I discovered my daughter had developed a red bump on her tongue during my absence, which thankfully turned out to be nothing.

An hour later, I left for ISU again to listen to Mr. O’Brien’s address at Braden Auditorium after my wife assured me she and baby would be fine.  Toni had kindly given me front row tickets, so I settled in next to my former coworker and his father and thoroughly enjoyed Mr. O’Brien’s talk.

He mostly told stories to illustrate his points about writing and life, and he was both hilarious and full of gravitas at the same time.  This is not surprising considering his books are equally juxtaposed.

I think the words that affected me most deeply were that when we send men and women to war, especially when a draft is in effect, we’re essentially sending children out to slaughter children.  We teach them “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and then we toss them into combat and tell them you better kill somebody or we’ll throw you in jail.  We are a society of contradictions and that sort of thing has to catch up with us one day-if it hasn’t already.

He also warned us against anyone who deals in absolutism.  I’ve always been terrified of those people who see things from only one perspective without any willingness to consider another angle, and Mr. O’Brien solidified my fears.  Absolutes are the quickest way to war, and also the quickest way to make sure children slaughter other children.

But you have to understand that Mr. O’Brien was not pulling the self-righteous card.  He offered several instances when he did not act bravely.  He recounted an event where one of his fellow soldiers picked on an old, Vietnamese man and he didn’t intervene.  He spoke in great detail about killing an enemy soldier with a hand grenade whom he could have allowed to walk unknowingly by and how he still sees the man in his thoughts to this day.  He talked about many moments of insanity in Vietnam, and he also spoke about rare moments of true, moral fortitude. 

He was there, and he shared with us those things from Vietnam he still carries.

I found Mr. O’Brien exceedingly honest, humble, insightful, and engaging.  I’m so glad I got a chance to meet him and listen to his speech.  I’ve even almost forgiven myself for talking to him about “poo.”

While I was at his talk, the neighborhood’s power went out and my wife had been on her hands and knees crawling up the steps in search of a flashlight.  My daughter, never before subjected to complete darkness, was not handling the situation well.  Eventually they found a flashlight, the baby settled down, and after I got home we all sat together and waited for the electricity to return, which it did two hours later.

The Batman Befuddlement

I need to say this from the outset:  I’ve been a huge Batman fan since the age of three.  In 1980, my mom brought out my Batman birthday cake and I’ve been a bat-fan ever since.  Nothing will ever change that.

 

However, even I must admit, when looking at Batman from a motivational standpoint, some inherent problems arise.

 

The following is strictly meant for fun.  I am a firm believer in the suspension of disbelief when it comes to entertainment, and I’ll take my Batman any way I can get him.  Nevertheless, it’s always stimulating to dissect the icons of the comic book world, and Batman is certainly laden with controversy.

 

The whole idea of what “motivates” a super hero, or any character for that matter, can be a tricky one.  Superman is motivated simply because he was taught to do the right thing.  Spider-Man’s motivation comes from a healthy mixture of guilt and the lesson “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Batman’s motivation, though, is far more complicated.

 

As a child, Bruce Wayne’s parents were gunned down before his eyes.  For the average child, this would be a terrible occurrence, but the impact of the event likely would have lessened over time if the child required posttraumatic care.  Certainly, depending on several variables, such a child would go on to live an adult life of relative normalcy.  Lifelong counseling would perhaps be necessary, perhaps not.

 

In Bruce Wayne’s case, he inherited more money than most of us can imagine.  He probably would have had all of his father’s medical friends checking up on him emotionally and psychologically.  He probably would have been sent to the best schools in the world and, in time, the pain of his parents’ murder would have faded just a little.  Perhaps his sense of injustice would have driven him to become a lawyer, or a police officer, or a missionary.  What happened in Bruce Wayne’s case is instead disturbing.

 

At some point during his childhood, relatively soon after he lost his parents, Bruce Wayne embarked upon a quest to learn from all of the greatest minds and fighters the world had to offer.  Some versions of the Batman mythos have him doing this because he already knew he wanted to combat crime on a personal level, some have him doing it simply to deal with his pain.  When he returned, he found his city corrupt.  And so, when deciding how to combat the hell his city had become, a bat inspired him to become a vigilante and do one of two things, depending on your outlook: take revenge on the criminal element that resulted in his parent’s death, or make sure no one else lost loved ones to crime as he did.

 

In literature—and I’ve sincerely considered comic books literature for twenty-eight years—such character motivation is dramatic, potent, charismatic, and wildly engaging.

 

I think it’s necessary to look at this from another angle.  Bruce Wayne has no real adult friends.  Alfred is more of a care provider, so he doesn’t count.  He may hang out with the JLA and Outsiders, but he has files on how to take them all down, and they know it, so how true of friends are they?  Jim Gordon is Batman’s ally, but not Bruce Wayne’s friend.  Tim Drake and Dick Grayson are more like his little brothers or soldiers than friends.

 

My point is, Bruce Wayne seems to be in a state of arrested development.  Sure, he may very well be one of the world’s greatest thinkers and martial artists, but he’s devoted his entire life to a moment from his childhood.  Yes, admittedly a terrible, significant moment, but a day from his childhood nonetheless.

 

If I’m Superman or Green Lantern (pick any GL you want), and I look over at a dude dressed as a bat who can’t get over the death of his parents from over twenty-five years ago, I’m asking some serious questions.  They know he’s Bruce Wayne, according to current continuity.  They have to wonder, if crime is so terrible in Gotham City, why doesn’t Bruce use his millions to better equip the GCPD.  Why doesn’t he open rehabilitation centers and after school programs?  Why doesn’t he run for office and make changes happen internally?  Bruce Wayne, with his fame and fortune, could very well combat all the crime he hates in a variety of ways, all of which would have greater impact than what he does on a street level.

 

This can only lead me to believe that Bruce’s guilt or his selfishness won’t allow him to move beyond that night from his childhood.  He must deal with crime on a face-to-face basis, though his fortune and social standing would surely accomplish much more.  For that to happen, consequently, he would have to act the adult.  He would have to interact, as a genuine adult, as Bruce Wayne with real people his own age.  No masks.  No costumes.

 

The only “friends” he has are taken on when they’re very young and given the mantle of Robin, which leads me to once again determine Bruce is in a state of arrested development.  His adult friends wear masks themselves, or he refuses to remove his own mask, or Batman persona, before them.  At what point does Bruce Wayne become a genuine human being capable of healing?

 

The age-old question with Batman is, which is the real identity—Bruce Wayne or Batman?  Either answer is a disturbing one when looked upon realistically.

 

But, comic books are not the real world—for better or for worse—and Batman will forever be one of my favorites.  Looked at from a strictly imaginative perspective, he is everything the human mind and body could hope to accomplish.  When I was little, I didn’t want to be Superman because I knew it was impossible.  But, as a child, I thought if I exercised enough and studied enough, I could actually become Batman.

 

As someone suspending his suspension of disbelief and looking at Bruce Wayne from a realistic, psychoanalytical perspective, Batman seemingly refuses to grow up.

Win a Free Book!

Enter to win a free copy of my short story collection, The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II!  This collection has stories such as fantasy, realism, horror, science fiction, humor, inspirational, and historical fiction.  It literally has something for everyone!

All you have to do is email me at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com with “I Want To Win!” in the subject line.  I’ll then drop your name into a hat, and on Halloween night I’ll randomly select FIVE winners!  I’ll personally email the winners to congratulate them and get their home address for free shipping.  First names of the winners will be posted on my website, so you can check back there next Saturday for the results.

As always, there are a few rules:

  • You must live within the United States to win (due to the free shipping).
  • If you win, you agree to write an objective review (at least ten words) of The Imagination’s Provocation: Volume II at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com within six months. You also allow me the right to quote your review at my own website. What happens if you win and don’t write a review? I’ll chase you down with a wet noodle, that’s what happens!
  • If you participate in the contest, you will receive my monthly e-newsletter and sporadic updates which you are free to read or delete at your discretion.

I hope to hear from you soon, and good luck!

Regards,
Scott William Foley

Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come (Part I) – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve always enjoyed JSA, mostly because Geoff Johns has made a point to keep one foot in the past with the title while keeping the other foot firmly planted in the future.

With the Justice Society of America re-launch, the team has a new mission statement of making sure the world has better heroes, and so they are first tracking down legacy heroes and training them to deserve the mantle they’ve assumed.

Thy Kingdom Come is particularly fascinating because it reintroduces Superman from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come series.  In expert juxtaposition, Johns makes a point that while the Earth-2 Superman thought Earth-1’s heroes weren’t heroic enough, the Kingdom Come Superman finds Earth-1’s (New Earth’s) heroes inspiring and invigorating.  Any writer will tell you that good writing means making use of unusual perspectives, and Johns does just this with KC Superman.

Furthermore, I love the KC Superman because he has an edge to him.  He’s damaged goods.  After all, he watched his world’s heroes demean and destroy themselves and did nothing until the (relatively) very end.  He wants a fresh start as well, a chance at redemption, and that makes him very compelling.

But among such heavy themes and dangerous adventures, Johns also brings about quite a bit of joyfulness.  Boxing matches between Wildcat and his son, fundraising at the local firehouse, and ski trips are just part of what makes this team such a delight to follow. 

Johns also mixes established, semi-established, and brand new characters in this book and gives each a chance to shine in an appealing and engaging manner.  To have characters over half-a-century old such as Flash and Green Lantern interacting with brand new legacy characters such as Wildcat II, Cyclone, and Citizen Steel brings an unpredictability that is missing in several other DC titles.  Throw in semi-established characters using familiar names like Hourman, Liberty Belle, and Starman, and you’ve got something exciting, amusing, and captivating.

For me, Justice Society of America continues to be a must-read and I really look forward to where the title is heading with its heavy referencing to Kingdom Come and multiple-subplots.

Author Tim O’Brien Is Coming To Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University

Novelist Tim O’Brien will visit Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, for the 7th Annual Ames/Milner Visiting Author Program on October 23, 2008.
 
At 2:00 p.m. at the Illinois Wesleyan University Hanson Student Center, Mr. O’Brien will participate in a question and answer session.

At 7:00 p.m. in Braden Auditorium at Illinois State University, Mr. O’Brien will address the community with “An Evening with Tim O’Brien.”  A book signing will follow the event.
 
All events are free and open to the public.

Mr. O’Brien is a Vietnam veteran and calls upon that experience for many of his works.  He attended Harvard University and once worked for the Washington Post.

His books include:
If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973)
Northern Lights (1975)
Going After Cacciato (1978)
The Nuclear Age (1985)
The Things They Carried (1990)
In the Lake of the Woods (1994)
Tomcat in Love (1998)
July, July (2002)

For additional information contact Toni Tucker ttucker@ilstu.edu or (309) 438-7402.

Rambo – A Movie Review

When I first heard they were making this movie, I laughed, and then I groaned.  I thought, “Okay, I’ll give them Rocky Balboa, but now Rambo?  That’s going to the well one too many times.”

Then I saw the ridiculous trailer.  It looked like it was homemade with insanity-inducing violence.  Seriously, Rambo rips a guy’s throat out?  With his hand?  (Sorry to spoil that one for you.)

I made fun of it relentlessly to my friends, but because I have a morbid curiosity, I had to rent it … you know, just to see.

By the way, I love First Blood.  I thought it resonated emotionally, the acting was good, and the story was both realistic and relevant.  I just wanted to get that out of the way so you all don’t think I’m some sort of John Rambo hater.  The sequels didn’t have the soul of First Blood, and after the third one I really thought it was time to give it a rest-thus, my mocking of the fourth installment.

That being said, my expectations were so low Pluto would need to look down to see them. 

And, I think because of that, I actually enjoyed Rambo.  I expected garbage and got … well, not treasure, but certainly not garbage.

You know the story: Naïve missionaries and innocent native citizens are unjustly taken prisoner by soldiers in Myanmar, which is a very real predicament in that country.  Rambo had told them not to go, and when he hears there will be no rescue effort but for a group of mercenaries hired by the families of the victims, he tags along as more than just the boat pilot.  Of course, it’s Rambo, so he rescues them, but not without a body count higher than Sly’s gross profit from earlier movies.

Sly Stallone directed Rambo himself, and he did so using shaky, terse shots that were both disturbing and mesmerizing.  The violence was nonstop and very realistic, so much so that even the most desensitized of viewers may be taken aback.  One thing is for sure: Rambo is fast-paced and action-packed and not quite like anything else I’ve seen.  While the trailer looked homemade, that quality worked for the feature-length film, making us associate what we saw with real footage.

The story was rather straightforward and simple, but I admire Stallone for going with a location for his character where horrible things really are happening every day.  It took guts for him to put himself out there like that, and, if nothing else, perhaps it helped raise awareness.

I don’t think Rambo said twenty words in the whole movie, but that was by design.  He is the definitive loner, after all.  I especially found the end of the movie poignant and a nice send-off for a character who has been in pop-culture’s psyche for three decades.

If you liked First Blood, you’ll find Rambo tolerable, but be ready for ultra-graphic violence.

“Think Higher. Feel Deeper.” – Elie Wiesel At Illinois State University

On October 7th I had the good fortune to spend the better part of the day and night learning from Elie Wiesel, acclaimed humanitarian and author of Night (among many other works).

I first attended his question and answer session at Milner Library from 3:30 to 4:30.  It was soon obvious that Mr. Wiesel, even at his advanced age, was by far the smartest person in the room.  He answered questions for a solid hour, and he did so gracefully, articulately, and honestly.  While his voice was frail, his words were powerful, and I think everyone in the room was deeply moved by his frank responses to a series of thoughtful questions.  Some paraphrased highlights among those answers include the fact that he would not comment on who he endorsed for the next presidency, but he added that he found American politics getting uglier with each passing decade-particularly the last thirty years.  He said he does not forgive Nazi Germany for the Holocaust, but he would always forgive an individual should they apologize.  He said he had more sympathy for the children of killers than anyone else, because they often carry the burden of their parents’ guilt.  He said that he did not think the world would ever learn to be peaceful, because if it hadn’t learned from the atrocities of the Holocaust, what could possibly make a difference now?  However, he amended that statement by saying we must never lose hope, and we must always strive to make a difference for the children in the world.  He emphasized the need to protect and care for humanity’s children, and then quoted Scripture about never standing idly by.

I’ve done a few question and answer sessions myself in regards to my writing, and I can tell you firsthand it is both exhausting and stressful.  You must keep on your toes with your impromptu responses and hope you don’t come off sounding like an imbecile.  Mr. Wiesel’s probably answered the same general questions a thousand times, but all of his replies sounded genuine, original, and produced specifically for that person asking the question.  He never appeared nervous, and he truly had a calming presence that I found quite unique.    

At the end of the question and answer session, they asked that we all remain in place while he was escorted out of the room by security.  I would learn later that evening by his candor that many in the world find his honesty threatening and would seek to harm him.

Consequently, I was amazed by how many people showed up at Milner Library for his question and answer session; however, that wonderful turnout was nothing compared to his presentation later that evening at the Bone Student Center …

We arrived at Braden Auditorium in the Bone Student Center around 6:15 p.m. for his 7:00 p.m. address.  The center teemed and we were lucky to find seats in the very last row of the main level.  As we sat for forty-five minutes, people kept flooding in, and my heart burst with pride in the people of Central Illinois.  So many showed up to listen to this man, there literally weren’t enough seats in the mammoth auditorium which can hold almost 3500 people.  Can you imagine?  On a rainy Tuesday night?  My faith in people’s respect for intellectualism quadrupled that night.

When Mr. Wiesel appeared on stage, he sat at a simple table with a white cloth covering it and a single microphone.  His security flanked him on either side in the shadows, for he had a single spotlight shining down upon him.  The auditorium remained well-lit, so everywhere you looked you saw thousands of people hanging upon his every word.

This time Mr. Wiesel offered a prepared talk, though he sprinkled some tidbits from his afternoon at Milner Library into it.  He spoke again about our responsibility to the children, that we must never stand idly by, and he reminded us that genocide still occurs in places like Myanmar, Cambodia, Bosnia, and Darfur.  He referenced Scripture often, focusing upon the story of Cain and Abel, and the ability brothers have to kill one another.  Totally humble, he spoke of meeting with world leaders, moderating peace talks, and addressing presidents.  He denounced racism, heavily criticized the leader of Iran, and spoke against fanatics who use religion as their excuse to propagate hatred and murder.  He reminded us that each and every person has the responsibility to help our fellow man, and as long as anyone in this world dies from hunger, we should all feel intense shame.  In the end, he left us with such simple and inspiring words-“Think higher.  Feel deeper.”

They announced Mr. Wiesel would sign books for half an hour, but with the thousands of people there, we knew it would be futile to even try.  I regretted that I wouldn’t get a copy of Night signed for my three-month-old daughter-one day to be a gift-but I understood that a man of his age who speaks so openly against those who think nothing of killing may not want to interact with the general public at a relatively unsecure location for too long.  In the end, even though I didn’t get a book signed to her, I can one day tell Emma all about the day Elie Wiesel came to Central Illinois, and that’s something to which I greatly look forward.

Again, words cannot describe how proud I am of the people who came out that night to see Mr. Wiesel.  When I think about one man who’s made such a difference in this world of ours encouraging each and every person in that room to resist the urge to stand idly by, it really fills my heart with joy. 

Learning from Mr. Wiesel was something I’ll forever cherish, and I thank him for coming to Illinois State University.  I also believe Toni Tucker of Illinois State University’s Milner Library deserves tremendous credit for bringing him to us as well.  It had to have been tremendously stressful for her, but she pulled it off fantastically.  Well done, Toni!

It has not yet been even twenty-four hours since listening to Mr. Wiesel, so my brain is still bustling with excitement.  If there’s anything you’d like to know-anything I may have omitted-please don’t hesitate to ask a question in the comments or email me at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com.

For local newspaper coverage, follow the links:
Pantagraph
Daily Vidette