"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Anniversaries that is)

A Good Anniversary:
“July 20th 2009 is the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. July 20th is also Space Exploration Day. After 40 years of space exploration it is time to begin space settlement.” That announcement comes from the National Space Society blog.

NSS is asking bloggers to post about space settlement on July 20th. For me, it’s an excuse to reminisce on my lifelong fascination with space exploration and (dare I presume) offer an informed opinion. More on this to come.

The Bad Anniversary:
Have you ever rented a movie expecting it to be shallow and idiotic, only to wind up really liking it? I mean REALLY liking it. About a year ago, this happened to me. (Yes, I’m reaching with the anniversary theme on this one.) The movie was Reno 911!: Miami. Oscar-worthy? No. Great farce? Yes. It had me laughing the whole time.

Well, it has happened again. Last week I finally caved and borrowed Zack and Miri Make a Porno from the library. Zack and Miri is a comedy by writer/director Kevin Smith. The title is the plot. I expected a few good chuckles, maybe even a couple belly laughs. What I did not expect was to be charmed, entertained, and completely taken in by the love story. Ask around. When it comes to romantic comedy, I’m nigh unto impossible to please. So if you are in the market for a heart-warming love story and some shameless laughs, I recommend Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
**BE AWARE. This R-rated movie is full of strong sexual content. I am sure it would have been rated NC-17 prior to the MPAA’s measurable lowering of its standards in the 1990s.**

The Ugly Anniversary:
Switching gears to something sobering, this year brought the 10th Anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School. With the anniversary comes a new book offering in-depth examination: Columbine, by Dave Cullen. For me, the tragedy at Columbine was shocking. Yet, I remember moving on with my life relatively unaffected, perhaps a bit more pessimistic and cynical. So I was surprised when I felt an irrepressible need to read Mr. Cullen’s Columbine. It’s my kind of non-fiction: comprehensive, well-vetted, and largely free of sensationalism. I binge-read the book over two late nights. Because of its disturbing content, it’s not an easy book to read. But it is an even harder book to put down. For me it’s been both haunting and helpful, offering reckoning and hope. Quote me: Columbine is Pulitzer material.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Rise and Fall of Jake and The History Channel...which is to say

The first line of my acting bio now reads as follows: Jake Christensen recently made his world radio broadcast debut.

…which is to say I was a listener contestant on NPR’s news quiz Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Many of you have asked, and by many I mean Lexi, “How has winning on NPR’s hit show changed your life?” Well, here’s how. Recently while I was out walking, an acquaintance passed by me on the sidewalk. He asked, “Jake, did I hear you on NPR a couple Saturday’s ago?” I replied, “Yeah, it was fun!” “Cool,” he said while continuing up the street without stopping.

Okay. To be honest, I paraphrased Lexi’s question.

…which is to say she asked, “What did you win?” The answer is that I won Carl Kasell’s voice on my voice mail. (If you don’t know who Carl Kasell is, you probably stopped reading this blog nine sentences ago.) Not only did I get Carl’s voice on my answering machine, I even got to write what he said. And in fine Jake fashion, I crafted a blasé message that only an English Major could love. Oh well, at least I also got to make Carl say, “Peace Out.”

On a different topic, I think The History Channel has strayed from its core mission.

…which is to say, The History Channel may be the first entire network to ‘jump the shark’. On Memorial Day, The History Channel ran a marathon of “MonsterQuest” episodes. The station spent a good ten hours, including primetime, detailing the poorly documented history of creatures that likely don’t existence. And they did it on Memorial Day!?! What is more, on Memorial Day Eve The History Channel ran a program about what Earth might become like if humans go extinct.

…which is to say, The History Channel is now producing original programming about the future. So I’m using the remainder of this blog entry to stage an intervention. Picture me sitting History Channel down on a sofa. Spike TV and ESPN stand on either side of “HC” in case the channel gets violent or tries to run away. And now, I speak:

History Channel, I looked the other way when you started broadcasting guns n’ ammo documentaries—a shift from documenting horrific war to showcasing cool weapons. And hey, most channels have learned a thing or two from VH1 about how to make the banal look sexy. But HC, you have gone too far in your attempts to be hip.” At this point HC stammers, “I’m fine. I don’t need help!” I look deeper into this insecure channel’s eyes and say, “HC. You are never going to be The Discovery Channel. And that’s okay. Just be yourself. Do programs about history, or y’know, become it.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reflections from the Midwest

I was tickled to find that some of my writing made it into a new play titled Flyover USA showing at Williamston Theatre. Last Sunday I caught a matinee at this excellent professional theatre in central Michigan. If you can see it, Flyover USA is a delightfully feel good slice of life in the Midwest. It focuses on the experiences of men living in this sometimes maligned region.
Several reflections I wrote were not selected. Given the abundance of wonderful material included from many men, I'm thrilled two excerpts did make the cut.
Below are some selections not chosen for the show:

My first car: To be frank, I don’t remember the make or model of my first car. I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now. It ran fine and got me and my buddies where we needed to go. And I was grateful to have that car right up until the day I totaled it, two months after getting my license.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be an astronaut. I also wanted to be a major league baseball player. And then I wanted to be a movie star. Lack of discipline kept me from the first two. And a growing distaste for the acting lifestyle will almost certainly keep me from the movie career. That will be okay, as long as I never give up on my greatest ambition: writing.

When you’re stressed or frustrated, what do you do to relax?
I eat high-end frozen pizza and watch reruns of my favorite TV shows on DVD.

Tell us about who your idol was while you were growing up:
My idol growing up was Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy. I got interested in him because we were members of the same church. But he became my hero for other reasons. He was modest and mild-mannered everywhere except the batter’s box. He had a beautiful wife, an awesome career, and was known to everyone as a genuine good guy. And I’ve always been fascinated with men who become rich, famous, and world-class without getting divorced along the way.
Bottom line: as a teenager I wanted to be like “Murph.” In the mid-80s, I watched every Braves game I could catch on TBS. And I still remember seeing Murph hit his 300th career homerun: a line shot over the right-centerfield fence at Fulton County Stadium. He specialized in hitting homeruns to the opposite side of the field. After he retired from baseball, I pretty much stopped following the sport. My hero moved on. So I did too.

If you could tell your son one thing about what it means to be a man, what would it be?
Dear Son,
The reason you have not been conceived yet is your mom plays hard to get. Plus I hate jumping through hoops. For what it’s worth, you’re not missing much. The economy sucks right now. Love Always,
Your Bachelor Dad.

Information on the play Flyover USA is available at http://www.myspace.com/williamstontheatre or http://www.williamstontheatre.org/.