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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Book Corner- Author Maria Shriver

“You can’t change your past but you can control its effects on your future.”

Next up in the Book Corner is “Ten Things I Wish I’d known Before I Went Out Into the Real World” by Maria Shriver. Expanded from her highly regarded commencement address given at Holy Cross College, “Ten Things I Wish I’d known Before I Went Out Into the Real World” hones in on the overarching themes Shriver touched upon in that commencement address, including the importance of following one’s passion, the strength that comes from failure, and the compromises that are inevitable in marriage and parenthood. As a long-time admirer of Maria Shriver’s work in the news and documentary fields, I was thrilled to stumble upon this book and to learn that it is among six bestselling books written by Shriver. Shriver’s intelligence, integrity, strength, and desire to help women, children, and poverty-stricken individuals is what in part attracted me to choosing this book. I’m curious to learn what ten things this accomplished women wishes she had learned before embarking on the remarkable life she has led thus far. Are there things you wish you had learned prior to having stepped out into the real world? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Can’t wait to start and share my impressions of this book with you.

The “H” word

Who would have thought that the word “hell” would garner so much controversy and media attention outside of its usual religious context, but that is exactly what this four-letter word has ignited via the current debate over its use in a high school graduation speech. “How the hell should I know?” is how former Prague High School senior Kaitlin Nootbaar used the “H” word during her valedictorian graduation speech. The idea to insert this line into her speech was inspired by a graduation scene from Twilight saga series Eclipse movie. In this scene, the character is delivering a graduation speech in which she says “How the hell should I know?” in response to the inquiries she’s received regarding what she’d like to pursue in the future. For Nootbaar, the line from this blockbuster film perfectly captures the struggle she and many of her classmates have, or are, going through with respect to their future career goals. It was this desire to connect with her peers, Kaitlin’s mother asserts, that led Kaitlin to use this particular line from the Eclipse movie. The laughter that followed Kaitlin’s use of that line in her graduation speech, her father adds, demonstrates the ease with which the word hell was accepted in that forum. Neither Kaitlin nor her family were approached following the conclusion of the graduation ceremony with complaints over the use of the word hell during her speech, leading Kaitlin and her family to believe there was no issue. However, when Kaitlin and her father went to the high school to inquiry as to why she had not yet received her diploma in the mail, they were met by the schools principal who, in return for her diploma, demanded that Kaitlin apologize for her use of the word hell in her speech.

Located in a small town of little over 2000 residents in Oklahoma, the word “hell” is considered by some to be on the same level as  a variety of the most recognized four-letter swear words.  This is certainly the case for Prague High School Principal David Smith. With the support of the school administration, Principal Smith has declared that Kaitlin will not receive her high school diploma from the school until she issues an apology for her use of the word hell in  her graduation speech. News of the schools refusal to issue Kaitlin’s high school diploma has stirred an outrage over what some deem to be a violation of Kaitlin’s free speech rights. Others have focused the debate on whether the word hell is a swear word. In almost all sides of the debate, the fact that the schools mascot (Red Devil) is the chief representation for the word hell is ironical at best. For me, this is not a debate about free speech, nor is it a referendum regarding what constitutes a swear word, but rather the obligation to follow through with an agreement. Kaitlin had to submit a copy of her graduation speech to school officials for approval. In the graduation speech that Kaitlin submitted to school officials for approval, the word “heck” was used instead of “hell.” Moments before she was set to deliver her graduation speech, Kaitlin decided to substitute the word “hell” for the “heck.” It is not entirely clear to me why at the last-minute Kaitlin chose to insert the word hell into her speech, nevertheless, in doing so Kaitlin deliberately set on a course to disavow the agreement she made with the school to deliver the speech they approved.

Delivering a valedictorian speech at a graduation ceremony is not a right, it is a privilege that is bestowed upon academically deserving students that typically come administrative strings attached. At Prague High School, part of the strings attached include submitting ones speech to school officials for approval. The very act of submitting ones speech for approval suggest the possibility that ones words may be edited. Kaitlin should have assumed the understanding and responsibility that came along with agreeing to recite the speech she submitted for approval. Kaitlin sidelined school officials by deviating from the speech it was understood she’d give at the graduation ceremony. Whether one agrees with the schools assessment that hell is a swear word (I don’t), or with the schools tactic of withholding Kaitlin’s diploma (I don’t), the bottom line is that Kaitlin agreed to abide by terms set forth by the school, terms that she ultimately chose to toss aside.

Book Corner: The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes

“The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes,” is the autobiographical tale of author Dawn Schiller’s relationship  at age 15 with 32-year-old married porn superstar John Holmes during the late 70’s, early 80’s. During a U.S. military stint in Germany, Dawn’s father met her mother whom he later married and brought to the United States to live with his family in a suburb of New Jersey. Most of Dawn’s childhood centered around her family accommodating her father’s military career. Ravaged by the Vietnam war, drugs, and his inability to parent his children or hold down a job, Dawn’s father convinced his family to relocate to Carol City, a rough and downtrodden suburb of Florida where he left his family to fend for themselves, returning some time later to divorce Dawn’s mother. Dawn’s mother, frustrated and crippled by her husbands broken promises, lack of emotional and financial support, and abandonment, crumbled under the weight of having to support her family, including her mother in law, which manifest itself through a steady stream of  physical and verbal abuse directed toward her family.

Following her parents divorce, Dawn, along with her father, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend set out on a road trip from Florida to California. Along the way, Dawn’s father picked up a hitchhiker who’d later offer them a place to stay at his girlfriend’s apartment Glendale, CA. It was at the hitchhiker’ girlfriends apartment where Dawn Schiller met the manager of the apartment complex, John Holmes. Unbeknownst at first to Dawn was the fact that in addition to his role of apartment complex manager, John Holmes was also a notable pornographic movie actor and married man. Dawn’s rocky first encounter with Holmes slowly morphed into a sexual relationship fueled by drug addiction, isolation, despair, and later physical violence, culminating into a brief life on the run from police and threats against her life from hit men. Lack of parental supervision and involvement by her father left Dawn vulnerable to Holmes inappropriate advancements. Like most child predators, Holmes capitalized on this glaring lack of parental supervision and involvement by becoming Dawn’s gatekeeper. Holmes rapidly assumed control over virtually every aspect of Dawn’s life, crafting a life where Dawn would depend on him for many basic necessities (i.e. not allowing Dawn to learn how to drive; Dawn depended on him to get around Los Angeles).  Additionally, Holmes monitored Dawn’s movements, as well as reduced her already limited contact with her family, making it easy for him to claim that her family wanted nothing to do with her.

Although true crime buffs may be lured into reading this book to glean more information regarding the infamous “Wonderland” murders, at its core, this book is a cautionary tale of what can happen to a teen neglected and abandoned into the arms of a waiting pedophile. Looking back, Schiller identifies herself as being among the legions of “throwaway teens” who are left to, more often than not, unsuccessfully stave off attacks from child predators, drug abusers, rapists, and murderers. Some may chalk up the neglect and abandonment that Dawn suffered by her parents (specifically her father) as being part of the hippie counterculture of the day, but a closer inspection of Dawn’s family dynamics reveals patterns that have persisted throughout a variety of era’s. It was these family dynamics that made it easier for me to push through my initial frustration and disappointment regarding some of Dawn’s choices throughout the book. As I continued making my way through the book, it became easier for me to piece together the correlation between Dawn’s decisions, her tumultuous childhood, and Holmes manipulative, violent, and abusive control. Writing the book almost exclusively from the perspective of her teenage self is a powerful tool in drawing the reader into a ring of understanding and compassion that is achieved through a broader look behind the episodes of abuse and murders at Wonderland.

The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes is an important, albeit disturbing, portrait of a life nearly destroyed by drugs and violence. It is a testament to the tenacious and fighting spirit of an individual who rose above horrific abuse and addiction. What could have ended in incarceration or death resulted in a national platform for Schiller to educate people on the perils that face the score of throwaway teens roaming our nations streets today, shining a light on the predatory tactics of abusers, while simultaneously assisting teens to find a way to steer clear of the life she fell prey to.