My Brother Ross Rossiter

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With life as short as a half-taken breath, don’t plant anything but Love. – Rumi

At this very moment in time I am at home with an  unimaginably agonizing afternoon ahead of me. My dear brother Ross, my baby brother who is now in his fifties, is in ICU on life support after an epic and heroic two year battle with a monster Sarcoma that took over his abdomen and gradually attempted to kill him. He is a fighter, a strong and determined adversary for cancer, and yet after many months of suffering and a successful surgery that filled us with hope he is now on life support. Deadly side effects have been the final determination of his ultimate failing. The decision is to end that support for him this evening.

How do you spend an afternoon like this?

My other brother and sister and I did not grow up with Ross in our lives…he was born to my father’s second wife and we knew Ross only as an adorable baby boy who fleetingly came and went for a window of time in our lives. Then when Ross’s mother and my father were divorced we lost track of Ross and nobody ever acknowledged that we three had lost the fourth – it was overlooked and sadly neglected, during a ridiculously stupid set of circumstances when no one realized he was still our brother. I always felt the loss – all three of us did. No one made any attempts to hold us all together; almost as if they really did not want to.

I don’t remember the year it happened, exactly, but it was probably mid-1995 or so. I was at work sitting at my marketing job desk with internet access and it was a slow day on the computer. I decided to find him if I could. It took just three phone calls and I had his number. So easy. He was emotionally stunned when I called and told him who I was – he said he had always missed us and wanted to have us in his life but had no idea how to find us. He had been about two years old when I had last seen him. WOW! What followed was a reunion of epic proportions that involved Ross flying to Denver to see me and my brother and then another set of circumstances that took Ross and I on a road trip to Scottsdale so that he could meet his long lost other sister. (Ross had a third sister from his mom’s first marriage.) When all this happened it had been a lifetime since I had last seen baby Ross. He was all grown up with three children and a lovely wife, living on the east coast of Florida in the Ft. Lauderdale area.

After that life-changing phone call Ross sent my sister Vicki and I each a dozen roses that said – “For all the birthdays I have missed. Love you, mean it. Ross”

I admire Ross on all fronts. He is a wonderful, adoring husband and father and the most loyal of friends. He is a fine man, one of the best to walk this earth. Of his many noble attributes and his exemplary character traits I choose here and now to celebrate his…..crazy sense of humor…..Ha!

Ross is one of the funniest people I ever met in my life. The Rossiter clan – well – we are story tellers and we have always had enough stories to last a lifetime because we all seem to attract experiences that are outrageous and scary but hysterical in retrospect. It’s that sad/funny thing. You know – the stories where something goes terribly wrong and you are in tears and then the ending turns out to be that sort of spurting, silent-laughing-cannot-make-a-sound-laughing-so-hard-sooo-funny it hurts laughing.  We all have this character trait. Every single one of us. Our dad, the common tree from which all we nuts have fallen, was a funny accident waiting to happen, all the damn time. He flew off of galloping horses and broke bones right before my eyes as I rode alongside him on my pony, he fell out of trees hitting limbs on the way down fracturing his back as he landed in a rocky dry creek bed, he was bounced out of careening horse-drawn buggies, he tripped over logs and rocks with the perfect body-roll or face plant of a circus clown and eventually he fell right out of my mother’s life. Looking back and recalling some of his more hellacious accidents for which I was present, which now flow through my memory in slow motion involving danger and blood, well, they still seem like slapstick comedy. Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello type stuff. Dad could tell all of his stories to perfection, recounting one after another after another on the back terrace over a BBQ fire around dusk and into the wee hours.

Ross however took this humor in a slightly different direction, although he was definitely the showman that his father was. Ross loved a good costume party. He liked pulling jokes on people. All of that combined nicely with being a trained chef and wine connoisseur. That man could COOK. He can cook lamb chops to perfection, like an angel. He works for Strauss Foods (grass fed lamb, mostly) and he often did food demos at big food shows around the midwest and the south. He would keep a running commentary going as he seared the meat and artfully presented it for tasting, entertaining the crowds with funny quips and stories. A true Rock Star Chef, a good-looking, charismatic show biz performer whose kitchen help sets everything up for him and he breezes in at the last minute and commands his stage, wows and fascinates the crowd for an hour or so and then leaves. He was a different kind of performer – he was Mr Fabulous Foodie/Stand Up Comedian with a wicked sense of humor that was seldom censored who would serve you delicious food.

A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself. That is how I hold your voice. – Rumi

I loved it whenever he called me, because I knew that I was going to hear some brilliant and memorable stuff about something or another that was happening to him, and then he would always want to hear what crazy stuff was happening to me. Ask me what is happening to me and you will get a narration complete with sound effects and details and song as if I am the color commentator at a sporting event of some kind. We talked well together. I felt that he truly “got me” and I certainly got him. I spent some of my most hilarious “moments in time” on Planet Earth with my brother Ross. We had a long and winding 24 hour caper together one time when I just flat ran away from a guy I had been seeing for several years, leaving Denver in the darkness of early morning, to move to Arizona where our sister Vicki and her husband Tom lived, awaiting my arrival with a soft place for me to land. Since Ross had just flown into Denver for Part One of our long awaited reunion with my other brother Fred and me, Ross offered to drive the truck for me, full of all my furniture and most cherished possessions, while I led the way in my red Acura to Arizona. Sounded like a great plan to me, a very generous offer, plus Ross wanted to meet his sister Vicki again and use it as an opportunity to see the scenery of the southwest.

Our couple nights in Denver before we left was spent with Fred and his wife Susan mostly in the kitchen watching Ross cook as we all told, and compared, stories of our illustrious family. Ross had arrived lugging a large cooler of all varieties of exotic meats packed in dry ice. As I recall we tasted alligator, lamb, beef, pork and it was all beautifully prepared by our personal chef. We bonded in the stories of our lives and our laughter and our tears. Nothing was sacred – we covered it all. We were all well aware that it was inexcusable to have been apart all the years since Ross was so young. We had been given little information about each other that might have led us to any kind of reunion.

We left under cover of darkness the next morning with a 14+ hour trip ahead of us. Directly south to Albuquerque, hang a right and take it straight into Scottsdale. If you see anything weird, swerve to avoid it. I had made the drive dozens of times. So we set out with me in the lead, but we switched off sometimes so that my new baby brother could be ahead. OH! I forget to mention one detail. Ross had only one good eye – his other eye had been shot out by a kid with a pop gun when he was two years old or less. The other three of us were informed when that accident happened and we could not believe it and were extremely upset by it. Ross grew up with a beautiful convincing glass eye and no one would ever have know if he had chosen not to tell them.

We had no cell phones of course so we had to resort to hand signals out the window or flashing headlights to communicate with each other. That was how we rolled as we leap-frogged our way south and west. By the time we were in New Mexico my snack jar of M&M’s (what was I thinking?) were melted in to a colorful gooey blob of fondue chocolate. Ross was sunburned and and unshaven, hair stiff and spiked straight up from the strong dusty wind coming in the truck window. Ross was a riot – screaming and pointing for me to notice certain bluffs and rock formations – wanting to stop at every roadside stand that displayed coyotes baying at the moon, rubber snakes and lizards for the kids, silver jewelry for Pam and strings of bright red chili peppers. I would see him in my rearview mirror gesturing wildly at me and mouthing “pull over!” “pull over!” “pull over!” as we barreled along at 85 miles per hour. Sometimes I could and sometimes I could not…and if I could not he would go rogue on me and pull over anyway, swerving impulsively off road in this big tilting truck, at the  last possible minute into some Indian souvenir stand so I had to make a fast u-turn and head back to him. We laughed so hard at each other. When we stopped at some greasy dump for lunch we talked frankly and long, and I told him my life history with men in a not-so-brief salty and sarcastic nutshell. He told me that he thought the guy – the reason for my escape from Denver – was crazy to let me get away and did not deserve me. I agreed. And I was so gone. A little sad, but funny.

I asked him at one stop how his one good eye was doing, cause both of mine were tired and crusted with red dirt dust, with still a long stretch to go.

“Need a siesta?” I asked.

“Hell no. I’m great! I love this shit! I may only have one eye honey but it’s a muthah fuckah of an eye! It never gets tired! I do better than most two-eyed people do!” And so we continued racing along like bats out of hell.

We arrived in Scottsdale well after dark, not even resembling our former selves. We were red-faced, wind-whipped and sweaty, beat from the incessant heat, stiff and sore but Vicki and Tom revived us and my daughter Kelly was there too. Of course we partied most of the night away as Ross became acquainted with his sister again. That 14-16 hour roadtrip was a great crash course in knowing Ross.

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Fast forward to one particular day about a year and a half ago when Ross was in the hospital on one of his 3-day mega doses of chemo, passing time there as it dripped into his system. He called me. We would talk about many things, cabbages and kings, as the walrus said. There was nothing we would shy away from discussing if the mood took us. His illness gave him a burning need, an urgency to discuss life, death, religion, sex, our kids, art, food, jokes, our mom and dad, spirituality and of course the event of dying.

He told me that he would be so fucking bored, with the drip drip dripping and he was supposed to get some exercise every day so he would walk down the hallway, dragging his medical paraphernalia along with him, to the sunny waiting room that looked down on a highway. He would then proceed to press his entire body, nose to ankles, arms widespread and legs apart, a tangle of tubes hanging off of him, against the huge window looking down on the speeding traffic and mouth the words, “HELP ME!” He did it frequently, daily I do believe, and no one ever acknowledged him by honking or altering their direction in even one small waiver from their lane. He thought that was sad. He also thought it was extremely funny. Sad/funny….

And so now we are here. There is nothing to do with a day like this, waiting for the end. It is the most profoundly sad experience I have ever had.

Jo Ann Brown-Scott, Artist and Author

In my second book titled THE CREATIVE EPIPHANY, published in 2008, Ross and I wrote Chapter 14 together titled “Harleys and Old Lace” which touched upon the experience of all of us finding each other again.

http://www.thecreativeepiphany.com, www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. – Rumi

 

 

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Cuba -The Beauty and the Beast

By the time we left Cuba we were in love with the country and its people. We had many discussions, political and otherwise with our various hosts in the Casa Particulars where we stayed, inside the privacy of their homes and in cars whenever the driver could speak a bit of English. No one would dare to speak about the dictatorship freely in the plazas or the restaurants for fear of being overheard; the police were ever-present. We spoke, sometimes in whispers, about the inevitable change of power when Castro died, having no idea how eminent that was at the time of our conversations.

Since that trip to Cuba in early November Castro has died and the country has mourned. There was no dancing in the streets – that would have been foolish. The next shoe might already be dropping. The beast of communism is very much alive as I write this and the uncertainty of Cuba’s future looms large. The industrious, inventive, energetic, constantly musical and delightfully humorous people of Cuba wait and wonder what is to come next. There is a high degree of melancholy underneath the bustle of Cuba but hope is very much alive; I hope that their powerful hope is rewarded in the months to come. The contrasts are sharp between the arrival of the cell phone and the women lowering their baskets on ropes from 4th story windows in the early morning light to buy bread from a kid on a bike yelling “Panooooo.”

Change is a constantly grinding wheel and it will not be denied. But at what cost?

Attached are some photos; for more please visit my recent Archives about this enlightening journey to another exotic world just 100 miles from our shores where dictators deny their people freedoms and basic staples of daily life. The beauty is evident, the evidence of brutality is everywhere. More blogs to come, including the Ernest Hemingway experience…

Author & Artist Jo Ann Brown-Scott – http://www.thecreativeepiphany.com

New novel – http://www.acanaryfliesthecanyon.com

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Making Yourself Vulnerable

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Against the Sun copyright Jo Ann Brown-Scott 2014

“All day I think about it then at night I say it. Where did I come from and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.

This poetry. I never know what I am going to say. I don’t plan it. When I’m outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.”  – Rumi

Art is very similar to writing, and one of my favorite quotes about writing which I cannot remember verbatim, says something to the effect that, “Writing is easy – all you do is open a vein and let it pour out.”

The same could be said of painting. You just have to be more than willing to let it all come out, opening yourself to that uncomfortable feeling of being vulnerable. Really really vulnerable. Hit me with your best shot, you think to yourself, and I will somehow absorb that blow and learn from it and move forward. It’ll sting like hell but that hurt is what keeps me alive and persevering.

Artists, writers and all creative people are the brave ones. The ones who spill their blood & guts onto canvas or paper and wait for the reviews. Some refuse to hear the reviews; others use them like salt in an open wound and they learn from them, if they choose to take them seriously…..and we all know that often the harshest review comes from the least qualified person to deliver it. If you are an artist who has ever had a show of your own, and you are wandering around listening, anonymously, to people’s conversations about your art before they have actually discovered who you are – well that is fabulous. The raw, the uncensored, the blunt, the stunningly honest observations are breathtakingly valuable. But you have to be strong.

I believe that artists and writers who cannot make themselves vulnerable are seldom going to break the barrier to attracting a following that lasts through the years of a career. Sustaining a selling career for an entire lifetime is not impossible, but for most of us, if you fall away from your own authenticity and lose your soul somewhere along the way, I think your sales will suffer and then your next step is near obscurity. Your fifteen minutes of fame are over; throughout the chapters of your life it is difficult to be a consistent success. In the literary world of books, which I do know something about, many authors have a blockbuster hit that might even reach the New York Times bestseller list for weeks only to find that they had only one fine book in them. They (the literary “big guys”) say that almost everyone has one book in them, since we all have a compelling story of some kind – but can we tell it? Can we spin the tale to make it marketable? That is the question. Think back to just one example – “EAT, PRAY LOVE” by Elizabeth Gilbert. She told a hell of a good story about herself and made millions. She spilled all of her guts and had nothing much left. We all know of many other authors who never managed to be inspired enough to succeed with a second or third or fourth attempt.

It all boils down to sincerity. Open up, be vulnerable. Tell your story or paint it – but bleed it all out. Then see what happens.

 

For the Love of Art….

monk   photo 5 (3)   monks

Photos from my trip to Singapore, included here as a humble reference honoring my imaginary art Buddha.mantwo   photo 4 (3)

In the slaughterhouse of love they kill only the best, none of the weak or deformed. Don’t run away from this dying. Whoever’s not killed for love is dead meat. – RUMI, 12th century poet

First let me say this – HUH??? I have no idea what caused the spike in my stats yesterday and today but I like it – after 150 posts and a lot of fun, I was still not getting enough traffic. I am clueless – maybe someone else knows why I suddenly jumped the charts, but I don’t. I suspect a glitch in the record keeping of some kind….we all know that WordPress can do crazy stuff sometimes. If it is indeed a real phenomenon that increased my viewership then thanks from the bottom of my heart. I needed that. I am passionate about art – and I write for the love of my art and yours. I am so grateful for your attention.

It is almost the end of August and I am looking forward to a great Labor Day weekend. I have plans. Always flexible and always spontaneous, yes, but I do have some specific plans which can altered and enhanced along the way if need be. I do not plan to paint this weekend. I reworked 3 old paintings last week and made them sing again. I feel like that was a huge accomplishment. I totally ignored the YLC……but not really…..

I made a rogue decision about the YLC – the year long canvas. (See my archives for the whole crazy story with pictures if you have no idea what I am referring to – briefly it is an assignment from my advanced contemporary abstract painting  instructor, whom I admire very much, for me to work on one particular painting on and off for an entire year. Constantly adding new things, covering up some older things, taking it along a path of evolutionary change….and this painting of mine is just 6 months into that challenge.) As I wrote a couple blogs ago I am happy with the painting as it is right now – so happy in fact that I have decided to enter it into a large Denver gallery show. Yes I have decided to do that even though the painting is just halfway through its year and of course it will change again…. It’s a juried show, so my YLC might not be juried in, and I am gritting my teeth, putting my open self right out there with this entry and I will share the results with you – and I am not fond of rejection – so if the painting is not accepted then I will lick my wounds in front of a large audience and just take it home and continue to work on it. If it is accepted then it will be for sale, of course, and I run the risk of someone wanting to buy it. So I have to be willing to sell it and bring the entire project to a splendid, kind of fireworks-like conclusion. The price? I have not decided but it will be based upon my comparable work, in size and complexity, that I have sold before.

Why do this? Because I like to shake things up – I am an art adventurer, a risk taker, a constantly curious live-in-the-moment kind of person and I am anxious to see what happens. You know the art Buddha would be proud of this squirrely move. He would smile and nod and his eyes would twinkle with delight. He loves moves like this, but of course he makes no predictions and he is fine with whatever happens because it is all just another lesson in the life of an artist. There is no failure, there is only enlightenment. There is only the love of the doing. The enormous passion in the act of creating. And only the strong survive.

As we near the opening of the show I will keep you informed, provide some links, tell you where, etc – but I will be delivering my entries next week – yes I will be entering at least 2 pieces, maybe 3.

Wish me love and luck, OK?

 

YLC Flips and Fades to Funky Black

 

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copyright 2014 untitled,  Year Long Canvas, by Jo Ann Brown-Scott

Hello again in mid-August – I have once more done some major work on my Year Long Canvas project and it is a shocker this time. First of all I was tired of the horizontal routine so I flipped her to orient her vertically and she  immediately presented new possibilities for me. …working from all directions is a very good thing. In my humble opinion, these changes today are the most pivotal and transformative changes yet.

Could be a coincidence, the reason for the dark drama – we are going to the Denver Botanic Gardens concert tonight, picnic dinner and wine in tow, and the headliner is none other than the marvelous B B King. I am feeling all bluesy and funky and that means you must not interpret the black as a depressing twist – quite the opposite. I am feeling kinda jazzy, kinda sexy, to tell you the truth. That happens you know….and the art reveals everything if you know the code of the artist. Artists speak in tongues – difficult to decipher, but the general mood is often rather apparent, especially if you are familiar with the work of the artist. You can find clues. You know by now, if you have been following my art journey, that in my artistic language the color black is very seldom, if ever, a sign of negativity. I use it for drama, strength, focus and sometimes for the kinds of music I love. The kind that makes you want to swing and groove to the move.

The YLC is going to B B King tonight, one way or another. It is also, miraculously, the night of the SUPER MOON, and so the painting incorporates that. We hope it does not rain…but if it does we will simply get wet and linger on. B B will be under an awning, thankfully, and so the music will continue and in the words of the song, the thrill will not be gone for us……in fact it just keeps getting better.

“This Being Human is a Guest House” – Rumi

 

RedSeaMoon

Mixed media titled RedSeaMoon by Jo Ann Brown-Scott copyright 2014

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some monetary awareness comes, as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

RUMI, 13th Century Poet and Scholar

Sometimes I wonder how I would have managed to paint if the context of my life had been different…if things had been less to my liking in my life, would I somehow have struggled to rise above it and paint anyway? Would I still have been a painter, or maybe even been a better painter, if I had been forced to deal with more obstacles, dysfunction and disorder? Do I have the determination and drive to be a painter no matter what, or must I have all  conditions favorable in order to be my most creative self?

I have painted, actually, through many misfortunes, if I stop to think about it, but I saw them as temporary and surmountable. I consider myself fortunate indeed in that regard. Some would go so far as to say that my life has been hard, and have told me so, but I think it has merely been a life. Everyone has a story – I know of no one who gets off without being beaten down, scarred or broken.

I follow a blog on WordPress written by a lost and lonely fellow who cannot seem to work his way to the safety of dry land but continues to nearly drown in his pool of self pity. I feel very badly for him. I wonder when he will discover that he is the single one person on earth who can pull himself out of that situation and open up his future to a new path? We are all responsible for our own survival. No warriors of happiness are ever going to ride in on horseback and storm the walls to your city, to save the day and bestow happiness upon you. Don’t wait for that to happen. For god’s sake do something now for yourself. Rolling around in the muck, wallowing in it for an eternity is not working for you.

I do not happen to believe, either, that artists must be depressed and lonely, unfulfilled and angry to do profound work and be taken seriously. But I do think that, like actors, adversity can be used as a tool while acting or painting, adding depth to the performance or the composition. Consciously or not, it seems that certainly your particular adversity will work its way into whatever you are creating, whether that be art or music, poetry, pottery, novels, design – because it requires that you dig deeper. So do dig deeper if you are going to milk it for whatever it is worth. And in the digging experience you will find your way through the mess and come out on the other side. The larger problems in life must be dug through – you have to “go in” rather than around. Skirting around only makes the healing a longer and more difficult journey and often leaves you just lost with no destination at all. Learn about yourself in the process and OWN your part – your responsibility – in the adversity. The you will be a better person for it and on your way to a better place.

I believe the life context that has always surrounded me, while fluctuating wildly at times, was always still viewed by me as workable, and that is a big factor in my artistic progress through the decades of my life. My decades have ebbed and flowed with the good, the bad and the ugly – I have not always been gifted with smooth sailing. Some people ask, when shit happens, why me? I always wonder why they thought they were so special. Bad stuff does happen to good people, as the book of a similar title explained. Why would I or anyone else be exempt? But for me, at the base of it all is a bedrock of faith in a world that I have consistently found to be both astounding and bursting with positive potential. I see the glass as more than half full.

Why am I on this subject tonight? I have no idea – well yes I do – I see a lot of friends struggling and I wish I could help. But I will just say that when life brings you those “character building” experiences, then accept the challenge and prove that your character is in fact going to be made stronger from it all…..easier said than done, but workable.

 

 

 

 

 

The Creative Epiphany – Film Review, 12 YEARS A SLAVE

 poster image courtesy of linduslist.com

This film, directed by Steve McQueen, was difficult to watch in spite of the fact that I thought I was prepared. I had heard that it was brutal. It is beyond brutal – it is periodically and consistently horrific for almost the entire two hours and fifteen minutes. The story is beautifully filmed, gorgeously depicted, stunning in its impact – but beware the  pastoral southern scenery, moss hanging low over big oak branches and humidity you can almost taste, because something shockingly wicked this way comes.

I am a person who reads, and I read and I read. So I thought I was educated about slavery in the south. I have lived in the south, traveled through the south, toured historic plantations and seen slave cabins, and I have studied the Civil War. All that and more is what took me to see this film. For me it was a question of respect, and the fact that the film is well made. But still, I learned from this film things I had never known and I was given witness to atrocities I had never imagined.

The story is simple – Pre-Civil War, a prosperous and educated gentleman named Solomon Northrup ( played by the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor ) from upstate New York, once a slave, who has a family and has risen above his own early history, is re-captured, sold and enslaved again, for 12 long years, enduring and enduring, with the excuse that the papers granting his freedom do not exist. He experiences some kindness from strangers but then is sold to a slave owner ( Michael Fassbender ) who has slipped from pure and wicked malevolence into sick depravity, and who rules a plantation where even his wife, who has learned from a master, is sadistic and cruel.

Do we really need to see all the ways that a human being can be tortured in films today, returning now to even the old and basic, tried and true methods of cruelty? Is each new film – whether it is portraying battles, war, espionage, man to man conflict – attempting to one-up the ones before in regard to guts and gore? This historically accurate film is based upon a true story – and we learn in text updates at the end what happened to Solomon Northrup after he was eventually freed. Nevertheless, for me, it was a horror story. I could not watch at times, reminding myself that it is a FILM.

The acting is spectacular, the women as well as the men; and the children too. It is a Brad Pitt film, from his company PLAN B productions, and he has a cameo appearance portraying a character who sees slavery as wrong. I read that he is choosing responsible roles these days as his children grow old enough to see his work. Do his children have to see this kind of torture, I wonder? Still, there is Oscar buzz about it and I must say that I think it is an important film – a monumental film perhaps.

I saw the Oprah Winfrey film titled The Butler, in 2013, and I would place this 12 Years a Slave film about slavery, in spite of my shock in watching it, ahead of The Butler. I understand that The Butler, also based upon a true story, was so loosely based that it took liberties and exaggerated the plot to such an extent that the story was greatly altered from the truth. I do not like that, do you?

Should you see 12 Years a Slave? If you know you are lacking in information about this most disgusting period of our American history and you are responsible enough to want to learn what happened, then by all means see it. Please do not take your children who are under the age of 16 or so…and be prepared to answer their many questions in an educated way if you do invite them to see it with you. Be knowledgeable and have books to recommend, because our public school systems are lacking in time and resources to due this subject justice.

For Your Viewing Pleasure,

JABS