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Archive for March, 2010

Eulogy For My Mother


The following is the eulogy I delivered for my mother at the Mustang United Methodist Church of Mustang, Oklahoma on March 26, 2010:

I want to talk about my mother Linda Stevens. Sometimes this week when I’m talking to people who knew her I feel a little bit like I’m in Citizen Kane, a movie where everybody has a different perspective on the hero. But Citizen Kane was a tragedy in the classic sense. The hero had big flaws that brought him down. What’s happened to my mother is devastating to all of us. It’s horrible and unfair and we’re all hurting more than you can imagine. But maybe in a way it’s not tragic, because she died being exactly the kind of person she wanted to be. And she had enough time in life to do it. Sixty-one is way too early to go, and yet my mother used that time very well, struggling through extreme personal difficulty to achieve what she did.

When my grandfather talks about my mother, he remembers somebody who woke up every morning and first thing said her devotionals in a moment of extreme privacy, praying for everybody she knew and who needed her, a practice that took so long it often made her late. And as a lot of us remember, she was late a lot. My 10-year-old nephew Colin and niece Sophie remember their grandma as someone who always tucked them in and said prayers. Most of us remember my mother as someone who hated cigarette smoking, but our very close family friend remembers a time when my mother sat with her on a beach and relaxed and smoked an entire cigarette. That story rings true to me about my mother, because I think all of us, no matter who we are, sometimes need to go off and be an entirely different person for a little while. My aunt Linda, her former sister-in-law, remembers my mother as someone who had an intensely personal relationship with God and talked about Jesus with an intimacy, as if he were her best friend. She wouldn’t go see Passion of the Christ because she didn’t want to see that friend being abused. My sister remembers a lot of things, like I do, but especially that my mother, for the first years of our life, was the primary breadwinner in our house while my father, her first husband, was in college and looking for a career. While we two kids and my father stayed home and had fun and watched All My Children, my mom was the one working. Her foster children, Candice and Charisma, remember her as the woman who was buying them nice dresses and taking them to Europe because without my mother things like that would not have been conceivable for them. And it’s no small addition to say that very often my mother broke her own bank making those things happen. She was willing to give of herself totally to give other people the blessings she had taken for granted.

I remember a time a couple of years ago when I came home to visit Oklahoma for a conference I was attending, and my mother had to call me from her cell phone. “Eric, I don’t want to put you out, but there’s going to be an entire El Salvadoran family staying in the house with you tonight.” “OK.” I thought. “Can I … How do I … What should I … Well, OK.” Other times she would say to me that she was tapping her own bank account to pay for somebody else’s wedding. Many times it got to the point where she had me rolling my eyes. But I had to stop and remind myself that the world would be a better place if there were more people like my mother in it.

A lot of people are here today because they might remember my mother as an altruist and lawyer and a member of the choir and a tax preparer and a friend to people in need. I remember her as those things, too, but I also want to stop and remember the woman I met. My parents grew up in the ’60s and when I met them they were idealists. When I was a baby the songs she sang to my sister and me in the bathtub were Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan (which is why we asked that it be played here) and Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. My father always swore that the Frank Zappa records belonged to her, not him. It was part of our family lore that she was painfully shy when she was younger and told me that it took her a long time to come out of her shell. That’s a hard journey that I don’t want people to overlook because I think it puts the person she became into perspective and I think it explains a lot about her compelling need to help people later. But that shy, pretty woman was the mom that I met, and first loved even though it became harder and harder through the years for her to be that person. The times required her to be something new and life required her to give up the shyness and be strong for other people. Yet the memories of my mother the quiet, maybe even kind of hippie-ish woman are still vivid and almost as hard for me to give up. I feel like I’m saying goodbye to that person, too, which makes this very hard for me.

We had a house with too many cats, then too many dogs. And we had my father, her first husband, who was so colorful and who needed so much attention that sometimes it was almost like having a third kid. It was a little much for one woman to sustain. My mother could have and probably should have parted ways with him much earlier but she didn’t because of my sister and me. I believe to this day that most of the strength I have today I have because my mother made that sacrifice for me and they kept our family together for as long as they possibly could. I wasn’t able to tell my father, who died a few years ago, how much he had given me. But happily, I was able to tell my mother. And so again, where there could be tragedy, there isn’t.

When my mother divorced she spent a few years searching spiritually and emotionally and lost us kids to adulthood at about the same time. I went away to college the day she turned 40. And I wondered later if perhaps losing the identity of motherhood quickly was something that had hurt her more than she let on. Because I know her need to be a mother was not gone. Suddenly, one day Bruce Stevens came into her life. I was away at college and barely had time to get home to meet him before the nuptials were planned. With just a few hours to spare I met my new father. Before I had even come home from school, I was having my part written in a wedding and joining a family I didn’t know. It happened fast, and some of us thought at the time maybe too fast. But that feeling was quickly eclipsed when we saw my mother go through a spiritual renaissance. All of the energy she had spent searching and fighting through her shyness and confusion was suddenly extremely focused, and the shy mom who I grew up with turned into this powerhouse of ideas and energy and direction, who could act quickly on any moral imperative only because she thought it was right. And once she knew that it was right, all of a sudden, you could not stop her under any circumstances. A few years ago, she said she was taking as many foster kids and grandkids as possible on a trip to Niagara Falls, New York City and Washington, D.C. In about four days. In a van. From Oklahoma. I insisted that she was crazy. There was no way that trip worked. People in Oklahoma said it wouldn’t work, but when she wouldn’t let up, they said, “Hey, can I go?” And now we have the pictures to prove—she did it.

I think all of us know how hard it is to do the right thing—to take in strangers, to give money to charity, to sacrifice your time and your safety for an idea that’s bigger than you. And yet my mother seemed overnight to be stronger than all of us. She retired from the IRS and in her late 40s started talking about law school. She became a lawyer and started helping the entire family with various problems, even me with tax help. She became such a champion, that every new person in trouble became a project. She tried to figure out what that person needed to offer them strength, find out what their obstacles were and then help them overcome. And at the same time she had to assuage the rest of us who doubted that it could be achieved. Sometimes you felt like you were in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, where George Baily’s father kept breaking the bank, giving to her church, her kids and her foster kids. Most recently, she brought in two dogs, who literally ate her house. There are no more cushions. There are no more rugs. They even ate the remote controls to her television. But my mother was the kind of person who had, through everything she had been through, learned to see from the Sparky and Max’s perspective. Max, the pit bull, was just a giant baby. And Sparky, the constantly barking mutt, was just a little dog who had been taken away from it’s mother too soon.

Well today I am seeing the world from Sparky’s perspective.

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I am sad to report that my mother and stepfather died in a car accident in Texas last week. This is the obituary I have written for them:

It is with terrible grief that the family of Bruce Urban Stevens and Linda Louise Moran Rasmussen Stevens announce that the lives of these two inspiring souls were cut short tragically on March 17, 2010 in Texas. Bruce and Linda were champions of the poverty stricken, foster parents, spiritual lights to the needy, legal help to the poor and much, much more to the community of Mustang, Oklahoma. They not only followed the teachings of Jesus but tried as much as possible to live by his example and minister to the poor and at-risk wherever they were. They were parents to some, grandparents to many others, but most important they were parents to a vast extended family of people in trouble (not to mention to a few needy dogs). Their influence was widespread and they touched innumerable lives with Linda’s law practice, with Bruce and Linda’s shared financial planning and tax preparation business and most important to them, through their ceaseless work for their church.

Linda was born Aug. 25, 1948 to Ross and Eleanor Moran in Wichita, Kan. and had two younger siblings, Randall and Susan. She was a 1966 graduate of John Marshall High School in Oklahoma City. She pursued 23-year career with the Internal Revenue Service while raising two children, Eric Rasmussen and Lori Rasmussen-Miller, by first husband Daniel Rasmussen. In 1992, Linda’s life was rejuvenated with her marriage to Bruce. The two melded their hearts and blended their two families, embarking on a new journey and becoming pillars of the Mustang community. Linda retired early from the IRS, switched careers and completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Oklahoma in 1997 and then followed that up with a juris doctor degree at Oklahoma City University in 2000. She had since then focused on family law, bankruptcy law and estate planning, helping people who were in dire straits on one hand, but perhaps also occasionally bringing joy to adopting parents on the other. It was not uncommon for strangers to walk the hallways of her house, people who might have otherwise been placed in shelters. Linda put personal pain and turmoil in her life behind her and used those experiences to become one of the most compassionate people anyone would ever meet. She had a boundless faith in people to reach their potential and she saw the good in everybody and everything (perhaps even in stray dogs that might be eating her furniture). One of Linda’s many passions in life was music. She was active in church choir for many years. She had the voice of an angel and liked to sing harmony. Her personal relationship with the Lord was evident in all that she did. Her plan was to never retire and to work to age 100. She always tucked in her grandchildren and said prayers to them. She was preceded in death by her mother, Eleanor Coplin Moran.

Bruce Stevens was born Aug. 27, 1937 in Yankton, SD to parents Howard and Lillian Stevens and early in his life moved to Nebraska, graduating high school in Norfolk in 1955. His siblings were William and Richard and his sister Elaine. He served as an officer in the United States Air Force and earned several degrees, including a Bachelor of Divinity from Nebraska Wesleyan University, a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Nebraska University in Lincoln, a master’s in electrical engineering from Kansas University, and a master’s in Divinity from Oklahoma City University in 1993. By his first wife, Darlene Hamberger, he had two sons, William Stevens and James Stevens. For 24 years, Bruce worked at Southwestern Bell as an electrical engineer before retiring. He was an active leader in the Mustang United Methodist Church for 41 years and was a diaconal minister, as well as a Boy Scout troop leader for several years, and he greatly enjoyed camping and fishing.

Bruce had a voracious appetite for learning and boundless curiosity about the sciences and the natural world. He could pick up almost any book on any difficult scientific topic and breeze through it, and he could make or fix almost anything mechanical or electrical. His house is a testament to his ingenuity and inventiveness, filled with items he repaired or jury rigged, and he was so frugal that he would rather breathe new life into an old machine rather than get rid of it, and build a wall of pennies rather than throw them away. As he and Linda built their practice, he deployed his great mind to the new realm of financial services, obtaining licenses to work with securities. He was predeceased by his parents, his first wife Darlene and his son James.

Linda and Bruce are also survived by Linda’s father Ross Moran and stepmother Jean. They are also survived by son William Stevens and his wife Kathy, daughter Lori Rasmussen-Miller and her husband Greg, Eric Rasmussen and his wife Stephanie Faith Scott, as well as by James’ widow Terrie. They are survived by their grandchildren Megan White, Sarah Stevens, Colin Miller and Sophie Miller and by their great grandchildren Bryson and Lyla White, as well as her beloved foster children Candice and Charisma Carroll.

Services for Linda and Bruce will be held Friday, March 26 at 2 p.m. at Mustang United Methodist Church. Memorial contributions may be made to Mustang United Methodist or Ronald McDonald House Charities.

This obituary is also posted on The Mustang News Web site.

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My Mother

Can’t even find the words.

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Recent news reports have suggested that Howard Stern was under consideration to take over judging duties in future seasons of American Idol.

What other changes have the producers got in mind?

–*Wild huskies will be allowed to roam the studios while the contestants perform.

–*The female contestants will regularly be advised to take their clothes off

–*Ellen DeGeneres will be replaced as judge by a 90-year-old deaf Palestinian refugee

–*Kara will type in her comments from an IPhone and they will be transcribed on screen, if she feels like it.

–*An occasional streaker will run through the studio

–*The auditions will be cut short so that Howard can savagely attack Don Imus for 20 minutes.

–*Howard may interrupt the performances to plug a guy from Little Neck who sells brake shoes …

–* … and extol the virtues of good clean Lesbianism.

–*A contestant without a vibrato will be forgiven if she can shoot a ping-pong ball out of her vagina

–*Idol will now run with a continuous news crawl listing the pharmacological regimens of all the judges, including any benzodiazepenes, muscle relaxants or hormone replacement therapies that may be affecting their judging.

–*In a new segment, the Idol contestants will be assigned musical identities early on by Howard and Baba Booey so it will be easier for us to remember them–such as the bad girl, the “Goth girl,” the baby mama, the teen heartthrob, the closeted gay, the not-closeted gay, the ex-crack addict, the widower, the orphan, the troubled veteran, the schizophrenic man without pants, the crazy female industrial glass blower and the housewife who swallows.

–*Gays will still never win

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What were some of the greatest moments of the 2010 Oscars?

–*The Academy expanded the list of best picture nominees to perhaps draw more interest from mainstream audiences … and then drove those audiences away again with bizarre interpretive dance numbers that tried to recreate the drama of films like The Hurt Locker.

–*The guy who won for sound effects editing gave a really impassioned speech about the … oops, guess we had to cut him off for time.

–*A bunch of tech geeks were honored in a separate ceremony, but you can see them struggling for a brief moment of your attention in this group shot. Oh, sorry, we had to cut for commercial.

–*Farrah Fawcett was remembered in the hearts of every academy member. But only in their hearts, because some asshole left her out of the montage.

–*George Clooney is so popular, he can even wear an uncomfortable frown all night just to throw you off and put you on edge. He’s just toying with you. And you love it. You bitch.

–*Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin co-hosted and reminded the audience that low-key humility and the ability to poke fun at oneself is an actor’s best weapon, you stupid, thoughtless little pigs.

–*Kathryn Bigelow made Oscar history as the first female to win for directing. In honor of the occasion, Italian film legend Lina Wertmuller is going to direct a remake of Point Break.

–*Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for The Blind Side which is only slightly more egregious than Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

–*Mo’Nique reminded us in her speech that the Oscars are not about the politics. Which is inspiring until you realize that winning affordable health care pretty much IS just about politics.

–*Lauren Bacall won a special award. No, we don’t want to know how she feels about it.

–*George Clooney racks up another trophy …  girlfriend.

–*Jennifer Lopez looks absolutely stunning in a dress by … hey wait a minute, what in the fuck is she doing here?

–*Long-winded blowhard director Roger Ross-Williams is interrupted in his acceptance speech for documentary short by crazy-talking schizophrenic martinet experiencing hot flashes.

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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I watched the Oscars this year not at an Oscar party, but at a post-“Ed Wood” B movie party. How, you may ask, did that happen? Who would schedule a camp marathon on the night of the Oscars? Why is it that when Ryan Seacrest was trolling among the shallow pools of red plush looking for a bosom big enough, like Clooth Na Bare’s lake, to drown himself in, I was taking solace in the bosom of Vampira and her statuesque physique and equally statuesque performance as an alien seed hatchling? Why is it that when George Clooney arrived dressed to the Nines, I was watching “Plan Nine From Outer Space”? Why is it that when Miley Cyrus arrived I was looking not into her saucer eyes but looking instead at a flying saucer on fire that oddly resembled the flaming hubcap of a 1978 Pinto hatchback? Why was I missing Mo’Nique and her hairy legs to watch Vampira and her leggy dregs?

Part of it was poor planning, but you might also attribute it to a lack of Academy Awards brio in yours truly. I am probably the only person on Earth who will tell you that I’m put off by the expansion of the Best Picture category to 10 nominees. The reason for this gesture of noblesse oblige by the academy, their opening of the gates to more films, possibly even bad ones, is that America has divided into two camps, the 1% of those who like good movies and then everybody else. It was time to offer a seductive hand, it seems, to lure back the other 99% of moviegoers who had stopped watching the Oscars because they knew they would not see the names Twilight or The Hangover or Medea’s Family Reunion engraved on a statuette. Ever. Who knew that their favorite teen angst kitsch and piss-colored melodramas would never be rewarded with the bald trophy who shines like tears from the sun.

I have always loved the Oscars before. Unlike the almost useless Grammy Awards, a ceremony that tries to plant tent poles in the shifting sands of fashion, and ends up mostly rewarding, in the face of such an impossible task, technical prowess and blondeness, the Oscars have always seemed to me to be an actual arbiter of quality first. Sure, they’ve thrown in such horrible crowd-pleasers as Ghost from time to time, but only the Academy Awards would reach out to a small desert flower growing unnoticed in the vermilion cliffs and water it–such films as Chariots of Fire, perhaps, or performances like Hilary Swank’s in Boys Don’t Cry.

When business people evaluate stocks, they usually look at two values–what the price of a company would be if everything, including the paper clips, were sold today, and then what the mad crowd thinks its worth. This is a dangerous game with art, which is always given no value until it is suddenly given way too much value. The same with Oscars. Sometimes, when you give an award to a person who actually deserves it, the price of the Oscar goes up. An Oscar worth 50 cents when you give it to Sandra Bullock is worth $1.20 if you give it to Martin Scorsese. Such is the manic temper of commodity.

But this year, the hawkers of the statue seem determined to try to fix its value again (downward) by dangling more of them out to a field of contenders that was largely unworthy. 2009 was not a good year for movies. In fact, it merely confirmed the fact that “merely good” is somehow a worthy substitute for great, something it becomes harder to think as the years pass and that copy of Taxi Driver sits on your shelf, reminding you how things used to be.

I haven’t seen Avatar, and maybe I should withhold judgment, but the fact is I can’t be excited about it because I feel like I know who it was made for, and it wasn’t made for me. I was supposed to be excited last year when the excellent franchise of Star Trek was revitalized, only to find out that a series whose stories once proceeded from big ideas and intellectual curiosity had been turned into a work of hostility by fetish monkeys–people who romanticize mass annihilation and are drunk on enfeebling spectacle. People who prefer to see Captain Kirk as an out-of-control alpha male oozing vengeance rather than the cool, if libidinous, master of the Socratic dialogue that he once was. Could anyone have ignored the irony that the filmmakers of the new Star Trek literally destroyed the old Star Trek reality with a freak time warp accident and a bunch of red goop, freeing themselves to reimagine these beloved characters as a pantheon of whiny Gen Y orphans and freeing the series forever from the yoke of seriousness? Is this how dies the free-thinking, stoic Rousseauian humanist that sprang forth in the 60s, to be murdered in an Oedipal tantrum? His history erased by gadget-loving latch-key kids with a working mom and absent dad who will forever be trying and failing to get in touch with his feelings and beating up lots of people in the process?

This sucks.

I harp on Star Trek only because it was one of the highest grossing films of last year. Its audience has won. They control the films we watch. So I don’t feel like they deserve to invest the halls of the Academy too, pulling down the marble and pulling up the porphyry and purloining the columns and otherwise destroying the last of the great Empire that was the Hollywood of the ’70s and building their Vandal camps all around.

I can find hope in the fact that a number of good, adventurous, innovative films did indeed win the night–films like Precious and Inglourious Basterds. I concede that quality was eventually rewarded more than commerce. But I can’t help but feel that this breach between what’s good and what’s successful will continue to widen until we have two different industries and two different audiences. If you think America is polarized politically, then I ask you to imagine what it would be like if we are divided aesthetically. It may seem like a silly distinction. But then again, men with long hair and women with hairy legs were once able to change the world.

Bring on Mo’Nique, and her hairy legs.

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 CBS
Survivor: Lord of the Flies. Tonight, the tribes finally do away with Piggy.

3 FOX
American Idol: Everybody sings like Duffy this year and has diabetes.

3 FOX
Dead spouses and criminal records up the wow factor on Houseand American Idol both.

3 FOX
Ellen DeGeneres, Howard Stern and Grandpa from “Hee Haw” love Crystal Bowersox.

4 Vh-1
Beautiful and Infected (reality)

5 ABC Family
Keeping Up with the Palins

6 NBC
Palin Fear Factor

7 Vh-1
Palin of Love

8 Bravo
Growing Up Palin

9 Discovery
How Little Palins Are Made

10 History Channel
A new game show: Genocide or Not Genocide?

11 CNN
A new wrinkle in the New York governor scandal: David Paterson is also apparently deaf.

12 700 Club
A spot news report: While God apparently vacations on other side of the world, a catastrophic earthquake strikes Chile.

13 MTV
Punch Snooki in the face once, shame on you. Punch Snooki in the face twice, shame on Snooki.

14 Lifetime Movie
At the sound of the crying, the self-knowledge will begin.

14 Lifetime Movie
Mark Harmon: Not dead.

15 Discovery
Because of environmental clean-up efforts, biodiversity returns to New York Harbor–just in time for global warming to flood and kill everything.

16 Bloomberg
A look at the companies that by virtue of their sheer size can be the biggest alternative energy producers and the biggest polluters at the same time.

17 700 Club
Economic Outlook: Why Christians Should Hoard Gold

18 Animal Planet
Dolphins Talking Shit

19 Spike TV
A new reality show: “Douche Town”

20 Cinemax
Beaver Trapping with the Palins

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