Saturday, October 30, 2010

It's Over

I'm sorry, Utah, I'm not really good at this sort of thing. I guess the best way to do this is to just come out and say it. I'm dumping you. I'm done. I just can't do this anymore. I need to see other states. Hell, maybe I need to see other countries. I don't know. It's just been me and you for so long. 28 years long. There were those two years I spent with Korea, and the almost two with Arizona, but it's really hard to count that time. I took a lot of you with me to those places. A big mistake. I should have just been in those places. Experienced them, at least tried to absorb more of what they had to offer. But all that is beside the point. This is over.

Why? Really, you want to get into this? Okay, fine. You aren't my home. Yes, yes, I was born and raised here, but you just aren't home anymore. Honestly, I use to feel like you could always be home. That for the longest time I would step off planes, out of cars into some town in you and sigh the word, "home". Unfortunately, that's no longer the case. I need to find home. I need to walk back streets, eat at restaurants, visit shops and wait for that place to speak to my soul. I look back on it, and you've never done that. You've never spoke to my soul. I think, in most cases, I've been settling with you.

Of course there were good times. How could there not be. However, you've also been the home of my worst moments. And yes, all relationships have that, the ups and downs. But should the downs really outweigh the ups? Instead of speaking to my soul, is it right that you have been crushing it?

Okay, crushing is a bit harsh, but it stifling. You've narrowed my vision, lowered my expectations. Being with you, I feel worse about myself, I feel alone...I'm afraid I'm not as good of a Joe as I can be with you. While I'm here, I feel like I have to be someone different, I have to wear masks, pretend, fit into some other persons idea of Joe. I want to be the real me 24/7. And I just can't do that here.

I'm sorry, this really shouldn't be unexpected though. Sometimes distance forms, things get tainted, go wrong. This is just one of those things.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I'm a terrible Blogger

It's true, I'm not very good at this. Well, not exactly the writing it part. I would like to think I have some talent when it comes to the written word. What I'm bad at is the whole keeping up to date on it. I do hope to rectify this situation. Don't worry, there won't be a sudden upswing in me talking about lunch or dinner, I will spare you all that, but I hope to get a few more of my brain droppings out there. Really, if for no other reason than to get them out of my head.

Anyway: Previously on Cedar City, 84720...
Summer was just getting underway for the gang and people were starting their groovy 16 books in 16 weeks project. Charles and Amy were getting ready to tie the knot, but Joe still didn't know who he was taking to the wedding. Meanwhile, the Einfeldt kids were getting cutter and smarter, but Mary wouldn't stop bragging about it. Joe was getting ready to make his move to Landon's house, but who else was living there?

By the way, that kind of sucks because I've never actually watched an episode of 90210, I was too busy watching Sliders and Loise & Clark at that phase of my life.

So, my 16 in 16 project. Thing I've learned about myself, I can not keep to a list of books to save my life. Now, I've always known that structured systems and me don't really get along (How was I a Mormon missionary again?) but this really put a light on it. I started off so well, Hit and finished Manhood for Amateurs, then kept moving right into Do Anything, and then, I just started to go all over the place. I'm much more of an organic reader, I pick up what looks interesting at the time, or what will help me with a very particular problem. So, there I was, two books down, and I had this urge for Roland Barth's Mythologies, so I read that. Then I felt like I was getting a bit stagnant with my play writing, so I started to read plays, a lot of plays. August Osage County, God of Carnage, Ruined, The Shape of Things, The Distance From Here. So that got me off my list. Then my preorders started to come in. Knowing that I would be making very little money in the summer, I made sure to preorder books that I knew I would want to get during these long summer days. So, in comes Y: The Last Man Deluxe Vol. 3, The Walking Dead Vol. 5, and of course Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour. The problem is, when a new book shows up in your mail box, you really want to read it. So, I did. Then the new Ellis book shows up, a theory book on female comic book characters. Then I have the urge to reread stuff...okay, I think you get the picture. So, here I am with two weeks left of my summer, and my book count is at 14. So, actually, I'm right on track, just not the list I had from the start. Congratulations me.

Now, I would like to write and talk about all these wonderful books I have read, but I should really save that for another time. Right now, I'm more in that melancholy mood you get when you can feel your summer coming to an end. It's an odd feeling, really. I have really enjoyed this summer, incredibly, but at the same time, I'm ready to get back to my classes and my students.

Because of the books and movies I grew up on, I feel like summers should be these months of discovery, where we really grow up and learn. I mean, that's what they did in that movie The Sandlot, and didn't the Goonies take place during their summer break? They found a damn pirate ship! The closest I've ever come to that during a summer was watching them find that ship like 20 times.

I still love that movie.

But, when summer does start to wind down, I have this compulsion to look back, try to take stock of what I've learn, or what I've discovered. And this summer, this summer has really been about me. Or, at least, learning to just be Joe alone, and really enjoying that. Understanding the things that make me truly happy, taking care of myself. And I think I've got a grasp of that. This is a very good thing. I've spent a lot of time sacrificing myself when I didn't really need to, putting everything else before me. I've also been able to get the the core of what I want out of this life. The only bad part of all this self discovery: it feels like I have miles to go to get where I need to be, and there is so little time left to do that. One step at a time, as the cliche goes.

So, yeah, really good summer. Though, I would have liked to have found One-eyed Willies treasure. Eh, maybe next summer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Saga Begins

Well, it being summer and all, that means I need to get going on my 16 books in 16 weeks project. The problem is, I can't really get started on my list with unfinished business. Around spring break this last year I had purchased a couple of books "The Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood, (which is on my summer reading list) and "Chronic City" by Jonathan Lethem. Well, I did a lot of flying during spring break and "Chronic City" was the book that accompanied me on all of those flights. However, when I got back, classes, grading and other things got in the way of me being able to finish the book. So, when summer reading time came around, I was trying to figure out what book to start with. There are a lot of amazing books on my list that I really want to get to. But the more I thought about where to start, I couldn't figure it out. And then I saw "Chronic City" sitting on my shelf, bookmark still in place, and I couldn't just leave it there. I needed to finish it, and that's what I did. So that may bring my book count up a bit, or make it a tighter squeeze to finish in the 16 weeks, but I'm very happy with my decision.

I'm a firm believer in the theory certain books find their way into our lives when we most need them. "Chronic City" is one of those books in my life. The basic story is of a child actor, Chase Insteadman, who is no longer acting but a fixture of New York City's collective identity. His fiance is the only American aboard the Russian space station, but is stuck up there because of a field of Chinese space mines. Now, as crazy and intriguing as that all sounds, it isn't the focus of this novel. The focus of the novel is Insteadman's new friend Perkus Tooth. While read this book, I had this great urge to live in Manhattan. I needed to be part of that world and community, to carve out my own little niche in the street names and restaurants. However, when I had finished the book, that urge had changed. Not because I now had a distaste for Manhattan, Lethem does a wonderful job of sharing his love of the city with the reader, but my new urge was to carve out a place in my own city.

Lethem has seasoned his book with clear and thinly veiled pop cultural references. It's not hard for the reader to know that Gnuppets are suppose to be Muppets or that Chthonic Youth is Sonic Youth, but that is part of the fun here. Not only is Lethem creating the world of Manhattan for his readers, he is showing how his characters have created their own worlds within Manhattan through pop culture and the people they associate with. In the end, I don't want Manhattan, I want Perkus Tooth's kitchen. This amazing world of books, music, and visiting friends. It is this wonderful little piece of a much larger picture. Escaped tigers, Chauldrons, Chinese space mines are all out there, but we've got our worlds to manage.

I will say this, finishing "Chronic City" has only made me more excited to get started on the rest of my books. Now I just need to decide what comes next. So, let's get this read-a-thon rolling.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Productive Use of My Summer

Summer is an interesting time for people involved in academia. When I was growing up, I thought teachers had summer all to themselves. Now that I am a teacher, I see it a little differently. As an adjunct professor, I need to teach and find ways to make money throughout the summer. But that doesn't mean I don't have free time, and as the semester roles to an end I need to figure out how best to use that free time. Now, I could sit in front of my TV and play hour upon hour of Modern Warfare 2, but thanks to Todd and Rae I've got an awesome challenge to confront. 16 Books, 16 Weeks. That's right, a book a week. Now that may seem daunting, but it's a challenge I can handle. So, here's my list of summer reading.

1. "The Year of the Flood" (Margaret Atwood)
2. "The Supergirls" (Mike Madrid)
3. "Twilight of the Superheroes" (Deborah Eisenberg... See More
4. "I Will Fear No Evil" (Robert Heinlein)
5. "Vacation" (Deb Olin Unferth)
6. "2666" (Roberto Bolano)
7. "Ficciones" (Jorge Luis Borges)
8. "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History" (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich)
9. "Do Anything" (Warren Ellis)
10. "Hand to Mouth" (Paul Auster)
11. "Manhood For Amateurs" (Michael Chabon)
12. "McSweeney's #34" (McSweeney's)
13. "Suttree" (Cormac McCarthy)
14. "The Writer's Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House" (Tin House)
15. "Gentlemen of the Road" (Michael Chabon)
16. "Gun With Occasional Music" (Johnathan Lethem)

I'll be reading other books as well this summer. The next collected volumes of Y: The Last Man, The Walking Dead, Ex Machina, Fables, and Scott Pilgrim will be coming out this summer, but those being graphic novels, I'll probably rip through those in about 24 hours. But hey, if you are looking for a fun challenge this summer, I suggest you get on board. Find those 16 books you haven't been able to get to because of classes, work, or whatever. Get out in the sun, enjoy those books, and feel free to share your lists of 16.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"I was but the learner, but now I am the master."

Content Warning: The following blog post contains quite a number of Star Wars references. Yeah, that's right, I learn and apply life lessons from some of the more dorkish parts of pop culture.

One of the things that I have enjoyed so much about being a student, particularly of English, was the mentor ship that exists. As an undergrad, I had great mentors. Mentors that helped me with my writing, mentors that helped me with my literary analysis, mentors that helped me with life choices. And it was great. Eventually though I did need to move on. At NAU I found new people and new mentors that pushed me even farther. How weak and underdeveloped would my writing be if I hadn't had Jane Woodman there to push me. I liked having mentors, I miss having mentors.

Since I've been back in Cedar teaching, I'm not really in the learner mentor situation much anymore. Yes, there are people to get advice from, to seek out when I'm just really not sure, but it isn't quite the same. And to be honest, I don't think it will be the same until I'm in a PhD program somewhere.

There is a point in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke has to go to the aging Jedi master Yoda and be trained in the ways of the force. Yoda makes Luke do head stands, float rocks, try to lift X-Wing ships out of the swamp, and even carry Yoda around on his back as he runs through the jungle. However, there comes a certain point when Yoda and Luke come upon a tree and Yoda tells Luke that he must face the dangers and tests there on his own. I think I've reached that point. That point where I need to step out and be...well, Joe.

I need to make my own mistakes, create my own victories, carve my name into stone, use my own blood, sweat, and piss to build a lasting memorial to my existence. This doesn't mean we do away with our mentors or our heroes. How horrible to be without heroes? We find them and connect with them and help shape us.

So here I am, I have to start making my own way, I have even found myself in the role of being a mentor to some of the people in my life. The thing that keeps nagging at me though, is that I miss being in the learner position. It was easier then, fewer mistakes, less responsibility, and the landscape was knowable. I'll be honest, I'm jealous of the people that have taken my place as a learner. I want to be back there, I want that relationship again. Or do I?

Luke would never have been able to defeat the Emperor, help redeem Darth Vader, if he had stayed the learner. He needed to become his own man, a Jedi Master. Charles Bukowski once said, "What really matters, is how you walk through the flame." When I look back at the flame that I have walked through, I wouldn't want to walk through it again. Those really difficult lessons, those painful mistakes, I learned from all of them. I may not be a master writer and I have lots left to learn, but I'm so glad to be where I am. My skin is tougher, my smile bigger, my hair thinner, my mind sharper.

I will still miss those old learner mentor relationships, get jealous of those that are there now, but this place, it is dark and new and and exciting and scary is...Wow, just wow.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Damn the Man, Save the Empire

Well, it is nearing on finals week, so blogging has taken a massive back seat. But when a thought sticks in my head, it just needs to come out.

So my title, it already makes me kind of a hypocrite here. Being a college professor, in many situations, I am The Man. But hey, let's take this out of the sphere of my professional life and into my personal life and this fabulous experience of reconstruction and self actualization.

I do not like rules. Let's just call it rebellion or a healthy distrust for people in positions of authority. I've read 1984, V for Vendetta, Fahrenheit 451, and they have made me very suspicious of anyone trying to make rules for me. That's what I really dislike about rules, is people trying to impose their rules on me. I strongly believe in a Generation X term Me-Ism. A Me-Ism is a formulated, personally tailored set of rules, boundaries, and social behaviors that guide that individuals life. This can incorporate religions, new age mysticism, astrology, or just passages from Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac books. Building my own Me-Ism and keeping to it is really important to me. So when people try to impose their arbitrary rules on me, I reflexively start to chafe and kick back.

When I did my two year Mormon mission, the rules were a tough pill to swallow. The Missonary Training Center (MTC) was a larger culture shock than Korea was. Eventually you get use to keeping those rules, they become second nature. What I refused to swallow, was the rules that other missionaries decided to invent and impose on my day to day routine. In the MTC, they had something called Quiet Dignity. Basically, Quiet Dignity means don't be an ass. Don't scream, yell, be vulgar, or other things that would make you look uneducated, boorish, barbaric, or, the worst stereotype of being 19 years old and American. Now, some missionaries decided that Quiet Dignity means that you must shave every inch of humanity off from yourself. One windy day in the MTC I was walking to lunch. Unknown to me the wind had blown my tie up over my shoulder. Some missionary I had never seen before decided to stop me he put both hands on my shoulders put my tie back into place and said loudly so that other missionaries could see the size of his spirit and said "Quite Dignity Elder, Quiet Dignity". Now, my first urge was to punch the smug little boy in the throat, but I didn't. Little did I know, that was just the first time I would deal with this.

Even a decade after my mission, I still have people trying to impose their rules on me. I've been told there's something wrong with me for all of the following reasons: Drinking Dr. Pepper, watching movies rated R, not being married by 25, reading books, listening to music, voting Democrat, not voting Republican, not being a registered Republican, being an English teacher, buying Magic cards, buying comic books, buying records, buying books...look, the list goes on.

Here's the problem with other people's rules, you can never keep them. They will confront you in their passive aggressive way, "Do you know what that movie is rated?" There is no correct answer, they do not want an answer. They want you to know you are in the wrong and have broken their rule. No matter how hard you try and twist, wedge, or cram yourself into their rules, you can never do it. You will always be in the wrong. Live your rules, live your life, and be the best you you can be. Yeah, I know that's a rule. So hey, take it or leave it.

I'm still building my Me-Ism. I'm forging my own rules for dating, personal relationships, spirituality, and life in general. And it is great. Because, at the end of all this, they are my dates, my relationships, and most importantly, my spirituality. So yes, I will do things that make other people upset, that will make them shake their head and wonder what is wrong. To them I say Damn the Man, Save the Joe Willis Empire!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

So Much To Do Before I Die

"And Keats, big poet Keats, Keats was dead by twenty-four" - Otis, Kicking and Screaming

First, I'm referring to Kicking and Screaming, the film by Noah Baumbauch, not the terrible movie staring Will Ferrell. (I hate that I have to clarify that now.) And second, I really dislike Keats. I understand that he wrote some good poems and he died tragically as this poet doctor, but, I'm good. Like many of the quotes I use, this ties in well with what I've been dealing with lately.

As many of you may have heard, I didn't get the Doctor Who job. Now, there's definitely a large nugget of disappointment over this, but there is a lot of good to come out of it. One of the good things in particular was the 45 minute pep talk I received from Stephen Moffat himself. Now having him talk to me about the future and life in general was really helpful. He was right around thirty when he really got going on his writing career, when he finally found his goal and dream.

I've really started to feel more like an adult in this world. The one down fall of that is being here in Southern Utah. How is it possible, really, to be treated as old when you're only 31? To make matters worse, I've apparently failed at the only worthwhile goal and dream to have here. Now, someday I do plan on getting married and having kids. It's something I want, but it isn't the only thing out there for me to achieve. And trust me, I haven't missed some magical opportunity for that to happen. Guess what, outside of this little bubble, this 18-21 marriage thing comes across as strange. Does that mean you shouldn't do it if it's something that you are 100% certain about? No, go with that gut. However, stop trying to impose your life choices on me. Especially, when you don't know me.

I had this horrible feeling for so long that I was too old to reach my goals, live my dreams, do the things that I wanted to do. I'm glad I don't feel that way anymore and thank you Stephen Moffat for helping me grasp the most important thing I need to do and understand the biggest mistake of my life, living my life for other people. I've wasted so much time doing that. My entire high school existence was trying to do stuff that would either make other people happy or keep my peers from labeling me "Weird" and beating me up. So I squandered in mediocrity. Trying things I didn't really enjoy only to give up on them eventually. Even things I did enjoy were tainted by me trying to be something I wasn't. But, of course, people will tell me over and over again that it was my lack of commitment, my not applying myself, well, bull shit. How do you develop commitment or apply yourself when you are just trying to make it day to day and putting on mask over mask just to survive?

The same thing happened when I started college. I was doing a major that was suppose to make someone else happy, a major I had very little interest in. Being an English major at SUU was probably the first thing I really did for myself. One of the first things I did to make myself happy. Even after that choice, I've been making choice after choice to appease what other people want, or what I think other people want.

So, let's let this blog post stand as a mile marker, a sign post, a new manifesto. I am young yet in my bones, I have much to do before I die, and dreams to achieve. My dreams. I am sorry, I have failed at making other people happy, it is not a power I posses and a poor use of my life. It's time to live for me and be what I want.