Wednesday, October 25, 2006


There are a lot of bricks around here. A lot of bricks. They seem to show up everywhere: on the streets, on the walls, the walks, patios. I can't decide if they color the air, and if the overall effect is warm or chilling. There is a tight formality in the way bricks fit together on a street, no mortar, just red and purple blocks lying together like prisoners, jutting out here and there, waiting for the ground underneath to sway and knock them free. But bricks in general are slow. They don't appear in long swaths like asphalt, or flow out the end of a pipe like concrete. They take their time. They don't care if your car shakes off its fenders when you drive over them. They sit back and talk about Sunday sermons and shade, mustaches and timepieces. Some were born yesterday, and some just won't die. I'm sure I fall somewhere in the middle.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Now Broadcasting

In this brave new world, there are few advantages as precious as having your own radio station. (At least for us poor saps still without ipods.) So, if you want to groove and you're online, check mine out here.

You can get your own radio station too, just go sign up at It takes awhile to train your station to play what you like. I apologize if mine still airs some complete crap every once in awhile. I realize it's just a computer program, but I can't help but feel offended when Trace Adkins starts crooning.

Computer: Here's some Trace Adkins, Joe. You know you like it.

Me: No I don't, shut up. I'm cooler than that.

Computer: I dare you to skip it before someone you respect walks in.

Me: I will. And don't ever play that crap again, or I'll, I'll . . . I'll shut you down. Yes, I'll shut you down! And I'll be the one who decides when to turn you back on.

Computer: Fine. But don't think this is the end. There are a whole slew of country pop icons out there for me to choose from. I'd think twice before starting a ground war with Yahoo!'s extensive music catalog. You fool, if George Strait and Kenny Chesney don't get you, then the Christian Rap and New Jack Swing will. I'll go Easy Listening all over your #%@!

Me: Uhhhhh . . . I . . . I'm sorry.

Computer: Accepted. So, got any Duster?

Me: Yeah, sure. And, do you think you could play some more Rita Coolidge?

Computer: (smiling) I won't tell anyone.

Me: Thanks.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Rock Bottom

You know you've hit rock bottom when you find yourself in a darkened aisle on the second floor of the library, browsing through volumes of The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyc.

I was looking for something I had read once about driveaway companies, services for getting your car from point A to point B without having to drive it. Basically, you pay some schmoe to joyride your vehicle across the country, while his only deterrent from motoring to Alaska and/or blowing it up is a $200 security deposit.

How can you not love a book whose slogan is "Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle," and whose cover offers tantalizing headlines like "Fool-proof yogurt making," "Diet on the cheap," "Economize with antiques," and "Mass-produce pies." I very much especially like the generic casserole recipe on page 47 (italicized comments are mine):

1 cup main ingredient (meat)
1 cup second ingredient (vegetable)
1-2 cups starchy ingredient (potatoes, noodles, rice, etc.)
1 1/2 cups binder (see below)
1/4 cup "goodie" (I'm not telling, but the sky's the limit!)

What is a "binder," you say? Elmer's glue? (According to the Gazette, binder suggestions include "cream sauce, sour cream, can of soup.") Alright poor people, get your leftovers out and let it rip. We're having "ingredient" casserole tonight! Post your creations to this blog. No need to actually make it in the kitchen. We'll do a virtual taste test, and the winner gets an entire cup of "goodies" sent via snail mail by yours truly! Don't think I'm serious? Try me.

Happy concocting!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lips detaching from face

I've built up a good store of useless judgment and have worked hard enough today that I don't feel guilty letting it out in blog form.


A big disappointment like you knew it would be.

Favorite character: stain-toothed voodoo lady. There's something strangely seductive about her, not in a particularly sexual way, that's probably part of it, but I just want to keep watching her. The sound of her voice, that iceberg grin, just understated, unlike anything I've ever seen. What an intriguing human form, absolutely delightful to observe.

Second favorite: Davey Jones. More interesting than any of the non-CG leads.

Worst ending. Yes, jaw-popping sets, props and gags. A few perfect lines from J Depp. But other than that a bewildering, unwieldly story with surprisingly little at stake and too many careless moments. One question: What the crap is going on with the heart? Am I supposed to care? It was discovered and then changed hands twice without contributing anything significant to the narrative? What was all the trouble about again? Oh yeah, it's a bloody, beating, disembodied heart. Throw it in a bag and forget about it for the last 30 minutes of the movie while Keira Knightley tries to make her lips jump off of her face and stick to an unsexed Johnny Depp who then jumps into the mouth of a grainy green-screen Return-of-the-Jedi sphincter monster while the oh-so-convincingly sad remaining cast retreats to their bayou "sanctuary" only to be greeted by a cameo of apple-eating Geoffrey Rush who I guess had been in cryogenic storage for the previous 3 hours. Orlando who? I could hardly tear myself away from his hearbreaking dad/son scene: "Don't try to but into my life now, dad. I rise above your pirate ways." - "I never wanted this for you son" - "Oh come here youuuu."


A truly magical place, despite all the instruments of death and torture. I threw caution to the wind and embraced the taxidermy in all it's postmodern glory. There are plenty of live moose in the world, it's just that I'll probably never get a chance to see them without considerable time and effort and hey, let's face it, moose-watching isn't at the top of my list of do-before-I-die activities.

I even lent my support by buying two camping pads. My justification was that there is no Cabela's in Ohio and we're probably going to want to do a lot of camping in the Appalachians. And by a lot, I mean at least once. I also bought Cabela's brand beef jerky for a little backpacking adventure this weekend with Scott and his two oldest boys. I never buy beef jerky, but it just seemed like the right thing to do. Again, the magic.

Should I lie and say I didn't want a gun? I won't. There were hundreds, nay, thousands of them. All my life I've grown up knowing that guns are for hicks and criminals, and that owning one would be far more trouble that it's worth. I'm 28 and I've never shaken the feeling that I'm too young to own a firearm. Guns aren't for kids. And yet here comes the guy behind the counter talking to me like I'm his equal, saying, "What can we do so that you walk out of here today with something?" I almost ponied up and acted the part. I wanted to. Wanted to walk out with a big silver glock pressed against my palm, or a shotgun slung over my shoulder. Didn't know what I would do with it, but wanted the world to know, for a moment, that I could figure something out. Shooting watermelons, or street signs, or aliens. I'd figure something out.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Had to write this for 518. Some of you will find it horribly dull. Others may find it mildly interesting.

Rules of Thumb

1. Write everyday. I don’t, but I’m still a believer. I find that the weeks and months where I establish a pattern of writing regularly become much more enjoyable and productive. I feel confident. My story starts to fill the background of my daily grind, I think about it in the car and walking across campus. When I sit down at the computer I feel ready. I had a teacher in California who used to say he needed to get home and write because his characters were “digging up !&*% in the backyard.” They were a part of his everyday reality. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing, but hey.

2. Close the door and don’t come out. Stephen King talks about this in his highly readable memoir about writing. When the door shuts, don’t come out for anything; not until you’ve achieved something. Of course, King also says if you haven’t finished a novel in three months (first draft), it’s not worth finishing.

3. Write whatever the hell you want. Contrary to the popular maxim, “Write what you know,” I say if you can dream it, do it. Of course, drink responsibly. You may have to do some research. But just because I’m not a ninja, don’t know any ninjas, and can’t name any famous ninjas, doesn’t mean I can’t write about them.

4. Don’t be afraid of being earnest. I don’t know, maybe I’m off on this one, but it seems like everyone wants to be “biting” these days. Biting is awesome. But there is nothing wrong with sincere emotion when a story calls for it. I try to be as jaded and post-modern as the next guy, but, secretly, I like to cry as well.

5. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read.

6. Don’t ever write in a coffee shop while wearing a black turtleneck and tinted spectacles. Just . . . don’t.

7. Listen to music for inspiration. OK, maybe it’s just an excuse not to write, but I know that when I feel discouraged or lost with a piece, music can electrify me and set the tone for creativity and productivity. It’s a tonal thing. The creative nonfiction writer Patrick Madden is rumored to have said that the band Rush has influenced his writing as much as any other thing.

8. Always write with a thesaurus close by. I like, with both a dictionary and thesaurus online. I’m not looking for the most obscure word, just the right word.

9. Think about form. When I get stuck, I try to think about ways to change the form in order to spark progress. Do I want to be in the narrator’s head? Is it better told through dialogue? How about letters? A collection of vignettes? First person? Third person? A play? A film script? You can only go so far with different options, but sometimes it helps to take a different approach and see what comes out.

10. Let yourself write garbage. This is another commonly expressed sentiment that I first heard from the famed compositionist Peter Elbow, or St. Elbow as I prefer to call him. He was talking about freewriting in the classroom. The same applies for everyone, from Hemingway on down. In fact, Hemingway partly killed himself because he wasn’t able to stomach this one, wasn’t able to write garbage. I am not a prodigy, and I know that some, if not much, of what I write may be subpar, unimportant, and incomplete. Let it out, man. If you beat yourself up every time you fall short of a Pulitzer you’re going to be a sore, lonely human being.

11. Get to know your characters. Related to #1. I like the fact sheet approach suggested by many writing teachers where you writing a bio of your character that exists outside of your actual story. Knowing how your character will act or respond in certain situations saves a lot of time on the back end trying to revise and correct inconsistencies. Of course, this is largely subjective and should only be carried so far (unless you’re writing a biography or something), but it helps. Sometimes.

12. Turn it over to the character. Related to #12. One of the most important lessons John Bennion learned in Houston and passes on to his students. If you’re unsure of how to play, or explain, a certain situation/scene, make a conscious effort to let the character work it out on the page. How does the reader know how to understand/interpret certain acts or phrases? Let the characters give cues on how to read it. What are they thinking or doing that points the reader in the right direction? Am I making any sense? This is new advice for me, so I’m not sure I even totally understand what I’m trying to say.

13. Don’t worry about publishing. Go with your gut. Constantly skewing and tweeking your work according to some perceived secret of what “publishers” want will send you in circles and suck the blood out of your manuscript.

14. Worry about publishing. (i.e. Make some money!) Artistic integrity aside, I would gladly be a tool of the publishing industry if it meant making insane truckloads of money off my writing. Nobody wants to eat sawdust and shoe leather. Send out your work. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make money, even insane truckloads of it. Just be prepared not to.

15. Cut. Slash. Revise. Reduce. Ken Rand calls it “the 10 percent solution.” Stephen King says something similar. Basically, the idea is that no matter how good or tight you think something is (especially an early draft), you can probably always cut out more. Rand says 10 percent: 10,000 words to 9,000. William Faulker’s much-quoted “kill your darlings” line comes to mind. This depends on the writer, and the piece. I don’t follow any mathematical formula, but like to keep the principle in mind.

16. Eat rejection. My aunt, Karen Joy Fowler, is a fairly successful and critically-acclaimed novelist. She started writing on her 30th birthday and is now 53. This, she has said, is her secret to success. She started out in a class that later turned into a writing group that has been together for over 20 years. They still meet at her house every Thursday evening. But she is the only one in the group who has enjoyed any kind of success (measured externally). She told me, “I wasn’t the most gifted in the group, or even the hardest working, but I was the one who was able to take rejection and keep on going.” She waded through years of disappointment, peppered with modest successes, before she began to emerge. There are many reasons for writing, but if part of your goal is to produce great art and be recognized for it, then don’t give up after a year or two.

17. A man is never a prophet in his own country. Don’t be upset if Mom and Dad don’t appreciate your genius. They love you anyway.

18. Have kids. One of the biggest sources of material for many writers I know. Probably not the best reason to have them though, I admit.

19. Love it. There should, for at least a moment, at some point in the process, be a feeling of joy.

20. If needed, break any or all rules. I know, I know, this sounds like a title for the last chapter of a shameless self-help book. But I figure I need to cover my butt, since I can often be found not following my own rules of thumb. We all know life is an improv thing. Whatever works, you know. OK, self, now get out there and do something with your life.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Try to cry.

Here's an exercise for you:

1. You have to be alone.

2. Put on something emotional. Music that is. I mean the absolutely most bittersweet, I-want-to-dissolve-into-nothing, world loving, world hating music you can think of. Its different for everyone. It should also be something epic. Don't forget, bittersweet. For me, it's Pink Floyd's "High Hopes."

3. Now, go to MSNBC's "Week in Pictures" feature. You can go through MSN, or just google "week in pictures."

4. Play said music and look at said pictures. If it works, you might feel alive. It's also possible that you feel despair. Or an amazing mixture of both.

Music is power. Seeing is tasting. Living is good. And never quite enough.

I'm not trying to be pretentious.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

28 years ago

I got a glimpse into my childhood the other day, through the eyes of my daughter. She's the firstborn, as was I.

My longtime friend and his wife came down from Logan with their four boys, all under age five including a couple of twins almost the exact same age as RJ. I was astonished at how excitable, how absolutely tickled, RJ was to have other kids around. She was hyperventilating. Too young to really "play" with other kids, she just cruised around picking up toys and tossing them aside, banging her palms fiercely on anything and everything. I guess I always thought our company was the best she could ask for. This just confirmed the need to have more kids. Dang it. But I realized, as I watched her watching the action unfold around her, that I too was an only child for a time (three years).

I saw myself through a window in time, towheaded, toothy grin, playing by myself on the green carpet in my parents' late 70's apartment. I saw the roots, maybe, of my social neediness. In some ways I am more introverted than my brothers and sisters, but not more solitary. I am drawn to the nexus of human interaction like a wayward moth, blind and seeking, always afraid of missing something, always wanting to eat experience like a lotus flower and be born up by something outside of myself. Seeking. So much for self-pop-psycho-analysis.

Listening to Richard Buckner's "Bloomed", and feeling wistful, like a winter leaf on the edge of spring, watching the clear sun from under the muddy branches, while the ground gives way.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I'd like the deluxe package please...

Hear me out:

So I was with Los Lindos the other day and we dropped the Pan off at PetsMart for a grooming. Shampoo, haircut, nail trim, toothbrushing. The Works. Then, later, I started thinking about how funny it would be if I brought my daughter (baby) in and held her out to the grooming girls and said something like, "Yeah, I'll have the basic service. Be back in an hour." I could see them doing that on some candid camera show. But I really do think it might be a good idea. Open a baby grooming service. Today's busy parents don't have time to wrestle with a baby through the bath, the nails, the teeth, etc. You could call it "The Baby Salon" or "Tidy Tikes" or something like that. The child is covered with snot, baby food, smells like sour diapers; you drop her off and come back after grocery shopping and there she is, shimmering, all fragrant with like a red bow stuck on her head. Beauty. Dog groomers could easily expand into this market because you basically need the same equipment: a rubber mat, something to spray with, and a giant blow drier--just lay down some thick towels and stick the kids under it so they can airdry because, hey, no water spots!

Friday, January 27, 2006

To park or not to park

Something has got to be done about the parking situation. I can't live like this, like a beast, fighting with other beasts for the last piece of meat, the empty parking space. YOU, BYU, you've made us like this. We are sharks, idling dangerously in the aisles, waiting for a leaver, for a pair of legs to pass by on their way to a parked car. We wave at each other as we prowl, but then spit out curses when we see that much-hated spectacle: another car stopped in the aisle, with it's blinker on. The blinker is a territorial mark, a signpost, shouting MINE MINE MINE MINE MINE in perfect time. We have begun to pray for parking--yes, to include it in our intimate conversations with creation's Architect--is there no end to our debasement!? We are dogs! We are ashes. We are the living dead, those who circle, endlessly, to no end. To no purpose. To nowhere. To hell. To hell with parking. We are leaving. We will walk home. But we won't forget, oh no we will not fail to remember, when the alumni office calls....and asks....for cash. We are petty. We are proud. But we will smile.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Thought I'd play some intramural basketball. Didn't want to disappoint a friend. Showed up at the first game last night. Friend wasn't there. Dirty bum. Only had four players. The other team got scared and played five anyway. 20 minute halves. Knew I was in trouble when after five minutes I looked to the sideline for a sub. Nope. Only 35 minutes to go. Almost collapsed. Spent the last half running from one three-point line to the other, watching the action. Got home, felt like Don Johnson after Valentine's day, completely spent. Wish I had his stamina though. Wish I had his white pants and boat loafers. Wish I was in Florida.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Senor, would you like some wax?

Yesterday shaved the beard, but kept the 'stache. I will be the first one to admit that it is nasty, despite all the courteous comments today from encouraging man friends. I have to believe that it is just helpful support, a what-the-heck kind of support meant to enable someone who is, in the face of all that is clean and nice-looking, going out on a limb. It's the, "That shirt looks good on you. I would never wear it, but it looks good on you" kind of comment. It took a woman, eg in fact, to vocally share with me the obvious truth that yes I look better without lip hair. My wife knows it, but fully supported the 'staching as an outrageous act of the shameless attention-grabbing variety. Really, I just wanted to get a reaction from my students on the first day.

Of course, deep down I would like to look good with a mustache. I swear to you it looked better when it was trailing down towards my jawline...very cowboy...but the honor code specifically dictates a corners-of-the-mouth chopping point. So I will continue to play it off as a harmless prank. Not so if I had a real Dapper Dan dangler going. I grow a mean goatee, but the mustache on its own is admittedly rather flat, and blonder than my pirate-red underbeard. I want a rougish mustache that bushes out over the lip, or stretches generously towards the ears. I want to twist the ends with my fingertips, stick my bottom lip out and blow upwards, feeling the long hairs undulating under my nose. Those kinds of mustaches can still make it in today's world. Apart from those, however, mustaches 1) shouldn't be worn by men under 35, 2) shouldn't be worn by anybody looking for a date, and 3) are always preferable in darker shades.

I did show it off to Lance Larsen, and yes, he laughed, because several years ago he too sported a mustache, a more handsome one at that, and I made a comment (anonymous) on his teacher evaluation that it made him look like a porn star. I think he suspected it was either Ryan Shoemaker or myself, but never knew exactly who said it until last year in English 600 when Ryan spilled the beans. Behind the laugh I could see a slight recollection of insult, and for a moment I felt ashamed. (Incidentally, he shaved the mustache the next semester.) So my presentation to him was I think a peace offering of sorts, a gesture of good will if you will.

The reaction from students, on the other hand, was disappointing. I shouldn't have expected any comments on the first day, although I would have loved to have heard their thoughts. I did make a joke about it eventually and we shared a laugh. I could tell that even they knew I was guilty of sporting a bad mustache. Still, I think I'll keep it for awhile. Oh, and I did have one freshman girl ask how it was that I was able to get away with a mustache. "Is this your first semester at BYU?" I asked. "It is," she said. "Well, then I wouldn't expect you to know that mustaches are 100 percent legal under the stipulations of the BYU dress and grooming standards, as long as they are stop at the corners of the mouth." "Oh my gosh," she said with a hint of disbelief and turned with an amused look to the girls sitting next to her. Oh my gosh, indeed.