Thursday, December 16, 2010

My life of stability and chaos

Tonight I started reading an article about the manic drumming style of The Who's Keith Moon by James Wood in the Nov. 29 New Yorker. I learned something about myself while reading. The realization struck me quick like the surprise shimmer of a symbol, so much so I had put down the magazine before finishing.
I need to have a balance between stability and chaos.
Wood at one point in the article compared Moon's style to that of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham. He wrote of Bonham's impeccable ability for solid, structured rhythms that provide a firm base layer for the band's music. Even Bonham's epic drum solo "Moby Dick" clearly has its own movements, verses. Wood compared this to Moon's completely unstructured, off-beat at times, style.
Speaking first of Bonham's style, Wood writes, "Everything is judged, and rightly placed: astonishing order. Moon's drumming, by contrast, is about putting things in the wrong place: the appearance of astonishing disorder."
This past summer while I listlessly searched for a job, I can easily say I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin. It is no exaggeration to say I listened to bootleg concerts and studio albums of theirs at least five days out of the week for months on end.
In the chaos of not knowing where my life was headed, I found solace in the predictable beauty of Zeppelin's blues-based rock.
Lately, however (and I noted this in an earlier post), I've found myself attracted to the noise brought on by 70s and 80s punk rock bands. Some days I revel in the sounds, the crashes created by post-punk groups like Swans or Nirvana.
All of this explains my fascination with groups like The Stooges, Meat Puppets or even the pre-punk genius of The Who.
Now that I have a stable job and a home I have no plans on leaving any time soon, I relish the chaos given me by bands that can't be easily understand. I've always been interested in the weird side of music, but I am now more than ever.
I thank God for the balance of chaos and structure He's given us. How boring would life be if we all did exactly the same thing over and over again? How truly insane would our minds become if the sun didn't rise and set every day?
If you're getting bored, pray for a little disorder. That, and listen to the Pixies.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Welcome to the West

This is my first post from my new post. We're expecting our first snow tonight. I think that's exciting. I think. It's going to get cold, and I'm unsure my Texas-bred body can handle an extended winter.

Writing for a living has been great. I've already met some incredible people with incredible stories to tell. Considering our paper is only twice-weekly, I've been fairly busy. That's great. But it's clear from those I've spoken with that living here in Wyoming is no stroll.

The mountains looming west and south of town are awe inspiring. They're beautiful, but there is something foreboding about them. I've been up here for less than three months, and already I realize a danger on the horizon.

Just two weeks ago our mountains swallowed a small plane with three children on board. On our first hike in the Tetons we ran into a bear. I've heard numerous stories already of experienced mountain men not returning from routine day trips.

We live on the edge of true wilderness.

"Watch your step, and I will make your life worth living," the Wind Rivers seem to say. "Lose sight, and I will take you. Welcome to the west."

These next few years will make us who we will be for the rest of our lives. Much hangs on the fickle will of the Wind Rivers. God lead us on a productive, sure-footed walk.

P.S. I wonder what any of this has to do with a recent fascination with '70s and '80s punk rock.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Can I Get an "Amen?!"

It's official. I am now a reporter and a journalist. After nearly two years of searching, praying, hoping, crying, shouting and other -ing's I have begun my career. To make a very long story very short (I'm sure many of you who read this know the details anyway), my wife, Emily, was offered a job in Lander, Wyoming. She accepted. Not too much later I made the journey to Lander with my family to search for a job and a place for us to live. It just so happened the local paper was hiring.

I report for the Lander Journal and the Riverton Ranger.

We moved not all that long ago, and I began work right away. Due to traveling back from whence we came for an absolutely beautiful wedding for an absolutely beautiful couple, I am on my first full week of work.

The staff seems great to work with thus far, and I am getting more and more immersed in the local scene. I will be covering everything from city council meetings to hunting events to construction projects to whatever. I'm so excited. (Don't bother checking the website for my articles. We don't post them.)

In case you were wondering, I have not and will not stop writing fiction. But the frequency of such has slowed drastically with the move and the adjustments and will remain so for some time. No doubt my new life here will feed myriads of ideas my way.

Did I mention there are mountains?

Thanks to everyone who has supported me and told me they believed in me along the way. Your kindness and love was never overlooked. I will forever be grateful and indebted to you all. It will probably require an entire post just to list all of you, so I will forgo that for now. (You all know who you are.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Meditation on a Summer Film

Inception. You're probably sick of hearing about it already. Yes, it is a great movie; the acting is superb by almost all involved; the plot is creative and as close to original as we can get these days; the special effects are mind-blowing. All of this spells out a recipe for a chart-topping Summer flick. But I think there is another reason why Inception is resonating so thoroughly with audiences. (Spoilers to follow.)

The year is 2010. The economy is effectively in the crapper thereby rendering the American Dream just that, a dream. We live in a society where almost all that we eat is modified in some way, usually not for the better, from it's natural state. Politics are riddled with corruption. People are dying daily around the world, and we're made to feel guilty about it if we don't send a little money. Who wouldn't want to forget reality? We have out-sourced our social lives to the Internet.

Inception deals with a group people who can access other's minds by invading their dreams. While inside they can extract or steal ideas, or, more difficultly, plant ideas. You can share dreams with others and even get stuck in your subconscious. To leave the dream you either must be woken up by someone on the outside or die in the dream. Needless to say, it is easy to lose your grip on reality. DiCaprio's character's wife returns to reality after a long stint in dreamland with her hubby convinced that they're still dreaming. She kills herself.

The issue of what is real has been debated by philosophers for centuries. I have friends who could speak much more knowledgeably about the subject than I, but watching Inception I couldn't help but think of Plato and the illustration of the cave. Everything we see is merely a projection of the real thing, a shade, a reflection, a shadow. Form exists somewhere else.

I guess what I'm trying to say, however in-eloquently, is that so many people right now wish all of this life to be a dream. We are already beginning to live lives in alternative realities. How real, really, is Facebook? Isn't there a study that showed the more friends you have online the less you have offline? The Internet allows us to live lives apart from who we actually are. The awful Bruce Willis movie Surrogates tried to work through this theme too but failed miserably. (I stopped watching after 20 minutes. I almost never stop watching once I've started.)

Inception ends boldly, seeming to claim that it doesn't matter whether you're living in reality or in dreamland as long as you're happy. Is that what we've come to as a society?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Measure of a Man: An Excerpt

The moment everyone (someone, anyone, no one) has been waiting for: an excerpt from my latest short story project. I am still struggling with some structural issues, but I thought I'd share the opening few graphs. Enjoy.

So it came to this. Here sat a man with his name attached to nothing. He staked no claim to greatness, neither in accomplishment nor size. Despite all of his efforts he succumbed to his predetermined life of destitution. And now he sat as a man who only succeeded in being a failure.

The evening was overcast, no moonlight and no interior lamps alit save one in the back bathroom. A mouse scurried across the floor in front of the television with a broken screen. Paint chips dangled in slivers from the ceiling, fallen pieces mingled with dust to create a thick coating like ash after a fire.

A homeless person nested beneath the front porch behind the broken latticework.

The man sat on the sofa, leaned back, hand clenched like claws on his knees. Before him stood another holding a gun. As the muzzle pushed into his forehead, he shut his eyes and every muscle in his body relaxed; for the first time in his life he felt relief.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Writing as a Calling and Other Things Thoughts

Everyone suffers doubts. If you don't, you either need a psychiatrist or you need to come talk to me. I enjoy writing, I always have (well, since maybe junior year of high school) and I expect I always will. Lately, though, I've been wondering if I'm not following a dead end. Am I meant to be a writer? The journalism job search has been ridiculously frustrating and I've yet to have a short story published. No, I'm not giving up on either yet, but I'm taking a new outlook on life.

A couple of weeks ago I met with one of my pastors, author of the great blog Hammer and Tongs, and we had a great conversation about life, art and writing. To keep things short, he lent me a copy of "Herself" by Madeleine L'Engle (author of A Wrinkle In Time) which is a collection of her thoughts on the writing life. She was a devout Christian and much of her insights have a Christian outlook attached to them. But whether or not you are a believer this book is inspiring.

One of her main points is this: if you feel called to write then write, but don't worry about being published. Being published is merely a bonus. What is important is that you are feeding the world with words and that you keep at it. So I'm trying to focus on that, for sure. Much easier said than done, but I'm trying. Writing can be a calling without being a career.

In other news, big changes underway. A move is in the works, and I'm hoping the new location will breathe new life into my writing. More information to come.

I just finished reading "PrairyErth (a deep map)" by William Least Heat-Moon. It is a beautiful work that provides insight on the human condition by digging away at the history of Chase County, Kansas. A little self-promotion: you can check out my brief review of it on

And lastly: I'm working on a new story based off my thoughts on the previous post, tentatively titled "The Measure of a Man." It needs a lot of work (beginning draft 2 now), but hopefully in the near future I can post an excerpt here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Measure of a Man: Brainstorming

The last couple of weeks have been difficult. I spent much too much time wallowing. My brain has been overwhelmed with questions, such as "Why?" "How?" WTF?" That said, my writing has suffered for it. I have given my stories little to no attention over the past two weeks.

However, that does not mean that I haven't been thinking about my current project. After the first draft I was unsure as to whether it could realistically happen or be believable. In the course of development I think I have discovered a much more important story. Maybe eventually I will return to the original.

Among our peers at least today-in-age, if not for all-time, I might argue, that men are defined by their successes and failures. This is a focus of much fiction: the highs and lows of men. Perhaps this is a reflection of my own state of mind, but what happens when a man utterly seems to fail in everything? I'm talking about a man (or woman, of course) who's never caught a break, never had a moment of positive luck.

Celebrities have shown us time and again that even with success in excess failure at times is inevitable. But at least they've excelled before. Lets evaluate a man who never had a boyfriend or girlfriend, who never made above a D in school, who failed to get into college and was rejected by the military, a man who can't keep a job and rarely makes above minimum wage. This is a man that screwed up everything. What causes a fate like this? How would a man cope mentally? What, if anything, redeeming can be found about his life?

Personally, I am of a mind that every person has a function and a purpose, and that ultimately no life is a failure. My questions are completely for fictional pondering, story-potential exploration.

I think what this means is that I am going to take a secondary character from my first draft of "River Rat" and explore his story. This will not be a happy story. Part of the reason I write is to explore the human condition, and because we are fallen it's not always the brightest of existences.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Smathering of Thoughts: Happy, Sad and Otherwise

"(A walker displaces the territory as a swimmer does water, but a quiet sitter is a dropped stone and his ripples subside and water laps back in: submergence.)" --William Least Heat-Moon, PrairyErth

I recently was accepted as a contributing writer at It sure won't pay much, at least for the first few months, but it will keep me writing while search for that elusive full-time job. There are some of you out there who think that writing for pennies is pointless and degrading to writers everywhere, that people like me are enablers. In a perfect world, of course we'd all be paid more. But in a situation like mine, if you can get published anywhere it is foolish to pass on it, regardless of how much or how little the gig pays. You can find my Suite101 profile and a link to my first article, a review of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, at

Sometimes we have to remember that it's not all about us.

Last week I discovered the Pixies. Their 1988 debut album Surfer Rosa is one of the most fun records I've heard in ages. I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to listen to it (except for kids; there is some suggestive content). Another recommendation: Dummy by Portishead.

There is a time for everything.

Yesterday, my wife and I watched Mulholland Dr. for the first time. I don't think there was ever a 10-minute stretch that I didn't say something to the effect of "What the heck?" Far and away one of the strangest films I've ever seen. But in retrospect, thanks to the millions of bloggers and movie buffs out there, I've come to a better understanding of the movie, and I see now how brilliant it was. It is definitely disturbing, creepy and deserving of the R-rating. All of that said, if you like movies that make you think, suburb directing (Mr. David Lynch) and creative story-telling, watch the Mulholland. The scene in club Silencio might be one of the best written and directed scenes of all-time. I wish I had written it. To watch the scene see: Part 1 and Part 2.

Sometimes it hurts.

One of my favorite bands, Tool, is starting a mini-tour tonight. Twice they will be close to me, but I won't be able to make either show for several reasons. Oh well.

Earlier this week I was dealt a substantial job-related blow. I thought I had a good shot at the position, but was subsequently strung-along for months, kept in contact with and then dismissed without so much as an interview. I get angry and depressed just thinking about it. Dwelling on failures will not help me. People will disappoint you. Sometimes we have to remember that it's not all about us. There is a time for everything. Sometimes it hurts.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Yesterday I sent out "Getting to Know Lou Jones" for the first time. After getting feed back from five different people, editing it at least a half-dozen times and obsessing over sentence structure since the beginning of April "Lou" now has been submitted to 10 different journals (all of which allow simultaneous submissions, of course).

Submitting is a difficult process, for me anyway. To send something that you've worked so hard on, and for so long, with the high likely-hood of rejection can be a blow to the ego.

If you write poems or short stories and are having a difficult time finding a publication that your piece might fit into check out Duotrope's Digest. This made my life so much easier, and hopefully once I'm making a little money I'll be able to donate to the site (it's entirely free). Duotrope's is massive index of journals, magazines and e-zines, is searchable by all sorts of criteria, and if you register it can help you keep track of all your submissions. Brilliant.

Using this, I searched and read about countless publications until I found 10 that I thought would fit my story. All of them had to allow simultaneous submissions, publish works over 6,000 words (about the length of "Lou") and have at least some possibility of being published in print (some are e-zines that publish a yearly anthology). Not all of them pay, some do, some just in contributor's copies.

So, as I hear back from them all, waits vary from 1 month to 6 months, I will report the responses and their dates, at Duotrope's and that will add to the publication's overall stats on the site.

My plan is this: once I have received five rejections, I will search out five more publications to send "Lou" to until someone sees its potential and buys it. Relentless.

On top of all this, I am writing a new story tentatively titled "Domestic Rat" and am job searching, applying, making follow-up calls, praying, hoping, listening to music (now playing: The Dillinger Escape Plan, "Miss Machine") and reading. Right now I'm reading PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon. It's a travel book of epic proportions and verbage, so it's taking some time. I'm loving it though. As soon as I finish you can find a review here.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Close-Minded To Close-Mindedness

Today: a rant. If there is one thing that I'm intolerant of, it's close-mindedness. (Yes, I understand the irony of that sentence.) Let me begin by clearing up a couple of things. I do believe in absolute truths. I do believe that convictions are something that everyone should have. Relativistic truth is as ridiculous as many people's beliefs.


For the moment, I will keep from hyper-specifics, but someday I'm sure I'll lose it and spill it all. Two examples of close-mindedness that drive me crazy:

1. If someone believes something different than you, be it a religious belief or a differing scientific theory of sorts, don't automatically dismiss the other person as crazy or their views as preposterous without fully hearing them out. While I said that I believe in absolute truths, I don't claim that I know every exact truth (I could very well be wrong about many things) and it would be foolish of me to shun someone and shut them up without trying to understand their points of view. After hearing them out, I should then be able to make a sounder judgement, and if I still believe they are wrong I will have points from their argument to use against them. IT IS THE ULTIMATE FOOLISHNESS AND SELFISHNESS TO NOT LISTEN TO OTHERS.

2. In art (music, film, paintings, performance, sculpture, literature), how dare someone dismiss a movement or a technique or work as a whole without trying understand it's place in history and culture, and the artist's motivation. To completely dismiss Jackson Pollock's action painting as talentless trash is an uneducated statement. You don't have to like it. I'm not saying that you have to appreciate (as in enjoy) everything, but you should appreciate (as in respect) everything in its place. Certainly, you can critique technique when comparing to something similar. You can't compare Lady Gaga to Led Zeppelin, because they aren't trying to do the same thing. You can't compare Pollock's paintings to van Gogh's for the same reason.

Oh, and don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you are sensitive to language or sex or violence in movies, don't dismiss a well-made film like "Crazy Heart" as terrible because a character has a drinking problem. Just because a piece of art, book, or movie involves and incorporates human immorality does not mean that it is condoning it (yes, I do know that some do condone, but be careful and respect the context).

There. Glad I got that off of my chest. I could go on, but I won't. Feel free to disagree. I love a good debate.