Saying Goodbye to ENGL 300

Honestly the biggest thing I was dreading about this class was the blog assignment, but over time it grew on me.  I came to love my blog, and I intend to keep it running as a sort of personal public journal, at the very least, where I catalog my journey as a writer, or just write about whatever I feel like.  As a whole, I’d say the blog assignment was the most enjoyable thing to work on in this class.

Along with that I also learned how to put together a competent professional resume as well as a cover letter, which are both incredibly important for doing anything professionally

Now comes the criticisms I guess.  I felt like the class could have been just as impactful with fewer readings.  I felt like reading most of the books we were assigned was a waste of time, and I honestly felt like kind of a chump for buying them, I could have gotten as much out of the class without spending money on an avid reader, or work.  Make Your Home Among Strangers, The Best American Essays, and The Sellout get a pass though, I liked those ones, and I’m glad that I bought them.

As a whole I enjoyed the class though, and I would definitely recommend it to any English major struggling to find their place in the professional world.

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The Unfortunately Relatable Larry David

The Unfortunately Relatable Larry David

I started watching Curb Your Enthusiasm recently, and I am angry that it took me so long to get into, especially since I had grown up watching Seinfeld on weekday nights and loved it.  To give a very brief explanation of the show, it follows the misadventures of Larry David, the co-creator of Seinfeld, through Hollywood.  First off, this show is brilliant, do yourself a favor and watch it if you haven’t already, I can almost never see the jokes coming, which is a rare feat in situational comedies.  The show is semi-scripted, which means that the writers present the actors with a loose explanation of how the scene is supposed to go, and what beats the actors are supposed to hit, but other than that it is entirely improvised.  But despite how funny this show is, it’s also profoundly uncomfortable.

The reason I say this is because Larry David, or at least the fictionalized version of him portrayed in the show, is very close to the character of George in Seinfeld.  In that he is a socially clumsy putz that only makes situations worse by interacting in them.  I’d give examples, but every single joke requires too much context to set up, so instead I’ll link a few of my favorite clips.

Larry David is incapable of winning, and is insanely petty and neurotic, and unfortunately I relate too much with his character.  Watching the show, I found myself relating with the character despite his often clearly objectionable actions, which made the cringe factor of the show much more palpable for me, because I could see myself being in many of the same situations.

Often I envision the worst possible scenario when dealing with people, and I find myself in many uncomfortable situations.  To give an example, I was once talking to a girl when I was in High School, and things seemed to be going pretty well, she even sent me a topless picture once, because I was “cool”, so I figured that it was pretty much a sure thing that we’d start dating or whatever.  That was until, she asked me what my favorite Disney film was, and me being the ironic funny man that I am, said Cars 2.  She did not think it was as funny as I did, because she ghosted me shortly afterword.

Larry David also has many rules for engagement in the show, such as an aversion to stop-and-chats, which is when you see someone on the street and they stop and have a chat with you, as well as having a specific cut off for when it’s inappropriate to throw a late birthday party for someone.  I too, have such arbitrary rules, for example, my little cousin (she’s 11) sent me a chain letter saying that a friend asked her to gather prayers for someone named Dakota, who had been having seizures and had been life-flighted.  My response was “Dakota who”, because I was dubious as to whether or not Dakota existed, and if he didn’t I didn’t want to waste a prayer on him.  Eventually I found out that there was a Dakota, but it was noone she knew, and this had happened in December of last year.  It is now almost May, which is way too far past the cut off for prayers and chain letters.

Seeing the closeness between myself and the fictionalized version of Larry David is troubling to say the least.  I need to make a change, man.

Professional Profile: How the Guy Who Made Clerks Inspired Me to Do Good

Professional  Profile: How the Guy Who Made Clerks Inspired Me to Do Good

I had a pretty shitty childhood and that’s putting things mildly.  When I was seven my dad killed himself, but I don’t blame him, he was an addict and because of that he developed schizophrenia.  Voices in his head told him to hurt me and my mom, if he were able to think clearly he wouldn’t have done it.  Because of my history with it I take suicide and mental illness very seriously, it’s in my opinion that if you’re in a place where you can actually go through with it that it wasn’t your fault.   People call it the easy way out but I don’t see how that’s possible, staring down death has to be terrifying.  Anyway I digress, after my dad passed away my mom was a wreck, and again I don’t blame her.  She was an addict too, not the usual bored housewife kind that self prescribes xanies or valium, the hard-core Midwestern kind of addict.

Before watching countless documentaries and becoming a ravenous Breaking Bad fan I had already seen the inside of several meth houses although I didn’t know it at the time.  My mom later cleaned up and got her shit mostly together, she stopped doing drugs but found a new addiction in a website called MocoSpace, which was a mediocre chat site which catered to people with a disturbing lack of a life and an excess amount of time.  Her day consisted mostly of “flaming” other losers on the internet usually by taking their “pics” and editing them with this weird bootlegged looking dollar bin version of photoshop, she would edit in really shitty clip art that came with the program onto their pictures which, for some reason, infuriated them to no end.

So to sum up my childhood in a sentence: my dad was dead and my mom was incredibly distant.  I didn’t have many friends at the time, kids in elementary school didn’t want to get close to the weird fat kid with the dead dad, but it was pretty much whatever.  I had a few friends, but they were just school friends.  I’d only ever hang out with other kids when it was my birthday, and I’m fairly certain that’s only because their parents told them too, but again, it was pretty much whatever.

Fuck.

I got off topic again.  Basically the message I’m trying to push here, is that as a child I had to keep myself entertained, and how I would do that, dear reader, is by writing and watching movies.  When I was young my favorite movie was probably Dogma a religious satire made by Kevin Smith.  Dogma was probably my favorite when I was younger because I had serious doubts in god at the time, plus it was hilarious, who the fuck doesn’t love dogma?  When I grew up a little I saw Mallrats, another Kevin Smith movie and fell in love, it felt like that movie was made for me.  At around the sixth grade I discovered the joys of loitering, I got to walk around our local mall since it was within walking distance from my apartment and just hang out.  I felt like Brody, and it was great.  In high school I watched Clerks and I knew what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to make films.

To this day Clerks remains my favorite movie, not because it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen or anything like that.   Far from it actually, that movie blows.  The quality is bad, the audio is bad, and the acting is…well the acting is actually pretty solid.  I don’t blame Kevin Smith for making a shitty looking movie; he had $27,000 to make it, which is a non-budget in the film world.  Steven Spielberg wipes his ass with $27,000 dollar bills for god’s sakes.  The reason Clerks made me want to make movies was that, and I’ll never forget this, I got done watching it and was just like “this was a successful movie?  This is what launched my favorite film maker’s career? Well… I could do better than that.”

Some people have heroes like Ghandi, ya’ know, people that made these big sweeping changes to the world around them.  My hero is Kevin Smith, the guy who made Clerks, the guy who talks about cum a lot, and the guy that really put it in my head that I didn’t want to die screaming and have nothing to show for it.  Let me contextualize this for a second, Kevin Smith’s dad, Don Smith, “worked at the U.S Postal Service and hated it like a jihadist” (Smith, 3) and “he raised three kids on a meager post office salary doing a job he abjectly detested…The least the universe could’ve done for this guy was to put him to bed quietly.” (Smith, 7) but instead he died screaming as he stared down massive heart failure. Now this is where Kevin Smith drops a massive truth bomb: “In the face of such hopelessness as out eventual, un-avoidable death, there is little sense in not at least trying to accomplish all of your wildest dreams in life.” (Smith, 7)

This might seem fairly obvious to everyone else, like, “try for your goals?  Of course!” but growing up I never really got encouragement for that kind of thing, even to this day my grandma likes to subtly hint that I should become a therapist so I can “analyze” our family, she’d do this after every single family blowout, usually within earshot of whoever she was arguing with.  My grandma was pretty passive aggressive and it never took a PHD in psychology to figure that one out.  Anyway…uh…where was I going?  Oh.  Realistic goals, right.  I remember one time I was staying with my aunt and uncle for a while because my mom and step dad (at the time) had gotten into an earth shattering fight, he called her an “Adderall junkie” and she said that she didn’t like being called a “fat cunt”, being hit, and seeing him drink all the time, unreasonable demands I know.  So I split because it was going on nightly and there wasn’t a whole lot of time to be the midnight fight mediator and study.

At the time I wanted to be a comedian because I was depressed and loved getting kicked in the teeth by rejection and I was pretty funny too so I said “well I’d better chase ‘dem dreams!”  And chase ‘dem dreams I did not.  After getting really jazzed up about my new found career choice I decided to announce my life plans to my middle class aunt in medical sales and my uncle in construction work and surprise surprise they weren’t thrilled.  At first they acted pretty supportive but warned me about the hard work I’d be facing, which I was totally ok with.  The next day I went down stairs for breakfast before school and saw a printed page on the table “huh, what’s this” I thought with curious delight.  I will never forget what was on the page: Why Following Your Dreams is one of the WORST Career Moves You Can Make.  It was pretty clear what direction they wanted me to move in career wise.

I chose to stick with my aspirations despite the passive aggressive play pretty much just to spite them.  I have this big problem with authority for some reason; I don’t like doing what people tell me to do, but this time was different.  Seeing that article on the table really really REALLY rubbed me the wrong way so I was going to be an unbreakable wall of will power.  I wasn’t going to back down.  I was going to become a comedian.

Later on it turned out to be just a phase, I didn’t actually want to become a comedian.  That shit’s hard and I didn’t/don’t have the stage presence or confidence to even think about trying that.  But story teller?  That was something I could do, and Smith’s advice to try for it really got to me.  I don’t want to die screaming with nothing to show for it, and in this world good men die screaming.

I knew with certainty what I wanted to do with my life after seeing Clerks with grown up eyes the same way Smith knew what he wanted to do after seeing Richard Linklater’s Slacker. In the book The Film That Changed My Life Kevin Smith cited Slacker as the film that changed his, it was “insanely liberating for [him], and very inspiring. Because it was like, ‘So you can make a movie about anything, apparently.’ ” (Smith) and three years later he did just that with a film about two register jockeys Dante and Randal, based on him and his good friend  Bryan Johnson respectively.  Almost all of Smith’s films are very personal to him, Clerks and Mallrats were both films made with his friends in mind knowing that nobody else was going to make a movie about them, Dogma was about him growing up catholic, and Chasing Amy (his most mature film) was about his own sexual insecurities.  Kevin Smith described his early film making process as “taking [his] heart, chunky pieces of [his] heart out, slapping them on a platter projecting it and saying ‘do you understand?’” (Smith, Masterclass) So watching Smith’s movies and falling in love with them all those years ago I was falling in love with Smith (strictly platonic I swear.)  When I figured that out, I knew what I wanted to do more than ever, I wanted to write for myself, I didn’t give a shit about making mainstream garbage, I didn’t want to be Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg, I wanted to be Kevin Smith.

 

 

Continue reading “Professional Profile: How the Guy Who Made Clerks Inspired Me to Do Good”

No Name Reading Reflection

No Name Reading Reflection

No Name is a monthly event where graduate students at the English Department of UNL do live readings of their prose as well as poetry.  I had gone to a few No Name readings before, but this one was special, because it was my first one being 21.  Did I mention these readings happen at a bar?  Because they are.  The venue they use is Barrymore’s, located on the south side of the Rococo Theatre, and let me just say, it has a very cool atmosphere, because it still has a lot of the trappings of a theatre’s backstage

obarry_3

So with that being said, it makes sense why it’s also called “The Backstage Bar”.  So yeah, the venue was very cool, but the atmosphere of the event was awesome to say the least, it was great seeing members of the department hanging out and supporting each other’s writerly endeavors.  I think the coolest thing about it, was that each reader had another grad student give their introduction for them, and you could feel a sense of genuine comradery  among them.

Unfortunately though, I had just turned 21 a few days prior, so I went a little ham when given the opportunity to drink at a school related function legally, so I can’t really remember any of the reader’s names, or anything, just vague outlines of their pieces, I do remember that one of the women read some really kick ass poetry though.

All in all I’d highly recommend going to a No Name reading when they resume in the fall, although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend mixing different liquors unless you happen to hate yourself like I do.

How CAKE Shaped My Personality or: How I Became an Ironic Boy

How CAKE Shaped My Personality or: How I Became an Ironic Boy

When I was transitioning from Junior High to High School, I, much like other kids that age, ya’ know, 13-14, didn’t know who I was.  I didn’t really have a clear sense of identity, I just kinda latched onto the stuff other people were doing and tried to belong as best as I could.  I floated to and from a few different friend groups, in these transitional years, totally unsure where I belonged.  I suppose this isn’t that crazy of a story though, I’m sure this is true for many people.  I mean, who the hell figures out who they are when they’re no older than 16?

But anyway, I digress…

When I was in my sophomore year of High School my uncle, who is more or less the closest thing I have to a dad, my dad killed himself when I was seven, brutal but true, and I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t need or want sympathy, it was a long time ago, and I’ve had more than enough time to grieve and figure shit out for myself.  Anyway, where was I going with this?  Oh, right, my uncle..sorry about that.  So my uncle came into my room (I was living with my aunt and him at the time), and asked if I had ever heard the band CAKE before, because I had showed him a punk cover of the famous Gloria Gaynor song “I Will Survive”, and they had done one as well in ’96.  Naturally I hadn’t heard of them, not many people have unfortunately, which makes wearing my CAKE shirt in public a little uncomfortable, since I have the delusion in my head that most people assume I’m advertising a love of the pastry, a sort of wearable billboard that says “this is how I got fat”.  I’m a little neurotic.  Anyway, I looked up their cover of “I Will Survive” on YouTube, and was presented with this:

When John McCrea started “singing”, I didn’t know what to make of it, I actually started laughing, and I remember looking at my uncle incredulously, and probably asked something to the effect of “is this for real?  He’s just talking!” At the time, I didn’t really understand their style at all, and I dismissed it outright as just being weird comedy music.  Later on though, I started listening to more of them, starting with what is arguably their most popular album, Fashion Nugget.

cake_fashion_nugget

Eventually I  understood the music more and more, their lyrics were ironic, and sarcastic, delivered in a deadpan monotone.  sometimes CAKE’s lyrics don’t feel like they match the delivery style at all, such as the song Pentagram, which is played like a country-folky-rockabilly…y jug band jam with trumpets thrown in, but has the lyrics

Your pentagram is down below our floor.
Your naked body shimmers in the night.
Dancing and chanting in a sacrificial rite.
Your feet are dry with the ashes from dead babies
Who have passed the test just like all the rest
But never really understood the reasons why
They took it in the first place.

Delivered in droll deadpan style of course.  But over the years, my personality began to kind of form around this band, more and more their style spoke to me on a deeply personal level.  I grew calmer, spoke softly, and boy howdy did I develop an appreciation for weird ironic humor and music.  I feel like it’s kind of weird to say that a band helped me develop my personality, but that’s exactly what happened, in fact I had a running joke with my friends and family, where if someone asked me if I wanted or had done something out of my general comfort zone I’d say “dude, I listen to CAKE”, as a way of saying, “nah man, that ain’t me, I’m just a calm little ironic man”.  Ironically enough, I just realized that this blog actually has a very similar vibe, calm, sometimes ironic and funny, and also like CAKE, has some artistic merit.

Anyway, that’s my little story of how CAKE helped me to figure out the kind of person I am.

Us v Them: On Current Politics

I’ve been debating for awhile whether or not I’ve wanted to actually make this post, and have decided that I have to; not for anyone else’s sake, because I know the words on this blog carry no weight when it comes to the world at large, but for my own sake.  I am choosing to write this because I feel the need to do so, to get these words out of my skull and onto a glowing screen.

What I’m talking about are us against them politics, which seem to have taken over all forms of discourse when it comes to political discussion, and I know that it’s been like this for awhile, what with the right versus the left in the Obama administration, but I feel like it’s really come to a head recently, and I’m sick of it.  I’m talking about a few things here, such as the Alt-Right and the Far left, as well as how the Trump administration and his disciples view the Muslim population, as well as their ideological opponents.  We live in a deeply frustrating time for anyone who thinks people should be viewed as people, rather than boogeymen and enemies.

Although I probably don’t need to offer examples of this, as one’s own life is no doubt teeming with them, I will provide some anyway.  I was on Facebook the other day (actually this was about a month ago, but all stories seem to take place the other day regardless of when they actually took place), and I saw that one of my more right leaning acquaintances from high school shared a link titled GRUESOME VIDEO: Muslim Mob Tears 27 Year Old Woman Apart Before Killing Her Over False Accusation Of Burning Quran, with the self written caption #religionofpeace.  Now, I have to agree, the content of the video is absolutely horrifying, and the people who did that should be demonized for using religion as a way of propagating violence, but what I take issue with is the use of “#religionofpeace”, which shows to me that the person who shared the link didn’t care that a fellow human was violently slaughtered in the streets, but instead got a smug sense of satisfaction from it, because in his eyes it somehow proved his world view that all Muslims are violent, and that it’s us against them.  I can’t help but see this as a self masturbatory act of othering an already unfairly discriminated group of people, which is disgusting to say the least.

 

The last movie that made me cry

I’m not too sappy of a guy, and that being said it’s pretty hard to make me cry, but the 2016 film Genius managed to do just that.  Now, I’m just learning now that critics weren’t fans of this movie, but I really enjoyed it.  The film mainly focuses on the complex friendship between renowned book editor. Maxwell Perkins, and writer, Thomas Wolfe.

Now, I should probably give a little bit of context as to the state I was in when I watched this movie.  I had the flu, and was drowning my aches, chills, and coughs with NyQuil, so needless to say, I was just barely hanging onto lucidity.

Well, the main scene that really got to me was, at one point Maxwell Perkins invited Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda to a dinner party. During the party Wolfe asks Fitzgerald if Perkins makes him cut out anything from his work (Wolfe had to cut out substantial portions of the two thousand plus page novels he brought to Perkins in the film), to which Fitzgerald answers that he doesn’t have to cut anything, because his work is never as long as Wolfe’s.  This results in a blow out where Wolfe says that the only reason Fitzgerald doesn’t write as much as him, is because he can’t, essentially calling him a washout.

Now at this point in Fitzgerald’s life he was struggling to write anything, and his wife had only just recently been released from an institution, so Perkins takes massive umbrage with Wolfe essentially shitting on him as a writer.  Perkins takes Wolfe outside and berates him for his behavior, and asks him how many words he wrote that day (five thousand), to which Perkins replies with what I thought was a beautiful devastating line: “Scott wrote maybe a hundred, if today was a good day.  He needs to write as much as you do, he fights over every word!”

And it was then, laid up in my sick bed, in the grips of a fever, that I started to well up, because I know how it feels to need to write, to fight over every word.  I felt for F. Scott Fitzgerald in that moment, I ached for him, because I couldn’t and can’t t imagine being so talented, but unable to do anything with that talent, and to be criticized so heavily for it.