Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Well, it looks like I'll be in Provo a little longer...

Laura and I spent the summer traveling, and when we got back I decided to continue pursuing a career in writing. (My trip renewed, to some extent, my desire to go into academia, though I’ll go into that later).

I enjoy writing and have been told I am good at it (though not necessarily when I’m blogging), so I briefly explored writing opportunities in Utah. Laura, after all, has a job she really likes in American Fork, Utah, so we had an incentive to stay.

After looking around for a while, however, I decided that there just weren’t many opportunities in Utah, either for jobs or simply to make contacts in the field. I met some cool people during my search, and began writing freelance for the Daily Herald, but nothing that had any long-term prospects.

So, by mid fall, Laura and I had decided we needed to go somewhere else. We settled on New York because A) it has seemed great on our previous visits, B) there are many publications there, so even if competition for jobs is much more fierce, at least opportunities sort of exist, which they don’t really in Utah, and C) Jay-Z/Alicia Keys said that big lights would inspire us.

Anyway, after deciding that we’d go to New York I began contacting everyone I knew who lived there. Many people gave me tips and advice, and several good friends spent a lot of time writing emails about how to make a good transition. I also contacted dozens of publications about doing internships, and eventually lined some up.

By mid November, Laura and I had a lot of info on New York. Our plan was that I would move out there in January, and Laura would follow when the school year ended. This plan was actually pretty developed. I had an internship lined up at a daily newspaper called amNewYork, as well as a couple of possible additional internships at Brooklyn papers if I wanted them. I even had a place to stay through January until I found somewhere to live.

Obviously this plan had some disadvantages, the biggest being that Laura and I would only see each other through video chat for about four months. However, it was also going to cost a lot, because I would be basically working for free while living in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

Still, we were going to make it work and I took a temporary job sometime in the fall to save up additional money. (We also went into the austere money-saving mode we were in before our summer trip.)

Then, about a week before Thanksgiving, the Daily Herald contacted me saying that a job was opening up and that I should apply. Before that day had ended, I had been offered the job. It was as a full time reporter in Provo, and was really what I think of as a “grown up” job (i.e. salary, benefits, two weeks vacation, etc.) I’d never actually had a job that wasn’t hourly, so this was serious.

Laura and I discussed the job. We were really excited to move to New York, but a job offer seemed to render more internships unnecessary. Also, my internships weren’t necessarily going to get me jobs, and if they did, those jobs might be anywhere in the country. Plus, my sense is that there are probably at least 100,000 (maybe more) unemployed writers/journalists/whatever in Brooklyn where I was going to be living. I think that eventually I could have beaten those odds, but it would have taken a long time and have been very expensive.

Ultimately, I decided to take the Herald job because, after all, that is what I was working toward all along. I figured that getting a paying job at a paper I like in a place I enjoy is pretty awesome. And while covering news (my beat is courts and cops) isn’t necessarily my long-term goal (I’m shooting for something more in features), it’s pretty cool. I’m also perpetually amazed that I’ve somehow landed a fulltime reporter position without a degree in journalism while the industry is dramatically contracting. I hesitate to say something cliché like “this is a dream come true,” but it’s close. I’m very fortunate (and covering the crime beat is making me more and more aware of just how fortunate I am).

So that’s an update and, for my NYC friends, an explanation. And while we may not come out next month, Laura and I will continue to be looking for ways to get to NYC in the future.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I've been a lazy blogger

So I haven't posted anything here for a while. I've been super busy with lots of freelance jobs, and now with getting a full time job. Also, Laura and I are trying to find a new apartment in Provo. If you have any leads, let us know. We want somewhere awesome, with character, in a good location, and inexpensive. That's not too much to ask, right?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What happened to Rocky Road?

What happened to Rocky Road ice cream? When I was a kid, Rocky Road was a flavor that included nuts and marshmallow chunks. Today, however, it seems that Rocky Road only ever has "ribbons" of marshmallow. These ribbons never stand out the way an actual marshmallow does. They make what used to be one of my favorite flavors into a bland and pathetic excuse of what it used to be. Also, doesn't smoothing out the marshmallows defeat the who purpose of calling it "rocky" road? In any case, I believe we need to restore Rocky Road to its former, chunky glory.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I haven't posted on this blog for a while because I've been traveling. I'm back now, but I wasn't able to post all the blogs about the trip while I was gone, so I'm doing that now (a new one every couple of days or so). As a result, it'll probably be a while before I return to regularly posting here.

Also, I'm posting our pictures on my facebook profile. I know many people who don't log in to facebook frequently, so if you're one of them and you want to see our pictures, go there. As of right now, I've posted almost all of our Brazilian pictures (a few hundred), and soon I'll begin posting the European ones. I'm trying to spread them out though, so I only post the pictures of one or two cities each day.

Like I indicated above, until this travel stuff is done, I probably won't be posting regularly here. However, if you're in the mood for thinking about something, I'll share some thoughts I had tonight: the movie Avatar is really bad. When I first saw it I thought it was a beautiful looking movie with a weak story. Tonight, however, I watched it again and realized the story was insultingly simplistic and seems like it was written by a middle school student. Plus, without 3D, the visuals actually look pretty cartoony. So there is some food for thought while I get back to the travel stuff.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My New Travel Blog: Tripping Over The World

Originally, I had planned to blog here about mine and Laura's trip. However, over time I decided that I wanted a blog dedicated specifically to traveling, that wouldn't be muddied with my rants, raves, recommendations, etc. about non-travel things. Also, blogger isn't super easy to use on an iPod Touch, which is what primarily I'll be using to connect to the internet for the next two months.

Thus, I have started a new wordpress blog that will focus exclusively on mine and Laura's trip. I've posted a couple of things there, but hopefully it'll have more interesting and exciting details about what we're up to as soon as our trip begins. Here it is:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Final Preparations

Laura I leave for our big trip in about a day and a half. So for the last couple of days we've been doing last minute preparations. Here's some of the things we've done:

1. Cleaned of our camera's memory card. And bought a new, 8 gig card. Hopefully that and our old 4 gig card will be enough for all the pictures we're going to take.

2. Bought some new clothes that we needed. (I got some socks. Laura's out shopping now so we'll see what she gets.)

3. Cleaned up the guest bedroom of my parents house, where we've been living for the last month.

4. Altered clothing. I added a button to a shirt (which included me learning how to sew a button hole), and turned a long-sleeve shirt into a short-sleeve shirt. I also cut off a pair of pants so I'd have some shorts.

5. Found backpacks to use. (Specifically, I found a small-ish backpacking backpack in my parents garage that I'm using).

6. Printed out tons of documents that we're taking.

7. Bought some travel apps for our new ipod touch with an old iTunes gift card.

8. Bought Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door 2010.

9. Bought other guidebooks from as ebooks from the Kindle store. That was a new experience, but infinitely better than lugging 50 pounds of books around with us.

10. Lots of other things that I'll have to go over later, because right now I need to go continue packing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Brazilian Itinerary

Somehow, in all the trip preparation, I forgot to post a detailed itinerary for Brazil. We'll be traveling all over the place down there, so I wanted to give a more detailed account, similar to the one I already posted for the European leg of the trip.

May 31: Depart for Sao Paulo from Salt Lake City
June 1: Arrive in Sao Paulo (2 nights) at 7:30 am
June 3: Bus from Sao Paulo to Rio De Janeiro (6 nights) sometime in the late morning/early afternoon
June: 9: Plane in the morning from Rio to Salvador (5 nights)
June 14: Plane from Salvador to Manaus (3 nights)
June 17: Plane from Manaus to Brasilia (5 nights)
June 22: Plane from Brasilia to Curitiba (1 night)
June 23: Afternoon bus from Curitiba to Foz do Iguacu (i.e. the city by those huge waterfalls) (2 nights)
June 25/26/27: Overnight bus from Iguacu to Sao Paulo (1 or two nights, depending on how much we liked Sao Paulo at the beginning of the trip)
June 28: Plane from Sao Paulo to London (non-stop!)

(Para meus amigos brasileiros, vou estar no Brasil durante Junho. Se quiserem se encontrar, deixa um "comment" aqui, fala comigo no facebook (espero que ja somos amigos la, mas se nao adiciona-me como um), or manda uma email a

I'll have more to say about why and how we're doing this itinerary later, but for now, that's it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday Movie: Hellboy

First, I know, it's Tuesday. Somehow I forgot to post this yesterday, even though I've had this film picked out for a long time.

Second, you may also be thinking, "Hellboy. WTF?"

In reality however, Hellboy is a fantastic movie (with a terrible name that's based on a comic book that I've never read.) When it first came out in 2004, I decided that it looked terrible and that I'd probably never see it.

Over time, however, it earned a lot of praise from critics. People I trusted also told me that it was really good. So I eventually put it on my netflix queue, and before I knew it the movie was at my house.

What surprised me was how silly and fun the movie is. What I hadn't realized when I saw the trailer was that despite its name, the movie doesn't really take itself very seriously. It isn't trying to be an overly dramatic superhero movie, it gives its audience an entertaining couple of hours. Hellboy, in other words, is great because it embraces its pop culture kitschy-ness.

In framing the film that way, director Guillermo Del Torro puts himself in the company of other postmodern directors like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and even Wes Anderson. However, what really sets Del Torro apart is that his work demonstrates an appreciation for pop culture and a sense of awe. His movies aren't just smart and witty, they're also charming, visually impressive, and sincere if sly.

If you've seen Hellboy, you probably know what I'm talking about. If not trust me and watch it. (I actually was going to include this movie in a Monday Movie a long time ago, but I felt like I should recommend a few more serious films first so that people could get a sense of my cinematic tastes and wouldn't immediately dismiss Hellboy.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Our Hotels So Far

Laura and I leave one week from today, but we still haven't booked every night of our trip. In the early stages of our planning we struggled to decide if we should book hotels in advance—which would mean we'd have to really nail down our dates/itinerary—or simply should up in different cities and try to find lodging on the spot. Ultimately, we've decided that in heavily touristed areas, we needed to book in advance, but when we're off the beaten path we'll try to give ourselves more flexibility and find places when we show up.

This means that we've book hotels so far in Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, and Rome (and may a few more places that are slipping my mind now). And some of these places sound pretty exciting.

In Rio, for example, we're staying at the Maze Inn. This may be the lodging that I'm most excited about for the entire trip. It's an independently run budget hotel, located in a favela near the beach. At first I was ambivalent about staying in a favela. Rio's slums are ultra dangerous, and I didn't want to go there to gawk at the poor. However, the reviews I've read suggested it was relatively safe, and as a missionary in Brazil I experienced a fair amount of poverty which will hopefully prevent me from assuming an overly touristic or voyeuristic attitude. In any case, however, the hotel has great prices, a big breakfast, and a jazz night that we'll be in town for. So far, the staff has also been super helpful—this morning, for example, they emailed a response to my request for instructions on how to get to the hotel using the city buses. I initially thought I found this hotel in an Lonely Planet guide book, though I subsequently can't find it in any of the ones I have right now, so either I already returned that book to the library or I found the hotel somewhere else.

In London, we're staying in easyHotel's Victoria location (I may have mentioned this in earlier posts, but I can't remember.) As a chain hotel, this experience will contrast sharply with our Rio experience. However, the hotel is an ultra economic company that bases its rooms off of ship cabins. They're really small spaces, which translates into really low prices. This hotel was recommended by Rick Steves.

In Paris, we're staying in a hotel called Hotel Camelia Nation. At first I was very skeptical about this hotel, because it wasn't listed in any of the guide books Laura and I checked out. However, we found it on a hotel listing website and because we hadn't read about it elsewhere, we checked practically every website we could find that reviewed it. Ultimately we decided that was in a cool—if potentially loud—location (near the Bastille, and we'll be there on Bastille Day), and it was the lowest price we could find at a non-chain hotel. I'm still slightly afraid that it's going to be crawling with rats or something, but it looks cool and had a lot of decent reviews.

We just booked our Rome hotel a few nights ago, so I haven't decided what to think about it yet. It's called Hotel Italia Roma. It came recommended by the guide books I mentioned above, as well as Fodor's. It's well located as well, and so that sounds good.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pointless Technologies

I rely on—and generally love—technology. I can’t imagine life without the internet, I already depend heavily on my new iPod touch, and most of the jobs I’ve done (writing, video editing, etc.) have a significant tech component.

However, there are also some really pointless uses of technology. Despite promising to save time, make life more convenient, or whatever, they actually just cause problems. Yet, somehow, they prevail. I’m not taking about those silly things that people invent, put on late night commercials, and then fail to actually sell. I’m also not talking about great ideas by major companies that just didn’t catch on (Apple, for example, has created a lot of things that didn’t catch on, but it’s also managed to produce paradigm-changing products at the same time. I’m also not talking about the iPad, because the jury is still out on that and though I don’t have one, I like them.) Instead, I’m talking about things that lots of people use, but which aren’t actually saving time, or even benefiting people much.

So here are a few examples:

Weed wackers: When I was a teenager I always had to mow and edge our yard. I really hated it. Now that I’ve moved back into my parents house, that has apparently become my job once again. However, while the lawnmower works well enough, I was surprised this week to see just how aggravating the weed wacker still is. It’s a gas-powered machine, and it uses those green plastic cords to cut the grass. To use it, you wrap the cord around a spool, and then to feed more cord out you bump the spool on the ground. (The ones I've used are similar to the one pictured below, but are also not that exact model.)

Whether that makes sense or not, the point is that it doesn’t even remotely work like it's supposed to. As you can imagine, a thin plastic cord constantly hitting rocks, cement, etc. wears down quickly. However, the machine that my parents have hardly ever feeds more cord out properly. That means that literally every five minutes you have take the thing apart and manually pull out more cord.

The result is that a job that should take 20 minutes ends up taking hours. There are many solutions to this problem, but the easiest would just be for some one to invent a weed wacker/edger that actually works.

Dishwashers: Dishwashers might be my most hated appliance ever invented. They seem so promising: no one likes washing dishes and a machine that would do it for you would be great.

The problem is that no dishwasher I’ve ever seen actually works. First, you basically have to wash all the dishes hand before putting them in the dishwasher. Then, somehow, there is still food stuck all over the supposedly cleaned dishes. I’ve lived in lots of houses and apartments, and without fail that’s the outcome I’ve experienced. And while I have no doubt that there are probably some super powered (and super expensive) dishwashers that actually work, I’m yet to see them in action.

The funny thing is that it’s also pretty easy to wash dishes hand. Most people are already doing it, but without soap, so that their dishwashers will work. For some reason, however, there seems to be a mistaken impression that machines are getting dishes more sanitary or clean, simply because they’re machines.

Rice cookers: This may be a controversial choice for this list, because most rice cookers I’ve seen do work, and many people love them. However, what are they really doing? To cook rice, you literally just have to boil it in a pot with water. That means that a rice cooker is just a pot with a timer on it. They may save some time by going marginally faster, but they also sacrifice some freedom: you can’t test and season rice as easily when it’s locked in a machine.

Bread machines: Bread machines are like a cruel joke. They make something that looks and deliciously smells like bread, but that typically is a monumental disappointment. The vast majority of bread machine bread that I’ve had have a bland flavor, overcooked crumbly crust, and a far too airy interior. Maybe those things are the result of bad recipes, but time and again I’ve had disappointing bread machine bread from different people and in different settings. It’s usually on par with the cheapest store bought stuff, but coupled with the smell of home cooked bread, it's infinitely more disappointing.

This list could go on and on, but the point here is that everything doesn’t need to be mechanized, and that some modern machines are just producing awful simulacra of good things.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hotels vs. Hostels

The romantic image of young travelers—especially young travelers in Europe—is of people riding the rails and sleeping in crowded, lively hostels. Because Laura and I are about to travel to Europe (and Brazil), and because we're trying to do the trip as cheaply as possible, I figured that meant we'd be staying in a lot of hostels. What I've been surprised to discover, however, is that hostels are not always the cheapest way to go.

Before I mention what I've learned about booking hostels and hotels, though, it's worth mentioning that hostels offer a one-of-a-kind travel experience. You're in the midst of other travelers—who likely also share a similar travel philosophy—and my experience is that interacting with hostel staff is more personal/local than interacting with hotel staff. So, even if they aren't always the most economic option, they're worth experiencing. On the other hand, hostels can be loud and chaotic (which means poor sleep), dirty, and cramped. (The first night I stayed in a hostel I was shocked to hear a veritable symphony of snoring. I did not sleep that night.) So while they provide an interesting experience, that experience can become a drag after awhile.

So, are hostels really the best budget option? Can a hotel really beat their prices?

The answer varies from location to location, of course, but for single travelers, hostels are almost always going to be the cheapest choice. When booking our London portion of the trip, for example, Laura and I were initially going to stay in the St. Paul's Hostel. It's centrally located, and in a cool old building. For a bed on the dates we needed, the price was 22 pounds. That can't be beat, and if Laura and I weren't married (and, in our case, drawing money from the same bank account), we definitely would have stayed in the hostel.

In reality, however, and because we're married, the night would have cost us 44 pounds. That's still a great bargain, but after researching a bit I discovered that we could stay in the easyHotel Victoria for 45 pounds. That means that for one extra pound we'd have a private room (and bathroom). We'd probably sleep better, and our stuff would be safer. And because we'll be flying directly from Brazil to England, I wanted to make sure that we could sleep in a place that was relatively quiet. Also, many hostels are segregated by gender, so in general hotels will allow us to avoid the annoyance of having to sleep in separate rooms.

To be sure, easyHotel Victoria probably has less character than the hostel. It's a chain (albeit a European one), it's also not in as prime a location. Still, I feel comfortable getting around London and I suspect we'll sleep better in the hotel.

What has surprised me is how often this booking/research experience has been repeated. As we've planned out our trip, city by city, we've discovered that for two people paying together, hostels are almost never the most economic option. In many cases (and in the most expensive cities), there are actually hotels that cost less than two beds in a hostel. The disparity is also exacerbated when looking at private rooms in hostels, which many offer.

Of course, when booking a hotel that's cheaper than a hostel it's essential to be careful. Before we book anything, Laura and I read travelers' reviews on multiple sites. We also usually get recommendations out of guide books like Lonely Planet and Rick Steves' Europe. Still, for travelers going in pairs or groups, and who can pay together, hotels can sometimes be the most economic option.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Movie: Fail-Safe

Sidney Lumet's 1964 classic Fail-Safe shares its premise with the classic dark comedy Dr. Strangelove: in the midst of Cold War brinkmanship the Americans go too far and inadvertently let a nuke loose on the U.S.S.R. However, while Dr. Strangelove is hilarious and dark, Fail-Safe is searingly bleak. It's an attempt to honestly explore the incomprehensible horror of preparing to begin a nuclear war.

The film stars the patriarchal Henry Fonda as the president of the United States. The cast also includes Walter Matthau. And while I won't spoil the movie's ending, it does somehow manage to be entertaining while including a surprising, horrific, and thought-provoking finale.

(Also, I think you can watch the entire movie in 10 minute segments on Youtube, beginning here. I netflixed it, so I can't be sure the entire movie is there, but from looking at the related links it appears to be.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day

I've commented on this topic before here, but I wanted to add some more thoughts in light of this year's recent Mother's Day.

In the days leading up to Mother's Day, something was bugging me. And then I remembered: the way we celebrate the day is too gendered.

For example, yesterday Laura and I made dinner at my family's house, so that my step-mom wouldn't have to. From talking to other people this seems to be a relatively common practice. Yet, the ironic thing about it is that it implies that on all the other days of the year my step-mom has to make dinner. And, in practice, she sort of does. After all, in many families—mine in included—making the food is often the mother's job, whether she likes it or not. On the other hand, is that good? Shouldn't (typically gendered) tasks be more equally shared throughout the year?

The problem here, as I see it, is that some women probably would prefer to assume different roles in their families, but our cultural modes of celebrating mother's day tell them that they shouldn't (or even can't). (And, of course, this works similarly for men on Father's Day, though it seems to me, to a lesser extent.) In other words having the men in a household make dinner on Mother's Day suggests that that action is an aberration. It's a "favor" or gift that they're giving, not something that they're typically responsible for. Implicitly, this also suggests that a mother should cook, and I'd she doesn't she somehow a less adequate person.

Obviously lots of women like to cook, lots of men don't, and flipping individual roles isn't a huge deal. What is disturbing, however, is when these behaviors become codified and foisted on those who don't appreciate them. As I listen to men and women talk at church, school, work, etc., making dinner on Mother's Day is something that men are encouraged to do. Similarly, all the women at my church were given roses this year, and in past years the men and women were given very gender specific gifts. (Laura actually gave me her rose, because she didn't really want it and I did.)

My point here, I suppose, is that Mother's Day and Father's Day are moments when our cultural constructs regarding gender become painfully apparent. Woman-as-homemaker is simply an accepted role, as is Man-as-provider/worker. These roles are simply taken for granted and accepted as good. For some people they certainly work, but when a culture so easily accepts them and equates them with "good" or "appropriate" it also requires those for whom they don't work to accept them.

Monday Movie: Primer

Primer is one of the most confusing movies I've ever watched. Luckily, it's also one of the more interesting as well. And that means that this shoe-string-budget, Sundance gem is definitely worth watching.

The story follows two entrepreneurial young engineers, as they accidentally invent a time machine. It's a familiar premise in science fiction, but what makes Primer stand out among time-travel movies is that it really tries to grapple with the complexities and paradoxes of messing with time.

At first, for example, the two guys just use their machine to make successful stock purchases. Everything seems innocent enough, until their plans become more complex, other people seem to discover the machine, and chaos ensues. I've actually seen this movie twice and I'm still not sure how everything fits together.

However, the great thing is that I imagine that's about how confusing real time travel would be. The point of the movie, in any case, isn't to make perfect sense (though I suspect it would if you sat down and plotted the different threads on a piece of paper). Instead, it aims to explore the relationships and psychology behind a paradoxical ideal, and in that objective, the movie is successful (and intriguing).

Friday, May 7, 2010

The latest travel update and iPod touch

So, Laura and I are preparing to leave on our trip this month. We've seriously started planning our day by day brazilian itinerary, recently received our visas and are just about ready to go. However, one the that we have thought a lot about is how to stay connected while on the road (or in the air, or kn the rails, etc.). For some people, I suppose that a trip like ours would be a welcomed chance to disconnect with the plugged in world, but for me at least (if not exactly for Laura) I really want to stay in touch while we're gone. More specifically, I hope to blog about our trip while it's still taking place. Plus, it'd be nice to be able to check or bank account, email family, etc. whenever we need to.

Our cell phones aren't internationally enabled (and it would have cost a lot to get new ones that are), and we didn't want to take a computer that would easily get lost, broken, or even stolen, so we decided to get a portable device that would be relatively cheap, but still allow us to stay connected when needed.

So, we settled on and iPod Touch. I really like the iPhone, but we're on Verizon and I didn't want to switch (plus I wasn't ready to commit to some expensive two year contract). I also considered the uPas, but decided that it had most of the same vulnerabilities as a laptop.

Thus, and iPod Touch seemed like it was the best option. It has wireless, which most of our hotels provide (as does, I discovered, the entire beach front in Rio de Janeiro), is small and easy to conceal, and is less expensive (on the long run, at least) than most other, similarly capable devices. Obviously, it's not going to be good for writing a novel on, but I think it will allow us to keep in touch with what's going on back home.

In the spirit of preparation, I've actually written this entire blog post on the iPod touch. And actually, I've been surprised by the experience. There are some really annoying aspects to it (like having to switch keyboard screens everytime I need a non-letter character like a dash or parenthesis) but the software that automatically fills in words and fixes typos far exceeds my expectations. Obviously, I can't say how well this is going to work on our trip, where we'll have more intermittent Internet access and probably be more tired a lot of the time (and so less excited about writing blogs on a tiny keyboard), but at least for now it looks like well able to stay in touch and document our trip.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Movie: Topaz

You've probably at least seen clips of Psycho and The Birds. Maybe you've seen those films in their entirety. And you may even have watched Vertigo and North by Northwest. But have you seen Topaz?

Topaz is an Alfred Hitchcock classic, albeit a lesser known one compared to some of the director's other work. Still, almost everything of Hitchcock's is fantastic (though I didn't really enjoy The Trouble With Harry), and Topaz stands out for being especially vibrant and colorful. It's also much more expansive in it's setting than some of Hitchcock's more spatially restrained work. (Rope and Lifeboat being two extreme examples of Hitchcock restricting the action of a film to a singular location, but there are others.)

I first saw this movie one summer when I checked out literally dozens of Hitchcock films from the Provo Library. And though it's not as well-known as some, it's actually one of my personal Hitchcock favorites.

The plot involves Russian missiles in Cuba, a French diplomat traveling to and from Cuba, trying to get information—and some extramarital lovin on the side—and a spy ring called "topaz." In general, however, the plot is basically all about the intrigues of the cold war and how different people and governments tried to manipulate them to their own ends. (Read wikipedia if you actually want a real summary of the plot. Or, watch the movie).

Friday, April 30, 2010

Goodbye Academia Part 7: What I'll Miss

This series has to end sometime, and that time is now. Though I could probably write indefinitely on the topics of academia and my life, I'd like to conclude by mentioning what I'll miss about not being a part of academia. After all, I did spend a massive amount of time, a ton of money, and a lot of stress trying to get into a PhD program. Obviously, I wanted to go, even if there were other things I was (and am) interested in doing. So here are a few things that I'll really miss about not being an academic.

1.(Producing) Big ideas. I can't think of another profession where people are paid to sit around and think about big ideas like "ethics" or "humanity" or "art" or a lot of other things. Whether it's researching, teaching, etc., academics are supposed to turn a critical eye on culture. They're supposed to make connections and see things about the big picture that are hidden from others. That's something that journalistic writing—as well as many other things I've done—don't really do. They're more interested in presenting information. Scholars, on the other hand, produce information. That really appeals to me, and is probably the thing I will miss the most.

2. Being on campus. Have you ever seen a sappy, poorly-made movie about high school seniors about to graduate. Its the best time of their lives! As silly as those depictions are, that's largely how I feel about being in college. I was cutting across BYU's campus to get to the Daily Herald the other day, for example, when I realized just how enjoyable it is to be in the bustle of a college campus. There's always a bunch of interesting things going on. Living near a college provides similar opportunities, but I've found that not being in school makes it harder to know about them and participate.

3. Teaching. This might be a strange thing to put on here, given my previous posts, but there are great parts of it too. If I could teach one course a semester, for the rest of my life, while doing other interesting things, that might be ideal. In any case, while I won't miss grading, I will miss being in a classroom with students.

4. Discussion. Obviously, discussion can go on anywhere, but at a college it is supposed to happen. I've also found that many people outside of the classroom/college don't have the time or inclination (or stomach) for heated, passionate discussion. Most workplaces, church settings, etc. aren't really set up for people to bring up ideas and argue out their disagreements. Though I try to have discussions with people where ever and whenever I can, I find that A) it still happens much less often post-college than during college, and B) a lot of people just get offended or defensive when people push back against their ideas. There's probably a lot of reasons for this fact, but my experience is that there are few thick-skinned intellectuals outside of the academic setting.

5. Flexibility. This is a practical concern, but an important one. Being a professor allows people to largely determine their own schedules. As long as they get things done, they can work early or late, or whatever. I think I thrive in that sort of environment. I like working, for example, at 2 a.m., and sleeping in late. One day I might be one fire with ideas, and the next I might be lacking. I like how academia, though busy, gives professors a greater degree of flexibility than many jobs. I'm sure everyone wants a job like that, but until recently, I was actively pursuing one.

6. The Political Orientation. Let's be honest, most academics are liberal. And though I hate labels, I typically find myself in agreement with liberal politics. The prospect of being surrounded by people with whom I agree is immensely appealing. That's probably because I currently live in Utah, and I'm constantly surrounded by conservative fanatics who claim the Tea Party isn't racist or idiotic. But seriously, I'm so tired of being a lone liberal on a sea of hyper-conservatism. Some people want academia to be more politically diverse, and objectively I know that's a good thing, but secretly I just want to go to a place where people seem to care about each other, are willing to sacrifice for the good of others, and see government as a collective choice to help the less fortunate. Also, the conservatives I know in academia (or in my program) are smart, insightful, and decorous about their views. So, ultimately, academia is conducive to being a liberal, and if nothing else values respect and rational justifications for whatever conclusions people arrive at. (Maybe what I want is to be surrounded by people who investigate and are interested in politics, regardless of their orientation.)

7. The Culture. The people who go into academia are a self-selecting bunch, and they're into certain cultural things. Even the most mainstream of my professors had a decent understanding of pop culture, for example, and I remember having several interesting conversations with different professors about growing and preserving food at home. Academia isn't hipster-ville, of course, but the professors I admire take a holistic approach to culture and seem to think it is important to be conversant in things outside their disciplines. Obviously there are people like that outside of academia, but in the college community that approach to culture is common, even expected. If nothing else, academics seem to be interested in trying new things. Those things may be approaches to literary theory, or something like twitter or Lady Gaga.

Well, this could go on and on, but it's already a lot longer than I wanted it to be. Also, none of things are necessarily unique to academia, but I think they're all present there, and in abundance. I'm not sure there's another field where that is the case.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Poetry Recommendations

Because my last post sharply criticized contemporary poetry, I thought it might be good to mention a few fantastic poets who are worth reading. These poets are amazing and enlightening, though some of them do fall into the "overly-difficult-for-lay-audiences" category. Still, with my education, I'm not really a "lay audience" member when it comes to literature, and even people who don't read a lot of poetry can still get a lot out of many of these poets. Also, the way I discover new music, movies, books, etc. is through recommendations, so I figured I could hardly advocate the reading of poetry without offering some suggestions.

Living Poets:
Stephen Dunn (One of my personal favorites. He has also written a book on creative writing called Walking Light, which is fantastic)

Robert Hass (For some reason, I've heard him reading on NPR a bunch of times in the last year or two. He was the U.S. poet laureate for a while.)

Li Young Lee (The poet I mentioned in my Daily Herald piece. I love some of his stuff, and am indifferent about other works, but he's definitely worth reading)

Kim Johnson (I've taken many classes from Kim. She is an amazing person, and an master poet. And lest this recommendation merely seem like plugging an old associate, her two published books have been very well received.)

Mark Strand (I saw him read once in Salt Lake. I think Trent Hickman once said he liked the world-weariness of Strand's poetry. I think that sums it up well.)

Jay Hopler (Friend—and, as I just discovered on wikipedia, husband!—of Kim Johnson's who read at BYU. There's a whole bunch of BYU students and recent alumni who are fans of Hopler. Part of that is probably just because he came to the school while we were there and was a really cool guy, but it also has to do with the fact that his work is among the most vividly evocative of anyone that has come to BYU for a reading.)

(this list could go on and on, but these are a few people that came to mind in the short time I had to spend thinking about it)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Today's Poetry: Flipping the Figurative Bird?

Today, I had this short piece in the Daily Herald. The purpose of the piece was essentially to argue to people who don't read poetry that the genre has merit, and can be rewarding. However, because I think that some people who might read this blog have more experience with poetry, and might be more literary-minded than the general newspaper audience, I'd now like to take a minute to be completely honest about the dying literary art.

In short, much of today's poetry flips a the figurative bird at its audience.

By saying that I mean to point out that the poetry being written today is often impossibly hard to comprehend. Poets, in an effort be "true" to their message, forget that someone is supposed to read their work. They cram poems full of semantics and syntax that are painfully opaque, and as a result effectively tell readers to f--- off.

And readers typically oblige. If there's anything in America that's read as infrequently as scholarship, it has to be poetry. Unlike scholarship, however, can really be fantastic, so it's a shame more people don't read it.

Here's how I see the problem: the people who write poetry are often either academics, closely allied with academics, or very highly educated. The vast amount of knowledge they've acquired makes their poetry dense. That makes it rewarding for people familiar with the canon of western literature, but impossible to read for everyone else.

For example, an SLC-based poetry once came to a class I was taking and described herself as a "maximalist poet." I think that was to contrast her work with minimalists like William Carlos Williams, but it was also to point out that she tries to pack as much into her work as she possibly can.

Fair enough, but it literally took me 20 minutes to decipher a few this woman's lines. The poetry might as well have been either A) random assortments of words, or B) a foreign language. (This is not an over exaggeration.) And I was a MA candidate in English, willing to look for meaning even under those circumstances. Imagine how a more typical reader, without a deep background in poetry and less desire to understand it, would feel. It'd be like trying to glean complex meaning from cracks in the pavement. In other words, contemporary poetry often doesn't make sense to me, and I can only assume it makes even less sense to readers unfamiliar with it.

I genuinely think that many poets are out of touch with this reality. I love poetry, but I don't have the energy to look up 50% of the works in a 14 line poem. I don't have the time to spend an hour figuring out what a sonnet says (not what it means, but merely what it's superficially about). I suspect that poets either have forgotten how much (or little) knowledge their readers possess, or simply don't care. In other words, they mistakenly believe that their poetry isn't impossible to decipher, or they think that readers who are unwilling to spend a lot of time investigating poems are hamstringing their own intellectual development. And maybe they are, but that doesn't leave a lot of room for enticing new readers or drawing people into the art form.

This isn't to say that poets should write simple, easy to read poems, or that complex work isn't pleasurable. Quite the opposite, in fact. And hopefully there will always be people willing to decipher difficult works and rejoice over arcane syntactic tricks. But a person can't really be a "writer" —of poetry, scholarship, or anything else—without acknowledging a reader. There are also poets who appeal more broadly, like Billy Collins, but they are too often ostracized in the academic establishment, or altogether ignored. (My impression is that Collins is viewed by English professors they way Thomas Kinkade is viewed by real artists. That's also a shame, because not only is Collins good and fun to read, but his work can actually touch on profound topics.)

This situation is not helping poetry. Few people read it now, and poets aren't only doing nothing to attract new readers, they're actually alienating people. The poetry sections in most books stores is already tiny, so how long will it be before publishers finally decide to give up? Unless poetry is to be relegated to a form of writing that is personally and professionally fulfilling for a few academics, but meaningless or extinct in larger culture, something has to change.

If it doesn't, we might watch as humanity's first art form is snuffed out by those charged with preserving it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Movie: The Big Sleep

There are few film genres as viscerally fun (or as socially conscious) as film noir, and one of the best examples of the genre is the 1946 The Big Sleep. The film is adapted from a Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, and while the book is good, the film is better. (In my opinion, film noir/crime film is a richer medium than than written crime literature/detective fiction.)

It stars the soft-on-the-inside Humphrey Bogart and the ineffably glamorous Lauren Bacall, who didn't just make a great on-screen pair, but were also married in real life. Bogart plays Phillip Marlow, the star of much of Chandler's fiction, and Bacall is the femme fatale. It you've never seen a film noir, or aren't sure what that phrase even means, watch this movie and you'll have your definition.

Of course, some people claim that Double Indemnity is the quintessential film noir, and others (aptly) point out that Bogart was really too much of a softie to be a great noir detective. Still, The Big Sleep is simultaneously entertaining, suspenseful, and a a perfect example of what has made film noir one of the most enduring and (eventually) respected film genres. Plus, while Double Indemnity sets up the archetypal characteristics of the genre, The Big Sleep puts them to a more satisfying use. In any case, check it out. It's a fantastic introduction to it's genre, as well as to some of the greatest stars of the silver screen. (BTW: Lauren Bacall was awarded an Academy Honorary Award at the most recent Oscars.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

How to (Really) Save Journalism

I'm not the most experienced journalist out there, but that hasn't stopped me from formulating ideas on how to save the industry. In case you haven't heard, the newspaper business is in shambles because everyone is getting their news online these days. No subscriptions equals no money.

The New York Times' solution to this problem has been to start changing for online subscriptions. Later this year, you'll be able to read some of the paper's content online for free, but you'll have to pay to get all of it.

With all due respect to The New York Times, that's a terrible idea. Few are willing to pay for internet-based news, and the strategy risks turning the paper into a boutique publication with a very specialized—and limited—readership.

A better solution would be to eliminate most of the newspaper industry's physical infrastructure. Get rid of the presses, of course, but also close the offices. Shut down the phone lines. Stop buying cubical walls. Out with the industry's "things" and "places." Make everything digital.

At issue here is the fact that old media (newspapers) are trying to imposed old payment models (subscriptions) onto new media (the internet). Unfortunately for the papers, however, different kinds of media evolved their own, inherently different delivery platforms. Think about it: books radically changed the way people consume media. They all but killed oral tradition, and took learning out of the hands of a select elite.

Today, the printed word has had a good run, but that run is ending. (That link goes to Slate, by the way, which actually tried to charge for content at one point, but then gave up.) I think people still want to read the news, but they are doing it less and less on paper. To simply treat the internet as if it were paper is insanity. It ignores the fact that it's fundamentally different.

However, because the internet is a virtual place, it seems only fitting that internet-dependent companies become virtual as well. Reporters can still write and report, for example, without the physical office. They can work remotely, saving both themselves and their companies time and money, all the while adapting the content to the medium, not the other way around.

My two writing gigs have influenced my attitudes on this topic. First I write for Rhombus. Until about a month ago, I had actually never even met another person who works for Rhombus (I met the editor, coincidentally, on the street while walking home one day). We communicate entirely by facebook message at Rhombus, and there is literally no physical infrastructure for the magazine.

Contrast that, however, with my experience at the Daily Herald. There, I go into a gigantic building everyday where I have a computer, a phone, a desk, a break room, etc. All that stuff costs someone money, but the thing is, I don't really need any of it. I have my own cell phone, which I can just as easily use (and often do), my own computer, and a chair and table at my house.

In other words, I could do at least as good a job reporting for the Daily Herald at home, at the library, in a cafe, etc., as I'm currently doing. Who knows, I might even do a better job because I'd have fewer distractions.

In reality, I enjoy the social aspect of going into the office. I like being around people to work. But if it means that the industry will eventually dry up, or that the number of writing jobs goes from many thousands to many dozens, I'd gladly sacrifice that one aspect of the job to have the others.

Ultimately, major news outlets will probably always need some physical office for their head editors and executives. They may also need to occasionally call in their reporters for meetings (though I can't imagine why video chatting wouldn't be sufficient). However, a small office with a single conference room ought to be enough, even for the biggest papers. If someone needs specific tools to do his or her job, go ahead buy that person a computer and the software too. The company would still be saving money on rent, electricity, phone, etc.

These measures probably wouldn't completely offset the loses the newspaper industry is suffering, but they would represent a (currently absent) proclivity to look for creative solutions to new media-related problems. After all, it's called "new media" because it's not the same old thing, and the same old payment model just isn't going to work. And, in the end, even if they didn't completely solve the problem, they'd help. A lot.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Goodbye Academia Part 6: A Few More Thoughts on Teaching

So I've been pleasantly surprised that people are reading this series, and even more so that a few of these posts have prompted discussion. I've been thinking a lot about some of the comments that were made in previous sections, and I wanted to discuss them briefly.

In Part 3, I talked about some of the frustrating aspects of teaching, and I pointed out that it was rare that my students really impressed me with their comments. As I've thought back over my time as a teacher, however, I can actually think of a bunch of instances when I was impressed by my students ideas. Once, for example, one of my classes wanted to discuss politics, so I threw out my lesson plan and we just debated for an hour. It was great and enlightening. So why did it feel like I was more often hearing the same thing over and over?

I think the curriculum largely to blame. I was teaching writing, and while that sometimes included critical-thinking exercises, it also included a lot of practical things. Like instructions on how to write thesis statements. Or how to do MLA citation. Or even grammar.

In retrospect, it seems like many of these practical considerations overwhelmed my courses. I'd want to discuss some interesting idea, but my students didn't understand yet how to craft a good thesis, so I'd have to backtrack and show them.

So, my students rarely had much to say about these practical things, and, to be honest, I don't either. After all, what is there to say, that's really interesting, about topic sentences? In the end, I think the reason my students were consistently coming up with old news was because we were in a writing class, as opposed to a philosophy, literature, or film course. In those settings there is an actual text to analyze, and that text is supposed to mean something larger about the world. In a writing class, the "text" is often a set of instructions on writing, and most analysis centers on how emulate good writers (or, worse, how to get a good grade).

As I've been typing this post I've also realized something else: a scholar keeps intellectually progressing, but each time a new semester starts, a teacher is back to square one with his/her students. It's frustrating because each time a person thinks about something—even something as mundane as a semicolon or topic sentence—that person might theoretically come up with a new insight.

However, if you teach the same thing over and over, you come to new insights that you students probably won't have the time to get to.

One semester, for example, I asked my students to go out on campus and determine what the thesis statement was for various objects. A few of them got it, but I think for most of them the idea of "thesis statements" hadn't simmered long enough in their minds for them to see it as a metaphorical idea that can be applied to anything.

This worked better when we tried it at the art museum, but at some point it might be interesting to discuss the ideological implications of campus architecture or floral design, as exemplified by those things' theses. It's hard to do that in a writing class, and when you do you're often neglecting something practical that you're supposed to be teaching.

Ultimately, then, I guess writing curriculum can be modified to discuss some fascinating things, but if it's taken me years to come up with the ideas, a lot of young undergrads won't have the background to appreciate them (yet). Also, there is administrative pressure, in the form of predetermined texts and course structures, to give students a "skill set" that they can use elsewhere (like, God help us, in the business school). It was an eye-opening experience as a graduate instructor, and one that fundamentally changed my career goals.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Movie: Million Dollar Baby

This month is Poetry Month. I have a blog about poetry that a wrote a few days ago and still need to post, but in the meantime, today's Monday Movie is... Million Dollar Baby.

If you've only heard of this movie, or if it's been a while since you watched it, you might be wondering what it has to do with Poetry Month. However, this movie is actually all about Yeats' poem "The Lake Isle of Innisfrey."

Superficially, Million Dollar Baby is about a female boxer, played by Hillary Swank, and her reluctant trainer, played by Clint Eastwood (who also directs the film). Morgan Freeman serves as the film's narrator, and the boxing gym's janitor.

Oddly, perhaps, Eastwood's character also studies Gaelic throughout the film and happens to enjoy Yeats. Once Swank's character begins competing as a boxer, he even givers her a Gaelic nickname, which endears her to fans across the world.

The Gaelic/Yeats connection, however, is more profound. Though only a few lines of "The Lake Isle of Innisfrey" are read in the movie, the themes between it and the film are highly analogous. In fact, I would almost call Million Dollar Baby an adaptation of the poem because it is essentially about the same thing. Eastwood's character (the protagonist) is even overtly driven by the poem.

In any case, it's a touching, if tragic, film that also is one of recent cinema's more successful uses of poetry. (You can read about a few more if you want in this poetry movie countdown that I wrote for Rhombus).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Goodbye Academia Part 5: The Public Intellectual

I think that what I've been hoping to become as a result of my education, often without knowing it, is a public intellectual, or even a man of letters. And, basically, I see a successful public intellectual as being someone with the chops of an academic, but the charisma of a public figure. I see it as someone who thinks (and can write) as deeply as a professor, but who is also involved in the translation of those thoughts into the public consciousness.

And, despite some negative aspects to working in academia, there are definitely things I like about it, which I'd like to couple with non-scholarly publication and other work.

My understanding of what it takes to become a public intellectual is probably naive and biased. However, as far as I know, most professors don't regularly write commentary for newspapers or TV. Their books aren't praised for walking the line between academic and popular works. They aren't tapped to serve with politicians, or transition back and forth between academia and industries like, say, consulting (which theoretically should have a lot in common with the critical study rhetoric and texts).

In other words, most professors that I know tend to work almost exclusively within academia. And that's great.

But there is also a different kind of professor. At NYU for example, film professors listed publications in The Village Voice and The New York Times. Some of the professors I researched at USC and UCLA routinely serve as judges at well-known film festivals. Some of the English professors that I researched had more "public" work listed alongside their scholarship. (Herbert Blau, for example, at University of Washington, has worked in theater and fashion, but now also teaches in the University of Washington's English department.) The point here is that there are some people who write or produce both for academics, and others. (Stanley Fish, Wendell Barry, and Nigel Spivey are examples of people who have done this to one degree or another. An while I don't agree with everything they say, I do admire the venues available to them to say it.)

Obviously, the people who become public intellectuals are those who have risen to the top of their respective fields (with a lot of hard work). And, they also typically don't have those opportunities straight out of school. Yet, the another thing they seem to have in common is that they studied at, and then often worked at, really good schools. My conclusion: to become a public intellectual it's helpful to have an elite academic pedigree. Also, one has to aspire to that position. I think a lot of people are happy to simply teach and publish within their discipline. Which is cool of course. But others definitely hope for a more diverse work load.

Like I said, this is probably an incomplete vision of what it means to be an intellectual. It's certainly romanticized. But ultimately I don't think I'd be content teaching three or four classes a semester at a remote state school and publishing in Western Humanities Review or The Journal of American Culture for the next 30 years. (Both those journals are great ones that I used in my thesis.) I don't expect to have a regular column in The New York Times, but I'd like a career path that at least includes the possibility of public work/writing in addition to submitting work to academic journals. For most professors—and for whatever reason—it seems like those doors aren't just closed, they often don't exist at all.

So the point, it seems, is that like becoming, say, an astronaut, becoming a public intellectual requires a pretty specific career path. Without that path, the probability of reaching that goal is minuscule.

In my case, it was literally not until I began writing this series of blogs that I began to understand my own ambitions and goals, but as I look back on the choices I've made and the people I professionally admire, it seems obvious that I was looking for some balance between academia and public work (because I enjoy parts of both). Not surprisingly I suppose, as I've gravitated away from scholarship, I've moved toward journalism, which is in many ways the flip side of academia. Instead of emphasizing specialized writing, it's more populist and very general. It has a clear purpose, and reason for existing. Obviously it has it's own problems too, but without a degree from an elite university a choice likely has to be made between public work and scholarship, and I'm as surprised as anyone to find myself gravitating toward the former.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Goodbye Academia Part 4: The Work (Scholarship)

I'd like my career to be at least one of two things: fun, or meaningful. Ideally, it'd be both. And while I know that there are aspects to even the funnest and most meaningful jobs that are tedious and un-enjoyable, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a career to have an overall net positive amount of fun and/or meaningful-ness. (Obviously many people, and perhaps myself in the future,have to work just to survive. Still, who doesn't want to have a job that offers more?)

In my last post of this series, I basically commented on the less-than-fun aspects of being a professor. But that leaves the question: is it meaning? Does it matter?

Increasingly, my answer to that question is "no." When I entered BYU's master's program I was very confident about the power of professors to shape society. They teach people, sure, but they also publish research that affects how people thing. To be honest, this aspect of the job excited me much more than teaching.

Yet as I researched, I became increasingly disillusioned with the academic publishing environment. Scholarly conferences were not only boring, but individual sessions were poorly attended. No one seemed to care. Scholarly journals weren't getting much more interesting, just because I was moving up in education status. Though I had frequently defended the relevance of humanities scholarship, by the time I was halfway through my master's degree I had completely lost faith in its ability to do anything but earn people tenure. In other words, it didn't seem to matter.

Basically, academic publishing in the humanities is, at best, a kind of trickle-down intellectualism. It supposes that there are a few experts who are qualified to explore certain topics, and that what they find will eventually (somehow) influence something. That's a really disheartening thing. It means that while most humanities scholars are politically liberal, they are among the most culturally conservative people I can think of. They are trying to conserve the past (literature, or other historic texts), and they are doing it by joining a small corps of power-holding elites. So it doesn't matter how many liberal issues they support, their career choices are literally the definition of conservatism.

Which has made me wonder: where is the populism? Where are the people who are so skeptical of power structures that they try to redistribute authority in academia?

The answer, of course, is that they're probably not academics. Or, if they are, they're exceptions to the rule. They probably don't publish as much, get denied tenure, and end up teaching at lesser institutions.

Or whatever. The point is that as I've come to see the academic publishing environment as more conservative, as well as less capable of affecting social change, I've become under-enthused about entering it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Movie: Annie Hall

Most people seem to have heard of Woody Allen, but a lot of people haven't seen very many (or any) of his films. Which I think is a real shame. Though Allen's films don't always play in the local cineplex, they're usually smart, witty, and highly entertaining. After putting for a little extra effort to watch his work, Allen has even become one of my favorite directors.

So, today's Monday Movie is... Annie Hall. If you're even remotely familiar with Woody Allen, this may well be the movie you've seen. If you're a fan, this recommendation might seem redundant, or even worthy of eye rolling (it's like telling a science fiction fan to check out Star Wars.)

However, this recommendation is specifically for people who aren't familiar with the director's work, which, sadly, seems to be a lot of people. The film is a romantic comedy, but one with a brain. Allen himself stars, along with Diane Keaton, who together make one of cinema's great on-screen couples.

Like all of Allen's work, Annie Hall is also highly inter-textual, constantly referencing literature, psychology, film history, philosophy, and other things. Yet even if you don't catch the many allusions in the movie, it's still a charming story about the ups and downs of love. It's also a great example of how Allen uses experimental techniques for comic effect.

So if you haven't seen Annie Hall, or if you just haven't seen it lately, get ready for an evening of neuroses, self-analysis, and hypochondria. And

, of course, hilarity.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Old Band, Winston McCoy

Though I usually try to refrain from posting things that are simply about myself without any other critical discussion, I've decided to share the video below. (And besides, this blog seems to be getting less and less discussion oriented and more and more about the stuff that I'm up to.)

Anyway, the video is of my band from many years ago. It's at the old Muse Music, in Provo, Utah, which was between the new Music Music and Velour (on University Ave). Also, it was a battle of the bands that night. We had three camera people filming us, and afterward I edited the whole thing into a DVD and we tried to sell it at our subsequent shows. Unfortunately, we didn't play all that many more shows after this, and we only ever sold one copy of the DVD. Still it had an awesome DVD cover (which I also made), and was very professionally done ;)

The last thing that's worth knowing is that at the end of the show, I smashed my guitar. It was epic. If you want to see the whole DVD, drop me a line. I typically force people to watch it all the time at my house, so I'd be more than happy to oblige you.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Goodbye Academia Part 3: The Work (Teaching)

In my last post about academia, I noted that the absurdity of the job market is one of the things that had deterred me from entering the profession. Another thing was the work itself. 

There are a couple of big things professors do: teach, and publish research. Obviously there are a lot of other, somewhat smaller things they do, but those are the biggies. In this post I'll talk about the teaching, and in the next post I'll tackle publishing and other aspects of the profession.

To begin, I should say that I love teaching. It's like putting on a performance. I love the kind of confident, self-deprecating humor that fits so well in the humanities classroom. I love when students run with a topic and actually seem engaged. Much of the time I also enjoy conferencing with students, particularly when we don't have to focus on specific assignments, but rather talk more abstractly about ideas.

Overall, I think I could be very happy being a teacher of English, film, and other humanities related topics. On the other hand, there are some terrible aspects of the job.

Like grading. I truly despise grading. I hate it because it's un-enjoyable, and I hate it because I don't like the idea of grades in the first place. My ideal university wouldn't concern itself with quantifiable measures of success like grades; rather people would learn what they want and be tested by how they apply their skills, debate their ideas, and critique their environment. 

Obviously that's overly utopian and simplistic (especially today, when education increasingly values "results" as opposed to learning), but that doesn't change the fact that hate to grade papers. Usually when I get papers I weigh the value of throwing them all away and telling my students they were incinerated in terrible car wreck on my way home (which I miraculously survived). I've never resorted to that, but the point is that grading is a big deterrent to becoming a teacher. 

More broadly, however, I've also been surprised at how different a student-teacher relationship looks from the latter position. As a student, I've always enjoyed debating and coming to new conclusions. In many ways, that was the only way I could learn. However, I didn't realize that the vast majority of student ideas are old news to teachers. (I think I understood this vaguely, but I didn't realize how quickly it got monotonous). 

When I was teaching English 150, for example, I'd read the textbook many, many times by my final semester. That meant that students reading it for the first time were going to have a hard time thinking of or saying something that I hadn't either heard or thought of first. Or that was even very interesting. 

That's not to say that it didn't happen, it just didn't happen that often. And, I don't think that's a reflection on my students. I had just been thinking about the topics for so much longer, and talked to so many more people about them, that it was rare for something new to come up in class or student-teacher conferences. 

I remember one time a student did come in to a conference with some amazing ideas. It was invigorating and we talked passionately and at length about those ideas. When the conference ended I was simultaneously exhilarated, but also wondered if I had crossed the line of what was appropriate; I had simply been sharing and debating opinions as a person, without objectivity and or any attention to how it helped the student with any particular task (I also momentarily ceased to be concerned with towing any particular party line—which was always a struggle at BYU—and was just honest about what I thought about things). 

The point is that my teachers have frequently opened my eyes to new ideas, but my students rarely have. Maybe that's my problem, I don't know. But that's the way things have gone. (My students at SLCC frequently amaze me, but that has more to do with their life stories and has little connection to what I'm actually supposed to be teaching them.) 

There are also other things about teaching that I don't want to do. For example, I dislike teaching writing and composition. I would actually have emphasized in rhetoric as a master's student at BYU, except that that option's most obvious career trajectory led to teaching writing classes. For me, the prospect of a life spent teaching First-year Writing or (worse) Advanced Writing was ineffably depressing. Many of my good friends have chosen that path and love it, but for some reason, I just don't.

So all in all, there are aspects of teaching that I like, and that I don't like. Like the job market, this fact led me only to apply to a few really good schools, because I felt that that decision would lead to a career in which I had more control over which classes I taught, how I taught them, and how often. On the other hand, if I was going to have to teach too many classes (and thus have more grading), or classes I dislike and/or fundamentally disagree with (like composition courses), I wasn't interested.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Movie: The Ox Bow Incident

For many people, Westerns mean long, boring movies about cowboys. And the genre certainly has plenty of those. However, Westerns can also be taut, trilling explorations of social issues, which is the case in The Ox Bow Incident.

The film was made in 1943 (and is in black and white), and stars Henry Fonda. If you're not already into Westerns, that might sound like exactly the kind of movie that you don't want to watch.

Yet, the film also is about fear, paranoia, and mob mentality. It tells the story of a small town, plagued by cattle rustlers. Eventually, the town forms a posse and goes out to get the rustlers. When they find a few men camping outside of town, the posse decides they must be the thieves and decides to hang them. Much of the film's narrative revolves around the debate over the accused rustlers' innocence or guilt.

It's a timely film for today, because our society is still struggling with how to treat the accused, and how to avoid the problems of mob mentality. So if you want an intelligent introduction to the Western, or just another great film to watch, try The Ox Bow Incident.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Abortion Surprises

Probably as a result of the health care debate, I've been thinking about abortion lately. And as I thought about it, I was surprised to discover that my feelings on the issue aren't as strong as I imagined.

Here's where I stand: I don't think abortion is murder. I don't think that it should be illegal. I am opposed to overturning Roe vs. Wade. On the other hand, I don't think it's a particularly good thing. For the very few women I know who've had abortions, it was a traumatic and heart-wrenching experience. And while I don't think that abortion equates to killing an innocent baby, it certainly equates with terminating something that can become a baby. Basically, I'd rather see people use (and be educated about) contraceptives, hopefully to reduce the number of women who have to experience abortions.

More importantly, perhaps, abortion as a political topic is something I'd probably be willing to compromise on. I think something like health care (reform), which I support, is important enough to make concessions to people to the left and the right of my views about abortion.

Yet, for a little while there, abortion was a major reform stumbling block, mostly, it seemed, because it became a fundamental moral issue over which people on either side of the aisle supposedly could not compromise. Why is that?

What has surprised me about this whole thing is that I think I've been pushed left by those on the right. When people start yelling "baby killer" or insisting that "abortion is murder," my natural tendency is to adopt an equally firm stance. It's as if when people start trying to shove something down my throat, my natural reaction is to say "Fine. Screw you, I'll shove it right back, if that's how it's going to be."

In other words, the vehemence of anti-abortion movement has galvanized my attitudes about the topic and made me less willing to compromise. Unless I stop to very carefully consider my attitudes (which realistically I can't constantly do), and am removed from any anti-abortionist, I'm adamantly pro-choice. It's only after time and serious contemplation that I'm willing give and take.

This is obviously problematic for the anti-abortion movement because they're currently fighting the status quo (legalized abortion), yet for many people, screaming about morality is exactly the thing that pushes people away.

However, more broadly, I think that this type of situation occurs all the time. Overly zealous people on either side of the political spectrum get worked into a fervor, and as a result their opponents become equally inflexible. It's an interesting phenomenon, which obviously has implications in many areas. And while this is surely no new realization, I was surprised in the case of abortion to find that I don't have as many passionate feelings as I thought I did.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Goodbye Academia Part 2: The Job Market

I love studying and teaching, but I can't do it forever and still manage to pay the rent. That means that, unfortunately, the academic job market has been a factor in my PhD application process, and my recent drifting away from academia. Here are a few thoughts on a profession that is apparently scarce, not particularly high paying, and takes forever to qualify for. (read part 1 of this series here!)

First, getting a professorship in the humanities is really, really hard. And it's no better in film departments. Recently, a few friends of mine have circulated this article, which paints a pretty dire picture. It says that hiring of humanities professors may be down 40% this year, and that's on top of the already low hiring rates that were declining before the recession. (During one semester in BYU's master's program I took a class in which we spent at least a month studying academia and its job environment, among other things. My understanding from that course, and other things I've read, was that a few years ago about 40% of recent English PhD holders got jobs. More recently, I've heard that number drop to 20%.)

So that's pretty terrible. It's also one of the main reasons I only applied to prestigious schools. I figured that with a degree from NYU or UCLA, the chances of getting a job increased. Of course, my professors always noted that a motivated job seeker can distinguish him/herself no matter what school he/she attended. But realistically, if there are two job candidates that are equal, coming from a better school counts. And there are a lot more than two candidates who are equal. 

The other weird thing about this whole situation is how much time it takes to get through a PhD program (most of those I applied for claimed they took five years, though I know many professors who have taken longer to do theirs.) According to that article I linked to above, a lot of people finish with debt. And in some cases, a lot of debt. Many professors don't get paid that well either (especially considering that how long they've been in school), so the debt/money issue could continue to be a real problem for years to come.

This is another reason I only applied to a limited number of prestigious programs. All of them potentially offered funding, and if any of them accepted me without funding, I was prepared to decline. (With the exception, perhaps, of NYU, simply because it'd be great to study film in New York City.) 

Realistically, however, I didn't want to invest five or more years and a whole lot of borrowed money, only to spend many more years looking for an endangered-species-of-a-job. If I was going to do a PhD, I wanted better odds at having some security. Of course, I wasn't attracted to the profession by the money, but I was (and still am) growing tired of being a starving student. 

It's worth mentioning that there are other kinds of jobs for PhD grads. Read that article above for more info on things like adjunct teaching. I'm currently an adjunct, and while it's an interesting socio-cultural experience, it's no way to survive.  

Ultimately, then, I saw the PhD application process as a forerunner to the job application process; getting into a good school foreshadows, in my opinion, the possibility of getting a good job. Getting into a mediocre school or getting rejected, on the other hand, foreshadows getting a bad job, or none at all. There are exceptions to this pattern, but they are just that, exceptions. And I didn't want to bank on being an exception.