Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I usually write a Christmas letter every year, but this year, I decided to do something different. Here it is. We appreciate everybody, except two of you.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I usually write a Christmas letter every year, but this year, I decided to do something different. Here it is. We appreciate everybody, except two of you.
Monday, December 19, 2011
We drove up to Iowa for Christmas. On the way up, we stopped by Kingdom City, which is a town that is comprised of only gas stations, fast food restaurants, and motels. There is one gas station that we always stop at, switch drivers, get some Subway, candy, and use the bathroom. I was using the bathroom and had a thought, “There are a ton of rules for guys in the bathroom, but they are completely unspoken.” I’ve decided it’s time to write the rules down. This may be against some sort of guy rule, I’m not sure, but I’m doing it anyway. I just think it’s fascinating that there are all these understood rules for every guy in our society, yet no one ever taught them to anyone else.
Top Ten Guys’ Bathroom Rules
1) There is a two foot zone near the entrance and surrounding the sinks where you can talk, but those are the only places, no exceptions. You can walk into your stall and find a bag full of gold, do not tell the man in the stall next to you.
2) When using the urinal, you are allowed to put one hand on the wall above you, but not two.
3) If there are three urinals, you are required to go to one end first, if that is taken, go to the other end second, and if that’s taken, you go to a stall third. Never use the middle one if there are only three. If someone is in the middle one by themselves, you go to a stall, don’t stand next to that man, he can’t be trusted.
4) When the relief feels good, you can utter, “Aaaaahhhh,” but you can’t say, “Mmmmmm.”
5) Always wash your hands, or give the impression that you’re washing your hands.
6) To the man using the bathroom in front of me: stop peeing on the seat. Stop it! Honestly, how does it happen so frequently? A little dribble on the front is understandable, but what circumstances are causing you to pee on all the seat? And don’t say it’s because you didn’t lift the lid, because if that’s true you are forever banished to behind the trees bathrooms.
7) Never shake a man’s hand, or high five, or hug, those are acceptable and encouraged outside the bathroom, but not in. You can fist bump in some Western states, but make sure the other man really wants to do it.
8) Lock the door to your stall if you want to keep the respect of others. No matter how powerful and important you are, you can’t remain that way if someone sees you with your pants at your feet, looking up in horror and ultimate vulnerability.
9) If you are at the urinal, treat the other men like you are encountering a bear in the wild, stare straight ahead, do not make eye contact, and back away slowly when you are done.
10) When using a hand dryer, be sure to use sighs and grunts to communicate how stupid you think they are. Then, wipe your hands on your pants.
Any to add?
Sunday, December 18, 2011
I don’t like the term, “clean comedy.” It has such a connotation to it. I feel like the connotative definition of it is, “not funny comedy.” If I hear of a show that is clean, I think, Disney Channel, fit for a ten year old, but not for me. However, I don’t think the connotative definition is the real thing. I think there is negativity because it implies that there is a ceiling, and in a certain sense, there is, there are places that cleaner comedy won’t go.
However, if the alternative is dirty, or blue, comedy, where the point is to be dirty for the sake of dirty, or dirty for the sake of shock, I don’t think it’s much better. I think our overall framework is wrong. The options are not on a linear cleanliness line, it is the wrong way to approach it. I don’t really believe in constrictive linear comparisons, but if there was one in comedy, I think it should be good on one end, and bad on the other. Dirty comedy can exist on the bad end and the good end, same for clean.
The case for clean
The truth is, I do mostly clean stuff, so I lean that way. It’s what I prefer to write, and what I tend to laugh at. I think that often, the most creative humor exists in the clean realm. You can say, “shit biscuit” and get some laughs, but anyone can say that, there is no creativity there, it’s right there, people will laugh because you’re saying something you’re not supposed to say and the laugh comes out of an awkward place. I think people will laugh, but respect it more when it doesn’t come from that place, because they recognize that dirty can be easy, they can see that their inappropriate uncle could make the same joke. Also, I’ve seen a lot of stand up, most of it really good, but I’ve also seen comic after comic after comic doing variations of the same masturbation, sex, cancer, or pot jokes, with nothing original. I think the ceiling on dirty stuff has to do with frequency, you can’t keep doing it and getting the same laughs, if your jokes lack creativity. There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to shock comedy, the same shock won’t be there after the first few times.
I think that sometimes the ceilings and restrictions on comedy can actually help. Creativity exists when there are walls. You can put applesauce on a mousetrap, put it in an art museum and call it art, that’s fine, but the most appreciated art is the art that exists within the same restrictions as others. A lot of people work in oil paints, but there is only one Monet. The most creative comedy I have seen has almost all been in the cleanish realm. Dirty can be easy, clean is almost always harder.
The case for dirty
I spent a lot of time in LA in comedy clubs and the dirtiness kind of washed over me so I became numb to it, basically, the shock factor was gone. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I’ve grown to really appreciate the stuff. First, as I’ve mentioned, comedy being clean doesn’t preclude it from being funny, and for people used to clean comedy, I would say the same thing about dirty. The fact that something is dirty does not mean it can’t also be hilarious, and it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person if you laugh at it. If dirty stuff isn’t creative, I don’t care for it, but if it’s creative, man, it can also be great. Mostly, though, I’ve developed an appreciation for stand up clubs. I like the role stand up clubs play in our society. I actually think they’re important. I think it is important for there to be a place where anything can be said. I think people laugh in shock because taboo topics are talked about and I think taboo things in our society should be poked, irritated, and examined. I think it’s important to have a place where the truth of life is talked about, no matter how wrong. I don’t know of a place that does that outside of comedy clubs. We spend so much time worrying about doing and saying the right things, I like that there is a place void of that, even if I occasionally get offended. Who talks about race better than Chris Rock? It wouldn’t be safe for him to do it outside of comedy. If he was a pundit on CNN, he’d be fired by now, people in media are too sensitive. Comedy makes hard truths palatable.
Again, creative stuff is creative stuff, and tired, unoriginal, uncreative stuff is tired, unoriginal, uncreative stuff. It’s okay to have preferences, but I don’t think it means that the other side is wholly bad. I’m going to stick to doing cleaner stuff, and I’ll still probably find the cleaner stuff funny, but I appreciate that there is a pale, skinny, blonde guy making really creative shit biscuit jokes in a stand up club out there somewhere.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
When I was living in New York, getting paid nothing as an intern, I learned about the greatness of the free trial at health clubs. If you can withstand the attack of the salesman whose job it is to get you to sign up for a membership, you can walk away with free use of the gym. That is easier said than done.
I knew one of the things I wanted to do was work out a lot upon my return. As I have mentioned before, I stopped exercising nearly completely, because I knew it would accelerate my weight loss tremendously due to my new poverty diet. In the end, I lost fifteen pounds…the not healthy way.
There is a place in Springfield that is the showy health club. Every city has them. They’re they ones that have the big advertising budget that have commercials and billboards and misleading advertising. You know what I mean, “Join for just $1,” and “Pay your weight!” and “Pay the temperature on the day you join, convert it to Celsius, subtract that by 7, assign a number to the first letter of the day of the week you come in, take the square root of that number and multiply that by your white cell count. Boom! Savings!”
That place in Springfield offers a free two week trial, after meeting with a representative. I called for an appointment. I would meet with Jerry (not his real name. His real name is Gary, but I don’t want to print that). The rest of this post will be from Jerry’s perspective.
I wonder if there is a way to install tanning bed lights in my office? Then, I wouldn’t have to waste time tanning and working. I could call it vocatan, you know like, vocation and tan. Good one, Jerry. But, I guess I would get tan lines. That means I would have to be naked. Good one, Jerry. Oh, it’s noon, I’ve got an appointment with my next sucker. Hey, there he is. Wait, is he homeless? Does he he actually not have a home, or does he just dress that way? I’m going to assume the best.
Alright, he seems nice enough, name is Jeff, even if his breath smells like Totino’s. Let’s see if he can survive the realm of the Jerry charm. Many have entered, few have survived. We’re walking by the free weights, but clearly he’s more of a treadmill/wander around the weights trying to look like he knows what he’s doing, while he’s actually trying to read the diagrams explaining how to use the machines type of guy. He says he lifts, yeah right, and I read. Anyway, I still appear respectful. I point out that there is a TV on each aerobic machine, he seems like a guy who likes to watch 60 Minutes while he kind of sweats. Boom! Tour is done, let’s close this sale. We head back to the table.
Boom! Table. I own this! I get out my binder, no one has ever made it past the binder. I call the guy Buddy, not like from Charles in Charge, like rapport, which I have firmly established. I ask him some questions, and listen with a lot of nodding, to show that I’m listening. I ask him if he tans. Ha! Good one, Jerry. He won’t be using tanning, let alone, Vocatanning. What? Oh, surprise, he manages to resist my first offer. Alright, alright, remain calm, Jerry, you have leeway here. I chop off some of the “Building Fee,” waiting for a gasp. No gasp. None. What. Is. Happening? Subjecting terrorists to a health club one on one sales pitch is what the military does at Guantanamo. This guy is good. Wait a minute, is he here just for the trial membership? Bastard. I can play this game.
Monthly fee halved.
Nothing. Nothing. I’m sweating now. Who is this guy? What is he capable of? Is this Jason Bourne? Bourne was born in Nixa.
He’s not budging.
Free daycare at home.
I will come to your house and watch your kids.
He doesn’t have kids.
You can have my kids.
I will watch them, but they’ll still be yours.
Defeated. I ask him, “What would it take to get you a membership today?” He says, “I just want the trial.” Rare. Rare. The gazelle kills the lion.
I get him his card. With disdain. I put my head down and walk back to my office in dire need of some Vitamin D. I turn the lights on. Just fluorescent.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Okay, clearly it is not December 16th. I have gotten way behind. To my fan: rest assured, I am planning on catching up and continuing to post most everyday. So, I’m going to write as if these days are in order, but I’ll just write about a day from the last two weeks and say that it happened the day I’m talking about. Okay? Okay? Fine. Fine.
My first improv show was seven years ago. I had just joined The Skinny Improv. The show was at Evangel University, a local Christian college. Basically, the only rule of The Skinny is to be clean. It’s kind of the branding of the group, anyone can come, older people, kids, dates, and the hope is that all can enjoy it without being offended, or being worried that the person that you’re bringing is offended. So, sex, race, religion, drugs, are not things you’ll see at a show. I think the style forces the performers to be really creative and not rely on the easiness of shock. The group had a bunch of great improvisers when I joined that I really admired. I remember just wanting to not screw things up. The show started out well, I was feeling loose and having fun. At one point I was off stage watching Chris and Mike do a scene, where, somehow, they began looking for Sammy Davis Jr’s glass eye (don’t ask, improv scenes are hard to explain). They mentioned that they were going to look in a trunk in an attic. As a good supporting improviser I stepped out to play the role of Sammy Davis Jr’s glass eye.
When they opened the trunk, I jumped out and said the only other thing I knew about Sammy Davis Jr:
“I’m Sammy Davi Jr’s eyeball, I’m black and I’m Jewish.”
Immediately, a couple of the improvisers stepped in front and yelled, “Scene! Scene!” While the others joined the Christian, white, audience in blankly staring at me. I stood there thinking, “What? He was.”
In my defense, there are only three interesting things about Sammy Davis Jr. One, he was a member of the Rat Pack. Two, he had a glass eye. Three, he was both African American and Jewish. In the defense of the audience, I mentioned race and religion in one sentence, and they were a race and religion that I was not a part of.
Tonight, I had my first improv show in Springfield for a long, long time. I was concerned about whether it would be the same. It was for a Christmas party for a local copier business. It started with muzak coming through the ceiling speakers, and people walking in and out, but it ended up being a good show. The UCB style is so understated, which doesn’t work as well with inebriated copier salesmen, so I tried to find a happy medium. Mostly, I just am in love with long form improv now, so doing short form will just take a little while for me to get used to. The good news is that I did not say anything remotely awkward.
I also spent time at Coffee Ethic today, Springfield’s version of the Beautiful Starbucks. I’m going to be honest here, but it is not the epicenter of beauty that the Beautiful Starbucks is, but I like it just as much. Also, I’m generally anti-corporation, so I love me some locally owned coffee shops, and Coffee Ethic is one of my favorites anywhere. Also, my favorite thing in the world is running into people I know and getting into conversations, which happens a lot more here than in the expanse of LA. Tom, the owner told me about a bocce ball league at a local micro brewery, which excites me a lot. It’s not until the spring, but I don’t have much right now.
Alright, let’s try this out. Last week I read a piece from The Atlantic that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. The piece was written by a University of Iowa professor, Stephen Bloom, describing Iowa to outsiders who are interested in the state’s role as an important player in the presidential nominating process. The piece has been a lightning rod to Iowans in and out of the state. It’s been all over my Facebook news feed, and in Iowa newspapers.
There have been a lot of responses, that have probably said it all, but I was talking to a friend of mine from Iowa, who suggested I write a response. I’m self deluded enough to think that I should take a shot at it as well.
Honestly, even if you don’t have any ties to Iowa, it’s worth the read.
For full disclosure, I am from Iowa. I grew up in Iowa City, the liberal college town, where Bloom has lived for 20 years. I went to the University of Iowa, graduated with a Communications degree, then lived for a couple of years in a small, mostly farming, town. So, I’ve lived in both a liberal city, and rural Iowa, and I am definitely biased, things that need to be said. However, I think it takes someone from Iowa to respond. If the piece was written about New Hampshire, I suppose I would take the writer at face value, and wouldn’t have the knowledge to take any umbrage with particular points. Also, I’m an ex-pat. Since moving from Iowa, I’ve lived in New York City, Missouri, Los Angeles, and internationally. Currently, I’m back in Missouri, but I will forever consider myself an Iowan.
Respect and Fair Points
I loved Bloom’s books on Postville and Oxford. I found them really intriguing. So much so, that I thought, “This can’t be the same guy that wrote the beautifully nuanced look at diversity in Postville, can it?” I think he is a great writer. He is a guy who has published books. I just have a blog. I love it that he’s spent so much time in Iowa City, my hometown. We could share gripes about the timing of the stoplights on Burlington Street, a subject only locals could relate to. I like that. I can also appreciate the culture shock of moving from San Fransisco to Iowa. I’ve moved a variety of places and I even had intra-Iowa culture shock when I moved from Iowa City to Traer, the small farming community. I can definitely recognize that his experience would be different and more drastic than mine and that even after 20 years, it would still feel a little different. He gets the benefit of the doubt on all that.
I’m also in Bloom’s corner on some of the responses to his piece. Apparently, he has received threatening e-mails in response to his piece, which is never appropriate, especially in this case. If he starts his piece with an unfortunate Obama quote about rural America clinging to guns (and religion), and then gets responses that are physically threatening, I can’t help but think, “Guys, stop it, you’re not helping things.” Another common response is something to the effect of, “If you hate Iowa so much, why don’t you just leave?” I don’t think that’s fair, as there are so many factors that play into where a person lives, and I don’t think he said anything about disliking his personal experience of living in Iowa. I’m sure he’s a great and interesting guy.
In addition, there are some negatives about Iowa that Bloom discusses that are fair and unfortunately true. They’re hard for Iowans to look at and acknowledge, not because Iowa is different, but because Iowa is the same, people just don’t like to look at negative truths about themselves, and some responses have reflected that. Along those lines, I don’t buy into the coastal elitism, or professorial elitism as a major divider. I’ve lived enough places to know that people are, if not the same, strikingly similar. Yes, I’ve had to explain to people on both coasts where Iowa is and how it differs from Ohio and Idaho, but elitism? I don’t know if it’s a defining characteristic. Individuals are elite, large people groups are a mixed bag. I’m sure there are people from New York that are, and I’m sure there are professors who are, but it’s not a fair broad stroke.
University of Iowa president, Sally Mason wrote a thoughtful response to his piece, which she started by saying that she disagrees with his opinion and he doesn’t speak for the University of Iowa. She also says, “…the Iowa I see is one of strong, hard-working and creative people. In this cynical world that can harden even the greatest optimist, the citizens of Iowa continue to believe.” That is great, and probably true. However, to respond to a negative generality with a positive generality, is still swimming in the realm of generalities. It’s a little bit like saying, “I disagree that all oranges are hard to peel with seeds, I think they’re all juicy and nutritious.” They’re both true, it’s just choosing a positive generality over a negative one. The issue is with forming definitive conclusions based generalities on the whole.
I’ve also read a lot of letters to the editor about people taking issue with particular anecdotes Bloom shared. They counter his anecdotes with their own anecdotes that paint a rosier picture. We could trade anecdotes until we’re blue in the face and not get anywhere. Have you ever done that with someone? It’s exhausting and by the end you’ve only managed to reinforce your opinion while convincing no one. I would argue that Iowans are all of those things, and that’s what makes it great, and in fact, that’s what makes it a fine place for the first caucuses each election.
With all of that said, let’s dive in.
The tone and linguistic choices of the piece are my biggest gripe. Bloom seems to go out of his way to paint things negatively. There are negatives and there are positives in Iowa, and Bloom seemed to mostly focus on the negatives. However, beyond that, it’s his choice of language that is the most troubling. It points to an intentionality.
“Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that ‘The sun’ll come out tomorrow.’”
You can’t tell me that the illustrative language of “waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth,” isn’t entirely intentional. If you want to be taken seriously as a journalist informing the rest of the nation of the state of Iowa you don’t choose those words. It’s like if you have a friend that is single, an impartial thing they might say about their singleness is, “I don’t know, I just haven’t found that many women I’m attracted to.” It would be altogether different to say, “I’m surrounded by girls who are either fat, or are ugly, or are an assortment of vomit breathed unibrowed hairy beasts.” No one likes that friend. That friend clearly doesn’t respect women. That friend loses all validity on future discussions of the issue of dating. That is exactly what Bloom did to himself time and again in this piece. How can I read what you say next as a serious journalist when you have so obvious an axe to grind?
My point is, the words didn’t happen, he made choices, choices that point to an active disrespect of the people he is writing about.
In a short response to the fallout, Bloom said, “Good journalism isn’t just reporting. It’s making observations, trying to make sense out of the world and its shadows — even if readers don’t agree with those observations.” I would contend that Bloom went further than “observations,” and readers aren’t disagreeing with the heart of his observations, they’re disagreeing with the malice and intentionality behind the tone of his words.
When Bloom’s language wasn’t overt, it was deceptively ambiguous.
“In this land, deep within America, on Friday nights it’s not unusual to take a date to a Tractor Pull or to a Combine Demolition Derby…”
“It’s not unusual,” is an example of the linguistic tightrope he often walks. I imagine that Bloom would argue that, strictly speaking, it’s “not unusual,” okay, but it’s rare, exceedingly rare. In all of my Iowa years, I never heard of anyone doing that. Does it occasionally happen? I’m certain it does. But man, that sounds like an awful date. If I had had that notion when planning a date, my dating life would have been worse than it already was, and I wouldn’t have even known where to find a Tractor Pull, Plus, I’ve never even heard of a Combine Demolition Derby. I just took dates to a movie, you know, like they do, everywhere else.
In reference to Obama’s “clinging to guns and religion” quote, Bloom said:
“I imagine many in the rural Midwest must have said a variation of this — “Whaddaya expect from a Harvard-educated, black city slicker who wouldn’t know a John Deere tractor from an International Harvester combine?”
Sure, many in the rural Midwest may have said that, depending on what you’re idea of many is. Those of you from outside of Iowa, I beg of you to hear me when I say, nearly no one in Iowa speaks like they’re on Green Acres. Bloom portrays caricatures, journalists portray real life characters. I can’t say that no one said that, or some nearby variation, but Bloom presented it as though it is so easy to imagine that sentiment because it is so prevalent. “City slicker?” Come on, the last time someone said that was in reference to Curly’s gold.
“Hunting accidents are common, perhaps spurred by the elixir of alcohol, which seems to be the drink of choice whenever a man suits up in camo or orange overalls.”
Hunting accidents are common, okay, sure, they happen, I’ll buy that, but then, Bloom starts in with his purposefully leading language. Perhaps spurred by the elixir of alcohol? Which seems to be the drink of choice whenever a man suits up…” I’m not going to argue that alcohol doesn’t play a tragic role in some hunting accidents, but Bloom slyly moves from alcohol playing a part in accidents to alcohol “whenever” a man goes hunting. Anyone can use that language to direct people to erroneous conclusions. Car accidents are common, perhaps spurred by the elixir of alcohol, which seems to be the drink of choice whenever a man straps on a seatbelt and driving gloves. That wording would make you think that most car accidents are due to alcohol, which we all know is not true.
I have every reason to believe that Bloom is an excellent professor, that’s partly what surprises me. His use of language is either lazy, you could find out what the reported rate of alcohol involvement is in hunting accidents, purposefully leading, to fit into a larger point of the other worldliness of Iowa, is dishonest, or is a mix of all three. I would imagine that Professor Bloom would harshly grade journalist Bloom in terms of journalistic integrity on this piece.
Here are some other nuggets:
“…and boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as “Bud.”
I will buy that if “Bud” is followed by a comma and the phrase, “in the 1920s.” In my life, my grandpa’s nickname was Bud, and almost nobody else this side of the Greatest Generation.
“The reason everyone seems related in small-town Iowa is because, if you go back far enough, many are, either by marriage or birth.”
That is entirely misleading. If you go back far enough, and many are the troubling words here. What is your definition of many? How far back are you going? These are simplistic and easy words used to attempt to clothe a naked stereotype.
“Bar fights might not be weekly occurrences, but neither are they infrequent activities.”
Somewhere between weekly and infrequent, you know, the same place that wars exist, and Batman movie releases, and dental cleanings. It’s a sentence that says nothing, other than, “I would like you to believe bar fights happen more often in Iowa than where you live.” Yes, if you take the totality of all the bars in Iowa, I’m sure that statement is true, but it’s just as true in every other state.
“Almost every Iowa house has a mudroom, so you don’t track mud or pig shit into the kitchen or living room, even though the aroma of pig shit is absolutely venerated in Iowa: It’s known to one and all here as “the smell of money.”
On this one, Bloom speaks in absolutes, saying the aroma of pig shit is absolutely venerated and it’s known to one and all as the smell of money, so I can answer in an absolute. No. When Iowans are driving in the country and they smell pig shit, they say, “Close the window, it smells like pig shit.”
“Religion is the glue that binds everyone, whether they’re Catholic, Lutheran, or Presbyterian. You can’t drive too far without seeing a sign for JESUS or ABORTION IS LEGALIZED MURDER.”
I believe it is true that more Iowans identify as religious than the national average. Fair enough. Again, it’s the not the idea so much as it is the language and vague anecdotes he chooses to use. “You can’t drive too far” gives the impression that it is frequent, when in fact, that is not my impression. I can confirm that I’ve seen anti abortion signs, but it is far from frequent, as Bloom suggests. It would seem that this rare example is presented as common in an attempt to say that Iowa is different, radically so.
That’s what gets me. Bloom rests on stereotypes and leading language to paint Iowa in the color of “other.” It rings of a tired and hack political move, paint the other candidate as “other” and “different” to diminish their trustworthiness. Fine, maybe that was his point, he can write that, but you can’t write that under the guise of informed impartiality and not expect people in the know to react. The thing is, as Bloom points out, he should know better than the easy, overplayed stereotypes, he’s lived in Iowa for 20 years. Iowans are used to the dumb, farmer hick stereotypes from people outside of Iowa. That’s the thing, it seems like this piece was written by a journalist who traveled through Iowa a few times, maybe covering the caucuses, not someone who has lived there for so long.
Indeed, Iowa is homogeneous racially. In an ever diversifying country, that’s a negative, but it doesn’t mean that the mostly white people of Iowa lack the ability to see outside of themselves and their demographic. In fact, it was Iowa who first sent an African American on the historic road to the White House, which is an easy fact to access, arguably easier than the fictionalized Iowan voice Bloom conjures, saying, “black city slicker.”
I would argue that Iowa is not that radically different, especially when it comes to deciding the president. Here are the general election (not caucuses) numbers from Iowa in the last 4 elections:
2008 Obama: 54% McCain: 44%
2004 Bush: 50% Kerry: 49%
2000 Gore: 49% Bush: 48%
1996 Clinton: 50% Dole: 40%
In other words, Iowa voted the same (popular vote) as the United States on the whole in each of those elections. Having lived in Iowa, and nearby Missouri, I can tell you that, amongst people I know, there is a difference in political involvement during the primary season. I don’t think this is due to any difference fundamentally in the people, so much as the date of the respective caucus and primary. Missouri’s primary is in February, and in my experience, Missourians I know aren’t as vested in the Missouri primary (probably due in large part to the amount of time candidates spend in Missouri) as Iowans I know are in the Iowa caucuses. Again, Missourians are great and care, the larger point is that the caucus is a big deal in Iowa that people take very seriously, it’s a point of pride that it’s the first state, and people I know treat it with great responsibility. My rurally rooted, not just waiting to die, grandmother spends a great deal of time hearing candidates speak in order to form a well informed opinion. Is Iowa flawed as the first state to hold caucuses each year? Sure, fair point, but which state isn’t? I think the best you can hope for in the first state is that state’s population taking the responsibility seriously, which Iowa does.
I won’t go into Bloom’s manufactured connection between the secular colloquialism “come to Jesus talk,” equally used many places outside of Iowa, to point to the prevalence of religion in Iowa. I won’t talk about his lack of acknowledgement of differences between Iowa City and the rest of Iowa, or his dig on Iowa City based on his first impression, when 1/3rd of the population (students) were gone over spring break. I won’t go into his label of Keokuk as a “crime infested slum town,” or a host of other colorful descriptions, you get it.
I want to end the way Bloom ended his piece. To end, Bloom described getting a yellow lab, Hannah, as a family dog.
Then, he concluded:
Our son, of course, got tired of Hannah after a couple of months, and to whom did the daily obligation of walking the dog fall?
That’s right. To me.
And here’s the point: I can’t tell you how often over the years I’d be walking Hannah in our neighborhood and someone in a pickup would pull over and shout some variation of the following:
“Bet she hunts well.”
“Do much hunting with the bitch?”
“Where you hunt her?”
To me, it summed up Iowa. You’d never get a dog because you might just want to walk with the dog or to throw a ball for her to fetch. No, that’s not a reason to own a dog in Iowa. You get a dog to track and bag animals that you want to stuff, mount, or eat.
That’s the place that may very well determine the next U.S. president.
I trust that those things did happen to Bloom, and I guess I’ve seen hunting dogs before, they’re definitely out there. Yet, every person, every family, every friend I know has gotten a dog for the very same reason that Bloom did, “because you might just want to walk with the dog or to throw a ball for her to fetch.” Okay, I guess I have one friend who had a hunting preserve on his land that had dogs for hunting. Outside of him, I don’t know anyone who has a purely hunting dog. I don’t have one mounted animal, and I get most of my meat in slices, which come from unnatural loaves, grossly overly processed, like most Americans. Bloom could have used his slippery language to say “most” or “many” in his talk of dog ownership, instead he decided to go a step further and just include all Iowans in his statements. Then, he uses that, his biggest leap yet, to hammer home his point that it is this backwards place that may determine our next U.S. president. Any semblance of journalistic integrity went out the window in favor of sensationalism.
As I said, I have a ton of respect for Bloom, I just have major misgivings about his piece. I can’t argue his experiences, but I can argue his tone and conclusions. If he and I were to have a “write-off,” the guy would crush me. If he and I were to grab a drink together, I would like it. I just can’t fathom why a man with his reputation would have written such a tired, purposefully stereotypical opinion piece under the guise of a fair, evenhanded, insider documentation of Iowa.
Previous to that, Bloom gave his list of things people have shouted out truck windows to him while he walked his dog. I would like to give a specific retort from my own life. You see, I too had a dog in Iowa, that, I too, would occasionally walk. I’m going to try this, like Bloom, where, if you start it with “I can’t tell you how often,” then you can say whatever you want, no matter how infrequent the occurrences.
And here’s the point: I can’t tell you how often over the years I’d be walking Mugsy in our neighborhood and someone in a pickup would pull over and shout some variation of the following:
“Can you help me with directions? I’m late for a MENSA meeting.”
“Do much cuddling with your dog? She looks like a cuddler. Dogs are great for that.”
“Your dog is pooping in my yard, you’d better clean that up. I have a nice small yard in this neighborhood, that is not unlike any other neighborhood in America, and I take pride in things, including my yard. You can understand, I had a long day at work, I’m going to go inside and get caught up on the news of the day, kiss my wife, and not plan a hunting trip for this weekend. I respect people who hunt, I just don’t do it personally.”
To me, it summed up Iowa, you’d rarely get a dog just to hunt. No, that’s not a reason to get a dog in Iowa. You get a dog for a variety of reasons.
That’s the place that may very well determine the next U.S. president.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
From 1997-2010 I was without a job for about 6 months total. In 2011, I’ve been without a job for about 6 months. What does this teach me? One, 6 months in 13 years? I’ve been trying too hard. Two, this year has taught me a lot about filling my time when none of it belongs to The Man. Certainly, not having a job is no vacation, because on a vacation you don’t think about money, it’s your time to splurge. When you’re unemployed, you think about money every step of the way.
Activities for the Unemployed
-Look for a job. Of course, I had to get the obvious and boring one out of the way.
-Day bowling. This is my plan with my friend, Jeff, for the next week. At first it seems sad, but when you think about it…nevermind…it still sounds sad.
-Puzzles. You loved them when you were a kid. Start with the edges, end with the sky pieces.
-Write that novel you’ve always been thinking about. Stett Brockton, hero CPA, needs to have his story told. The W-9 gang needs to be taken down. You have a great idea, you have the time, now make it happen.
-Crafts. When I was a kid, we had a Things to Do Box for rainy days. Find some odds and ends around the house, locate some Scotch tape and some Elmer’s glue, put them together and you have a sculpture. If you have a spouse, or a roommate, they’re guaranteed to love it.
-Prank phone calls. Sure people can see your phone number now, so pranking ain’t what it used to be, but when they call you back, you can keep it going. Accuse them of pranking you. They’ll think to themselves, “This person sounds like a grown man, maybe they’re right, maybe I am the one who pranked them. An adult wouldn’t do this.” Boom, you’ve won.
-See how high you can count.
-Learn an employable skill. Just kidding, that’s boring.
-Blog about your days. You can fool yourself that it matters.
-Turn your yard into a golf course. Golfing is expensive, digging your own holes is not.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
You guys, I’m so far behind on this blog. I’ve decided that I want no part of thinking the past week. It has been kind of odd, this coming home thing. My life here before was filled with things. I had 40 hours of work, The Mystery Hour, So There I Was Storytelling Series, improv shows, being married, having friends, and lots of different things. What I used to know in Springfield was busyness. For now, I’ve got being married and having friends. It is different. I’m sure that soon enough, busyness will settle in and everything will be back to normal.
The people I know here are still the same people doing the same things, I just don’t quite fit as snuggly as before. I say that not because I’ve changed or anything, although I probably have, or that people here aren’t doing fun and exciting things, it’s more the belongingness factor. I extricated myself from belongingness, and now that I’m back I don’t immediately fit back into the same spots. Is belongingness as important as anything? It will come, I just don’t have a spot, I’m kind of floating.
I feel like I time traveled and experienced a lot of time passing, and I’ve come back to real life where no time as passed. I’ve had to get my parents together, had my mom kiss me, played guitar at prom, met my future self, used a self drying jacket and a hoverboard, had a pie pan save my life when a cowboy shot at me in front of my Irish ancestor. Then, I come home and most everything is the same, but Biff is washing my truck? It doesn’t quite gel.
Monday, December 12, 2011
So, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to respond to all of the comments on my “20 Things You Want to Hear a Christian Say” post. My first instinct was to respond to each of them individually, but 175 comments later, I gave up on that idea. That post alone is responsible for about 35% of my page views for the entirety of my blog, and it’s linked to a lot of message boards and forums with countless more comments. The thing actually went viral, as they say. I wrote it mostly out of the desire for my perspective to be heard, a perspective that I feel is shared by a lot more people than you might first guess.
Let me first say, the vast majority of the comments were awesome, enlightening, and fascinating, even the critical ones. I loved it.
I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see people say, “I’m an atheist, and I loved this post,” or “I’m a Christian, and you said what I’ve wanted to say.” It excited me because it reflected real life to me. In real life, I have friends that are both, and we get along great. In fact, I don’t really ever categorize them outside of the label of “friend.” Truthfully, I think that is, for me at least, because the distinctive lines between the categories of atheist and Christian aren’t actually so distinctive. To be totally honest, a certain percentage of the time my thoughts are fairly atheistic, another percentage of the time, they’re agnostic, and the vast majority of the time they’re Christian. The point is that I’m probably best at overanalyzing and doubting more than anything. I don’t mean that just in my faith, I just doubt a lot of things, mostly my own decisions, it’s just in my nature. I wish I wasn’t that, but I am. Most of us are more complicated than easy labels. So, if an atheist says something about how they feel about faith, or Christianity, I think, “Yeah, I can relate to that,” just as I can relate to agnostics and to Christians. I don’t think that ruins me as a Christian. Plus, I’m squarely postmodern, so I just always cringe at labels generally. (See what I did there? I put myself in a label to distinguish myself as someone who doesn’t like labels). Often, labels aren’t so much about what they are semantically named as much as they are about fitting someone else under the umbrella of “other.” That is where labeling gets troubling in my book.
That paragraph kind of scares me, it feels a little too honest…maybe that’s our problem. We aren’t very honest about our doubts. There’s so much pressure to have a hard and fast opinion all the time, which squeezes honesty out. A person having a humility-less, hard and fast opinion all the time reads to me as false, I can’t relate. What are they hiding? Why are they hiding it? I tend to tune out strong opinions, but am inspired by doubts spoken by thoughtful, humble people. Communicate your humility to me and I will listen to whatever you want to say next.
Unrelenting, forceful, compassionless opinions have the opposite effect.
Those sentiments tend to thrive in comments sections and message boards online. The comments spanned the spectrum on my “20 Things…” post. The vast majority were awesome and fascinating. The posts started out really reasonable and then ventured into argumentative at times. I get it and I don’t get it at the same time.
If your point is to make it known what your opinion is, then typing it out and proclaiming it as unequivocally as possible makes sense. Essentially saying, “Screw you, this is what I believe!” That’s all well and good, your point is made, and you’ve probably held to your principle of never compromising the fervor with which you believe something.
Now, on the other hand, if your goal is to be effective in convincing another person of your belief, then that is the opposite of what you want to do, right? When I read a “Screw you, this is what I believe” type of a post, I completely tune it out. I feel like much of the time I am reading comments, they are written under the guise of, “I would like to convince you of my side of this argument,” but come across as clearly a “Screw you, this is what I believe” post.
Here’s why I get strongly worded comments. One, it is easy to read someone rebuking your thinking and instinctively want to fire back. Two, if someone questions our thoughts on religion, the afterlife, our understanding of how the world works, and declares them wrong, then it feels like they are calling out the wrongness of our person, at our core. I think it is more than understandable to be worked up about that, it would be hard not to. It is hard to overcome our core being hurt and offended.
Here’s why I don’t get strongly worded comments. I’ve never once been convinced of anything by reading someone’s strongly worded opinion.
I enjoy reading opinion pieces, they’ll open me up to a new way of thinking, and I even fancy myself a writer, so I have to give it validity. However, there is a limitation inherent in the medium.
I’ll only truly let my own beliefs be open to convincing if I feel like I’m first understood, validated, and respected.
For me, it is nearly impossible for that to happen online, and in the written word. Being understood, validated, and respected mostly involves listening. That almost always has to be in person, in a discussion. Commenting back and forth online is just two people talking.
A couple weeks ago, when I was still in LA, Michelle and I were having a “marital discussion,” or as it is more commonly known, an argument. Michelle’s phone died, so we moved to Facebook chat. Dumb move. There was a lot of “what’s that supposed to mean?” and “what do you mean by that?” We made a rule that we won’t be doing that on Facebook chat anymore. It was probably partly due to my idiocy, but also because you just can’t effectively communicate like that, especially if there are emotions involved.
Back to my earlier point, if your goal is to be effective, I question whether that can be accomplished well in a comment section argument. To my Christian friends, does God want ineffective compassionless opinion shouters? To my atheist friends, would reason dictate that screaming opinions is an effective way to get others to stop screaming opinions?
It is fairly understood that communication is 90% nonverbal. Yet, too often, we ignore that, only placing value on the verbal. Again, I think it comes down to effectiveness. Angrily saying, “I believe in a loving God that forgives and is full of grace,” is wholly ineffective when the subtext is, “I don’t respect that you could possibly have a valid contrary opinion!” I would argue that the subtext is louder than the text in those instances. I would also argue that the subtext is the opposite of grace. Astoundingly, you’re verbally (or through written word) saying, “I believe in a loving God that forgives and is full of grace,” while through tone, context, and non-verbals saying, “I do not believe you should receive love or grace!” You’re whispering the former, and shouting the latter. Which do people hear? Everything except what you’re saying.
I love discussions. I love sitting around and talking, and asking questions, and listening. I love hearing people’s perspectives. I love opinions. I love the process of forming my own. However, opinions that don’t have any room for humility or listening get in the way of true discussions and devolve into something altogether different where there is your side and there is the “other.” That altogether different place is the thing I have trouble with.
Also, the point at which you invoke the name Hitler is the point that everything to follow is invalidated in my opinion. It doesn’t matter how valid your point is. Your next point could be about how your puppy is adorable and I will think, “Nope. No way, I don’t believe it. Your puppy is not cute. You are not a believable person.”
The real end.
Also, a note. There is one of the 20 Things I would like to rephrase. I wrote: “I honestly don’t know if the Founding Fathers were setting up America as a Christian nation, that was a long time ago, all we have are hints on either side. If we are a Christian nation, then based on how we act, like me, we do a pretty good job of hiding it at times. The Founding Fathers did give us freedom of religion and I think that’s good enough.”
In my opinion, America was set up to have freedom of religion, not to be a Christian nation. The way I worded it didn’t say that well, though. I was trying to establish respectful common ground with people who do believe that it was set up as a Christian nation in order to get to a larger point. I guess I meant that I have a hard time speculating what was individually happening inside the heads of these men 235 years later. I think that freedom of religion has greater benefits for Christians, and society on the whole, than any advantage that could be gained from any kind of established religion. I respect people who think differently than that, I just don’t really agree.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
When I ran cross country in high school, I was on good teams. I was an okay runner, with a lot of really good runners ahead of me. Our coach, “Bud,” was as old school as they came. There wasn’t so much a formula, or strategy of running hard some days, and running easy on others to best grow endurance. It was just a matter of running hard everyday. His approach worked as teams were really successful and lots of people were on the team. I mostly just remember two different things he said specifically. One, he said, “If someone tries to pass you in the chute (after the finish line), boys, you just grab them by the yin yang. And girls, just elbow them in the nipple. Now, I’m just a guy, but I know that hurts.” My friends and I still talk about that. He couldn’t have gotten away with saying that if he wasn’t an old timer, and he couldn’t have gotten away with it today, either.
The other thing I remember is more applicable to me today. He trained us to always “run through the hill.” A cross country course is often hilly, and one of the things that separated our team was running through the hill. When you’re in a race and you’re going up a hill, all you can think about is the hill ending and getting a chance to finally relax at the top of it. So, your natural inclination is to slow down your effort at the top. Running through the hill means keeping that same level of effort after you’ve reached the top. What then happens is you pass the people who see the top as a chance to relax. After a bit, you realize that you didn’t need that time to relax, you can maintain a good pace without slowing down and revving back up.
I feel like right now I have to keep running through the hill.
The hill was my entire LA adventure, and the temptation is to relax now that I’m home. However, the adventure isn’t done. I still need a job. I still need to figure out a balance between job and writing/acting/hosting/improvising. My inclination is to slow down, but I think I’ll be better for continuing the pace.
Now, if life fights back, I know that I can also just grab it by the yin yang.