Category Archives: Movies

The best movie I’ve seen twice in a long time.

I often complain in my classes about the state of movies. Specifically, I echo many other pretentious people like me in their complaints about how hard it is to find a movie in the theater that I want to go see. Instead, my Century and Cinemark and AMC are loaded with comic book movies, tired remakes, or a story about something that’s haunted (a doll, a house, a Polaroid camera, etc.). I get on my soapbox, make my complaint, and continue with my lecture about Emerson or rhetoric. I get it: I’m a cliche English professor, and I am not that original.

There are lots of problems with this too-sure-of-himself professor complaining about movies, but the one that sticks out the most to me is that I have recently realized that my complaints are simply wrong. Yes, my theaters are loaded with movies that I do not want to see, but there are also LOTS of movies that fit my narrow definition of “good” and “worthwhile.” People are still making great movies, just like people are still writing great books and poems and songs. It’s easy to say that Hollywood has sold out, but it’s also lazy and, to be honest, disrespectful to the people out there that are still telling great stories through film. I saw lots of great movies in the past couple of months–more than enough to prove myself wrong. They weren’t all in the theater, but plenty of them were. Here’s a list:

Paterson (on Amazon Prime):

A Ghost Story (on Amazon Prime):

The Big Sick (on Amazon Prime):

The Disaster Artist (in the theater):

The Post (in the theater):

I enjoyed all of these movies for different reasons. Collectively, they offer everything that I look for in movies. Some are serious, others hilarious, others confusing and frustrating, and all of them are well-made and captivating. I loved watching all of them, and I recommend them to anyone.

But there’s one movie in particular that I saw that convinced me more than any other that my complaints about comic book movies are nothing more than distractions from what I should be spending my time on: finding and seeing movies that are meaningful. The best movie I saw in 2017 (and again in 2018) is without a doubt, hands down, Lady Bird.

I cannot say enough about how much I love this movie. I found myself laughing throughout the entire thing, out loud, which is not normal for me, but I also was totally invested emotionally. It’s hilarious, but that humor is matched with serious, deep emotion. There are serious things in this movie, but the movie does not take itself too seriously. It’s organic in the same way that Manchester by the Sea was, but it’s a much more enjoyable viewing experience. I don’t know how else to put it other than it simply feels real. All of the notes that it aims for it hits in perfect tune. The relationships are authentic, the conflicts are all-too-realistic, and the overall tone is one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I’ve never been a teenage girl, but I am convinced that Lady Bird‘s depiction of this experience is the best ever captured on film. It doesn’t miss a beat.

There’s a line in the movie where Lady Bird is talking to her teacher, who tells her that she writes about her hometown (Sacramento) with such love. Lady Bird reacts flippantly, saying that she simply pays attention. The teacher responds, “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?” What a simple, beautiful thought.

It’s so good. If it’s playing in your town, go see it. If you don’t end up liking it, don’t tell me.

This movie will win Best Picture at the Academy Awards in March. It’s better than Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s not even close. Ronan and Metcalf should win statues, too. And Gerwig. Basically, it should win everything except for costumes and music and the technical ones.

– – – – – – – – – –

Once you get done seeing Lady Bird, I also suggest reading this book:

Image result for go went gone

Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated into English in 2017)

This is a German novel (didn’t realize that when I bought it) about a retired professor in Berlin that gets personally attached and caught up in the refugee crisis. The storytelling is much different than what I am used to, and there were times where I wasn’t sure what I thought about it. But once I got traction, I was into it. It’s a book about important things, and the message it conveys is one that needs to be heard. As a lifelong Texan teaching at a small university, I have absolutely zero understanding of the refugee experience or of what is going on around the world with refugees. This book didn’t change that, but it made me much more aware of my ignorance, and it posed questions that, frankly, I was not prepared to answer. It seems to me like this is what all great books should do.

Cheers to a new semester.


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I forgot I had a blog.

Luckily, I remembered.

The best part of forgetting you have a blog? And not posting anything for over a year? You can actually read your old posts with a sense of distance, which is basically impossible to do while you are in the mode of actually writing them. Weirdly, I stumbled back upon my old blog and read through a few posts as if I wasn’t aware that I was the one that wrote them. Of course, this me of 2015 is not the same me of 2017. [Imagine a few sentences here about ontology, Freud, and various psychological studies concerning views of the self]. There are some parts of my old posts at which I cringe, with the stereotypical “Why’d I say that” reaction, but there are others where I am quite fond of my writing. But this is to be expected, and even though a year away offers a certain degree of objectivity, I’m still biased towards myself. That’s what a blog like this is for, I believe.

Things have happened since my last post in 2015:

  • I finished my first full year as a tenure-track professor. I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed that first year, and I am enjoying this second year even more. I know that at some point in the future (assuming I keep my job and higher education doesn’t totally collapse, a possibility some of my colleagues would argue is more realistic than you might think), I will become disillusioned with the job, bitter at my administrators, and outright curmudgeonly. But I’m not there yet, and I still get excited before each class, anticipate the conversations I get to have with students, and simply look forward to going to work every day.
  • I bought a house. It’s small, it’s old, and it’s simple. In other words, it’s exactly what I wanted. When you buy a house in November in Texas, I feel as if you get a 6-month deferment until you actually have to deal with the challenges of owning a home; specifically, growing grass and rising temperatures. So far things have been smooth and stress-free, minus some ants in my kitchen and a front door that sticks. The biggest challenge of being a new homeowner is that this is my first time to live alone. That might be a surprising thing for a 30-year old to say; nevertheless, I’m just now learning what it is to literally be alone. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it yet, to be honest.
  • I met someone. We got engaged. I’m now married.
  • The Cowboys won a Divisional round playoff game and are playing in the NFC Championship game for the first time since I was a small child.
  • Donald Trump was elected president.
  • Unfortunately, the only of the last three statements that is true is the most frightening and seemingly-impossible of the three. And when you consider the other two, that’s a telling statement.

Anyone reading this blog (which now is probably no one, considering my long absence) doesn’t need updates about me, so I’ll stop there. I’d rather spend a few moments talking about books I’ve read and things I’ve watched on various screens. Rather than give detailed responses about each, I’ll instead provide two lists of memorable titles from the past year or so, in ascending order of quality. In other words, I’ll start with my least favorites and end with my favorites.  *This doesn’t mean that numbers 2, 3, and 4 are things I didn’t like; it just means that I didn’t like them as much as numbers 5-10. For example, I really, really liked Underground Railroad, The Nix, and Hell or High Water; but I liked 1Q84 and Moonlight much more.

Things I’ve read:

  1. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
  2. Swing Time by Zadie Smith
  3. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  4. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  5. The Nix by Nathan Hill
  6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (first time to read it)
  7. The Catcher in the Rye (first time since high school)
  8. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  9. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (second reading–so amazingly good)
  10. The Sellout by Paul Beatty (this text stuck with me as much as any text ever has; what a reading experience)

Things I’ve seen on screens:

  1. Batman vs. Superman (so, so, so bad)
  2. Hail, Ceasar! (not as bad as it’s proximity to the title above may suggest, but towards the bottom for me in terms of Coen brothers films)
  3. Westworld (meh; so many better options out there for AI, alternative realities, Westerns, and HBO drama series)
  4. The Revenant (I have complete respect for the ridiculous effort it took for all involved for this film to turn out how it did, but I have no desire to ever see it again)
  5. Hell or High Water
  6. The Night Manager
  7. Love (Netflix series)
  8. Moonlight
  9. Manchester by the Sea
  10. It’s a Wonderful Life (I sat down last Christmas eve and watched the entire NBC broadcast, commercials and all, and I can honestly say that I had totally forgotten how perfect this movie is. I almost cried many, many times)

I think that pretty much sums up my last 14 months or so. Teaching, reading, homeowning, and watching. Lots of golf, too. And food.

Teaser titles for upcoming blog posts:

“Pet Peeves: Updated and Expanded”

“Places to Get Decent Beer and Unexpected Culture in Abilene, TX”

“My Case Against TruckNutz: A Manifesto”

“‘Why I Quit Social Media’ and other musings from an adult life lived in 21st century America”

“CDs that I’ve listened to at least 100 times”

“Why Dairy Queen is better than Braums: A Qualitative Study”


I’m sure you can’t wait.

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11 Years Later: Life as a Professor Begins

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. Not that anyone has been asking about it or wondering where my blogself has been. And I really haven’t even thought about it at all in the past few months. Instead I’ve been, well, figuring out the basics of what it means to be a college professor. So far I feel like I’ve somehow simultaneously learned tons and nothing at all. There are days when I feel as if I don’t belong, as if someone is going to walk into my office and finally reveal that they’ve called my bluff and that, in fact, I really am not a professor. There are days when I truly don’t know how I’m going to get all of the prep and grading done, or at least how I’m going to be able to do it in any sort of effective, responsible way. And there are days when I still feel like a student. I see groups of people that remind me of my friends when I was a student on this same campus, and my instinct is to walk over and join them in whatever conversation they are having about boring classes, lunch options, or weekend plans. And then I have to remind myself that I’m actually supposed to be teaching these students and that, rather than being another face in the classroom looking to the professor for learning, I’m actually the face that’s supposed to be providing the teaching. It’s crazy. But there are just as many days when the routine of classes, meetings, lunches, workshops, and office hours seems almost normal, as if this is simply the way my life has always been. And, really, I guess that’s pretty much true. Although the amount of time and pressure has increased, my normal duties and activities are the same as they were when I was a graduate students. Lots of reading, writing, and thinking on a daily basis.

Beyond all of the minor details, there’s one thing that the past three months have convinced me of: I’m extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing. To have the chance to spend my days reading, writing, and thinking (like I said above) on a campus fundamentally based on the idea of community and relationships is something for which I am immensely grateful. Things happen on a small, liberal arts campus that don’t happen on other campuses, and I’m allowed–and even encouraged–to interact with my students on levels that simply aren’t possible other places. Is it perfect? No, it’s not. There are downsides to small campuses, and there are aspects of my own campus that are frustrating. But is it still an unbelievable opportunity for which I still get excited each day? No doubt.

I’m also learning that life away from the big city is particularly great for someone starting a new job like mine. Life in Abilene is smaller than life in Dallas. What I mean is that there are less things to take up time and energy. There are less people to see and interact with. Less miles and minutes to get somewhere. Less choices for places to eat. Some of these decreases are sad, such as now being hundreds of miles away from people that were so important to me for so long. This is an undeniable drawback to moving away from one place to another. But beyond the people, all I’ve really missed so far is Half Price Books and a few of my favorite DFW golf courses. But if missing these a bookstore and some golf courses means spending 90 minutes less per day in my car (and about 1/4 the amount of gasoline each month), then I think I’m okay with it. Amazingly that 90 minutes less per day in my car has actually ended up making my days feel so much longer. Even with a drastically increased work load in my new life, I’ve been able to find ample time to do something I wish I had done more in Dallas: read. I’ve read more novels in the past three months than I probably read in the past year combined, and I attribute this to the smaller life afforded by Abilene.

A list of books I’ve read since my move: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri; Purity by Jonathan Franzen; How to Be Alone (essays) and Further Away (essays) by Jonathan Franzen; Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle; The First Bad Man by Miranda July; Redeployment (stories) by Phil Klay; Self-Help (stories) by Lorrie Moore; Fortune Smiles (stories) by Adam Johnson; The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins; Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill; and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This reading binge has been great for many reasons, one of which is the fact that I’ve actually been able to incorporate portions of some of these texts into an upcoming class I’m teaching in the spring.

Many of these books were great, including All the Light We Cannot See, Purity, and Fortune Smiles. I wasn’t particularly fond of July’s novel, although there were aspects of the text that I found really intriguing and insightful. I also wasn’t that impressed by The Girl on the Train–it felt like I was re-watching Gone Girl. But my favorite might be the one I read most recently: Everything I Never Told You.

I hate talking about plots of books because I sincerely don’t like it when people spoil my own reading of novels by giving things away in flippant 30-second summaries. But Ng’s novel negates this potential problem, because she basically deflates the main potential point of plot-based suspense with her two opening sentences: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So rather than spend an entire novel creating a suspenseful journey leading ultimately to a climax, Ng’s novel unravels the story of Lydia’s family: her parents, her older brother Nath, and her younger sister Hannah. It’s a sometimes suspenseful but always gripping story about relationships, individual identity, ambition, failure, and loss. On a more general level, it’s a story about the nuances of familial relationships. It uncovers the ways in which seemingly mundane comments or facial expressions eventually transform into deeply-rooted bitterness, and how individual perceptions too often create ill-formed understandings of the people closest to us. It’s a quick and easy read, and now that I’ve finished it I’m amazed that Ng was able to pack so much emotion and raw coverage of interpersonal realities in such a short text. But I really enjoyed it, and while surface-level interpretations of the book will probably point towards its depiction of Asian American and biracial experiences, it ultimately is a book about how every person–regardless of race, gender, or background–deals with the constant tug-of-war between personal desire and societal expectation, and how this battle influences the individual psyche. My favorite line: “What made something precious? Losing it and finding it” (280). Ng has a direct bead on human emotion, and Everything I Never Told You will stick with me for awhile. It’s a book that makes you want to call the people you love and speak openly and honestly with them, and it simultaneously calls you to be open and honest with yourself.

– – – – – – – –

Other quick thoughts:

  1. The Martian (film) and Spectre were both big disappointments for me. As someone that read the former, Ridley Scott’s adaptation wasn’t horrible, but it failed to capture the magic of reading the book (i.e. the most common criticism of any adaptation ever). And the newest James Bond movie reminded me of the Pierce Brosnan era: horrible one-liners; overly-ridiculous sexual aspects; surface-level and stock characters (that weren’t there in Skyfall). I was really excited about Spectre, and when I walked out my reaction was similar to the one I had about The Dark Knight Rises: Make it one hour shorter and give me at least a little bit of dramatic substance that isn’t overwrought, and I would have loved it.
  2. Two TV series that I surprisingly loved: Catastrophe (Amazon) and Scrotal Recall (Netflix). On the surface neither of them are very promising (or publicized), and the latter might be the worst title of a show ever. But both series end up being quite heartfelt and, well, good. They also each only consist of around six 30-minute episodes, which makes them very easy to watch in a relatively short amount of time.
  3. KACU (ACU’s radio station) streams NPR all day long, and while I always listened to 91.7 in Dallas (the NPR music station), I was unfamiliar with the actual NPR broadcast. It’s fantastic. Fresh Air and All Things Considered are so good that I don’t know how I only just now started listening to them. And on the weekends, A Way with Words is my personal favorite. Yes, I get it: the English professor talking about how much he likes NPR is about as cliche as it gets. Oh well. In this category, I fit the cliche.

Now that the beginning madness of professor life has seemingly subsided, I hope to post more often. Until then, cheers to employment, colder weather, and the upcoming holiday season.

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Shopping Carts in Parking Lots

My last few posts have swayed more towards the serious side of things, so I figured I’d lighten it up a touch. With that in mind, here’s my most recent list of things that annoy me:

1) Empty ice trays

I am fortunate to live with people that are also my close friends. I’ve always been fortunate in this category. I’ve lived with 10-15 different people over the years, all of whom I consider my close friends. I’ve been Best Man in two of their weddings (soon to be three); I’ve traveled abroad with some of them; I’ve even been fortunate to live with my own brother. In other words, I consider myself extremely lucky so far in terms of who I’ve been able to live with.

But if you’ve every had roommates before, you know that at some point in time you find things about people that annoy, bother, or straight up anger you. Shoes left in the living room; dishes left uncleaned; music turned up too loud in the bathroom during a shower. I’ve heard people get mad about things like this, and usually I’m indifferent. But I’ve found my main roommate annoyance, and that’s whenever an ice tray is left unfilled. I don’t get it. You might be thinking, “Wait–people still use ice trays?” Yes, they do, especially when they live in an apartment that isn’t blessed with an icemaker. It’s not a problem; I actually like the intense, exhausting labor that is making your own ice. Trust me, it’s really not hard to do. And when I get home from a “rough” day of reading books and grading papers, I expect one thing: 1) there to be ice in the ice bucket. If not, then I have another expectation: 1a) I expect the ice trays to be full of water that is either frozen or is in the on-the-way-to-being-ice stage. These really should be the only two options. But, for some reason, I sometimes come home and find something else, which I’ll label as 2) Empty ice trays in the freezer serving absolutely no purpose. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to expect either 1) or 1a).

2) People that strand their used shopping carts in the parking lot.

This phenomenon is an embodiment of all things I see wrong in the world. Okay, that’s clearly an exaggeration. But seriously, leaving your cart in the lot is nothing less than pure selfishness. Every time I go buy groceries I see carts stranded in the parking lot. This creates extra work for grocery store employees that most likely are already underpaid and are undoubtedly under-appreciated, and it also isn’t efficient for shoppers as it leads to problems with re-stocking the in-store supply of available shopping carts. The worst? When someone leaves their cart directly in the middle of the adjacent parking spot. I’ve caught myself yelling horrendous profanities whenever I pull into a spot only to realize it’s already occupied by an empty shopping cart. A few weeks ago I witnessed firsthand a beautiful woman consciously make the decision to leave her cart in the lot. I saw her go through the moral dilemma of whether or not to return it to the designated “Shopping Carts Here” area, and she made the lazy decision to just leave it. I walked over and returned it for her, but not after making sure she saw me do so. She tried to withhold her shame, but I saw a glimmer of it in there somewhere.

To put it simply, I think it’s just a selfish thing to do, not to mention being extremely lazy. It’s another form of the “My time is more important than yours” sickness, closely related to the “I’m going to bypass this line of traffic in the shoulder and then eventually have to merge in at the front of the line thus creating longer waiting time for the people already in line” thought process. Both are equally worthy of profanity.

3) Rewinding VHSs. So what if I haven’t done this in 10+ years–it will always remain an annoyance to me.

4) The revision process.

I teach college composition courses, and a huge part of what I teach is the writing process. If you’ve taken a course like this then you’ve probably heard someone talk about how important revision is in this process. And I stand by this lesson: writing is, in fact, a process, and an irreplaceable step in this process is revision. Without revision, writers can’t find what needs to be better (something always needs to be better) and they can’t confront the uncomfortable admission that things need to be changed–an admission that must be made in order for writing to reach its potential. I teach this, and I teach it as often as I can.

But as a writer, I hate that it’s true. I hate the revision step, especially whenever the document you are revising is 215 pages long (give or take a few pages). Sure, there are moments when it hits you: “Hey–this part can be better,” or “Aha! I’ve got it!” But, for the most part, it usually feels like drudging through page after page, making sure that what I’ve written is good enough to suffice. I hate to admit that, but that’s how I feel most of the time. Of course there’s one great thing that revision means: the process is almost over.

5) Dating

It’s the worst. I wait longingly for the return of arranged marriages.

– – – – – – – –

On another note, here’s this post’s edition of “What to Read/What to See”:

Read: Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son (2013)

This is one of the more fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. It won the Pulitzer in 2013, and I feel like it will stand out amongst some of the recent winners as a book that finds a way to simultaneously cover a particular, current topic and also speak about broader, timeless aspects of the human experience. If that isn’t a good enough sales pitch, maybe this will be: it’s about North Korea. I don’t know much more about North Korea than the next person, but this book had me hooked from the first pages. The way that Johnson conveys an experience complete different from the one that I know–the experience of living in a world of political and intellectual captivity–is noteworthy, especially considering the fact that he’s from South Dakota. I have no idea if the North Korea he depicts is accurate or not, but I do know that his exemplification of the way that we tell ourselves stories in order to create an understanding of the world we live in is brilliant. This is, in essence, what the book is about: stories are how we make sense of our lives, but oftentimes these stories are made up for us–for good or for bad. As Johnson shows, it’s each person’s choice whether or not to believe the stories that we are told must define our lives.

See: Whiplash

I was on the way to see this movie in December when I got stuck in unexpected traffic, and I ended up having to wait until it came out on Netflix last week to see it. This type of movie is usually right up my alley, and Whiplash isn’t an exception. There were times when I was questioning whether or not I liked it, but it eventually clicked for me. I like Miles Teller, although I still see him as the goofy young guy from some of his previous movies; I think I need a few more roles like this from him before I really buy into it. J.K. Simmons was great, and I have no problem with him winning the Oscar (although, I have to say, Mark Ruffalo was fantastic in Foxcatcher). I’ve read a few articles hating on the movie because of its depiction of jazz. But I’m not a jazz purist, so that criticism doesn’t resonate with me. And, honestly, I thought that the last act of the movie was perfect. It brought the entire film to a resolution, and the last ten minutes had me hooked.

Watch: Hello Ladies (HBO Series)

I recently tried to get one of my friends to watch this show; she hated it because it was so hard to watch. And I admit that each episode has more than one especially cringe-worthy scene, in the same vein as parts of Meet the Parents or the scene in The Family Stone where Sarah Jessica Parker’s character fumbles her way through an unintentionally homophobic and quazi-racist diatribe around the family dinner table. If you find yourself struggling through scenes like that, then Hello Ladies might not be the show for you. But if you enjoy the original British version of The Office, you’ll love it. This makes sense, of course, as Stephen Merchant (creator, writer, and lead actor of Hello Ladies) is creative partners with Ricky Gervais. Hello Ladies chronicles the struggles of a single man looking for love in L.A. It’s awkward, it’s painful, and it’s hilarious. And if you’re able to stick it out through the entire series (including the movie-length ninth episode), it’s rewarding even beyond the laughs. There’s a sense of compassion and gentleness underlying the awkwardness, and I think that Merchant does it perfectly.


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Wisdom and Truth, via Swingers

I recently watched Jon Favreau’s Swingers for the first time. I don’t know what took me so long, but I’m glad I finally watched it. I loved it. It’s a movie completely reliant on dialogue and writing; nothing really happens at all. Other movies have done this same thing, and they don’t always work for me. But Swingers definitely worked for me, and I loved it. I like Jon Favreau and what he does; I really liked his most recent movie, Chef, and I still like Iron Man regardless of how many sequels were made. There’s two scenes in the movie that I think are particularly brilliant, in very different ways.

1) The famous phone message scene:

In my humble opinion, this has to be one of the Top 10 film scenes of all time. The movie centers on Mike (Favreau), a struggling comedian/actor living in Los Angeles who can’t get over his ex-girlfriend. He’s constantly moping and obsessing, and his friends are basically sick of it. So they reach towards the obvious solution: take him out and help him find a rebound. I mean, what else is there to do? The scene above comes after one of these nights of drinking and talking to girls. This night was different than the others, because Mike actually managed to get a girl’s phone number. A huge score. After the digits are retrieved, a conversation ensues about how long he’s supposed to wait to call the girl. A consensus is reached: two days. So, of course, Mike decides to call her as soon as he gets home, at 3am in the morning. As you can see in the clip above, he screws it up royally.

This scene is great for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Favreau plays it perfectly. It’s hard to watch because the trajectory of calm, to anxious, to full-on meltdown happens so quickly and so organically that it seems as if this is something actually happening rather than something being acted out for a movie. I cringe every time I watch it, in that sort of “Please, put down the phone! Stop calling her you idiot!” type of way. My favorite part is towards the end, when he says, “Uh Nickie, this is Mike, this is, uh, this just isn’t working out. I think you’re great, but maybe we should just take some time off from each other. It’s not you; it’s me. It’s what I’m going through. Alright, uh, it’s only been six months…” And then she responds: “Don’t ever call me again.” So great.

2) The wisdom of Ron Livingston

This scene really stuck with me. It’s sad, and it’s real, and it’s truth.

In particular, there’s one line that I see as haunting. Mike asks, “How did you get over it? How long did it take?” Rob (Livingston) responds, “Sometimes it still hurts. You know how it is man. It’s like, you wake up everyday and it hurts a little bit less, and then you wake up one day and it doesn’t hurt at all.” This is what people always say to other people when they are going through hard times: “It just takes time,” or “Everyday it gets a little bit easier.” In this sense, this scene really isn’t that unique. But it’s what Rob says after this that stuck with me: “And the funny thing is is that, this is kinda weird, but it’s like, it’s like you almost miss that pain.” Mike is surprised: “You miss the pain?” Rob responds, “Yeah, for the same reason you miss her: you lived with it for so long.”

This line is amazingly counter-intuitive, and it really doesn’t make any sense. And Mike’s dumbfounded response probably correlates with the rational, logical mindset: “You miss the pain?!?!” Why would anyone ever miss pain? Wouldn’t we be ready to get rid of it? To put it in the past? But Rob’s explanation is so spot-on: that pain becomes a part of us. It’s taken up residence in our lives, and although we never want it to be there, it slowly becomes a normal part of our daily routine. And, strangely, it becomes part of what we expect in our day, and part of how we interact with the world. And regardless of how much we want it to go away, it gets to a point to where we almost rely on its presence because, without it, there’s a hole left–a hole that might get filled with more pain. I think that this is what this scene really gets to. The fact that we latch onto the pain in our lives because eventually we become familiar and comfortable with that pain, and we’d much rather have a pain we know than one that we don’t. Sure, it sucks to feel that pain. But it’s been a part of us for so long that we don’t know what to do without it.

The silver lining is that this is just another step in the process, and the movie doesn’t advocate–and neither do I–for us to purposefully strive to latch onto pain. “Missing pain” is just another part of what we go through whenever we go through hard times in life. When someone close to us dies, or whenever someone close to us is no longer part of our lives, we grasp onto our sadness because it eventually becomes the only way we know how to remain connected to them. And as much as we know they’re gone, we don’t want to lose whatever connection we have, even if that connection is one of sadness. And so we resort to just continuing to be sad. Or at least this is how our dumb hearts make us feel about it. But this isn’t the way it has to be, and I don’t think that this is the end result. I’m not saying the pain always goes away; instead, I think it morphs into something else. It takes a different shape in our lives; it becomes a signifier of different meanings. And, eventually, we have to step up and decide to let this change occur and to face the fact that moving on from a past, comfortable pain opens up the door to scary, unknown pains that might occur in the future.

But that’s what life is all about. Being open to pain means that you are open to happiness and adventure and, well, life. And there’s a payoff in the end. Regardless of how many times you make a fool of yourself by leaving multiple voicemails for a complete stranger; or how often your friends have to tell you “You’re so money, baby!” (picture a younger, thinner Vince Vaughn); or how many days you convince yourself that it won’t get better. There’s a payoff.

Or at least that’s how I see the world according to Swingers.

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The Academic Job Market

It’s been four and a half years since I started my PhD program. Six and a half since I started my MA. Ten and a half since my freshman year of college at ACU. Fourteen and a half since the first day of high school. And I guess something like twenty-two and a half since I began my time in public school at Wylie Elementary. Whichever way you look at it, it’s been a long wait for me to reach a point where beginning my career is actually a reality. But, finally, that moment is here.

I’ve found myself talking a lot over the past month or so about applying for jobs. People ask me, “How’s school going?” and I say, “Well, I’m actually applying for jobs right now.” This usually leads into a two-minute conversation in which I explain how the job system works in higher education. Basically, jobs open up the year before they actually begin. Jobs that start in Fall 2015 (which is when I hope to start) get posted in Fall 2014. When I say posted, I mean that universities publicly announce job openings through a variety of outlets, including (among other places) the MLA Job Information List, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and For someone like me–someone searching to a tenure-track position at a university–these sites basically serve as homepages from the months of August-December (and on into the spring, most likely). Every day schools are posting new jobs, from Adjunct Pools to tenure-track professor positions, and each job has its own set of requirements as far as the application goes.

For the most part, each application requires the same basic elements, whether it’s for a community college or a tier-one research university. Each posting requires a cover letter and a CV. Each cover letter consists of the same basic information, but you have to tailor each one for the specific school. What I mean is that while I’m not writing an entire two-page letter from scratch for each letter, I’m making significant changes in the way I’m framing, organizing, and presenting the information based on what the job is looking for. For example, if it’s a job at a smaller liberal arts college, I’m going to accentuate my interest in teaching a wide array of undergraduate courses. But if it’s a job at a larger university that will require a significant amount of research, my letter will focus more on my research interests and publishing experience. The same goes for the CV (curriculum vitae; an academic resume): the information on my CV is the same, but the ordering depends on the specific job. Along with the letter and CV, most jobs will also ask for letters of recommendation. These are written by my committee members (the professors overseeing my dissertation) and are confidential, which means that I have to go through a third-party dossier service in order to get the letters from my references to the schools. This dossier service costs money to join, of course, and there are also individual charges for each document that you have to send. Finally, various schools ask for supplementary materials, including transcripts (which have to be requested from whatever schools you received previous degrees from), a teaching philosophy (1-2 pages), a scholarly writing sample, and sometimes evidence of effective teaching (which might be results from student feedback surveys or observations from a supervisor).

All of this to say that each job application is different, and each one takes certain tweaking and arranging in order to ensure that you’re both fulfilling the application requirements and also making yourself seem like a prime candidate for the position. Although I don’t know this from experience, I’m assuming that this process is quite similar to applying for jobs in most fields, and the idea of making yourself marketable is one that comes second nature to many people. The problem for someone like me is that the idea of self-marketing is simply something that isn’t part of my training or my field, and so the idea of writing a two-page document to sum up my training and experience and also convince them to hire me is something that I’m not used to doing. To say it’s been a learning experience would be an understatement.

It’s a tiring process, but it’s also the process that I’ve been waiting for for about seven years. It doesn’t feel real yet, and there’s still lots to do to finish my current degree before I can actually start thinking about teaching somewhere else in the fall. But I can’t help but be excited at the prospect. For someone like me (single; no children), the job market is a lot bigger than it is for others. I have the luxury of being able to apply for basically all jobs within my field without having to consider whether or not I’ll be able to go. This isn’t to say that I don’t have preferences, because I definitely do. But there are also realities, the biggest one being that I spent all of this time in school so that I could get a tenure-track job at a university. So if that chance comes, even if it’s not in my ideal location, it is going to be a chance that I’m going to have to grasp. So far I’ve applied to more jobs than I thought I would (somewhere in the lower double-digits), and I’ll probably end up applying to a dozen or so more by the time it’s all said and done. I’ve applied all over the map, from northern California to southeastern Canada. I’ve also applied to all types of schools: community colleges; large state universities; small, private, four-year colleges; and top-tier research schools. I didn’t stretch my CV too much; I basically only applied to jobs that fit closely within my own experience and interests, because I feel like I want to be confident in my abilities to interview if given the chance without having to worry about whether or not I fit the school’s description for the position. Sure, there are certain jobs that are more appealing to others out of the ones I’ve applied for, but at the end of the day they all sound great to me because they all would mean that I would be a part of a department somewhere, crafting courses and working with students. In this category, my expectations are quite simple.

You can probably tell from my tone that I’m optimistic about being on the market. In case you aren’t aware of the status of education in our country (of which higher education is no exception), it’s not easy to find optimism in terms of finding employment. As someone that’s been working on graduate degrees in the liberal arts for the past 6+ years, I can attest to this wholeheartedly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “how bad the job market is.” And I am fully aware that I may look back on this blog post in three to four months and think, “Yea, they were right: the job market is a hopeless place.” But for now, the simple fact that I’m even applying for jobs is enough to make me happy, because that means that all of these years of having to tell people “I’m still in school,” or explain exactly what it is I do everyday, or look at the right side of the menu (the prices) instead of the left (the actual menu items) when I go to a restaurant–all of those years are actually coming to a close. It’s a frightening and intimidating time to be applying for jobs in higher education, but for now I’m going to stick with “exciting.”

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I saw Interstellar last week. I was entertained, and there were parts that I was really into. But it’s three hours long. Unless it’s Ben Hur or The Two Towers, movies shouldn’t last as long as a round of golf. Like The Wolf of Wall Street, my personal opinion of the content of Interstellar is diluted by the sheer fact that it just went on for so long. And McConaughey’s depiction of the “everyman” wasn’t anything to write home about, especially in comparison to what he pulled off in Dallas Buyer’s Club and True Detective. Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy turn in Nightcrawler was much better, and I have a hunch that the performances in Foxcatcher are going to be the most memorable ones of the year so far.


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Revisiting a Classic — Ruidoso — Books and Books

There are lots of things that I enjoy doing: playing golf; spending time with friends and family; eating at Taco Bueno; these are just a few. But I’ve come to the realization that there are few things I enjoy doing more than watching and re-watching movies from my past, movies that seem to get better and better each time I watch them. I consider myself a seasoned veteran of watching the TBS, TNT, and USA version of movies like Shawshank Redemption and Lord of the Rings: Two Towers. In fact, I could probably tell you exactly when to expect commercials if you were to ever decide to watch Independence Day on TBS (right after President Whitmore [Bill Pullman] ask Major Mitchell [Adam Baldwin], “Is that glass bulletproof?” and the Major proceeds to kill the alien at Area 51). I love watching syndicated movies. Old School is on FX next Tuesday at 7:15? Count me in. Wait, ABC Family is showing all eight Harry Potter movies back-to-back this weekend? Consider my DVR full. I can’t get enough.

Earlier this week I had one of my favorite re-watching experiences when AMC had a “Story Notes” version of the 1984 classic, The Karate Kid. [By the way, if you’ve never watched a “Story Notes” version of a movie on AMC, I highly recommend it. Great stuff.] Man, I had definitely forgotten how great The Karate Kid is. And I don’t mean “great” in the same sense as I do when I say “Pauly Shore was great in Son-In-Law,” or “Fabrizio’s ridiculous Italian accent in Titanic is great!” In reference to The Karate Kid, by “great” I actually mean that the movie is fantastic. I loved it. I don’t think I’d given the movie enough credit in the past. The characters are great. The story is great. And the perfect mix of 80s cheesiness and dramatic sincerity is great. The perfection of the chemistry between Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita has been talked about before, and I can’t imagine a better goosebumps-inspiring ending to a movie. But I found other things that really made the movie for me:

1) The scene of Daniel (Macchio) and Ali’s (Elisabeth Shue) first date. Since he doesn’t have a car, Daniel has no choice but to get his mom to drive him to Ali’s house to pick her up. The awkwardness of Daniel’s encounter with Ali’s parents is good enough on its own to make the scene a classic, but when Daniel and his mom have to get out and push their car while Ali waits to pop the clutch to get it to start is one of the better movie moments I’ve seen in a long time.

2) This guy:


My brother and I have referenced this character many, many times, mostly for his ridiculously over-the-top depiction of the over-zealous cronie of the main antagonist. The character’s name is Tommy, and he’s a member of the Cobra Kai karate team, Daniel’s main enemies in the movie. Tommy doesn’t have much of a role, but his depiction stands out from the rest of the Cobra Kai jerks during the final fight scene. He’s the one standing next to the Cobra Kai sensei during the fight, and all he does is make ridiculous faces (like the one in the picture above) and say things like, “Finish him Johnny!” and “Get him a body bag!” I could rewind and rewatch this guy multiple times and never get tired of the ridiculousness.

3) The depiction of the experience of a high school kid in the 80s. I love the clothes; I love the social drama; and I love the scenes at the local hotspot: the putt-putt and arcade hall. Greatness.

Not all 80s movies hold up for me, and many of them aren’t nearly as good when I watch them the second time. But The Karate Kid is definitely an exception. I recommend it highly.

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Last weekend I joined my family for a trip to Ruidoso, NM. We made a long weekend of it, and I have to say that I really enjoyed the town. I’ve spent ample time in many ski towns in both Colorado and New Mexico, and I think that Ruidoso might be my new favorite. I can’t speak about going there to actually ski–in fact, I would probably say that it’s not even close to the best place to go for a ski trip–but for a summer trip involving good food and plenty of activities, it’s perfect. My recommendations:

1) Go to the horse races at Ruidoso Downs. I had a blast. Where else can you make $1 and $2 bets on horses you’ve never heard of while eating low-quality nachos and french fries in a cloud of low-grade cigarette smoke, all while actually having a great time? It’s like going to a trashy bowling alley that lets you gamble. Perfect.

2) If you are going to play golf but don’t want to spend tons of money, play The Links at Sierra Blanca. I loved this course. It was in perfect condition–the greens were some of the best I’ve ever putted on–and it only cost us $49 plus tax on a Friday. It helps that I played some of the best golf of my life, but I still would have loved it even if I hadn’t.

3) And, of course, eat a bunch of local food. My two favorites from the trip: Lincoln County Grille, a small, crowded, greasy breakfast spot that had large portions and was heavy on the good stuff (butter, cheese, and grease); and Farley’s, a seemingly normal-to-average American restaurant that turned out to have fantastic food. I simply got the turkey sandwich, and they somehow found a way to turn turkey, cheese, and bread into something unique and memorable.

If you want a hardcore skiing weekend, don’t go to Ruidoso. If you want a place that’s a shorter drive than Colorado (at least from central Texas) to play golf, eat good food, and have plenty of stuff to do for reasonable prices, go to Ruidoso.

– – – – – – – –

A quick rundown of books I’ve read recently:

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (2012): I’ve always been a big Eggers fan, and I’ll continue to read whatever he puts out. This one was a quick read, which I appreciated. And I found myself liking it. It’s a pretty simple story, and it’s quintessential Eggers in that below his simplicity he has some rather deep points about our culture and our world. Hologram for the King has something to say about what’s going on in our economic and industrial world right now, and I think that it’s something worth hearing. It doesn’t hurt that it’s being made into a movie with Tom Hanks, either.

Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? also by Dave Eggers (2014): I didn’t even know that Eggers had put out a new novel until I randomly saw this one on shelf at Barnes and Noble. How he managed to put out three novels in the past three years is beyond me; nevertheless, this most recent one is without a doubt the most unique book Eggers has ever written. The entire thing is dialogue; this alone makes it worth talking about. I’m still not quite sure what I think about it, but I do know that I’ve since planned a dissertation chapter on books consisting entirely of dialogue (Roth’s Deception is another example). Your Fathers, Where are They? is another very quick read, and I recommend it for anyone looking for something outside of the normal book.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (2011): I picked up this book because I watched the first episode of HBO’s adaptation and decided that I would much rather read the story first before I watched the (seemingly) confusing adaptation. I really liked Little Children (the book and the movie), and I appreciate the clarity and humor of Perrotta’s style. He is an enjoyable author to read, and his prose doesn’t require the same density of other author’s in order to make very important commentary. The Leftovers is strange in many ways; I was reminded a lot of some of Jose Saramago’s books like Blindness and The Double in that Perrotta’s book, like Saramago’s, is a rather “normal” depiction of the world after an undoubtedly abnormal occurrence. I think that Perrotta could have done a lot more with many of the characters, as some of them seemed a bit flat to me. But there’s enough in there to make it worth it, not the least of which is Perrotta’s signature voice of candid depictions of the “normal” human being, complete with all sorts of perverted and crazy thoughts that go hand-in-hand with humanity.

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