A few years back my dad bought me the movie posters for, at that time, all six Star Wars films. My wife framed them. I hung them in our movie room when we moved into our new house. They’re pretty awesome.
When you collect “a little bit” of something, space isn’t an issue. Everyone has room on their desk or nightstand for a couple of small items. If you’re really into something, maybe you’ll hang a shelf and fill it up with trinkets.
In my Star Wars room, which is approximately 10′ x 14′, every square inch of wall space is covered with shelves. There are shelves that stand on the floor and shelves that are mounted to the wall. Some of the shelves were purchased and some of them are simply painted planks of wood mounted to the wall. A couple of them were wobbly pieces of junk that I got from the thrift store and drove cheap nails into until they would stand up straight. Shelves cover 100% of the room’s available wall space. There’s no room left for anything else.
That’s part of the reason why the movie posters are on display in the movie room. That’s also why I don’t have a framed poster for Star Wars: Episode VII or Rogue One. I’m all out of room.
One cool thing about these posters is, and especially for the original three, the artwork brings back great memories. The art on these posters is iconic. Whenever I see these framed beauties, I smile. Whenever my kids see them, they do not smile. When I recently asked them how much they remembered of Star Wars, the answer was “nothing.” When I suggested we all sit down and watch it sometime, they made a face as if I had said, “I know I promised you all ice cream for dessert, but instead we’ll be having broccoli and gopher guts.”
(The refrigerator that used to sit on that table died. Now, Luke, Han, and Vader stand there. Spoiler: two of them died in the movies, too.)
I really enjoy my movie posters, but they definitely take up some space to display. Someday I’d like to have a more dedicated movie room. When I do, you can bet these posters will have a home in it.
I spent some time today trying to remember my fifteenth birthday. The birthdays that bookend that one are crystal clear. When I turned fourteen in 1987 I got a motorcycle, and when I turned sixteen in 1989 I got my first car, but that fifteenth birthday remains fuzzy. 1988 was either the year I got my first “real” skateboard (a Fred Smith III model from Alva) or my second Commodore 1541 disk drive. Both cost roughly the same in 1988, so it could have been either one. I guess what sticks out the most about my fifteenth birthday is that, thirty years later, it doesn’t really stick out.
Mason’s fifteenth birthday celebration spanned three days. Saturday, he had two friends spend the night. Sunday, he invited a dozen of his friends to Incredible Pizza for dinner and games. Monday, on his actual birthday, we went out to dinner with our families.
Mason, like me, got a motorcycle when he was fourteen, and he’ll get a car when he turns sixteen. Thirty years from now I don’t know how well he will remember his fifteenth birthday. What I do know is that Susan and I love our kids an awful lot and do everything we can to try and make them happy, especially on their birthdays. And that’s how I know, even though I can’t remember the details, that I must have had a pretty great fifteenth birthday too.
At 5 p.m. on Thursday, I left the University of Oklahoma seven credit hours closer to a graduate degree in Professional Writing. Fourteen credit hours down, eighteen to go.
This semester I took Tutorial and Creative Nonfiction.
In Creative Nonfiction we developed nonfiction book proposals. Throughout the semester we wrote query letters, researched markets, developed chapter summaries, penned a synopsis of our books, and even wrote sample chapters. I didn’t realize how much work we had done until the end of the semester, when we assembled all of those components into a single proposal. In addition to that project, we wrote Buzzfeed articles (like 18 Things I Should Probably Throw Away, But Won’t), read and discussed multiple essays, and had to write and submit four articles to external magazines or websites. One of my articles was accepted for publication by The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature for publication this February, and several others are still pending. I walked away from this class with real-world applicable skills that have already moved me forward as a writer.
In Tutorial in Writing, students meet one-on-one with a writing professor (all professional writers themselves) and present their work for real time feedback and constructive criticism. Over the semester I was required to bring a total of ninety consecutive pages from a novel I am working on; additionally, I wrote a few other related assignments like a plot summary and character studies. Sitting across the desk from a professional writer while they read and critique your work can be a nerve-wracking experience, but over time our meetings felt less like I had been called to the principal’s office and more like I was receiving guidance and advice from a mentor. Tutorial is no place for the thin-skinned writer, and I left our meetings every week with advice and suggestions that made every portion of my story better.
My professors this semester were Professor Deborah Chester and Professor Mary Anna Evans, and I am constantly impressed by the quality of professors that the University of Oklahoma’s writing program has been able to land. Professor Chester’s book The Fantasy Fiction Formula currently has a five-star rating on Amazon. Burials, the tenth book in Professor Evans’s Faye Longchamp series, is currently available for pre-order. Learning about the writing craft from people who do it for a living is an invaluable experience.
One of the cool things I discovered this semester was the student writing lounge inside “Lindsey and Asp,” the student-run advertising and public relations agency.
During my first two semesters I spent a lot of time working outside on the third floor patio, which is nice in the spring and fall but not so great in the summer and winter. Unlike the outside patio, Lindsey and Asp has comfortable seating, access to printers (handy for writing students), and perhaps most important to me, air conditioning. It’s a great place to tuck inside and get some work done.
I have five weeks off of school until the next semester begins, but I won’t have five weeks off from writing. I have several writing projects in the fire, not to mention my audiobook and my neglected podcast that I need to breathe life into.
Susan and I are sticklers for eating at local restaurants while away from home. McDonald’s is McDonald’s no matter where you go, but local restaurants are where you find the local food and local flavor. Most often, it’s where you’ll find the local people, too.
This past summer while vacationing in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, we ate breakfast at the Mountain Lodge Restaurant. We were driving south down Parkway (the main road that runs through the center of Gatlinburg) in search of breakfast when we passed a sign welcoming us to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We quickly did a u-turn, and discovered the Mountain Lodge Restaurant just outside the entrance to the park.
The restaurant’s name fit. The building was made of wood that smelled like it had been cut the day before. It had a green metal roof, rocking chairs on the porch, and a view of the Smoky Mountains off to the south. The sign out front said “MOUNTAIN LODGE RESTAURANT” and had a picture of a lodge at the base of a mountain range. That kind of summed the place up.
Inside, a dozen middle-aged waitresses were in charge. Every one of them had long, straight hair, homemade dresses that looked like patchwork quilts, and accents as thick as the coffee. They were the opposite of the cookie-cutter waitresses I often encounter, the ones that are trained to touch customers 2.6 times per meal and sign checks with a heart over the letter “i” to increase their tip. These women were real. It wouldn’t surprise me if every waitress there went by two names, like Peggy Sue, or Mary Jo.
Susan had the blueberry pancakes topped with powdered sugar. Morgan ordered a cinnamon roll, a Mountain Lodge specialty. I’m an egg, meat and potato guy, and orderd a plate that arrived with too much of all three.
We have favorite restaurants all over the country. In Chicago, we get our Italian beef sandwiches from a place called the Oasis Beef Hut. Every time we’re in Denver, no matter how dirty the place gets, we still go to Casa Bonita. We stop at the same White Castle every time we drive through St. Louis. There’s a 50’s diner somewhere right off I-44 in Missouri — I couldn’t tell you the name, but we’ve eaten there at least three times.
As I sipped my coffee and Morgan licked the last drops of icing from her plate, Susan said, “We’ll have to come back to this place.” The place felt timeless, like it hadn’t changed in fifty years, and that fifty years from now it would still be exactly the same.
On November 28, 2016, the raging wildfires in Tennessee moved into the southern tip of Gatlinburg and burned the Mountain Lodge Restaurant to the ground.
Occasionally, at night, I dream about Magic World, a theme park my family visited on our way to the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. Magic World was located in Pigeon Forge, ten miles north of the Mountain Lodge Restaurant in Gatlinburg. Magic World was a theme park that had been built on a budget. The animatronics weren’t quite as good as the ones at Showbiz Pizza and the dinosaurs scattered around the park didn’t seem to match the overall theme, but my memories of the place, even though I was only eight years old at the time, are very fond. I always dreamed of taking my kids there someday, but when local real estate prices boomed, the park was priced out of business and closed its doors in 1996. When, on occasion, I drive past the Pigeon Forge exit on I-40, I can see in my mind’s eye where the park used to stand. When I dream about it, I remember the dinosaurs, the diving show, the UFO and the magic carpet ride. I remember it all, and when I wake up and remember its gone it bums me out every single time. It’s the places that are gone that haunt me the most.
RIP, Mountain Lodge Restaurant. I’ll see you in my dreams.
I have never been a comic book guy, neither as a kid nor as an adult. I can easily count on one hand all my childhood memories involving comic books. My great Grandma Brown had a small stack of them in her living room that I used to flip through each time we visited. One time, at a garage sale, my mom bought me a stack of horror-themed comic books. My dad had a collection of Star Wars comic books that he kept in his bedroom. That’s pretty much it.
Many years ago, my dad bequeathed his collection of Star Wars comics to me — twenty-two of them in all. The first few comics retell the story of the first movie. From there, they go off in all sorts of crazy directions. Issue #17, Crucible!, promises the “untold tale of Luke Skywalker’s past.” In the opening pages we see Luke zooming across the surface of Tatooine in his landspeeder, shooting womp rats with his blaster to prevent them from chewing on vaporator cables. A few pages later he’s out flying his T-16 Skyhopper through Beggar’s Canyon. The comic books are full of things and locations that were only casually mentioned in the film, brought to life with color artwork.
They’re also filled with inconsistencies that made them non-canon pretty early on. In that same issue, Luke’s Aunt Beru explains to him that his Uncle Owen was hurt when his Owen’s brother — Luke’s father — abandoned Owen and left him to tend to the farm alone. In 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back we learned that Luke’s father was Darth Vader, invalidating this story. Technically speaking, Owen Lars was Anakin’s step-brother (having married Shmi Skywalker), but I’m going to chalk that up to the writers getting lucky. Besides, I’m pretty sure the Dark Lord of the Sith was too busy slaughtering Tusken Raiders to get much farming done.
So, you know, you can get hung up on inconsistencies or you can just enjoy the yawn about the time Luke battled a big orange space cobra.
One character that was introduced in the comics was the smuggler Jaxxon, a large, green rabbit who teamed up with Han Solo for a few adventures. Jaxxon appears in three of the comics I own, and may be the first “extended universe” character ever created. According to his creators, Jaxxon was inspired by Bugs Bunny, a fact seemingly verified by the names of his two enemies in issue #16: Dafi and Fud. I don’t know if Bucky O’Hare (another large green anthropomorphic rabbit who wore a red jumpsuit and flew a spaceship) was inspired by Jaxxon, but it seems likely.
Every Star Wars comic I own is in near-mint condition and virtually worthless. If you have a copy of the first issue with a 30 cent price printed inside a white square, it could be worth $1,000. The same issue with a 35 cent price inside a white square can sell for $10,000. The ones with a 35 cent price inside of a white diamond (instead of a square) and no bar code on the front cover sell for a dollar or two on eBay.
Like many of the Star Wars items I own, their street value means nothing to me. These are the comics my dad purchased when he was ten-to-fifteen years younger than I am today. I’ll never get rid of these, nor will I ever add to them. The pile of comics I own are the only ones I’m interested in owning.
The older I get, the more I find that my vintage Star Wars items are the ones that bring me the most joy. All the other stuff, as fun as it is, or was, is just starting to feel like “stuff.”
I am thankful for all the obvious things one should be thankful for (life, health, work), but one thing that hit me this week was how thankful I am for the graduate writing program I’m enrolled in.
I’ve attended college for lots of reasons over the years — because I wanted to start something, because I needed to finish something, because I didn’t know what else to do — but right now, I’m going to school because I want to. We are paying for my classes out of pocket, and it’s not cheap. That’s not any kind of badge of honor, but a testament to how much I want this. Every day, I walk into class and open my spiral notebook, ready to capture any sliver of information that will make me a better writer.
I am thankful for my classmates, a motley crew of youngsters half my age who push me to be a better writer than I really am. Bad writers get weeded out of graduate level writing classes pretty quickly, and all the ones that survive are good. When I started the program the names and faces ran together, but as time goes on it’s really neat to know them as people; to learn about them by what they write, and to learn from them by how they write. Many of us are competitive, but not with each other. Each of us want the others to make it. I understand the allure and convenience of online classes, but the interaction I have with my classmates is such a core part of the educational experience for me that I can’t imagine attempting a degree like this online.
The University of Oklahoma has gone out of their way to hire not only published authors as professors for their professional writing program, but ones that truly care about their students’ success. I’ve had conversations with my professors before, during, and after class about my writing. They have offered guidance, suggestions, and feedback, and are genuinely excited each time one of us gets something published. Each assignment I get back comes with suggestions on how to make it better, and I love it. I’m not doing all of this to have sometime tell me I’m good; I’m doing it to get better. So far, it’s working.
There used to be a line of insults that began with, “When God was handing out brains…” and there’s no doubt I got a weird one. I remember things that happened to me in kindergarten, but use a daily alarm on my phone to remind me when to pick Morgan up at the bus stop. Sometimes in social situations I can never think of things to say, and yet while sitting behind a keyboard, I never seem to run out of them. I come up with ideas for short stories and novels every day, and this program is helping me develop the tools I need to turn those ideas into complete stories.
The odds of becoming a financially sufficient full-time writer are so slim that they could be compared to shark attacks and lightning strikes, but that’s not what it’s about for me. Sure, I’d love to be a guy who “writes for a living,” but I will be content to be a guy who “lives to write,” and that’s what I’m learning to do at the University of Oklahoma. And for that, I’m thankful.
Gather ’round, children, and let me tell you about the days of old.
If you’re in your mid-20s or younger, you probably don’t remember life before the internet. Those of us in our thirties, forties and beyond remember the world of catalogs. Other than the Thanksgiving Day parade, nothing else marked the beginning of the holiday season more than the arrival of 500 bound pages featuring photos of every toy you could imagine. Sears, Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penny, and other large department stores couldn’t wait to get their thick catalogs into the hands of children, who would flip through the pages and create their wish lists from home.
While people have more fond memories of the winter calendars, those same companies also released spring/summer editions, too. They contained few (if any) toys and therefor were much less popular with kids. My dad recently ran across a 1993 Sears Spring/Summer catalog and dropped it off. I’ve had a great time going through it.
Not having held one for a while, I was immediately impressed by the thickness of the book — 1,554 color pages featuring everything from clothing to household appliances. Imagine if someone printed out pictures and wrote descriptions of every single thing Sears sold.
The first thing I flipped to were the computers, which are separated from the electronic typewriters, word processors and fax machines. The catalog flagship machine is the Packard Bell Legend 800 — “The fastest machine we have offered.” It’s a 486 DX2/50 that comes with a 210 MB hard drive and 4 MB of RAM for $2,099.99. The Legend 730, a 486 SX/20 with a 130 MB hard drive and 2 MB of RAM is half the price at $1099.99. On the following page, there’s an IBM PS/1 computer with a 486 DX/33 processor for $2,699.99. A few other computers are shown. All of them come with 5.25″ floppy drives. If you’re into retro technology like I am, you would be thrilled to find anything this old and still working in your local thrift store. If you’re not, I can put it in perspective; you can buy machines for $5-$10 today that will run circles around these dinosaurs.
For you Mac fans, there’s a Performa 600 with a 160 MB hard drive for $1,899.99, monitor not included. (A monitor is available for an additional $399.99.)
The catalog has 10 times as many portable cassette players as it does CD players. Sony’s CD Walkman starts at $149.99; there’s one with 8x oversampling and “Megabass” for $229.99. The accompanying headphones in the pictures seem old to me. There are no big headphones with flashy colors, nor are there any earbuds.
The video game section starts off with the Nintendo Game Boy and original NES before moving on to the Super Nintendo, Sega Game Gear, Sega Genesis, and the “Sega Super CD” ($299.99), a CD add-on for the Sega Genesis (later renamed the Sega CD).
There’s a $499.99 VCR, a 61″ Magnavox rear-projection television for $2,999.99, and a whole section for TV antennas. Other things haven’t changed as much. The refrigerators and stoves look like refrigerators and stoves, at least to me. To someone else they might seem as outdated as the computers do to me. The ceiling fans, desks, and tools all look like the ones in my home. Based on the pictures, I don’t believe we’ve had any breakthroughs in tent design over the past twenty years.
While there are four pages worth of cordless phones, there are no cell phones or mobile phones. There are no DVD players, no GPS units, and no MP3 players. Beanie Babies wouldn’t debut for a few more months.
The most telling omission is any reference to the internet. There’s no mention of a dot com, no suggestion for customers to visit Sears’s website. Instead, a 1-800 number is listed for customers to call for local inventory. Over the next few years, the world would move online and by 1998, these catalogs would be a thing of the past.
These lovely ladies never saw it coming.
When I was a kid, I absolutely loved joke books. I loved reading jokes and telling them to my friends, although I usually forgot them almost as quickly as I read them. Morgan likes reading and telling jokes too, and although she normally gets them from websites and phone apps, when I ran across this book of jokes I just had to pick it up for her.
First of all, it’s the “ultimate” joke book. If you’re only going to own one, it might as well be the ultimate one, right? Also on the cover, the book guarantees laughs for every day. How can you go wrong for only $1.99?
Very, very wrong.
Excited about my find, I opened the book up to a random page and read the first joke on the page.
“You know,” said the farmer to his wife, “with all the additives they’re putting our milk these days, don’t you reckon it makes old Bessie feel right deficient?”
I flipped back a page.
The chicken yard was thrown into a clucking fright when farmboys at play accidentally kicked a football near the coop. After the ball had been retrieved and the flock had calmed down, one hen turned to another. “Now that,” she said, “was what I call an egg.”
Noticing a farming trend, I realized the jokes were organized by topic. Here’s one under “crime”:
A new prisoner was shown to a cell he was to share with a crusty old lifer. “How long’s your sentence?” was the veteran’s first question. “Well, thirty years–but I’m up for parole in ten,” said the rookie. “Then I get the bunk nearest to the door,” said the vet. My parole comes up in only six years.”
Hey, here’s a section on lawyers. Surely there’s a funny lawyer joke in here, right?
“I need a criminal lawyer,” a stranger announced in a small-town barbershop. “Know where I might find one around here? “Well, Lawyer Blake and Lawyer Black are obvious choices. There are a couple others we suspect, if Blake and Black are both too busy to take your case.”
Two friends were discussing a mutual acquaintance. “I don’t think she’s really antisocial,” said one. “Nah,” said the other, “she just despises humans.”
For the first time in my life, I felt horribly ripped off after spending $1.99 on something.
Toward the back, I found the jokes about school.
“How was your first day of school?” Mother asked Wanda. “Tell me all about it.” “It was a complete waste of time,” said Wanda. “I’m dropping out.” “Oh no! What went wrong?” “I just don’t see any point to it. I still can’t read. Can’t write. And I’m not allowed to say anything to anybody.”
Is… that a joke? Is that a guaranteed laugh that belongs in not just any joke book, but the ULTIMATE joke book?
ULTIMATE: the best achievable or imaginable of its kind. (dictionary.com)
Go get your jokes from the internet, kids. Print is dead.
I was home alone last week when I heard a voice behind me.
The little girl’s voice was as plain as day — not something you might imagine in your mind, but something real you would hear with your ears. I had just flushed the upstairs toilet when I heard the voice. I spun around to see who was standing behind me, but no one was there.
Had one of the kids stayed home sick from school? I tip-toed out of the bathroom and looked around. All the lights upstairs were off. I stood still for a long time, waiting to hear it again. I went back to the bathroom and waved my arms around in the air like a madman, thinking maybe I had set off one of the kids’ motion sensitive toys.
After thoroughly searching the upstairs I came downstairs and, with the precision of a one-man SWAT team, searched the rest of the house. If there was a girl or a ghost on the loose, I would find it. I searched each room, my heart skipping a beat as I peeked inside each closet. I’ve watched too many horror movies for this to be any fun.
Finally, I peeked outside through the closed blinds. Susan’s car was gone. I was home, alone.
I will not lie and say that for a few minutes I did not question my own sanity. I was sure I had heard the voice and not imagined it — but then again, wouldn’t a crazy person think the same thing?
I checked the bathroom a few more times that afternoon, investigating the counter for any sign of something that would make noise. There was nothing there.
The solution to my mystery came the following day in the same bathroom. I was home alone (again) and this time I had closed and locked the door behind me in hopes that it would keep the ghost from spying on me. Right after I flushed the toilet, I heard a weird sound — air bubbles trapped in the pipes, I think, but a distinctly familiar sound: “craaa cruuu,” it said.
Or, to someone not expecting it, “thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I replied, as the water and my ghost spiraled down the drain.
At the beginning of each graduate course I’ve taken over the past three semesters, students are expected to introduce themselves to their fellow classmates. The format varies slightly, but key bits of information always include giving your name, what your undergraduate degree was in, and where you earned it. This seems like it would be simple information to provide, but I get tripped up every single time. Let’s just say I didn’t take the express train to get where I am today.
I first attended college at Redlands Community College. I started in the fall of 1991 (right after graduating high school) and attended classes for two years. I was a full time student pursuing a degree in Journalism, but due to dropping a couple of classes and taking Yearbook and Newspaper four semesters in a row (which didn’t count toward my credits total), at the end of two years I only had 42 of the 60 credit hours needed to graduate. When people ask what me what I got my associates degree in I say journalism, and when they ask where I got it from I say Redlands Community College. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s a lot simpler than explaining the whole story.
In 1994, I left Redlands and moved to Weatherford, OK, where I enrolled at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) and majored in nothing. I took four classes the first semester I was there and withdrew from all my classes the second semester.
I didn’t return to school until the spring of 2000, this time at Oklahoma City Community College. I think only one of the classes I took at SWOSU counted toward my associates degree, so I needed five more classes just to earn an associates degree. I took four classes during the spring semester and a fifth one that summer. I was awarded an AA in Journalism and Broadcasting from OKCCC in 2000.
From there on out, things get fairly normal. I enrolled at Southern Nazarene University (SNU) in 2004, and graduated with a bachelor of science in Organizational Leadership in 2005. I had a 4.0 average at SNU, but because of all my previous foul-ups, I barely graduated Cum Laude with a 3.485 cumulative GPA (fortunately they round up).
In the fall of 2015 I enrolled at the University of Oklahoma and began pursuing a masters of professional writing degree. My first semester of school I only took one class (short story) and it didn’t count toward my degree. That seems to be a recurring theme for me. I took seven credit hours last semester and am taking seven credit hours this semester. Depending on whether or not I take classes during the summer, I should finish the program in two-and-a-half or three semesters.
The reason I stumble when asked where I went to school and what my degree was in is because I took all my journalism courses at Redlands but earned my journalism degree from Oklahoma City Community College (over a span of ten years), waited five years, earned a BS in Organizational Leadership (a degree that confuses people), took ten years off, and enrolled at the University of Oklahoma.
I think the next time somebody asks me I’m just going to make up a simpler story.