Hey everybody, just wanted to share a quick bit of good news with you all… I just signed on the dotted line to have my first novel debut this Fall! It’s called Paper Bag Mask and I like to describe it as Ocean’s 11 with a heavy dose of John Hughes High School Movie (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc.) You know I’ve been striving towards publication for several years now, and if you enjoy my writing (i.e. twisty plots, quirky characters, emotional resonance, fair bit of humor) I think you’ll find a lot to love in Paper Bag Mask.
The best part? I got away with injecting three sequential art sections into the narrative and the publisher is all for it! Trust me, they fit and they’re the best way to tell that particular part of the story. I can’t wait for you guys to see some of it! More soon…
“Grow up and end your magical thinking.” – Someone, some post every two weeks on my Facebook feed.
Disagreement is in the digital DNA and fiber optic bones of the internet. I’m fairly certain the original, Graham-Bellian creation myth of the internet’s inception involved Al Gore sending his friend Mr. Lee Jones a simple text message: “Tommy–come over here–I want to tell you all the ways you’re wrong.”
I mean, forget shouting fire in a movie theater. You want to really see people go nuts? Type “gun control” on Facebook.
You know all this because you are currently reading this on the internet and have ventured beyond the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic boards. You’re open to being challenged. Maybe you’re the kind of person who, when you hold up your phone or dare to crack open your laptop, you pretty much expect to be hit with a point of view that’s different from your own. Diametrically opposed, even. And you’re okay with that.
Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, people aren’t expressing opinions so much as just being bigots, prejudicial, myopic, close-minded, or just downright jerks. When is an opinion not an opinion? When they’re being a jerk about it. When their opinion comes with a heaping helping of insult big enough to overwhelm whatever savory flavors their otherwise (I’m sure) cogent musings had to offer, the jerks no longer get to have their thoughts taken seriously. They’ve rendered them stupid.
Or you have. Or I have. It’s not like “jerk” is some subspecies. They are us.
I opened this blog with a quote that’s become all-too-familiar to me: Grow up and end your magical thinking. Roughly translated, it means: Stop believing in God you big baby who can’t handle the real world.
What is wrong with this? Well, my problem isn’t that someone doesn’t believe in God or thinks I shouldn’t. I may disagree with both of those positions, but I respect another’s right to feel, believe, and think differently than I do. In fact, having people with points of view different from my own is something I value (which is why I’m seeing so much of this in my Facebook feed in the first place–I cultivate diversity in my friendships, both IRL and online) You don’t believe in God? Okay, cool. That is completely irrelevant to me as to whether or not we can be friends or have association. What is important to me is this:
Are you a jerk?
Where “Grow up and end your magical thinking” goes wrong for me is that in its expression of an understandable, legitimate opinion (however much I disagree, denying the existence of God is a point of view that is not incomprehensible to me) it wades into the murky waters of insult by way of condescension and casual dismissiveness.
“Grow up” suggests a certain amount of childishness; a clinging to apron strips because of an insecurity about the world and one’s place in it that can only be mollified by the idea of an all-powerful bearded dude who sits on a cloud made of tissues he uses to wipe away ignorant tears. “Grow up” equates God with an imaginary friend, and the believer with the toddler who bops around the living room talking to Clarence, the combo lion-poodle who knows how to rock a tea party. How is “Grow up” anything other than insulting? And why in the world would anyone of faith listen to someone for whom that is their baseline approach? Who could even get a fair shake in a conversation with a person who insists on infantilizing them for the great crime of thinking the universe is a little bigger than what they can see right in front of them?
“Magical thinking” suggests a wrongheadedness in one’s thought processes and perspective on the world. It is a cry in favor of science, obviously, but it also denigrates a worldview that essentially boils down to: current science doesn’t have an answer for everything.* Religion is an argument against arrogance. Reducing religion to “magical thinking” is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of faith, just like “grow up” is a misunderstanding of its function. Most of the religious people I know don’t actually believe in the existence of magic. To equate someone’s sincere, reasoned beliefs with fantasy is… say it with me now… jerky. It is being a jerk.** And if you are being a jerk then I know–I know automatically–that you are the one speaking from a place of insecurity about the world and your place in it.
A confident person doesn’t feel the need to be a jerk. A confident person does not mock the thoughts and beliefs of others because a confident person is not easily threatened. Being a jerk is, always, a reactionary position; a defensive posture. A jerk wants you to know he thinks you’re stupid, and, if he can, make you feel stupid. You can’t destabilize a confident person because a confident person does not entertain the bad math that says they can only be sure if others are not. They are willing to embrace or at least hear out opposing views and learn from them because they understand the value of such views inspiring and challenging them. An insecure person is a destabilized person before they even get to you. They have already been threatened by someone or some idea or thought or action and then you come along with your opinions and your faith and your whatever and you bring it all back, all the bad they’re trying to hide. It comes back, right to the fore.
Basically: people aren’t mean for no reason. That’s simplistic, but it’s true. The jerk hits back because they’ve already been hit. They need to say, for example, “Grow up and end your magical thinking” because in some way it will make them feel better and whole again. They think it will, anyway.
I think I know a better way.
*Science may not have an answer for everything, but even as a person of faith I do believe that the answer to everything is science. There’s not really any such thing as magic. There is only the principles and the order of the universe, some of which we’ve discovered. God is a person who understands those principles and orders to a greater degree than we are currently capable, and He does his best to help us operate within them for the best result. That’s what we call religion.
**None of which is to say the reverse cannot be–and just as often is–true. People of faith can be jerks, too. They can look down on those who don’t share their faith and it’s just as bad. It’s just not the angle this particular blog is coming from.
We almost moved to Maryland.
My connection to the company was solid and the job was right up my alley. Well, my old alley. It was an in-house Art Director position; the kind of work I’d left behind about three years ago. I submitted my application. I interviewed for it. I got a second interview and my friend already working at the company was enthusiastic. We started shopping for houses and my kids started imagining living in a place with actual snow on the ground (we told them it wouldn’t be that fun, but Violet refused to believe us). It was time to move across the country, a thing we’d never done before.
After Erin got her Master’s Degree, we were faced with the reality of what a part-time professor at a Community College can make (you honestly wouldn’t believe it) and the fact that the well paying, full-time professor positions are in short supply. We needed to explore options, and not just mine. Erin applied for other opportunities, too. One very close to home was looking really, really good. Until it didn’t and disappeared like a puff of smoke from the cigar of one of those derby-hatted cartoon bankers who is evil and you know that because… cigar.
So, yes, I put myself on the job market. After three years of working in film/video and doing freelance jobs, it was time to introduce a little more stability into our lives. Stability has always been the watchword around our house. As long as we could pay the mortgage and the bills and feed our kids and clothe them, it didn’t really matter to either me or Erin how much money we made. Never, not once, has getting rich been a goal (or even, just like, buying a boat). The goal is to do what we are supposed to do: care well for our family, be where Heavenly Father wants us to be, and do what He wants us to do. That’s how we’ve always conducted our life together, through good times and bad. It has served us well.
So, needless to say, we were stressing. A bit. And while all of this was going on, our friend Chris kept promising we’d have that lunch together that kept getting put off.
Waaaaay back in July, Erin and I were reminiscing about all the traveling we used to do back when travel was a thing we could afford, and we thought about Chris and his business of putting luxury vacation packages together and we hit upon an idea that was both ridiculous and too good to not at least pitch to Chris. Maybe he’d laugh at us, but it couldn’t hurt to at least propose it to him. Finally, in December, when we were trying to figure out what to do about Maryland, the lunch happened.
We told Chris our idea: send us on your vacations. Put us up in your five-star hotels, schedule our safaris and zip-lining adventures through jungles, make reservations for us in the best restaurants–do that and we’ll film it all and give you promotional travel vlogs you can use for marketing. And then Erin said, “And we’ll do it for free!”
And I said, “No, wait–wait a minute. It’s a lot of work for me after we get home to edit and put it all together and–”
And that’s when Chris cut me off and said, “I think it’s a great idea. Yes, I need that!”
And I said, “Y-you do? We really thought you were gonna laugh at us for trying to get a free vacation.”
“No,” Chris said. “And I’d like to take it even further. I’d like you to become my partners in Travel is SWELL, and I’d like Erin to train and become a Travel Designer with me and help me sell custom travel packages to people.”
We were floored. We went into the meeting expecting nothing and came out of the meeting with a spring in our step and promised ownership in a business. (And the chance to go to Machu Picchu. I’ve always wanted to go to Machu Picchu. I was pretty sure I’d now found the means to go to Machu Picchu.) We went home, shell-shocked, and immediately set to praying. And talking. And praying some more. Pros and cons were discussed, friends and relatives were consulted, options weighed.
This wasn’t quite the stability we were looking for. Travel is nice–travel is AWESOME (one might even say SWELL)–and we’d certainly be experiencing a lot of it as we went out to get firsthand knowledge of the places we’d be sending people to and filming our videos, but awesome travel is not a good enough reason to not take care of your family properly. Erin would be working on commission and I’d garner some payments for the video work, but nothing was guaranteed. It was another leap for a family that, evidence to the contrary during the previous three years, was more than a little risk-averse. And then we ran the numbers. And then we made a decision.
Three weeks later, we signed papers making us officially partners in Travel is SWELL.
This week, Erin completed her training.
And that, really, is why we’re finally telling you about it. Things have changed for us in a dramatic way and we’re excited to tell people, but we didn’t want to do it until we were ready. Erin is looking for clients. We hope you’ll contact her if you or anyone you know is looking to dream about their next vacation. She can help you in a big, big way.
Pretty sweet logo, huh? Designed by yours truly.
Now, if you know us and I were you, I’d have some questions. So, let’s switch formats. Here we go:
What the heck is a Travel Designer?
Great question. I didn’t know either. A Travel Designer is a lot more than a Travel Agent. Erin’s approach is to talk to the client about the experiences they’ve already had that they enjoyed, what kind of experiences they’d like to have, and where they might like to go. Want to go somewhere where the water is crystal clear blue and you’ll be treated like a queen as you laze about on the sand? Then Barbados might be for you. Want to eat like a king and take a deep dive into history? Hello, Rome and all these cool excursions and sites you might not even know exist. Simply put, a Travel Agent will get you to where you want to go, but a Travel Designer will not only get you there but make sure you have the time of your life. There’s even a questionnaire you get to fill out so Erin can best help you. It’s fun!
What about filmmaking? Writing? Comics? Is all that over with now?
Nope! I’m still in post-production on my newest short (in fact, we just shot some new scenes this past weekend), and I’m exploring other film opportunities that I can’t talk about just yet. I’m also actively shopping around a YA novel, Paper Bag Mask, and The SuperFogeys continues at superfogeys.com. That’s the beauty of working with Travel is SWELL: we get to stay here and, though our time is even more at a premium, things largely get to continue as they were.
For Erin, too?
Yep! For Erin, too. She’s staying on as a professor at Clovis Community, even taking on an additional class this semester for a total of three sections. She’ll teach and then, in her off hours, create travel packages for clients.
Sounds like you’re gonna be pretty busy. Wait… you guys still have kids, right?
Yeah. Three of them. They’re cool with not moving to Maryland, so it’s all good. We also create packages for families and groups, so they’re gonna get the opportunity to explore this world of ours as well. After a decade of never going farther than Los Angeles, that’s pretty exciting. Plus, I like to think we do a pretty good job carving out family time. There’s not a whole lot more important than that.
How much does Erin and Travel is SWELL charge for services?
In most cases, nothing! Some packages will require a small service charge, but that’s not common. Travel Designers are paid commissions by the vendors you book with, not by you. I know! I had no idea either until we got into this.
Why should I use a Travel Designer at all? Expedia exists.
Hey, Expedia is great! If all you want to do is get to and from somewhere, I say go for it. But if you want to explore hotels, food, rentals, excursions, and some really cool places to visit that you might not otherwise know about, then working with a Travel Designer is not only a great idea, it’s really the best idea. You know what I hate about vacations? Figuring out how to get from place-to-place. A Travel Designer takes care of all of that for you. Plus, we have access to online portals and vendors mere mortals can only dream of. We can hook you up.
Is Travel is SWELL only for luxury travelers?
Not exclusively, but we’re definitely all about the package. We’re for people who really want to explore and experience something amazing, not so much for those who just want the cheapest flight to Florida and a rental car. But hey, if you want to know if we can help you with what you have in mind, all you gotta do is ask.
Sounds pretty cool. I’m going on vacation in the next year. How can I check out what you have to offer?
Eh. I’m not really into travel.
That’s more of a statement than a question, but I’ll address it. Over the past few years, a lot of people have asked how they could help us out. A referral would be great! If you’re not much a traveler, tell your friends.
This gonna be a thing now? You gonna sell me this hard on this blog in the future? Because if so then I’m ou–
Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s not what I’m about. Just trying to share and take this one–ONE–opportunity to try to drum up a little business. This is a big, important change for my family and we’re just trying to get a leg up in the world. The blog will go back to normal after this.
You know I think the world of you.
Yeah… I know…
Be sure and check out travelisswell.com ASAP!
There you go again!
Hey everybody, just letting you know I’m still out here and blogging–but it’s showing up in other places! Here’s some links to two recent blogs I did about the work I’m doing creating my own films with Tremendum Pictures:
I recently read that 80% of all short film makers never make another film. That’s a pretty terrible statistic. There’s probably lots of reasons for people not taking a second dip into the filmmaking pool, but the biggest has to be that making a film is really, really, REALLY difficult. Earlier this year, I finally finished my first short film as a writer/director, The Shift, after an exhausting year and a half of work. There were times I wondered if I still would have made the film if I knew at the beginning how much blood, sweat, late nights, feelings of self doubt, favors, mistakes, computer crashes, and, yes, tears it would eventually require. That 80% statistic resonated with me in a big way… READ MORE.
I wiped the wet brow under my sweat-soaked cap and shut my eyes tight against the setting sun. The grips barked calls to one another across the city park parking lot while my D.P. presented me with the very real possibility that we might not get the shot. This was, after all, the most complicated scene in the entire film–a tense “oner” that would see a smoking gun, blood splatter, and a character fall to the ground. We needed, probably, at least an hour of rehearsals to get the timing and the performances right.
We had five minutes. Three after arguing for two over whether or not it was even worth trying… READ MORE.
The thing is, I like hair. I’m fascinated by hair. I truly believe a good haircut can change a Quasimodo into a Brad Pitt (0% body fat helps as well). I also believe a bad haircut can be ruinous. Never ask me if I think your hair looks good. I promise you I have an opinion, and I can only give it honestly.
So, don’t ask me about your hair.
And don’t ask me about mine. It’s gone now, basically. Retreated back to the God who gave it life in the first place. Or to my pillow. Take your pick. The point is, a lot of it has fallen out in the past few years, exclusively in strange, alien ways. Bald patch in the back? Yep. Receding in the front? Of course. But also, for some reason, I’m also balding where my the back of my hair meets my neck and I’ve also got this river of off-centered baldness right on the top of my head that does not subscribe to any of the Rogaine diagrams. There is positively no way to grow out my hair and make it look good without resorting to hair contortions of the Christian Bale in American Hustle variety.
Didn’t stop me from trying though. When this all first started happening, I did my best to maintain a normal hairstyle with what I had as best I could. I’ve never had great hair, mind you. Always been a little thin, always very brown. In certain lights–especially dim ones–it did look kind of good, though. Even in the early days of the loss.
So what if, as the months rolled along and my wife started believing me that a big change was happening, that my forehead could be rented out for advertising at reasonable rates? I wasn’t worried. Bigger the forehead, bigger the brain (Aristotle said that). The baldness in the back? I couldn’t even see it without geometry and mirrors, so it wasn’t really something I cared too much about. If my hair was really a problem–if I really had cause to be embarrassed or I was just kidding myself with the wisps atop my noggin–then my wife would tell me. She’d say something like “It’s time,” and then I’d know instantly what she was talking about, subject of sentence not necessary.
And that’s pretty much what happened.
“It’s time,” she said.
The next day, it all came off. (Mostly. I’m not down to the skin, yet, as you’ll soon see. I just think a little bit of fuzz looks better.)
This was absolutely frightening. What does my head even look like? I had no idea. Would I achieve Patrick Stewart levels of greatness? Of course not. No man can touch the hairless throne upon which that beknighted, gloriously bald man sits. Maybe I was the anti-Patrick Steward. Maybe there was a lumpy, asymmetrical skull under my head skirt that could frighten small children and scare away door-to-door salesman (which would only be half bad, I realize).
If I know one fear all guys have in common it’s that we are deathly afraid to lose our hair. I was no different.
No, strike that. I was worse. Like I said, I love hair. I even love to draw it. When I shot my short film earlier this year, I made sure each of my actors got time in a chair and had a hairstyle crafted specifically for their character. And y’know what? I think it made a difference. They all not only looked really good, but the hair communicated something. It tells you wether a person is fastidious or coiffed or lazy or haggard or practical or stylish or even smart or stupid or fun or generous.
Hair communicates something.
So what does it mean when your hair is all gone? What does that communicate?
I’m still struggling with that. I can’t say, even three months later, that I’m used to it. I think my head is too small to begin with, so no hair makes it look even smaller. I think my face was balanced and framed a lot better by hair. I haven’t been able to bring myself to shave my face all the way ever since I did it. I feel like (mistakenly or no) my head is better balanced by a little hair in the southern region if my polar ice caps are gonna melt that much. I don’t really recognize myself in the mirror anymore, to be honest.
All of this is vanity. Vanity is a terrible thing. It’s a waste of time. No one cares as much as I do–and I shouldn’t care at all. I’ve gotten several compliments (which I struggle to not chalk up to overly kind people trying to put lipstick on the pig of a situation that is unexpectedly meeting my shiny chrome dome out in public), which should give me more confidence. It does, just a little.
I could wear a rug. There’s a great scene at the end of the last season of Cheers where Sam Malone–who cared more about his hair than any fictional character ever–reveals to Carla that he is balding and wears “a piece.” It looks good on him and you can’t tell it’s not real. To this day, actor Ted Danson wears hairpieces and they look great. It probably helps to have people paid to make you look good. I would be willing to pay people to make me look good. I have a shiny quarter under the ash tray in my car. It’s all yours.
I can’t wear a rug. I can’t do the combover. I can’t get hair plugs. I can’t do any of that because it’s a kind of fakery I could never be comfortable with. I try to live an honest life, and though no one expects you to be honest about your hairline, I just can’t do it.
I will get used to it, I know that. In fact, for the majority of my life, this is pretty much how I’m going to look so I had better get used to it. And the comments. People will look at past pictures of me from now on and say, “Oh my gosh! You had hair!”* as though they thought I was born bald and stayed that way. Surprise! This is the first time I’ve been bald in my life. I was born almost four weeks late and came out with a mane all the other newborns envied. If I had a DeLorean, I know just what I’d say to baby Brock:
“It’s all downhill form here, kid. It’s all downhill from here…”