I am a wonderful date.

DSC00998bThis past weekend, my wife and I had a fancy-pants date. Thanks to the fickle finger of fate, we won a fantastic date night package at DeAnne’s company Christmas party a while back. The package included a $150 gift card to Webster’s Prime restaurant and two tickets to the Broadway musical, Les Miserables, that was showing at Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, MI.

We left the girls with the grandparents for the evening and drove down to Kalamazoo. The drive was pleasant, and conversation even more so. I’m infinitely thankful that my wife and I have never been faced with awkward silences when it is just the two of us.

DSC00990First, the dinner. Webster’s Prime is a steakhouse for people who like to spend lots of money on steak. The portions are small and expensive, but delicious all the same. I ordered a $34 sirloin, prepared medium and side dishes of maple pecan sweet potatoes and mac & cheese. The steak was the best part of the dinner, though their version of medium was much closer to well-done than I prefer. The side dishes were tasty, but nothing to write home about.

On a side note, I know that ordering mac & cheese at a super fancy steakhouse may seem juvenile, but I’ve had some really good mac & cheese at pricier restaurants before and I thought it worth the gamble. My favorite mac & cheese is from the Twisted Rooster in Grand Rapids, MI. Like Webster’s Prime, the Twister Rooster gets a lot of their ingredients from local sources. Unlike the Twisted Rooster, the mac & cheese at Webster’s Prime was mostly bland and the portions were far too small.

My wife got a $36 tenderloin, also medium (and much pinker than my steak) with a Caesar salad and smashed potatoes with bacon. She agreed that the steak was the best part of the meal.

For dessert, we both ordered the cheesecake to go, since time was running away and we needed to drive over to the theater. The service left a bit to be desired, as it felt like we were waited a bit too long for our food as well as the bill, but perhaps I was just in a bit of a rush to get to Les Mis. The total of the bill came quite a bit less than our gift card had on it, but judging that we wouldn’t likely find ourselves in Kalamazoo in the near future with a desire to spend $20 at Webster’s, we left it all to our waitress in spite of the service.

DSC00987bOn to the show. After a quick, unintentional tour of Western Michigan University, DeAnne and I found a parking spot at some distance from the main entrance. For future, similar events, we probably won’t dress up as much as we did this time, and DeAnne will certainly avoid heels in the snow if we have to walk long, slushy distances. Once inside Miller Auditorium, we found our seats easily with the help of the friendly staff. The seats were in the first balcony, dead center, and we had a commanding view. The only downside to the seats was the need to crawl over absolutely everyone, no matter which side you enter from, but it was worth the awkwardness.

Les Mis was incredible. I had seen it once before while a student at Western, but had forgotten how good it could be. Victor Hugo knows how to weave a tale laden with dramatic turns and moral quandaries. The songs are memorable and were all sung well. The action was nicely broken up with humorous interludes. And the actors and actresses gave a flawless performance. DeAnne and I both agreed that if we had more time and money, we would love to become regulars at such theater performances.

Leaving the theater went better than I expected. There were no long waits to get out of the parking lot and the road remained clear for the drive home. We arrived at our house just after midnight and were in bed by 1am, which, by the way, is about 4-5 hours later than we like to be in bed. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about our date.

Thank you Uniform Color Company of Holland for giving us the means for a wonderful night on the town. And thank you to my wife, DeAnne, for being the best date a man could ever hope to have. I love you more than sopranos love shattering crystal.

I am a Recreation Major.

Recreation is a discovery major. I was told this in Rec 101: An Introduction to Recreation. No one (or very few people) come to school to get a degree in Recreation. In fact, when I was in college, there was only one major that fewer people were pursuing, and I don’t even remember what it was. Probably Underwater Basket Weaving.

By now, you are probably wondering what the heck I am talking about. What is Recreation? What type of job does a Rec major do after college?

“I know,” says Johnny Everyman. “You teach gym in school.”

“Nope,” I say. “That’s phys. ed.”

“Oh,” says Johnny. “Then it’s like a sports therapy thing, right?”

“Nope,” I say. “That’s not it either.”

Recreation is the business of leisure. It takes many forms. There are private recreation jobs through organizations like the YMCA, summer camps, cruise lines and resorts. And there are municipal recreations jobs, which were recently made popular by the show, Parks and Recreation. Also, the DNR, military bases, etc.

One of my favorite memories of explaining recreation was with a friend for whom English is a second language.

“I was a recreation major in college,” I said.

“You went to clown college?” he said, laughing his head off.

“Close enough,” I said.

But here’s the thing. I loved being a Rec major. Because there weren’t many people pursuing Rec degrees, I had small classes with the same set of twenty or so students and we got to know each other pretty well. I learned awesome stuff in my classes, like how to juggle and the correct way to tie your shoes (yes, there is a wrong way, and most people use it). In one class, we went backpacking and got credit for it.

8camp_597_300_all_4_c1And then for my internships, I got to work at two very different, but equally awesome summer camps. It was fun.

“But Josh,” says Johnny Everyman, “You don’t work in recreation now.”

That’s true. I now work in a bookstore, but you’d be surprised at how many of the skills that I learned in college carry over to my bookstore job. I help plan a lot of events, market a lot of events, and every now and again, I help tie someone’s shoes.

As it happens, I love my job, and I love the fact that I get to leave it at the end of the day. The downside of working in recreation is that you are working while everyone else has free time (because you wouldn’t have a job if other people didn’t have free time). Often, you live at your workplace (summer camp, cruise line, etc.) and even if you don’t, you are still on call 24 hours a day. This is not an ideal schedule for everyone.

Being that I don’t have a job in my field, would I do things differently if I had the chance today? I don’t think so. I loved my education. I might have swapped my minor from Communication to something writing-related (and not newspaper writing, because that still falls under the Communication minor).

So if you are headed to college soon, or in college now but unhappy with your chosen major, why not choose Recreation? You’ll learn a lot of the same things that a Business major will learn, but you’ll have a lot more fun doing it. Plus, you’ll be in good company (me).

How to See Old Friends and Not Have It Be Awkward

So, this past weekend, I went down to Kalamazoo to visit some of my old friends from college. I regularly see my friend Andy every few months, but Andy and I were meeting up with our other friend, Adam, who I don’t get to see very often at all since he lives in the far-too-far wastes of Ohio.

Fun fact – I can’t see what Adam’s shirt says. I am colorblind.

Adam and I used to be roommates and much of our experience and relationship has seeped into my roommate flash fiction series, Thom and Tom. Anyway, we were all getting together to celebrate Adam’s birthday.

It had been over two years since Adam and I last hung out. In that time, my wife and I have had two daughters, my writing career is more serious than ever, and my job has morphed to include all kinds of fun new responsibilities. From his side, Adam has made a major career adjustment and has started and maintained a serious romantic relationship. A lot has changed for both of us.

But nothing has really changed between our old roommate relationship and our current living-in-different-cities relationship. We can fall back into our old friendship as easily as an experienced musician can remember the feel of an instrument, and the tunes are still as sweet.

This isn’t always the case with seeing old friends. Too many times, once a person moves on with their life, it becomes difficult to maintain the friendship or to fall back into the old routines. Too much has changed. This, I would hazard, is the norm for most relationships. And even though conversation flowed as easily as the Dr Pepper at BD’s Mongolian Barbacue where we celebrated Adam’s birthday, I noticed that we were employing some communication skills that I learned back in college in order to make things more comfortable. I think we did this naturally, but a skilled communicator can do it intentionally and achieve the same level of comfort.

The main thing that I noticed was our use of “carriers”. I learned about carriers first from Dr. Paul Yelsma in my Small Group Problem Solving class at Western Michigan University. While I was in his class, there was no one in the world that I hated more than Dr. Yelsma. His teaching style was designed to make people cry, and from some of the reviews that I’ve read on Ratemyprofessors.com, many other’s agree with my assessment. Of course, if you read the rest of the reviews for Dr. Yelsma, you’ll learn, as I did, that though he was not a likeable professor, he was a brilliant educator and his material has stuck with me far more than most of my other classes.

But I digress… A carrier is a subject of interest that a person can talk about for while. Once you discover a person’s carriers, you just ask them one related question and they open right up. The fact that you know something they like and that you would care enough to ask them about it makes that person feel knowledgeable and important. It is a great way to help along a new relationship as well as rekindle an old one.

Without even thinking about this concept, Adam and Andy and I were volleying carriers back and forth for a while, catching each other up on what we were doing, genuinely listening to each other, and feeling loved and respected the whole time. It was a great experience.

If you want to make someone feel special, find out their carriers. Ask about them. Then listen. It works great for old friends, new friends, even romantic relationships.

Fight Club and 9/11: How Fiction Affects My Perceptions of Reality

**Warning** If you haven’t seen Fight Club (which is kind of old by now), I’m going to spoil certain bits for you. Maybe instead of reading today’s post, you could go rent Fight Club, watch it, and then read today’s post.

The first time I saw the movie Fight Club was September 10th, 2001. I know this without hesitation because when I woke up for class the following morning, my roommate got an instant message from his boss telling him not to come in because large financial institutions were being bombed and planes were falling from the sky or something like that. If you have seen Fight Club, you’ll know that the movie ends with the bombings of large financial institutions.

I was sure that my roommate was putting me on. When he showed me the instant messages, I was sure that somehow, his boss had heard which movie we saw the night before and he was putting us both on. I didn’t have much time to ponder this though, as I had a class to get to.

After biking across campus, I showed up to my class only to find all of the students and the professor standing in the hallway, staring up at the television that normally cycled campus news and music videos. Instead, the footage showed a smoking, not-yet-fallen World Trade Center tower. The class never met. The professor sent us home and told us that classes would be cancelled for the rest of the day.

And so, my memory has forever linked the fictional work of Fight Club with the real-life tragedy of the 9/11 attacks. And how I remember the tragedy is shaped by the motivations of the characters in the movie. To me, the terrorist group did not simply choose to attack the World Trade Center arbitrarily. They were motivated by a desire to bring down an example of American consumerism and the American way of life, similarly to the motivations of Project Mayhem from the movie. In this way, I can put their actions into the framework of a story rather than a random act of terrorism.

This is just one example of real-life intersecting with and being influenced by fiction. And I only mention this example because of the significance of this day. But I can think of many more instances of fiction influencing my interpretation of reality.

I believe that it is an entirely human thing to assign a story to a situation where we have limited information. If I were to say that a woman is crying, there is a chance that you have already thought of a possibility of why that woman is crying. Perhaps she is injured, emotionally or phyically. Maybe she is overwhelmed with happiness and the tears are for joy. You don’t have enough information to know the exact reasons, but you do have enough to create a story in your head.

I think that the stories that we comes up with to explain the world around us reveal much more about us than they do the world. And often, the stories that we create are influenced by the stories that we consume, which lead back to our preferences for the how we interpret the world. If you seek out books about paranoid characters, you show that you have a penchant for paranoia, and there is a good chance that your interpretation of the woman crying has something to do with the source of your own personal fears.

What do you think? Do books, movies, and stories in general influence your perceptions? What memories are you seeing through the lens of something fictional? I’d love to hear your responses.

I am a good/bad student.

School, I know from my Facebook feed, just started for many people. Today’s autobiographical tale is meant to be a bit of advice for any and all students, whether your school is elementary, junior, high, vocational, collegiate, or of the “hard knocks” variety.

Let me add to my preface the fact that I graduated high school near the top of my class (though not at the very top since those kids were my friends and I didn’t want to take that away from them). And each semester at college, I made the Dean’s List. And while there was some confusion as to whether I was enrolled in the College of Education or the College of Arts & Sciences, I made two different Dean’s Lists. I was also a member of the Lee Honors College. I have never had too much difficulty in school.

Student stress kills.

This is what an honor student looks like.

Now, there are two types of people who can make this claim: people who work very hard on their schoolwork at the cost of their sleep, social lives, and sanity, and people who get by on last-minute study sessions, lucky guesses, and learning the teacher’s favorite dessert. All good, moral people would encourage you to be in the first group of people. I, on the underhand (play on words intended), advocate the second avenue to academic success. It is easier, and it is more fun.

My wife, who loves me dearly, hates this about me.Why? Because she has always been in the first group of students. She works hard for everything she has, and then she goes on to work hard after she achieves whatever it is she was working for. She can’t stand the fact that I got the grades I did while putting in one-third the effort. In fact, there is one story from my freshman year of college that absolutely steams her.

This is it.

It was finals week in the Winter semester of the freshman year. I had taken all but my last final, Rec 101,  and was packing up the last few things from my dorm room. I knew that my final wasn’t until 1pm. The final would take about and hour and a half, so I would be completely done with my freshman year of college by 2:30pm. I had arranged for my dad to come down to Kalamazoo with a van to help me load up my stuff at 3pm. Like clockwork!

So when I decided at noon to pull out my Rec 101 (Introduction to Recreation) notes for a last-minute study, I was surprised to discover that my 1pm final was actually a 10am final. My mind couldn’t immediately make sense of the fact that I had completely missed my last final exam, the one for the introductory course for my newly chosen major.

“What?” said my eyes. “I missed it?”

“Um,” said my brain. “Looks like it.”

“Fudge,” said my mouth.

Now, had I been a student of the hard-working ilk, I would never have made that mistake. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that I was a model student and that I had somehow missed my final exam. I would have been in serious trouble. I wouldn’t have known the first thing to do to make things right.

Fortunately, that was not the case and I knew exactly what to do.

Again, here was the situation. It is shortly after noon. My computer, my dorm room, and my life in general are mostly in boxes. My dad is en route to pick me up in less than three hours. And I have missed one of my final exams.

Not to worry.

This is what a cool professor looks like.

You see, the professor and I had struck up a friendship. I was an active participant in class discussions. He was always interested to hear the latest happenings of the Valhalla Norwegian Society (a Registered Student Organization that I made up and got the school to recognize in an effort to apply for school funds to throw parties and award myself scholarships). And he and I played racquetball every now and again.

When I realized that I missed his final exam, I first called his office in the College of Education. But, since this was his last final too, he had left for the day. Not a problem. Due to our friendship, I knew his home number. I tried him there. No answer. I left a message.

“Um,” I said into his answering machine. “This is Josh. You may or may not have noticed that I missed the Rec 101 final this morning. So… sorry about that. Any chance I could take it anyway?”

My professor lived about an hour away from the university, so it took a while for him to get home and hear my message.

I have finished packing everything except my notes and my Rec 101 books. I am sitting still, staring at my phone like an ugly girl on prom night. At about 1:30pm, he calls me.

“So Josh,” he says. “You missed the final exam.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Sorry again for that. I was sure that it was at one. It turns out, it was at ten.”

“Glad you figured that out,” he says. “What are we going to do about that?”

“Well,” I say. “I had an idea about that. Is there any way you could email me the final? I could take it now, email back the answers, and we could pretend that I was really there this morning.”

“Hmm,” he says. “Well, since you have always been a good student, and you seem to know the material, as long as you promise not to use your book or your notes, I can do that.”

“Thanks,” I say, and put the phone down. I know that I yelled for joy. I think I may have even capered around my room.

Of course, this new deal doesn’t change the fact that I already have my computer packed up and my dad is on his way to pick me up in about an hour.

I run down the dorm hallway and ask people in various states of packing whether their computers are still hooked up to the network and whether I might borrow one of them to take a final exam immediately. Finally, I find one at my across the hall neighbor. I entrust my notes and book to my roommate (who is waiting for his parent to pick him up) and wait for my professor’s email.

With just under an hour before my dad is to show up, I get the email. I take the exam. I email him back my answers. I thank him profusely again for allowing me to take it.

Minutes later, my dad shows up. We pack up the van, stop off to eat some dinner on the way, and before long I am home.

It takes a few weeks for the grades to come by mail.

REC 101: A

So students, let this be a lesson to you. Of course you can work hard, memorize everything, do all of the practice homework, read all of the readings, and study for tests more than an hour before you take them. But there is another way. And it may just be the better way.

Maybe you should find out if your teacher/professor plays racquetball and challenge them to a match. Maybe it will end up saving you.

I am a [smart] fraud.

“Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.” – Sophocles

With respect to Sophocles, when making plans for college, I  disagree.

Here’s the story.

I had already been accepted to Western Michigan University, but was applying for acceptance to the Lee Honors College within the University.

The Lee Honors College aims to enrich its members with distinctive classes and special opportunities in order to create “The Distinctive Student“.

Members of the Honors College were eligible to live in a special residence hall with like-minded students and certain restrictions that made study time more possible and profitable.

My GPA was high enough to qualify, and I had no trouble writing the essay about why I would make a good addition to the Honors College, but I didn’t look at the due date on the teacher recommendations. You see, I was supposed to have two teachers and a school administrator write recommendations for me to get into the program. The first time I saw the due date was the day before they were due.

I did not freak out. Doing assignments the night before the due date was how I got through high school. It was like I was training myself for this very situation.

I approached two of my favorite teachers and the vice-principal  in school that day and explained my situation. One of the teachers told me that it would be a pleasure and that she would have my recommendation done by the end of the school day. The other two told me that they were too busy to write them and that I should have approached them sooner.

Sure, they were right, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me.

I made them an offer.

“I will write the recommendations for you,” I said, “then you can read them over and only sign off on them if they sound like something you would have written anyway.”

“Sure,” they both said.

And so I wrote my recommendations. I made sure to write them with different voices, and using slightly different layouts to account for the fact that they were being written by two different people. I drove to their homes that night and got their signatures, thereby making them real.

The following day, I drove to Kalamazoo and handed in all of my materials.

Within a couple of weeks, I got notification in the mail that I was accepted into the program.

I wasn’t surprised. I had at least two very good recommendations.

I am a Natural at Self-Promotion.

Last week, I told the origin story of the “I Love Josh Mosey” t-shirts, as well as how they helped me achieve semi-stardom in Big Sky country.

But I skipped some of the story…

Liz in the t-shirt. Josh stuffing his face.

If you didn’t read last week’s post, I made a bunch of t-shirts with my face on them for my friends as graduation gifts. What I didn’t tell you was how the visiting-from-out-of-town family of one of my friends wanted the shirts too. Of course, I was only too willing to give away more things with my face on them, so my friend Liz and many of her cousins got the shirt too.

Fast forward to the graduation ceremony. It is the year 2000, the ceremony is halfway done, people have been reminded a few times now to hold their applause for the end of the program.

My name is called.

All heck breaks loose.

Unbeknownst to me, all of my friend’s cousins who got my t-shirts had worn them to graduation. At my name being called, they stood proudly, stretching their shirts so that everyone could see them, shouting things like “We Love Josh Mosey!” and “Josh Mosey for President!” and “Woo Hoo!”

The announcer kindly reminds the crowd to wait for the end of the program to applaud while I shake hands with the principal, receive my diploma, and walk to the side of the gymnasium completely red-faced. It was wonderful.

His House, an awesome campus ministry.

The next fall, I went to Western Michigan University where Liz’s brother and sister-in-law, Jesse and Rachel, attended. After a week or so of settling in, the pair paid me a visit and introduced me to His House Christian Fellowship, the campus ministry where they were involved (and the one where I would become involved as well).

When they picked me up, Rachel was wearing her “I Love Josh Mosey” shirt, as she had been for a little while around campus. So when I came to my first His House event, a lot of people came up to me, recognizing my face from the shirt and I instantly had friends, albeit ones whose names I did not yet know.

If there is a lesson to be had in there somewhere, it is this. T-shirts with your face on them are great gifts, every time. Maybe I should be selling them through this blog…

Stay tuned for that.

4 Things Writers Can Learn from Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
Nov. 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007
So it goes.

I am in love with the writing of Kurt Vonnegut. Let that be my disclaimer.

I first read Slaughterhouse-Five for an Ethics & Literature class offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University. Having never heard of Vonnegut before, I had no idea what I was in for. My previous reading interests consisted of The Lord of the Rings and spy novels.

Slaughterhouse-Five was my gateway drug to harder concepts like war, morality, pain, and patriotism.

I once suggested Slaughterhouse-Five to a friend who had never read Vonnegut. He read it, but didn’t think as much of it as I. He told me that he found the book a bit hopeless, depressing. I couldn’t disagree with that. Vonnegut wrote from his experience as a World War II prisoner-of-war who lived through the fire-bombing of Dresden. He prefaces the book with a promise to a war buddy’s wife that he wouldn’t glorify the war. He lived up to that promise.

If you haven’t read Slaughterhouse-Five, read it. I can’t promise that it will be an uplifting book, but it is excellently written and shows an author who put himself onto the pages, sometimes literally, in a way that will stick with you. Plus, it was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, so I’m not alone in my convictions.

I’m not going to bother with an in-depth synopsis of the book, because I fully expect each of you to read it for yourself, but if you need something to go on for the rest of this post, here’s the one-sentence version for you: We follow the out-of-order life of Billy Pilgrim, a WWII POW who lived through the fire-bombing of Dresden (sound familiar?) and was abducted by aliens who taught him the true nature of time, free will, and acceptance; an anti-war novel.

Okay then.

4 Things Writers Can Learn from Slaughterhouse-Five

1. Form & Function | When you first start reading Slaughterhouse, you notice that the book is not laid out chronologically. Rather, it is broken up into little moments. It isn’t until the fifth chapter that you read this:

Billy couldn’t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out–in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.

“Exactly,” said the voice.

“They are telegrams?”

“There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message–describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments when seen all at one time.”

Vonnegut wrote in the style of the Tralfamadorians, a device that he invented and integrated in order that we might receive something beautiful when seen altogether. There is no real suspense, as he tells you in the first chapter exactly how the book is going to end. It’s certainly a different approach to novel.

2. Author-Driven Narrative | Usually, books fall into one of two categories as far as what is driving the narrative: plot or character. Vonnegut, I would argue, does neither. In plot-driven narratives, the action of the story is what draws the reader in and keeps them reading. In character-driven narratives, the plot comes second to the development of the characters, creating realistic, fleshed-out characters that readers love. Most novels try to balance these two things. Slaughterhouse-Five breaks up the plot into non-chronological order, and we get to the know the characters over the course of the novel, but the reason we keep turning the page is because the author has laid out the book in a very specific way. We follow the author’s lead more than the plot or the character.

3. Writing from Experience | Vonnegut was there. In fact, he even makes a few appearances in the book. This is my favorite, but its a little graphic, so feel free to skip it if you are faint of heart or stomach:

Billy looked inside the latrine. The wailing was coming from in there. The place was crammed with Americans who had taken their pants down. The welcome feast had made them as sick as volcanoes. The buckets were full or had been kicked over.

An American near Billy wailed that he had excreted everything but his brains. Moments later he said, “There they go, there they go.” He meant his brains.

That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.

The first chapter opens with a discussion between Vonnegut and a buddy from the war. The last chapter shows them both returning to Dresden in real life.

While I wouldn’t recommend this device for every novel, it is one of my favorite things about Vonnegut’s books. His platform, his authority comes from his experience. He just can’t stay out of his own books. Either he inserts himself by name, or he uses his alter-ego, Kilgore Trout. In Slaughterhouse, he does both.

4. Symbolism | Slaughterhouse-Five is rich with symbolism, but rather than point out every symbol, I’ll just talk about one.

Vonnegut could have named his character anything, but he chose the last name of Pilgrim. Pilgrims are travelers. Billy happens to be a traveler through time. But the symbolism goes deeper.

Back in the days when people only owned two books, they had a Bible and a copy of John Bunyon’s A Pilgrim’s Progress. Pilgrim’s Progress shows a man on the road to salvation who undergoes trial and hardship in order to get to the Celestial city. It is one of the earliest forms of allegory to describe the Christian life and the path to Heaven.

Vonnegut’s name choice puts his own Pilgrim in direct contrast to Bunyon’s, as Billy Pilgrim undergoes trial and hardship and is rewarded, not with Heaven, but with nothingness.

Billy is speaking before a capacity audience in a baseball park, which is covered by a geodesic dome. The flag of the country is behind him. It is a Hereford bull on a field of green. Billy predicts his own death within an hour. He laughs about it, invites the crowd to laugh with him. “It is high time I was dead,” he says. “Many years ago,” he said, “a certain man promised to have me killed. He is an old man now, living not far from here. He has read all the publicity associated with my appearance in your fair city. He is insane. Tonight he will keep his promise.”

There are protests from the crowd.

Billy Pilgrim rebukes them. “If you protest, if you think that death is a terrible thing, then you have not understood a word I’ve said.” Now he closes his speech as he closes every speech–with these words: “Farewell, hello, farewell, hello.”

There are police around him as he leaves the stage. They are there to protect him from the crush of popularity. No threats on his life have been made since 1945. The police offer to stay with him. They are floridly willing to stand in a circle around him all night, with their zap guns drawn.

“No, no,” says Billy serenely. “It is time for you to go home to your wives and children, and it is time for me to be dead for a little while–and then live again.” At that moment, Billy’s high forehead is in the cross-hairs of a high-powered laser gun. It is aimed at him from the darkened press box. In the next moment, Billy Pilgrim is dead. So it goes.

So Billy experiences death for a while. It is simply violet light and a hum. There isn’t anybody else there. Not even Billy Pilgrim is there.

Vonnegut’s worldview appears through his symbolic name choice, drawing contrast and refuting the Christian faith in favor of Humanism. So it goes.

Using symbolism is an effective tool to portray complex thoughts or to allow a deeper interpretation of your work.

If you haven’t read it yet, read the book with symbolism in mind and see what you come up with. If you have read it, read it again.

And as always, thanks for reading my blog.

I am smooth.

Since I started thinking about my college days again for last week’s post, I thought I’d share another college story.

When I first moved to Kalamazoo in order to attend Western Michigan University, music was something that was still primarily enjoyed by listening to the radio (that makes me feel very old all of the sudden). Illegal file sharing was yet to be made illegal, and the iPod was only a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye. While searching the dial for a station worth listening to, I stumbled across my college’s radio station, WIDR, and instantly fell in love.

WIDR | Radio EvolutionI still get nostalgic for WIDR and many’s the time when I wish that I could get the signal where I live now. All of the DJs were students, long awkward pauses and dead air were not uncommon, and I had never heard of most of the musicians they played, but it all worked. WIDR had the perfect mix of loveable amateurism and exposure to the underground music scene.

But enough of my gushing and on to the story.

I learned where the station was located after being invited to speak about the Valhalla Norwegian Society, of which I was president at the time. As it happened, WIDR’s studio was located in the same building as the registered student organization mailboxes, so in the weeks following the interview, I would stop in at random to say hi to the DJs who interviewed me with whom I had struck up a friendship.

On one such visit, rather than ask if my DJ friends were available, I stepped up to the main desk and said, “I’m here to pick up my prize pack.” Now, there was no prize pack waiting for me, but I thought that on the off chance that I could get a free t-shirt or something, I’d try my luck.

“Prize pack?” said the receptionist. “Did someone call you and tell you that you won something?”

“Um,” I replied. “Well, no.”

“Then, why did you come in?” asked the receptionist, and rightfully so.

“Um,” I replied. “I just wanted to see if I could get something. Maybe a t-shirt or something.”

“Oh,” said the receptionist. “Well, I can’t give you anything.”

“Okay,” I said. “Would you mind telling John that I’m out here then, if he’s not on-air at the moment, I mean.”

“Actually,” said a woman sitting against the wall who I had completely missed, “I was about to go record an interview with John, so he’ll be busy for a little bit.”

“Oh,” I said. “It’s cool. I’ll just check back later.”

“Wait a sec,” said the new woman. “I heard what you were trying to do with the prize pack thing. Clever and ballsy of you. If you wait around until after the interview, I’d love to give you a couple tickets to my show tonight. Maybe you could bring a date.”

I waited. True to her word, this mystery musician put my name down for two tickets to her show that night.  This turn of events gave me sufficient reason to ask out a girl that I’d been interested in a for a few weeks. What a great first date story that would be, I thought (isn’t it funny how we want to make our lives fit into clever story arcs?). To my surprise, the girl agreed and off we went.

The seats were prime. The music was good. My date and I were enjoying ourselves. And then, around the middle of the set, the musician stops and says, “Where’s Josh? I met Josh earlier at the college radio station and he told me that he was going to be on a first date tonight. Josh, are you here?”

I raised my hand. People from all directions stared at me… and my date. I should probably say that the girl that I brought to this event was a shy girl who didn’t like the spotlight.

“How’s the date going so far?”

I looked over at my date. She gave me a thumbs up, but the look on her face was not happy.

“Um, great!” I lied.

“Cool,” she said, and then she finished her show. The first date became the last date, and that was okay. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Afterward, I stopped back into the radio station to thank them for doing the interview with the musician that led to me getting free show tickets. My DJ friends invited me to talk about the evening on the air. I told them that it was a good evening, but that things didn’t work out.

That was when they decided that it would be a fun show segment to have girls call in to the station and go on dates with me (WIDR would be footing the bill) and then I would talk about my experiences the next day. At the time, I thought nothing of being pimped out by my college radio station and thought it would be a fun way to see concerts and such for free.

The promotion never came together however, and now I’m really glad that it didn’t. Now, I’m married to a wonderful woman (a bit on the shy side, I guess I have a type). And though I’m sure that my wife would never have left me when confronted with a spotlight on us, I’m glad that our story started differently.

I love my wife more than old people love racism and talking about diseases.

The Writing Processes of Vonnegut, Pratchett, Gorey, and Tolkien in Links

In an interview this week with a fellow blogger, I was asked who inspires me. I answered with four different authors, each chosen for a different reason (in order to find out what those reasons are, you’ll have to read the interview). This week, I decided to seek out any wisdom that my four favorites might have to share on the topic of writing.

I was introduced to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut in an ethics course offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University in my freshman year. We read Slaughterhouse Five and explored the morality represented within its pages. I’ve always enjoyed books, but I haven’t always enjoyed them when they were required reading for school. When I first read Slaughterhouse Five though, I couldn’t put it down. I think I read it twice before the due date and then again before the end of the semester. “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time…” Even just talking about Vonnegut’s work now makes me want to pick up a copy and read it over again. The link here features Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing. If you are a writer, I hope you click through.

It was sometime in my first year of working at Baker Book House when a coworker exposed me to the genius of Terry Pratchett. I think we were talking about sci-fi and fantasy stories when she told me that she was doing a paper for one of her literature classes on the topic of rule consistency when creating a fantasy world. “It doesn’t need to be just like it is in the real world, but it needs to be consistent within itself,” she said. She went on to tell me that she was using the works of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an example of consistency. When no flicker of recognition flashed on my face, she insisted that I read some. The next day, she brought me three books. “When you finish one of these, you are going to want another to start on right away,” she said. She was right. This link is for an interview that Pratchett did a few years back, and the relevant portion for writers begins about midway down the page.

I ran across Edward Gorey in college on a random excursion with my roommate, friend, and sometime muse, Adam. Together, we would visit Barnes and Noble and search through the bargain racks for anything that looked interesting. I picked up one of the Amphigorey books and was instantly in love with the mixture of dark humor, brilliant illustrations, and tales that forced the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Alas, I could not find any advice to authors from Edward Gorey, but this link is for his book The Unstrung Harp or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, in which Gorey illustrates the creative process of novel-writing though at the time he wrote this story, he himself had never written a novel. Still, it isn’t far from the truth.

My last author for this list is actually the one that I read earliest in my life. My dad handed me a copy of The Hobbit when I was in 7th or 8th grade and told me that I might enjoy it. I devoured it. Tolkien’s style, characters, and voice drew me in (as they do for anyone who dares to read The Hobbit). After that, my dad gave me a copy of The Fellowship of the Rings which I breezed through as well. And then I hit The Two Towers and got bogged down along with Frodo and Sam in the Dead Marshes. Sadly, I set the series down for a full year before attempting another go. But by that time, I had forgotten half of the details of the story, so I decided to start the whole thing again from the beginning. The Hobbit, check. The Fellowship of the Ring, check. The Two Towers, I powered through it this time, check. After I finished The Return of the King, I was sad the journey was over. LOTR was all I could talk about with my dad for weeks. And then he asked if I knew about the Silmarillion, which I hadn’t. So I decided to start again with The Hobbit, plowed through LOTR, and picked up the Silmarillion. Oh man, I was in nerd heaven. So many things in LOTR were explained, origins of the races, where the wizards came from, what a Balrog is, tales from the first and second ages of the world before the third age (when LOTR is set)! I am helplessly a Tolkien fan, so when I saw this post on Tolkien’s 10 Tips for Writers by the wonderful blogger, Roger Colby, I knew that it was going to be good. Colby culled through Tolkien’s writings and interviews where he discussed his craft and came up with a solid list for writers to use as a reference. Be sure to check it out, as well as the rest of his site.

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Last, for my writing report card, I’m going to give myself a B+ for the week.

I got the most hits in one day to date on Wednesday, I did a blog swap with another blogger, and I had fresh content everyday. The only thing was that I didn’t get a chance to write much on my novel, but I’m not going to let that get me down. Good job, me!