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So Far, Season 7 of Parks and Recreation Sucks

First of all, the characters must’ve gotten too successful and happy because we had to jump two and half years into the future (with no promise of returning to the present day (is the whole series just going to stay in the future forever?)) in order to, apparently, make all the characters unlikeable.

Leslie, who has achieved her wildest dreams of running a huge department is somehow sucked back into work in tiny Pawnee, work that April is supposed to be taking care of, but isn’t? for some reason?. She feels less like a workaholic and more like an officious intruder. Leslie has crossed the line from adorkable cute-nuts, to monomaniacal and unrelatable.

Tommy, who was cute as an egotistical imbecile when he was tiny and a failure, is now a bloated mess that I don’t care about.

My favorite character Andy Dwyer, played by recently-splashed-with-hot-abs-gravy badass Star Lord Chris Pratt, really has to make a stretch to be a believable dumb-dumb, and doesn’t nail it.

Look how dumb my chiseled features are.

Look how dumb my chiseled features are.

The lovable wise old government-hating bear Ron Swanson has turned into a militant capitalist who now is totally cool with hanging out with tech start-up twenty-somethings, which feels so so so wrong.

We’ve been bashed in the face with the idea that sometime in the past something called Morningstar happened that set this all in motion, but you can tell the writers have probably sharpened every pencil in the writer’s room procrastinating coming up with what Morningstar actually is and keep coming up short.

The rest of the characters, including, sadly, Ben Wyatt are either non-entities or sad nostalgia throwbacks that come off as “Remember when we did that funny thing that one time? Wasn’t that great??”

The only redeeming quality is the character of April Ludgate, who up until now in the series has been purposefully miserable, only finding the occasional bit of joy in ironically hate/loving things that are, to use the most unthoughtful and internet-y use of the word, random. She is married, stable, and struggling to figure out how to live unironically as her future becomes clearer and boring-er. That is something I relate to pretty hard, and I am really interested in watching that play out.

The show also used to have great power to deal with real-time governmental issues in the small-town setting, but, not only have they eliminated that possibility with this future jump, now the main governmental issue they’ve put all their money on is… preserving land. Riveting.

Aside from that, the future tech is kind of fun to watch, with the holographic manipulatable images on see-through iPads. Unfortunately, it’s portrayed in this straightforward, takes-itself-too-seriously way that feels like a good joke will never be written about it; it feels like one of those speculative future videos I see on Gizmodo that’s really just an ad for a fridge.

Anyway, I’m really disappointed. So there.


A Compendium of My Freewrites in December 2014

“My medium is words, sentences, paragraphs. And the same rules of good art apply to them there as they do to anything else.”   -December 20, 2014


On YouTube, Adam Savage, one of the MythBusters, has a channel in which he does what he calls One-Day Builds. These videos compress around eight hours of Adam working on a single project into a 30-minute or so video. I love these videos because, as a writing teacher, I love watching the creation process regardless of what people are creating. Every time I watch one of these videos I am inspired to create something myself.

This, here, is an attempt to do that same thing, to build something in one day, but with words.

Adam Savage

Continue reading

My Family Being Happy and Moving Slowly

My Life as a Mormon

Thomas Poulson Cloward

My great great great great grandpa.

Thinking of Mormonism as a cultural heritage like Judaism, you could say that I am half Mormon. On my Mom’s side, we go back six generations to Thomas Poulson Cloward, a shoemaker who crossed the plains with Brigham Young the first time the Saints made the trek, settled in Payson, UT, married two women named Mary, and was eventually arrested and forced to shave his head for being a polygamist.

On my Dad’s side, there aren’t any Mormons. Not even my Dad. So that’s why I say I’m half Mormon.

My mom went to church most of my childhood, and she took us kids along, but being five generations deep in the church, it was much more of a cultural thing for her than a source of spirituality. We went to church because that was just what we did.

I have no recollection of my baptism; I had to look up the certificate at my Grandma’s house to find out who even baptized me.

I did see a video once of me getting some presents on the day of my baptism. I unwrapped a case for the scriptures and, in my eight-year-old excitement I say, “Oh cool, a bible case!”

When I saw that video I had already returned from my mission and I knew the significance of my calling it a “bible” case instead of a “scripture” case; it means we were pretty inactive in the church and I hadn’t grown up speaking the parlance of my Mormon heritage. It was video evidence of how few ties to the church I had growing up.

Another story that shows how little I knew about the church while being a member growing up: When I received the Aaronic priesthood, a ceremony that involves men who already have the priesthood standing in a circle and placing their hands on the head of the person receiving it. I remember being mad at my father for not being in the circle, but my dad wasn’t even a member, let alone a priesthood holder. I wasn’t mad at him because I knew that he didn’t have the priesthood, but just because I thought he had just refused to stand in the circle.

In other words, I had no conception of what the priesthood was on the day that I received it.

But I had a few good leaders in the church and I knew the church was a good place that felt friendly and welcoming, and that it produced and sustained good men.

Through middle school and high school, I ended up thinking of myself more as an atheist. I remember on the day in math class when we talked about irrational numbers and having an epiphany that, in the same way that man had come up with negative and irrational numbers to explain new problems they discovered as they did more with Math, man had created religion as a way of explaining the problems he encountered in life. I was sure about it. I thought of myself as smarter than the religious people I surrounded myself with. I was about 14 at this point.

But one thing that happened when I was nine or ten was really important and stuck with me. I was in primary class, and the teacher was telling the story of the first vision. When she told us that Joseph Smith felt a dark force trying to stop him from praying, I stopped the teacher and told her, “I know this is true now.” And I truly believe that something inside me changed in that moment. No matter how much I didn’t believe in God, or how far I got from the Church, or even thought of Mormonism as a hoax, I never ever doubted that Joseph Smith was really a prophet.

I have also thought, in all seriousness, that I literally have pioneer blood in me that helps me know it. Even now that I am “educated” and can see why people would see these events as child’s fantasy or imagination, I can’t ever bring myself to doubt the power and importance of that experience.

I grew up with one foot firmly in the church, and one foot firmly out.

Eventually, in high school and with a mission on the horizon, I figured I had better figure out what I really knew about the church and Jesus and God and all that. I was in a typing class my senior year in high school. For this class, we sat at a word processor program and the teacher gave us a sheet of paper, and we were supposed to type “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” or something like that 30 times every day. I eventually started writing other things, and when I figured out that the teacher didn’t care what we typed as long as we filled the page, I started using the time to free write.

It was during this time that I think I really started to understand what prayer is. My free writes were almost always just me getting my thoughts down about deeply meaningful questions and life problems and issues. During those free writes, I decided that religion wasn’t fake, that I should go on a mission, that Christ was a real thing, and a bunch of other stuff. I found so much faith just by writing. Maybe that’s why I am a writing teacher today.

I eventually told my mom and family that I was going to go on a mission, and they were supportive, if surprised. My oldest brother had gone to Guatemala on his mission and was an example for me. My other brother and sister had long since left the Church.

At this point, I knew I believed in Jesus Christ as a savior and as divine, and I had gotten there through the Mormon Church, so I fully embraced it. This was my church. I told my Bishop that I wanted to go on a mission and he asked me all the worthiness questions and told me that I was going to have to wait a year before I could apply to go on a mission. But it didn’t really phase me. I was determined at this point.

At the end of high school, I started to make friends who were non-denominational Christians, and they were in bands and had cool hair and tattoos and their girls were hotter than the Mormon girls I knew. They believed in Jesus, which was my cool new thing. I wanted to find other people who were cool like me and believed in Christ, and they fit the bill. On top of that, my overall impression of Mormons my own age was that they were stiff, boring, stuck-up, and show-offs. Up to this point, my only Mormon friends were, for the most part, my leaders.

I worked hard to spend time with my Christian friends, thinking that we shared the same love for Jesus and rock music and that it would be perfect. I thought I could get all the Jesus without any of the stuffed-shirt, boring Mormonness I didn’t really care for. However, I didn’t fully grasp how deep and divisive doctrinal differences were between Mormonism and Christian churches.

I feel deep deep deep in love with a Christian girl. She left for college and I went out to visit. I was somewhat aware that my being Mormon was a big deal, and that she wasn’t happy with it. But I took my scriptures along with me thinking that I could show her a few of the scriptures that I knew that proved that the Church was true and she would come around and we could just be in love and play rock music together and be happy.

That’s not how it went. After spending an OK weekend together, she eventually brought me in her room and played me a cassette tape of The Godmakers or something like that about how Mormonism is a cult, and ended up breaking up with me minutes before my Mom picked me up to take me home.

This was a pain like I had never ever known, layered with all kinds of cognitive dissonance.

I started studying. I read everything I could, and while this was before the internet, I still got my hands on some really difficult materials to understand. My biggest hangup was the relationship between Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father. In Christian Churches they are the same Being, in Mormonism they are two different People. I don’t know if my unrequited love took me to it, or if I was actually confused, but this was enough to convince me that Mormonism was fake.

I called myself a Christian and believed in salvation by grace and not works like the Mormons, etc. I stopped going to the Mormon church, looked for other churches, grew my hair out, pierced my ears, and maintained chastity like I had never done before.

I figured since I was a Christian now, I would be fully accepted by my Christian friends. But that didn’t happen. They were just as cliquey as everyone else, and I have a feeling that we all knew I was probably using religion to get friends and (possibly) get that girl back.

The whole situation, rather than being everything I had ever hoped for, was just sad.

But I really went for it. I remember being at a party standing in front of a fifth of vodka and telling myself, “It’s ok, I’m saved.” And then drinking and feeling absolutely alone and miserable.

At the time I had a really great bishop, one of the best men I have ever met, and a wonderful young men’s leader, who is still my very good friend. They really encouraged me and saw through my long hair and earrings and stayed my friends throughout the whole thing.

So here I was faced with this terrible question, “How can my bishop and young men’s leader believe in a false church and still be such good people? and Why, if this Christian way of looking at things is the truth, why am I so unhappy, and why don’t I feel settled, and why aren’t my friends who share my faith, well, friendly?”

I went to the pastor of the church that my friends went to and hung out with him to ask him all my difficult doctrinal questions. I pounded him with scripture after scripture from the Book of Mormon and New Testament, and I had him stumped. If I asked him about how salvation worked the best he could come up with was something like, “Well the Baptists believe… and the Lutherans believe…” Then, at the end he pulled out a book called “Cults” and opened up to the Mormonism section. I remember the passage said, “Mormons tend to be much more intelligent than those in other cults…”

The pastor had zero answers where my LDS leaders had most of them. They didn’t have all the answers, but they didn’t squirm around aimlessly when I asked them questions. That experience with the pastor was enough to convince me that the Mormons were not deceived and that I would find my spiritual home in the place I grew up.

The next day was Wednesday, so I went to the young men’s activity and have never turned away from the Church since.

I went back to my bishop at this time, and the year that I needed to wait to go on a mission had lapsed, and I hadn’t done anything that disqualified me from serving, so I started my application process. I went whole-hog Mormon at this point. I read the Book of Mormon everyday, went to every institute class I could, paid back all the tithing I should have been paying the whole time I was away from the church, and felt great about all of it.

I was called to serve in Mexico City, and upon entering the MTC, I was reminded of all the reasons why I never had any Mormon friends growing up. I think I went through more culture shock in my eight weeks at the Missionary Training Center than I did in the first weeks of being in Mexico City.

After a mountain of struggle, I was 100% sold on Mormonism as a religion and as a doctrine, but I had never really been around Mormonism as a culture.

I had a hard time getting along with missionaries my entire mission. I never felt like I fit in. I talked differently, acted differently, had different priorities. What shocked me the most, was the big number of missionaries who had not had the heart-wrenching struggle I had had to get there. There were a few missionaries I met that didn’t even really care about the Church or Christ. I had no idea how that could have been, and I ended up being a jerk to some missionaries because of that, too.

But in spite of that, I had a wonderful, deeply, deeply rewarding experience on my mission. I learned a lot about myself and about life.

One of the main lesson’s I learned on my mission was that who my companion was made all the difference in my life. I needed to get married as soon as possible, because I knew that when I was alone I had the tendency to drive myself insane, and when I had a good companion, life was livable. Plus sex.

I leave the story of meeting my wife for another blog post. But the important thing about this part of my life is that I was at BYU-Idaho and I was completely happy with every moment there. I loved the Church; I loved the people that I surrounded myself with; my testimony was strong; I had friends.

My wife and I had a difficult first year of marriage, but, again, that’s another blog post. We had kids early because we knew we were expected to, and we both wanted to be good parents, and we both had very similar ideas about what a family was for and how one should work. It all made sense and came together.

My wife and I graduated with our Bachelor’s degrees and I went to grad school. This started a new level of spirituality for me.

I started reading philosophy and talking about with people that weren’t Mormon, that didn’t even believe in God, that used the F-word during class.

I had a lot of soul-searching to do during this time. Life without God seemed to make a lot of sense for a lot of people, and life with God made sense for me. I had to rebuild every part of my testimony from the ground up. And I did. I spent every scripture study session defending the Church against unknown assailants for some reason.

I ended up writing my thesis about how I made my Mormonism work with all the ideas I was reading in my grad program. It’s only 66 pages, check it out.

Like I said, after that meeting with the pastor, I have never really had my testimony shaken all that much, no matter what I’ve read. And I’ve read a lot.

However, now that I am settling into the second year of my PhD program, I am starting to feel unsatisfied with my church experience. I know the Church has all kinds of problems, I have read all there is to read. I think because I’ve already been through two or three faith crises already, I’m stable in the Church now in a way that many aren’t. But I still feel more unsettled than I have in a long time.

A good way of putting my current predicament is, “If the Church fulfills me so deeply, why doesn’t it fulfill me shallowly too?”

I find myself in a tough spot. Most of the people that have been through what I have been through have left the church, and some are angry and bitter. There aren’t many like me in the church. And most of the people in the pews with me on Sunday, while I am sure they have all struggled in their own way, don’t seem to have had similar experiences to mine.

I still talk and think very differently than the rest of the congregation, just like I always have since I really started doing it when I was 18.

I’m not a typical Mormon in a lot of ways. And Mormonism, as a culture anyway, seems to be built entirely for typical Mormons.

So, yeah. That’s me.

I Write About Writing: It’s Just What I Do I Guess

As I wrote my 750 words this morning, I discovered that there are two kinds of writing that I do when I am my only audience. These two kinds of writing are great tools for me for getting things done and figuring stuff out. 

The differences among these kinds of writing come from what I start out with, and what I want to end up with. 

Well, really, there are three kinds of writing, but really only two. I’ll explain. 

The first kind is reflective writing. This is when I sit down with some event or experience, or series of events or experiences and I try to make sense of them, either by linking them together into what Lyotard calls a “grand narrative,” by sussing out what even happened, or by analyzing why it happened what it could mean. The end goal of reflective writing is to feel more secure or confident, or to learn about myself and others.

The problem with reflective writing, is that I have a tendency, or at least used to have a tendency, to beat myself up. The writing would sometimes devolve into a pity fest. Just long lists of why I’m not good enough or smart enough, or a deep analysis of why I always fail and why I deserve to be unhappy. 

It could get ugly. 

But now, reflective writing mainly works to help me make sense of experiences or current and past relationships, or it helps me locate bottlenecks or roadblocks that cut down on my productivity, or else it helps me figure out ways to get better or improve things, or sometimes just to label my experiences, to give things names. 

This blog entry is an example of reflective writing where I name things. 

The second kind of writing I do that helps me out, I call planning writing. With this, I start out with a goal: sometimes I need to plan a lesson for class, sometimes I need to write a paper, sometimes I need to buy my wife a gift and I sit down and bang out my thoughts on how to get those things done. Planning writing is how I come up with an idea.

Planning writing is invention. 

For me this is where the beauty and magic of writing is the most evident. I try to write and to live by the axiom “You don’t know what you are going to write until you write it.” I don’t what is in my head until I have to wrestle into a sentence, which then holds it in place long enough for me to look at it and figure out how I feel about it. 

It’s for this same reason that I like improv comedy so much: those actors have no idea what they are going to do until it happens, and when it does happen, it doesn’t feel like invention, it feels like invocation or channeling. 

I like that feeling. I like thinking that when I write, it’s not coming 100% out of me, but is somehow distilled from the ether that surrounds me. It’s… exciting. 

The (sort of) third kind of writing that I do is freewriting. This is when I have the simple goal of getting words onto a page for the sake of doing it, or to get rid of the chaff words before I get to the good stuff, or to warm up my brain. But the thing is, freewriting almost always at some point turns into one of the other two types. 

It usually starts with pointless junk like, “I am now writing a sentence that started with the word I, and now I am wondering if I should have gone to the bathroom before I started. My fingers are moving!” It’s kind of like when a fish tank owner sucks the first bit of liquid through a siphon before the pressure equalizes and the water starts flowing, and then spits out the nasty fish water. 

The cool thing is, I can usually actually feel the switch happen from freewriting to planning or reflective writing; it’s when I say to myself, “Oh, ok, this is what I am doing,” and usually comes with a renewed sense of purpose and energy.

That’s also the reason I don’t really count it as a type of writing; it’s a bridge to one of the other two.



So there you have it, the two ways that I write when I am writing for no one else. 

Try them out.


I Blog for Me

Here’s the thing, blogging is for the blogger more than anything else.

Blogging has often been described as a narcissistic practice, and if we bloggers are honest with ourselves, we have to agree that the critics are right to an extent. Keeping a blog in which the main subject is ourselves requires that we deem our own lives worthy for someone else to spend time with.

Here’s what the blogger gets out of blogging: a creative outlet, a sense of accomplishment, a connection with the world, a time to reflect and make sense of things, a deadline to meet, etc.

The reader gets 5-10 minutes of reading what somebody else wrote, sometimes a social connection, a glimpse into someone else’s life, probably a little bit of entertainment; if they subscribe and read regularly then they probably feel a deeper connection and friendship with the blogger. But that requires a blogger that is consistent in their output.

But all in all, I feel like the blogger gets more out of the relationship.

I also think this is also why keeping up with a blog is a tiring practice. A blogger has to constantly be shining a light on themselves, and for people like me, that’s not always comfortable.

But there is something healthy about being able to publicly display, analyze, criticize, and praise yourself. Sure it’s nice that readers get something out of it, but I feel the real benefit of blogging comes as the blogger bangs out the words and then hits the publish button.

Everything afterward is just fallout.

Is It Possible to Make a Documentary About Yourself Without Being Narcissistic?

Recently I’ve been thinking that, given enough time and resources, I think it would be an amazing experience to make a documentary about myself. More specifically, I’d like to document my own search to figure out how I came to become the person I am today. I recently watched the documentary Born Rich and was inspired by Jamie Johnson’s ability to turn the camera on his own parents, and on himself. It makes me wonder what I would find if I sought out influential people in my life and sat them down to ask hard questions about who I am, and who the people that surrounded me were/are.

I’ve got a camera and microphone. Maybe I should just get started.