Friday, July 17, 2015

Raising a Glass to the Dearly Departed

This past Saturday, while everyone in American Fork was out to see their parade celebrating their "what-have-you" celebration days. I was getting directions for navigating detours and cursing at said parade-going folk so that I may make my way to the American Fork cemetery. Now, under normal circumstances I would be telling you that a cemetery is the absolute last place I would like to wake up early on a Saturday (my Sunday with my work schedule) to go to. Given the extraordinary events I witnessed while on the hallowed ground, I assure you, you will not hear complaint one from me.

Jessica had asked me to accompany her, given the very personal and emotional nature of the friendship she had with the dearly departed. After we parked on the side street flooded with cars as it was marked as the official detour of the parade route closures, we walked to the ominous green tents to shade the bereaved. I found it difficult to hear the first person to speak into the microphone and thought we were going to have to battle the street noise, and the ruckus of a little league baseball game 50 yards from the grave throughout the entire service. What I witnessed as is stood with the blazing July sun beating down on me, was one of the most genuine, and love-filled grave side services performed by a truly saddened family. I could tell from the cracks in their voices, their tissues and the general expressions on their faces that they were truly shocked by the events leading them to that moment.

Thanks to Jessica, we have this lovely picture of the services

His name was David Chalk, and from everything I gathered during the service, he was the type of person who you wanted to be around you as much as possible. I never had the pleasure of meeting Dave, but Jessica had mentioned that he might need to ride our couch a month or so after we had first moved into our current residence. From what I heard, Dave was a frequenter of the couches of friends and casual acquaintances in all of his many traveling adventures. Dave had been diagnosed with a form of cancer that he had been battling for several years, since he was 16. He was the type of person to live life to the fullest, always doing everything he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it. He was going to ride out the one fair shake he got in this world and see as much of it and taste as much of it as he possibly could. He was a traveler, a sports fanatic and a food connoisseurs. He did not let his diagnosis define him, and he sure wasn't going to let anybody give him any special treatment or pity on account of the fact that he's "sick." From what I gathered from the beautiful eulogy his three sisters honored him with, he was intoxicating to be around. He was the type of person who lived in the moment and for every moment. He loved music, dancing, and getting everybody in on the good time. From the vivid word picture his family and friends painted, Dave was the guy to light up a room, talk to everyone in it, and then have a circle gathered around him to witness a care-free display of his signature sweet dance moves.

The reason I felt inspired to write this piece about a man I've never met was I was blown away by the sort of effect he had on other people. Between all the information I could gather, everything that Jessica has told me about him, his heart felt eulogy, and all the side conversations I heard graveside today, Dave was one of those people you HAD to know to believe the energy and life they could give off. But just because I didn't know him, doesn't mean that he can't have taught me something. Today I was reminded how important it is to make your moments count and do the things you want to do. I think Jessica said it best in the car ride on the way home "I always just thought he was going to be around forever because he was Dave." He is one of those people who embody the free spirit we all wish we could be. My advice to you is live deliberately. Don't just sit idly by as your life drives you round and round the endless circle of paperwork or meaningless tasks. I was reminded that life is meant for the bold, and to not be afraid of what people will think or how things will be perceived. Because one day we're all going to end up like Dave, in a hole in the ground. Do you want to be remembered as the guy/girl who was just there, or do you want to be remembered as the one who makes a presence and did everything you ever wanted? I'll take the latter, if you don't mind. I could tell by the sheer number of people that showed up, he was the one to make a presence and an impression. Do the things you want to do, help others, live life and leave a trail of friends along the way. Be like Dave Chalk.

Jessica and I on the way home from the services, making the best out of life.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Self help? No, I'll just keep paddling.

Some time ago, I was at my local library preparing for the prospect of a new college semester. After hours of temple-rubbing work I decided to actually take advantage of the thousands of books surrounding me. I have been interested lately in finding a belief system that both conforms to my personal beliefs, and allows me to grow and flourish as a citizen of this universe. This pointed me in the general direction of eastern religions by the sheer notion that you never hear of a radical Buddhist or extremist Hindu. Also, their view of the universe seems much more evolved than the religions of the western world. Subsequently I picked up this book:

Zen and the Art of Happiness: by Chris Prentiss

It was a quick little read, and my thoughts on it are thus. This book can be helpful to some, and by some I mean those who have sunken to rock bottom and need to build up the fundamentals of having a life that is functional in our society. It's continuous mantra is "everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen." Now, I don't disagree with this ideology fundamentally. But I feel as though it's application is off-center. The author (co-founder of Passages in Malibu, California) calls on analogies and anecdotal evidence proving that having this blindly ignorant outlook on life is helpful. I agree that having a positive outlook on the world and the events that befall us can effect our overall happiness. I know several things to be true, and have learned a lot since my life came crumbling down around me. I have learned that it's nice to look on the bright side, put a positive spin on things to get you through the darker times of your life where all hope seems lost. I have also learned that it's OK to admit that the universe is just fucking with you sometimes. This is just how the world works sometimes, it doesn't seem to me that there is any logic that can be applied to terrible events. I don't believe that I, or anyone for that matter, am being punished by some vengeful God that looks down at us and punishes the wicked and rewards the pure of heart by making their life any easier or difficult. I think I was just dealt a bum hand. You take a sudden agitation of chronic medical conditions, add the vindictive selfishness of someone who I thought was looking out my siblings, with a dash of family tension and you get the first couple years of my 20's. That's what happened, there's no rhyme or reason to it, sometimes the shit-storm of your life shakes out some terrible things
over the course of a month. The point I'm getting to is that we can't just cling to self-affirming words that help build the foundation of a subservient life. Instead of just passively allowing the world to do what it may, I prefer the guiding words of THIS "self help" book:

Paddle Your Own Canoe: by Nick Offerman

The words in this book are all about taking control of your own life and living it the way you want. I subscribe to the notion that if you grab life by the balls and be a man about your problems, you'll turn out alright. You might not have everything that you want, you might not be happy with everything that's ever happened in your life, but at least it's your life. I have a hard time reading a book that tells us to sit shotgun while life just goes about it's business a takes a hard right or quick left every now and again. I would rather take the wheel and be the master of my own destiny. Thank you to Mr. Offerman, for giving me a practical guide to being a man and bending my fate to my own will.

There are many tales of drug and alcohol-fueled adolescent mischief throughout the book, which I happen to enjoy from a story-telling standpoint. But the last 4-5 pages of every chapter are hard-nosed life advice from a man that's been around the block a time or two. While these pieces of advice compliment and overlap the values of his Netflix stand-up comedy special, American Ham: Ten Tips for a Prosperous Life (which if you haven't seen or even heard of, I recommend you use the device you're reading this blog on, and witness it immediately). I find them just as useful, comforting and easy to get behind in print as I do in a more audio-visual medium.

The thing I'm getting at is one of the main points that Mr. Offerman brings up time and time again in both versions of telling us to "paddle [our] own canoe," and that piece of advice is to get a hobby. It may be beneficial to explain that Nick doesn't want want you to take up a hobby in the high-school-club sense of the word, but more of a discipline. Woodworking is a discipline mentioned and called back to heavily throughout the two pieces. So I'm trying my hand at writing, or crafting words to express my inner feelings. They may be very on the nose like this blog post, or they could be more subversive and mysterious in the form of a poem or a work of fiction. The point is, I'm trying to put something out there they can make a difference in someone's life, even if the only person's life it effects is mine. Because I'm going though a rough patch, I'm needing some validation and an outlet to express the things that are difficult to talk about in person. I just want to let you all know that I'm taking Nick Offerman's advice and paddling my own canoe, but with a keyboard, or paper and pen. This is how I'm going to help myself be the person I want to be and help shape my world. not by repeating to myself, "everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that could happen to me."

I think it is also worth mentioning that Mr. Offerman has another book that will be released soon. I am elated at the notion of reading more about what one of my personal heroes has to say about some of histories gutsiest troublemakers, hopefully it's peppered with golden nuggets of wisdom like Paddle.

Out May 27th.

Friday, April 17, 2015

My first independent venture into our National Park System.

This past weekend my girlfriend and I took a drive down to a charming little town called Springdale, Utah. There we found, red rock, a tent campsite, and some crazy Australian/British (depending on who you ask) students from California. But much more importantly, the entrance to the main canyon of Zion National Park. The views from the town were amazing, very tall, sheer cliffs of red rock sandstone complemented by the green juniper needles abundant around the Virgin River. That night, we made tinfoil dinners on a bed of charcoal briquettes in the fire ring, listening to Mumford and Sons on my brand new, fancy-pants, environment-proof speaker system (which I thought would be perfect for hiking). I held Jessica's hand throughout this entire process, cluing her in on everything I knew about essentials of camping. A satisfied smirk of contentment came over me as she became more comfortable in an environment she's been dreading since she had terrible experiences camping in San Antonio and Oklahoma in her youth. She became more at-ease and accepting of some of the less comfortable parts of sleeping outside, in a tent. My life is so heavily involved with camping for my work and during hunting season. I admire her willingness to try something new that is so important to me. This is the second time we've wandered outside her comfort zone in the last two weeks, having gone out to murder some cans with as many bullet holes as we could muster. Yet another thing that Jessica a) never grew up around b) was very frightened of and c) willing to try because she knows how important it is to me.
About to risk our lives on the final leg of the Angel's Landing trail
Not only was she willing to go outside her comfort zone for me and go camping. outside. with bears?!?!! she thinks... But she was actually excited to go out and do massive amounts of cardio on some of the hardest hikes in the park! We saw some amazing views, feared for our life, and ate well earned PB&J's. This trip brought us closer together as a couple and made some amazing memories in one of the most beautiful canyons in the world. As much as it pains me to say (because they're under the Department of the Interior agency of the federal government just like the BLM, who apparently I'm supposed to have a friendly, brotherly rivalry with because I work for the Forest Service), the National Park Service has their shit together in their corners of this country. Their road and trail systems are impeccable, well-designed, and well-planned to accommodate such heavy use. Zion was the perfect combination of all of the things I love about nature, beautiful views of geological formations, a variety of interesting tree species, and the beauty presented in the sky, clouds and weather. Needless to say, this trip was chock full of beautiful views and awe inspiring hikes weaving through the red-rock. So yeah, Zion NP was a good place for me to experience the things I love most about nature, but I also had the experience of having Jessica by my side.
Taking a break at the top of Observation Point, taking in all the majesty of the canyon
Yeah, we did the touristy stuff, the things that you hear the most about the park. We laughed in the face of danger while climbing to the top of Angel's Landing, with only a length of chain keeping us from plummeting to our deaths. We went as far as we could up The Narrows, inadvertently soaking our boots and socks with water from the Virgin River that throughout time carved the shape of this spectacular park's main canyon. The majesty and sheer size of these landmarks alone make you feel small on this planet while still inspiring me with it's spectacle of color, diversity, and height. I couldn't help but think of my favorite president ever, Teddy Roosevelt, and everything he saw in the American west before venturing back to Washington and implementing the preservation of such national beauty. Being in areas so well preserved makes me feel closer to the way the entire west looked like before it was so heavily developed. Yes there was plenty of bitching, inflamed joints, with a touch of sunburn, but we kicked some ass and took some names (slowly and steadily) on some of the hardest and most scenic hikes in my entire life.

Taken from Observation Point, looking down at Angel's Landing and the rest of Zion Canyon

I had never been to this part of Utah before, but once we started planning, the date couldn't come fast enough. I'd heard so much about this place, with much respect and admiration from all those I spoke to who had ventured down to this mystifying place before me. I never expected I could have such an emotional and spiritual experience in such a highly-traveled area, but being dwarfed by the sheer, runny, rusted, streaking red canyon walls I would eventually summit during my trip is a soulfully humbling experience. Being in these historically preserved places remind me of the best part of my job, which is being in very remote areas, rich with beauty. It's always a very humbling and equates to concentrated meditation sessions that recharge my soul and center me. What's even better is that as of now, Jessica and I are planning a trip to Arches National Park in the coming weeks for a similar experience outside of Moab. Much like Springdale, Moab is another one of those highly tourist-based towns, but it still as a very homey, small-town feel that's very inviting to me. I even talked Jessica into agreeing to a resolution to visit a new National Park every year for the rest of our lives! I could not love Jessica any more than I do at the conclusion of this trip, despite her being fairly grouchy for being outside of her comfort zone in a strange environment, doing something very foreign to her. It's her willingness to at least try to take interest in activities I am constantly doing year round that is so attractive to me. It was a captivating experience, and I don't wish to have had anyone else accompany me to what is now in my top 5 favorite places in the entire world. I'm proud of you and grateful for you, baby.
This picture pretty much sums up not just the trip, but our relationship in general

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Art begets art. The movies and TV shows that influences me in 2014.

I saw many great movies and TV shows this past year. We went on epic space adventures together, uncovered secret organizations within the one we trusted the most, we got a feature-long, single shot, look behind the curtain of Hollywood film making. On a more weekly basis, we saw a man run faster than the speed of sound, a bright-eyed detective try and take on an entire city (including the police force), and later than most, I watched the story of a man who gave everything for his family only to learn how cruel and selfish he can be.

In case my vague descriptions of my favorite movies and TV shows weren't revealing enough, don't worry, I'll give more detailed breakdowns of all of them as I reflect back on this year's worth of entertainment and let you know how they effected me as a person and made me want to grow as an artist. A few of these properties may not be well known or widely liked, while others are major blockbuster hits, but they all effected me in different ways that make me want to be better and more involved in my life as well as contribute more art to this world. This medium of visual story-telling has been more than just an interest to me for quite some time now; impacting my daily life for nearly 5 years now. Although I don't have much to show for it (aside from a total of around 6 minutes worth of footage I made in high school), I've wanted to tell stories with film for a while now and have been doing massive amounts of research in the form of observing our entertainment world.

One of the greatest things an artist can do, is further the medium so that those who come later may continue to make better and better art. In my opinion, and taking into account all of the opinions that I have about the film industry and what makes something good or bad, these are my favorite things of the year:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Flash.
Breaking Bad.

It's obvious that I'm a fan boy, in case you haven't read any of my previous posts, screaming with glee about the comic book properties that have entered the main stream of our media over the past 5 years or so. Therefore, I hope it's not too much to ask for you to excuse me while I geek out over these movies and TV show one last time. Thanks. Also, big time spoilers ahead. So if you don't want any spoilers, go watch these things, and then come back.

Interstellar. One of the late-comers of my year but certainly worth the wait. I haven't seen science fiction like in quite some time. It's the movie that revitalizes my interest in the space travel and exploration of the modern day. I've likened it to being the 2001: A Space Odyssey of my generation and I don't think that's much of a stretch. The realism of the travel and concepts applied by the characters raise so many questions in me about modern day science. This movie is a visual marvel to look at and behold. The effects and physics of this movie are stunning, as are many of Chris Nolan's other works. But this movie also has an Inception like heaviness and heady concept to wade through, which makes it compelling for me on a personal level. This movie becomes a journey that we take with the characters, rather than just being an inactive spectator.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Move over James Bond, you're not the only secret agent and master of espionage. The tonal difference of this movie from the American-dream loving and stars behind the eyes Captain America we saw back in 2011 is night and day. Marvel Studios took what was one of the cheesiest characters in the first tier of Marvel comics and turned him into a conflicted, tortured soul grappling with disagreeing with the way his government operates. It was a telling tell for Mr. Steve Rogers and an adventurous tale for us all to witness. Filled with lots of action and over the top wide-shots, the scale and enormity of this movie is breath taking. For me, this is one of those movies that opens up more concepts that superhero movie can tackle and widening the net for the future. In a genre that people say the market will become over saturated with over the course of the next 5-10 years, this isn't a by the numbers superhero movie by any stretch of the imagination.

Birdman. I'll start his write up off by saying, if you haven't seen this movie and you have any vested interest in the the film making world or art form: see it. This is one of those movies I mentioned previously that has furthered the art form of making movies and made me want to go out and try it for myself. This movie pushes the boundaries of what movies can look like, what they can feel like and truly inspires me. In case you haven't heard, the movie is made to look like one continuous shot. Much in the same vein as Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, which many said was a failure. Sticking with the motif, there are some time-lapses, because the movie takes place over the course of about a week, but other than that it's composed of nearly one shot. The thing I found most intriguing about the movie is that I really had never considered how Micheal Keaton, as an actor, paved the way for all of the superhero movies we're so used to. This isn't a subtle undertone shrouded in metaphors, they come right out and say it. It's a great revitalization role for Micheal, and one of my favorites of the year.

Guardians of the Galaxy. I know this is at the top of many people's "best of" or "fan favorite" lists for the year, and I've already fellated it enough in a previous blog post. But I just want to touch on it one last time and remind you all that "We Are Groot." The emotional strings that this movie tugs at gets me every time, especially after having gone through a similar situation as Peter in losing his mother. Without being (too) cheesy, I just wanted to applaud this movie on showing us how coming together as friends can really change the course of someone's life. So thank you to the Guardians, and to all of MY guardians. Thanks. Also, the thing that makes this movie so fun is it was willing to put the color back into space movies and take it out of the sterile environment we're used to seeing when we go to space.

Gotham. I've known for quite some time now that Jim Gordon is one of the most badass comic book characters that wears a badge. I've been sold ever since the first time I read Batman: Year One and got my first inside look at the personal struggles of a police officer trying to make a difference in Gotham City. This show has a really good balance of comic book detective work, surrounded by hints to the all of the artifacts and figureheads in the Batman mythology. I watch it with my girlfriend, who most of the references are lost on, and she thoroughly enjoys as a detective show with strong, compelling characters and I lose my mind when they mention "venom" or show little, frizzy-haired Pamela Isley. The show's dark, as it should be, but not just in content, it's shot in a way that makes you feel the dread of the city our characters are trying to change.

The Flash. Now to the complete opposite of Gotham. This show is one of the most fun things I've watched all year on a weekly basis; it's light, fun, and kinda campy. But the most compelling reason I've heard praise is that the characters in the show are like us (the fan boys). Barry and Cisco are constantly fawning over how cool the crime-fighting they do is, and giving code names to bad guys and secret lairs. It's like when we were kids and we would play superheroes together on the playground and name people and places very obvious names that were good enough for us. The C.G.I. in the show is really great, I love the way they make The Flash move and react with his environment. My personal favorite thing is about how Barry is so well adjusted. He's had terrible things happen to him in the past, and he's processed his emotional weight and moved on the best way he can. Sure, he may be a little obsessive about the mysteries of his past at times, but that's what we do when terrible, unexplained things happen.

Breaking Bad. I know I'm way late to the party on this one, but I can't let it go by without commenting. This fucking show. I'd never gotten further than a few episodes past the first season until later this year, then I became obsessed. If there's one thing I cannot get over, it's that the writing on the show and the character development make me question my morals because I'm cheering for certain characters for reasons I can't explain, despite them doing awful and terrible things. This is a show about intentions and interests. I think that's what I've gotten out of it in the 24 hours since I've watched the finale. There were certain characters I've cheered for since the beginning and characters who I've hated since the beginning. Somehow I was able to discount all of the personal changes that these (fictional) people went through over the course of the show and still have a flag to wave in Walt's corner at the end of the show.
I can't explain it, because these characters motivations, intentions and actions are so complicated and convoluted. But the thing that I enjoyed most about the finale is that Walt was finally able to admit to himself and to Skylar that he didn't just do it for his family, that he did it for himself. That seems like a weird point for me to make, but I've been through something like that before, where I told myself and everybody that I was doing something for others and by the end I realized it was more for my sake than what I was telling everybody. Sometimes we're selfish, we don't mean to be, we don't start out trying to only influence our lives for the better. I know that I've really set out to help people before, but by the end I wanted to follow through with the task to make myself feel better. That's the thing that gets me so invested in this show and these characters, is my ability to relate to them, even though what they're going through is completely fantastical to me. That's why they're so compelling and why I enjoyed the show so much. Not to mention, as someone who considers myself a visual story-teller and a visual learner, the simplicity in the cinematography of the show is astounding. This show displays the stories we form behind inanimate objects and the things that they represent in our life in such a natural way.  That's why as a work of art, Breaking Bad inspires me.

That's what this post is really about, not to be just another year end list or list of accomplishments that we all got in the form of a Christmas letter this year. But for me it expresses my growth as a consumer of media and potential creator of some one day. These are the things I consume and enjoy and mull over to draw inspiration or learn life lessons from. That might sound weird, to pull literal lessons from fictional stories, but it's true. This is how I interact with my environment and learn (good and bad) examples of how to treat and interact with other people. These are the stories that stick with me and teach me things about how the world works, because as I've learned, the world is a terrible place that can get us down if we let it. It's going to keep knocking us down and trying to make us quit, but I draw strength from the stories I read and watch, because I'm trying to learn how to make it in this world just like everybody else.

I hope you all had a great New Year's, and I look forward to the prospect of a new year. I guess I'll see what art I can make and what art will influence me this year.