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The End of A Vast Landscape and the Beginning of a New Journey...

I began researching graduate schools in late 2011 with an eye toward finding a terminal credential that would help me improve my skills with digital composition, communication theory, and media studies. I looked at programs across the country that had a variety of different approaches. There were creative writing PhD programs, American Studies programs, and old-fashioned English PhD programs. I got into some and was denied entry into others. I thought seriously, albeit fleetingly, about a move for our family that would have taken us into a completely different part of the country.
Ultimately, I found a program in Orlando at the University of Central Florida that has exceeded my expectations and helped me grow as a scholar and a person in ways that I never could have anticipated when I began attending classes in the fall of 2012.

UCF was rigorous, practical, and engaging. I took courses in HTML and XML theory, Web design, transmedia narrative theory, electracy, technical writing, modern rhetoric, writing for the Web, and cultural studies. I published three essays, completed thirteen classes, passed three qualifying exams, composed a six-chapter, 300-page dissertation, and successfully defended that research project in a culminating exam last week.


I am very thankful to UCF and to the faculty in the Texts and Technology program. The aims of the program, which combines traditional and historical communication theory with cutting edge computer science, are perfectly applicable to my work in Florida State College at Jackonsville's Converged Communication program. I have forged friendships and made relationships that I plan to keep well into the future, and I know that I am a stronger writer because the work I have completed has been met with greater enthusiasm by editors and readers. 

I am participating in commencement in a few weeks with my family in attendance, and that will formally conclude at least one part of the process. But beginning with my classes at FSCJ in May, I will begin a new journey as I completely re-vamp my teaching approach and curriculum to help our students at FSCJ. 

These are exciting times, and I couldn't have arrived at this place without UCF, the Texts and Technology program, and T&T's amazing faculty and community of scholars.


The Wind Through the Keyhole

I am re-reading The Wind Through the Keyhole, and I am enjoying it just as much the second time through as I did a few years ago. I love the narrative approach here, as Sai King both fills in some backstory on Roland's life as a greenhorn gunslinger while also delivering a truly delightful (if not somber) embedded narrative in the center of the tale. 

King does this often, and to great affect. Whenever writers trot out that old saw about showing versus telling, folks are curious about the actual strategies one might use to reveal character or setting or plot in a way that feels natural and unforced. That is showing, and one of the best strategies is to tell a related story. King wants to illustrate the scope of Bobby Fornoy's genius in "The End of the Whole Mess," so he has his narrator tell a pair of stories about how he built a glider and a radio as a child. His chilling novella 1922 is chock full of great tangential, but wholly engaging and necessary, stories. All of it amounts to depth and complexity in the storytelling. 

I am also reminded of King's depth as a writer when I revisit his stories from this universe. It's easy to overlook his skills in writing magical realism and epic fantasy, but one shouldn't. He's got a lot of Tolkien and Lewis and Bradbury in him, to be sure...

This is a fine novel for both engaging with a great story and studying the structure of a pithy fantasy with a keen embedded narrative...


Mapping A Future...

There are any number of ways that a young person just beginning his or her adult life can approach the future. I knew in my bones when I turned about fifteen that I had to leave Eastern Oregon. I did just fine in high school--3.5 GPA and played a sport in every season. I took AP courses and I enjoyed learning and the teachers I was fortunate to work with in Pendleton.

But I knew that I had to attend college and earn a degree in order to satisfy myself and achieve my goals. I focused, again, on sports. When I think about my youth, it was always concentrated on two things: sports and the outdoors. When I lived in John Day, I lived to fish and play baseball. By the time I had moved to Pendleton, my passion was playing soccer. 

I applied (and was accepted) to Oregon, WSU, Gonzaga, and Linfield. The last option was the only place where I could realistically play soccer in college, so that is where I went. 

We drove across the state in early August. I had just turned eighteen. My mom and dad helped me set up my room and look for a job in McMinnville, and then soccer started and it was brutal. Mac is hot and humid in August. There were about forty of us trying out for nineteen spots. We practiced twice a day in the sweltering heat, and campus was empty because we all showed up two weeks before the rest of the campus population. 

It was a trying, exhilarating, nerve-wracking time for me, but I worked my ass off and made the team. So began my Linfield journey, and I'm thankful for what I learned at that school every day.

I played soccer and ran track there. I earned my bachelor's degree and met my wife and joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and I made the bulk of my best friends. I still speak with the guys that stood up for me at my wedding at least monthly. We still get together every year, and I miss them all the time.

What I'm saying is that Linfield gave me my life, and I'll always be thankful for that. I have moved on to other places and attended other schools, but I know my formative learning took place in McMinnville.

When students ask me for advice on the future, I tell them to be mindful of their studies, their goals, and their expenses. Oh, yeah...Linfield is a private school and is a bit expensive. I still owe some money on my student loans and I am about to hit forty years of age.

Still, I don't regret any of it, and I will have these loans finished off soon. I think it's important for young people to work backwards from the important goals--family, location, and work--in planning their futures. 

Be mindful of which jobs will satisfy you. Prepare for a family, if that is a goal, and carefully pick where you plan to live. 

We targeted Florida because of everything it has to offer our family. Fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking, golf--this place is Eden, in many respects. We had opportunities in other places, but California and Alaska weren't in the cards. Florida, thankfully, was...

I think it's important to save, plan, prepare, and work. I delivered pizzas, waited tables, transplanted grape vines, coached soccer, taught at an after-school program, and managed a video store in McMinnville. I took a full load of courses and ran track and played soccer. I did it all so that I could have a future with Jeanne and a life in the moment. 

So enjoy your time in school, but look toward the horizon. What kind of life will you have in your thirties? What about your forties? Where will you live, and how will you live? 

Now is the time to pose those questions, and also to take actionable steps toward giving them some answers...


The Silver Coast

The bell clanged and Ali sprang from the stool like he’d been shot out of a canon. He danced around the periphery of the ring and, even as the trespasser moved in for the kill, it was clear this was a different fighter. Ali peppered the great shadowed face with four piston-quick rights—holy-hell-and-sit-aside-momma shots. The last stunned the bastard, and Ali pounced. The creature covered up and Ali wormed his way underneath, jacking his fist up and up and up and up again, and then one final time, beneath the trespasser’s mitts, rocking him backward with each blow.
And now that hideous face was changing. Fleming squinted in the dim light. He leaned forward and saw, from the corner of his eye, that Scott and Carter were doing the same.
The trespasser threw a roundhouse and Ali ducked it. The great man spun clear and thundered a savage blow to the back of the creature’s head. A shower of black, viscous gelatin spackled the canvas floor, mixing there with Ali’s blood. 
And now Ali roared! His bellow filled the gymnasium, and Fleming felt chills race down his back. Dundee shrieked encouragement from the corner, punching the air like a trader on Wall Street. The trespasser turned and stumbled across the ring, looking for refuge, but Ali stalked him, throwing punch after punch.

Care to read more about Ali's last fight? Try The Silver Coast and Other Stories...

Welcome, 2017!

While 2016 was satisfying for our family on so many fronts, I can't help but get excited about turning the page in 2017. This stems from nothing more than the urge to improve. Working in academia offers educators so many opportunities for renewal. Because of the evolutionary nature of information, progress, technology, and communication (among so many other critical domains), we always have something new and interesting to discuss. Because of the nature of new student groups, new teaching windows, and different teaching modalities, educators can always tweak things or add texts or revise materials. 

I do this for at least one class every year, and I'm excited to say that I am going to completely revise the materials for both American literature and technical writing in 2017. I am going to teach some different writing assignments, use some new technologies (spicy nodes and glogster), and bring some different texts into the fabric of what I'm doing with students. 

I am excited to coach Lyla's soccer team again this spring. After teaching a full night schedule at FSCJ and working Monday-Thursday from 4:30-10:00 p.m. (after looking after Luke all day), it will be a blessing to get back outdoors with the kids this spring. Children are filled with optimism, and I've been blessed to work with so many that are truly coachable. They can take criticism and they try hard, and that's all a coach can ask for...

I'm writing fiction again! I have been asked to contribute a pair of themed short stories in 2017, and I am working on another collection of short stories. What can I say, it's my favorite medium...

I am thrilled to be nearing the end of my work at UCF. I couldn't have picked a better program of study for the work I am doing at FSCJ, and I am very thankful for the help and guidance I've received in the last year in developing my dissertation...

In terms of sports, man...things can only get better. Let's go, Oregon. Let's go, Portland Trailblazers. Let's go, O's and Jags! C'mon, Knights! Let's go, Jumbo Shrimp (yep, that's our minor league team here in Jacksonville)...

I'm going to read more for pleasure this year. I'm going to cook and bake, and I'll have a few rounds in the 70s on the golf course. I'm going to help people when I can, and I'll be sure to ask for help when I need it on my end. This is how we make it--by relying on each other as members of a community.

I resolve to remain politically involved in where I live and how I live. I think now, more than ever, we have a real need to become monitoring citizens in this American democracy, and part of that is speaking out about issues that need to be addressed. The Rogerian compromise is something I see a lot of value in, and I plan to work hard to listen more and strive for compromise where possible.

Be well where you are, and best to you and yours in 2017. Make it a great year--a year of growth and renewal!


Life in the Marsh

This beautiful image of Jacksonville's Round Marsh was captured by the talented photographer Will Dickey. We have a number of his framed prints on our walls, and he clearly has a keen eye for capturing the natural beauty of Duval County. 
The Round Marsh is a special place for me, and every time I'm jammed up on a story or needing some quiet from the world or simply recreating in the world to give thanks for my blessings, it's a good bet that you'll find me here. Today, on an eighty-two-degree here in Jacksonville, I jogged the trails down there and was stunned to see so much activity in the water. Fish were jumping all over the place. Shrimp flipped easily across the surface in schools, bullied by bigger predators. Birds circled and swooped. I watched quietly as a small blue heron fished not ten feet from my perch, catching fry after fry and swallowing them whole in a matter of seconds.
As always, this place is filled with lessons. It's only a short distance from a major road, where cars filled with busy people scream by on their way toward the next appointment. But the woods and the water insulate these creatures, and their world is much more simple. It's dangerous and harsh, to be sure, but I admire those challenges so much more than the daily grind that leads to so many of the news stories that we chew up every morning like our daily bowl of cereal. I think, if more people got out of the cars and found a natural sanctuary like this one, the complexion of those morning news stories would change for the better...
Going to try to get back out there in the next few days, when the weather cools!


So Very Much to be Thankful For...

It has been a tumultuous and amazing year around these parts. In the last few months, we've been tested as a family in ways that are hard to explain in words. We've been pushed to the very edge of doubt and despair, and we've persevered to the point where we feel comfortable and eternally grateful. This is a big part of that feeling:

Our son is such an amazing blessing. In 2016, we've overcome many obstacles. We just had our first brand-new roof as a result of hurricane damage. We've had our home repaired numerous times, and we've had to deal with some very real health problems for the ones that we love so far this year.

But the joy and the glee in that picture above is so real. This is our family, and Lyla is such a great big sister. I can only say that I am thankful.

I spent 2016 writing a non-fiction study. 2017 will be more fiction. I promise...