My Last 4 Months Explained in 10 Questions

Alright, dear readers, let’s cut to the chase here. I haven’t posted an update for four solid months now. By regular standards, that’s a pretty long time – a full third of a year! – but online, it’s practically an eternity. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and I’m on limited time at the moment, so let’s make this easy for everyone by using a Q&A format. Cool? Cool.
Here you go.

 My Last 4 Months Explained in 10 Questions

1. Where have you been?

where you been
All over the place. My school got out for Christmas vacation on December 23rd, and I flew home to the States the very next day: Seoul to Seattle. Seattle to Atlanta. Atlanta to Gulfport. (I’ll explain this rather roundabout flight plan in a separate post.) It was the first time I’ve been home for Christmas in five years, and it was awesome. I got to spend time with my dear old friend Jeff Delapp during my layover in Seattle, visit with my family and friends in Biloxi and Jackson, and even take a week-long trip to Pittsburgh to see my old friend and former radio co-host Keith Sisson. I flew back to Seoul near the end of January and have been preparing for the new school year ever since.

2. How is Kimchi?

Kimchi passport
Kimchi is an American now. Because this is probably my last year in Korea (one more at most), I decided to leave him with my parents when I went home for Christmas. This will spare him the stress of another overseas flight, as well as the mind-numbing boredom of sitting alone in our apartment all day while I’m at work. Also, my new school offers much longer vacations than my old school did, so I don’t want to board poor Kimchi for months at a time while I go sightseeing around the world.

I’m not gonna lie. I ugly-cried on the night before I left home, and the first few weeks without him have been depressing as hell. But, I know he’s in good hands and it’s ultimately for the best. And from what my mom tells me, he’s doing just fine.

Actual conversation:

Me: I’m just worried about him. I’ve heard about these dogs whose separation anxiety is so severe that they basically go into mourning, stop eating, and have to be put on an I.V. to survive.

Mom: (in a “you’re being ridiculous” tone) J, he’s nowhere near that.

3. You said you’re going “sightseeing around the world.” Where are you planning to go?

Traveling around the world clipart
I have big plans to visit England and Scotland at some point, but I think I’ll probably keep that trip on the back burner until I leave Korea for good. This year I’m looking into visiting Moscow and St.Petersburg. And possibly Hawaii or Australia. We’ll see.

4. You also said you went to Pittsburgh. How was it?

Amazing! I’ll be posting several updates about my adventures in Pittsburgh (and Pennsylvania at large) in the near future. Stay tuned.

5. So now you’re back in Seoul. Are you still teaching at the same school?

Yes, but this year I’m teaching 6th grade. (I taught 2nd grade last year.) The 6th grade English program at my school mainly consists of writing practice and novel study, which makes it the perfect fit for someone with my background and interests. My students are incredibly smart this year. Gotta stay on my toes!

6. Any big changes in 2017?

It’s kind of embarrassing to list my New Year’s resolutions, because I realize that they’re basically identical to the ones I made 4 years ago. The difference is, I’m really sticking to them this time. With a less strenuous work schedule and no pet-owner responsibilities for the coming year, I now have time to put all of these plans into motion.

a. Lose weight – It’s a big goal, but I’ve done it before. After some trial and error, I’ve finally come up with a diet/exercise plan that works for me and that helps me lose weight at a healthy rate. I’ve already dropped 8 pounds in the first month alone. Just gotta keep it up.

b. Write something every day – I’m trying to set aside 2 hours for writing every day. Whether it’s a story, an essay, a book review, or a blog post, I just need to write something. I’m happy with the progress I’ve been making on a project that’s been sitting around for years, and I’m hoping to post at least one blog a week. Hold me to it!

c. Become more sociable – I know, it’s hard for those of you who know me to imagine me needing to add “become more sociable” to a list of New Year’s resolutions. But, there’s definitely something to be said for total exhaustion. For the past few years, my weekday schedule has basically consisted of work, dinner, going home and getting Kimchi situated, and then passing out. This year I’m trying to remedy that by making more plans, accepting more invitations, and staying in better touch with friends and family.

d. Complete a daily task – At the beginning of the year I bought a small planner and started writing down little goals to complete each day. These goals might be something simple like “Listen to Elvis” or “Eat Indian food,” or something a little more challenging like “Learn the Bill of Rights.” Whatever it is, I’m always doing something to try and break out of my usual routine. I’m open to suggestion if you can think of any worthwhile additions to the list.

7. Still single?
Yup, but with any luck the aforementioned weight loss and improved social calendar will be changing that before too long.

8. What are you reading these days?

I just finished Stephen King’s Revivalwhich I’ll review at Those Sentences in the next couple of weeks, and now I’m three or four chapters into Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. On weekends I take a break from whatever novel I’m reading and read an essay or short story. Current faves include: Nikolai Gogol, Wendell Berry, Orrin Grey, and Bill Kauffman. Good stuff.

9. What are you listening to these days?

In the spirit of breaking out of my usual routines I’ve recently created two new iTunes playlists, one called Swingabilly and the other called Sawdust. Swingabilly is a collection of big band jazz, classic and neo-swing, rockabilly, and hulabilly songs. In case you’re wondering, “hulabilly” – I admit this was a new one for me too – is like rockabilly with a Hawaiian twist. Dig it:

“Sawdust” is a collection of Delta blues, classic and neo-bluegrass, and old country. What can I say? I’m feeling old-fashioned these days.

10. Last question. What do you think of what’s going on with Donald Trump?

almost like trump
The truth is, I try very hard not to think of what’s going on with Donald Trump. But of course that’s nearly impossible, because, just as I predicted, a lot of my liberal friends on Facebook overreact to every single thing he does. Seriously, if Trump took an aspirin liberals would declare headaches a victimized minority and start breaking Starbucks windows somewhere. #StandWithHeadaches #HeadacheJustice #MyHeadacheGrabsBack
Is there a None of the Above Club I can join to be with other people who don’t like the president OR the “resistance?” Please? Come on. They did it in Brewster’s Millions!

Anyway, I hope this brings everything up to speed. Like I said, I’m gonna be posting about my Pittsburgh trip very soon and then trying to post at least one update every week. Drop me a line and let me know what’s up. ‘Til then, my friends, be well.

IG: poms_are_metal

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The 2016 Election, as Seen from Seoul

Okay, so, in case you haven’t heard – and yes, I’m saying this sarcastically – Donald Trump won the 2016 US Presidential Election.

I know. I couldn’t believe it either.

In the weeks leading up to the election, I had heard a number of pundits saying that Trump had less than a 30% chance of winning. Some projected that his chances might even be as low as 12%, a view propped up by various hypothetical maps that predicted even Texas going blue. Republican and Conservative attempts to “unskew” these predictions just sounded like wishful thinking.

Because I live in Seoul, 15 hours ahead of my hometown in the States, I was watching the Tuesday night election returns on Wednesday morning (pretty cool, huh?). Every so often when my students were busy with something at their desks, I would head over to the classroom computer and refresh Real Clear Politics to see how things were going. No big surprise, the first few states that turned red on their election map were mostly in the South – the states everyone expects the GOP to win in pretty much every election. Like a lot of people, I assumed Trump would lead early but then get slaughtered as the northeastern and West Coast votes started coming in. As one of my Facebook friends put it, “This is like an Ole Miss game. Trump is way ahead now, but just wait.”


But then Trump took Ohio, an incredibly important swing state that often acts as an indicator of the entire election.

“What?” I said out loud. I knew Trump was polling well in Ohio, but I didn’t expect it to mean very much on Election Day itself. (Sounds nonsensical, I know. It’s really just a roundabout way of saying I don’t always trust the polls.) But then when I got back from lunch, I found an even bigger surprise waiting for me. Trump had won Florida, another important swing-state.

“Is this really happening?” I said, again speaking out loud. Yes, it was. And as I started mentally adding up all the other states that Trump was almost certain to win (Alaska, Arizona, etc.) my mind suddenly came to an unexpected conclusion: Wow. He might actually win this thing. And, of course, that’s what happened.

“So, J,” some of you might find yourselves saying, “you were a vocal critic of the Obama administration. Will you be coming home now that there’s a Republican in the White House?” Ummm, no. I may not be frothing at the mouth the way a lot of other people are, but a lot of things I didn’t like about Obama are also true of Trump.

Here’s a quick list.

The Cons of a Trump Presidency
(1) He is being handed entirely too much power. When Donald Trump assumes the presidency in January, we will find ourselves with a Republican president, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate. This means that, like Obama before him, Trump will have at least two years to pass virtually any piece of legislation he wants. A lot of people with no imaginations blamed the backlash against Obama on racism, but I think it had much less to do with race and much more to do with his lack of checks and balances. History is now repeating itself with Trump. I’m not a fan of one-party rule.

(2) He is inexperienced as a political leader. Trump has had lots of business experience, so he’s at least superior to Obama in that regard. But I believe the American president should have experience in both business and politics.  It would have made sense if Trump had run for a smaller office, maybe governor of New York, but instead he’s all the way at the top of the mountain. Thus, the two most recent captains of the American ship are men who’ve never even paddled a canoe.

(3) His motives are not 100% clear and could potentially be very radical. One of the recurring criticisms of Trump throughout his campaign was his tendency to tell voters that his plans were “great” and “unbelievable” and “you’re gonna love them” without actually saying what those plans were. His stance on immigrants from Islamic countries, for example, has been interpreted in a number of different ways. Trump supporters are adamant that he never said he was going to deport all Muslims, only that he wants to find a better way to screen for potential terrorists coming to the USA from Islamic countries. His opponents, however – including President Obama – have stated that Trump has plans to “ban an entire religion.”

For me, it’s hard to form solid opinions about these things, because, again, they simply aren’t very clear yet. This was also a major problem that many skeptics had with the Obama presidency. The accusation that Obama was involved in radical/far Left/neo-Marxist/socialist politics was not a Republican myth or talking point. Dig into his background just a little bit and you’ll find that he was a member of the New Party, a close associate of many left-wing radicals, and a proponent of using intimidation tactics against voters and businesses.

Some people are upset that Donald Trump won’t release his tax returns.
Just like Obama wouldn’t release his college transcripts.

Some people are upset that Trump is supported by white nationalists.
Just like Obama was supported by the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam.

Because these issues in Obama’s past were never properly addressed by the mainstream press, many people were left to fill in the blanks with conspiracy theories and fear. Again, history is now repeating itself with Trump.

And just a sidenote –

(4) Social media is gonna suuuuuuck for the next four years. In high school, I was a theater kid (Drama Club president, actually) who enjoyed offbeat, counter-cultural books and movies. In college, I was a liberal arts major who co-hosted a radio show that routinely made fun of Southern Conservative frat boys, religious student organizations, and rednecks. Some of you might recall the “Redneck at the Zoo” sketch my old roommate and I recorded in Memphis.

One Halloween I dressed up as the Rainbow Crusader (“the world’s first openly gay super hero”) and went prancing around my hometown wearing a Pride flag as a cape. And just this year, I’ve donated several hundred dollars to the African Wildlife Foundation to combat elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade.

These signposts on the road of my life might seem to indicate that I’m something of a liberal, right? Nope. I have never been a liberal. Why? Because, in my experience, liberals are the left-wing equivalent of Christian fundamentalists. They are convinced not only that they are right about everything but that everyone who disagrees with them is evil, blind to the truth, and deserving of condemnation. And, also like Christian fundamentalists, many liberals labor under the delusion that everyone around them not only wants, but NEEDS to hear their opinion on everything. You know how most people groan when someone approaches them and asks if they have a minute to talk about their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? I do the same thing whenever someone starts talking to me about male privilege and “the patriarchy,” tries to downplay Islamic violence by talking about things Christians did literally hundreds of years ago, or tells me that the only reason I’m opposed to government-run healthcare is because I want poor people to die.


Let me be clear that I do not think everyone whose politics lean farther to the left than my own falls into this mold. I know many intelligent people on the Left whom I consider both respectable and moral despite our differences of opinion. Some of them have even helped me refine my own political thinking. But you know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the idiots who could look at this question –

Which of the following people is the worst human being on this list?
(A) A white male
(B) A black male who supported Donald Trump
(C) A woman who doesn’t support modern feminism
(D) An axe murderer who likes to molest, dismember, and eat the corpses of children

– and actually have to think for a while about the answer.

Looking into the future, I can already see these people taking my Facebook and Instagram feeds hostage with their endless virtue signalling and calls to “fight back against hate and oppression.” It’s gonna be 2004 all over again.

That said, I believe there are a few things that might actually be okay about Trump’s presidency.

Here they are, in no particular order.

The (Possible) Pros of a Trump Presidency

(1) Trump probably has a slightly better understanding of economics than President Obama did. That’s not saying very much, but take it for what it’s worth. Trump, as I mentioned, has considerable business experience and should be able to figure out that a country cannot increase its wealth by spending trillions of dollars that it doesn’t have. Then again, he did mention infrastructure spending in his acceptance speech, so maybe I should just prepare to be disappointed. (Note: fixing roads and bridges does not improve the economy.)

(2) At least there’s no creepy cult of personality around Donald Trump. The thing that disturbed me most about President Obama’s rise to power was the frenzied adulation that came along with it. For those of us who weren’t on the wagon, the whole thing was incredibly bizarre to behold. Seriously, just watch the following video and try not to find it at least a little off-putting and dystopian, especially at the end.

In the early days of his presidency, you could actually go to Wal-Mart and buy Obama merchandise. Bobble heads. Calendars. Banks. Posters. Pencils. You name it. I was working as a university writing instructor at the time, and to many of the students on campus Obama was no mere politician; he was the human embodiment of Hope itself. A philosopher-king. The smartest man to ever occupy the Oval Office. A bridge builder. A master orator. A man who could turn back the ocean tides and heal the planet. A modern-day combination of Jesus, Socrates, Einstein, and Gandhi. Amen! Alleluia! The savior had come! And the mainstream media was all too eager and willing to sing his praises.

Trump, it goes without saying, will not enter the White House with quite the same level of love-stricken support from the media and popular culture. And you know what? That’s great. Americans shouldn’t love their politicians. You shouldn’t want to have a poster of the president hanging on your wall. That sort of thing is not patriotism. It’s cult follower bullshit. Especially when the president is someone like Barack Obama or Donald Trump and has done nothing to deserve that level of emotional commitment.

(3) Thoughtful people on the Right and Left might very well find some common ground. Earlier in this blog post I mentioned the intelligent people on the political Left. In the wake of Trump’s success, many of these good people are genuinely, understandably afraid of what the future might hold. Believe me, I know that fear very well. I understand what it’s like to deeply distrust a president and his intentions. Have you seen all those people on television threatening to leave the country? I actually did it.

That’s why I will not condescend to anyone by telling them that they need to calm down and respect Trump because he’s the president or that they should give him time to prove himself. I won’t even tell them not to be angry at the people who voted for him. Lord knows I still lose respect for people when I find out they fell for all that vapid “Yes We Can” nonsense (especially the second time around). But what I will say is this: if you’re only angry about Trump, you haven’t gone far enough in your thinking…But don’t worry, you’re getting there.

In the past week, some of my left-leaning friends have declared that they will not pay taxes to a Trump administration. Others have expressed support for non-compliance and/or refusal to accept Trump’s authority. Some have even gone so far as to say they support #CalExit, a movement calling for California to secede from the United States. What the people posting these things might not realize is that this is exactly what most Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians have been preaching for a very long time. A healthy resistance to taxation, undue governmental authority, and federal control of the states forms the foundation of most right-wing thinking.

Do you suddenly feel as if the federal government has too much control over your life, that you’re taking orders from people you didn’t elect and don’t even respect? Have you begun to feel that government should be smaller and more localized, that voters in Iowa shouldn’t be making decisions for people in Massachusetts? Have you maybe even dared to think the unthinkable – that our whole idea of government is quickly becoming outdated in the digital age? Hey, welcome to the club. We took different paths, but it would appear that we’ve arrived  at the same destination.

I can’t say for certain where we’re going from here. All I know is that my school recently asked me if I’d like to stay for another year. And I said yes.

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October 7th: The Good and the Bad

If you saw the SNL sketch where Kylo Ren appeared on Undercover Boss disguised as a radar technician named Matt, you’ll undoubtedly remember one of the Stormtroopers making the comment: “Dude, Matt straight-up sucks.

Those are the words going through my head as I’m reading about Hurricane Matthew’s incredible death toll in Haiti and the havoc he’s (it’s?) wreaking up the East Coast. As someone whose hometown was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, I know firsthand how hurricanes can devastate families and property. My heart goes out to everyone in the storm’s path. If you’re reading this and know of a reputable relief organization where I can donate to the recovery, please let me know.


It’s kind of a tragic coincidence that Matthew made landfall on October 7th, a day that has both a personal and national history of being downright shitty.

On October 7th, 2005, my old dog Annie passed away from health complications caused by the above-mentioned Hurricane Katrina. (We believe she ingested some unclean water during the flooding.)


Four years before that – October 7, 2001 – was the day America fired its first shots in the War on Terror.

If you’re old enough to remember 9-11, you might also remember the climate of fear and paranoia that swept over the country in the months that followed. The world had completely changed in the course of a single morning, and suddenly we Americans found ourselves learning phrases like “sleeper cell,” “anthrax attack,” and “homeland security.” There was some debate at the time about whether the US should retaliate for the attacks using military force. It wasn’t as clear-cut as Pearl Harbor 60 years earlier. We hadn’t been attacked by a foreign military but by a terrorist organization (al-Queda). By going to war in Afghanistan we would run the risk of being sucked into an endless, bloody ground war (“like Russia”). There was also considerable fear that attacking a Middle Eastern country would only invite more attacks by sleeper cells already located inside the US.

I was a college student working at an independent video rental store (remember those?) when all of this was happening. Being an extrovert who was deeply troubled by the 9-11 attacks, I would frequently chat with customers about the state of the world and wonder what the near future might hold for all of us. “Do you think we’re going to war?” I asked a lady one Saturday morning.

“We just did,” she said. “Started dropping bombs on Afghanistan about an hour ago.”

It was one of those weird moments when you recognize the significance of something as soon as it happens. Even now I can remember feeling afraid and excited at the same time. After a month of fearful indecision, it was finally open season on those murderous bastards. But that meant it was open season on us too. My country just went to war, and it might last a really long time. I remember looking at the calendar next to the cash register. “October 7th,” I said.

The lady nodded and said we’d always remember this date.

Before we give in to the superstition that a certain day is somehow cursed, though, it’s important to remember that not everything that’s happened on October 7th has been bad.
After all, on October 7th, 1986, more than a decade before there was any such thing as 9-11 or the War on Terror or Hurricanes Katrina and Matthew, Slayer released their landmark album Reign in Blood – a permanent fixture on my list of things that really are as good as everyone says.

My introduction to this album came when I was 13 or so, several months after I’d first gotten into metal via Metallica’s black album. I didn’t really know the difference between good metal and shit metal back then, so I signed up for Columbia House’s “12 Tapes for a Penny” deal and ordered a bunch of Motley Crue, Poison, and Damn Yankees cassettes. A few of their songs were fairly catchy, but none of them packed the same punch as the songs I was listening to on Metallica’s earlier albums. Ride the Lightning. Master of Puppets. Where could I find more bands that sounded like that? I wondered. Where’s the heavy shit?

The answer came when an old buddy of mine named Chris Coleman showed up to school with a battered cassette copy of Reign in Blood and told me I could borrow it. I stared at the cover art for a while – it appeared to be some kind of goat-headed Satan figure surrounded by images of war – before flipping it over to look at the song titles.

“It’s a mini-album,” Chris explained. “Same songs on both sides.”
A mini-album. It sounded almost cute.
But that mini-album, I soon learned, was anything but cute. In just 28 minutes, Slayer ripped through 10 songs, both of my eardrums, and my previously unshakeable belief that Metallica was the heaviest band in the world. Seriously, listening to “Enter Sandman” after hearing “Angel of Death” was like smoking a joint after trying PCP. It just didn’t work anymore.

Having officially discovered the heavy shit, I then went on to discover even heavier bands and genres (i.e. death and black metal), but Reign in Blood still reigns. Do yourself a favor and listen to it now. It’s a great way to spend your October 7th.

Fucking. Slayer.

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A Bloomsday Ramble

Bloomsday 2016. It’s almost 9:30 p.m. at the time of this writing, and I put in a full day of teaching and planning before taking my roommate out for his nightly hour-long tour of the neighborhood. But, it just doesn’t seem right to let this day go by without writing something. Like a Halloween without candy or a birthday without cake. This is a day when the words should flow freely, so please, just sit back and let me ramble for a while.

“‘Start Again’ I Heard Them Say”

My life has started over in a number of ways over the past few months. I’ve started my new job, which seems to be going pretty well so far. I had a birthday on May 25th (it’s never too late to hit up ye olde Barnes & Noble Wishlist for belated gift ideas, by the way). And, most significantly, I suddenly find myself with far more free time than I’ve had in literally the last five years.

I’ve had big plans for this free time ever since I signed on for my new job way back in December. My three biggest projects: (1) I want to get some serious writing done; (2) I want to drop about 65 pounds; and (3) I want to start working with North Korean refugees again. Thus far, I’m doing well with two out of three.

Back in the Tutoring Life Again

In the past three or four weeks, I’ve attended two meetings at TNKR (Teach North Korean Refugees), a group that pairs English tutors with students from North Korea. I submitted a resume explaining my qualifications, and I might find out whether any of the students have selected me to be their tutor as early as tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Back on the Treadmill Again

The battle of the bulge rages on. It’s kind of embarrassing to look back and see how many times I’ve blogged about my various plans to lose weight during my time in Korea. I was going to the gym. I was competing with my buddy Kristian. I bought a bicycle (which was stolen last winter, sadly). But this time – knock on wood – is different. With more time and less stress to deal with, I feel like I have some advantages that I didn’t have before.

C25k display
I’ve joined a gym here in Seoul, and Doreen, the gal who hooked me up with my new job, has introduced me to Couch to 5k (C25K). If you haven’t heard of it, C25K is a free running app that can supposedly get you off the couch and have you ready for a 5k in just eight weeks if you stick with it and do the assigned 30-minute exercises three times a week. I’m already on Week 3 and loving it, so it must be doing something right.

One thing I didn’t realize about myself before I started C25K was how much my obsessive-compulsive tendencies affect me in the gym. It’s always been very hard for me to relax during a cardio workout because I constantly watch the clock to make sure I start walking/running/jogging at exactly the right times. I’ve even made playlists of songs that could measure these things out for me. C25K takes all that stress away by keeping an eye on the time for me. If I need to run for two minutes, I hear a little chime and a prompt that says “Begin running.” Two minutes later, another chime and “Start walking.” It even tells me when I’m halfway finished and when I only have one more minute to go. All I have to do is rev up my playlist – 423 of the best songs in my music library – and feel the burn. It’s flawless. Can’t wait to post before-and-after pictures.

I Know I’m Slipping

writers block
The one front where I’m not quite hitting all my marks is my writing. I’m definitely writing more than I was before, but I haven’t managed to get into a good routine with it just yet. These things take time. The funny thing about writing, though, is that sometimes you don’t really want to get into a good routine, because you know your other responsibilities are inevitably going to pull you away from it, which is extremely frustrating. That’s why I’m currently trying to save up enough money to take a year off and do nothing but write. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance everything out.

A few weeks ago I read a book called The Miracle Morning, which explained how a person could potentially reach any goal they’re trying to reach by waking up a few hours earlier than normal. The writing in this book was atrocious, and it occasionally veered awfully close to that silly “tell the universe what you need” bullshit that made The Secret so popular a decade or so ago. (What’s that called again? The Law of Attraction? Something like that.) But it did offer a few good ideas that I’ve been trying to implement in my life.

For example, I’ve been waking up early several days a week to do an hour of writing in the morning before work. I also made a list that spells out exactly what I’m trying to accomplish. By May 25th, 2017, I plan to finish my long-delayed story collection and reach my weight loss goals. Wish me luck.

And oh yeah, please visit, like, and subscribe to me on social media if you haven’t done so already. I need my fanbase to be ready when my book is finished. 🙂


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“You Opened It. We Came.”

family hellraiser In completely unrelated news, I’ve been going back and watching all the Hellraiser movies again, even the straight-to-video sequels where Pinhead is reduced to making brief cameo appearances. I’ve always enjoyed horror movies, as anyone who saw the kitchen at Apartment 86 can attest, but Hellraiser gets a few extra points in my book for being a bit more literate than the average ’80s slasher flick. (Not that there’s anything wrong with slasher flicks, mind you – I love Jason, Freddy, Michael, and Chucky too.)

Since I began this particular movie marathon, I’ve had to be very careful what I say to my students.

Student crying and whining?
“No tears please. It’s a waste of good suffering.”

Student asking for a bathroom break at an inappropriate time?
“Trick us again, child, and your suffering will be legendary…even in Hell.”

Student tattles for a trivial offense, so you punish them instead of the student they’re ratting on?
“All problems solved.”

I realize now that Clive Barker is a writer I should become much more familiar with. Sounds dumb, I know, but I’ve always associated him with his movies and never really thought of him as a serious writer. My mistake. Gonna start looking into his stuff very soon. Any suggestions?

Rambling Off Now

There’s more I could comment on if I was wide awake, but I’m not, so I won’t.
Happy Bloomsday, everyone. Thanks for reading.

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The Day the Greatest Died

When future generations look back on 2016, they’ll probably refer to it as “The Year We Do Not Speak Of.” In addition to an absolute embarrassment of a presidential race (not that there’s been a presidential race in the last 20 years or so that hasn’t been embarrassing), this year has given us back-to-back-to-back deaths of some of our greatest entertainment legends. First David Bowie. Then Prince. And now, Muhammad Ali.


Coincidentally, I have been in the same room as all three of these men in my lifetime. In fact, in 2004 I saw David Bowie and Prince in the same weekend – Bowie on Friday, Prince on Saturday.


Here’s a pic from the David Bowie concert. That’s me in the front row, wearing a red shirt. Wendy (my ex-fiance) is in front of me.

Both put on amazing shows, but neither could compare to the experience of watching Muhammad Ali walk to his ringside seat at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, boxing is the only sport I’ve ever had any genuine interest in. That doesn’t mean I don’t like other sports –  the New Orleans Saints were just part of the fabric of growing up in Biloxi, and I had lots of fun watching Ole Miss Rebel football, baseball, and (especially) basketball in college – but boxing is the sport I really care about. Chalk it up as a side effect of growing up in the Mike Tyson era with a family full of boxing fans. My dad never missed an opportunity to talk about the great fights of the ’60s and ’70s, take me to local amateur bouts down at the community center, or hold Sunday-long Rocky marathons

So when Muhammad Ali’s daughter Laila (also a boxing champion) had a bout at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in August 2003, it was a given that we would be there. Laila’s fight didn’t start until sometime around 7:00, but we showed up at 5 to beat the traffic and watch the no-name undercard fights. As more and more people began filing into the Coliseum, we’d hear occasional bursts of applause as various boxing celebrities were spotted walking in. I’m pretty sure Michael Buffer was there. So was Roy Jones Jr, who got a nice ovation from us, his fellow Gulf Coast natives. But holy shit, when Muhammad Ali arrived the place erupted.

“A-LI!! A-LI!!! A-LI!!!” And then, “A-LI BOMAYE! A-LI BOMAYE!” (a famous chant from Ali’s fight with George Foreman in Zaire).

The Coliseum had always seemed like a big place when I was there for concerts – Megadeth, Rob Zombie, The Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Aerosmith, Prince – but it didn’t seem big enough to hold Ali’s presence. That’s not an exaggeration. Ali wasn`t one of those `just like everybody else`public figures. He was a legend and an icon, a man made for soccer stadiums and Madison Square Garden. Judging from the intensity of the emotion and affection coming from the crowd, I don’t think anyone could really believe that he was sitting in our hometown arena. This wasn’t a celebrity sighting; this was a genuine brush with Greatness.

how great
I wasn’t close enough to shake his hand or say anything to him, but I remember that he was gracious enough to sign things people were handing to him as he walked to his seat. And best of all – the memory that really sticks with me from this experience – the two undercard boxers in the ring actually stopped fighting so they could watch him too. What can I say? The man was a peacemaker. 🙂

The day before his death was announced, Ali was part of the discussion in my second grade reading lesson. The students were reading the story of the tortoise and the hare, and I explained to them that while it’s not good to be a cocky asshole like the hare, it IS okay to have confidence and believe in yourself. To illustrate, I showed them a quick video about Muhammad Ali and ended the lesson by having all of them say “I am the greatest!”

Rest assured, there will never be another like him.
R.I.P. Muhammad Ali
And by that I mean Rumble Young Man Rumble in Peace. 🙂

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So My Home State Passed This Law…

refuse service

For the past week or so, my Facebook feed and inbox have both been inundated with news of Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 (HB 1523), the recently passed legislation which either “protects religious liberties” or “enshrines discrimination and hate” depending on where you stand. An overwhelming majority of my friends – or at least the ones who’ve taken time to comment on it – clearly fall into the “it enshrines discrimination and hate” camp, which is understandable, given the bill’s reputation. But reputations, as we all know, are not always factual. (Remember Chopper the Junkyard Dog in Stand by Me?)
Information can be flawed. Bias can distort things. And some people, it has to be said, just really like to be outraged.

But to those friends of mine who do feel outrage about this bill (and they are my friends, who I care about and want only the best for), I want to ask an honest question: have you actually read it? Not internet memes about it. Not political cartoons about it. Not Stephen Colbert’s commentary on it. The bill itself. It’s freely available online. Have you searched it out, clicked the link, and read it? If not, I hope you will allow me to suggest, respectfully, that you might have been misled about what’s in it. Let’s take a look.

A Closer Look

Claim #1 – The bill makes it legal for medical practitioners (doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, etc.) to deny emergency care/treatment to gay men and women in need.

This was the claim that really caught my attention. Would the state government really make it legal to let someone die for being gay? Granted, I can’t imagine anyone in the medical profession, Christian or otherwise, refusing to treat someone in a desperate situation. And, beyond that, I’m not exactly sure how a doctor would be able to look at someone and know that they were gay. (Do gay men come swishing through emergency room doors, announcing, “Oh, girl, these chest pains are fab-u-lous!!”?) But was it true? Does the bill really make it legal for doctors to be that callous if they want to?

As it turns out, no, it doesn’t. In fact, it explicitly states that it is not saying that. Just read this excerpt from Section 3, c4 (note the part I’ve underlined and put in bold):

   (4)  The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person wholly or partially on the basis that the person declines to participate in the provision of treatments, counseling, or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning or declines to participate in the provision of psychological, counseling, or fertility services based upon a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act.  This subsection (4) shall not be construed to allow any person to deny visitation, recognition of a designated representative for health care decision-making, or emergency medical treatment necessary to cure an illness or injury as required by law.

In other words, not only can a doctor not deny emergency treatment to a gay man or woman, they also cannot deny their wives/husbands/partners the right to visit them or make important decisions concerning their health care.

The law does say that a doctor is not legally bound to take part in sex-change procedures, but it’s doubtful that any doctor you would go to for gender-reassignment has a problem with being there. A sex-change doctor who’s morally opposed to sex changes is not religious, he’s just lazy.

Claim #2 – The bill makes it legal for a Christian to deny marriage permits to gay couples

No, it doesn’t. Via Section 3, 8a:

(a)  Any person employed or acting on behalf of the state government who has authority to authorize or license marriages, including, but not limited to, clerks, registers of deeds or their deputies, may seek recusal from authorizing or licensing lawful marriages based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act.  Any person making such recusal shall provide prior written notice to the State Registrar of Vital Records who shall keep a record of such recusal, and the state government shall not take any discriminatory action against that person wholly or partially on the basis of such recusal.  The person who is recusing himself or herself shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.

So, for example, let’s say Jack and Jill both work in an office where they can issue marriage licenses. Jack is a raging homophobe, but Jill was a theater major who binge-watches Will and Grace with all her favorite family members every weekend. HB 1523 basically says that if Jack is morally opposed to issuing gay marriage licenses, Jill can do it instead. The only conditions are: (1) Jack cannot stop (or even delay) a gay couple from getting a license; and (2) a gay couple cannot sue Jack for declining to issue the license himself.  He goes his way; they go theirs. Can we all be happy with this?

Claim #3 – The bill makes it legal for employers, landlords, and businesses to fire people and throw them out for being gay

This is only true if a gay person works for and/or lives in a home owned by a religious organization that doesn’t approve of gay unions. Section 3, 1(b)(c)

The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a religious organization wholly or partially on the basis that such organization:

         (b)  Makes any employment-related decision including, but not limited to, the decision whether or not to hire, terminate or discipline an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act; or

          (c)  Makes any decision concerning the sale, rental, occupancy of, or terms and conditions of occupying a dwelling or other housing under its control, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act.

I’m not sure why any self-respecting gay person would want to work for or pay rent to Bigot Springs Baptist Church or whatever, but that’s not the point. The point is that this section of the law does not apply to every employer in the state. Gay men and women living in Mississippi cannot be fired from a job at, say, a law office or Wal-Mart for being gay. Similarly, a landlord at your typical apartment complex or townhouse rental cannot just toss gay tenants out for no reason. And if they do, good for the gay employees and tenants. It’s hella-lucrative discrimination lawsuit time!

The Larger Point (The Right to Discriminate)

I believe the point most people miss in all of this is that, even if it was legal for secular businesspeople to refuse employment to gay people, the vast majority of them still wouldn’t do it. As a general rule, bosses don’t care who you’re with when you go home. They just want you to do a good job while you’re at work.

The same is true when it comes to customers. Do you think McDonald’s or Tiffany’s cares whether the person buying a Big Mac or diamond is gay or straight, black or white, male or female? No. Everyone’s money spends the same way. Hell, I live in Korea, where a lot of older people despise Americans and hate the sound of English. But when I walk up to their food stalls and buy myself a snack, they’re all smiles, bows, and nods. If they mutter “Fat fucking Yankee foreigner” under their breaths when I walk off, I don’t care at all. Our relationship does not require them to like me on a personal level, and trying to legislate their opinions would be tyranny.

But let’s take a different look at it. Suppose I went to an elderly Korean woman’s food stall and she refused to serve me. Suppose she said “Fat fucking Yankee foreigner” right to my face and told me to get lost. Have my rights been violated? Is she required to take my money and give me a snack? In my worldview, the answer to both questions is a resounding no. It’s her food stall. If she wants to pick and choose her customers, so be it. I’m not hell-bent on bending her to my will and making her do something she doesn’t want to do. I’ll just find another food stall where I am welcome. And who knows? Maybe when all the foreigners start going to the more welcoming places, the elderly Korean woman will eventually change her policy or put herself out of business. The market is merciless against bigotry.

Here’s another example I often ask friends to consider. When I lived in New Orleans, I once had a laundromat conversation with an older gay man who said he didn’t care for big Bourbon Street hotspots like Oz. His reason? “Because they’re too filled up with giggly straight girls who just go there to dance.” He then reminisced about the 1970s when gay bars and clubs were more underground and exclusive. (In Biloxi-speak: Le Bistro, not Joey’s.) So, let’s say this man went and opened a bar that had a “Gay Men Only” policy. No breeders allowed. Would he be guilty of discrimination? In the strictest sense of the word, yes. But so what? It’s his bar. It’s his property, just like his home or his car. He should be the one making the decisions about it.

This is why I never understand what point some of my friends are trying to make when they say things like, “Oh, so if a vegetarian owns a bowling alley, you think it’s okay for them not to let meat-eaters go bowling?”
Once again, my answer is, “Well, most vegetarians wouldn’t do that. But
if they felt strongly enough about it, then sure. And anyway, I don’t want to go bowling anywhere that doesn’t serve chicken wings.”

If you can see the logic of these examples, you can see why it doesn’t bother me when some wedding photographers, florists, or bakeries choose not to cater gay weddings. It’s their business, a fact which HB 1523 recognizes:

(5)  The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person wholly or partially on the basis that the person has provided or declined to provide the following services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration, or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act:

          (a)  Photography, poetry, videography, disc-jockey services, wedding planning, printing, publishing or similar marriage-related goods or services; or

          (b)  Floral arrangements, dress making, cake or pastry artistry, assembly-hall or other wedding-venue rentals, limousine or other car-service rentals, jewelry sales and services, or similar marriage-related services, accommodations, facilities or goods.

If that’s a problem, then the solution is not to force them to cater gay weddings, but to patronize businesses that do. Or, better yet, to start businesses that only cater to gay weddings. Congratulate the couples and make millions, I say. (This, by the way, is also the solution in other areas of conflict, such as gay adoption.)

If the state passed a law that said gay men and women couldn’t start such businesses – or that did deny them emergency medical care, legal marriage licenses, or employment –  I would be among the first to protest. But this law, HB 1523, is not that law. Please read it for yourself and see if it’s really worth the outrage.


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Wa-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta!: Big News for the Holidays

‘Tis the day after Christmas,
and I just walked my dog.
So now I can finally
sit down and blog.

Hello, dear readers. It’s been three months since you’ve heard from me, but I’m sure I don’t have to explain. For us teacher types, October means month-long preparations for Halloween.

November means catching up on things that fell behind in October.

And December is a long, slow descent into the hell that is our annual Christmas concert.

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My vacation finally started on Wednesday, December 23rd, and except for a shopping trip with my friend Sarah and Christmas dinner with some co-workers, I’ve pretty much been sleeping ever since.  No surprise visits home or elaborate vacations this year. I’ve got big plans in the works and I need to rest, plan, and budget myself accordingly.

What are These Big Plans of Which You Speak?

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I guess now is as good a time as any to tell everyone my important news: I’m starting a new job in March. (Don’t get too excited; I’m not going home yet. I still have to wait out the Barackalypse for at least another year before there’s any chance of that happening.)

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Yes, after five years at Maple Bear Canadian School, I’m moving on to a private school in Seoul. Maple Bear has been extremely good to me during my time there, so I haven’t wanted to gloat about this or talk about it too much. But, my new job will allow me more personal time to do other things. I’ll still receive all the same benefits, but my work days will be much shorter and I’ll have a full (paid) month off for summer and Christmas. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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Please allow me to take this time and publicly thank my friend Doreen Wade, who helped me find this new job and recommended me to the director. It’s not every day that a Yankee liberal black girl helps a Southern libertarian white boy find a job, but that’s the power and beauty of friendship. Thanks Dodo. I owe you one.

A Problem and Its Solution

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Starting a new job in March, however, creates a problem that will be obvious to those of you who read my post back in September. If I start a new job in March, how can I travel to Wembley Stadium to see Babymetal in April? I’ve been at Maple Bear for so long that I could probably have gotten a day or two off from there, no problem. But, if I’m starting a new job, it’s probably not a great idea to ask for frivolous time off less than six weeks in. Don’t shit where you eat, as the old saying goes.

So,  how to solve this problem? Well, if you’re like me, you start looking around for other ways to see Babymetal in concert. And if you’re lucky (again, like me), you find out that they’re playing two shows in Japan on December 12th and 13th.

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Then, you get your friend Kim – who just happens to be Japanese – to put you in touch with one of her friends in Japan. Kim’s friend (an awesome guy named Doug) then helps you purchase a ticket to the sold-out show from a reputable re-sale site. (Thanks Capitalism!)

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After that, you buy an affordable round-trip ticket to Japan from and BOOM! You’re on your way to a pre-Christmas mini-vacation weekend.

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Japan’s subway system is notoriously difficult to master. But I knew I was going the right way when I saw all the people wearing black.

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Waiting in line for the show, I was approached by a girl handing out promo cards. She said she was in a metal/idol band called Necronomidol. I think it’s supposed to be a combination of the words “Necronomicon” and “doll,” but the only thing I heard when she first said it was “Necrono-Midol.” haha Anyway, look for them on YouTube and check them out at

If you’re a fan, it probably goes without saying that Babymetal was awesome*. It was only a short trip, but I honestly felt relaxed and rejuvenated when I went back to work the following Monday. It really helped push me over the finish line. My students were excited about my trip too, which is why four of them performed a giggly version of Babymetal’s “Gimme Chocolate” after their awesome Christmas concert performance last Tuesday.

They make me so proud. 🙂

This is only the SparkNotes version of what happened, of course. It really took a lot of time and effort on Kim’s and Doug’s parts to get me to that show, so a HUGE thanks is definitely in order for both of them. Thanks fellas.

The Present Tense

Now it’s December 26th and I’m starting to ask myself what I want to do with the rest of this stay-cation. I had a nice dinner with friends and co-workers last night –


And I’m hanging out with my kid sister AJ tomorrow. After that, it’s a blank slate. Wish me luck finding adventures.

I might post again before vacation is over. There’s a lot to talk about these days – the upcoming American elections, the new Star Wars movie (quick fan theory: I think Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter), Ronda Rousey’s loss to Holly Holm, etc.  – but for now, this is J saying have yourself a merry little Christmas and a happy New Year.


* I went on a long rant about why Babymetal should be considered real metal before realizing I was off-topic. I saved it, so if anyone wants to read it just let me know and I might post it later.

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