Today marks the beginning of my fourth week as a Bostonian. My head is finally beginning to stop spinning, as the recent whirlwind of moving and familiarizing myself to a new city has given way to the more day-to-day concerns of schoolwork. I've been feeling like a bobblehead doll these past few weeks, my head on springs, bouncing from one worry to the next, everything from where to buy groceries to what's the fastest way downtown to campus. As those concerns have faded to a slight, but palpable sense of security, I've been able to look ahead to the semester, my dread only slightly less palpable than my security.

I'm a slacker. Always have been. I procrastinate. A lot. (No, writing this blog entry is not keeping me from school work; that's what doing the dishes later is for.) Even during the last few years, while I was chugging away at my bachelor's degree, there were many times when I wouldn't complete an assignment or a reading until the night before it was do. Or the morning. And I'd like to say that will change, that I'll get my work done ahead of time and not brush up precariously close against due dates and deadlines, but, honestly, it's gotten me this far, hasn't it?

That's what's interesting about me and journalism. Deadlines. Deadlines are the veritable bogeyman of reporters, always looming over their shoulder, hiding in the shadows, seething, waiting for the right moment to pounce! And suddenly you're out of time and your instructor or editor needs what you're working on. In school, missing a deadline can get you an F. In the really real world, it can get you fired.

But I don't usually have the problem of missing deadlines. I just squeeze every last minute that I can out of them, wringing them like a wet sponge, the seconds dripping away, and then I hand in my paper and get an A on it. So I guess I should stop stressing about how I'm going to do this work and just get around to actually doing it.

Right now, though, I've got some "House," "Heroes" and "Castle" to watch. Everyone's got their priorities.


Shipping Up to Boston

I don't think it truly hit me until I was driving to work this afternoon. I felt a lump in my throat and a sort of queasiness in my stomach as I sped along the highway, driving my car of the past 10 years for the last time. That's what it took, I guess, for it to finally hit home. All the packing, all the saying goodbye and receiving of well-wishers, none of that made all this seem as real to me as driving that car for what I knew was the last time.

I'm moving to Boston. I'm really doing this. It went from being an abstract number, some far off date that never seemed to get any closer, to this, to leaving Omaha on Wednesday. This Wednesday. Three days until my boxes are stuffed in my sister's minivan and my parents and I are on the road.

Some days I don't even know why I'm doing this. Boston. Grad school. I doubt my abilities. I doubt my readiness. I wake up every morning half expecting an email from the school in my inbox, explaining it was all a mix-up and they've withdrawn my acceptance. I mean, come on, what could I possibly have to offer that school? And what do they have to offer me, aside from an express lane to even more debt. I don't even know what I want to do with my life, but I'm moving to Boston anyway.

It's been a while since I've been wracked with such doubt. Five years since I moved to California. Four years since I moved back to Omaha. Now that I'm leaving again, this most recent stint in Omaha feels like it's all gone past in a blur. Trying to get a handle on my depression, starting to take classes again, first at Metro and then at UNO. The Dean's List. A kidney stone. An internship in Los Angeles. Graduation. Helping to make a movie.

All the boxes around the house remind me of returning from California, tail tucked between my legs, totally and completely lost. It feels like it was such a short time ago. Has it really been four years? Have I changed over those years? Have I grown up at all? I've seen friends get married and have kids. Careers. Even divorced. And I look in the mirror and see the same schmucky kid who ran off to Ohio for his first year of college. I found my ID recently. My first college ID. Who knew I still had it, or why. But I sat there, looking at this kid, trying to remember what it felt like to be him. And I can't.

And now, 12 years later, I'm once again running off to another city, another school. My undergrad finished, but my life still stuck in neutral. No matter where I go I'll be there. And I've yet to figure out if that's really such a good thing. Not like I have a choice, of course. I'm rather stuck with me. I just don't know which me I am these days. What am I bringing with me to Boston? Who am I bringing? Who will I be once I get there?

All of this hit me today as I was driving my car for the last time. That car had taken me to Chicago and Minneapolis, to Denver and Los Angeles and San Francisco. But not Boston. Boston. A clean slate. Not a do-over, but a moving-on. Moving on to what, I've no idea. But when I'm not stifled by panic, fear or doubt, I'm anxious and excited to find out.



Saw Coraline yesterday at the Village Pointe movie theatre, because they have digital projectors and were showing it in 3D, unlike the AMC theatre, which is closer to me, but needs to upgrade its projectors. Now, I think 3D is just a fad, a cheap gimmick, to try to lure people into the movie theatre. I don't particularly care for it, nor do I think movies need it. Sitting in a theatre with those clunky plastic frames on your head is uncomfortable, especially if you wear glasses. But, that being said, Coraline looked really pretty in 3D. Of course, it would certainly look good regardless, but they used the technology to great effect with this particular film.

For those who may be unaware, Coraline is a stop-motion animation film directed by the guy who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, who we all should know by now is NOT Tim Burton. Henry Selick is his name, and he is a wonderfully inventive master of all things puppets. Stop-motion is a painstakingly long and arduous process in which you place your "actors" on the adorably tiny set, shoot a frame of film, move the puppet a fraction of an inch, shoot a frame of film, and so on. It can take weeks to film mere seconds. It took the amazingly talented and patient designers and animators at Portland-based LAIKA (founded by Nike CEO Phil Knight) three years to create the hour and 40 minute Coraline.

Coraline is nothing short of a breathtaking masterpiece of stop-motion animation and storytelling. The story is somewhat akin to a darker version of Alice in Wonderland, wherein our heroine, 11-year-old Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), discovers a tiny bricked up door in the house she and her oft-neglectful parents have just moved into. Bricked up, that is, except at night, when the door opens onto a passageway to another world, a mirror world, where everything is the same, only better, including Coraline's parents, who, instead of being wrapped up in their jobs, dote on Coraline with food and presents and everything she could ever hope for. Coraline's Other Mother (wickedly performed by Teri Hatcher) and Other Father (the always amusing John Hodgman) want nothing more than for her to stay in their world and let them love her. There is only one condition: she must allow her Other Mother to replace her eyes with big, black, shiny buttons.

Coraline, of course, is repulsed by the very thought of having big black buttons for eyes and escapes back to her own world, only to discover, with the help of a mangy, feral Cat (voiced by the deep, scratchy baritone of Keith David), that her real parents have been stolen away by her Other Mother. Frightened but determined, Coraline realizes she must return to the mirror world to save her parents.

To say that Coraline is sometimes very creepy is an understatement. But it's also extremely charming and whimsical and lots of fun. I dare you to watch Mr. Bobinsky (wonderfully voiced by Deadwood's Ian McShane)'s Mouse Circus perform or see the theatre seats filled with hundreds of tail-wagging Scottish Terriers and not laugh out loud in childlike glee while marveling at the intricacy of the animation.

Given my undying love of The Nightmare Before Christmas and all things Neil Gaiman (from whose novel Coraline was adapted), I'm sure I was predisposed to enjoying this movie, but there were enough changes from the book that the story still felt fresh and new, even after having read the book multiple times.

I cannot recommend this movie enough, for children of all ages, unless they frighten easily. I think my seven and a half year old local nephew would be scared, but maybe my four and a half year old not local nephew would love it. Regardless, it's a marvelous film, exquisitely and lovingly crafted. It's pure magic if you'll let yourself be carried away by it.


Yes We Did

The night of the election, I was working on a film set. It was one of our last days at this old house in Council Bluffs, our special effects day. The tech guys were inside, working with the director and director of photography to figure out how they wanted to rig a bunch of light bulbs to explode as the lead actor runs through the house, where the camera was going to be positioned, etc. There wasn't very much for the rest of the crew to be doing, so many of us gathered outside and watched this little TV set the neighbor had brought out for us, so we could see the election results.

It was a nice night, not too cold yet, and everyone was giddy with excitement. The local crew members had voted that morning, and the out-of-towners had voted early. My father and I had gone to the local election office to cast our ballots the week before, because I was worried the line might be too long on election day and I didn't want to be late to the set.

As the results began coming in from the eastern states, we called them out over our walkies, like we were updating a sports score. As more and more states turned blue on the map, the excitement grew. The air was almost electric as this small crew of 30 huddled around the television, sensing the inevitable. Some of the crew were from Chicago, and they were constantly on their phones with friends back home, talking and texting about the enormous crowd in Grant Park. We all felt envious of those fortunate enough to be there.

I remember the clock striking 10 o'clock and the west coast voting came to a close. Looking at the numbers, Obama's victory wasn't in doubt, but we needed to see it. It wasn't official until they called those final states. And then they all fell like dominoes, Washington, Oregon and California, all blue, all for Obama.

We cheered and hugged, the movie we were making forgotten for a short time, as chants of "Obama! Obama!" echoed in the cool night air. There were tears in many of our eyes that night. Thinking back on it now, I come close to choking up, the enormity of the occasion is almost overwhelming, even more than two months later. It wasn't simply that we were finally done with George W. Bush and his criminally incompetent administration, though, of course, that was something to celebrate in its own right. We, all of us, had elected to be our president not only a man of intelligence and thoughtfulness (a sharp contrast to the bumbling fool of the previous eight years, to be sure), but a black man to boot.

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday, and I urge everyone to seek out and listen to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, really listen to it, and think about where we stand as a nation 46 years later. Racism and hatred still exist, both here at home and across the world. War and poverty still rage across the face of the globe. Dr. King's ideal is far from reality, but think, just think, that tomorrow America will have its first black president, and while we may still have a long way to go, the journey doesn't seem quite so far as it once did.

Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th president of the United States. I honestly thought I'd never see the day, but that night, November 4, 2008, America did something I long thought impossible, given my cynical nature: America surprised me.

It's going to be a hard, difficult slog through the quagmire left behind by W. and his cronies, but it doesn't feel as hopeless as it once did. America has been a tragic joke for far too long, and we let it happen. All of us are to blame for what we allowed to transpire in our country and in our country's name. Now it's time for us to fix what we broke, our reputation, our honor and dignity. I no longer feel ashamed of my country, as I have for much of the past eight years. That night, November 4, 2008, restored my faith, if only a little, in the promise of what America can and should be. We took that pivotal first step, of which I am immensely proud. But we have to keep moving forward, away from the broken, charred husk of what Bush turned us into, what we let him turn us into, toward that bright, gleaming beacon of hope we've aspired to ever since Thomas Jefferson put quill to paper more than 230 years ago.

As Obama said in his acceptance speech in Grant Park:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America.


It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America."

Amen, brother. Now it's time for us to get to work.


Why journalism?

That's a question I keep asking myself lately, as day after day I read about newspapers across the country laying off employees or closing up shop altogether. In the last week alone the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been put up for sale and the Minneapolis Star Tribune has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Just last month, the two Detroit daily papers, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News, announced that, in order to cut costs, they were no longer offering home delivery of their papers during the week, only on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Even online magazines and news sites are laying people off, so it's not enough anymore to simply repeat the old axiom that "print journalism is dead," because this economic sinkhole Bush has left us in is a lot bigger than that. Companies can't pay advertising rates anymore, regardless of whether it's TV, radio, newspapers, magazines or the Internet. They're all cutting back, just trying to stay afloat through this recession. And companies that rely predominantly on advertising to pay the bills are getting killed because of it.

So again I posit the question, Why journalism?

Hell, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Fingers crossed that I get into one of these grad schools I've applied to. I really need something to do for the next couple years.

::UPDATE 1/16/09::

This morning I read that the Boston Globe is laying off 50 newsroom employees.


To go or not to go

As part of the application process for Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism I'm encouraged, though not required, to sign up for an admissions interview, either in person or over the phone. I've signed up for a phone interview at the end of the month, but I'm trying to decide whether I should make the drive out there. Lord knows I've got nothing going on here that I'll be missing, and it's been a couple years since I've been to Chicago. I could do the interview in the morning and then hang out for a weekend. I've got places to crash, so money wouldn't really be an issue, except for gas, but I could probably scrounge that up. Then again, it is Chicago in winter, which I've done before and, boy, is it miserable.

Decisions, decisions ...


You still here?

Hiya. Long time, no see. Where you been? I've been right here. Quiet, sure, but I never went anywhere. And if I did go somewhere, odds are I would've returned, because that seems to be my current lot in life, to never get out of here.

When I last posted, hell, I don't even know what I wrote about. Finally graduating from college, most likely. I think I'll blame the lack of posts between then and now on having nothing worth writing about, because I haven't actually done anything since graduating in August. I mean, sure I've looked for a job, but having not actually landed one, what's the point in writing about that? "Post-graduation Day 41: Still no job." That'd get old after a while, no?

Okay, sure, there was that movie I worked on as a production assistant from October to early November, which was lots of fun and educational and tiring and I met this really great girl from Minneapolis on set, which I suppose I could've/should've written about, but, man, working 12+ hour days really take a lot out of you, and the only thing I wanted to do after getting home each day was get something to eat and go to bed. The last thing I was interested in was writing about what happened on set that day. A lot of days were pretty similar, really, aside from the different scenes being shot: Get to the set (or house or wherever we were filming that day), set up the crafty table (food, drinks, etc.), help lug equipment where it needed to go, help grip and electric set up the lighting, yell "Rolling!" or "Cut!" depending on the situation, etc.

Maybe there was a little more variety than that, but the days have sort of blended together since we wrapped. One of these days I'll probably write more about the experience. And the girl from Minneapolis. And my IMDb page. And how my shoulders are going to be in the movie. But that's fodder for another post or two.

Toward the end of production on the film I started to realize I was about to go back to being unemployed again, which didn't sit well with me. I mean, it's a pretty depressing thought, when you think about it, which is why I didn't particularly want to be thinking about it. But with the economy the way it is, and newspapers and magazines laying people off left and right, by the hundreds if not thousands, I saw my prospects as rather bleak. That's when it occurred to me, possibly when I was drinking at the wrap party, or the following week in Minneapolis: Grad school!

It took me a long time to get back to school, but once I made that commitment I finally began to enjoy the classes that had once bored the shit out of me. I've always loved learning new things and discussing new (or old) ideas, I just didn't always love being tested on them. But I apparently got over that. And so I figured, since I'm having such a hard time finding a job, and since I finally enjoyed the process of getting that Bachelor's degree, why the hell not try to get into a good journalism grad program? The experience could only help me in my job search, and by the time I finish maybe the economy will be more stable and media organizations, whether print or online, will be expanding again instead of contracting. Hey, a guy's gotta dream, right?

So in addition to the job search, I spent the better part of November and December figuring out which grad schools had the best journalism programs and writing the requisite essays and filling out the applications. There's actually one more school I want to apply to, but I'm hesitant because I don't think my reasons are, well, I've been down that road before (see aforementioned "Girl from Minnesota" and previous posts regarding my first foray into the world of higher education). So I'm undecided about applying, but we'll see. The more I apply to, the better chance of getting into one of them, right? And if I don't apply, well, then there's no chance. So, yeah.

I've also been watching lots of TV shows and movies over the past few months. And playing video games. I beat Grand Theft Auto IV, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Bioshock, and I've still got Metal Gear Solid 4 and Fallout 3 to get through. I've been working my way through Arrested Development, which I had forgotten how funny it was, and Mad Men, which is simply brilliant and I hope Matthew Weiner comes back to work on its upcoming third season.

And reading. Been doing lots of reading. I caught up on all the magazines that had piled up while I was working on the movie and didn't have the time to read. And I've knocked off a number of books, some good (Thirteen, The Graveyard Book) and some not so good (Twilight - don't ask, my sister lent it to me).

And now I think you're all caught up, for the most part. My apologies for the wealth of topics and the lack of specifics, but I haven't done this for a while and I'm a little rusty. I'm trying to refocus myself and to get back in the saddle, so to speak, of writing on a daily (or at least semi-daily) basis. It feels good to be back, even though I never really went anywhere. I'm sure I'll be seeing you again fairly soon.

So what've you been up to?