My Horrible Bosses: Jamie, the porn-loving assistant store manager

MyHorribleBossesPart1

Today I’m launching the first of a ten part series, My Horrible Bosses. Since I started working at 15 I’ve had dozens of jobs and at least that many horrible bosses. But as toxic as they’ve been, they’ve helped me learn—even if the lessons were as basic as not being an asshole.

In addition to backstories and context, in each post I’ll be sharing research and pointers for navigating asshole culture with your humanity intact. And as always, if you have experiences of your own to share, let me know here.

Horrible Boss: “Jamie,” or “It’s not just a girl’s name, you fuckin’ dipshit”
Industry: Retail grocery
Title: Assistant store manager
Age: 30ish, depending on the day and cigarette intake
Defining Traits
: Short stature, blonde goatee, seething self-loathing
Celebrity Doppleganger: Adult Mccaulay Culkin leaving the rehab clinic

Background: I got my first job at 15, making less than $7 an hour in four- and five-hour shifts as the bagger, janitor and shopping cart-getter for a regional grocery store in the Milwaukee suburbs.

Jamie was my first boss and usually I’d check in with him at the front office at the beginning of each shift. He wasn’t aloof, he had a good handle on things, and I even felt like I could respect him—which is saying a lot for a teenager.

Continue reading “My Horrible Bosses: Jamie, the porn-loving assistant store manager”

Read more, talk better, be read, be better

Newsletter
In this post I’ll be sharing some of my favorite newsletters and publications I’m using to make myself a better, more professional writer. If you have any other suggestions, let me know!

Your value as a writer is determined by your output, but your input sets the stage for your work. Just like that guy who died drinking nothing but Coke, writers who read, watch, or follow only one thing doom themselves to a sugary, carbonated death.

Continue reading “Read more, talk better, be read, be better”

New post at Medium: “My Year in Christian Discipleship $chool”

This week I posted my first story on Medium, “My Year in Christian Discipleship $chool.” It has taken me more than a decade to be able to tell this story, about what I did between high school and college. A lot of moving parts, some noble intentions, and a shitload of bankrupt beliefs.

I thought the man was dead.

He sat in his Mercedes in the left turn lane with his blinker on but when the light turned green he didn’t move. It was past midnight, mid October. There were no other cars at the quiet intersection — only a 24-hour gas station and a dimly lit subdivision sign. When You’re Here, You’re Home, it said.

The light was about to turn back to red so I honked. Nothing.

Read the rest here

Tuck your shirt in, act like a professional

If you were to ask me ten years ago what I’d be doing now, it wouldn’t involve copywriting, public relations, and corporate reputations. Back then my future was communes, arts bacchanals, and late-night graffiti runs. But here I am; button-up shirts, dress boots, the word “executive” in my job title. And even though the white collar pays, I sometimes feel like a fraud. Like, every weekday from 9 to 5.

There’s no guidebook laying out the path from fringe culture to mainstream professionalism. Or how to find career success without sacrificing your values. Google is clueless for “Top ten ways for a counterculturalist to succeed in the modern workplace.” So that’s what I’m going to start doing with this blog: I’m going to write the guidebook.

I want to get good at my job, truly. I’ve had moderate success as an artist and low-level communications professional, but for the first time in my life, I found something I want to get good at, something I can grow in. And though my career is particular, I think the lessons are universal. I’ll talk about what I’m reading, what I’m learning, and how I’m learning it. I’ll talk about my successes and failures. I’ll talk about the dumb shit people say, and the smart shit you can do to fight it.

Learning how to be “professional” when you came up through counterculture is sort of like showing up at a black tie gala wearing nothing but a Sex Pistols shirt and a strap-on. You’d have a good Vine clip but after your seven seconds it’s back to stealing wi-fi from your upstairs neighbor and wiping coffee grounds from the day-old bagels behind Dunkin Donuts. Which I’ve done more recently than I’d like to admit.

In other words, when you’ve moved into the professional world outside the normal middle-class pipeline, it’s tough. Really tough. Like, tough enough to make you miss living paycheck-to-paycheck. Which isn’t easy, but at least it feels holy, especially when it complements your countercultural credos: art for art’s sake, blessed are the meek, and other platitudes.jpg.

While lots of people have no other option but paycheck living, a smart percentage of artists and other creatives—especially those with college degrees and above-average work training—choose this lifestyle on romantic principle. At least that’s what was doing (or thought I was doing, anyway).

But as I’ve cycled through various jobs, ranging from the shipping docks of a stuffed animal warehouse to myriad offices washed in yellow fluorescence, I started to realize my romanticism was largely a mask for my fear. Because, if I’m being honest, the grown-up world of business is Pretty. Fucking. Terrifying. And I say this as someone with two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, a 401k, and a few good dress shirts.

This professional fear comes from an acute strain of Impostor Syndrome. As a nascent professional, I feel disingenuous more often than not. Partly because it’s also Pretty Fucking Terrifying to willfully let your ideas be challenged and changed. Especially if those ideas had a deep-rooted dogma opposed to any kind of mainstream habituation. As a teenager I took social cues from Karl Marx and Noam Chomsky, political cues from Adbusters and CrimethInc, and business cues from Black Flag and Minor Threat. Industry, infrastructure, finance, marketing, science, and commerce were nothing more than gated communities for the petite bourgeoisie (until I realized that even counterculture is a target market).

I’ll always be sympathetic to counterculture, but the ongoing conversation between it and the so-called mainstream has always polemical. When you come into these ideas as a teenager, it’s easy to become devout. And the longer you stay with your party, the harder it is to leave. Which is why many never do. But no matter what side you’re on, drawing such a hard line between Us and Them never helps with the long game. The more I learn, the more I realize that there are no sides in this game. Only positions and perspectives.

And lately, my perspective has been changing. For the first time ever, I’ve found something I want to get good at. Something that pays well. That I can build a career in. That I can learn from and gain influence in. That I can learn about and master. That I can use to actually help others. Some call it selling out. I call it growing up.

Growth doesn’t happen without some pain. And lately my pain has involved bringing my past ideas and beliefs to bear on my present “professional” goals. Some learn how to be professional from their parents. Others learn it from the system. And a few just have a knack. As a K-12 homeschooler with deeply religious parents, I grew up outside the system. Counterculture was my belief, identity, and eventually, a thin lifeline of small paychecks from low-level jobs barely keeping me on this side of student loan default.

In other words, I’m learning to be professional; to be “successful” in a practical sense. To bring my romanticism to bear on our culture of pragmatism, and to bring my pragmatism to bear on my idealism. How to preserve my values and fine new ones. And even how to build my skills, plan, and share.

And though I’m writing all of this as an informal documentary, I also know there are others out there like me, asking Google questions it can’t answer. I believe we can learn new things—even if they challenge our old ideas—and still preserve our humanity. So let’s get better, together.

What I watched in 2015

The Year of Our Lord 2015 was a busy media year for me. On top of writing a graduate thesis project on 1980s counterculture and cult film, I spent roughly six months freelancing from my living room couch. Which meant a lot of hours sitting in my underwear, inoculating myself against emotional vacillations with hours of A-, B-, and C-grade entertainment. While my brain cells suffered, Netflix and Amazon profited.

In my youth I was opposed to most forms of mainstream entertainment. I’ve always seen entertainment as a form of consumption, and getting excited about mainstream products (like those produced by Marvel or Pixar) I saw as the entertainment equivalent of getting excited about dinner at McDonalds. But as I grew out of my 20s, I realized the value of sharing in a larger cultural conversation. So most of what I watched this year was to get up to date on what people have been talking about the past few years while I had my head buried in work, school, and whatever else.

There are 204 film and TV titles included in this list. For the sake of simplicity, I count a season of a TV series as one entry (e.g. two seasons of House of Cards count as two entries). Because I don’t like how it feels to hate myself I haven’t done the math to approximate how many hours I spent prone in front of this god. But surely for this servitude my reward will be great in heaven.

Highlights:

  • Favorite 2015 Movie: A Most Violent Year
  • Favorite Movie: Nightcrawler
  • Favorite 2015 TV Show: True Detective (S02) or Fargo (S02) or Better Call Saul (S01)
  • Favorite TV Show: Northern Exposure (Seasons 1-6)
  • Least Favorite 2015 Movie: Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Least Favorite Movie: Tank Girl
  • Least Favorite TV Show: Californication

My favorite titles are in bold and every 20 entries I’ll post a video because who the hell is going to read this stupid list anyway?

1. Surf II (1984)
2. House of Cards: Season 1 (2013)
3. House of Cards: Season 2 (2014)
4. Modern Problems (1981)
5. Electric Dreams (1984)
6. The Eric Andre Show: Season 1 (2012)
7. The Eric Andre Show: Season 2 (2013)
8. Inherent Vice (2014)
9. Casablanca (1942)
10. Archer: Season 5 (2013)

 

11. Boyhood (2014)
12. Californication: Season 1 (2007)
13. Anchorman II (2014)
14. Class of 1984 (1984)
15. Repo Man (1984)
16. Nightmares (1983)
17. Times Square (1980)
18. Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1987)
19. Better Off Dead (1985)
20. Venture Brothers: Season 1 (2003)

 

 

21. The Fall: Season 2 (2014)
22. Walker (1988)
23. Only the Lonely (1991)
24. Californication: Season 2 (2008)
25. Citizen Kane (1941)
26. Mission Impossible II (2000)
27. Venture Brothers: Season 2 (2005)
28. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
29. The One I Love (2014)
30. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

 

31. Parks & Rec: Season 7 (2015)
32. House of Cards: Season 3 (2015)
32. Robocop (2014)
33. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1 (2015)
34. Teen Witch (1989)
35. Ghostbusters (1984)
37. All This Mayhem (2014)
38. Peep Show: Series 3 (2005)
39. Peep Show: Series 4 (2006)
40. Peep Show: Series 5 (2007)

 

 

41. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (2015)
42. Peep Show: Series 6 (2008)
43. Peep Show: Series 7 (2010)
44. Peep Show: Series 8 (2012)
45. Gambit (2012)
46. Californication: Season 3 (2010)
47. Fury (2014)
48. Californication: Season 4 (2011)
49. Community: Season 1 (2009)
50. Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

 

51. Community: Season 2 (2010)
52. Californication: Season 5 (2012)
53. Californication: Season 6 (2013)
54. Bloodline: Season 1 (2015)
55. Uncle Buck (1989)
56. The November Man (2014)
57. Californication: Season 7 (2014)
58. Trailer Park Boys: Season 8 (2014)
59. Life Itself (2014)
60. Community: Season 3 (2011)

 

 

61. Better Call Saul: Season 1 (2015)
62. Trailer Park Boys: Season 9 (2015)
63. Wild Style (1983)
64. The Lego Movie (2014)
65. Longmire: Season 1 (2012)
66. Daredevil: Season 1 (2015)
67. Suicide Kings (1997)
68. Longmire: Season 2 (2013)
69. Tank Girl (1995)
70. My Name is Earl: Season 1 (2005)

 

71. X-Men: First Class (2011)
72. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
74. Community: Season 4 (2012)
75. Thor (2011)
76. The Amazing Spiderman (2012)
77. The Last Man on Earth: Season 1 (2015)
78. Green Lantern (2011)
79. Iron Man (2008)
80. The Avengers (2012)

 

 

81. Avatar (2009)
82. Three Days of Condor (1977)
83. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
84. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
85. James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge (2014)
86. Marathon Man (1977)
87. Community: Season 5 (2014)
86. Iron Man 3 (2013)
87. The Wolverine (2013)
88. My Name is Earl: Season 2 (2006)
89. Sherlock: Season 3 (2014)
90. Longmire: Season 3 (2014)

 

91. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
92. Ghost Rider (2007)
93. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
94. Man of Steel (2013)
95. Fantastic Four (1994)
96. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
97. Veep: Season 1 (2012)
98. Star Wars (1977)
99. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
100. Return of the Jedi (1983)

 

 

101. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
102. Veep: Season 2 (2013)
103. My Name is Earl: Season 3 (2007)
104. Veep: Season 3 (2014)
105. Burke & Hare (2010)
106. Northern Exposure: Season 1 (1990)
107. Northern Exposure: Season 2 (1991)
108. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (2013)
109. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
110. My Name is Earl: Season 4 (2008)

 

111. Burn Notice: Season 1 (2007)
112. Nightcrawler (2014)
113. Antarctica: A Year on the Ice (2013)
114. Game of Thrones: Season 5 (2015)
115. Veep: Season 4 (2015)
116. Agents of SHIELD: Season 2 (2015)
117. Bob’s Burgers: Season 5 (2015)
118. Silicon Valley: Season 1 (2014)
119. Silicon Valley: Season 2 (2015)
120. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

 

 

121. High Fidelity (2000)
122. Grace and Frankie: Season 1 (2015)
123. Jurassic World (2015)
124. Terminator: Genisys (2015)
125. Insurgent (2015)
126. Gone Girl (2014)
127. Lone Survivor (2013)
128. The Imitation Game (2014)
129. The Expendables 3 (2014)
130. Ant-Man (2015)

 

131. Jerry McGuire (1996)
132. Northern Exposure: Season 3 (1992)
133. Now You See Me (2013)
134. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
135. Zoom (2006)
136. Get Hard (2015)
137. Boss: Season 1 (2011)
138. Entourage: Season 1 (2004)
139. True Detective: Season 2 (2015)
140. Northern Exposure: Season 4 (1992)

 

 

141. Chappie (2015)
142. Fantastic Four (2015)
144. Entourage: Season 2 (2005)
145. Entourage: Season 3 (2006)
146. American Ultra (2015)
147. 40 Year-Old Virgin (2006)
148. Twilight (2008)
149. Twilight: New Moon (2009)
150. Entourage: Season 4 (2007)

 

151. American Movie (1999)
152. Risky Business (1983)
153. Twilight: Eclipse (2010)
154. Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 (2011)
155. Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (2013)
156. Chinatown (1974)
157. Northern Exposure: Season 5 (1993)
158. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
159. Catwoman (2004)
160. The Brothers Grimm (2005)

 

 

161. Entourage: Season 5 (2008)
162. Entourage: Season 6 (2009)
163. Entourage: Season 7 (2010)
164. Entourage: Season 8 (2011)
165. Virtuosity (1995)
166. Theodore Rex (1995)
167. Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
168. Entourage (2015)
169. 40 Days and Nights (2012)
170. The Walking Dead: Season 1 (2010)

 

171. The Walking Dead: Season 2 (2011)
172. The Martian (2015)
173. Northern Exposure: Season 6 (1994)
174. Portlandia: Season 5 (2015)
175. The Walking Dead: Season 3 (2012)
176. Spy (2015)
177. Blades of Glory (2007)
178. Maiden Trip (2014)
179. A Most Violent Year (2015)
180. Crimson Peak (2015)

 

 

181. The Walking Dead: Season 4 (2013)
182. Citizenfour (2014)
183. Trainwreck (2015)
184. The End of the Tour (2015)
185. Burn Notice: Season 2 (2008)
186. Specter (2015)
187. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
188. Trumbo (2015)
189. Jessica Jones: Season 1 (2015)
190. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)

 

191. The Walking Dead: Season 5 (2014)
192. Fargo: Season 2 (2015)
193. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone (2001)
194. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
195. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
196. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
197. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
198. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
199. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
200. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

 

 

201. Bridge of Spies (2015)
202. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
203. Soaked in Bleach (2015)
204. The Hateful Eight (70mm) (2015)

New piece at PopMatters

I have a new piece up at PopMatters: “Pro-Apocalyptic, or, Why We’re Bored With the Post-Apocalyptic.” It’s about FOX’s Last Man on Earth and our cultural obsession with the end. Here’s an excerpt:

The second season of FOX’s post-apocalyptic comedy, Last Man on Earth, is now underway, and though its 27 September premiere was met with mixed reviews, its three million-plus US viewers suggest that pop culture’s adulation of the post-apocalyptic is alive and well—even if those stark landscapes are dead and dry. As a genre, the post-apocalyptic was originally the stuff of cynical dime-store sci-fi, and later, Cold War nuclear anxieties, but the modern popularity of the post-apocalypse in publishing, movies, and TV—and that the post-apocalyptic also now serves as a comedic backdrop for profitable products like Last Man on Earth—primarily belies an over familiarity with the genre. But more importantly, the continued appeal of the post-apocalyptic reflects our culture’s exhaustion with the genre’s historically prophetic (and moralistic) warnings about exploitation, materialism, and consumerism.

Read the rest at PopMatters >

New piece at The Guardian

I have a new op-ed featured at The Guardian today, “How did I stay normal when I was home-schooled? I watched a lot of TV.”

Like the title says, the piece is about my upbringing as a homeschooler, and the importance TV played in making me ‘normal’—whatever normal means. The editors chopped the last two paragraphs, which had the actual payoff for the piece, so for the curious few, here they are:

This is why, when people express surprise that I “seem so normal for someone who was homeschooled,” I feel the ambivalent pleasure of someone who has ‘passed’; in my case, passed as a normal, upright citizen. Without a TV growing up, I’m sure my situation would be different. But on the other hand, what’s so cool about normal? As a non-institutional practice, homeschooling seems anachronistic in a society where institutionalism is both economically and psychically de rigueur. Yet, the fringe still has appeal: according to the NCES, there were 1.77 million homeschooled students in 2012, accounting for 3.4% of the total student population—up from 1.1 million at 2.2% in 2003. And it shows no sign of stopping.

As entertainment becomes increasingly individualized—compared to the mass one-way pedagogies of the late cable era—the mainstream becomes dissipated in kind. On one hand, this has the potential to be good for education, as more families are better equipped to understand the shortcomings of educational standardization (and accompanying overcrowded classrooms, school violence, bureaucratic corruption, and so forth). But on the other hand, can a modern consumer culture without a standard entertainment subscription support a common narrative?

Read the rest at The Guardian.