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But enough about me. What do you think of me?

Michael Cunningham wrote, “This is a Southern gift, isn't it—tremendous self-regard diluted with humor and modesty.”

Thank you, bloggess Brianna Crowley, for tossing gasoline on the flame that is my “Southern gift.” I hate to admit how much I have enjoyed the act of narcissism permitted by your invitation to join the Blogger Homework meme. My responses to your questions follow, with a chronology of autobiographical facts below them.

Paparazzi, help yourselves. I’m the biggest thing to hit the South since moonshine.

 

1. What was the proudest moment of your childhood?

We lived for awhile in a cabin on 40 acres of woods in Stone County, Arkansas. When I was seven years old, my dad marked off a little plot of land that was mine to tend. I’d move around the rocks and clear leaves, a tiny homesteader deeply proud of my patch of the Ozarks.

 

2. To get you through a task, what “carrot” do you use?

Various beverages, ideally Amarula—a South African liqueur similar to Bailey’s but made from the marula fruit. Elephants, monkeys, and hyenas have been known to get drunk on fermented marula fruit, with hilarious results.

 

3. When autonomous cars hit the market, will you be an early adopter?

Not even close. My place in the sequence of adopters for Facebook, Twitter, and every other technological advance is as follows: early adopters, normal adopters, late adopters, citizens of 3rd world nations experiencing revolutions fueled by social media, me.

 

4. Window seat or Aisle?

Window. I love looking down on the landscape, then being up above a tranquil sea of clouds. I think flying should feel like what it is—a thrilling, daring, miracle of human ingenuity, hurtling along at the unthinkable altitude of 35,000 feet.

 

5. If you couldn’t get hurt, what is one adventure you would try?

Fighting off orks in the Mines of Moria alongside Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn, Boromir, and various hobbits.

 

6. Do you believe in ghosts?

Nope.

 

7. Favorite non-human companion?

A good story. Each year I read about 40 novels and roughly ½ a nonfiction book.

 

8. What song/album do you believe tells your story…or at least an important part of it?

A single line from Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game: “…his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true.” It captures that complexity of becoming more realistic as you settle into your chosen path (alas, I will never play professional basketball in the NBA, let alone surpass Magic Johnson’s record for assists) but also the potential for dreams to become a daily, durable, and no less wondrous reality, whether it’s becoming a father or publishing my first book.

 

9. What’s your perfect beverage? Descriptive details are important.

See response to #2, steamed with milk, cream, and vanilla. On a snow day.

 

10. What one word, phrase, or mannerism would all your closest friends and family say is “so you?”

Hyperbole. (“This is the best ____ I have ever tasted/witnessed/read/experienced.”) I mean it every time, too.

 

11. If you were given a 4 year sabbatical to pursue an alternate career path what would you choose?

Getting my novels published and writing a new one. Either that or becoming a mountain-wandering warrior-monk…it all depends on the job market when that four-year sabbatical comes along.

 

And for my next trick…a chronology of 11 autobiographical facts about myself, unrelated to teaching, insofar as that is possible given the complex alchemy of identity that goes into becoming a teacher.

 

1. My dad was a wonderful storyteller. He would put my younger brother, baby sister, and me into his fantasy epics about elves and trolls, battles and quests. At the end of every story, he would reach into his pocket and pull out an object from the story—a troll’s stone eye set in gold, a fairy princess’s sparkling tiara—and the solidity of that object proved the story’s truth to us beyond any shadow of a doubt. In my favorite story, a sorcerer crept up on a dragon sleeping in its mountain of purple stone and shrank the entire mountain to the size of a gem. I still have the ring with that gem set in it, the miniscule dragon an imagined thread of crimson at its heart.

2. I spent the most vivid part of my childhood in a valley called Stargap. My parents rented a three-bedroom house with a garden out back, a field stretching to woods in front, and mountains all around, for $100 a month.

3. My brother and I liked to run away from home together about once a month. We’d fill a Snoopy pillowcase with what we needed—pocket knife, books, toys—and journey about 30 yards from our front porch to hunker down in a field for a few hours, then head back home.

4. Around 2nd grade, I began to desperately want a dog. I read every dog book from Where The Red Fern Grows to Hotel for Dogs to Old Yeller. I’d bike around town with dog biscuits to visit every dog I could locate, and I’d visit the pound with old tennis balls for the caged dogs there. At some point in adulthood I became appalled by 80% of the pet culture humans have created, ranging from Christmas sweaters for hideous little dogs to my uncle who brushes his dog’s teeth and claims 70 degrees is too cold for the thick-coated spaniel to survive an hour outside. I still think dogs can be wonderful companions, but I also think they should be doing dog-things most of the time, like herding sheep or chasing down burglars after museum art heists.

 

5. I believed in Santa Claus until 3rd grade. One night my mom and I took a long, long walk around our neighborhood, and she gently ended my innocence about the non-existence of Santa Claus, Celestia (the Tooth Fairy), and the Easter Bunny. Oddly, I wasn’t disappointed in any way, let alone crushed—it meant more to me that my parents had put so much time and scarce money into making Christmas, lost teeth, and Easter so magical.

 

6. In high school, I lived in southern France with a host family in the Beaujolais region. They lived in a 600-year old stone cottage, cooked fish with a wood fire set under a flat rock, and had homemade Beaujolais on tap.

 

7. I guided wilderness trips in college. My favorite course to teach was Outdoor Leadership. Rather than teach basics like how to set up a tarp or use a Whisperlite stove (the guides-in-training already knew that stuff), our job as instructors was to create simulations and lead conversations to reflect on them afterwards. The ten new guides were paired up and each pair led a half-day of the trip. We would design minor crises like a sprained ankle or a lost member of the group to augment natural challenges like stormy weather, creeks to cross, and tricky trail markings, ranging over the woods and mountains of the Adirondacks.

 

8. As part of an expo at my college’s rock climbing wall, my co-instructor and I spent a night of misadventures preparing a truly absurd climbing/mock strip-tease modeled on The Full Monty and performed to You Sexy Thing. We bought hideous plaid coats and garish ties at a thrift shop, then choreographed a show to the song in which we shed everything but purple Spandex tights, climbing helmets, and harnesses, to the hysterical amusement of the spectators below.

 

9. During a semester abroad in Senegal, West Africa, I became entangled in my Senegalese friend’s predicament with the village’s ocean spirit, Mam Ndiare. My friend had failed to offer any coins at the annual festival for the ocean spirit, who protects the island. As a result, my friend was visited every night following the festival by a spirit who wanted her blood. I lent her money to buy a white rooster as a sacrifice to appease Mam Ndiare and her bloodthirsty spirit, accompanied her to the next town to haggle for said rooster, and zoomed back to the village in a taxi with the trussed bird at my feet. She invited me to come over the next night for a rooster dinner, assuring me the hungry spirit was only interested in the bird’s bones, but I declined.

 

10. I spent six days in a Zen monastery in the Catskills meditating with monks and nuns from all over the world, including a Swiss scientist who first became a street sweeper because he hated the experiments he was doing on animals, then became a monk. The monastery was like a hive, with specialized roles for every monk and nun. They ate at a crazy speed, like a sped-up film clip, so they could get back to meditating—a combination of brisk walking meditation on a cold bamboo floor, seated meditation with a hulking monk who would whack you with a stick if you seemed distracted, work meditation like chopping logs for the wood-heated monastery, and chants that built from a whisper to a scream as cottage-sized drums pounded their rhythm into our bones and blood.

 

11. I have completed three fantasy novels for readers in the middle grades that I’m trying to get published. One is based on my dad’s story described above, about the shrunken dragon in the purple gem that was once its mountain. I started wondering, decades after he told me the story, “What would happen if the dragon got out?” The novel grew from that “I wonder.”  

 

My questions for all of you; feel free to answer one, two, or all 11, in the comment box below:

 

1. If you could re-live one memory, what would it be?

2. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

3. Of all the objects you have lost over the years (action figures, stuffed animals, talismans), which object would you most like to have back?

4. First and/or favorite video game?

5. Most memorable concert?

6. Animal you’d be most terrified to fight?

7. Favorite midnight snack?

8. Irrational pet peeve? (i.e. hashtags in Facebook posts)

9. Best book-made-into-a-movie? Most disastrous book-made-into-a-movie?

10. When you get a snow day, how do you spend those snow-given hours?

11. If you had a dictator/demigod’s power to change one thing about the world, what would you change?

10 Comments

Sara C. commented on December 30, 2013 at 7:08pm:

OK, I'll bite...

This was fun. Wow, what a lot of cool experiences you have had, Justin! Here are some of my responses:

1. I would re-live a trip my hubby and I took to Paris a few years ago, or at least the part where we explored Montmartre on foot.

2. Superpower: To be like Jeannie and be able to blink and be somewhere else of my choosing.

3. Lately been wishing I had kept my Barbies for my daughter, though I don't know how good they'd have looked.

8. Pet peeve: Any added activities that take away from my family time

10. Snow day: Make some snowcream with my children, stay inside and drink hot cocoa, maybe watch a movie or read a book.

11. I would make family units stronger and healthier; that would affect so many other things in the world: schools, crime, etc.

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 2, 2014 at 6:32pm:

Love it, Sara C.

Sara,

I love your responses. You got me thinking about a dream vacation for our two families in which we wander Montmartre on a snow day, sipping snowcream and blinking when we're ready to head home or hit a tropical locale.

Thanks for making the time to read and respond!

-Justin

Bonnie commented on December 31, 2013 at 4:00pm:

Wow...

Justin,

I cannot believe all you have seen, experienced, and accomplished in the few years you've been on earth! I loved the story about your dad bringing his tales to life for you!

Thank you for sharing your adventures with us (I think your autobiography would be fascinating someday...) 

I'm choosing the memorable concert question. Way back, circa 1998, I went with some friends to a Smashing Pumpkins concert in OKC. I borrowed a black, shiny "Zero" shirt from someone to tone down my preppiness. As we were loitering around the venue a tall man in a black cape and theatrical makeup brushed by my shoulder and I said "I bet I'll be sitting by someone like that" as suddenly fans starting chasing the man. That's when it hit me that I had literally rubbed shoulders with the one and only Billy Corgan.  

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 2, 2014 at 6:35pm:

Smashing Pumpkins story

Love it, Bonnie! I once ran into my rock climbing hero at a bathroom in the climbing mecca Hueco Tanks, but he looked so much smaller than in the climbing videos that it didn't hit me until he walked away that it was him--a good thing,or I'd never have been able to stay cool during our 10-minute conversation about climbing spots in Arkansas.

My own concert was REM's Monster Tour in '95.

Thanks for reading and responding!

-Justin

Ariel Sacks commented on January 2, 2014 at 10:10pm:

Awesome!

Justin, this was so entertaining to read! I am especially interested in your father's stories and the sci fi books you've written from the one about the dragon. I love the "what if..." leading to a novel. That's just awesome!  Keep us posted on that... I'm sure my students would love to read the series :)

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 6, 2014 at 10:38am:

Thanks, Ariel!

Thanks for making the time to read the post and for the interest in the novel. I'll definitely let you know if and when I manage to find a publisher for the novel, Shammara's Story. My first kids' book just came out (Clubhouse Clash; you can see/order it at Mutasia.com. I loved the process but it was almost two years from completing the manuscript to publication, so Shammara's Story may take awhile to appear in print.

Cheryl Suliteanu commented on January 3, 2014 at 1:46pm:

such fun!

1. If you could re-live one memory, what would it be? Sitting on the bench Monet sat on to paint his water lilies, in Giverny, France...the most tranquil, awe-inspiring, beautiful experience ever.

2. If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I would want to be able to cast a magic spell to provide every child and pet a safe, loving home.

3. Of all the objects you have lost over the years (action figures, stuffed animals, talismans), which object would you most like to have back? My collection of 45s - I had an awesome collection of vinyl, but they all were destroyed in the Northridge earthquake in January 1994.

4. First and/or favorite video game? Wow - this dates me, but truly - Pong!!! I remember sitting with my brother playing "Pong". One of the few childhood memories I have that are positive with my brother! (Now we are best buds of course :)

5. Most memorable concert?  Depeche Mode Black Celebration at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. 

6. Animal you’d be most terrified to fight?  Shelob, the spider in The Lord of the Rings.  I'm arachnophobic - for regular spiders. I felt sick watching that part in the movie!

7. Favorite midnight snack? Peanut butter and jelly with a spoon, no bread.

8. Irrational pet peeve? (i.e. hashtags in Facebook posts) Drivers on the freeway who hit the brakes if they see a cop on the side of the road - he's already got a car pulled over, do ya REALLY think a)he's going to see you, and b) he's going to jump back in his cruiser and chase after you?

9. Best book-made-into-a-movie? Most disastrous book-made-into-a-movie? Best: The Hunt for Red October (very different but totally awesome anyway)  Worst: The Twighlight series

10. When you get a snow day, how do you spend those snow-given hours?  I wouldn't know! I'm a coastal Californian :)

11. If you had a dictator/demigod’s power to change one thing about the world, what would you change?  Who is allowed to bear children - my best friend and her husband would have made extraordinary parents, but their bodies and modern science failed them... yet there are those who should never have a child who easily get pregnant...

Sorry for the downer - how about ... if I were a demi-god I would be able to teleport myself to anywhere and take my best friends with me! And we wouldn't miss anything because while we were there, time would go as slowly as it did while the kids were in Narnia.

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 6, 2014 at 10:43am:

Love these, Cheryl!

I knew there was a reason I like you so much. Several reasons, it turns out: Lord of the Rings knowledge, Depeche Mode listener (I've been to a couple of shows at Berkeley's Greek theater, including Bob Dylan), Narnian time fantasies, interest in Impressionism...in high school, my French teacher took us in her van to Kansas City (4 hour trip) to the Nelson Atkins following an Impressionism unit, and I spent about an hour sitting in front of Van Gogh's Olive Trees painting. I felt like I was in his presence--I had a strong sense of his eye and hands creating the colors and textures I was witnessing. 

I like this game--I thought I knew a lot about this CTQ cadre, but I've learned a lot more.  Thanks for making the time to play!

Cheryl Suliteanu commented on January 3, 2014 at 1:46pm:

such fun!

1. If you could re-live one memory, what would it be? Sitting on the bench Monet sat on to paint his water lilies, in Giverny, France...the most tranquil, awe-inspiring, beautiful experience ever.

2. If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I would want to be able to cast a magic spell to provide every child and pet a safe, loving home.

3. Of all the objects you have lost over the years (action figures, stuffed animals, talismans), which object would you most like to have back? My collection of 45s - I had an awesome collection of vinyl, but they all were destroyed in the Northridge earthquake in January 1994.

4. First and/or favorite video game? Wow - this dates me, but truly - Pong!!! I remember sitting with my brother playing "Pong". One of the few childhood memories I have that are positive with my brother! (Now we are best buds of course :)

5. Most memorable concert?  Depeche Mode Black Celebration at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. 

6. Animal you’d be most terrified to fight?  Shelob, the spider in The Lord of the Rings.  I'm arachnophobic - for regular spiders. I felt sick watching that part in the movie!

7. Favorite midnight snack? Peanut butter and jelly with a spoon, no bread.

8. Irrational pet peeve? (i.e. hashtags in Facebook posts) Drivers on the freeway who hit the brakes if they see a cop on the side of the road - he's already got a car pulled over, do ya REALLY think a)he's going to see you, and b) he's going to jump back in his cruiser and chase after you?

9. Best book-made-into-a-movie? Most disastrous book-made-into-a-movie? Best: The Hunt for Red October (very different but totally awesome anyway)  Worst: The Twighlight series

10. When you get a snow day, how do you spend those snow-given hours?  I wouldn't know! I'm a coastal Californian :)

11. If you had a dictator/demigod’s power to change one thing about the world, what would you change?  Who is allowed to bear children - my best friend and her husband would have made extraordinary parents, but their bodies and modern science failed them... yet there are those who should never have a child who easily get pregnant...

Sorry for the downer - how about ... if I were a demi-god I would be able to teleport myself to anywhere and take my best friends with me! And we wouldn't miss anything because while we were there, time would go as slowly as it did while the kids were in Narnia.

Brianna Crowley commented on January 6, 2014 at 8:34pm:

Thank YOU for playing!

I had no idea how fun these personal not-teacher-related posts could be until I was combing the Internet to find them from my favorite bloggers and writers :) Thanks for taking the metaphorical baton!

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