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In the beginning…

In the beginning was a blog.

Just a simple blog, a blog written to alert the world that I indeed exist beyond the confines of social networking sites.

My name is Jim Bowman, I’m forty, soon to be forty-one (what an unremarkable age), working on a Ph.D. in Communication at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  I used to love to write, but presently, I’m doing so much formal writing that I’m not the biggest fan of it.  It’s kind of like working at your favorite restaurant – the food has a tendency to lose its appeal when you deal with it every day.  Or something that I can actually relate to – working at a Blockbuster or video game store – in each case, I went in as a tremendous fan of the mediums, and by the end of the stints, I tried to fill my time with just about anything else besides movies and video games.  Luckily that is not the case today.  Today, I am back to being an avid fan of both movies and video games, and I expect many of my future blogs will deal with these two topics. I’m also still a fan of writing, but writing on my own time, without deadline.

Academically speaking, I’m a writer, and that’s about it.  I’m not terribly interested in philosophy or the overly wordy texts found and shared within the academy.  I’m more interested in doing research that might actually have an impact on this world, not just get handed down through the ages within the ivory tower.  My areas of interest include spirituality, end-of-life and after-life communication (this doesn’t refer to parapsychology, but can include parapsychology – generally this is referring to how people communicate about spiritual matters in the period leading up to, at the time of, and after the death of someone), and my methodologies include ethnography and autoethnography (think of these as “cultural journalism”, in essence).  I am currently under the tutelage of Dr. Carolyn Ellis, who with her husband, Dr. Arthur Bochner, helped to spearhead the post-modernist movement within fields of Sociology and Communication, and made autoethnography an accessible and useful tool amongst academics.  I am extremely fortunate to be learning the ropes here, with these people.  I also love teaching, and hope to do so at the college level for the rest of my life.  Currently teaching Public Speaking as part of my graduate program, and can’t wait for the day where I can teach what I actually know how to do best: write.  Ideally, one day I will teach qualitative writing courses, particularly ethnographic and autoethnographic methodologies, to graduate students.

Politically, I am as left of left of left as a lefty can get, but I’m not down with political labels like “left”, so I only use the world to give you an indication of how the current world would categorize my politics.  I believe that hard work pays off, but not everybody gets the same shake in life, and those with the most should voluntarily help those with the least.  Since I see very little of this going on in our current capitalist society, and in fact, have seen more than enough evidence to the contrary – that megacorporations would rather watch poor people get poorer as they rake in the billions and fill CEO’s lives with things like yachts and personal jets – I have become anticapitalist and more socialist in my thinking.  While so many people today seem to want government out of their lives, out of the business of business, and constant reduction of taxes, I am on the other side of things.  I say, tax me more, but let me see where my taxes are going.  If taxes are going to be used to generally improve the lives of people, by filling potholes in roads, paying the wages of our firefighters, ensuring good educational opportunities for all of our citizens, providing health care for everybody, and so on and so on, then yes, I am a fan of paying taxes, sign me up.  On the other hand, if they are used to send our young and poor out to occupy countries, shoot up the civilian populations, and secure natural resources – then I’ll pass, thanks, and I’ll stand with the other folks complaining about taxes.  Since I have absolutely no idea (nor do you) what taxes actually get spent on, I am hesitant to pay them, and quick to complain about them.

I believe every American citizen should get government paid-for, government-run health care.  We need to catch up with the rest of the world in this regard.  Do not tell me that we have the best health care system in the world.  We don’t.  If you think the government would make a bigger mess of things than the current set-up, you don’t have a good grasp of the current set-up, where people literally die because they can’t afford health care.  Our government runs things like the post office just fine, I’m willing to give them a shot at this.  Remember, we can vote anything out if it doesn’t work.  But the current system?  Doesn’t work.  Certainly not for everyone.  Health care needs to be not-for-profit.  Period.

I believe every American citizen should have access to a great education.  Not just the rich.  Every American.  And by “great education,” I’m talking about the kind of great education people get in other 1st-world countries, like Finland, Japan, Canada, etc.  While I do believe that Americans should get access to great education, I don’t believe we currently have access to great education.  Anyone can become a teacher, and it results in some pretty dismal results.

I do not understand the mentality of vehemently not trusting government, but vehemently trusting big corporations.  I don’t see much of a difference, except that within a political system, corrupt players can be eliminated through a voting process, while in big business, corrupt players are rewarded mightily for their corruption.  I believe Big Oil has more power than our entire combined government, and in fact hand-picks its own players within the government to ensure they are not watched too closely.  I believe this is true of many, many other industries.  I’m for checks and balances, I’m for complete transparency, and I’m for my taxes being used to help my fellow man.  So call me what you will politically, I think of myself as more open-minded than the millions of drones who have been neatly herded into two categories – Republican and Democrat, Right and Left, Conservative and Democrat.

I think our media, particularly our news agencies, have likewise been neatly herded into these two categories, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find “just the news” which we can use our own minds to contemplate and assess.  Instead, opinions are handed to us along with the stories, and that is creating a culture of zombified, propagandized, brainless fools.  It’s one of the reasons I got out of news and went back to school.  Advertisers have agendas and the news must first appease them.

Spiritually, I will never claim a religion.  In fact, I believe all religions are man-made, and I’d rather not have someone tell me how they think my spirit works, or what their idea of “God” is.  I believe part of the purpose of this life is to figure that out on your very own.  I think there are wise bits in every religion, and I adhere to some of them, most particularly “Do Unto Others”.  In fact, you could say my spiritual beliefs run rather Eastern, in that I do believe in an eternal spirit, and one that is never created or destroyed, only changes over the eternity.  I have no idea if there really is more than one spirit in the universe, and we’ve all just forgotten that we share it, or if we’re all individual manifestations of the same spirit, or if we’re all separate spirits on our own separate paths.  Regardless, I don’t feel I can go wrong if I treat you exactly the way I would want someone treating me in the same (whatever it is) situation.  I don’t believe in hell, there is not one human who has ever lived on this planet deserving of an eternal, neverending punishment.  Humans are fallible, are the products of their upbringing, their environment, their biology, and the broken ones hopefully get more and more “fixed” along the way.  The notion of a “hell” flies in the face of ANY “God” I would ever choose to worship (any God that could send even ONE of its creations to that sort of place is a joke, or, more accurately, a story created by humans to scare other humans into “behaving”.)  I believe in love, the power of love, and as such, I am a human being first, followed (distantly) by things like “American”.  If we as a country only help those in need from whom we can later exploit (i.e. the Middle East) and not places where horror occurs daily but in which we have no stake (i.e. African nations like the Congo or Rwanda), then our country is bankrupt spiritually and the word “God” shouldn’t appear anywhere in its text.  I am no patriot, I will never pledge an oath of allegiance to any government, and do not believe “God” favors one nation over any other nation.  Too many wars are shrouded in a veil of a religious battle, or against tyranny, or against oppression, but those are just covers – we go to war to protect our own access to resources. Our soldiers are pawns, many of whom are from the lower class and exploited, and as such I do not worship them the way some people do.  I do, however, give great thanks to those people (like my dad) who served in wars which, to my mind, were just.  World War II was an out-and-out defensive battle against a genocidal madman bent on acquiring territory to continue his annihilation of other humans – he had to be stopped.  There are very few wars since then that are anywhere near as clear-cut.  I do not believe that soldiers are abroad “defending my rights” or “protecting freedom” or anything of the sort.  Until the day comes that Middle-Eastern paratroopers begin showing up in our airspace, I will generally believe that our soldiers are overseas making sure that we have access to resources and killing anyone in the way, including far, far, far too many innocent civilians.

Leaving those heavier topics, I am an avid movie-goer and watcher, think Netflix is the best invention since, oh … maybe the DVD, and especially enjoy watching entire an entire TV series over a short period of time, provided it’s a good show.  I’m kind of hard to please in that regard, but lately I’ve been watching the Sopranos, and think it’s probably the greatest television show of all time.  It only recently surpassed Twin Peaks for that award on my shelf.  The American version of The Office completely cracks me up, I think the modern Battlestar Galactica is some of the best sci-fi ever created, and I’m a sucker for old TV.  In fact, I rather enjoy falling asleep with something like The Dick Van Dyke Show or Threes Company playing in the background.

Musically, I’d love to say that my taste is rather broad, but it’s really not.  I like a couple of country artists, enjoy a bit of classical, and can occasionally (rarely) tolerate pop.  But I much, much prefer music that could be categorized in one or more of these ways:  experimental, avant garde, art rock, progressive, or (true) alternative.  I love music that makes me go, “wow.  I’ve never heard anything like that before and I LIKE it!” – and these don’t come along all that often.  Back in the old days it was bands like Pink Floyd and King Crimson carrying this torch.  The 90′s, in which I acquired most of my musical tastes, was a great decade for anti-”mainstream” music, and my favorite bands today are still bands from that era, like Jane’s Addiction, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Butthole Surfers, Nine Inch Nails, Fugazi, and the like.  My favorite band of all time is Jane’s Addiction, and any of my long-time friends will tell you that I’ve suffered an unhealthy obsession over that band for the better part of three decades now.  I absolutely adore the live music experience, think it’s a very spiritual thing, and still go out of my way to see a good live show.

When I’m not busy with schoolwork or grading papers, I am almost surely playing video games.  I can sit in front of a computer for hours upon hours on end, and the bigger and more immersive the game, the better.  So I’m a huge fan of RPGs (role playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons), and MMORPG’s (same thing, but online with lots of people, like World of Warcraft), and strategy games.  I own a Playstation 3 and about eighty-seven kazillion games on it, but still much prefer the PC for gaming, despite the fact that the PS3 offers the couch as comfort.  Currently playing Fable III on the PC, and really enjoying it.  My favorite game of all time is probably The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, which came out a number of years back and has had a sequel (Oblivion) since.  That series always sets the bar for open-world RPGs and I could not be looking more forward to the next installment (Skyrim), due out this fall.

So I guess that’s about all I want to share about myself in this first, lengthy post.  I’m here primarily because I can’t stand the limitations of “Facebook” (“Hey, you coming to the party?”  “Yeah!  See you there!”) and have almost totally given up on MySpace, which is where I used to keep a regular blog.  In fact, I blogged about my dad’s death there, and that forever changed how I felt about blogs and their unique abilities.

Follow along, or not, either way is okay with me.  This is for me, a place to vent, to rant, to exclaim, to question – writing is extremely therapeutic.  But if you want to jump in and join the discussion, I encourage that, too, no matter how completely at odds we may be on any given subject.  A healthy debate can be a good thing.

I am calling this “SaidStuff” because I plan on saying stuff, and every one of the other two dozen monikers I usually use were taken.