The fables are disappearing and many people are coming to the realization that Vikings didn’t all have horns attached to their helmets. While some horned helmets were discovered by archeologists, it’s thought that these hats were used in a more ritual and decorative way, kind of like an unconventional avant garde “Project Runway” challenge. Imagine Björn Víðirsson the blacksmith getting ready for a cool party on the night before a raid. As he’s picking out his helmet (because we all know Viking closets were filled with various helmets), he spots two cow horns and ponders to himself, “Why, I shall impress the fair Þórunn Jónsdottír by attaching these horns to this gauche raw iron helmet!” Little did Björn (a right Coco Chanel in the village) know the impact he would have on the Viking design world of the tenth century and beyond! But, I digress. What I’m getting at is, most Vikings wore simple helmets sans horns and Björn Víðirsson probably got his ass kicked by Þórunn’s burly boyfriend.

Who wouldn't want to take Þórunn home to their turfhouse?

Who wouldn’t want to take Þórunn home to their turfhouse?

I have learned a good amount of Icelandic history since I’ve been here and have always enjoyed the stories of the “olden timey days” as told to me by the locals. There is definitely something special about the history here, because you can’t see it. There are no huge castles in the highlands or fortresses lining the Atlantic coast. In fact there’s really nothing but villages outside of Reykjavík, which, just got more modern and modern as the years went on. Sure there’s a few statues here and there marking historical sites or commemorating some poet who lived on a nearby farm, but otherwise Iceland’s history lies buried under ash, lava fields and the occasional mudslide. You just have to trust that what happened happened, and no, there’s not much proof, but deal with it. Simple. Now shut up and eat your boiled sheep face.

With Iceland being the youngest country in Earth terms, there is a massive amount of geological changes that have occurred over the years. And even as I write this, Bárðarbunga is rumbling some 150km away from me as the Holuhraun lava field gets larger and larger. We can see the eruption pollution very clearly here in the fjord, and some hardware stores have sold out of gas masks and breathing apparatuses. The volcano has also impacted tourism, and the whale watching company I was working for shut down operations one month early. I’ve spent much of the summer looking to relocate to Reykjavík for the fall, but haven’t had much luck with job applications or finding a place to live. Everything is expensive as hell here and there’s seemingly a billion different hidden taxes hiding away in the woodwork, ready to snap at your balls anytime you think you’re making money.

IMG_1144

A little bit of paradise

That being said, I haven’t been able to save as much money as I’d have liked and will be heading back to Jackson Hole for a while to do a little bit of duck herding and getting those bastards to stay in a row (metaphor; duck herding is not a profession). However, before I leave I have twelve days to enjoy Iceland for all its worth. My friends Jessi L. and Caroline L. are heading up north right now, and I’ll be traveling with them for a bit. I’m looking forward to falling back in love with Iceland before I leave it. It’s very clear that visiting a country you love can be very different from actually living there. Like a relationship, the initially golly-gosh-wow attraction starts to fade and you have to start taking interest in the heart and the soul. And the more layers I’ve peeled away from Iceland, the more I understand that it may not be the best place for me in the long run. My interest in culture and the arts is barely satiated where I’ve been living, and the financial issues have been piling up like sheep shit in a smoke house. Now, had I moved to Reykjavík initially, I probably would be writing a very different blog, but I’ll accept the life that’s been given to me and make the most of the path I followed.

It’s important for me to say that I’m okay with moving back home. Again. I’ve been living in an Icelandic paradise full of whales, sunsets, and good ole peace and quiet. This setting has been ideal for completing my novel and calming the chaos of the life I left behind. Returning home may seem as some sort of failure to some (including, in part, myself), and the thing that bubbles and plops inside me like a saucepan of Campbell’s Tomato on High is the feeling of judgement among my friends and family. However, what overpowers that is my understanding that I can’t put pressure on myself to keep impressing everyone. In fact, I may never be the person who takes wing and continues to build altitude. Sometimes I’ll have to fly a bit lower to catch my breath. Sometimes I’ll land in a setting that pleases me. And yes, sometimes I’ll have to return to the nest for comfort after an arduous journey. I turn to Gregory David Roberts and his book “Shantaram” (my absolute favorite novel) for this cozy quote:

“It’s said that you can never go home again, and it’s true enough, of course. But the opposite is also true. You must go back, and you always go back, and you can never stop going back, no matter how hard you try.”

I recognize that I left Jackson drunk on my Icelandic obsession. And I recognize that I was unhappy with the outcome that my life choices led me to. So I am returning to Jackson not with a head hung in disappointment, but with my chin high eager to explore new possibilities. This time around, I’ll be seizing the bull by the horns. Or rather the aspiring Viking within by his horned helmet. Sure, I’ll have to find a new job. And I’m aware that I’ll have to work from the ground up to get my financials in order. But what I’m excited about the most is accessing my creativity and putting forth more quality projects that the people of my hometown can enjoy and appreciate.  Did life kick my (perhaps overblown) Icelandic dreams square in the balls? Oh yes. Do I intend to kick back?

Undoubtedly. And harder than ever.

Munz.

Finish Something.

September 7, 2014

No matter what life awaited me in Iceland, I knew before I left Wyoming that I was dead-set on completing my novel. The idea (an alternate-history western) came to me while I was living in the bustle of Chicago. So far from the vast plains and towering mountains of my home state, I felt suffocated by the city, and found respite when I started re-reading Gretel Ehrlich’s “The Solace of Open Spaces,” which, in my opinion, is the best book about Wyoming that has ever been written. I wanted to somehow tap back into the beauty Ehrlich wrote about, and while I was experimenting with my own descriptions and recollections, a character emerged; not just that character, but a team of ramshackle, hard-skinned Wyomingites that knew how to maneuver the rough-n-tumble Wild West where I had grown up.

It’s important to mention that I am no cowboy. While I do know how to stick a saddle on a horse and remove a bridle and bit without flinching, my only experience cutting cattle or sheep involves me at age ten riding a stick horse as a man working at a clothing store called Corral West walked back and forth wearing a barrel around his waist with a plastic cow head attached to it. This role-play took place during Old West Days in Jackson, WY, and the half-hearted simulation was meant to let us youngins experience the thrill and pressure of corralling livestock. So the man would walk to his right, then feign left to see if I could stay in front of him. All the while I would have a stick horse between my legs in the pouring morning rain. It would always rain so much on Old West Days that the locals started calling the event Old Wet Days. Looking back, I wish I could find that poor barrel-clad bastard and buy him a beer.

I’ve had my fair share of horseback day trips, hunting camps, shotgun-blasting afternoons and chiseler sniping with a .22, but I have never truly understood the hardships of working on a ranch or the skill required to train and care for horses. So when I was writing my story and my character, Leyton Thacker, emerged, he was undoubtedly an incarnation of myself, but completely equipped to hold his own as a teenage horse rancher living in 19th Century alterna-Wyoming. The second main character to emerge was this boy’s estranged father, the “super cowboy” Leyton dreamed of becoming: an impossibly talented horseman and someone who was loved by just about everyone who’d met him. Since I had always been an outsider (the only gay, overweight son of a pair of Austrian immigrants), I wanted Leyton to be the ultimate outsider, and after writing an extensive outline, I wrote the rough draft of “Blade of the Outlaw” in three weeks, finishing on August 17th, 2012.

Leyton and John Thacker. Sketched at Rendevous Bistro with crayons.

Leyton and John Thacker. Sketched at Rendezvous Bistro. With crayons.

It was a huge turning point in my life as a writer. Not counting the massive amount of short stories I’d written, I’d finished two full books prior to writing “Blade”, but never felt a real connection to either. After finishing them, years later, I command-saved and stuffed them somewhere in the My Documents folder, not opening them since. With “Blade” I really felt like a writer. It hit so close to home and I knew this was the story that I would have wanted to read as a teenager. I was so focused on polishing the book and finishing it, not just for myself, but for my mother who always told me that I had to “finish something“. My mind has a mad habit of wandering, unrestrained by any sort of moral lasso, and my interests are constantly dancing around and cracking like firecrackers on the asphalt. Anytime I had a good story idea, my imagination would spasm and, inspired by everything, I’d start writing something new.

Since I finished the rough draft, I’ve managed to push away any other ideas (saving them for an Old Wet Day) and focus solely on this novel. I’d rewritten the book three times in total before putting a final period down this summer. When dig up a pebble of an idea and start to build on it, say, slowly wrapping rubber bands around it, there’s nothing more exciting than feeling its weight after two years of work. Of course, even now, every time I read through the novel, there’s another error, another word or phrase that needs replacing, and even a couple character choices that I’d like to revert. But, ultimately, when I see the story now, when I read through the novel from beginning to end, I’m so proud of myself and what I managed to accomplish. My mom’s advice to finish something was never unwarranted; I have commitment issues and there’s always a fear that I’ll get stuck. (If I write one successful western does that mean I can ONLY write westerns for the rest of my life?!) Mom has never been much of a reader, despite my numerous attempts to buy her books for Christmas, but having her read chapters of the book and enjoy them means so much to me.

So. Now that it’s done, what’s the next step? I’ve been having some really wonderful success hearing back from the literary agents I’ve been querying. Having a professional read your work and say “Yes, there’s something here…” is so incredible, and (I don’t say this lightly) a dream come true. There’s no knowing if I’ll truly tickle enough interest out of one of the agents to sign with them, but my fingers are crossed. I’ve never been much for collaboration, but to get someone to read your book and help you mold it into something readable, fantastic and (hopefully) marketable, is so thrilling to me. But right now it’s a waiting game. I don’t know if any of the agents will swallow what they bite, and there’s always the chance that none of them may like the book and I’ll have to move on to my next project (Already working on it. Hint: Iceland).

Iceland has provided an incredible place for me to write and focus on my book. Far away from Wyoming, but still surrounded by natural beauty, I’m able to enjoy the outdoors while feeling homesick. Ultimately, regardless if I get published, writing this book has been an amazing journey, and truly taught me that finishing something is more important than starting something. No matter what life throws in your path, you always have to stay in front of that man-cow, in the pouring rain, with a stick horse between your legs.

Munz.

The Aspiring Viking.

August 13, 2014

When I visited my blog this morning, it didn’t expect me. But then, like a puppy left at home, it leaped into my arms, started licking my face and then GUILTING me for not posting since January. Happy August 13th everyone. Oof.

There’s is plenty to catch up on, and I’m going to do a little reintroduction for you newbies, so I hope you’re prepared for a wondrous adventure. I can’t necessarily guarantee ‘wondrous’, so you’ll just have to lower your expectations, alright?

LET’S DO THIS.

Hello. Good day. My name is Andrew Munz, and I am a writer, actor, improvisor, …singer?, and impulsive optimist currently living in the hippest place in the world: Hjalteyri, Iceland. Population: 40. Four Zero. (East Jesus Nowhere translates to Austur Jesus Hvergi in Icelandic, which is even more appropriate.) I live with an Icelander named Víðir and his dog Freyja. Occasionally Víðir’s sometimes-girlfriend comes over for a not-sleepover and occasionally Freyja’s mother, Eyja, will join, but otherwise I don’t have any regular visitors. Except the attractive postman who knows my name, and where I live, but I don’t know a thing about him. I do know, however, that he is an Icelandic postman.

Our house looks out onto a fjord. Eyjafjörður to be exact. Where I grew up in Wyoming, my house looked out onto a mountain. Differences! And I work in that fjord as a whale watching guide. What that entails is spending three to four hours per-trip on a ship with a bevy of (usually German) tourists as we venture out into NATURE while we look for WILD animals in hopes of seeing NATURE at work. I spend much of the trip emphasizing that we are in NATURE and we cannot guarantee a sighting of a whale. Ultimately the subtext is “lower your effing expectations, lady, you are not going to get your National Geographic Female-Whale-Leaps-Out-Of-Water-With-Her-Calf-Pursued-By-An-Orca photograph.

whale!

This happens, like, 99.8% of the time. The other 0.2% the whale is smiling at children in the underwater aquarium windows and responding to trumpet music.

That being said, it is truly amazing when we get lucky and find whales. They are huge and so peaceful. Do Icelanders eat Minke whales still? Yep. Have I eaten Minke whale? Yep. Raw! Now before you get all preachy about the ramifications of hunting these gentle giants, know that one whale can feed a hell of a lot more people than 50 genetically modified chickens can. So if we’re bartering on the value of souls, maybe you should ask yourself why we value our farm animals so little? Because there’s more of them? Factoid: Minke whales aren’t endangered; IUCN Source. But enough of that. Whale is delicious, but I prefer to see them in the ocean than on a plate. End of story.

Now, I moved (well, relocated) to Iceland without much planning or thought. I’d been to Iceland twice before I decided to leave 42-North behind and live my life at 66-North. I don’t have any family here and my friend list increases at a snail’s pace. My days are usually spent at home or on the water, but occasionally I drive twenty minutes to hang out in Akureyri, the bustling “capital of the north”. 17,000 people in Iceland, however, feels a whole lot more like 5,000.

My Icelandic is shoddy at best, but I understand a surprisingly large amount. I’m getting by just fine, but I do wish I could somehow “Matrix” the language into my head. My pronunciation is usually improved by listening to songs like this one.

Exactly how long I will stay in Iceland is still up in the air. If I can miraculously find a place to live in Reykjavik and a good-paying job before the winter, I will be happier than an elf woman finding the Icelandic farmer who impregnated her. [Disclaimer: This tends to happen a lot in Icelandic folklore. Whether or not this is an accurate metaphor, I cannot be sure, but one can only imagine an elf woman with child would be happy to stumble upon the same bearded man in a country with so few people to begin with. Think of the Maury episode possibilities!]

Having not blogged in so long, I feel the need to keep my writing going. Plus, I recently finished my novel after nearly 3 years of work, so I’m feeling good about revisiting this blog more and more. I’d like to share more of my Icelandic stories and experiences as well as keep my fellow readers updated about things.

Remember you can always follow me on Twitter (@andrewmunz) and Instagram (@munzofsteel).

Until next time!

Munz.

 

Munz Awards of 2011: Part I.

December 28, 2011

Last year, I compiled a list of the top five things in movies, books and music, chronicling my favorite things of 2010, and I think it’s time to start handing out some awards, Munz-style. Mmm hmm. I’m currently sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight from Jackson to Phoenix for New Years, so this is a perfect time to reflect on the awesome of 2011 and clear the slate for the upcoming epicness that is 2012. Ba BOOM!

Since this is the first annual Munz Awards, I should probably give you an introduction to my criteria and what actually constitutes as an award. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m notoriously curious, and everything interests me. It’s hard for me to really pinpoint my likes and dislikes because they change sporadically. So, in order to receive a Munz award you have to corral my wandering mind and really make me pay attention to what’s in front of me. And this year I fell in love with quite a few things that made me say “HEY! That’s preddy coool!”

No two Munzys are the same; nominees need not be present to win.

Best “Move to Chicago” Album
Winner:The Head and the Heart”, by The Head and the Heart
Runner Up: “Safari Disco Club”, by Yelle

Head&Heart 
I wasn’t expecting to be so swept up by The Head and the Heart. When Rachel “wullhay” S. and I were doing our radio show, this was one of those albums that plopped into the new arrivals rack that burrowed its way into our souls. It’s hard not to love this band’s catchy lyrics, their killer harmonies and very attractive faces… The lyrics “Merrin moved all of her shit to Chicago/her mother made sure that she left with her bible/but you won’t find her face on Sunday” on the song “Ghosts” really stuck with me, but the song that makes me tear up EVERY time I hear it (yes, every) is on the song “Rivers and Roads”, when the band builds this lyric: “Been talkin’ ‘bout the way things changed,” then belts: “AND MY FAMILY LIVES IN A DIFFERENT STATE!” Powerful stuff. Then I saw them on June 6th opening for Iron and Wine and since then I’ve fallen in deep, unrequited, devotional love.

Best Jackson Hole Connection in Chicago
Winner: Randomly meeting Chris Z. on the Redline Train
Runner Up: Swing dancing to Head for the Hills bluegrass at Martyr’s

chicago-car-2751 
To me Chicago felt, and still feels incredibly far from everything that I know. It’s nice having Emma P. around, but I feel quite disconnected, despite being in the center of everything. So imagine my surprise when I boarded the Red Line CTA back in August and vaguely recognized a guy wearing a Wyoming 22 cap (22 being the county code for Teton County where Jackson resides). Upon saying hello he immediately recognized me from being in my hometown improv group, The Laff Staff. It was the most bizarre colliding of worlds. Since that interaction we’ve run into each other randomly TWICE. Again on the Red Line, and once more at Target just last week. Truly crazy. Here I live in a city of 9.2 million, and somehow the one other guy from Jackson and I keep bumping into one another. On top of that, Nadja R. (from high school) and I have seen each other twice. Small world.

Best New Obsession Involving A Foreign Country
Winner: Iceland, Iceland, Iceland, All Things Iceland
Runner Up: Reading the Harry Potter books in German

view-of-hvalfjordur 
Iceland has always been in the back of my mind as a country I’ve wanted to visit, and in 2012 I’m going to make that desire a reality. I’m not sure what exactly ignited my recent obsession. Perhaps it was the unyielding, unstoppable repetition of Sigur Ros in my headphones since June or the pictures Todd and Kate K. posted from their trip a year ago. All I know is that it’s rural, it’s cold, it’s full of interesting people, and there are mountains, geysers, glaciers, sheep, sweaters and icebergs. It’s practically Wyoming without pine trees. Plus my favorite band of 2011 (just beating out The Head and the Heart) is Of Monsters & Men, which brings me to my next Munzy.

Best Holy-Shit-Where-Have-You-Been-All-My-Life Band
Winner: Of Monsters & Men
Runner Up: Devotchka

of-monsters-and-men 
Out of nowhere, Of Monsters and Men fell into my lap. I purchase (yes, purchase) music from a Russian-based website. The albums listed are not classified by genre so it’s a bit like window-shopping in the sense that I really only have the album covers to entice me to sample the music. Lucky me for stumbling into the musical arms of these six pop-folk geniuses. From the sing-along-able lyrics to the steering-wheel-tapping rhythms and (my personal favorite) the La-La-Laaahs, I eased into this band like a warm bath.  They were just right; everything fit well in my ears and I learned the lyrics faster than I did any band before. I like to be a little selfish about these things, and would LOVE to just steal these Icelanders, lock them in my house, and have them play for me every day…but I guess you can listen to them too.

Most Effective Storytelling in a Film
Winner: Shame, dir. Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen)
Second Winner: Midnight in Paris, dir. Woody Allen (yep, that Woody Allen)

Shame 
This is difficult as the two films I’ve awarded are about love and relationships, but express two incredibly different moods. Shame succeeds in portraying the story of a man (Michael Fassbender) whose sex addiction has poisoned every aspect of his life, including his dwindling relationship with his sister (Carey Mulligan). The film ensures that there’s enough sex to warrant its NC-17 rating, but the overexposure to nudity and sex throughout its two hours suddenly alters your initial qualms with this gross, pervvy man who can’t keep his pants on even at work. Midnight in Paris takes the fluffy road into a troubled relationship between Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams as they make their way to Paris. Wilson’s character escapes into the romantic urbanity of 1920s Montmartre leaving the real world behind. Through a series of hilarious, wily adventures he discovers who he really is and what he wants. In a similar way, Fassbender’s character goes through a variety of obstacles that alter his habits greatly. I’m totally stretching it comparing these two movies, but let’s just say I was equally effected in very different ways. In closing, I’d much rather go traveling in Paris than jerk off at work. So that’s good! Nice work, you good films, you.

That concludes Part I of the Munz Awards. I’m gonna jump on this plane and hopefully post Part II by the time the new year hits. Plus, I have loads to share about my Jackson trip. More to come, readers. Happy Wednesday!

Munz.

Love to a Novel.

December 7, 2011

We had a lot of sex. It was a relationship that was practically built on sex: the raw, unhinged, exposed rough ‘n tumble of bare skin, crumpled sheets, unabashed secrets (“I’ve never told anyone this before…”) and premature, unhatched I Love You’s. We’d think about each other constantly during the day and spend our many nights together. I would tell people about our infallible infatuation, braying on and on about how there was no doubt we were meant to be together. There was no one else out there for me.

“Yes,” I’d say, “I have found my one true love.”

Those more experienced encouraged our relationship with sincerity. My friends and family were in full support (Mom more so than Dad, of course). Everything was clicking, falling into place and, damn, was I happy.

Like in any relationship, after a few months we began to drift apart. I tried my best to spice things up, attempting new, exciting things and playing out fantasies where we would trade off taking on the dominant role. There were times I was taken advantage of in unexpected ways, but I was always ready to return the favor. Sometimes a little too aggressively. Whatever love we had initially established was became nothing more than an immature desire not to end up alone and never share one another with anyone else. Invincible satisfaction was the cup we drank from. Jealousy, our poison

unmade bed

We’d go to bed looking at (not in) each other’s eyes, questioning each other. And soon answers would come from the most unlikely places. My wandering eye would hone in on a new prospect, and I would pounce and attack. I slept around with no consideration for who I was hurting or why I was letting it happen. I was selfish and became my own protagonist and antagonist. I couldn’t find the connection I was looking for, despite encountering the promising fling here and there. And my cell phone rang and rang and rang until it hit voicemail, but a message was never left and I wasn’t ready to call back.

What would I say? Sorry? Would I really take the high road and apologize for something I had no control over? And I knew would stay true to that statement: I had no control. It wasn’t me. I don’t know who I had become, but it wasn’t me. There was nothing more I could say.

A good year and a half passed with no communication, no wonderings, no memories at all. We’d forgotten and moved on.

On a recent windy, wet December night, I sat at a German bar with an old friend. We drank beer and smoked cigarettes and spoke of our current and past loves. And then it came up. The history of the novel I so shamelessly abandoned. The friend with benefits of my past still waiting for me, naked and unshowered, in the wrinkled sheets of the My Documents folder. I had forgotten completely until that very moment. And yet with ease I spilled out all the good memories we shared, the laughs we had and the troubles we went through together. I remembered it all, everything. Even the things I swore I had erased entirely. My friend finished his beer and told me that I was stupid to let go of all of that, and that the connection I’d made meant more than I would ever know.

So, a few days later, I decided we should meet at nearby Starbucks. We were awkward at first, but we put everything out on the table. All the half-finished tales, the jokes without punch lines, the long-dried tears, the cheap wine we snobbishly said tasted more expensive than it was. It was all there, and we looked upon it and smiled goofy, uneven smiles.

“Should we start over?” I eventually asked.

I was met with more than silence and rather a feeling. A warm, familiar feeling of what we once had, and all that came before. I realized how much I’d grown since we first met, and how ready I was to partake in something that was more than just a flighty fuck here and there.

“Yes,” came a reply. And I began again.

And right now my novel is there, propped up against a pillow waiting for me to join it under the covers. And soon we’ll hold each other and fall asleep knowing that neither one of us will disappear until we live this thing out, stupid or not. I can’t say for certain that what we have will be sung about or told to the small, inquisitive children of the future. What I can say is that I’m ready to commit to something I haven’t been able to commit to before. And I’m indefinably happy, jolted, terrified.

Munz.

Whimsy and the Looming Winter

November 27, 2011

Before writing this entry, I went back and reread my previous entries from September detailing my decision to move back to Jackson. My confidence is pretty apparent and I think I exhibit my feelings at the time surprisingly well. However, I resorted to e-mailing people close to me to read the blog, because, I believe, part of me was ashamed of the decision and I didn’t want all of my loyal facebook followers to combust in a comment frenzy. Plus, a big part of it was that I didn’t want my coworkers to know that I was leaving so suddenly.

There was a great moment at work when one of my bosses took me aside and told me he’d randomly come across those entries. He then confronted me with my decision to leave. Though there was no gunpoint involved, I definitely had my metaphorical hands in the air and was metaphorically pissing my pants. But I think what stopped me from bursting into tears, falling to my knees and apologizing profusely was that I had already come to a different confident decision: the decision to stay in Chicago.

Record scratch!
Breaks screeching!
Dog cocking his head askew going “Hrmm?”

Let me rewind a bit. (In the ideal setting I would showcase a moving montage of pictures documenting my Chicago frivolities to this song, but my budget is limited, and it’ll work better in my future Hollywood biopic.)

Last round, I talked a lot about “The Hero’s Journey”, a path many main characters take in fiction and in life, that ultimately, fate permitting, brings the adventurer back to where he or she started. I had decided that my personal Hero’s Journey was coming to an end, and that Chicago no longer held the appeal that initially brought me here, concluding that I would be better suited back amongst my friends, my mountains, my memories. I’m sure anyone could understand my position and what I was feeling at the time. Transitions are hard, the city is a fucked-up place, and little Austrian/American boys do have trouble fitting in. At least at first.

Irving Park Kid

My argument for moving back was weak, despite what two lengthy blogs portray. Sometimes I feel that I’m a better writer than I am a speaker, and it was on full frontal display as I made my case for moving back home to those I knew. Those blogs were a MILLION times more confident than I was in real life. I was tempted to just put off the conversation and send them a link to this site.

What it came down to was the understanding that I would move away from Chicago, arrive back in Jackson, and have an amazing time. I would see friends again, visit my favorite restaurants and bars, and slide comfortably into the slow pace of a Wyoming winter. And then those two outrageously fun weeks would pass, and I would be in the same rut, likely regretting giving up everything I’d worked towards in Chicago and eventually regress back into the life I left for a reason.

And then my boss confronted me, and I suddenly realized how easy it was for me to list the reasons why I was staying rather than leaving. Chicago’s pros list could be pages and pages long. Jackson has its many many pros as well, but I’ve seen how much I’ve grown since being here, and those pros don’t really fit right into my current state of being.

I’ll admit it. My decision to move home was whimsical, completely poisoned by my homesickness and fear of change. I’m heading back on 12/22 for Christmas, but will return to the windy, wintery city on 1/2/2012. A new year, a new life. In regards to that photo montage I mentioned, there’s been a whole lot of happiness that I’ve overlooked here, and part of that is my unwillingness to record. I’ve said it so many times before and let you all down, but this time definitely expect more blogs. I’m going to need some self-reflection, especially if this Chicago winter is as hellish as they say…

Munz.

The Hero’s Journey. Part II.

September 25, 2011

(This post is continued from “The Hero’s Journey. Part I” and is substantially longer…)

Before I left Jackson, my friend Emma P. and I put on a Jackson first—a full-length improv/sketch comedy show that poked fun at, and lovingly embraced Jackson culture.  It was called “Still Single: Lessons on Love with Emma and Andy”, and it’s my proudest accomplishment. The show was a hit, and at the end of the show, I remember looking at Emma with our hands clasped for the bow, and thinking “Damn.  We did it.”  We received standing ovations both nights and got great compliments from people in the community.  Of all the plays I’ve done in the past, I’ve never felt such a strong connection between myself and the audience.  It was surreal.

Five days later, I moved to Chicago, and the loving people of Jackson waved me farewell.

StillSingleposters

Having been in Chicago now for nearly half a year (time crawls when you’re feelin’ glum) I’ve thought a lot about what brought me here and why oh why I’ve been in such a rut.  Please follow along as I offer up an abridged account of the past year.  The Hero’s Journey:

Late June 2010  Andrew goes to Chicago to participate in the Summer Intensive, a five-week workshop with the iO (formally improvOlympic) Theater.  He spends an incredible month and a half in a brand new city, meeting a slew of incredible people and having one hell of a time.  Fellow classmates: “So, are you gonna move to Chicago?”  Andrew: “Nah I couldn’t handle it.  I’m a country kid.  I need my trees and open space.”

Mid August 2010  Andrew returns to Jackson (while driving passed the Dairy Queen, he grumbles Oh god… I’m back), equipped with a slew of new improv knowledge and a refreshing look into the real world beyond the mountains.  With all the incredible friends he made and the new experiences, he looks at his town with new eyes and sees how small it really is.  When he speaks about his Chicago adventure, he has nothing bad to say.  In short, the trip was incredible.

Fall 2010  More shows with local improv group The Laff Staff.  While he loves the improv scene in Jackson, it’s nothing like he experienced in Chicago and the bond he made with those classmates lingers in his mind.  The off-season trickles by and Andrew is back to the same grind and has moved back in with his mom.  Sigh.

December 2010  Andrew rethinks his move back to Jackson and realizes that maybe improv is where it’s at. Perhaps this is his calling.  He impulsively buys a one-way ticket to Chicago, IL for April 21st, 2011.

January—April 2010  Poisoned by the knowledge that he’ll be finally moving out of his mom’s house and on to brighter, better things, he develops an unwelcome cynicism for Jackson Hole.  In a series of dickish, arrogant interactions (with some unnecessary low-blows), he completely puts up a wall to all the things Jackson does offer, insults the people who love the town, and just wants MORE.  “I need more life,” he says, “more opportunity, more people, more improv, just more.”

April 21st, 2011  After a sorrowful mom-hug, Andrew lands in Chicago and rolls out a sleeping bag on the floor of his friend Josh B.’s house.  Unforgivably intoxicated and full of terrible Chinese food, he passes out on a slanted floor.  He has two suitcases no car, no apartment, no job.  He couch surfs until he’s too much a nuisance.

May 2011  Unemployed and unhappy, Andrew settles in an apartment Lincoln Square and spends his weeks meandering from cafe to cafe doing a lot of journaling.  Improv class is once a week, and the experience is nothing like last summer.

June 2011 Andrew is hired as a food runner at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and overworks himself to a point of mental breakdown.  He ends up quitting at the end of the month.  Improv classes continue.  3-hours a week.

July—September 2011  Andrew gets a job at a webhosting company, the most prestigious and well-paying position he’s ever held.  Improv classes continue. Once a week.

Alright, I understand every transition is difficult, but I realize that I specifically moved to Chicago for improv, and I’ve only been hitting that goal for 3-hours every week.  Everything else is just filler (no disrespect to some of the amazing friends I’ve made here), because other than those three hours, I don’t really know what I’m doing here.  And I realize that if I didn’t have those three hours a week, I have a full week of nothing.

Many others have moved to Chicago with the same goal in my mind: become successful in the improv world and make a living doing what you love.  I believe a lot of them had a crush on the city (or at least city living) before they moved, and I’m a bit envious of that.  When I left I was yearning for more, more, MORE, and now that this idea of more surrounds me—I’m practically drowning in more—I realized how much happier I was having less.

In Jackson, I only had two-hours of improv a week, but I also had a jobs that I loved, the opportunity to create my own art (“Still Single”; my one-acts “Those Days” and “Second Guesses”) and be around the people I loved and who loved me.  Even if I didn’t have improv, I had other things to keep me happy.  I saw an incredible improv show here a few weeks ago where the monologist said, “We’re always striving for more, but when do we stop and realize that what we have is enough?  This is enough.”

Tetons

In Jackson I was riding out an incredible wave of self-made success and I tossed it to the wind because I followed an impulse.  Do I regret moving to Chicago?  Absolutely not.  I guarantee I will not come home bitching about how much Chicago betrayed me.  Truthfully, without this move I would not have realized that improv isn’t my one true passion, and (I should have known) writing makes me happiest.  And, while I can pursue writing anywhere, I should pursue it in a place that I love. Jackson does not have to be permanent, and I can always springboard to another place if I feel that urge again (though this time around, I’ll think it through a bit better). 

I have a lot in my mind as to what I would like to accomplish when I come home, and that includes writing and directing more plays and even possibly a full-length narrative play based on “Still Single”.  Not to mention finally dedicating some focus to finishing my novel in hopes of a future publication.  When I return, I won’t be reverting back to the life I left; my mom has moved to Arizona, my car is in the hands of a new family, and I have a brand new outlook on life and love.

I know who I am, and I know what I want.  Two questions that I’ve had trouble answering are now solidified in my mind.  And unfortunately neither of those answers involve the word Chicago. 

I really wanted to love it here.  I wanted to enjoy my new life and embrace everything around me.  But something kept holding me back, something prevented me from enjoying myself here, and I understand that it’s the loving, supportive, amazing people that I’ve had in my life. With my personality, I will always, always push myself to new horizons and new accomplishments. But I think it’s time that I stop asking for more and more, and realize that this amazing little life that I’ve made for myself is indeed enough. 

My current Hero’s Journey will come to a close on December 22nd, 2011.  Whenever the next journey decides to present itself, I’ll be ready for it.

Munz.

The Hero’s Journey. Part I.

September 22, 2011

Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist (yep, that job exists) who is known for looking at all the epic myths and fables of the years gone by and compiling them into an archetype called the Monomyth, essentially what we know today as “The Hero’s Journey.”  An incredible amount of stories fit this term—more than you can even dream of—because it is not just a genre of story, but a direct interpretation of human experience and history, as well as our desire to make a difference by following our hearts.  Campbell writes:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

(Boons.  Hilarious word.)

You can attribute this particular journey to just about every hero in both our classic and popular cultures, as the principle applies to young men and women like Oliver Twist to Princess Leia Organa to Harry Potter—our de facto heroes.  Not every journey needs to end where it began (and most don’t), but the reality is that often times these heroes are thrust out of their mundane day-to-day and thrust into an adventure that tests everything they once knew.

Now, am I comparing myself to one of these heroes?  Absolutely not (although Leia and I are both gifted with incredible accuracy with firearms—nerd joke!).  But I find myself falling into Campbell’s archetype quite seamlessly.  Allow me to explain.

Heroesjourney

Andrew Munz, 23, moved from his hometown of Jackson, Wyoming to explore a whole new life in Chicago, Illinois, the city of improv, deep dish pizza, and incredible public transportation.  The big bad skyscrapers loomed to the East, and I was ready to leave my sheltered existence and learn what real life was all about.  I had a goal in mind—fuel my improv passion—and I sold everything to prepare for my new venture into city life.  And then I hopped on a one-way flight without an apartment, a job, or a solid plan to welcome me.  It was the ultimate journey and I was ready.

Five months later, Andrew Munz, 24, writes from a Starbucks in quaint Lincoln Square, quite possibly the most neighborhoodly of all the Chicago neighborhoods.  Families, dogs on leashes, and smiles travel down the clean sidewalks and pass the local restaurants and mom & pop shoppes.  Sirens aren’t common and taxis are hard to come by (which is totally fine if you’re terrified of taxis, still, after five months).  In Campbell terms, I’m currently experiencing my own version of “supernatural wonders”, and there couldn’t be a better way to describe my experiences because, compared to how I grew up, the adjustment has been bizarre.  Not bizarre in the way that an African excursion would be bizarre for an Alaskan, but in the way a young man from Tattooine would feel on Coruscant (oh my heck, Star Wars joke #2!).

But what of the “decisive victory” that Campbell writes about?

For even the strongest of warriors or heroes, no battle is more difficult than that of self discovery.  The common questions of “Who Am I?” and “What Do I Want?” come up in everyone’s life, and they’re admittedly the hardest to answer.  If we look back on my heroic examples, even those in your head that I didn’t mention, each one emerges from their journey with “the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (hahaha…boons! Never gets old!).  In this instance *deep breath* boons are figurative gifts, and sometimes literal gifts.  In my interpretation, they’ve acquired a good dose of knowledge that they are now able to share with others, and I feel like I’m ready to do that.

In my next blog (The Hero’s Journey. Part II.) I will talk about how moving to Chicago has allowed me to achieve my own decisive victory and answer those two self-defining questions.  I will also write about how I believe my Monomyth is ready to come to an end and will lead me back home.

Yes.  Back to Jackson Hole, Wyoming…

Munz.

Despite my location change, I can’t say my life has changed.  You know, I’d always heard about how your first move is the first major turn your life takes (I think peeing standing up, and going to college are also crowned with this award).  But my argument is this.  Even though we encounter huge changes in our lives, I wouldn’t say each one changes the way we act.  It’s not like my entire personality or habits change now that I’m a Chicagoan.  [Note: Here I use the term Chicagoan loosely, because I have yet to favor the Cubs, White Sox, Bears or Bulls, and doubt I ever will.]  Apparently, thanks to a Google-search, it was Abbie Hoffman who said “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” and, while Ms. Hoffman isn’t Socrates or Plato, I would say that her words are worth living by.  She did not say, and I don’t believe anyone ever will say, “The events that happen today will undoubtedly change your life in incredible, unrecognizable ways and you will be a brand new person by tomorrow!”

If they do say that, don’t listen.  Take a piece of Chicago advice from me, and pretend they’re not there, glance at your iPhone like something interesting is happening, and saunter away in a different direction.

What I’m getting to is that even though I’ve had to sell my shit, buy a mattress, apply anti-humidity milk into my hair on a daily basis and accept the fact that I’ll have to sit next to the occasional stinky stranger on the Brown Line, I’m still the same person.  I haven’t stopped biting my nails when I’m nervous.  I haven’t completely abandoned my Oreo addiction, though I have lost some weight, miraculously.  I still have a billion ideas for stories, and only actually work on 12% of them.  And I rarely, if ever, smooth out my bedsheets in a presentable manner.  As seen in my previous blog post, old habits die hard.

And even if I was supposed to change, and become a whole new person, I’m not sure what would need to change.  I guess the opposite of what I mentioned?  Fully grown nails.  An Oreo allergy.  Writing 5K words a day.  Making my bed with military precision.  Sounds dull.  But I would become more of an adult if I did so, right?

Perhaps that’s what adulthood is: smothering your old habits and carrying out your life the way society would prefer you to.

Sounds terrible.  I’d much rather be my own person, thank you very much, and if that means I never make my bed, or give up delicious cream-filled chocolate cookies, or shave every day, then screw that.  I’ve already had enough adulthood to stand with all the bills I’ve had to pay.  From purchasing a couple-hundred-dollar mattress, to ripping out another rent check, to paying off my credit cards and phone bills, I’ve gritted my teeth and accepted that these things must be done.  So I guess you can say I’m crawling my way towards adulthood, gripping at the dirt and fighting every second of it.  Blech.

In other news, I’ve been reading quite a lot and listening to some fantastic music.  Because I haven’t done a Triple Shot entry in a while, here’s a quick rundown of three things I loved in the past week.

1.) Brandi Carlile’s “Live at Benaroya Hall…”
I’ve seen Brandi twice, and both concerts list in the top five best concert-going experiences I’ve ever had.  It’s nice to have this phenomenal folk rock artist pump out a gorgeous album like this one which includes a great rendition of “Pride and Joy” and a cover of “The Sound of Silence” sung by the twins, Phil and Tim.  Even if you’re new to Brandi’s music, do yourself a favor and pick this album up.

2.)  A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz
This is my second foray into this hilarious novel, and I’m loving it even more this time around.  Centering on the multiple mysteries surrounding his estranged father, Martin, Jasper Dean sets out to answer the billion questions he has about his orphan father, his murderous uncle and his dead mother, whose corpse happens to be missing from her grave.  Set in Australia, Paris and Thailand, it’s a rollicking adventure full of wit, dirty humor and heart.  One of my favorites.

3.) Midnight in Paris, a film by Woody Allen
We all have a fantasy that we should have been born in an earlier time.  “I’m an old soul,” you may have said once or twice.  In this film, Woody Allen shows us what would happen if we got our wish.  In it, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and his fiancée go to Paris to prepare for their upcoming Malibu wedding.  However, Gil, a writer who wishes he lived in the 1920s, falls in love with the city and begins going on evening strolls.  When the clock strikes midnight, he is whisked away into a world where Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemmingway and the Fitzgeralds thrive and the live music of Cole Porter echoes through the dance halls.  The movie was hysterical, witty and so much fun.  Make sure you catch it, because it’s definitely one of Allen’s best.

So that’s all for this fine Wednesday.  Off to grudgingly pay the rent check…

Munz.

Small Town Habits.

May 28, 2011

What’s it like moving from a town of 10,000 people, where I’m confident that I’d recognize a good fourth of the population, to a city of 2.6 million, where I know just about ten or so?  Well.  It gets a little dicey, especially when it comes down to all of those warm, friendly habits I learned while living in Wyoming.  I’ve had to flip my head around here, because this ain’t the old west, partner.

After being asked about where I grew up, I get a lot of blank, puzzled stares when I say that I went on a lot of hikes, rode the occasional horse, shot clays with a shotgun, went snowboarding, worked for a meat processing plant, floated the river, helped bale hay a couple of times, and cleared a potato field.  I also went camping (summer and winter) and could identify scat left behind from most mammals.

“Yeah, but, like, did you do normal stuff too?” a coworker asked me.

“Nope,” I said.  I hocked back and spat onto the floor.  (Okay, I didn’t do that, but I should have.)

While I was never the cowboy-like adolescent that our fine state of Wyoming breeds, I definitely had a soft spot for nature and love for a simpler way of living.  I never realized how many outdoorsy skills I had until I realized how badly I needed them out here.  My sense of direction, while flipped on its head when surrounded by skyscrapers, is surprisingly intact as I emerge from the underground Red Line train into the bright lights of the city.  My balance aboard a train is near flawless; as I bend my knees and treat the moving car like a snowboard, I have no need to hold onto the rail.  And my sense of smell, though raped by the daily foul stench of sewage, fuel and mildew, can lead me to fresher air and delicious foods.

Yes, it seems that a country boy can indeed live in the city.  However, as my biology adjusts, my head cannot swing the fact that I am not home.  Here are a few small town habits I can’t seem to shake, and their big cities realities that put me in my place.  I have encountered all of these things.

  1. A Honking Car
    Small Town:  Someone you know is trying to get your attention!  Turn and wave!
    Big City:  You are about to die.  Be alert, and move.
  2.  A Big Black Shadow
    Small Town: Probably a moose or other large mammal.  Change your path.
    Big City:  A harmless Sedan. Keep walking.
  3.  Someone is Lying on the Sidewalk
    Small Town:  Possibly injured citizen.  Observe and assist if necessary.
    Big City:  Possibly dead citizen.  Keep walking.
  4.   A Yellow Lab Takes an Interest In You
    Small Town:  “Hello pup!  Hi, is this your dog?”  “Sure is!”   “Aw, what’s his name?”  “Dingo!”
    Big City:  “Hello pup!  Hi, is this your dog?”  Owner yanks him away and keeps walking.
  5. Filling up Your Water Bottle from the Tap in Front of Strangers
    Small Town:  No reaction.
    Big City:  “What are you doing?!  You drink that?!”  (Seriously.)
  6. A Strange Man Asks You ‘A Quick Question’
    Small Town:  Politely listen and assist if possible.
    Big City:  He wants money, so ignore everything said until you say “no” to make him go away.
  7.  “Would You Like Topping on Your Popcorn?”
    Small Town:  “It’s real butter?  Heck yes!”
    Big City:  Always, always, always, for the sake of your bowels, “No.”
  8.  Manners
    Small Town:  In abundance.
    Big City:  Impossible to find.
Jackson Red Line Stop < Jackson, Wyoming
There is a Jackson stop on the Red Line and it drop you off down by Millennium Park.  I’ve gotten off there quite a few times (there’s also a Wilson stop way north of there).  The first few times, I hardly made the connection because the two Jacksons were so asymmetric.  But now every time I see the name I wish that the underground station was a little bit more like home.I don’t want to shit all over Chicago, because it’s not a horrible place by any means.  Everyone tells me that New York is much worse, and that Chicago is overwhelmingly a nicer city.  That makes me laugh (which, I only do in private, because apparently laughing in public makes you look crazy), because in my experiences so far, from people at work to random strangers, I haven’t encountered too many people possessing that oft-quoted “midwestern charm”.  Everyone is too scared of each other to be nice.
So above all things of Jackson that I do miss (and I won’t lie and say I don’t miss it), I miss the people.  The sense of community and the familiar faces.  It’s hard living in a city of a couple million people and feeling lonely because there’s no one you recognize.  My worst habit of all is seeing a stranger and initially thinking that it’s someone I know.  It happens a whole lot, but, it’s proven that all these little habits will dissolve over time.
Soon I’ll stop glancing towards honking cars and petting strange dogs, I’ll ignore more homeless people and develop a resistance to bad smells.  I’ll walk home with a little more and a less fear as the days trudge on.  In Wyoming I was sensitive to my surroundings.  Ultimately, as I continue living in Chicago, I’ll become more and more desensitized.  Because that’s what the city wants.  To it, I’m just another number.  Another tally in the population.  Another person to pull taxes from.  Another person taking the train.  Another person walking down Michigan Avenue pretending that the buildings don’t blow my mind every time I walk passed them.  The moment I start acting differently, the moment I decide that I’m going to continue living out the small town attitude I have grown accustomed to, the city will turn on me and I’ll be either robbed, or thought insane, or worse.
But I’m not willing to fall prey just yet.  I may still be new here, but I’m not just another number.  Just you wait, Chicago.  I still have some tricks up these flannel sleeves.
Munz.
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