The Tao of Joe Pera (contains spoilers)

27465_001 Joe Pera Series Unit

27465_001 Joe Pera Series Unit

If you haven’t had the pleasure, take about fifteen minutes out of your day and watch an episode of Joe Pera Talks With you It’s not the typical Adult Swim fare, the folks who brought you “Rick and Morty” and “Superjail.” No, this is a very different sort of programming. For starters, it’s live action, and it doesn’t take place in a mythical land… well, not exactly, anyway. It takes place in the mythical land of Northern Michigan where Joe Pera is a mild mannered high school chorus teacher with a Northern Michigan / Southern Canadian drawl, not unlike those you might have heard in the film “Fargo.”
If I were to sum up the show for you, it would probably be in Joe’s own words. In episode three, “Joe Pera Takes you for a Fall Drive, ” the titular every-man hero is enjoying lunch in his car, a 2001 Buick Park Avenue (“truly one of America’s most beautiful automobiles”). He chooses to lunch there because, as he puts it, “Something about the teachers’ lounge turns people into animals.” When he is approached by the new band teacher. She has mistaken him for a weirdo, parked there for some insidious intent. He replies “No, I’m a normal guy.” And he is. Joe Pera is the most normal man you would ever care to meet, in fact he is normal to the point of vanilla abnormality. This is the beauty of the show. Joe is a normal man dealing with the everyday existential crises of every day life… which have something of a David Lynch-esque strangeness to them, like episode one when he is interrupted in his geology presentation by the sudden arrival of a family who come to his door, asking if this is a good time. He says yes and admits them, only afterward realizing that someone has placed a “For Sale” sign in his front yard. Joe has not put his house on the market, but he feels bound to honor the contract.
Throughout the episode, he wrestles with questions of existence with regard to place and how we as human beings find ourselves in one place or other in the universe. After all, the rocks that he seeks and collects, traveled to the Upper Peninsula through natural forces, and given time and conditions, they will move on again. Finally, Joe concludes that he is NOT a rock, and he is pleased with where he is. He confronts the family at a local diner holding the rocks from the opening scene, still continuing his presentation. He explains that he’s not a rock, he doesn’t want to move, and asks them not to buy his house, only to learn that when they called the number on the For Sale sign, it was the house across the street. In fact, they were just too embarrassed to mention it to him.
In episode three, Joe takes a fall drive, but this is the koan, not the lesson. Joe is in actuality confronting his fear of Jack-O-Lanterns. His neighbor Jean posits a theory that when you are carving a Jack-O-Lantern, in actuality, you give it a piece of your soul. According to Gus, as you look into the Jack-O-Lantern’s eyes, you are looking at you. After a few calculations, Joe is concerned that maybe after all the Jack-O-Lanterns he’s carved, maybe he doesn’t have a soul left. Fortunately, Gus reassures him that you can grow your soul back. He asks if a Fall Drive would do the trick. “Jean replies. “That will work.” By the way, this conversation takes place on Halloween night as Joe and a trio of his friends sit out front dressed as characters from the Matrix awaiting the arrival of Trick or Treaters.
As Joe drives his loop through country, enjoying the fall foliage, he muses that “when you’re giving a Jack-O-Lantern life, you’re also giving it death (A Jack-O-Lantern lasting about five days whereas an un-carved pumpkin can last for months. What comes across as a simple musing, is actually wrestles with the deeper existential question of why are we here? The Jack-O-Lantern, looking into the eyes of its creator in the rear-view mirror, and asking “why?” The episode concludes with Joe taking his Jack-O-Lantern to a sort of burial at sea, placing it gently into one of the “estimated 300 waterfalls in the UP.” There is a moment of absolute peace of the kind that Lao Tzu spoke of (if, of course, the true Tao could be described) as Joe, sitting on the trunk of a tree that reaches from the bank into the river, releases the smiling Jack-O-Lantern into the river as a chorus of women’s voices accompanied by guitar plays in the background. The Jack-O-Lantern disappears over the falls as the credits roll… but this isn’t quite the end. The episode ends with Joe standing in front of his fire pit, and explaining how to make a “Warm Apple.” As he completes his cook cycle, timed to a song he made up to time the cooking over an open fire, he opens the foil and takes a bit of his warm apple. Looking up into the camera, he says “And just like that, I can feel my soul grow back.”
The simple and absolute beauty of this episode is in it’s completion. Much like the Japanese Death poem wherein the Zen Monk drew a simple circle to denote his life, the cycle of life, death, loss, and existence is completed and begins anew. Joe has returned his Jack-O-Lantern to the earth, to the ever flowing river of time and sustained himself and his own existence by partaking of sustenance. His soul and body renewed.
The quiet, elegant, beauty of the program is in its quiet perseverance. It’s Mr. Rogers for grown ups with a Taoist sensibility. Joe Pera wrestles with questions of life, existence, meaning, and beauty in a quiet microcosm of the world. It is a quiet space to escape the turbulence of the world at large… and it’s funny. Perhaps this is the reason for its 11:30 PM CST time slot. At the end of a long day, it is a quiet meditation led by a quiet, decent man.
Joe Pera is all of us and on some level, we are all Joe Pera. He is the gentle, quiet, awkward, soul existing within us all. His intentions are pure, kind, gentle, and inquisitive. He is Pooh in the Tao of Pooh, finding what he finds in the world, learning as he goes, sharing his knowledge and wisdom if we are wise enough to listen. After all, as Lao Tzu said in Chapter 41 of the Tao Te Ching:
When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

A View from the Other Side…

Just last week I finished editing an old college buddy’s novel. It was quite an experience!  He’s a new writer, trying his hand at novel writing for the first time, and wanted me (Creative Writing PhD) to look it over.  I was beyond honored, and thrilled to step out of the author role and dig into being an editor.

Now, I’ve done some editorial work before, and I’m the veteran of many poetry workshops,  but this was my first foray into fiction.  Really, the first fiction story I’d critiqued (save for a student’s short story) since Dr. Naslund’s class in the Masters Program, so it was both thrilling and a tad nerve wracking to take on someone else’s baby.

The novel grabbed me from the first few pages. It was an exciting story (the details of which I will keep quiet to protect you from spoilers) but suffice it to say that it is a supernatural thriller. There were amazing plot twists and amazing characters, which drew me as a reader in, and kept me asking what’s going to happen next?

Of course, there were the inevitable issues that plague first time writers and maybe, in the event that you’re reading this, you’ll recognize them and avoid them.  The first is what I refer to as “I know something you don’t know.”

When you create a story or a character, you know what is going on, you know what the action of the story is going to be. You’ve laid it out in your head, you can see the scene as clearly as if you were there in the flesh. Your can hear the crunch of the snow or the pine straw or the gravel, you can the gleam in your character’s eye, or the muzzle flash of the rifle twelve stories up as the sniper makes his shot.  You also know what the character’s motivations are when he moves or says something… your reader doesn’t. In fact, your reader only knows what you, the author, the omniscient narrator, tell them.  Keep them informed!  Give them the inside information, else you’re going to lose them, and the story will remain a manuscript rather than a novel.

Another problem is “The Intrusive Narrator.”

Your narrator is the moderator between you and your reader.  Your narrator can be omniscient and know everything or limited omniscient and know a lot of stuff, but not quite everything. He/she can be first person, or a bit character.  But the voice of your narrator must be unique and consistent.  For example, if your story is set in the 1950’s, your narrator can’t or shouldn’t use modern slang.  He needs to be period appropriate. You wouldn’t have a narrator of a noir thriller set in the forties talk about cell phones. Nor would you have him discuss modern politics.  He also shouldn’t weigh in too much on what goes on in the story to the point that your characters feel like they’re stepping on his act.  It’s about the characters and events more than anything, let them live.  You can comment on them, but give your characters room to move.

More on this later, though. The day is slipping away.

Dr. Allen Berry’s C.V.

Ph.D., Creative WritingPoetry/Modern American and British Literature,

The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS.

August 2013. Creative Dissertation: Travel for Agoraphobics


Certificate of Technical Writing,

University of Alabama Huntsville

Huntsville, AL, August 2015


M.A., English, University of Alabama Huntsville, AL 2009
Thesis: Lariat Legends: An Explication of the Western and its Historical Context in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.

B.S., Communication, Freed Hardeman University, Henderson, TN 1993


 Adjunct Instructor, Department of English, 2014 – Present                                            University of Alabama Huntsville

Courses: English 301: Technical Writing, class focused on crafting technical documents including instructions and an instructional software video.                                            English 102: Second part of freshman composition, focused on annotated bibliography, literature, review, argument of fact, and the long research paper.                                          English 300: Strategies for Business Writing, class focused on business writing skills, including resume and cover letter, business letters, memos, and proposals as well as other business writing.


Adjunct Instructor, Department of Languages and Literature, 2017 – Present Calhoun Community College, Huntsville, AL

Courses: Freshman Composition 102, Writing About Literature. Survey of Literature focusing on, Short stories, Poetry, and Drama.  American Literature I, From the Puritans to Walt Whitman. Freshman Composition course, English Composition 101, introduction to college writing.

Adjunct Instructor, Department of English, 2017-Present                                            Columbia State Community College

Courses: English 2015: Film Studies, Desk Top Video Conferencing Course. Course focuses on the history of film, major periods, and figures. English 1020: Introduction to Literature survey course. Course focused on American, British, and World Literatures. Topics covered: short fiction, one novel, poetry, and plays as an online course via D2L.

Full Time Temporary Instructor, Department of English, 2016                                     Columbia State Community College

Courses: English 1010: Research and Argument, class focused on Freshman Composition introduction to college writing. English 1020: Introduction to Literature survey course. Course focused on American, British, and World Literatures. Topics covered: short fiction, one novel, poetry, and plays in both a traditional classroom setting and as an online course via D2L. British Literature Survey: Course focused on British Canonical literature from Beowulf to the Modern period.


Adjunct Instructor, Department of English, Dec. 2015 – May 2015                                                                                                                                             Wallace State Community College, Hanceville, AL                                                           Courses: Online English 101 Freshman Composition introduction to college writing.          English 102: Introduction to Literature survey course. Course focused on American, British, and World Literatures. Topics covered: short fiction, one novel, poetry, and plays.


Adjunct Instructor, Department of Languages and Literature, 2013 – 2014         Calhoun Community College, Decatur, AL

Courses: Freshman Composition course, English Composition 101, introduction to college writing, Developmental English, English 092: class focused on paragraph writing, grammar, and punctuation.

 Instructor, Department of English, 2010-2013                                                                      The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS

Courses: Freshman Composition course, English Composition 101, introduction to college writing. English Composition 102, argumentation and research.                                   English 333: Writing in Professional and Public Contexts, lecture online. Taught Business and technical writing in an e-learning platform utilizing Blackboard software.           Hybrid English 203: World Literature. The class was divided between online and in class lecture. The course consisted of classroom lecture and online testing and essay submissions via Blackboard software.


Adjunct Instructor of English, 2009 – 2010                                                                        Wallace State Community College, Hanceville, AL   

Courses: English 101: Freshman Composition introduction to college writing.          English 102: Introduction to Literature survey course. Course focused on American, British, and World Literatures. Topics covered: short fiction, one novel, poetry, and plays.


Poetry Writing Workshop, 2008 Middle Tennessee State University                 Murfreesboro, TN       

Courses: English 1010 Introduction to poetry writing. Taught an introductory seminar on poetry writing to Freshmen.


Poetry Writing Workshop, 2008                                                                                                       Draughon’s Community College, Murfreesboro, TN

Courses: English 1010 Introduction to poetry writing. Taught an introduction to poetry seminar to non-traditional freshmen.


Distance Learning Specialist, 2006-2007                                                                                  Department of Continuing Education,                                                                              University of Alabama Huntsville, Huntsville, AL                                                        Recorded and edited lectures for instructors for distance learning.




 Sitting Up With the Dead. Writing Knights Press. Ed. Azriel Johnson. November 2016.

Travel for Agoraphobics. The Aldrich Press/Kelsay Books. Ed. Karen Kelsay. October 2014.

 Distractions and Illusions. Finishing Line Press. Ed. Leah Maines. June 2015.

 Lariat legends: An explication of the western and its historical context in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. ProQuest, UMI Dissertation Publishing. September, 2011.

Academic Articles:

 “I’m 140 Characters of Sorry: The Emerging Corporate Twitter Apology.” Under consideration by Technical Communication.

“Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave: Maslow’s Hierarchy at work in the Post-Apocalyptic World.” Carrying the Fire: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the Apocalyptic Tradition. Ed. Rick Wallach. Miami: The Cormac McCarthy Society 2015. Print. (forthcoming)

 “The Cross Border Western Pastiche in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.” JASAT: Journal of American Studies Texas. Vol. 45. Ed. Sharon Bracken. November, 2014. Print.  


“Frozen Spring.” Birmingham Arts Journal. Ed. Irene Latham (Pending October 2017).

“Her Death.” Challenging Submissions Litmag. Writing Knights Press. May 2017. Print.

“The Seven Day Man.” Atomic: A Journal of Short Poetry. Ed. Warner James Robinson. Issue 1 Fall, 2015. Web.

“Frozen Spring.” Birmingham Arts Journal. Ed. Irene Latham (Pending October 2017).


“The Clarinet, the Fedora, and the Ashes of Us.” Flytrap Uprising. Eds. Jeremy DeFatta and Candice Mizell. Issue  2, October 2016. Web.

“By His Own Troops,” “Her Death,” and “Reflection.” POMPA: Publications of the Mississippi Philological Association  Ed. Lorie Watkins. Vol. 31, Fall 2014. Print.

  “Love Among Linguists.” The Sundial Writer’s Corner Podcast, WLRH 89.3.

“Information Overload.” Amarillo Bay. Eds. Jerry Craven and Laura Kenelley. Vol. 15: Spring, 2013.  Web.

 “Pauli’s at the End.” “Steel Toe Review.” Ed. M. David Hornbuckle. Mar. 2012. Web. Pushcart Prize Nominee, 2013.

“Simulacra.” Redheaded Stepchild. Eds. Malaina King Albrecht, Deborah Blakely, and Eric Holmes. Fall, 2012. Web.

“Love Among Linguists.” Ed. Jim Reed. Birmingham Arts Journal. 2nd ed. Vol. 8. Birmingham: Birmingham Arts Journal, 2011. Print.

“The Distance Rule” (Poetry). Intentional Walk Review, March 2011. Web.

“The Occurrence of Foxfire.”  Ed. Karlyn Crowley. The Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle. Vol. 84. De Pere: Sigma Tau Delta, 2009. Print.

“Domestic Neglect.” Limestone Dust Poetry Festival Anthology. Ed. Bonnie Roberts. Huntsville: Limestone Dust Poetry Festival, 2008: 46.  Print.

 “The Agrarian.” What Remembers Us: An Anthology of Alabama Poetry. Ed. Sue Brannan Walker, and J. William Chambers. Athens: Negative Capability Press, 2007: 74. Print.

“Barefoot.”  Passings.  Ed. Peggy Amond, Judith Winder Lawrence, T.Emmett Mueller et al. Rienzi: Poetworks Press, 2006: 17. Print.

“Breaking the News.” For Better or Worse: An Anthology of Poetry on Marriage and Other Foibles. Ed. Peggy Amond, T.Emmett Mueller, Bonita C. Sutterby, et al.  Rienzi: Poetworks Press, 2005: 56. Print.

“George Washington.”  The Sampler, Vol. 33. 3. Ed. Donna Jean Tennis.  Montgomery: Timberline Press, 2001: 3. Print.

“Strange Weather.”  The American Muse Magazine.  Issue 3, Summer  2001: 37. Print.


Book Reviews:

“Review of Comic Art, Creativity, and the Law, by Mark Greenburg.” Technical Communication Journal. February 2015. Print.

“Review of Sweet Aegis by Melissa Dickson.”  Negative Capability Press. August 2014. Web.

“Review of Otherness by M. Ayodele Heath.” Alabama Writer’s Forum. June 2011. Web.

“Review of Pain Diary: Working Methadone… by Joseph Reich.” Alabama Writer’s Forum. June 2011. Web.

 “Review of Poet Sue Scalf’s Bearing the Print.”  Web. 2008.

Review of Camelot in the Nineteenth Century by Laura Cooner and Robert Thomas Lambdin. Web. 2002.


“Daybreak” and “A Literary Tragedy.” One Sentence Stories: Anthology of Stories Told in a Single Sentence. Muddy Puddle Press. Ed. Val Dumond. Spring 2017. Print.

“The Music of Leaving.”  Flytrap Uprising. Eds. Jeremy DeFatta and Candice Mizell. Issue 2, October 2016. Web.

“Late Night With a Bottle of Regret.” Everybody’s Baby Magazine, (Forthcoming).

“Random Acts of Evil.” The Project Literary Magazine, Vol. Spring 2009: 16-26. Print.

 “Four Minute Mile.”  The Project Literary Magazine, Vol. 3. Spring 2007: 8-12.  Print.



“A Few Words About Doubt.” The Valley Planet Magazine, Vol 7. April 30-May 20: 2009. Print.



“Nobody Wants to be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave: Maslow’s Hierarchy at work in the Post-Apocalyptic World.” The 2016 Mississippi Philological Association Conference. Mississippi University for Women, MS. 2016.

“I’m 140 Characters of Sorry: The Twitter Apology Phenomenon in the Business World.” 2015 Society for Technical Communicators Conference. UA Huntsville. Huntsville, AL. 2015.

“I Was There,” “Her Death,” “Travel for Agoraphobics.” The 2014 Mississippi Philological Association Conference. Mississippi State University, MS. 2014.

 “Out Where the West Begins: Mythic and Altered Landscapes in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.” The Cormac McCarthy Society Annual Conference. Berea, KY. 2013.

 “The Ghost Who Walks: History, Anti-Colonialism, and the Impact of Lee Falk’s the Phantom on the American Psyche and Popular Culture.” Pop Culture Association of the South/American Culture Association in the South Conference. Nashville, TN. 2012.

“My Dinner With Andre: A Dialectic in Four Courses.”  Pop Culture Association of the South/American Culture Association in the South Conference.  New Orleans, LA. 2011.

“Playing Cowboys: Appropriating the Image of the Western Hero in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.”  The Third Annual Middle Tennessee State University Graduate Student Conference.  Murfreesboro, TN. 2010.

“The Cross-Border Relationship Pastiche in Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses.”  Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society 2010 International Convention. St. Louis, MO. 2010.

“Through the Looking Glass: Shades of the Trickster in Sherman Alexie’s Flight.” In Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition, and the Science Fiction Imagination. UA


The Coffeehouse Reader’s Series, UAH. Huntsville, AL 2015.

The Sundial Writer’s Corner – WLRH 89.3. Huntsville, AL 2014 (

The Mobile LODA Art Walk/Poetry Walk. Mobile, AL 2013.

Auburn Writer’s Conference: The Winding Road, Travel, Identity and the Search for Voice. Auburn, AL 2012.

Auburn Writers Conference: Myth, Memory, and the Haunted Muse.  Auburn, AL 2011.

The Tenth Annual Limestone Dust Poetry Festival.  Huntsville, AL. September, 2011.

Whatever Remembers Us: An Anthology of Alabama Poetry, Reading/Signing. Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. Huntsville, AL. June, 2008.

Art Aid: A Benefit for Families Affected by War. Flying Monkey Arts Center Huntsville, AL. March 2005.

Alabama A & M University Writer’s Harvest. Alabama A & M University. Huntsville, AL. November, 2004.



 Script Judge, 2014. “Walter Trumbauer State Theatre Festival.” 2014. Troy State University. Troy, AL.

Panel Moderator, 2014. “Mississippi Philological Society Conference.”  Mississippi State University.  Starkville, MS.

Judge, 2014. Sigma Kappa Delta International English Honor Society poetry contest.

Served as a judge for the two-year college English Honor Society’s poetry contest. Decatur, AL.

Vice President, 2011-2012. English Graduate Organization

The University of Southern Mississippi

Booked presenters for faculty graduate colloquium, assisted in the planning of EGO activities.

Panel Moderator, 2012. “The Mother Earth Conference.” The University of Southern Mississippi.  Hattiesburg, MS.

Sigma Tau Delta, 2009 – present. Life member of the English Honor Society.

President, 2008-2009. Upsilon Mu Chapter – 2009 Outstanding Chapter of the Year                                                                                                                 Sigma Tau Delta, English Honor Society                                                                                                    Organized fund raising and service projects for the UAH chapter of the International English Honor Society and represented the chapter at the national conference in St. Louis, MO.

Judge, 2009. Poetry Out Loud Competition                                                                                     Columbia High School Finals                                                                                                              Judged students on presentation, recall and physical presence in the finals for high school poetry recitation contest.

Production Assistant/Runner, 2008. Poetry Out Loud Competition                                Regional Finals                                                                                                                            Assisted with time keeping and assisted the judges at the regional finals of the Poetry Out Loud recitation contest.

Judge, 2008. Poetry Out Loud Competition                                                                            Madison Academy Finals                                                                                                            Judged students on presentation, recall and physical presence in the finals for high school poetry recitation contest.

Poetry Contest Judge, 2003.                                                                                                             Bay Area Poets Coalition, Berkeley, CA                                                                                   Judged submissions for the BAPC’s poetry contest, read submissions and selected contest winners.



Assistant Editor, 2011                                                                                                                        Product Literary Magazine                                                                                                              The University of Southern Mississippi.

Reader, 2011                                                                                                                                       The Mississippi Review Commemorative Edition                                                                      The University of Southern Mississippi.

Staff Member/Reader, 2008-2009                                                                                                        The Project Literary Magazine, UA Huntsville.

Founder and President, 2001-2007                                                                                     Limestone Dust Poetry Festival Foundation                                                                          Served as Festival president and chairman of the board of directors, edited the festival chapbook, and oversaw a staff of five volunteers.



Huntsville Land Trust Volunteer: Built trails and served as a hike leader for various Land Trust events.

Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind: Served as a reader volunteer for the blind.

Crisis Services Volunteer: Shot and edited an informational video for Hope Place battered women’s shelter.



Pushcart Prize Nominee for Poetry, nominated by the editor of Writing Knights Press 2016

Pushcart Prize Nominee for Poetry, nominated by the editor of Steel Toe Review 2013

Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, 2011

Gold Key International Honor Society, 2011

Upsilon Mu Outstanding Sigma Tau Delta Chapter, 2009

New Chapbook Coming in 2016

I just received word over the weekend that my second Chapbook, Sitting Up With the Dead, has been accepted for publication by Writing Knights Press.

Check back soon for details and other information on the book’s publication and release dates.

Poetry Out Loud

Had a great time at Poetry Out Loud last week, working with a fine group of High School poets, workshopping their original works and lending a bit of my knowledge and suggestions on their original poetry.

The best part was when I got to talk to one of the authors afterward and learned that her Mom was a finalist years back in the Limestone Dust Poetry Festival. She told me the name of the poem, and I told her I was the founder of the festival, and I remembered her poem very well.  She was delighted!

So wonderful to see poetry becoming a generational art, and mother and daughter carrying on the tradition. Believe me when I tell you this young lady has skills!

Special thanks to Professor Anna Weber for asking me to participate in the workshop and get to meet such great young voices.