Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Real People Feature: Joel Finsel

Who are you?
a student, a teacher, a writer, a husband, and professional stirrer of cocktails. I started bartending in order to pay the bills while I wrote a novel, expecting to go back into teaching at some point down the line (which I still intend to do someday). 

While working in Philadelphia at The Astral Plane, my boss asked me to create a drink for the city's Cocktail Classic, mainly because he felt it was easier to take his bartender than his chef and all the necessary equipment. By some obscene stroke of luck, I won, beating out thirty or so other restaurants. Things snowballed and I felt drawn to continue making drinks, eventually having recipes published in Cosmopolitan, The Inquirer and getting write-ups on Playboy.com and Bartender magazine. 
I also wrote the novel, tried to sell it, realized it sucked, and started another one. It's been a fun ride, and I still tend bar a few times a week for the cash, but continue to transition out as more writing opportunities present themselves.

I did have some luck with Cocktails & Conversations from the Astral Plane, my memoir of bartending in Philly told through the characters I encountered, along with essays on all the different spirits (rum, gin, absinthe, etc.) and some recipes.

Since moving to Wilmington, North Carolina in 2005, I've been writing two biographies, both about artists. One is available online in blog format here. The other is to be published next year. 

I'm also in the final editing stages of a second novel, which I think might actually be good enough to sell so figures crossed. Most recently I signed on for a year long post as research assistant to John Jeremiah Sullivan as he pens his fifteen years of research about an early 18th century Saxon utopianist who tries to form history's first Republic deep in Native American territory.

My wife, Jess James, is a fashion journalist/stylist who writes weekly Fashion Fix newsletter that started off as a newspaper column. 
What is the best advice you've ever given or received and why?
To "follow your bliss," from Joseph Campbell who, after a career studying myths and folklore from around the world, concluded that this was the true path in all our lives.  

Also, I've found that 'to listen more than to talk' is important. This little nugget opens up the world to one's senses in mysterious ways. 

What has been the greatest challenge in your life and why?
Figuring out who I really was and how I wanted my world to be. I used to think that Truth was something I would find by getting drunk or high while reading the depressing classical works of those lionized in literature before me.  

Then, at one point, I learned how important humor was to the equation, and it changed everything. I realized I didn't need to take life so seriously, that humor was the place where good and evil met and dispelled each other. 

What has been the greatest joy in your life and why?
After years of contemplation, one day I just decided that I wasn't going to be afraid of anything anymore. It was the most liberating experience in my life. 

I owe a great deal of that to Jess, my wife, who keeps me out of the occasional brooding funk I still find myself in from time to time like when contemplating climate change or overpopulation.
What is one thing you have not done that you really want to do and why?  
I really would like to hike the Appalachian Trail and just spend more time hiking and camping in general.

As a kid, Boy Scout camping was a big part of my life and I was always building lean-to's and campfires at every opportunity. Seems so romantic now, but the reality of it is a lot of hard work, but it's also satisfying on many levels. 

I've always had this urge to vagabond travel around the world, though it fades as I grow older. Maybe when I'm ready to retire, I'll start in Ireland to see a few old friends before heading west, stopping throughout Europe, then Russia, China, India and Japan, Cambodia, Laos, and just keep going as long as I could manage before some strange disease or wild animal claims me.
What a cool cat, huh? 

And speaking of cool...not being afraid? That's what I'm talking about, people. So many of us are held back from positive change because we are afraid- afraid of failure, of rejection, of the "What Ifs" that knock us off our game. It's high time we start pushing ourselves to rise above the fear that tries to tie us down. Good one, Joel!

Oooooh- aren't camping/hiking adventures just the greatest? Joel's vagabond travels sound like a dream to me. Send us pictures, brutha! 

We're sending Joel lots of love and thanks for sharing his scene with us, and we can't wait to hear more about the upcoming biography. Stay tuned at www.joelfinsel.com to keep up with our author extraordinaire! I'll take an autographed copy...

 If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Egypt is calling my name...

P.S. If you'd like to participate in a Real People Feature, send me a message at cally@frommyhearthtoyours.com or comment below. We'd love to hear from you.

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