Spirit Day: Say Something!

It’s Spirit Day, the day you’re supposed to speak out against GLBTQ bullying. That’s why I thought I’d share a story about my bumbling evolution on GLBTQ and the importance of having conversations about equality with young people.

You Do Have Power: Millennials and the Vote

I’ve noticed a worrying trend among people my age regarding voting and civic engagement. Many of my peers seem to think there’s no point in participating. They think the game is rigged, that the moneyed interests have already decided the outcome. So why bother?

To Crave Sadness

Do you ever crave sadness? I do, sometimes. It’s not hard to understand why. Sadness is an interesting emotion, much more interesting than happiness. It is a problem that must be solved. Sadness is the beginning of a journey, while happiness is merely the end of it. 

Taking it Too Seriously

When I was a boy, I wrote every day. Short stories. Poems. Lyrics. Everything. I would stay awake late into the night pecking away at my keyboard. I loved the feeling of stories and emotions flowing from my brain and heart out into the real world.

Then I grew up and blocked that feeling off from myself.

A Blog for the Future

My memory is already a pile of shit, so I thought it might be a good idea to start blogging again for reference later. One day my brain will completely turn to gruel and trickle out my ears in a snotty, gray dribble, and when it does I won’t remember how to delight anyone with my special brand of bullshit anymore. Ideally, this blog will come to serve in my stead. That’s why I’m getting its URL tattooed on my head to combat the problem of forgetting it.

Brash decision? Sure. Especially since the idea of a URL might be completely obsolete by the time of my inevitable mental demise. Maybe by then, you’ll need only think of a website, and your smartphone/virtual reality simulator will transport your entire consciousness to the desired digital location in the blink of an eye (fifty blinks if you have Time Warner or Comcast).

In time, your mind will meld with the minds of many others inside giant server farms across the world until the entirety of human consciousness becomes one collective entity comprised of electrons and raw information. Bodies will become superfluous, and after the last abandoned meatbags die off, humanity will finally be set free. We shall at once become all and none, capable of feeling everything and nothing, alive without beginning or end, and free of the petty squabbles and necessities of our primal ancestry. We shall become like unto gods, worthy of our place in the boundless universe.

But that hasn’t happened yet, so it’s off to the tattoo parlor. See you on the other side, future deities.  

Content is King

It’s been said before. And whoever said it was right. Content is king.

As creatives struggling to keep up with the breakneck evolution of technology, it’s easy to breeze past content and move straight to execution when we try to solve problems. After all, there is exciting news literally every day about some service that’s just come online or a new update for some application or the release of a brand new gadget. If you’re any good at your job as a creative, these daily developments excite you and set ablaze the embers of inspiration and possibility. That’s good. But too often this energy is directed at what something can do and not why it should do it in the first place. In my experience this is always a mistake.

You’ll wind up with a wonderful approach and no destination. You won’t have an answer to the question, “Why would anybody care about this?” It’s like having learned a beautiful new language without anything to talk about. This is not a position you want to find yourself in as deadlines approach and budgets dwindle. It’s our jobs as creatives to figure out why people should want to take action before we discuss how they might take that action. To do that, we must spend time polishing our content.

Insofar as you can, hasten to create good content by doing your research, identifying the right KPIs, and employing compelling storytelling. Be aware, though, that it’s not at all uncommon to find yourself struggling with subpar content, particularly if you have stubborn clients. Regrettably, it is not always possible to move a client away from bad content, but you are still on the hook for the innovative solutions they believe you and your organization are capable of. When this happens, resist the urge to narrow scope only to focus on tactics. The importance of content never diminishes, but the problem of context becomes incredibly important.

If content does not appear in a complementary context, few will interact with it, particularly if the content isn’t very strong on its own. Does your client really need their very own app when a responsive website would be easier to build, maintain, and display across devices? Barging ahead with bulky, complex solutions can be incredibly costly and time consuming, and that isn’t something most companies can afford to do for very long. See that your content deserves the context it appears in, and make sure the audience you’re trying to pitch it to is willing to take the steps necessary to experience it.  

Hitch-22: A Long and Humbling Read

Christopher Hitchens was one of my favorite authors and journalists, and his death has made me all the hungrier for his works. My most recent expedition was through his memoir, Hitch-22. This is somewhat of a review.

I have finally finished the long and humbling read that is Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch-22. I won’t beat about the bush: it was good (although I would not recommend surmounting it before getting to know the man through his works first—Love, Poverty and War, Letters to a Young Contrarian, God is not Great, and any floor-mopping debate with the wretched Dinesh D’Souza are all great places to begin).  It was so good, in fact, that it has the distinct effect of depressing you in contemplation of your own experiences and contributions to humanity by comparison, while at the same time lifting your spirits and solidifying your gumption in the direction of your favored cause.

Hitchens’ memoir is a testament to the fact that actively fighting for and testing your beliefs is, if nothing else, incredibly interesting. To have the sort of conviction he possessed as young man is something to be envied and emulated by all, but especially by anyone who is still contemplating the safety of relativism or quiet, unobtrusive partisanship. Hitchens has conclusively shown that the path of least resistance is not the way to cultural significance, nor experiences worth reading about, and certainly not international friendships that span borders and cultures. If, at the end of one’s life, one can claim to have known people, places, and (most importantly) discussions as Hitchens did, then one should feel content to die with at least some satisfaction.  

The best takeaways from this read declare a need for steadfast solidarity with other humans who value liberty, free speech, and the importance of reason. This, along with the knowledge that the struggle for these things is never a waste of time is worth keeping in mind at each instant. I found myself challenged on several occasions throughout the read. I espouse many of the same values as Hitchens, but have I the conviction to do more than passively applaud their successes and lament in quiet their defeats? Anyone of even remotely decent means must be constantly challenging themselves similarly, and this tiny collection of noble experiences suggests that the bar ought to be set high. This is a good thing, and it makes for a good read—all good writing should seep into your soul and interrogate your being. 

It’s due to this evocation of self-examination and contemplation that the book took me so damn long to read. Just about every sentence is a conversation starter, for one, and Hitchens has no interest in brevity. The breadth of his eloquence is matched only by the size of his vocabulary, and he flexes both of these muscles frequently (although I do believe he could have taken a note from his hero, Orwell, on a few occasions and opted for more plain and concise language and fewer foreign phrases). When embarking on this journey of prose, one should be prepared to give it some good time, and keep a pen and Post-Its at the ready all times. There are few pages not worth revisiting for some kind of insight.

In fact, younger readers like myself might find within the pages a course’s worth of important recent history deserving of at least some consideration. Almost none of the events described in Hitch-22 were ever taught at length to me in my studies—events like the ethnic slaughter of Muslims during the war in Bosnia/Herzegovina or the truly psychopathic nature of Saddam Hussein’s torturous regime or the flimsy utopian fever dreams that motivated Cuban revolutionaries in the late sixties. Hitchens was able to bring me to those moments, if only in quick bursts, and allow me to contemplate them as more than locations on a timeline of events preceding my birth. And for anyone who’s read the full-length articles he penned in response to these events, having a look “behind the scenes” only adds to the effectiveness of his abilities as a storyteller. To study Hitchens the man is rather to catch a glimpse of history animated through the real stories, feelings, and motivations of humans.

To put it another way, Hitch-22 is well worth the effort it takes to read. It’s a highly entertaining, educational, and challenging read. As with a work of great fiction, this one will linger in your thoughts after you’ve put it down for the day. The only difference is that your mind will be working not on the plights of fictional characters, but on history and the evolving political forces at work around you, and even your own motivations and actions. You will stew on the impact you might have in your short time in this life, and perhaps, in your weaker moments, lament the impossibility of measuring up to this incredible man for whom the world is now poorer for having lost.

RIP, Mr. Hitchens. I regret not having shook your hand in this life, but in your words and works, grasp firmly an ever-outstretched member.

Don’t Go to School for Journalism

Something I might have told my 18-year-old self if I could go back in time.

Dear College Freshman,

So you’re trying to pick a major, and you fancy the craft of writing, huh? Let me give you some advice. Don’t go to school for journalism. I did. I learned quite a bit. I also learned that you don’t need to go to school for journalism. Study the subject you want to write about instead and write about it while you’re learning it.

You will certainly learn great skills at a J-School like the University of Colorado’s, which I attended (and doesn’t exist anymore). You’ll learn how to write thoroughly and with brevity and how to bother people for information. You’ll learn the important questions to ask and what kind of information your audience is most interested in. You’ll learn about the tools of documentation and the variety of media that comprise modern storytelling.

But here’s the thing: You should learn these skills and tools when studying any subject.  Journalism is, at heart, simply the pursuit and elegant retelling of information. It’s learning as much as you can about a subject, how it’s perceived and understood by the people involved, and understanding how to communicate what you’ve learned to your audience in an impactful manner. This is something everyone should know how to do when approaching anything with strong conviction, particularly a degree program. I can’t tell you how many otherwise thoughtful and intelligent people I know who couldn’t write well to save their own lives, and I think about what a disservice it is that they’re unable to communicate effectively when they have important wisdom to impart. You should aspire to learn how to write well no matter what wisdom you choose to pursue. If you like politics, study political science. Study anthropology or economics or foreign affairs. Don’t simply pursue the methodology of communication. Even with the best tools, you still need to know what story to tell.

If you do opt for J-School, you’ll likely be left largely to your own devices to figure out what subjects you care about and want to pursue. This will put you at a distinct disadvantage. You won’t know that subject matter well enough to ask more than the basic questions unless you devote a great deal of independent study (which you won’t have time for because of all the other journalism classes you’ll be taking!).  You’ll produce shallow, incomplete reports, or miss a more interesting story, or misunderstand what an expert has told you. How many articles have you read that completely botch scientific conclusions, or unintentionally misrepresent a cultural fact? I know I’ve read many. I’ve even written a few myself. If you want to contribute to the discourse, you owe it to yourself to know what you’re reporting on and why you or anyone else should care about it.

The bigger risk you’ll come across while studying journalism is the problem of the assigned passion. By this I mean that you’ll find yourself assigned to topics that you may or may not care about simply because your editors know you can write but don’t know or care what about. Trust me, reporting on subjects that bore you is an incredibly painstaking experience, particularly because journalism is stressful work in the first place. Take as much control over subject matter as you can, otherwise you will burn out fast.  You probably want to pursue journalism because you like to write about something—if you simply like the look and sound of your own words strung together, you should not be a journalist—and if you approach a subject with the seriousness and dedication of a degree program, ideas for articles will never stop springing up in your mind. The more you learn, the more you’ll want to tell. You’ll meet the right people and know the right stories. Your pieces will be thorough and interesting because you are fascinated with the material. All of these things will make you a better candidate when it comes time to publish your work, and getting published is a surefire sign that you have become the writer you dreamed of becoming in the first place.

Getting published is incredibly important. It means getting experience and showing potential employers that you are serious about what you do. It’s the best way to grow because your work will live in public. You need practice. Your first articles are going to be terrible and you’ll get criticism and harsh feedback right away. You’ll learn more about journalism from this than you ever will from any classroom. Write for the student paper. The best skills I gleaned at school came from my time at the CU Independent, and not from Reporting 3001. Find some kind of forum to get your work in public while you pursue your major. Student papers are great because you’ll be alongside helpful and passionate peers, and you’ll be able to get your hands on cameras and computers and editing software as well. Editors will give you advice on technique, which will help you become a better writer, and all the while you’ll be learning more about your favorite subject during your daily studies, which will make you a better storyteller.

Also, never forget that you can repurpose academic papers into journalistic articles with only mild effort. Why not knock out two birds with the same stone?

Of course, I can only speak for my own experiences. Some schools might teach journalism better than mine did. But I suspect that you’ll find yourself more satisfied if you vigorously study a subject you’re passionate about and learn to write at the same time. If you’re not convinced, at the very least, study your school’s program thoroughly and question whether it really is the best path to the height of your personal growth—as both a writer and a human being.

This Week in Bad Poetry: Coffee, The First Friend

an ode to coffee

Faithful elixer
Dawn is wont for your embrace.
Unconcerned with calendar fetters,
the clock’s hands of disinterest,
you wake the dead who slumber on,
whose eyelids cling to lifeless rest
and beg for encore at the mind’s theatre.

With each new sip
slowly open closed arms
to grasp the waking day.
With each new sip your heat decays,
the last few lukewarm drops remain
discarded and washed away.

Tomorrow, love will be yours again,
a gauntlet of blades and electric fire.
Back to the crypt, the living dead will smile,
your aroma of resilient hope.

On Procrastination

We procrastinate to avoid inconvenience, though we know it is a futile and enormously counterproductive exercise in the end. Procrastination turns out to be one of the most inconvenient acts we can inflict upon ourselves. The solace is fleeting, and later the problem demands action, though our minds have moved on; we have to drag them back in the late hour to reintroduce the task at hand and welcome a newfound urgency. There is no efficiency in this, only waste and regression.

It’s better to meet our inconveniences in the light, on our own terms, than to face them in the dark alley of necessity, where anger and frustration lurk. Stay in control. Serendipity and opportunity are fruits best reached when one is not weighed down by the demands of yesterday.