From Soman Chainini: “I think the greatest exercise a person can do when they’re stuck is to remember what their favorite children’s book was. A book that you read over and over and over again. Somewhere in that book is the clue to not only what makes you tick, but also to your life’s purpose.”
Mine was The Phantom Tollbooth. I often say to my friends that colleagues that journalism is “the practice of sustained learning,” which is something I’ve borrowed from an old FJP collaboration in 2011 or so. The seeds of that idea, for me, are found riddled throughout the chapters of The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a beautiful book that nestles its readers deep within the crevasses of curiosity and intellectual courage — with a good dash of absurdism.
On top of some more rigorous reading, I’m working through Tim Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors right now. It’s more of a coffee table book, almost, and it’s nice to flip through a few pages every morning. The book is a collection of perspectives on life and career successes, and Ferriss begins with chef and writer Samin Nosrat.
Nosrat offers some compelling anecdotes about how her career has developed, and she includes this line that really got me thinking: “I’ve learned to envision the ideal end to any project before I begin it now — even the best gigs don’t last forever. Nor should they.”
I didn’t plan to end my work at Scene after five years. (I actually had something closer to two years in mind when I started.) But it’s a neatly tied ending to my story there, and, especially as 2017 went along, I definitely kept my impending exit in mind. I put a colossal amount of energy into what became my final feature for the magazine, and I secured the hundreds of contacts that I had made during my time. I even set up a few side projects that I’ll be able to pursue in 2018, which will link directly back to my alt-weekly gig. It’s over now, and it fits perfectly into my burgeoning career.
But, no, I didn’t envision such a fine ending when I started the Scene job in 2012. I didn’t have a clear Point B — a defined sense of closure that I could slide into my career when all was said and done. It’s worth thinking about, though.
Every opportunity is stepping stone in a writer’s life.
That’s a wrap, folks. Today is my final day at Scene. It’s been an absolutely thrilling five years of adventurous journalism, creative prose, inside jokes and more than a few late nights of frenzied writing against fierce deadlines. What a ride!
On our best days, most days, I felt that we had beaten them all, that we had shown this city what it truly was and what it truly could be. I’m very proud of my contribution to the history of Scene and to the story of Cleveland. I’m looking forward to seeing what my friends on staff do in the months and years ahead; I’ll be following their work closely, and you should too.
Thank you all for reading along as I’ve made my way here as a writer. I appreciate your attention and your feedback beyond words. I could fill a book with my experiences at the magazine, and maybe someday I will.
But before that, I’ll be honing my focus on a long-running passion of mine: I’ll be joining the excellent staff of Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary Magazine, reporting on the industry nationwide and the vanguard of the reform movement.
I’ll still be here in Cleveland, so stop by anytime. Coffee’s always on, and the music never stops. Selah.
Late last year, amid a torrent of news stories about alt-weeklies crumbling, NYU media professor Jay Rosen wrote this: “A good question to ask of a digital media company: What does it stand for?”
“Can’t answer? Watch your wallet.”
Rosen linked to this story about Mashable’s own descent into the fire, which leads off with a warning against “jack-of-all-trades” publishing strategies.
I’ve learned a lot in the last seven years of journalism, and one lesson that burns brightly is the importance and vitality of consistent beat reporting — of honing your focus and learning deeply. This is immersive creativity and knowledge in its simplest form in journalism, and it’s what I’ve loved most about this line of work.
Most digital media companies don’t seem to agree.
But that problem — which will bear out a reckoning for any company unwilling to state what it stands for — that problem can also afflict an individual person. It’s important to question and examine your own life, your health, your relationships, your financial security, your values.
It’s easy to consider this stuff now, as the new year dawns, but it seems like a lot of people slip quickly back into the slipshod cultural stream of consciousness. Best not to rest too easily in these strange times.
What do you stand for?
There are two pieces I’m reading this morning — really reading, in the sense that each piece is giving me pause and encouraging me to open up new tabs with more information, pushing me to stay a while and ruminate on these themes. One is about walls. The other is about ice.
The first story, published by the New York Times, is about the trends in H-1B and H-2B visa denials. It’s rooted in the plight of a Cleveland Clinic scientist who’s now “stuck in India.”
The second story is about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s damning outlook on the “New Arctic.” It was published by Grist.
Both of these stories point to alarming trends that are gripping the world suddenly and with no clear path toward reversal. The immigration policies of the U.S. are ushered in by a myopic, xenophobic presidential administration and the erosion of trust in American culture. The warming of the Arctic Circle is brought on by a spectrum of climatic forces (air pollution, overpopulation, etc.), and it grows only more grim when that very same presidential administration — the variable is taken into account.
Things are falling apart, as they do, but this new variable is taking regular statistical wobble and throwing it far out of whack. Visas get denied all the time; now they’re causing worrisome trends in how the American workforce will continue developing apace and how attitudes about the rest of the world will change in future generations. Arctic temperatures fluctuate; now, the drop is steep and horrific.
I was thinking this morning about my friend Andrew’s plan to quit social media. He’s already stepped back from it (and inspired me to delete the Facebook app from my phone), but a full-on abandonment of how social media platforms have changed our global civilization’s culture — that’s a deeper move altogether in 2018. It represents a return to older values in this digital humanoid network. I support it.
Reminds me of the one verse of Scripture that I’ve bothered to memorize, the one piece that I think sums up a very important set of principles to me: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
Put another way: “Climb a mountain. Tell no one.”
“Dante was a sectarian and a mystic but he was right to reserve one of the fieriest corners of his inferno for those who, in a time of moral crisis, try to stay neutral.”
I return to Christopher Hitchens’ ‘Letters to a Young Contrarian’ often. His was a truthful and scorching writing style, and his perspectives were vital stepping stones for my education in college and ever since. Hitchens died on this day in 2011.