Saturday, March 24, 2018

30-Something

The 30-Something blog has been an endeavor that took way longer to get off the ground than I had assumed. I figured I would ask if I could write a blog, get the okay, and start posting the next day. It literally took nearly two months from the time I sent my first email until the first post went up. The caricature of me was animated by the newspaper's graphic design guy, Kevin.

There was initially a lot of skepticism from those above me; they worried that perhaps it would devolve into a "Sex and the City" style Carrie Bradshaw gossip blog. I had a meeting where I had to explain what the blog was. I explained that the opinion section of the newspaper didn't speak to me, and that I wanted to write about serious young adult issues from the perspective of somebody who knows what they're going through. I assured them that while I may address it occasionally, it wasn't going to be just fun, lighthearted dating and relationship pieces.

A couple weeks into the endeavor, I was called into another meeting and notified that one of my posts about sexual harassment and #metoo had been taken down. They wanted to know why I wasn't writing fun, lighthearted relationship and dating pieces. So, the tone of the blog changed a little bit. I'm no longer trying to change the world; I'm just trying to have some fun.

With that, here's what I've posted so far:

The introduction: What is 30-Something? ... A piece that explains how I got into writing and journalism, and what the point of the blog will be. The picture included is of me the day before my interview with the Charleston Gazette-Mail. I tried on that shirt and tie, then sent a picture to a couple friends asking if it looked good.

Reprehensible actions: LGBTQ grant causes donors to rescind funding ... Back when this was still the editorial voice for young people, this was a cause that I wanted to champion. A group that helped teenagers received a grant to help LGBTQ kids, and a bunch of people in the area decided they didn't want to give them anymore money. 

A helpful list of handy Tinder hints ... Tips for online dating. It's basically just me saying be respectful and don't be a creep.

Alone on Christmas: Or, how I learned to get over the hurt ... This was the first post after I was told to change gears. I figured I would instead just tell stories and have a lesson at the end. A girl broke my heart around Christmas in 2016 and I talk about how I got over it. I thought it was just a little sad, but people have told me this is like super, heartbreaking sad.

They're huge: Donald Trump's tips for success ... This was actually a combination of two pieces. I had started writing something about politics for the opinion section of the newspaper, but I didn't know how to finish it; I had that opening part where I compare where I was for the two inaugurations and some of the parts about Trump. Then one day I just randomly thought about a list of lessons we can learn from Trump, like being assertive and not worrying about what people think. So I decided to combine the two.

A list of pros and cons: Is the 'American Dream' worth it? ... Again, two pieces combined together. I had this idea for something about how I didn't want to get married or have kids, which involved a story about telling my mom that my first girlfriend had gotten pregnant. But, there wasn't much to it; it needed something more. Then I came up with the list of reasons to have kids and get married, and then the flip side. So I stuck that in the middle of the story and it all works, I think.

Motivational thoughts: Using anger to fuel your dreams ... This one got pretty popular on Facebook with my friends who used to wait tables. This is basically the story of me getting fed up with working in an industry I hated and doing whatever it took to change my life. And the lesson being that if I did it, then you can too.

A social media question: To ghost or not to ghost? ... I delve into the recent phenomenon of ghosting, where you block people on social media without warning and remove them from your life. I look into whether or not you are justified in your actions, and I discuss a time when I was ghosted, and a time when I did the ghosting. I also created a crude, yet effective flowchart in Paint that answers the question of whether or not you should ghost someone.

And that's where we're at so far. I'm not changing the world, as I've mentioned. But people are having fun reading it and I really like writing it. I guess that's good enough for me.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tales from college: Covering MLK Day and how it changed me as a student journalist

We came back to the first newspaper meeting of the 2005 spring semester with a renewed sense of energy. Members of the previous semester's leadership, Edtior-in-Chief Aleysha Asgar and Business Manager Ernie Horn, had both graduated in December, and now Mandy Sole was the Editor-in-Chief. That was all I knew walking into the meeting. I recognized most of the people in the room, but there were a few new staff writers. Mandy introduced the editors, then finally added, “And our News Editor, Chris Slater.” That was a shock to me. I guess she could tell by the look on my face. “Oh yeah, I meant to tell you that earlier.”

After the meeting, she was talking to Jesse Call and myself. He and I were obviously the two best staff writers, and if anybody was going to take over News Editor after she became Editor-in-Chief, it was going to be one of us. And it wound up being me. Mandy’s explanation didn’t sit well with me. It just came off as she was implying that Jesse was a stronger writer than I was, and she needed him to write more and me to edit.

News Editor came with it more responsibilities. I now had a key to the office, and was free to be inside the room at any time. Mandy told me I would be writing less articles, which I wasn’t a fan of. Instead, I would be designing and laying out the pages on the big Mac computer in the office. I had done page design work in high school, starting with some graphic design stuff in ninth grade, advertisements in tenth grade, then actual page design in eleventh and twelfth. We used the same system and Mandy had me play around with it, and it all came flooding back. I was also given the password to the key code system outside of the Fine Arts Building, so that I could get inside after the doors were locked. I am 95 percent sure it’s still the password used today, or I would mention it. Don’t want any creeps getting inside the building. I last used it in 2015, when I stayed over at a house down the street from Concord and needed to use the bathroom that next morning.

Mandy had already laid out issue one for that semester, so I was set to work on issue two the following week. The way the paper worked, with it being printed Wednesday, was that most of the design work happened Monday evening and night, then the finishing touches were done Tuesday morning. The whole newspaper was compressed into a zip file, then put onto a CD and delivered to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, the next city over, where they printed it for us. This was still fairly archaic, before technology allowed the emailing and/or cloud sharing of files that large. That was eventually the case a couple years after I left the staff, but until then it was always just driving a CD to Bluefield.

Being News Editor

My job was to design the news section, which was always the front page and page two, and occasionally page three. If we had a six-page edition, then I only had two pages; if we did eight pages, then I had three. The first issue I designed, the front page, lead article was about the push for Concord University to get a BB&T ATM machine in the Student Center, written by Steven Davis. At the time, there was only one for First Community Bank. Those two banks were both down the street, but only one ATM was at Concord. And, we did eventually get that ATM. I had a BB&T account, so I was happy.

That first Monday night, the latest season two episode of the hottest show on television was on, “Nip/Tuck,” the FX plastic surgeon drama. My roommate Alex and I loved it, and watched every week. This was actually the week before Mandy had given me the passcode to get into the building after hours, so I came up with a solution to work and be able to watch the show. I worked on designing the pages until 9:55, then I went out a little-used side door and wedged it open with a rock. From a distance, it looked closed and I knew nobody was going to be looking. I went and watched the sexploits of Christian and Eric, then back to the office. I was in there until probably about 2 a.m. working on those pages. I felt pretty good about what I had done, and came back Tuesday morning after class to check up on things. We had a visitor in the office, as Aleysha was in there saying hi. I caught up with her, and then asked Mandy about my pages. The only issue she had with anything was that I didn’t continue any of the front page articles onto page two. “Other than that, you’re doing a good job, and I was impressed.” Hey, works for me.

One thing I noticed after getting my keys and starting to stay in the office late at night was that I would freak myself out walking back to the dorm. It’s a very outdoors-y area, with a lot of trees and forest off in the distance. It’s not uncommon to see deer and rabbits wandering around campus on a quiet day – and once I saw a deer walking down the sidewalk on Vermillion Street, right off campus. Late at night, I would walk the several hundred feet from the newspaper office to my dorm, and I would hold my keys between my fingers, which I had read was an effective defense mechanism if you’re attacked. And, looking back, I realize now that I was working myself up and panicking during that walk over nothing.

One thing that really sticks out about those early days is how well run and professional the newspaper was. Yeah, there were some people who didn’t care much and didn’t try hard, but for the most part those people were weeded out and left. There really was a core group of awesome student journalists on that staff who cared about getting the news out to the students and faculty. 

Apathy and Ignorance 

When I became News Editor, the first notable event that I was going to cover was Concord’s annual event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was 18 years old and thought this was some sort of crazy huge deal. I’ve later learned that literally every single school does pretty much the same thing every late January or February for MLK and/or Black History Month.

There was going to be a forum and the guest of honor was this author who had written a couple books. He had been featured multiple times on PBS interview shows, and had one time appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. I was in awe. There was a huge guy coming to Concord. This was going to be big.

I asked Kelly if she wanted to come with me. She didn’t. My 13-year-old cousin Jackie called me right before I was going to attend. She always bugged me when we talked on the phone back then. A lot of the time I ignored her calls; this was before texting was popular and I probably could have tolerated her texting me. She just wouldn’t stop going on about nothing in particular. I wanted to get off the phone and couldn’t find the right opportunity, so I simply hung up. She called right back a minute later and I didn’t answer. The voicemail was from my aunt, Jackie’s mother, and she was super pissed off and yelling at me for some reason. I wondered if that was going to turn into something, but it was never mentioned again by anybody.

I went to the Fine Arts Building, where the event was going to be held. This was going to be a huge, standing room only event in my mind, so I went in the rear entrance to get backstage. I walked in expecting hustle and bustle, maybe a frazzled woman walking around with a clipboard yelling instructions. Instead, I looked there and saw nothing. Nobody was backstage. Nothing was happening. I went over to the curtain and peeked out. There was barely anybody sitting in the auditorium, and I looked over and saw the famous author chilling in the front row, with a couple Concord administrators sitting there with him.

So, I went back out and took a seat around the middle edge of the auditorium, over by myself.

I was so confused about what was going on. Why was nobody here? This was supposed to be a big deal. While the host was introducing the guest speaker and explaining why all of this was happening, I looked around and counted roughly 75 people in attendance.

I had participated in a MLK scholarship essay contest at the end of the previous semester. We went into the computer lab and they gave us like five different scenarios to write about. I received a participation certificate at the event. I had no idea they were going to present me – and everybody else – with one. I was one of the few people who showed up to get theirs. I put my certificate on the top of my desk in my dorm, which was built into the wall. It wound up sliding between a crack and being lost forever. So, my 2004 MLK participation certificate might still be wedged between a desk and wall in room 216 of Wooddell Hall.

As the fancy author was speaking to an empty room about what MLK would think about today’s world had he not been assassinated, I continued to study the room and wonder why nobody bothered to show up to this free event. The conclusion I came to became one of the defining catchphrases and buzz words that I repeated over the years: apathy and ignorance. Students didn’t know about things or they didn’t care. Over time, I realized that it was my mission as a student journalist to fix that. I needed to inform the audience – to fix the ignorance, and then I also needed to give them a reason to care about things – to rid them of their apathy. 

How it shaped me 

I enjoyed being the News Editor. I liked the added responsibility. Mandy needed to go out of town one weekend, and was gone that Friday and all weekend. I was in charge of the newspaper. In reality, all I did was handle one “What do I do?” call from Jesse. But, still, I was happy to do it. The one thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t get to write regularly. That never wound up being an issue in the future, but that semester, we had a big enough and talented enough staff that I was able to concentrate on my editing duties and didn’t need to write a lot of articles. We had a Japanese kid on the staff. His English wasn’t the greatest and I worked pretty extensively with him to improve his articles. A couple times, I basically rewrote them for him. But, such is the job of an editor sometimes.

Mandy was a typical worrier. She and Jesse once had the conversation about who they wanted to offend least: Jesse chose students; Mandy, administrators. I looked at them dumbfounded. If the facts are right and it’s written correctly, it shouldn’t matter who you upset.

That semester, we had a scandal come out: one of the professors had lied about finishing his dissertation. He had acquired tenure and all the good stuff that comes with it, but he technically wasn’t a doctor. Mandy wrote the article and felt horrible about it the entire time. We never addressed it again. That would have been good fodder for a piece on the opinion section: they’re trying to teach us to be honest, respectable people, and this professor is lying to everybody and cheating the system.

At the end of the semester, the final paper is a deluxe edition that features a special “Year In Review” tab. It’s basically just a collection of articles from the school year. I designed the news section’s review. I felt the top article was the professor scandal. I put that at the top of the page. I finished it and Mandy came in right before deadline. She looked it over. She was shocked. “You can’t put him in there!” Why not, it was news? “People don’t want to look back and remember that!” She got on the computer and took it off. What she should have done is make the whole thing over, because I had an unofficial ranking system; the bigger stories of the year were at the top. Instead, she grabbed a random story by Jared Tice and put it in there. She also forgot to change the byline, so she got credit for his article.

I was never a fan of doing stuff like that. Why would we hide something just because it was bad news? I used that as a lesson to never become that kind of journalist. I wanted to tell the truth and inform everybody.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Future


The old reliable blog hasn't gotten enough attention from me lately. It hasn't been a priority for me like it used to be, especially back in college. It looks like I'm going to be winding down the blog here and moving on to other pursuits. I write in a few other different spaces now and I feel bad that I can't give the blog the proper attention it deserves. I've got some ideas for some final posts, and we'll work on those in the coming month or so.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: Lee Majors


This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" is from his recent Netflix comedy special. He talks about the irony of watching an episode of the "Six Million Dollar Man" and then immediately seeing a commercial staring Lee Majors for a hearing aid called the "Bionic Ear." Norm then imagines the conversation between Majors and his agent for a spot in the commercial. Hilariously sad is the best way to describe it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Updates: Writing and weather



It's cold. I'm not a fan of the cold. But, such is life. It's part of the seasons. I guess it's time to break out my heavy coat and gloves soon.

I've been reading books a little more than normal lately. Like my drinking, I will often binge read. Over the last couple weeks, I've read three books and am starting my fourth. Then I'll probably go a month or two without reading any books. I guess that's healthier than binge drinking. Not sure if it's as fun, though.

I have some fun writing announcements to make soon. Professionally, I've been working on something with the newspaper. We're still hammering out all of the kinks, but for now, all I'll say is keep your eyes peeled on the blog section of the newspaper's website. A more formal announcement is coming shortly.

Personally, I've been spending my free time working on a writing project that involves my college days. I'm not rushing that and am taking my time. You'll hear more about that in 2018.

I've had four pieces published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail since I started in March. Here's where we learn our valuable lesson about rejection: four pieces published and I was told no on probably five others. But, it all comes back around; that other project may be a home to some of my rejected pieces.

Here are the four I've had printed:

Opioids a more immediate problem than tobacco ... sort of a rebuttal to a retired doctor who wrote a piece about how we shouldn't lose focus on the dangers of smoking. 

Short-sighted efforts to bring back coal are not the answer ... shortly after President Trump pulled America out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I got angry and typed out some words.

Let's keep the Bible out of our classrooms ... my take on the controversial "Bible in the Classrooms" program that Mercer County has taught in schools for decades

Deplorable senators doing what they do best ... taking a look at the Republican efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act, with a special focus on West Virginia's own horrible senator, Shelley Moore Capito

And, I'll start having some more links to showcase to the world on a fairly regular basis. More on that later.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rainy Sunday



A nice, rainy Sunday. It's been "autumn" for a while, but it's still felt like summer every single day. To quote Marge Simpson, "After spring and winter, fall is my favorite season."

Favorite episodes of the simpsons: the one where Rodney Dangerfield is Mr. Burns' long-lost son. The one where Homer has to go back to college. The one where Homer finds a cure for his baldness and his life magically improves. And, pretty much all the other ones. That sounds like an idea for a list one day.

I have some new opportunities coming up at work. I think if everything goes according to plan, this could be something cool for me to do. I know I still have at least one piece waiting around to be published in the op-ed section of the paper; the piece about the Bible class in Mercer County.

I'm working on a couple other side projects. Those are taking time. But, it's time well spent. More on that later.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Tom Petty

The joke among all of our friends was that every band that played at Danny's Bar in Princeton always did a cover of "Mary Jane's Last Dance." It's like the go-to song for any band starting out that needs to learn a few covers to fill time at concerts.

When I was on the college newspaper staff, I had a staff member who was a big music buff, and he had a Tom Petty greatest hits album. I borrowed it to burn onto my computer. He later asked if I still had it. I told him I did not. He wondered who did, then quoted an obscure Simpsons joke that made me chuckle: "Talk about 'petty' theft!" About a year later, I realized I actually did still have the album. Oops.

I had a friend who was feeling sad and wanted to listen to sad music. She was big into emo and was telling me that it was too depressing for her. I suggested some "upbeat sad music," as if that's a genre. I asked if she knew who Tom Petty was. She wasn't familiar with his work. I told her to look up "You Don't Know How It Feels." And that's how she became a fan.

Here, quickly, I'll throw out a rough "Top 10" favorite songs of his.

"Into The Great Wide Open" ... A tale of a couple moving to Hollywood and becoming huge music stars, only to turn bitter at the success they encounter.

"Mary Jane's Last Dance" ... There's a reason why every cover band plays this one. It's a great song that everybody knows the words to and enjoys.

"You Wreck Me" ... Something about the line "I'll be the boy in the corduroy pants, you be the girl at the high school dance" has always resonated with me. There's a nervousness and anxiousness in this track.

"Free Falling" ... Such a nice song about being an asshole to a sweet, innocent girl. "I'm a bad boy, cause I don't even miss her. I'm a bad boy, for breaking her heart."

"Walls (03)" ... There are a couple different versions of this song; one is more upbeat and slower, for a movie soundtrack. This version isn't necessarily "harder" or "louder," but it's a little less pop-sounding.

"Learning To Fly" ... Another song about life and the hardships contained within. Sometimes you have to do things before you're ready -- "learning to fly, but I ain't got wings."

"Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" ... Technically, a Stevie Nicks song featuring Tom Petty, but it's great. It's a tale of two lovers singing back and forth to each other, about how they need to figure out what they're doing.

"American Girl" ... A story of optimism; a girl going off in search of what she believes is her American dream.

"Even The Losers" ... Another tale of optimism, as even the losers get lucky sometimes.

"The Last DJ" ... One of the later tracks Petty released, this one is an angry take on the state of the radio industry in the early 2000's.

We'll close with his 2004 tribute to George Harrison. Prince stole the show, but everybody rocked out hard.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: 'Hey there, Mr. Candyman'


This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" is from his latest podcast episode, an interview with everybody's favorite Tool Man, Tim Allen. 

Allen had been in the news lately for his conservative viewpoints and making comments about how odd he felt in Hollywood as a result. In this podcast, those specific comments don't come up per se, but there is a little talk of religion and politics.

But, then Allen eases into "joke mode" and it's a hilarious episode.

In this clip, the group had been discussing outdated, old-timey phrases and it was all a set up for Norm to bring up a phrase which he wonders could have been a prior nickname for Allen.

If any of what is discussed is new to you, yes, Tim Allen spent a couple years in prison in the '70s for selling cocaine. And, Norm finds a way to hilariously and awkwardly bring that up during the interview.