To Live With Great Intensity (40 of 90)

I’ve never been much help to my students when they’ve asked me for advice on becoming a writer.

It’s not because I don’t want to be helpful. I remember their angst and confusion and loneliness, trying to contemplate a life where I get paid to simply put words on a page. It seemed, to steal from Richard Dawkins, like climbing Mount Improbable.

There’s nothing I would like more than to tell them the path they need to follow to become writers. Instead I find myself sending them to the major “media job” websites, helping them research interesting companies and editing their cover letters.

This feels wholly inadequate to me.

***

This post started out as a treatise on dating before it took a turn into something bigger. But it’s important to look at the roots to understand the larger point. I think.

I was talking with my friend last night, lamenting (actually joking) about single life. Here’s my thesis conclusion, which I hope isn’t simply retconned into some truth that I’ve learned to live with: I’d rather be lonely and single the rest of my life than not lonely and somebody’s fall-back position or second choice.

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Techno-Files, or Anatomy of a Link-Bait Vanity Fair Story

Nearly three weeks after the Vanity Fair thrashing Cincinnati and Appalachia hit the Web, my hometown media finally caught the Fever. The last 24 hours has been an interesting mix of blogo-rage, media coverage and Twitter conversation.

As a journalist, a professor and an author, I’m intrigued by how stories develop. This one in particular.

My casual tracking points to the idea that this was started because two former members of the media were annoyed. While my response passed through the Gawker/digerati circles, it was Kate, who I believe has connections to the traditional media in Cincinnati, who was picked up by the local NBC affiliate WLWT.

Her post – along with mine – were classified as “a groundswell,” which has all kinds of problems. Although it may be that I’ve simply missed a series of blogs posts on this. I can only go by what was reported.

Regardless, there’s an even more disturbing problem: The length of time between the publication of Vanity Fair’s article and the response in Cincinnati by the local media.

I’m not sure what this says. That the coasts are so disconnected from the Midwest that the media and blogosphere’s pay little attention to each other? That Appalachians have simply grown accustomed to such intellectually lazy work about them?

It’s probably more complex than I can suss out.

While it suggests a common problem with the traditional media, that’s a criticism for another time. For now, here’s the story timeline:

Jan 25, 2010: The original Vanity Fair article, “Roll Over, Charles Darwin

Jan 25, 2010: My Twitter rage

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A Funny Little Ditty From Wired

In 2002, I left Wired News. Whether I was laid off or voluntarily left is still a bit confusing to me. I was told that I wasn’t “on the list” by the higher-ups, but some folks on the facilities staff let me know that my computer access was being removed.

Regardless, I had purchased a house in Austin and planned to leave San Francisco so I told the management that they should make sure my name was on the list.

Working at Wired News was the best time of my writing life. Leaving was hard, but necessary. Still, my legacy – for a short time – lived on within the halls. I know this because soon after I left, the “Anthrax Warning” posters were altered and these pictures arrived in my email.

On the surface, it looks just like a regular poster.

Brad at Wired1

A closer inspection of the Return Address though…

Brad at Wired3

And the handy pink Post-It Note to boot, which reads “Loud Ticking Sounds From Inside. Tick Tick.”

A Treatise on David Foster Wallace (12 of 90)

I am staring at David Foster Wallace tonight, surrounded by my newly filed writing projects for this semester.

I am staring at him because tomorrow I will be once again teaching his writing in my magazine class, wondering if the students really feel the warmth of his words as they spill across the page. Manic. Frenzied. Beautifully constructed in the way that a mind that can’t stop or can’t compress or can’t simply associate or can’t breathe is constructs beautiful-ness on the page.

I wonder if tomorrow they will understand that writing isn’t something that you do but something that you are. The words are not simply tools to convey some Universal Truth that you have that we are awaiting to hear, for the betterment of all Mankind. Thank goodness you finally arrived to tell us this one thing that we did not know before your accidental cosmic existence occurred because your parents, or the parents of the person sitting next to you, forgot to UnPlan you.

I wonder if tomorrow they will begin their journey into the un-forgiven world of metaphorical discussions, the un-relatedness of ideas that are crashed together and the simply solitude of the trying to both understand the fabrics of the cosmos without forgetting the minutia that makes us human.

I am staring at David Foster Wallace tonight, wondering if my students will find greatness in their words or simply paychecks.

***

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Words on the Page (11 of 90)

My life changed forever on May 11, 2008.

It wasn’t the first time my life had changed. It certainly wasn’t the last. And while it turned out to be for the better, the immediate change didn’t feel particularly good.

As I used to hear someone say: You think when you quit drinking that you’re life is supposed to get better; my life got worse. Fast.

It doesn’t seem like a very good incentive for change, but when you dig into the idea behind that statement it becomes the most powerful piece of advice I’ve received in my sobriety. Because life isn’t easy. It’s a series of steps, small paces that move us through space-time, methodically and slowly.

The journeys we take, the important ones, require commitment  and perseverance. The simple act of quitting something bad, while good in the long run, oftentimes comes with a whole series of immediate consequences that are bad.

It’s good to remind myself of this from time to time.

***

On Monday, weather permitting, I’m going to the Staples (or Office Depot, I can’t rightly remember which one is next to my house). I’ll purchase a wall calendar to hang in my living room (next to one of my desks), a small carrying notebook, and a whiteboard.

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Mentor (7 of 90)

I’d planned on writing this post on the plane last night, but the best laid plans and all those things.

The travel delays and obstacles, though, brought new opportunities my way. I had the chance to sit next to a young woman from Charlotte on the flight from Memphis to San Francisco. We chatted about our lives, our work, our families. The kinds of small talk strangers sometimes make when they feel safe. Or alone. Or tired.

“You give great story,” the woman said. “Everything sounds so fascinating.”

And both of those statements – if I can say this without sounding more egomaniacal than I normally do – are absolutely true. I’m a pretty good storytelling. And everything does sound fascinating.

But the two are not always related.

***

Thirteen years ago, I visited San Francisco for the first time. Although if I’m being honest, that’s not exactly true. I visited Berkeley.

I’d sent off my graduate school application, written in a flurry of alcohol and drug-induced spasm the day it was due. I was in the throws of what would become a pattern of self-destruction, but at the time it just seemed like a regular week. A regular day. A regular hour.

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90 in 90

1.

I preach to my kids: write every day.

I should stop there and clarify that sentence. Because I don’t exactly have kids. I am a professor. I have students. But they are mine. At least for 17 weeks each semester. My job is to help them find the tools they need to go live out their dreams, at least as best that I can.

Teaching isn’t a job. It’s a calling. It’s one that, like so many jobs, doesn’t have hours or boundaries. My kids are my kids. They will always be my kids. Thirty years from now, if I’m still kicking around on the planet, I’ll worry about them. I’ll wonder if I helped them find that one critical piece that made it all come together.

But this isn’t that kind of writing. I’ve discussed teaching before. This is about writing. And what I haven’t been doing.

2.

Many years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine at a restaurant we worked. We were discussing “who” we were. The kinds of small talk strangers make as they decide whether they will be something more than casual acquaintances. Feeling each other out.

Not in any particularly interesting way. Just regular.

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Standing in the Shower…Thinking

Sometimes I float.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what brings upon these moods in my life anymore than I could tell you when I’m anchored down. Surely there are ideas, tiny thoughts that bounce around in my brain. Dissecting. Always dissecting. The eternal search for that One Thing that will make it all clear.

That will bring the Dark Magic into focus.

Like the matter of the universe, though, the ideas and tiny thoughts slip away. But always after they toy with me, hovering for those precious few milliseconds when they seem so clear. As if I could reach out and grab them, hold them, make sense of them. When I try to touch them, they vanish. Dissipating. Always dissipating.

I write this as I stare out my window at the snow-covered ground, the lights off in my townhome, the candles flickering. It is calm outside in a way that my social network is not. It is quiet in real life, noisy in cyberspace. They both sound the same. To normal ears.

But they all interrupt and inspire the Magic, a tornado swirl within my head releasing its energy whenever it pleases.

The Dark Magic.

***

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“I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again”

Prologue.

Curveball.

The last time I held a baseball bat, with any seriousness, was May 1990. I remember because of what I didn’t do. I remember because years of my life came to focus in that one at bat, that one moment where I expected to succeed in ways that I had succeed before.

I remember the last swing I took. The slow spin on the ball as it came out of the pitchers hand. The slight movement of the outfielders as they came set. The knee-bend of my teammate sliding off second base. The quick lock of my back knee, just before my hips swiveled, and the milli-second of recognition…panic…that I was going to miss the ball because of it.

My bat dragged through the strike zone, slowed by that near imperceptible flaw in my swing. My shoulder dropped, pushing the bat into a downward elliptical. Before I could stop, the ball floated harmless into left field. Settling into the outfielder’s glove.

For everyone else at the park that day, it was simply a routine out. For me, as I left the tying runner on in the sixth inning of our playoff game, I knew that it was over. My life in baseball was over.

1.

I spent the first year of college in a daze. Alone and unknown. Struggling to figure out who I was going to be. Who I wanted to be. Who I had the potential to become.

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“Kick Out the Jams”

1.

The first movie I obsessed over, in the kind of way that can only be felt by the young, was Pump Up the Volume.

It was the summer after my freshman year at Miami University. I was sober for the first time. I was home in my parents condominium, a place they bought not to secretly because they wanted my sister and I to know that there was really no room at the Inn.

It was miserable.

Not because of my parents. I love them dearly. And they allowed me to wallow and struggle through great bouts of depression and horror without saying much. Today I know how hard that must have been on them. Back then I simply felt alone.

That’s when I found Happy Harry Hard On and Nora, the main characters from the film.

brad_skulls

I spent my mornings sleeping, my afternoons obsessively watching the movie and my nights dancing until the sun came up at The Warehouse, a club in Over-the-Rhine, before returning home to wash, rinse and repeat. Day after day. Week after week. Throughout the summer.

The film, which doesn’t stand the test of time, was the first time I realized that I had a voice. The soundtrack spoke to me. The characters were living my life. And Nora – played by Samantha Mathis – became the woman that all others were measured against.

I started carrying around a notebook during that summer. Always a notebook and a pen. Scribbling. Writing. I would sit in the darkened corners of The Warehouse writing ideas, thoughts, nuggets.

And I knew what I wanted to be.

***

2.

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“And if the night runs over/And if the day won’t last/And if your way should falter/Along this stony pass”

1.

The average lifespan of a white American male is 78 years old. I am 37 right now, which means I’m screaming towards middle-age. The halfway point.

You know, if I’m lucky.

It’s been a rocky road, though, so I don’t expect that I’ll get to live out that average. Not because I’m a fatalist. Quite the opposite, in fact. I suspect my last words will be something along the lines of “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” or “Really?” I don’t expect the end to come.

But I also recognize that it will. Probably soon rather than later. I’ve run my body at high speeds since the time I can remember. When I was in the sixth grade, I was the sixth man on our basketball team. My coach, Bucky, never put me in the game until the second quarter (unless things were going wrong early).

I was a caged tiger on the bench. My whole body would shake. Tremors. I couldn’t sit down. I would wave towels. Scream. Holler. Yell at the crowd. The refs. Anyone. (I received ten technical fouls as a sixth grader.)

When I finally got into the game, I was a hurricane. I was everywhere. Semi-controlled chaos. A flash of brilliance and a pop of mediocrity. All at 100 miles per hour.

After one game, a parent walked up to me and said: “I’ll tell you this Brad. When you go in the game, something always happens. It’s not always good. But something always happens.”

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This Cabin Thing

General Butler State Park.

This is my writing refuge. The place I go where there is no other place for me to go. The chaotic swirls of my life don’t find their way here. I am not sure why. I do not question these places.

And yet I don’t always trust the quiet solitude. I fear the aloneness. Before I get here, anyway. Because so much of what can go wrong in my life I try to tie to the people around me. I look at the people who have been shed throughout the last 18 months of my life, at least the ones who brought so much negativity into my existence, and I know that our lives are better alone.

And yet.

There is a still a fear that comes with my solitude. The fear that I am the issue. The fear that those people shed were only part of a much larger, more sinister story. One where they feed into The Dragon. Food for my own self destructive tendencies.

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