The 15-Year Payoff

All told, I spent a little more than eight months at Digital First Media’s Thunderdome. It was unequivocally the best out-of-college decision I could’ve made because it landed me in New York City, introduced me to the future of digital content strategy and allowed me to cover whatever I wanted, including the Super Bowl.

I look back on it as the most generous, exciting graduate school I could’ve chosen, and because I got paid, it was also the cheapest.

Screenshot 2014-07-24 16.23.02Earlier this month, I agreed in principle to a one-year contract position with ESPN’s digital media associates program. As a DMA, I’ll rotate between the company’s juggernaut departments to learn and lend a hand. I’ll clock in every day on the sprawling Bristol campus, working my ass off while the weather cools, freezes, thaws and warms again, until the thermometer’s back to flirting with triple digits like it is today. And I’m so lucky.

This spring, I gave a pair of lectures to college students on how they could best equip themselves for the industry they felt was their calling. I worked hard on those lectures, and feeling secure with the full-time job I didn’t know was about to evaporate, I felt like I knew what I was talking about.

It’s clearer to me now that few people really know what they’re talking about in this industry. And I don’t just mean in terms of revenue-stream generation or content management systems. My three months between jobs showed me how terrified most hiring managers are to commit to anything, least of all a 23-year-old.

The journalism world I saw as I went to interview after interview — always remembering to straighten my tie and smile before recapping my experience running liveblogs or curating content — is a quivering, second-guessing mass of good intentions, fearful of change and even more afraid to stay the same.

Are you listening, students?

During my job hunt, I turned down two deeply flawed offers from industry steamrollers I would’ve murdered to work for a year before. I also had another far more glittery position pulled off the table at the 11th hour because of budgetary and bureaucratic reasons I still don’t really understand.

And that’s why I’m lucky. ESPN is why I got into this business, and I’m lucky to start working there on Monday. I’m fulfilling a dream I once scribbled on a piece of paper in 9th grade, then hid in my bookcase because I was embarrassed by its ambition. I’m literally living my dream.

Calm waters are better appreciated after surviving the storm.

The weight on my feet

photo 2My dog is smart. He’s a flat-coated retriever. I knew he’d be clever. What I didn’t realize was how clever, how full of canine ingenuity his furry two-year-old body is.

Chief came from a farm family in Oregon that claimed to find him wandering across their land as a lost puppy. So right off the bat, he’s got the same origin story as Wolverine.

The family gave the new-found pup up because their husky felt threatened and physically intimidated him. That’s how he came to live in the chaos of The Shire.

With five dudes coming and going, not to mention the constant parties, Chief never had a chance to get comfortable or grow out of his life-long timidity. When Grant had knee surgery, I adopted Chief and drove him out to Montana with me while I looked for a job.

He rode shotgun in my Camry that whole summer, and the first time I realized he was always listening, always learning, was when he learned that the difference between “go for a ride” and “go for a walk” was him helping me look for his leash.

My living situation in Brooklyn isn’t as generous to him as it was in Montana. He doesn’t have a backyard anymore, and he rarely gets a car ride. (That’s going to change this autumn.)

His intelligence manifests itself when he’s desperate. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that as the first stable thing in his life, I’m never going to get total privacy if we’re in the same building — I’m typing this with his chin on my feet, one of his favorite positions.

When I’m in my room with the door closed, he’ll get on two legs and paw open the door like a damn velociraptor. It’s insane. When I’m out of the house for a couple of hours, and his anxiety kicks in, he’ll paw open the drawer under the sink and drag out the garbage can to keep busy.

His dexterity amazes me, and it’s taught me that even when I don’t think he’s paying attention, he is. He’s finally thriving and learning how to live in the kind of comfort he never should’ve had to live without.

Happy anniversary, big guy. Thanks for being my wingman for the last 12 months.

Music for mauling

Morningside Park separates the Ivy League academia of Columbia University from grimy Harlem. It used to be a scary place when the sun went down. Even cops were famously afraid to venture into the thickly forested strip of green that runs from 125th St. to 110th in north Manhattan.

That legendary danger is mostly history. When Taylor and I visited the park yesterday, the only discernible threat was a flock of pigeons warring over breadcrumbs.

faunbearWe were on a hunt for Bear and Faun, a 100-year-old sculpture with a built in water fountain that looms at the base of one of the park’s wide, stately stairways. It was dedicated to Alfred Seligman, the man who commissioned it. Seligman was the vice-president of the National Highways Protective Society before he was ironically killed in one of the nation’s first documented car crashes.

The statue is meant to be whimsical. Maybe the curious bear is poking his head in after hearing the little faun’s panpipes.

But maybe because of the park’s darker history, it looks a little more sinister.

“Good afternoon, may I devour you?”

New look

It’s been a busy month, and we’re not even halfway through it. In the next couple of days, I should have some pretty exciting news to share, but in the meantime, check out the website.

Andrew hooked it up. I’m actually hosted on his server now, out from under the oppressive regime of WordPress. That means my website is faster, prettier and more customizable.

It also means we now have a cool new home for MyLeaf, the little project we’ve been working on for the last couple of months. You’ll see it up in the right corner, or you can check it out here.

The Captain calls

Even though I didn’t see a pro sports event until I was about 16, I’ve since been lucky enough to see some of the best athletes in the world perform at the highest level.

I’ve seen Roger Federer effortlessly shred Jürgen Melzer on the immaculate grass at Wimbledon. (Then I saw him goof around with Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova at Matthew Knight Arena, but that’s a different story.)

I’ve seen Kobe Bryant drop 47 on the road against the Trail Blazers, a heroic performance that pushed the Lakers into the playoffs and wore him down so much he shredded his Achilles the very next game.image

I’ve seen Peyton Manning surgically dismantle his brother’s team en route to rewriting the history books with the best single-season performance by a quarterback in NFL history. Then I saw him return to the same stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII, easily the highlight of my career, but definitely not Manning’s.

I’ve seen LeBron James, Adrian Peterson, Bryce Harper, Henrik Lundqvist, Richard Sherman, Albert Pujols and, yes, Tony Romo.

Tonight, I’m going to the Bronx with Taylor, and I get to officially add Derek Jeter to that list. In his last season in the majors. At home. Against the Red Sox.

I’m not even really a Yankees guy, but what a damn privilege as a sports fan.

RE2PECT.

6.12.14

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.”

In death, Anne Brontë has been overshadowed by sisters Charlotte and Emily, but those words right there are more devastating to me than anything in Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.

200px-AnneBronteThey originally appeared in “The Narrow Way,” an 1848 poem published under Anne’s pseudonym Acton Bell. (All three sisters had a fake Bell nom de plume.)

The title refers to Matthew 7:14 — “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” — and the poem kind of reads as a flowery, fangless version of Sam Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 speech from Pulp Fiction (which, for the record, isn’t real).

Most of the talk about laboring for God’s love and resisting all-encompassing temptation is just your standard, mid-19th century blah-blah. But the conciseness in those two lines…

I think it’s just about the best, shortest and truest thing I’ve ever read about fearlessness, sacrifice and ambition.

Plus, as a bonus, it also applies wholesale to beautiful women and college football.

Write and write truly: Five pieces of advice Hemingway gave Fitzgerald eighty years ago yesterday

Eighty years ago yesterday, Ernest Hemingway sat down in his boxy home in Key West, Florida, and wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald a letter so characteristically gruff that it still resonates with uncommon clarity, truth and honest advice.

Image

The relationship between the two was famously complex. In Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast, Fitzgerald is depicted as a hypochondriac and a poor drinker, a man who couldn’t handle alcohol or his wife. To Hemingway, those were sins of the highest order, but he was also friends with Fitzgerald and saw glimpses of his vast talent and potential. He thought The Great Gatsby, for instance, was remarkable but bittersweet because its author couldn’t get his life sorted out enough to consistently achieve that same level of greatness.

So in May 1934, when the anxious Fitzgerald wanted his friend his opinion on his new novel, Tender is the NightHemingway let him know class was in session from the first sentence of his reply — “I liked it and I didn’t.”

The full letter can be seen at the brilliant Letters of Note, but here are the five truest pieces of advice in Hemingway’s letter. They apply to writers, yes, but also to those who strive to live better and richer lives.

On the limits of character invention:

If you take real people and write about them you cannot give them other parents than they have (they are made by their parents and what happens to them) you cannot make them do anything they would not do. … You can’t make one be another. Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen. 

On what kills writers: 

… A long time ago you stopped listening except to the answers to your own questions. … That’s what dries a writer up (we all dry up. That’s no insult to you in person): not listening. That is where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening. 

On navel-gazing:

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you. 

On love and alcohol:

… You’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you.

…I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you’re a rummy. But you’re no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are. But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous. You know I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time. You can write twice as well now as you ever could. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is. 

On public opinion and ratios:

For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit.

Two years later, at the same desk in Florida, Hemingway wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro. 

Tender is the Night took Fitzgerald nine years to write and was met with mixed reviews. It was the last novel he published before his death.

Here today, where tomorrow?

photo-1

I’ve lived in New York City for eight months and two days, and its grimy beauty has permanently claimed a part of my soul.

I spent so much of my childhood anxious to escape Montana for New York — and there’s no other word for the pervasive urgency I felt than escape — and recently, as I’ve considered leaving the city for other career options, it has occurred to me that maybe the reason I’m so reluctant to leave New York is because I’ve invested so much effort and emotion into getting out here in the first place.

The fallacy, though, is that wanting to be in New York City when I was 13 shouldn’t be the reason I don’t want to leave New York City 10 years later.

I’ve never expended so much of thought on a life-changing decision. After high school, I knew I wanted to go to UO as soon as I visited, and once I chose it, I never had regrets. When the opportunity to work for DFM in Manhattan surfaced, it was another no-brainer. I’m not used to detours or uncertainty or “equally appealing” options.

So, where am I going? At this point, your guess is as good as mine. But as soon as I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

A world-class revenge plan undone by time

Edgar Allan Poe’s death was properly mysterious. He was picked off the Baltimore streets on October 3, 1849, raving and delirious, and died four days later in the hospital without telling anyone what had happened to him.

According to Professor Wikipedia, some think he was a victim of cooping, which was a little like 19th-century waterboarding. People were kidnapped or detained, then force fed drugs and alcohol until they voted for a particular cause or candidate.

That theory may only be thrown around because it’s sensational, but regardless of how the poet died, the most tragic element of Poe’s death is how his character and reputation were subsequently obliterated by his chief literary rival.

220px-Griswold-EngravingRufus Wilmot Griswold was, by plenty of accounts, a brilliant self-made man who seized on his era’s unstructured publishing world to become the preeminent poetry anthologist in the nation.

The story starts when Poe submitted a handful of poems to Griswold, who included them in the 1841 volume of his massively influential The Poets and Poetry of America.

In return, Griswold paid Poe to write a review of the anthology that would get heavy play up and down New England. Poe’s review was generally favorable, but Griswold was apparently unhappy it wasn’t more lavish in its praise. This was strike one.

Enter George Rex Graham, himself a successful publisher due to his journal, Graham’s Magazine. From February 1841 to April 1842, Poe served as editor of the journal, and when he left, Graham hired Griswold as his replacement — for a lot more money. Graham also reportedly gave Griswold a lot more editorial control than Poe had. Griswold did his part by securing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for the magazine, and his success didn’t go unnoticed by Poe. Strike two.

Finally, there was, as is often the case in such situations, a woman involved.

downloadFrances Sargent Osgood was a charming, talented author who exchanged a series of widely publicized flirty poems with Poe, despite both of them being married to other people.

Griswold also had a thing for Osgood, and eventually, Poe lost that battle too. By the late 1840s, Osgood had published a compendium of poems she dedicated to Griswold, saying it was “as a souvenir of admiration for his genius, of regard for his generous character, and of gratitude for his valuable literary counsels.”

Ouch.

The rivalry between Poe and Griswold finally turned nuclear when Poe took to the road to deliver a series of lectures called “The Poets and Poetry of America.” Sound familiar? During these talks, Poe slammed Griswold, questioning his status in the literary world and (even worse) criticizing his taste in poetry.

Letters show that near the end of his life, Poe made half-hearted attempts to reconcile with Griswold, but at that point, the relationship had gone too far south. So, when Poe died, Griswold launched a multi-pronged plan for vengeance that is astounding in its cleverness and perversity. Essentially, he annihilated Poe’s character and reputation and made money doing it.

First, he penned Poe’s obituary under the pseudonym “Ludwig,” in which he acknowledged Poe’s talent, but essentially said Poe had slowly killed himself; that he was a drunk, a drug-addled lunatic who would be mourned in death by few because he had few friends in life.

Here’s the full obituary. It’s pretty brutal. (“He was little better than a carping grammarian.”)

Some men would’ve stop there. Not Griswold. He conned himself into becoming Poe’s official literary executor, likely by preying upon his aunt and mother-in-law Maria Clemm (although as Wiki notes, Osgood could’ve played a role in this too).

And that’s how Griswold set about making money off Poe’s works. He helped edit and publish three volumes of Poe’s works, including a few poems that were generally not regarded to be very good. In Griswold’s edition, he also included a “Memoir of the Author.” Here’s Wiki:

The “Memoir” depicts Poe as a madman, addicted to drugs and chronically drunk. Many elements were fabricated by Griswold using forged letters as evidence and it was denounced by those who knew Poe, including Sarah Helen Whitman, Charles Frederick Briggs, and George Rex Graham.

Still, Griswold’s edition was immensely popular and shaped how Poe was viewed inside and outside of the literary world for the next 20 years, long after both of them were dead.

To recap: Griswold dragged Poe through the mud, reaped the royalties from Poe’s works, won a battle of affections over a shared crush and warped the public’s perception of Poe for decades after both of them died.

Spectacular.

But there was a tiny flaw in Griswold’s plan — one that took more than 100 years to assert itself:

Nowadays, no one knows who the fuck Rufus Wilmot Griswold is.

il_570xN.446881031_s8wb