Leonard Cohen’s Final Prophecy

I listened to Leonard Cohen’s new album the weekend before the election. Cohen’s voice was rougher than when he sang Suzanne, but the lyrics on the album were still at Hallelujah levels.

It was before I knew what was coming, but the beginning of the title track on You Want it Darker stuck with me:

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game.
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame.
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame.
You want it darker,
We kill the flame.

Cohen released the album on October 21st. He died the day before “the dealer” was elected president.

The Talking Heads Destory 24-Hour News Talking Heads

Here is a fun game that will make you resilient to the influence of political talking heads.

Pick a 24-hour news channel: CNN, MSNBC, FOX. There are streams for them online as well.

(Side Note: I’m sad you can’t turn on Trump TV because that guy got another job in houses, I think… real estate?)

Anyway, turn to one of those channels and wait until a talking head comes on the TV. How can you tell if there’s a talking head on TV? Well, if there is a panel of TV people on TV, they are all talking heads. Also, if a person appears to be giving strictly opinion, he is a talking head. Women are very rarely solo talking heads. I’m sure it’s sexism, but I haven’t narrowed down the specific type of sexism.

Do you have a talking head on the TV?

MUTE THE SOUND!

Now, turn on some of the greatest hits from the band, the Talking Heads. Play the following songs instead of listening to the opinions that don’t really matter.

I made this playlist that’s at the bottom of this page.

Here’s the political wisdom the Talking Heads (the band) have to offer.

Once in Lifetime:

“And you may ask yourself,
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself,
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful wife!”

This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody):

“I can’t tell one from the other
I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be.”

Psycho Killer:

“I can’t seem to face up to the facts.
I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax.
I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire.
Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire.”

“You start a conversation you can’t even finish it.
You’re talkin’ a lot, but you’re not sayin’ anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?”

Burning Down the House: 

“Hold tight, wait till the party’s over.
Hold tight, we’re in for nasty weather.
There has got to be a way;
Burning down the house”

Take Me To the River: 

“Take me to the river, drop me in the water.
Push me in the river, dip me in the water,
Washing me down, washing me”

Road to Nowhere:

“We’re on a road to nowhere,
Come on inside.
Taking that ride to nowhere,
We’ll take that ride.
I’m feeling okay this morning,
And you know.
We’re on the road to paradise,
Here we go, here we go”

This wisdom from the Talking Heads will break any influence that the TV’s talking heads have over you forever. Happy Listening!

 

26 Steps Away, At Age 26

Each year, I come up with a way to document my current age. So here’s one thing about 26. A Rubik’s Cube’s solution is never more than 26 moves away. It’s a good reminder that tough challenges can be solved in 26 moves.

As I write this, I’m sitting in Denver’s Union Station. When I rode the bus from Boulder to Denver for my birthday seven years ago, this was a broken down building that you passed through quickly. Now, Union Station is a destination to reconnect with old friends and scheme up future plans. I feel that way about 26. It’s not a year I just plan on passing through.

In the last few weeks, I’ve had some anxiety about turning 26. I feel like I am no closer to solving the lurking uncertainties in my life than I was last year. I worried that my birthday was just a height chart mark on the wall where I’m not getting any taller. It’s not the age that’s bothering me, but the idea that I’m standing still.

In the last few days, I have felt a lot of love and encouragement from the people in my life. I’m trying to take steps to start moving forward. I’m not sure how much I can accomplish in one year, but I know things can be a lot different in ten years.

My 26th birthday is the tenth anniversary of when I got my drivers license. I can tell you that driving has gotten better with age. When I was 16, my car had manual locks, crank windows and a tape player. Now that I’m 26, I have a hard time remembering where I parked my car. I spend a lot of time arguing with my Bluetooth about which contact I’m trying to call. It’s a lot less work and a better ride.

I feel things improving with age. I’m a little calmer than I was a couple of years ago. I’ve explored a few more back alley ideas and rode out on a few more quests. I’m starting over with my current predicament. The solution is 26 steps away (or fewer).

Margins #7: White People Don’t Steal… They Borrow

LXI.  The greatest threat facing America is the decline of the white man. Do not be fooled by the prominence in our culture of white American heroes like Captain Kirk, Jason Borne, Batman, Captain America and Joe Biden. Don’t be encouraged by the composition of Congress or Pokemon Go players. Important white men have passed the albino zebra as the most endangered creature on this planet. When was the last time you even saw an all-white zebra? Okay, maybe the decline of albino zebras is the biggest threat to the America. Wait, zebras are from Africa, aren’t they?

LXII. Speaking of decline—let’s talk about the three cable news players. Fox News, whose chairman just resigned over sexual assault allegations and that’s the only progressive thing that’s happened at Fox in the last two decades. MSNBC, where Rachel Maddow and admitted liar Brian Williams attempt to herd gleeful liberals into some kind of news show. Then there’s CNN, which used to be the go-to channel for airport travelers and vanilla news. Today, CNN creates fake polls so they have something to talk about and believes that all news is breaking news. This was always the concern with cable news—it’s hard to fill 24 hours with news without becoming angry or stealing someone else’s work.

LXIII. Everyone was upset that Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama. She really should have given Michelle credit. That’s why everyone knows about 19th century abolitionist minister Theodore Parker. Okay, maybe you don’t know about him, but he came up with two of the most famous lines in American History.  It was his idea that inspired the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s line, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” He also first said the last line of the Gettysburg Address, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Parker, I believe, would be pleased to have his legacy carried on by King and Abraham Lincoln. Just as Michelle Obama is proud to have her legacy carried by the Trumps.

LXIV. If I had submitted Michelle Obama’s speech in college as my own, the CU-Boulder Honor Code Tribunal would have expelled me. Actually, a professor threatened to send me to the Honor Code Tribunal because I wrote a crazy theory about The Merchant of Venice in college. He emailed me, asked for my phone number, called me and then asked from where I stole the idea. When I swore I made it up, he told me, “It’s good. It’s wrong, but it’s good.” The professor recently published a book based off the idea in that paper. It was my only paper that received an A in his class.

LXV. I would like to give one of our new correspondents an “A” for effort. Margins recruited a few correspondents to keep opinions fresh and new. One of the new recruits is an undercover reporter named Sicily Snake. Here’s her first report:

“I worked very hard to be in that room for the final meetings between Donald Trump and Pence. What’s Pence’s first name? Well, he’s the VP nominee now. I pretended to be an umbrella, which led to two problems. The first one, I looked out of place because it wasn’t raining. Second, I sneezed while going through security. No one wants a sneezing umbrella, so I was denied entry. I will try a new technique next time I’m sneaking up on Trump. Maybe a rainbow flag as my disguise?”

LXVI. I think that we should make Presidential candidates take care of an American flag. It would be similar to the way school kids support local wheat farmers by taking care of bags of flour. Taking care of an American flag is hard. You have to take the flag down at night and when it rains. You have to monitor national tragedies to put the flag at half-staff. You have to fold the flag a certain way. I would like to know if Trump and Clinton could take care of a flag. It would be very American and put them in touch with regular flag caretakers.

LXVII. Thanks for not flooding my inbox with emails when I didn’t send a Margins out last week. Maybe you didn’t notice. No matter, I’m going to assume that you were just trying to give me space and eagerly await the next installment. I needed a moment for reflection.

Last week was the four-year anniversary of the Aurora Theater shooting, an event I have written a lot about in the past. My thoughts continue to be with the families of those affected by the tragedy.

Please consider checking out the nonprofit Jessi’s Message on Facebook.

LXVIII. The first time social media and relationships became entangled for me was in the eighth grade. Back then, hunting for relationship statuses ruled my MySpace interactions.  Over a decade later, relationship status still seems important online. So much of Facebook is staged announcements about engagements, weddings and honeymoons.

With all of that noise bouncing around, broken relationships and engagements occupy only the shadows of Facebook. I seem to find out about broken engagements only by being a detective. The lessons of patience and healing after a broken engagement are numerous, but they do not get the attention of a staged wedding picture. No one likes a complainer on Facebook, but it’s important to realize which stories are not being told.

LXIX. Do not “live” a story. Stories have very specific constraints that we organize to make symbolic meaning out of the world. As someone studying stories this year, I understand the temptation to believe you are a character in a story. However, we are complex creatures who need to be open to all possibilities. To help combat this behavior, read Ryan Holiday’s writing, including The Biggest Threat to Your Success Is the Story You Tell Yourself About Success.

Live your life.
Craft stories.
Do not live a story or craft your life—life does not care about the narrative in your head.

LXX. I have about a month left at Experience Institute and there are still a few more stories to tell. I wrote my last blog post for Ei last week. Here’s a passage from the article—if you are not compelled to read more, you might want to go look at the piece just for the picture:

“You should find ways to laugh with others. When the world seems to be turning against you, call it on its joke and laugh to the heavens. The journey is easier with some irreverence.”

Margins #6: The Ghosts in a Haunted House Divided

LI.  As a kid, the week following the United States birthday gave me anxiety. It symbolized the inevitable march toward the start of school. This year, the week following Independence Day has been heart breaking for a more serious reason.

Margins will focus on the terrible events of the past week. These tragedies bleed into all margins of society. Orlando was only a month ago. The political conventions still lie ahead. Whatever fears I had for this summer were surpassed.

LII. In light of the tragedies, independent journalist Scot Carrier will interview protestors outside both conventions. Carrier, an NPR veteran, embarked on similar projects for his Home of the Brave podcast. I do not agree with all of Carrier’s ideas, but admire his work. Last year, he explored churches burned following the Charleston shooting. He’s completely donation funded and I recommend following his project. He wants to understand America.

LIII. I had the thought that I am more American than I have ever been. In the last year, I lived in major cities in all four time zones—Denver, New York, Chicago and Seattle.

This week proved me arrogant. I have only explored an idealized version of America. My journey is devoid of chokeholds on Coney Island or gun battles on the South Side of Chicago. I had the privilege of waking up to a gunshot in Seattle, only to realize it was a firework.

I do not know hate. I do not know injustice. I do not know what we do from here. I just know that Americans died in Dallas, Baton Rogue and Minnesota.

LIV. Five hundred people were killed by police before Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota this year.  Neither man deserved to die, but what about the 500 other stories? From the Washington Post’s study, it appears in the majority of cases, police killed for good reason. We must ask, when is deadly force necessary? How are we training officers?

LV. A thin blue line of police separates the public from anarchy.

The line is from the Errol Morris 1988 documentary A Thin Blue Line. It was the Making of a Murderer of its time. It is taught in film class because it was the first documentary to use reenactment on that scale.

Police are that thin blue line in society. Most police work every day to build trust within their communities. Without trust in the police, our society cannot function. Many police officers work to build trust within their communities. However, the actions of a few police officers have violated that trust. The thin blue line can only be strengthened through a recommitment to trust.

LVI.The Dallas Police force leads the way in building trust between the police and its citizens. Since Chief David O. Brown took over in 2010, the department has been open and cooperative with citizens’ questions around police shootings, an approach that has paid dividends. Chief Brown questioned police tactics and tried to integrate officers into the community. He is even willing to fire officers who do not fit into the mold. I have been impressed by Brown’s poise throughout the week. He is trying to change Dallas for the better and it’s hard to watch one crazy person halt that progress.

LVII. The Dallas Morning News elegant editorial on Sunday began by pointing out the ties between the John F. Kennedy Assassination and last week’s events, “another kind of lightning flashed across our horizon and plunged our city into a new kind of grief — and brought fear back to the place we call home.”

The piece went on to make a case for unity: “Today our country seems capable of pulling apart in ways that have not seemed possible in many decades. Dallas, again, has been bathed in blood and grief. How we respond will help show a path forward to a divided, reeling nation.”

LVIII. Carmelo Anthony expressed his own views about the divided nation on Instagram this weekend. Anthony was largely criticized for forcing a trade from Denver to New York for selfish reasons years ago. He wanted to get paid as much as he could by sponsors.

In his comments this weekend, Anthony called for athletes to speak out against injustice even if it meant losing sponsors. I have been indifferent to this former childhood hero these last few years, but his stance was mature and moving. Denver may have a change of heart toward Anthony’s legacy.

LIX. What change comes through Facebook? I did a thought exercise with a friend. Think about every Facebook post that you can remember from more than two weeks ago.

We both came up with very little—maybe a few pictures and links.

Facebook seems devoid of long-term memories that add value.

LX. We must not abandon our values. We must rise above hateful rhetoric and seek the higher ground. We must push for solutions and unity. We must be thought weak when we walk away from a raised fist to focus on winning this battle down the road. I want to stamp hate out of the world. I know that hateful people are fearful people. We must not fear standing up for what is right. We must fight for the rights of all people. We must use tact and not fall into the sludge of partisanship. We must ignore the people spewing hate and find a way to continue on our path. The universe bends towards justice—and with that knowledge on our side, let us continue on our mission to unite Americans.

Dear Future Experiencer

Dear Future Experiencer,

Here we cross paths on this journey. You are heading into the uncharted wilderness, and I am on the path home. As a fellow experiencer, I wanted to impart a few pieces of advice on the terrain ahead.

I cannot give you my map because the path I took is no longer available. This territory is always shifting. Even though I walked with care, I seemed to find uneven ground, dead ends and blind turns. When deciding the path you should take, trust your instincts.

Many people will try to tell you otherwise. A lot of people, on a different journey from yours, will try to give you their own map. Do not use it. Their advice will bring you frustration and take you wildly off course.

Appearances and first impressions need further investigation. A spot can look great from a distance and end up being nothing more than quicksand. Investigate all destinations ahead of time and do not ignore warning signs.

Ask questions to make sure each camp is the right fit for both sides. The person running the camp may be more talk than substance. They may ignore you and your growth for their own gain. If this happens, change directions. You must have difficult conversations and make decisions based on your own long-term goals.

You are on this journey to learn. Never lose sight of the goal. Sometimes no bridge will appear to cross a raging river below. It is natural to want to shut down in these moments, but take this time to learn something new. What can you learn on this side of the canyon as you search for the bridge?

The further into the wild you go, the more your body will want you to turn back and run. It will rebel. Your mind will be at odds with your will. You will feel crazy, lonely and destructive. Taking care of yourself takes willpower, but you need strength to finish this journey.

Do not forget to laugh. This is not that serious. The fate of the world does not rest on this journey. This is a journey you should enjoy. You should make fun of yourself. You should find ways to laugh with others. When the world seems to be turning against you, call it on its joke and laugh to the heavens. The journey is easier with some irreverence.

Just like the map of this journey, the map of success is always shifting. You will create blind spots if you do not vary the trails you travel searching for success. Some maps lead quickly to a solution, but perhaps less often to the right ones. The person who stops looking around cannot see the hidden poison ivy. The person eager to try a new way should be aware of the roaming wolves.

Do not lose your humility on this trail. Holding your head too high will cause you to miss the traps before you on the path. Confidence should come from within, not because others think you should be confident. A bird attempting to keep his head in the clouds must constantly flap its wings. A bird aware of its surroundings may glide in the current.

You will get through this year—one way or another. All roads lead to the end of this journey, but not to safety. This year will not solve your problems. It will cause you to ask more questions. A time will come for you to venture into the wilderness again. This journey will allow you to navigate with a quiet confidence in yourself.

All the best,

Derek

Margins #5: Harry Potter and the Missing Gossip Girls

The Margins of James Joyce & Missy Franklin…
XLI. His Dark Materials Trilogy has no golden compass, despite the title of the first book. This confused me when I first read the books with my Dad and brother as a kid. Author Phillip Pullman used the working title Golden Compass because of a line in Milton’s Paradise Lost,

the golden compasses, prepared
In God’s eternal store, to circumscribe
The universe, and all created things.

The compass mentioned by Milton drew circles instead of showed direction. U.S. editors loved the working title, believing it was a reference to an artifact in the book. Pullman couldn’t persuade them to change it. Outside of America, the first book is called Northern Lights rather than The Golden Compass. Similarly, across the pond, the first book is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

XLII. J.K. Rowling released a story about an American wizarding school, Ilvermorny. The school likely factors into the first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie due out in November. On Pottermore, you can find your American House—I am a Thunderbird. I also tried the new Hogwarts sorting hat. The survey placed me in Hufflepuff. This caused a momentary identity crisis—I’ve always been a Gryffindor. However, Hufflepuffs are hardworking, loyal and accepting of everyone. In an ideal world, we should all want to be Hufflepuffs. I just can’t bring myself to abandon my imaginary Gryffindor identity.

XLIII. J.K. Rowling is the most famous U.K. author since James Joyce, best known for Dubliners and Ulysses. Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, was written out of history. Lucia apparently wrote well, dated Samuel Beckett and had sessions with Carl Jung. All records of such things were destroyed. Lucia spent the last 50 years of her life in a mental institution. I found out about her from an article about a new fictional book, The Joyce Girl. The book’s author argues that women of the time period (Lucia, Zelda Fitzgerald and others) were repressed in a rapidly changing society. Were these women mad or just misunderstood by men?

XLIV. Do we mistreat extreme mental illness? What if, instead of locking people up in asylums, we put them in stranger’s homes with free reign? That’s been the practice in Geel, Belgium for centuries. This town was part of a mind-altering episode of Invisibilia: The Problem with the Solution. In the episode, one of the hosts confronts her family’s affect on her sister’s mental illness. With heightened compassion, we need to reexamine how we treat mental illness in America.

XLV. Facebook comments are a desert for compassion and I broke the rule by reading a few comments. The piece was by the New York Times’ Wesley Morris, one of my favorite writers, on his disappointment in The Shallows. He went to the movie to see Kate Hudson, but the movie’s star was actually Blake Lively. He confused blondes in the preview. The piece served as a critique on Hollywood movies interchangeable motifs and roles. Facebook commenters just cried sexism. The commenters either came in with prejudice or did not read the piece. Morris is a great writer and crafted a unique critique. None of the Facebook comments were unique.

XLVI. What if Facebook never created comments? In the early days of Facebook, we actually had to travel to friends’ walls to reply to a post. Then Facebook created comments as a time saver. Comments also opened the door to these hate-filled, self-righteous, pointless arguments between strangers and marginal friends.

XLVII. Gossip may serve an evolutionary purpose. We bond over gossipy stories and learn what falls outside of societal norms. Such lessons include, anti-Semitic tweets from Presidential candidates, NBA free agent moves and Sunday nights not watching Game of Thrones. YOU DON’T WATCH IT? Neither do I.

In the right light, gossip serves as an entertaining warning, but constant gossiping hurts your mental health and character.

XLVIII. “Keep your gaze to the horizon. You can scan your mirrors every now and then, but let your peripheral vision do most of the work in your vicinity. Every rock in the road does not need your attention. The real problems will always be down the road.” I’m pretty sure my driving instructor meant this as advice to a 15-year-old driver and not as a rule in life.

XLIX. The Fourth of July is the easiest holiday to remember its date. Independence day is July Fourth! The second easiest holiday is New Year’s, but most holidays roam all over the place. Memorial Day and Thanksgiving have these vague rules and then there’s Easter. I spend all spring wandering around asking people, “when’s Easter?”

I would like to say that Cinco de Mayo is easy to remember, but Spanish isn’t a real language in America. Cinco de Mayo may mean May the Fifth, but to most Americans it happily appears ever year. It’s also diminished now because Taco Tuesday happens every week.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend. Let patriotism continues through the rest of the summer with the Olympics approaching.

L. Missy Franklin qualified for three of four events she was hoping to swim for Team USA. Winning four gold medals in 2012, the Colorado native was a bright spot of the games. However, the U.S.’s golden girl has struggled at times over the last few years. Still, she continues to be a model athlete and person. She even praised the teammates who beat her out in the 200-meter backstroke. “The point of this meet is to get the best of the best and right now that’s Olivia Smoliga and Kathleen Baker. They’re going to represent us in the best way possible, and I’m incredibly proud of them.”

Go Team U.S.A.

Each week, Margins follows a narrative through the twists and turns of culture, media and society. The author, Derek Kessinger, works as a writer, journalist and is a student at Experience Institute.

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Margins #4: London Bridge and Golden State have Fallen Down

Between the Margins of Bugs Bunny and Kim Kardashian… 

XXXI.  I was sitting on the light rail not paying attention to the people behind me, all while I was being watched. “I found your doppelgänger,” read the caption on the picture I received. Luckily, a friend was the photographer. Still, for a moment, I felt like an unsuspecting reality TV “star.”

XXXII. I have a new appreciation for the Kardashians. If not for a mention on Twitter, I likely wouldn’t have traversed the Kim Kardashian profile and risqué photo shoot, but a paragraph jumped out:

“If you have never seen any of the 162 episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians [or a spinoff], you probably assume the general plot is as follows: Family members ham their way through staged situations, reacting to artificial drama with the subtlety of Kabuki theater. The show is 85 percent that. But the other 15 percent deals with unusual (for TV) candor about marital cataclysms, transgender identity issues, cycles of substance abuse, and the effects of crippling depression on the self and the family.”

It takes a level of trust to be subversive. It takes leading an audience down a familiar path most of the way, and then going off course and seeing who follows. For their fans, the Kardashians have created a level of intimacy. They can bring up hard issues other television programs don’t touch, and do so in a serious manner.

XXXIII. There’s a cartoon, Bugs Bunny in King Arthur’s Court, that transforms Mark Twain’s book A Connecticut Yankee into Looney Tunes form. Bugs takes on King Arthur (played by Daffy Duck) and his followers, including Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig. Despite the dismantling by Bugs, England looked better in that cartoon than it did last week. David Cameron’s own ego led him to call for a vote and now England is Brexiting the European Union.

XXXIV. What if U.S. states wanted to hold a vote with a Brexit-like name? Here were my favorite names from this list: Delaware (DelaWe’reGone) Illinois (Illinomore), Maryland (MaryLeave) and Washington (Washing-MyHandsOfThis). I enjoyed the moment when the media was waiting for David Cameron to appear and his cat walked out of his house. It feels good to finally have something worse than Donald Trump happening in the political world—thanks England.

XXXV. Political Metaphor (too ridiculous to make up): I was walking on a parkway near Green Lake when this tattered bald eagle crashed through the trees followed by another eagle trying to pin him down. The first eagle escaped and both flew off, flanked on all sides by huge black crows watching the fight. Similarly, our politicians smash into each other while the voices of regular Americans squawk in vain.

XXXVI.  In America, traditional small businesses—companies looking to address a small section of the market—are forming at a declining rate. Startups—companies hoping to start small and sell for huge profits—are succeeding less often. Conglomerates like Google, Facebook and Amazon are controlling more of the space for the advancement of technology. All of this makes our economy less dynamic. When the day comes that venture capitalists become risk adverse and big companies stop gobbling up startups, where will innovation take place? (Source: MIT Technology Review)

XXXVII.Did a venture capitalist sink the Golden State Warriors? Back in March, part owner Joe Lacob said the Warriors winning ways were part of his venture capitalist owner team’s master plan. He said that the Warriors were “light-years ahead of every other team structure” and would “be a handful for the rest of the NBA to deal with for a long time.”

I may not start companies, but I do know about sports. Here’s how sports work. When you’re so sure that something is going to happen in your favor, you’re usually heartbroken.

XXXVIII. The master of storylines backfiring, Larry David, announced that he’s bringing back Curb Your Enthusiasm. This means the return of J.B. Smoove as Leon, perhaps TV’s greatest sidekick. If you’ve never seen Curb, Larry David plays himself, an egocentric Hollywood writer, and Leon is a not suitable for network TV black man who lives with Larry, gives him advice and serves as a foil (including to Michael Richards—Kramer—during the Seinfeld reunion season).

XXXIX. “I’m here strictly for the material,” Jerry said on an episode of Seinfeld where George turned purple because of a wacky healer. I feel that way a lot, especially this year. As Jerry said later in the show, “Live and Learn—at least we lived.” When I don’t know what I’m doing, I look around and try to examine what’s going on. I’m here strictly for the material.

XL. Material is a big deal. At several points in my first couple of weeks at NBBJ, I have seen architects get really excited about materials. “Imagine the possibilities if we made this out of steel or plastic or wood!” Each source of material will affect a structure in a different way—whether you’re building a bus bench, a cathedral or a newsletter.

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Each week, Margins follows a narrative through the twists and turns of culture, media and society. The author, Derek Kessinger, is a writer, journalist and student at Experience Institute.

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Margins #3: Sleepless in Seattle Animal House

XXI.  Printed on a second story window of the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street is a sign that reads M. T. Lot… Say it out loud, “Empty Lot.” Walt Disney created the fake company to secretly buy land that would later become Walt Disney World. It was a cunning plan that transformed Orlando into the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Whether you love or hate Disney World, you have to admire the audacity of such a dream. Transforming Orlando was Walt’s last great plan before his death. Of course, now the name Orlando, like Columbine Virginia Tech, Aurora, Charleston and San Bernardino, also symbolizes tragedy.

XXII. Orlando hit a number of our country’s fault lines. It spurred a lot of emotions about gun rights and terrorism, while affecting LGBT, Muslim and Latino communities. A range of passionate people spoke on the tragedy that claimed 49 lives (list of victims). My friend Jeff wrote about how the LGBT community is a big family and he felt reverberations of the tragedy as a gay man in Colorado (Jeff Morton Piece). I wrote about my experience observing continued gun violence within that last year while traveling in Experience Institute (Experience Institute Blog).

As of this writing, we’ve only lost 6,000 people to death by a gun this year (gun death stats). I predict that America will again take the easy way out—anger will fade away until the next newsworthy mass shooting.

XXIII.  “Just because an easy solution doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The greatest generations in the history of the world were never innately great. They became great because of how they responded in the face of evil. Their humanity is measured by their response to hate and terror.” — Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox at a vigil for the Orlando victims.

XXIV. My friend Wisdom wrote about hate and the loss of his first love. “I buried the pain of six years of pubescent love, now lost, deep within and preferred internal wounds to broken bonds. I wondered if everyone’s first heartbreak came with a side of white supremacy” (read more here).

Wisdom announced that he’s working on a book, which I’m really excited about. He poignantly shares stories about race and identity in our world.

XXV. I identify as a hockey fan on Twitter. So I enjoyed John Hodgman tackling the question of why extinct hockey teams are Surprisingly Awesome (podcast). Hodgman loves franchises that no longer exist and talked about the Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and the Hockey Pittsburgh Pirates. He interviewed a Whalers fan who dealt with the pain of losing their franchise as I child. I felt guilty. I’m the benefactor of an extinct team—the Nordiques moved to Colorado and immediately won a Stanley Cup. I’m currently in a city with an extinct basketball team, the Seattle Supersonics.

XXVI. That’s right, I’m in Seattle working for a studio inside NBBJ. Studio 7 is led by artist Sam Stublefield and includes former Ei student April Soetarman. I’m helping them work on how to brand this dynamic group of individuals within Seattle’s growing city—and yes, they’re working on the Google Spheres (article)!

XXVII. I found one option to stay when I arrived in Seattle, an Airbnb for a room in a “group house” near the University of Washington. The group house was actually a former frat house with the gang of college boys still there. The bathrooms were a weird dirty assortment of kitchens and clumped together showers. The house on Greek Row was littered with pizza boxes, discarded blunts and Chips Ahoy! wrappers. Guys would come in and out of my room to smoke on my balcony and then leave random dogs out there. I’m now in a better house with five sorority girls.

XXVIII. Oh the irony. Yes, I’m living in a house with five sorority girls after my most college project, “The Sorority Girl Quote of the Week.” At CU Boulder, I collected quotes I heard in classes and at Starbucks and then posted them on Facebook. Here are a few quotes:

  • “I’m not drinking this weekend. My last bar hookup had Superman sheets”
  • “I’m too drunk for a Wednesday afternoon! I think I just ran up and hugged my professor!”
  • “I have so much Spray Tan on, look how orange I am! I was sitting in library just inhaling the fumes thinking, is this too much?”

XXIX. The quotes were hilarious, but I did get pushback from friends in sorority. A friend started yelling at me on the Hill in Boulder one night and I walked her back to her sorority house to calm her down. Here were my disclaimers to criticism: 1. I had a lot of friends who were in sororities and respected them quite a bit. 2. The quotes were real. 3. There were no fraternity guy quotes because they never went to class.

XXX. I’ve matured. I no longer believe in disclaimers. Let your work speak for itself and if it’s misunderstood you have two options: change the work or allow it to live on its own. Some people will hate your work or disagree with your sense of humor. Looking back, I probably should have just called it “Colorado Student Quote of the Week,” but it was my survival mechanism. Sorority sisters always sat right behind me 200 person lecture halls.

Each week, Margins follows a narrative through the twists and turns of culture, media and society. The author, Derek Kessinger, is a writer, journalist and student at Experience Institute.

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I Have Witness. I Have Documented

I wait for the time machine that will transport me back. Sometimes it takes me to the day I committed to Experience Institute last summer (Ei). It has transported me to the first day of Meetup to start Ei. I have found myself in November, on a random rainy day in New York.  Now it will take me to my first day in Seattle, where I am starting my final term with Ei.

Each time a mass shooting rockets through the media, I travel back in time.

Some days I wake up and fear checking my phone. What if something happened last night? This time, however, I woke disgruntled about my current living situation. I was having trouble finding a temporary place to live in Seattle. Sunday morning I woke up in a frat house. While it had no affiliation, the house was full of University of Washington bros living in a space far worse than anything I experienced in college.

On this Sunday, I checked my phone without reservation, and immediately saw the headline:

Attack on Orlando Nightclub, 50 Dead.

The time machine kicked in. I was taken back to the feeling of that night, July 20th, 2012, when the Aurora theater shooting rocked my world. A gunman murdered my friend Jessi among others. It was a night that split apart the world around me.

Here’s the thing about a random murder. Your brain can’t make sense of it. How can someone’s life be taken at an elementary school, a midnight premiere or a nightclub? How can someone pull the trigger on strangers? Your brain can’t categorize it—this is loss without explanation. So the thoughts ricochet around your brain until you feel disconnected from the world.

The first time I traveled back to that feeling—the void—was six months after Aurora. I was getting ready to take a college final when reports of Sandy Hook hit my phone. For me, the media part is important. I remember staying up all night watching coverage of the theater shooting before I found out about Jessi. So the pain grows through increased media attention or when it occurs close to home.

It makes me sad to think that I can’t feel every gun death, but how could I? There are thousands a year.

I am rocked every time. I felt despair at the first reports of a shooting at Arapahoe High School that happened when I was near the school in winter of 2013. I felt the pain when a white terrorist shot up the church in Charleston the day I accepted Ei’s offer last summer. I felt the pain as people in my profession, a news reporter and her cameraman, were murdered on-air when I started Ei last fall. I even felt it with the coverage of the terrorist attacks in France in November. There was San Bernandino, Colorado Springs, and Kalamazoo.

So yes, I felt Orlando. I felt like we failed Jessi. We failed the 12 who died in Aurora. We failed the more than 10,000 people who are murdered by guns in this country every year, excluding the astronomical suicide rates.

As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We let the evil win again. We failed all of their memories by not stopping this attack.

I waited to turn off the coverage until President Obama gave his address. He delivered it with a kind of numbness everyone affected by gun violence can relate to. It comes when you feel unable to comprehend why more people don’t care enough about gun violence to stop it.

“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or a house of worship or a movie theater or a nightclub,” President Obama said. “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

After his words, I turned off social media for the day. I knew the pain and hurt without reading about it. I knew the anger and futile arguments that would come. I didn’t want to see the hate spewed towards my friends who advocate for gun safety. I didn’t want to read the bigotry directed toward my Muslim and LGBT friends.

So I walked. I walked out of the frat house and down Greek Row to the University of Washington. I walked through parents arriving for graduation and down to the light rail. I rode it to Capitol Hill in Seattle.

I continued to walk. I walked to the Space Needle and Lake Washington and Pike Place Market. I noted the people smiling and playing. I listened to music and an audiobook and didn’t check the media.

Hours later, I took the light rail back to the University of Washington. As I walked through campus, I noticed all of the families posing for different pictures marking graduation day. Their joy was a refreshing reminder. I was so happy that they were taking the time to take these pictures. Even when the process was messy and unorganized, like so many families, I knew someday they would want to look back at these pictures.

I have documented my year in a lot of ways—in pictures and videos and conversations. I’ve documented my year in long walks and great books. I’ve documented this year as a quest to bring light to places that will never fully escape the darkness.

Each new city in my year comes with the same directive. Document the smiles. Witness the laughs. Prepare the time machine.