The Collector (Orbs and Stories)

It used to be a bookstore—one story and a balcony that looked into the main room. In the middle of the room was a dead chandelier dangling from the ceiling over the Collector’s head. He sat in the chair, illuminated only by moonlight coming from the windows and the glowing occupants of the shelves.

The shelves were filled with smoky lit orbs of different colors. A scan of the room showed shelves grouped with orbs of similar colors. There were lime green orbs closest to the Collector and then they spanned out around the room: orange, pink, blue, yellow and red. The whole balcony was filled of purple orbs.

If you watched an orb, you would see that the colors swirled slightly. The interesting ones were caught between two colors or changed tints quickly. Many of the orbs repeated a similar pattern of color changes—with cycles ranging from 20 seconds to several days.

The Collector sat staring at two orbs on a table in front of him. The orbs were floating on silver stands and the Collector focused intently, sometimes putting his hands on them. The textured orbs felt cool to his skin, but had to be carried carefully as they vibrated sporadically.

The two orbs in front of the Collector changed colors at the same speed. They were running through a pattern that cycled every 10 seconds—starting at white, to a yellow, and then they held on a red for several seconds before fading to purple. The Collector nervously looked every few seconds at a staff that stood in place next to the chair. It had an orb atop it that let off a faint blue hue. He then returned his gaze to the orbs on the table.

The Collector could see into these orbs beyond the colors and every few seconds he muttered, “Not again.” The colors were speeding up now and the Collector closed his eyes and placed a hand on both spheres. His head jerked and he had a hard time holding onto the two of them. Suddenly his whole body jolted and he withdrew his hands.

He panted for some seconds before finally opening his eyes and confirming that both orb’s lights were now out. He sighed and grabbed his own staff. The now pink color of the orb swirled with deep red tints.

The Collector was suddenly in danger, which meant this event was no accident. These two orbs’ stories had collided.

He looked up to the second floor; the orbs were no longer all purple, but began changing to other colors. He was going back out there, again. He had a job to do.

Laugh Loud and Long and Clear

I’d like to create a new fitness monitor. Instead of measuring pulse or steps, it would measure laughter. I’m not even talking laughter throughout the day, but the first time each day that you laugh out loud.

I know there are sometimes streaks of days where I don’t laugh or think about laughing. In New York, I went and saw Billy Crystal. The first time I laughed it felt foreign for just a moment before relief swept over me. It had been four days since I laughed out loud.

I am someone who thrives on laughter. It’s why I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Seinfeld and a nostalgic fondness for Popsicle stick jokes (this is made up).

Tangent: Does anyone remember Stick Stickly, the former Nick in the Afternoon summer host in the 90’s? He was a popsicle stick, and his big gag was being dipped in an unknown substance with a blindfold on. One time they had a special where he found his long-lost brother, who could have been Chris Elliot, but turned out to be another Popsicle stick. They had a thing with oddly formed people between Hey Arnold and the giant Face that hosted Nick Jr…Okay, back to words on laughter.

The internet, it seems, has been created for the entire purpose of mining laughs. Most internet content (tweets, memes, YouTube videos) is garbage, but every now and then it causes you to laugh out loud in the office when you’re supposed to be working.

We could all live a little lighter if we knew where our next laugh was coming from. We would be happier if we addressed misunderstandings with shared humor instead of anger—if laughter were praise, apology, greeting, romance and encouragement.

I am pretty good at laughing with others. I try to laugh at myself, but then people who don’t understand self-deprecating humor think I’m down on myself. In my best times, I see life with a tinted with laughs, never taking it too seriously.

I would like to create a podcast and the entire goal is to make the listener laugh out loud in the first ten minutes of his or her day. I think it would be more powerful than meditation and coffee. However, laughter is hard to capture and even harder to execute.

Have any ideas on where I can get my next laugh-fix? I mean my LOL fix (first time I’ve ever typed that in a piece).

Why Journalism Needs to Be Worth It

The oath for journalists should be plucked from the last lines of the Declaration of Independence. To defend the rights of the press and the people, “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” How many American journalists do you know that follow such a creed?

If the journalism of the past 100 years dies, it deserves to die. It is not dying because the public wants to hide from the truth and shun good reporting. It is dying because the mainstream media seeks advertising dollars through click bait, slow websites, scare tactics and poor reporting.

Journalism, as an institution, has often chased trends. Journalism would benefit from looking back on its own history and realizing that the public evolves. Catchy headlines have lost their effectiveness. Similarly, Walter Cronkite eventually moved beyond news shows with a puppet lion named Charlemagne, and the Hearst Newspapers left their days of yellow journalism for better practices, eventually.

How did journalism miss the fact that the public outgrows trends? The institution missed the decline of westerns, disco and Who Wants to be a Millionaire. What’s true yesterday will not be true tomorrow. Looking for shortcuts, instead of reconnecting with the audience, has run organizations off the rails.

Quality became a luxury rather than a necessity. The strategy failed. Journalism entities, tied to corporate interests, found the first pieces of plywood to stay afloat when the ship started to sink, and now they realize that the wood is rotting.

Journalists need to be the loudest advocates for the importance of free press. They must go into classrooms and seminars to educate the public. Journalists must connect with their neighbors and find ways to make stories relevant to people’s lives. Journalism insulated to an office in a high tower in New York is as effective as writing a doctoral thesis with Wikipedia. If a story doesn’t resonate with the public, a journalist must find out why.

Journalists need to connect with the public and find the stories that matter to everyone. If a piece is so important, journalists need to present it in a way that makes the audience care. Those who hold power and operate in the dark should fear journalists. Journalism must see past the headlines in front of them to uncover buried facts.

Journalists need to stop breaking stories into two fractured sides—left and right, black and white, and right and wrong. Stories with only two sides fit into a couple of paragraphs or a sound bite, but lack authenticity. Journalism is about the unification of ideals.

The journalist must be the most vulnerable person in the piece. They must be willing to let their hearts bleed on the page when they cover a murder and let tears flow on the air when they hear about a tragedy. They must uncover stories of joy that matter and outduel those who wish to control the media.

I know so many people committed to the practice of quality journalism. I am optimistic that they will all find a platform to help keep the public educated. Treat the news as it exists in life, ongoing and evolving. Leave the audience with questions and the need for further exploration.

The lessons learned from the past century can be used as a gateway into new avenues for quality reporting and storytelling. The media matters far beyond a profit amount. Journalism is not a product to sell on a square screen; it’s everything that happens beyond our field of vision.

 

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in College Anymore

I followed the yellow brick road. It was lined with rite-of-passage road markers. I lost my first tooth. I sat in the front seat of a car. I started high school. I had my first kiss. I moved out of the freshman dorm. All these stops led me to the Emerald City.

In the Emerald City, I was another scarecrow in search of knowledge. I graduated college in four years. I was given a piece of paper to prove that I had a brain and ushered across the stage.

I was then led out back. They opened a door and all I could see, in every direction, were yellow bricks. There was no road, but a grand patio that covered the Earth. From my position, I saw the dirt of previous footprints lead off on different paths, but nothing concrete. I knew I would find no more road markers, but also had no path to stray from.

I picked a few sets of footprints going in one direction and I begin to walk. I quickly come across enclaves of people all working by pushing buttons and stopped to talk to them. Some people told me they had stopped at this first group because they wanted the security; others had the pressure of obligations. Few were happy with the decision to stay and they talked longingly about moving onward, someday…

I continued on and found another group that seemed oblivious to my presence in the middle of their grand party. They were distracting themselves with light and music and drink and memory lapses.

I set out again, walking for a while with a girl searching for her big break. We quickly noticed objects thrown at us as we walked. She said that the objects were clues to people’s dreams. There were lots of paintbrushes, guitars and cameras. She pointed out some larger items—an empty family photo album and a Superman cape. We came across a path full of loose-leaf pages from old scripts, and she left me to pursue that path. I continued toward the horizon.

Every chance I could, I talked to people I came across in this yellow brick desert. I started to understand some themes.
A lot of people were trying to follow specific paths. They stumbled across the inklings of a famous person they recognized—a musician or an entrepreneur—and they would begin to follow that path. Yet each time, they found the road broken or blocked.

One guy who was lying on the side of the road, looked up at me in disbelief when I asked him why all his paths were broken. Finally, he said, “I guess you can’t copy someone else’s journey, man.”

At one point I came across a large park fountain. It was surrounded by desks full of people scribbling furiously and then dashing to the fountain to dip the papers in the water. The papers disintegrated into ash each time one was submerged in the fountain, causing the writer to dejectedly return to his or her desk. Then, I saw a man run to the front, dip his paper, pull his hand out and reveal a gold star. He ran back to his desk and placed it next to several other gold stars before beginning to scribble again. I walked over to him.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Collecting gold stars,” he said, without looking up.

“Why?”

He paused for a moment and then said, “If I don’t get gold stars, how will I know if I’m creating meaningful work?”

I left the desks and the fountain. I knew that I wanted more than simple approval in my life.

I found a field that was full of holes. I looked down and saw people inside each one. I called down to one person that seemed to be zoning out.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m working. I have to work,” she said, jumping to attention.

“Wouldn’t you rather work with other people?”

“No, other people distract me. I must work first and then I can have people in my life when I make my first million.”

I left her in her hole, knowing I wanted more out of life than to work in solitude with no one to share my day-to-day journey. So I continued to walk.

One of the great themes in stories is the journey. Stories draw us in when characters take a path to learn something about themselves, but in truth, life goes on whether we take a journey or not. The journeys just find us. Even outside the confines of the Emerald City, the people I know who are the happiest find ways to continue to learn and grow and explore. For now, I will continue to wander the Yellow Brick world and learn what I can from the journey.

Prince: The Last Rockstar Popstar

Prince’s 1980s’ reign represented the last time that pop music and rock music were the same genre.

Until Prince, pop music stood for everything that wasn’t classical or jazz. After Prince, pop music basically took what Prince and Michael Jackson created and continued doing the same thing up through Taylor Swift’s 1989. Meanwhile, rock (including grunge and hard rock), hip-hop and country each spun off into its own sphere. They were kicked out from under the pop umbrella.

I’m not saying Prince broke pop music, but he may have ended its monopoly.

Prince is a deeply personal subject for me. I consider myself a rock music historian (or at least a snob) and he’s in a handful of artists that I listen to as if they were their own genre of music. Sometimes you don’t need jazz or rock—you just need Prince.

Recently, I joked that I was going to take a couple of months and keep going to Prince’s club in Minnesota until he showed up. The last time he came to Denver, I didn’t have $250 to spend on a ticket. Now I wish I had taken out a loan. From videos, live recordings and bootlegs, it’s clear there was nothing quite like a Prince show.

When I was in middle school, Prince was not cool. I remember listening to him frequently on my iPod. That was back when you had to buy tracks one at a time. I spent a lot of time listening to Raspberry Beret, 1999, Little Red Corvette and the dance version of Let’s Go Crazy, which features a longer guitar solo (more on this song in a minute).

When people asked what I was listening to they were taken aback when I answered “Prince” in a way they weren’t when my response was Marvin Gaye or the Clash. They would ask, “Is he still, ‘the artist formerly known as Prince’?” Or worse, “you really listen to him?”

To middle school students (even at an arts school), I think Prince was still too out there, too sexual and too complicated—which is why I think he made a comeback among my peers during the exploratory phase of high school. No one sits around and listens to Prince like they do with Zeppelin, he just becomes a part of your life.

There are very few moments in music that I place in as high esteem as the sermon at the beginning of Let’s Go Crazy, perhaps the interlude of Springsteen’s Jungleland, the piano fade down of Layla or the first notes of the Ronnette’s Be My Baby. Let’s Go Crazy feels like a life force, and it’s the only song that makes me understand why people like EDM so much.

I’ve never seen Purple Rain. I never followed much of the cultural stuff with Prince because I love his music so much, and that was fuel enough for me. If Prince wasn’t Prince, he’d be considered one of the greatest guitarists that ever lived. On Rolling Stone’s list he’s number 33, but he could definitely duel anyone out of contention, except for maybe Hendrix, if his live recordings are any evidence.

Prince was my David Bowie and Michael Jackson. His death hit me the way I would react to the murder of Bugs Bunny. My favorite graduation gift was a Prince Bootleg album. I once made my friend Rose listen to Prince for hours on a road trip from Austin to Denver because she said she’d never really heard him.

Thanks for keeping the world turning for me with all those revolutions, Prince.

Punch a higher floor.

Prince Tribute

A Kiss of New York

Bright, infectious and wonderful—
The rhythm of New York is the drumbeat of the nation;
If America was to pledge allegiance to a higher ideal,
It would be to New York City:
It’s Settlers, Staples and Sightseers.

The Settlers arrive with the weight of the world.
From stitched up countries
And dying heartland towns,
They’re drawn to New York’s fresh starts.
Settlers toil to fuel for the city’s torch of hope.

Staples are trapped in the city’s maze.
They’re converted settlers with rough skin and narrow visions.
Staples feed on addictions to light and movement.
In moments of triumph and defeat, they dig into to this life.
They are New Yorkers, after all.

Everyone else is a Sightseer
Everyone hates the Sightseers.

To sightseers, this city is a movie set—
Sightseers treat landmarks like trading cards,
Oblivious to others, they collect each selfie with glee,

Sightseer’s slows everyone down.
They are the gridlock of this city.

And gridlock becomes New York’s great equalizer.
In gridlock, a limousine goes no faster than a gypsy cab
And both want to run you over.

This gridlock forces New Yorkers underground.
Each passenger a coin, inserted to turn the gears
of antiquated slot machines;
hoping to find air again on the other end of the subway.

It has to get easier.
The carousel of life keeps spinning
so fast that it’s always four in the morning
and life is just a mix of street performers
and sirens and sidewalk traffic.

The city’s a buzzing frequency.
Tune into this radio ride,
The only beat you’ll ever need
Is on the streets
Of the chaos city that never sleeps.

It’s too big to fail you.
It’s a city of second chances
That asks only that you chase something.
It wears its scars with defiance,
Never forgotten. Carrying onward
Through a maze of abundant twists.
Where wealth is distributed in small bills.
Cash only.

And you look for a handhold in its worst moments;
A lifeline each day to pull you through to the next.
Like the laughter of Children running through the neighborhood
As if every block was still Sesame Street
Amid the jungle gym city of hoops and ladders.

No one has a plan,
Everyone’s missing out;
Something’s about to happen;
New shops open and new friends appear—
You find a new place that will be yours forever,
But then your feet can no longer find it
In this ever changing landscape.

And just when you think you can’t take it anymore
You hear a saxophone in the distance.
It plays an unfamiliar song,
But it sounds like a harbor,
Just not on a block you’ve found before.
It has a new rhythm
Of promise and speed.
So you walk to that rhythm of
And you pledge yourself.

Welcome to the only thing brighter and louder than big bang itself.
Welcome to the Center of the Universe.

Vanity Plated Mind

I once knew a man who thought too much about himself and too little of others. While he did very little with his life, he spent a lot of time considering his own importance. He would chase crazy leads and give up easily. Here are the decrees of that man:

I want to found a great company. I don’t care what the company does, just that I can sit at the table of giants who walked before me and be considered an equal or even better off than they were. I want journals and newspapers to write about my daring exploits in the business world. I want to sell my secret to success in a bottle after I sell the company off for millions.

I want strangers to think I’m important. I want to walk down crowded halls full of young, ambitious men looking to catch their big break, and have each one stare at me. I want them to point to their friends and say, “There goes an important man worth looking at right now.”

I want to put my name on a boat, a plane and a building. I want my success to be a tangible symbol that I can rub in other people’s faces. I want people without their names on things to look out and see my name and think, there’s a successful man; he got his name on a yacht.

I want to be a politician. I want to control the fates of other people’s lives. I want to show them that I have not only mastered my own life, but also can exact control over their lives. I want to be the politician that rises through the ranks, not tied down by the morals of the common man.

I want to write a memoir. I want people to read my thoughts, not just now, but in a thousand years like we do with the great philosophers. While I don’t want writing to be my craft, I have such interesting thoughts that other people must acknowledge their brilliance. When great civilizations of the future read my thoughts, they’ll all hope to one day think like me.

I want to live to be 200 years old or more. When my great great great grandchildren come to visit, I want them to gather around and hear of the many adventures in my life. I want my great great great grandchildren to look at me and be amazed because I am the master of death. I am immortal.

If I were given the choice between being a man and being a statue, I think that perhaps I should be a statue. In 80 years people will look up at me and say, “This man was someone they made into a statue.” If I were to be a man, in 80 years I would be simply a stone in the ground.

King of the Mud

Ten Thought Tuesday: Class President Edition

Ten Thoughts for your Tuesday…

  1. Anyone have interesting apprenticeship opportunities for me this summer? I feel like I’ve looked almost everywhere else, maybe it’s time to look on my own site.
  1. Ryan Holiday is writing a sequel to The Obstacle is the Way! My friend Jeni encompasses the big struggle of the book. The obstacle is that she’s refused to read the book, but I haven’t found a way to convince her. I’m still working on the premise of the stoicism book, but it’s worth the read.
  1. The phone is now the number one defense against awkward moments. If you see something awkward, feel embarrassed, or find yourself lost, look at your phone and no one will know.
  1. Hillary vs. Bernie just feels like class president elections. One of the candidates is promising free soda and everyone sitting at good tables at lunch instead of just the fifth graders. He can’t actually follow through, but the other candidate may make your life miserable if you don’t vote for her. I’m still paying for not voting for Annabel in 5th grade.
  1. Sometimes I make up names. I’ve never known an Annabel in my life.
  1. This may be the best assessment from anyone I’ve seen on the power of authentic media storytelling, like podcasting, by Note To Self’s Manoush Zomorodi. She had a great episode on the power of podcasting for female voices: “When I was Hard Core News girl there was always the right answer at the end. There was always like, here’s the story, there’s a beginning, middle and an end. And with podcasting, I can be like, we don’t know the answer, but exploring it is super important and I’m going to be vulnerable here and tell you, I’m not sure where I land on this because that’s life and life is messy.”
  1. Online media companies are losing a lot of money through the online ads that reward clicks. While they blame advertisers, consumers are inevitably seeking out better products. There are only so many click bait headlines that people will click on before they get tired of it.
  1. I’m trying to figure out how to monetize my writing. I may start auctioning off an interview a week to the highest bidder. I’m kind of afraid the highest bidder will make me pay them five dollars to do the interview.
  1. Chicago is not a city where you’re rewarded for smiling at strangers on the train.
  1. I think that everyone should try to laugh out loud early in the day. I don’t have a lot of funny friends who are morning people though.

Who Are You Waking Up With?

It begins with me. My feelings of worth related to work, community and self all start with that moment I wake up in the morning.

That moment, for me, can sometimes be the worst part of the day. If the stress of the previous day did not melt off in my travels through sleep, then I have an uphill battle to climb.

I have an important decision to make in that first moment of the day. Can I put all of my effort into correcting the thoughts in my head, or is it better to perform the day as if I’m okay?

I’m lucky, I have people I can talk to about my struggles when necessary, but there are always moments I spend caught within the webs in my own head.

I need to remember to take the time to be my best self. At times in the last few months, I’ve tried to be someone else’s best self. Not only does this leave me in a vulnerable position, but also the other person almost never sees me how I would like them to see me.

The most authentic version of yourself that you can put forward is usually what the world needs. I need to stop feeling like I need to craft a version of myself to fit someone else’s vision.

How does Mary Poppins respond when you ask her to explain something?

“First of all, I would like to make one thing quite clear… I never explain anything”—Marry Poppins

That’s my latest blog post for Experience Institute:

http://expinstitute.com/2016/04/the-error-in-justifying-your-work/

 

Derek in Denver: At Least We Have Trevor

Rocky Mountain High: Trevor Story
Through the first three series of the Colorado Rockies’ season, there’s been nothing but good feelings surrounding Trevor Story—everything from his seven home runs to his nickname for the new outfield wall at Coors Field. He called it the “Bridich Barrier” after hitting the wall twice in Wednesday’s game, costing him two home runs. If Story can be decent the rest of the way, it gives fans a reason to watch his at-bats around those of Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez and DJ LeMahieu (who I love to watch at the plate).

The one downside to Story is the puns. The media, expecting ten years of Brock puns, now has to rely on Story puns. I’ve been guilty, and my friend Jen sent me Ryan Spilbourgh’s tweet about charitable donations for puns about Story. However, his twitter handle is @TStory2, which conjures up images of Woody and Buzz.

 

Lodo Low: Just One Season

April just isn’t the same with both winter sports teams sitting out of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

The Colorado Avalanche not finding a way to get to 90 points was just a travesty. Being .500 at the beginning of the season or the end of the season would have landed them in the playoffs, but it might be better that they missed. This team is a long way from a Cup and a band-aid playoff appearance might have kept management from addressing big issues. Now, they have to look at themselves in the mirror while everyone else in the division competes for a Stanley Cup (except the Jets).

The Nuggets seem to have a lot of pieces, but they are still young and growing. It will be interesting to see how the young core develops and if they can find consistent chemistry. I’d take an exciting basketball team too—there are only a handful of those in the NBA right now. The great 2013 team seems a long way from where we are now, but the people I trust around the Nuggets have high regard for Tim Connelly and Michael Malone.

 

Feeling better about…

Colorado Buffaloes Football: They seem to be getting a few recruits. That giant new practice field is paying dividends. If these recruits don’t work out, I’m nicknaming that thing the “Star Killer Base,” which means that Chip the Buffalo would be a cooler bad guy than Kylo Ren.

The Nuggets: Three picks in the first round? If this was football they’d be set for years. Unfortunately, it’s basketball. I do trust their ability to scout and make trades. It’s funny that Houston lost this pick after they had to get rid of Lawson.

 

Feeling the Same about…

The Broncos: It was cool to see the Super Bowl banner go up in the practice facility. I’m really just trying to enjoy this offseason and avoid all the hype around a Kaepernick trade. He doesn’t make the Broncos that much better right now. A question since I’m in Chicago, do I go to the draft to accept all the GM’s congratulations to the Denver Broncos ?

The Rockies: I was feeling worse about the Rockies, but they’re hanging around .500. The bullpen has been bad very early this year, with a handful of blowout losses in the first week. This usually happens when the arms are tired, so what’s the excuse this year? They’re not warmed up? This team should be fun to watch with their collection of hitters, but blowouts are never fun.

 

Feeling Worse About…

The Avalanche. I don’t want to talk about them anymore.

 

So Long…

DU Pioneers: A Frozen Four! They almost pulled that game out on Thursday.

Kobe Bryant: I’ve come to accept that he exists in the world. His decline mirrored that of the Nuggets, which kind of killed any hatred I had for him. However, these farewell tours are ridiculous. I respect the athletes who either announce their retirement a week before their last home game or after the season… Tim Duncan…

 

The One Thing You Should Read This Week: I really enjoyed this analysis by Nick Groke on the way Trevor Story is hitting home runs: How sustainable is Trevor Story’s home run barrage? So far it’s coming from all angles

The One Story I Never Want to Read Again: Could the Warriors Beat the 1996 Chicago Bulls? If the Warriors don’t win the championship no one will care about the record.

Question for the Crowd: 

The Week Ahead: If the Rockies remain at .500 when they return home, does that mean they can survive to May 1st in contention? I’m seeing them play the Cubs on Sunday and a win against the GREATEST TEAM TO EVER PLAY IN CHICAGO (coverage around this year’s Cubs, not my opinion) would be fantastic.