The Extremist’s Magic Mirror

The mirror talks back. Four extremist knights—they use the term extremist themselves—sit in an occupied castle. They are dimwitted and believe the hype around their organization. So they crowd around the mirror, waiting for it to praise them.

The mirror, it turns out, is a television, airing news from the West. One of them, the leader of this small outpost, leans in toward the TV, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest of them all?”

A politician who is known as a fire-breathing dragon and magician appears before them. “We should be very afraid of these extremists,” he shouts, “They are truly evil.”

The politician might as well be saying to the knights, “why there you are, my kings.”

The poisoned apples are these knights. They are disposable, rot easily and don’t have much value until someone bites into them. They have become the mythical hydra. You cut off one of a head and 10 fighters grow in its place.

These knight’s idealism travels on flying carpets—unmanned western drones that could kill in an instant. They use fear to keep the population in check. It’s the same technique used by the leaders and the fire-breathing dragons politicians who oppose them (and sometimes help them).

To wield the sword in the stone, to fight back the knights and the dragons, you must be willing to have a level head. You must forge a new Camelot to stand against them. Unite with discourse, and campaign to make them mere mortals; condemn the extremists as cowards, not as ideology. They do not sit on a throne of evil, but hide within their own immoral practices. Remember, genies are imprisoned in bottles and martyrs die in caves—opportunists lives in castles.

Across the world, the western politician yells from a stage, “We will carpet bomb them. We will destroy their villages and families.” He uses parlor tricks to keep an audience hanging on his every word, and it works. People in the West’s extremism incites mobs against those dreaming of Camelot.

The magician turns to his men and shouts, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest of them all?”

“Why you are my King,” the television will respond into night long after the cheers from this crowd die down.

The Moonlight Gin Drinker

Your brilliant plans never looked quite right,
And when sleep wouldn’t get you through the night
You would soak in thoughts, from the light of the moon.

You asked her once if she had a plan,
If it used the waves to draw words in the sand,
But the ocean took her words too soon.
I think you’ve known an ocean or two.

Still sometimes, still sometimes, still sometimes late at night
I find your shadow, running through my dreams.
It’s another fight, another fight, it’s one of our old fights,
But they were never quite, as bad as they seemed.

The Midnight Gin Drinker was after my heart
But never as fast as she seemed from the start
And never as sure of what we could be

She told me once, how she’d slip away.
How she’d leave a room with nothing to say
And without a glance, she’d be gone.
I never knew what I did wrong.

Still sometimes, Still sometimes, still sometimes late at night
I find you shadow, running through my dreams.
It’s another fight, another fight, it’s one of our old fights,
But they were never quite, as bad as they seemed.

Song Lyrics, written in 2014

Comedic Nostalgic Timing

Riding Chicago’s trains this weekend, I listened to Steve Martin’s autobiography, Born Standing Up. Martin’s narration served as an engaging backdrop for my solo search party for a six-week apartment sublease. It was a weird juxtaposition—Martin was looking for comedy clubs, while I was looking at bedrooms. Both of us were concerned about similar things: lighting, entertainment and atmosphere.

The book is a wonderful ride through Steve Martin’s early career as a comedian, magician and actor. He begins work at age 10 when Disneyland opened, and the book ends with Steve becoming the greatest selling comedian the world has ever seen. It’s even more fun in the audio format with Martin’s voice providing the action.

I’ve seen Steve Martin tour with his banjo. My parents raised me on his movies and SNL appearances. What impressed me most about Martin from his book was his desire to create something entirely new. He wanted to embody the spirit of a “Wild and Crazy Guy” persona to entertain audiences. He set out to craft jokes without punch lines—where audiences were not cued to laugh, but had to find the humor on their own.

I think Steve Martin and I share a few traits. Mainly, we both like Steve Martin, but I think we share in that idea of creating something that has never been done before. He spent years working on his act—I’m beginning to explore that idea by writing every day. Some of my set list goes over as poorly as his did, I’m sure.

Steve Martin gave himself a deadline to become a comedian. Similarly, I’m going to try being Derek for five more years and if that doesn’t work, I’ll go be someone else. Maybe I’ll try being Steve Martin.

The Theater of the Mind

In the closing minutes of the book, Martin returned to a theater where he performed magic and bizarre comedy early in his career. For a moment, alone in this theater, Martin wished he could go back to those early days—when he was still figuring things out.

As I listened to the book, I realized that I’m still in those early days—that my moment to stand in the theater is still ahead of me. In fact, it’s the very halls I’m walking down now that will someday feel gentle on my mind.

Before I began this year with Experience Institute, I found myself walking on my alma mater’s campus as freshmen were moving in. The University of Colorado in Boulder was packed with parents and terrified looking young adults. Several times, I almost felt the urge to go up to one and yell, “you’re going to love this place, relax!”

I have no desire to go back to college, but I am glad I have those memories. Every now and then, I wish I could return, just for a moment, to similar touch points in my life. Each one hold vivid scenes and memories.

There’s a curse and a power in remembering too much of the past, which Steve Martin displays with his book. I know from experience. At some point, you remember people and events in ways others don’t. It’s like you’re living that part of your life alone. It’s a great space for storytellers, but one that sometimes drains me.

That’s Another Story

I am working on an application for a place I’d really like to work. One of the questions is as follows: “Tell us your favorite personal story. It should be something that happened in your life that you find particularly amusing, surprising or emotional.”

When I first read it, my mind drew a blank.

So I leave the application, get on a train and start listening to Steve. I’m thinking about the  application question—frustrated and wracking my brain for material. Why don’t I have new stories?

At first, I blamed the change on me outgrowing moments of nostalgia. I reasoned that the cause was a combination of splintered romantic interests, the cruelty of the world and Netflix. I’m 25 and it’s been a weird year. Caffeine is finally affecting me and I am more conscious of the term “young professional.” Maybe it’s just not worth reflecting on what’s going on around me—until it becomes necessary.

A lot of a comedian’s work is trying bits and refining them for an act in an effort to please your audience. I think great storytelling must develop in a similar fashion.

Recently, I’ve been resistant to moments of reflection, by not creating meaning and stories for myself.  If I don’t capture those small moments, they obviously fall out of my routines. I need to keep practicing.

A personal look at storytelling is all about a commitment to my craft, and sharing the small things I notice. In truth, I’ve never written about the girl named Calypso who stole my shirt. I very rarely tell the story about the ironic Pizza Hut visit. They’re small antidotes, but they build into segments with punch lines you don’t see coming.

Ten Thoughts Tuesday: A New Theory of Orange

1. Orange Theory is a gym. They should give their members oranges every time they finish a workout. The promise of an orange might make me go to the gym.

2. Why do vegetation restaurants try to make all  of their food look like fake meat? It’s like they’re trying to prove themselves to meat eaters.

3. In Chicago, traffic lights are the law! In New York, New Yorkers are the law and the lights are a suggestion.

4. Don’t yell “Bernie Sanders” in a crowded theater. Especially when you’re at a Chekov play.

5. It would be interesting if virtual reality caused more empathy than actual reality. Interesting, but unlikely…

6. I wish the Pink Line train existed during Chicago’s organized crime past. Imagine a classic Chicago mob called, “The Pink Line.” (Editors note: I wrote this Monday  night. On Tuesday morning, a large section of the Pink Line was shutdown because of a signal station fire).

7. My friend Aaron is too excited about an alternative version of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ song, “S.O.B.

Aaron’s lyrics are about bacon.

8. You never really need a compass until you really need a compass.

9. Derek is a hard name for me to pronounce when the cashier says, “Can I have a name for the order?” They usally think my name is Gary.

10. BATMAN VS SUPERMAN SPOILER!

After the deaths of Han Solo and Superman this year, you can expect the following fictional character deaths by the end of 2016: Captain America, the remaining original Ghostbusters, Donald Trump and Harry Potter.

The Permission You Seek

I know how your life will change. You’ll be in public—perhaps at park or alone at a restaurant. You’ll be sitting there thinking about your problem. It’s always the same variation of questions about your own self worth. Are you enough? How can you possibly be arrogant enough to proceed? What will people think of you?

A man walks up to you.

“Excuse me, are you…you?”

Confused, you stare at the man. He sighs and pulls an old scroll from his bag. You notice that he is wearing period clothing, although what period, you’re not quite sure. Something is off. Is he too short or too thin? He is remarkable, but not noticeable.

“It says right here that you are supposed to be here right now.”

He will roll up the scroll and brandish it at you.

“We need you. All of us are counting on you to be here. And not the version of you someone else wants, or some idealistic you. It needs to be the real you.”

He gets to his knees and holds his hands together pleading.

“So please, don’t tell me you left that you at home. I’ve seen that happen so often in the moment where we need people the most.”

He collapses on the ground, shouting:

“Don’t tell me that you are hardened against the world. A bitter version of you will do us no good. If you turn your back on those around you, then surely, we are in trouble.”

“Don’t tell me that you think we’re beyond saving. It’s your time to carry the torch and show others the way!”

His eyes are teary as he pulls himself up and gets within inches of your face.

“I know that the true you is in there somewhere. The one who will help lead us where we need to go.”

He puts a hand on your shoulder; he’s the empathetic coach building you up after you blew this for everyone.

“Don’t give up on that you. Despite everything haunting you from your past and every fear of the future, we need the true you now. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but you will be called upon.

“Don’t wait for permission from others. Don’t fall in line because you have been criticized. Those who came before you were violently opposed. You can’t handle a few objections?”

“Don’t change because you feel misunderstood. Be you and find the people who need you. Even if they don’t know it yet, you have so much to add to their world.”

You make a noise to interrupt, but the man waves you off, he’s somber now.

“This isn’t about playing a part, it’s about fulfilling your obligation. So many hide from the light in this moment. We were told that you would rise to the occasion.”

He pulls a notepad and paper out of his bag. Flipping to a blank page, he looks up at you, expectantly.

“I need to report back. I need to know if we can count on you. Even when it’s unpopular, can you hold true to your beliefs and values? Will you be standing in the spot where you’re meant to be when the time comes? Are you going to show up?”

And only then, will you have the permission you thought you needed.

Is This Story Worth It?

Is this something you not only want to share, but need to share?

Will it cause change— change that can be felt physically, mentally or emotionally?

Does the story make you laugh or cry?

Does this story take a piece of you, or does it add something to you?

Is it a story you want to hear at a party? Is it a story you desperately hope to remember?

Is this story tense and do you hope for resolution? Do the characters deserve a happy ending?

Does this story make you proud of the characters—will you cry at their moment of triumph like a proud parent?

Would you go to war over this story?

Would hearing that this story was destroyed forever in a fire devastate you?

Could you look back and say that this was the story that changed everything?

Would you listen to this story late at night under a blanket while jazz music plays?

Does it build suspense? Is it a page-turner? Would you lose sleep over this story? Would you abandon work and obligation to finish this story?

Is it a place of beauty in its words and images? Does that beauty stay with you after you leave the story?

When all of this is over, will you need time to recover from this story? Will you be unable to move the moment it ends? Will you sit there, unable to process everything and feel the weight of the story? Will you know that this will take years to process and feel in that moment that the story will evolve with you with each retelling in your head? Does it seem that from the moment this story began it was destined to become a part of you?

Are you not sure you can handle this story? Might it destroy you?

Is this story worth it?

Then begin…

The Sports Question I Want to be Asked

Covering sports, I witnessed emotional moments firsthand. I’ve asked questions that sparked angry answers and seen professional athletes fight back tears as they address the media. Asking thoughtful questions in sports breaks down barriers and humanizes the games we love. There’s just one question I never get asked.

People ask me about athletes I interviewed or which sport is the most fun to cover. I’m happy to talk about the layout of the Broncos locker room or the havoc that is postgame hockey interviews. I even listen intently while people describe athletes they met or games they attended.

I’m taking the year off from sports. I needed a break to reignite my passion. And as I have, this one question continues to bother me. In fact, now that I’m out of the press lounge and day-to-day interactions, the answer to this question infuriates me.

So I’ll ask it.
Derek, what surprises you the most about covering sports?

The sexism:

  • Men using job offers and media access to try and date women
  • Men telling their female colleagues to impress with their looks
  • Men sexualizing women (including colleagues) in media areas
  • Men openly flirting with women while in professional settings
  • Men degrading the work of women for sexist reasons
  • Harassments/stalker tweets online

When I say men, I mean players, team officials, journalists and fans.

And yes, I only covered sports and announced games around Denver—a place I consider to be fairly progressive. On the flip side, I am friends with a lot of women in sports and I hold their words in high regard.

The signs of this problem are everywhere. Kate Feldman’s tweets were a catalyst for this article, followed by Megan Richardson’s. I was disturbed by the treatment of Lindsay Jones after she asked a question at Peyton Manning’s retirement ceremony—I’ve seen firsthand what a great reporter she is at Broncos practices. Samples of other instances include players’ inappropriate interviews with sideline reporters and this Sports Illustrated piece about social media.

If you’re skeptical, I’m sure you’re asking for proof. I’m not giving it to you here. It’s not my place to tell women’s stories on this issue without their permission and I don’t want to get lost in a few details. These behaviors need to be addressed and swiftly corrected. If you talk to enough women in sports, I’m sure you’ll hear stories. They just may not want to go public because it could hurt their careers—the backlash from the sports community and fans has damaged women’s careers before.

Let me be clear, I like people in sports. Almost every man in sports I’ve interacted with appears to be respectful towards women. The perpetrators of sexism are a small sample size—working discretely or protected by a team. Most of my friends in sports would do everything in their power to change unfair treatment of others.

Now it’s time to prove that. Male journalists should be willing to step up and end this behavior when they see it or are told about it. There is nothing about sports journalism that necessitates a different environment for men and women. We should speak out and fight any sexist behavior.

Players, player personal and other journalists need to be held accountable.

I’m willing to do what little I can now. Any woman in sports journalism who has faced discrimination against them can send me their story. I will post it here, anonymously. If I return to sports journalism, I will take this fight on with more force.

Sexism is currently a part of sports culture. This is not one or two instances, but a reality for women in the profession. It hurts sports and journalism. We are all better when a diverse group of people have the access and the voice in public spaces. We need to end safe havens for sexist behavior. It’s on all of us—men, fans, journalists, and team officials—starting now.

The Honest Work of a Feather-Covered Chalk Boxman

The box made Alex uncomfortable, but the man was confounding. This sight took up Alex’s attention everyday evening as he looked out the window on his bus ride. There were other staples of Alex’s ride of course. He tolerated the sign twirler directing people to the Chick-Fil-A and the banjo playing man who walked between cars. Alex could calibrate his day around those rituals, but not this one.

Alex called him Boxman. Boxman spent his afternoons on the same city street, filling in the same box with chalk every day. The ritual occurred at the northwest corner of two one-way streets—Vine Street (north-to-south) and Holland Avenue (east-to-west). Boxman worked in the space just past the parked cars on Vine. He carved out his intersection—for an awaiting pawn or knight perhaps?

When Vine Street had a red light, Boxman ran out with a piece of white chalk—the big sidewalk chalk, not chalkboard chalk. He drew a box, about four feet on all sides. Without a straightedge or measuring stick, Boxman created an almost perfect square every time. Then Boxman pressed the chalk flat and rubbed it against the pavement, whiting out the area. Depending on the buses arrival at the spot, Alex saw the different phases of the project. He guessed it took Boxman about forty minutes to complete the box.

Boxman’s gray cloak, covered in feathers, added to the mystique. These were not bird feathers, but colored feathers found in craft stores; short blue, red, yellow and green feathers glued into place. Boxman also wore a traffic cone on his head. The lime green traffic cone would glow in the dusk of the winter months.

Alex saw Boxman from the Holland bus every day on his way home from work. Alex lived by routine. After work, he took the bus home to watch Jeopardy. Alex never deviated from his schedule. Boxman’s routine jarred Alex. Alex assumed his life varied drastically from Boxman, but they met on this corner every day. The craziest part, Boxman didn’t know about Alex. Alex spent hours thinking about the man with the feathered cape and the cone on his head. Boxman never thought about Alex.

A couple of times, Alex walked to work in the morning just to pass the spot of Boxman’s square. Each time, Alex was astonished to find no trace of the box, merely wet pavement.

When it rained, Boxman simply drew the box’s outline and watched the chalk rinse away. When it snowed, he shoveled out the spot. If someone parked in the spot with their hazards on, Boxman waited for the car to move before starting with the chalk.

Alex had a lot of theories about the spot. Maybe Boxman hoped aliens would land there. What if something tragic had happened in that box and he performed this ritual to pay his respects? Perhaps Boxman made that box because he knew something important would happen there in the future.

One Friday, after going to a bar while Jeopardy was tape delayed for a sports game, Alex rode the bus home late. As he passed the intersection, he saw Boxman, this time in white feathers instead of the multicolored ones. Boxman wore the same cone hat and carried two water buckets. As Alex watched from his seat in the idling bus a few feet back, Boxman dumped the first bucket in the square and then pulled out a squeegee. He began to wipe the chalk off toward a storm drain. The bus whisked on, but Alex craned his neck for a long time, looking at the white-feathered Boxman drowning his work.

Alex never talked to Boxman. He dared not walk by the man as he filled in the chalk. That would have taken Alex out of his routine. Strangers might ruin Alex’s schedule.

For something that consumed so much of Alex’s thought, it’s amazing he never found enough curiosity to end up in that box.

One Tuesday, Boxman did not show up to work on his box. He never filled that chalk box in again.

I would like to tell you why, but how should I know? Alex never asked him.

 

What a Disaster With a Smile

“It blew up! It was a total mess! You would not believe how badly that failed! Oh man did we screw that up. It wasn’t incompetence; it just went the exact opposite of everything we thought. Maybe we should have seen it coming, but can you blame us?”

Failure can be fun.

Go back and read the beginning again, but this time read it like you’re having the time of your life.

Of course, most of us treat failure with disbelief. We beat ourselves up. We take full responsibility and punish ourselves in an attempt to correct the behavior. We ask divine forces, how can I ever be ok after this?

Usually, life goes on.

Sometimes, life slowly rolls off the edge of the table like a glass just out of reach. The plans shatter. Obstacles appear out of nowhere and the whole thing just falls apart in your hands.

What happens if you look for the fun in those failures?

Throughout my life, I have performed well in those moments where I was allowed to fail gracefully. I think about anchoring TV shows I did where I felt like no one was watching, or hockey games that I announced where the score was 7-1 and I wanted to try something new. On those days, I took risks. I attempted to find joy in the process.

Sometimes the risks failed. Then all I could do was smile at the camera and try to do better next time.

If you can find ways to enjoy those moments where things fall apart, then you will be willing to have more of them; unintentional catastrophes make great stories, after all. This attitude also allows you to quickly move beyond that moment.

I’m not someone who fails for fun often, but I like thinking about it. I like that instant where something has gone terribly wrong, and you find a way to laugh about it. It gives me energy.

So here’s to taking more risks and laughing about the mess!

Lessons From the Tough Moments

I learned some unexpected lessons since I began the Experience Institute in August.

A few unexpected lessons:

1. Trying new things shifted my perspective on old routines
2. Changing to be what other people want does not always lead to the job/apprenticeship
3. Having a single place to stay is really important to me
4. Most people, friends and strangers, want to be kind
5. It’s scary to start new adventures, but so is doing the same thing forever.
6. There will always be advice and opinions—sometimes too many
7. Finding confidence in myself trumps evolving into someone better
8. A mistake is something I can laugh about later
9. Pick my teammates—and make sure they’re adding to my team.
10. Add to the world what I feel is missing

You can read about the secret benefits of an Experience Institute year here:

How will you survive Experience Institute?