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.

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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Margins #2: It’s Not Easy Being Green

XI.  It’s amazing to watch my friend Michelle sketch, but that’s not her only passion. Michelle is diving into food and community at Experience Institute this year. She’s currently working in Fargo with fellow classmate, Jake Jones, who follows his curiosity to make connections in nature (“like” his most recent posts on Instagram—he’s in a contest). I can’t wait to see how their dreams for the future will impact the world.

XII. I’m analyzing my dreams in a new way. From the great site Aeon, what if dreams are the brains attempts to create logical predictions out of our unpredictable lives? Perhaps, when patterns are not obvious, the brain flattens our knowledge and spits out 10-second, abstract predictions. Here’s an example: hearing that Zika might move the Olympics makes me have a dream that four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin might recruit me to swim for Team U.S.A. when they move the Olympics to Colorado in August; keep dreaming Kessinger.

XIII. I vividly remember Muhammad Ali’s shaky hand lighting the torch during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. It was my first impression of Ali, who fought Parkinson’s for the second half of his life. While boxing has never been my sport, I do love boxing stories and the Thrilla in Manila ranks above them all. It helped that Ali was the one first telling us the story.

XIV. Even at the time of his death, Ali was a complicated American figure. Tributes that simply referred to him as a boxer seemed like snide remarks. He was one of the most defining American figures of the 20th century. Ali showed the world the great power of being true to your ideals. Of all the tributes, I really loved Paul McCartney’s and President Obama’s the most.

XV. President Obama’s approval rating is at its highest point since April 2013. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the current presidential race… I recently listened to a great audio documentary about how Obama created space to talk about race in 2008 because of Reverend Wright. The moment became a catalyst for then Senator Obama to explore his own complicated relationship with race in America through his “More Perfect Union” speech.

XVI. As we come to the close of this presidency, we’re still looking for that unity. I stumbled across a clip of Jon Stewart after the Eric Garner footage was released two years ago. Stewart said on the Daily Show, “We are definitely not living in a post-racial society. And I bet there are a lot of people out there wondering how much of a society we are living in at all.” The statement resonates even more today with the prominence in our social conscience of injustice and hate speech.

XVII. The anti-Semitic parentheses were revealed. A group of white supremacists created an internet plugin that automatically puts Jewish people’s names in parentheses—reminiscent of Nazi Germany tactics. Some Jewish people like (((Jon Weisman))) started self-identifying with the parentheses to stand up to the bigots. Weisman then quit Twitter. We must not forget that prejudice constantly lurks within the margins of society. It might not always show up on the local news or in a white guy’s Twitter feed, but it’s around us.

XVIII. Here’s a great opening line for a local news anchor: It’s not easy being green, again. Last month, ABC canceled their reboot of the Muppets. The show failed because they treated the Muppets like a bunch of soloists instead of an orchestra. Except for Kermit the Frog, the Muppets lack depth. Magic happens when the characters collide in new environments. ABC tried to force drama in the ranks instead of implementing scenes of chaos. Let the Muppets break a plot line in earnest and then Kermit can put the pieces back together.

XIX. Did you know that Kermit the Frog began as a news reporter on Sesame Street? He had a hard time interviewing Elmo and was also visited by a terrible door-to-door salesman, Grover. I’m hoping someone lets Kermit cover the election this year. Imagine Kermit asking Donald Trump if his toupee was an old friend of Kermit’s from the swamp. Let’s have Kermit moderate a debate.

XX. The first presidential debate is Monday, September 26. The election is Tuesday, November 8. I wrote this final section before the tragedy in Orlando. I am heartbroken for this country that I love.


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 #1: Riddle Me This Batman

I.  “Derek you need to mention that you’re an artistic jock. That’s pretty rare, right?” Sami Ahmed asked with his unique charm. Sami, James Paek and I practiced pitching ourselves to companies as an exercise during our recent Experience Institute classes in Chicago. Is anyone going to hire me because of these interests? I don’t know. Why would anyone hire me for anything outside of my great hair? I changed my pitch to, I connect concepts from areas that include: music, sports, journalism and culture.

II. Journalism is a passport into culture. The best journalists major in the minor. They find stories about Trader Joe’s Pirates and the scars of a Jim Crow South. Varied knowledge of movies, music and historical events creates intersection points between different aspects of culture. The best stories connect the margins of society to a mainstream audience.

III. “Every group has a mainstream: those qualities, behaviors, and values supported by the group. Other qualities and behaviors are put out of the center, to the periphery.” Fellow Experience Institute student Lan Ngyuen presented this idea to our class. In a day of peer-to-peer teaching that included chicken cutting and clown noses (I was wearing the clown nose), Lan’s lesson caused me to start thinking about the mainstream and the margins in groups. This power structure exists in every group – from Fortune 500 companies and improv softball teams to pop radio and Silicon Valley.

IV. All cultural shifts happen when the mainstream is influenced by the margins. White musicians and DJs brought rock to the airwaves in the late 1950’s, and the current superhero movie trend came out of the Comicon subculture. You see, even Batman’s relevance shifts between broad daylight and Dark Knight.

V. Before landing on the current title, I was going to call this weekly collection (newsletter), “Riddle Me This Batman” in honor of the Riddler. I loved 1960’s TV classic with Adam West as a kid and only found out later that it was meant to be a comedy. Adam West recently acknowledged how playing Batman affected his life. For West to build a career after the show, he was forced to give up the desire for serious roles.

VI. I have a six year-old friend who deals with her frustrations in life by shouting, “Seriously!” I’m seriously considering my own sanity as I continue to write. Between a novel project last fall and the 50 posts I wrote in 10 weeks for the DK Chronicle, I’m writing with more variety than ever before. The burden comes not from the words, but the act of sharing them with an audience. I’m writing this newsletter to challenge myself to think differently about how I share and engage with my writing. I want to take the grit from previous projects and continue to explore.

VII. What builds grit? The key is to trade novelty for nuance. If you want to be great at something, you need to focus on the details of the work and avoid chasing trends and entirely new experiences. Grit means adding to the puzzle instead of starting over. All this comes from the Freakanomics podcast. They recently wrapped up Self-Improvement Month if you need any advice.

VIII. I’m developing a rule for how I decide if strangers are worth listening to for advice. In my experience/research, the people who give the best advice:

  1.  Acknowledge other people’s contributions
  2. Admit what they don’t know
  3. Talk about elements of luck in their lives

On the contrary, people who feel invincible are setup to fall. No one is right all of the of the time when picking trends, noticing variables or starting a business.

IX. Did you know that 96% of companies fail in the first 10 years? Of the 30 companies on the DOW Jones Industrial Average, only 12 remain from 25 years ago. You’re welcome, kids trying to justify an art degree to your parents.

X. I went to an arts school in middle and high school where I trained as a classical singer. Our teachers encouraged creativity at every level—from songwriting as a science final to loose sentence structure (my grammar is still a work in progress). The teachers allowed us to sketch in our notebooks. The margins of my notebook were filled with sketches. In fact, sometimes I learned more in the margins than I did in the course work itself. I invite you to sketch in the margins.