Friday, February 22, 2013

So, I've started a blog.

So, I've started a blog.

I guess this post will serve as an introduction to it and try in a long, rambling way to explain why I've made this thing in a manner that says more than "I like the sound of my own voice." My inspiration to do so came from four people who have, in their own ways, shaped the person I've become in the 21 years I've had to become someone. In varying degrees, they have all been friends to me-- family and friends, examples and idols and role models.

The first and oldest influence on tonight's creation is Neil Gaiman, my favorite living author of fiction, whom I met in February 2010 at the Bama Theatre in Tuscaloosa. Neil was there as part of a visiting writer's series that was organized by Creative Campus, a student group for artists and writers of all shapes and sizes on the University of Alabama campus. I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman at the time and had no business meeting him the way I did. After the reading, Neil spent an hour or so with the big wigs of the creative writing department-- graduate students and professors, administrators of Creative Campus and the like. I was seriously out of place, but Breanne LeJeune, the instructor of my first creative writing class, knew that I was absolutely obsessed with Gaiman. In the first meeting of our class, I'd read a poem of his to show what kind of I was currently in love with and his book Coraline ended up being assigned reading. To make what is already a long story somewhat shorter, Breanne was on the list of big wigs to meet Neil not only at the dinner after his reading, but also at a closed-door Q&A the next day on campus that maybe 30 people were asked to attend. She gave her spot at both events to me in what is still one of the nicest, most selfless things anyone has done for me. I met Neil that night, after his reading. He approached me and asked why I wasn't mingling as much as everyone else in the room and I told him it was because I was not a natural part of that crowd. I said I was not only the lone freshman there, but also the only undergraduate student of any sort. I was almost certain I didn't belong in a fancy restaurant with the top minds of the creative writing department meeting an author whose entire published bibliography (sans his first book, a tell-all about Duran Duran) I had read and loved. He laughed at me, sat down, and we talked for a few minutes. In that time, Neil Gaiman pretty much single-handedly changed the way I saw myself as well as the way I looked at my role on a campus of 33,000 students. He told me to never let my age or any other factor that I could not personally change affect the way I presented myself to others or gauged my own worth. As an aspiring student journalist and a creative writing minor, that was huge for me. It meant I didn't have to be timid or afraid to ask difficult questions or embarrassed about the short stories I was workshopping. It meant that if I dropped the ball somewhere, I would take responsibility for that as necessary, but damn if people were going judge me for something other than the quality of my own work. He also told me, as he tells most people, that if I wanted to call myself a writer (which I still don't because it absolutely bleeds pretension at this stage in my life) that I should be writing every day. I write a lot. I write short fiction and poems and article after article. Some of it is seen and published, a great deal of it I just hammer out on a keyboard, save to my computer and forget about. Three years later, though, I realize I haven't been writing every day. This blog, I hope, will be an outlet for that.

The second source, an idol of mine for years, I met only hours ago. Bob Woodward, half of the journalist duo that eventually exposed the Watergate scandal, visited the University today, and I had the opportunity to speak with him twice. In the first, Woodward sat down with nine senior members of the staff of the Crimson White, the student newspaper that's employed me for the last three years. We didn't have long to talk, but Woodward took the time to ask each of us our role at the newspaper before he said anything himself, nodding and smiling as we answered. This man, the winner of multiple Pulitzer Prizes, invested time and interest in us, and remembered who we were later in the day, after his speech. That alone was enough to make our days, to see us respect even more a man who was already a hero to us. When he did start talking, he said to keep at it, to write every day, just like Neil had. Woodward said that journalists were to be envied, that we had the greatest job on the planet, even if the pay is shit. Journalists, he said, have the rare opportunity to be a part of their readers' lives every day, to shape what people thought about and talked about that day, to capture their interest, even if only for a few minutes at breakfast. He then said if you found that you were no longer interesting people, to stop what you were doing and start writing something else. He didn't have much time for boring or meaningless journalism. I hope the articles I write do that, that they genuinely interest people for a few minutes. I have the same hope for this thing, even though Woodward almost certainly cringes every time he hears a word like blog. I don't care much if you're a friend or a co-worker, my family or a complete stranger. I just hope to keep you interested.

The third and biggest influence on this venture is my dad, who has for several weeks been insisting that I blog. He's stumbled on a few blogs that really interest and fascinate him lately, and every time we talk, he reminds me that this is something that I should be doing, and probably something I should have started a long time ago. I'm finally listening, because I don't think anyone in my life has been as personally interested and invested in who I am, what I do and what I become as my dad. He told me I should study at the University of Alabama back in high school and I laughed at him. I ended up here anyway, and it's been the best decision I ever made. He told me I should write for the Crimson White as soon as I landed on campus, and I laughed at him again. I was partially intimidated and partially pompous. The intimidation stemmed from being a dumbass freshman on a huge campus. (I hadn't met Neil yet, so I hadn't given myself permission to ignore that.) I figured the paper had little use for someone as hopelessly green as I was. As for the pompous part, I really wasn't sure I wanted to be a part of the Crimson White. I picked up newspapers and wasn't really interested in them, so I didn't think it'd be worth my time to hop onto what I thought was a sinking ship. I joined up anyway during my sophomore year after meeting Taylor Holland, a writer at the time who was my news editor the next year. Dad was right again, and I should have been at the CW all along. It wasn't a sinking ship, it was a phoenix that, in 2009, was in the early stages of heating up to rise out of the ashes of mediocrity. The newspaper is now one of the best in the nation, better than it's been in decades, and the biggest regret of my college career is not having been there my freshman year. Should have listened to my dad. The same goes for freelancing for Alabama Alumni Magazine, and for meeting a Pulitzer-winning journalism professor, Rick Bragg, and taking his class. The list is longer than I'd like to admit. Dad has always had an eerie sense of what the best opportunity for me is at the moment, and it's not some weird parent-living-vicariously-through-his-kids deal, it's genuine interest in what I do and why I do it, which has been an awesome and seriously under-appreciated thing in my life. Anyway, Dad told me I should blog, and having laughed off his best advice too many times, I figured I'd give it a shot. What's the worst that could happen?

The last influence is my best friend since childhood, a treasure named Skiv, who blogs every day about about salvaging things she finds wandering around Texas and up-cycling them into shelves and bags and planters and art. I read her blog every time she posts because she does what a blogger should do, what Woodward said we all had to do-- she interests me. I don't have salvaged treasures to captivate anyone who stumbles here, but I hope this blog can, in its own way, serve the same purpose and keep you interested. I plan to post, as the title suggests, my own musings about being a college journalist on a semi-regular basis, and also link to whatever it is I find interesting on that day. Maybe it's Crimson White content, Woodward's latest story in the Washington Post, a new poem from Neil or a song I've tripped over that day. I make no promises about what I will post here, other than it will be what is interesting me at the time, and with it I aim to interest anyone who stops here to read something.

That's why I started this thing, anyway. Enough for tonight, I suppose. I can't say it enough, but thanks to everyone I've mentioned above, even the ones who will never read this. To Neil and Bob Woodward, to Dad and Skiv and Breanne LeJeune, to Taylor Holland and everyone who's ever worked at the Crimson White, to all my friends and all my family, thanks for bringing me this far.

What I'm reading now:

Skiv's salvage blog

Woodward's latest story, in which he calls out President Obama for spinning a crisis he helped created as the fault of the Republicans in Congress. Woodward, I think, leans to the left, but he is unafraid to call out the President of the United States when he's lied to. As someone who is lied to on a fairly regular basis, I respect the hell out of him for that. It's also a decent primer of the issue of the sequester with plenty of embedded links for more reading, so if you've found yourself unable to talk intelligently about that, it's a great find.


  1. Two comments:
    Go Stephen, go Stephen!
    Blog on you fine young man, blog on.

  2. A cold wind driven rain soaks the world.
    The trees rage a constant battle to stand.
    The wind chimes never cease as plops of water play the deck.
    February, the dread most month of them all, unleashes its fury.
    You see a glimpse of warm, even renewal, then get a frozen slap to the face.
    Days remain short, mornings always frigid.
    It is a survival struggle for us who chase the sun.
    Winter's tightest grasp engulfs me.
    Oh where art thou, thy blessed rays of delight?


    Your frickin turn.

    Love ya.

    Fat Dad