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“If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood.”

Bill Watterson, 1990 Kenyon College graduation commencement address

I don’t know how much longer I can hold out doing something I don’t love. Accompanying paragraphs to that sentence usually involve what I’d like to be doing instead and why I’m not doing them yet, but I am done analyzing and intellectualizing and philosophiizing, and all I honestly want to do is do.

I don’t pretend to know you. I don’t pretend to know what wakes you up in the morning, or what you look for when you visit a city for the first time. I don’t pretend to know what pop culture references you make, or where’d you go if I handed you a one-way plane ticket to anywhere.

I had a really long paragraph (fine, I had multiple paragraphs) somewhere here, explaining why, despite not knowing you, I’m writing this, but I don’t want to complicate things. I don’t want to overthink this anymore, because that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. So… a toast.

To your eternal happiness. The kind of happiness that wakes you up in the morning with pancakes and a smile on your face, that overwhelms you as the past and present sweep the rug from underneath your feet, that fills your stomach with laughter bought by cultural currency, that inspires you at every moment. To the choices you make, to the people you love, to the future ahead. To your eternal happiness– lest no one ask for more, nor anyone to want for less.

The truly frustrating thing about figuring out who you want to be is that the person you want to be and the person you could be are not always the same. Or in sync. Or even parallel.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and yes, I’ve always wanted to be a writer– but feature writing and TV ads were only a plus, never the main event. It was short stories, and novels, and essays, because (and I cannot get over how lame this sounds) those are the things that mean something to me.

But I’ve also always wanted to be a chemist, or an archaeologist, or a computer engineer. Research, development, innovation– I thought these were things that upon intersection with my more cultural inclinations would come to fruition in advertising.

I was wrong. I still want to discover a new element to squeeze into the periodic table, and I still want to find a forehead wide enough that it could only belong to the First Men, and I still want to look down on earth from a watchtower in space. Everything else was only ever icing on the cake.

Except I don’t have the mental capacity for any of that. I never took any classes, I never tried any experiments, I never expressed more than a passing interest, because, bottom line: I’m not smart enough for any of it. I know that, and isn’t that what sucks the most? Only ever knowing how to dream, but leaving it just at that?

Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I consume too much science fiction slash fantasy. Um, yes, I probably do– but I also like creating things. I like believing that nothing is impossible.

Ironically enough, that’s my agency’s internal campaign for the year. I don’t think I made a mistake by coming here, even though everyone else seems to think so. Why do I stay? I like the environment. I like being told to think big, but within the constraints of reality. I like being only worth as much as your last idea. Yes, I do sometimes worry that I’ll start to prefer overtly airbrushed images and write with a consumerist undercurrent, but to be honest, I know this isn’t for me in the long run– but I feel like I’m training my brain to pump out ideas left and right, and to make something out of everything.

I already know what everyone else thinks would be a better fit for me (conveniently forgetting that I am painfully awkward, and that I am not a likeable person). I know the acceptable logic is to go where you know you’ll succeed, or be great, or whatever, but I’ve always been the opposite: if you know you’ll do well, why not take on something new, something different, something you’d completely and utterly suck at? Setting yourself up for failure is so boneheaded, but it just gets so boring when your job is “fun,” and not “challenging,” or “discouraging,” or “utterly heartbreaking.”

Sigh. I never know what to do anymore. Usually when I write, I end up figuring out a conclusion along the way, and I close my laptop knowing what to do, but now… Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha I want a doughnut.

One of my former staffmates in Guidon messaged me asking for help with her requirements for editorship. I was never the superstar writer in Guidon, but i got by, and of course I want to help her win– even if it meant playing pretend and making a list of “tips” for newbies.

I wanted to say more, but you should never give away your secrets. Not that i have any earth-shattering ones, but I also didn’t want to come off as overly excited, so I boiled it down to these three. Despite being tips for newbies,, these are more or less the hallmarks of my own writing– and, by extension, life in general.

Build your rapport.

Take time to sit down with your interviewees, even if they say they’re busy– be willing to meet them anytime, anywhere, for as long a time as they’re available. Make it convenient for them, and it’ll be harder to say no to you. (When in doubt, remember: you need something from them, not the other way around.)

More importantly, you’ll be able to go deeper. It sounds obvious, but conduct your interview like a conversation. Don’t take notes– record the interview with a small, unintrusive device (your phone is perfect), sit back, and just talk. Leave all your questions on your screen to refer to if the conversation needs redirecting but otherwise, let it take its own course.

Chase the chaos.

Don’t run away from awkward topics. Word your questions properly, and doors will open for you. Be genuinely curious about who they are and what they do. Don’t just ask a direct question– build up to it. Even if all you need is a quote, let them tell their story. It will always be worth it.

At one point or another, you will be required to interview people who are completely unremarkable. Those people are harder to write about than the psychotic ones whose multiple personalities take turns screaming at you, or the cokeheads with drool coming out of their mouths as they talk because they’re so jacked up on the white stuff. Why? Unremarkable people have no conflict. In the event that you are stuck with one, you don’t have to pretend that they’re anything more than they are. Write what you believe is right.

Otherwise, go with the crazy. Follow the breadcrumbs—find the conflict brewing, and force it to surface. Information is your trump card; make sure you have the the winning hand.

You aren’t god.

And even if you were, journalism doesn’t give a shit.

You may have a “style,” or a “system,” but just because it works on most days doesn’t mean it’s perfect. When I first started out in Features, I used to begrudge the necessity of outlines—until I realized, as I was struggling to meet a deadline, that I was completely off the mark. My outline reminded me that there was a point to be made, and what that point was. There will always be something new to learn, even if at first you don’t think it’s worth learning.

Write with the knowledge that the person reading you has no idea who you are—they don’t know that you failed Spanish in high school, or that you’re deathly afraid of ketchup, and most importantly, even if they did, they wouldn’t care. Your friends may appreciate that line you dropped about how you should live in salt or how the landslide brought you down, but obscure references don’t make you a good writer. You can tailor your writing for an audience, but remember: there is power in anonymity. Leave your “feels” on Twitter, and save your inner artiste for Instagram.

And if you’re feeling invincible because other people compliment your writing, ask yourself: are they worth listening to? If not, there you go. If yes, don’t believe them.

As I type this, I’m watching more than 9,000 photos export from my phone. iPhoto seems to rush through some, and linger over others– stupid, insignificant moments, but somehow I can place the exact time when and where each and every one was taken– and the randomness has made me realize that, no matter how fucked up I always say my life is, the last eight months have been supreme. (Well, not just the last eight months, but this phone has been with me for that long, so let’s keep it in scope.)

There are so many things I want to see, and do, and become, that I’ve always been so obsessed with moving forward that I never take the time to look back. I really am the type of person who would rather fight a war alone rather than wait a couple of hours for reinforcements– I don’t expect people to go at the same pace as I do, and in many ways, that has been both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. This doesn’t mean that I’m particularly skilled, or talented, or independent, or intelligent– just that alone is really my preference. My natural inclination isn’t to share myself– it’s to do whatever the hell I want, and if anyone manages to join in on my fun, then great. I don’t know if I can change that. I don’t know if I want to.

But I do know that I don’t give the people around me enough credit. I feel like I really need to stop working on myself, and start working on the people in my life.

My seventh grade English teacher told me that I obviously put a lot of stock into who I am. At twelve years old, I thought it was just his way of telling me I needed to get over myself, (I didn’t, obviously.) dismissing my awkwardness and social incapacity as callous. Fast forward to now, and it seems like a jibe at how I spend so much time learning this and that, and trying to achieve all these stupid things, and realizing in the end that none of those things make you happy. I can’t imagine ever needing anyone, and somehow he knew that before I did– that I wasn’t just stubborn and unforgiving to myself, but that I was stubborn and unforgiving toward others as well.

I’m not going to lie– many things bore me. People included. Maybe I’ve read too much science fiction, but I feel like I’m looking– waiting?– for something, and most people don’t feel the same way. Like they’re okay with never shaking hands with an alien, or discovering an ancient library in the middle of the desert. Which I don’t understand. At all. Why would you not want more? Why would you not want greatness? Not in terms of acquiring possessions or accumulating value, but even in just seeing the world for what it could be, rather than just what it is.

It’s not that I see things in the correct way, but I do wonder why I’m waiting for an apocalypse that may or may not come.

Image

A photo I took of an i-D issue on collaborators, to conclude. I really have no other conclusion. I’m not going to start needing people, just because I think i should. I’m not going to start opening myself up to strangers on the street, just because it would do me good. But I think I do need to figure out why I’m playing this game the way I’ve been playing it– and, of course, the big question: if all this time, the person I’ve been playing against is myself.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI was going to give this book to my successor at CoSA, but I picked it up the other day, mostly because I needed a kick in the right direction. I had just finished telling my friend MJ to be brave, when I myself was a total coward. So, I decided to go ahead and just do it– be brave.

I don’t know if I’m making the right choice in that it will be right for me even in the future, but it’s right for me now– my lack of foresight scared me, but George Lois’ Damn Good Advice was really a huge help. It had a lot of really noteworthy things, and I can see myself revisiting the book when I need a push. This one, however, is what I need now. There are a lot of different things I want to do, but I realize I can’t do any of them unless I spend time at the bottom. So, I’m ready for you, food pyramid– I’m going eat my way to the top.

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