Sunday, August 28, 2011

Train Science

I am on my way to my birthday dinner in Manhattan. I enter the subway and get down to the platform just as an F train is pulling into the station. I hop on the train and grab a seat between a couple of white college looking kids and a middle aged black man.

The train has barely left the station when a homeless man enters the car and starts singing a song about chicken.

Kind of.

He is “playing” the harmonica and I can’t really tell what he is saying but it sounds like he is singing the song “Feelings” except every time the word ‘feelings’ should appear, he is using the word ‘chicken.’ It is apparently an appeal for somebody to give him some food.

Typically in this situation I don’t make eye contact, I just look down, which is what I am doing now.

I have my legs crossed and am staring at my knee as the homeless man works his way through the train asking people for money. Of course I was the only one he touched on the knee. I can’t stop staring at my knee praying for something else to happen.

So he passes through our car and moves on to the next. The black man to my right takes this as his cue to rant about how dumb it is to sing about chicken.

I have no iPod with me, no reading materials. I can’t even pretend to be immersed in anything. I had planned to lose myself in self-reflective birthday thoughts, but instead I am suddenly part of a conversation I am not participating in.

The black guy next to me is cracking jokes and being extremely loud about the homeless man who just left the train. He is hitting me on the arm like we are old buddies. It is when I turn to acknowledge him that I smell the hot wind of brandy.

And sure enough he pulls out a fifth of V.S.O.P. wrapped in a black plastic bag and takes a big sip.

I don’t say anything, I just smile politely and nod.

The two white kids to my left however, see this as an opportunity to make a new friend. So now drunk guy on my right, and white kids on my right are talking. The white kids start using slang they hadn’t been using before, saying things like “you gotta do what you gotta do” and using words like “hustle.”

My mouth remains shut. And then the drunk guy starts talking about his career in Mortuary Science.

Yep that’s right, he’s a mortician.

And anybody can do it too. Do you know how I know? Well because my new friend tells me right off the bat that he did ten years in prison before getting his Mortuary Science degree and if he can do it, anybody can do it.

He says other things as well but all I can focus on is the fact that I have never sat this close to anybody who has been to prison.

But he goes on. Being a mortician is quite easy. He shares that all you need to do is take the glue and plug the holes.

It’s just all holes. Nose holes, ear holes, pee holes.

At this point the white kids are just eating this stuff up. I have yet to speak but they are asking all kinds of questions. Where he went to school, when he went to school, etc.

And he's not quiet. He is talking loudly, not yelling exactly, but the train is quiet and his voice carries. And I imagine the rest of the train is just as eager to hear his story as we are.

He then tells us a story about how when you die it is possible to die with an erection. How does our friend know this? Well apparently a girl in his Mortuary Science class got kicked out of school for having sex with a cadaver.

And then he makes gigantic masturbatory gesticulations while laughing wildly.

At this point my insides are folding themselves into origamied discomfort.

I also learn that he loves being a mortician it because the gas that preserves dead bodies gets you high:

Ya know because it’s basically just Angel dust. That’s true!

He says that aside from the fact that he gets high, a dead body is

The worst smelling shit of your life. And women stink more than men because…

I’ll spare you the details on that one.

I still have not spoken but the white kids keep egging him on and making puns, acting like this was the first black person they have ever spoken to in their life.

You know what they say about Mortuary Science, people are dying to get into it.

I am so uncomfortable yet I am about as still as a cadaver, somehow thinking that will make this stop. But it doesn’t.

He’s doing quite well for himself. Apparently he is making $120,000 a year but he really wants to go back to school for autopsies.

Because you know, basically I’m a doctor then.

I nod. Because that is the only thing my body will let me do. But now I’m straining my neck trying to see what kind of watch he has on, trying to indiscreetly check out his sneakers. I am trying to gage if this guy is making six figures why is he sitting on a train drinking a fifth of brandy.

He touches on other topics like how he has no idea how to use a computer. And then, he asks me a direct question, which means I have to actually speak. He asks me what I am in school for. I tell him I have been working for six years.

The only benefit of this is he can stop telling me to major in Mortuary Science. But he doesn’t stop leaning into me, over me, exhaling his 80 proof beliefs upon my ears.

Eventually he tells me it makes sense that he hangs out with dead bodies because:

You know, I done killed some ninjas.

Except he didn’t say ninjas. Understand?

So now my heart is in a full out rave panic mode as I try to comprehend when this train ride is going to end and how I am going to get away from the mass murdering mortician who spent a decade in prison.

The train pulls into Queensbridge and he tells us this is his stop. He then gives us all five and leaves us with this piece of advice.

Get into mortuary science.

Then he stood up and I saw he was wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

20 Something Summit – Part 2

I live in New York but I was in Chicago this past weekend for the 20 Something Blogger Summit. I met people from all over the country but nearly everybody I met from Chicago asked me the same question:

What do you think of Chicago?

They asked me as though embarrassed or ashamed, anticipating that I was going to say it disappointed me or paled in comparison to my far larger and more impressive city. This really surprised me because I am in love with Chicago and have been for some time now.

I fell in love with Chicago the way 12 year old girls fall in love with teenage pop stars. I gush about it. I am effusive to the point of obnoxious. I shout out "I LOVE THIS @#$@IN CITY" while cool breezes tousle my short brown locks as I stand on the bank overlooking the river.

I love the layout, and the restaurants, but most of all I love the architecture. I also love the perspective and space between streets and buildings which allows me to appreciate the architecture. I'm not going to argue that New York or Chicago has better architecture than the other. For arguments sakes let's say New York did. You wouldn't be able to appreciate it as much because the buildings in New York are so close together that it is challenging to fully absorb their presence and their footprint.

It's like seeing a person in profile only. You don't get the full picture of what they really look like.

Chicago gives you perspective, you have space and room to look and absorb and ingest and love.

The other thing I love about the Chicago architecture is something I found out on the boat tour I took from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The buildings of Chicago are not insular as so many of them pay tribute to each other in one way or another. By referencing elements from the buildings next to them or mimicking a similar element or just stopping at the same height. The buildings aren't just independent individuals, they are a part of a community. It sounds silly to say that about inanimate structures. But it is true. The buildings don't compete for your attention. They reflect, and feed off, and truly support each other.

I went to Chicago for this summit not quite sure what to expect. I was excited that I was a panel moderator, but outside of my sole duty from 2:15 to 3:15 pm on Sunday afternoon, I wasn't quite sure what else to would come my way. I didn't know anybody, I had never really interacted with any of these people before, and this would be my first blog conference.

When I arrived the first night for the cocktail party (a situation which I thrive in) I was caught a bit off guard that so many of the bloggers seemed to know each other already, had been to conferences together, or fostered relationships before meeting in person. There weren't a tremendous amount of people there, perhaps less than 100, but yet I couldn't help but feel a bit like an outsider.

An outsider with a Fancy Pocket square mind you, but still, an outsider.

The next day brought sessions, speakers, forums, and a tremendous sharing of knowledge and experience. While I do (still somewhat reticently) refer to myself as a blogger, I really had no idea or concept of people in the same space. You see blogging is a lot like dancing alone in your bedroom in your underwear. You might do it every day, you might tell people about it , but it's very easy to think that you are the only one who does it, and CERTAINLY the only one who does it the way you do.

By the time it came for sessions I fully expected to be listening to speakers with hundreds of thousands of followers who would tell me just how backwards and misguided my approach to blogging was. But instead what I found, were men and women who I had far more in common with than I could have imagined.

They weren't talking about numbers, and in fact, numbers rarely came up. They talked about love, they talked about passion, and they talked about sharing who they are.

That first day, I actually showed up to the first session without a pen and paper, not really expecting to take notes. My half assed brain apparently thought that if I really needed to take notes I could just write them on my phone.

But I immediately regretted my decision to fore-go a pen. I found myself grabbing my phone every couple of minutes, writing down jewels and gems that I just wasn't quite expecting to hear, but was fully committed to remembering.

And as the weekend went on and one session turned into two and then six, every speaker used different words but essentially said the same thing.

Do what you love to do. Find a way to do it more often. Open yourself to the people who love what you love and you will see a windfall of the unexpected.

Speakers constantly referenced other speakers, and then eventually when it came my turn to speak, I did the same. What everybody had said was true. Maybe these positive inspiring quotes and stories were brand new. Maybe I had already heard them in some form before. Or maybe they were things I had already believed in my heart of hearts. But hearing those things out loud from somebody who had found success, reaffirmed those beliefs in a way that might have never come naturally.

On my best days, I tend to think nobody else does what I do, the way I do it. On my worst days, my thinking is far more self destructive. Leading up to the summit I kind of expected there to be an air of competition.

Oh what platform do you use to blog?
How many followers do you have?

Etc. These were all things that I had never concerned myself with before I started blogging but had somehow regularly obsessed over since.

But there was none of that in Chicago. There was talk of a whole lot of social media, mentions of tools I had never heard of, and tweeting beyond what is probably healthy. But there was a genuine interest in furthering and helping not just selves, but others. I left every session having learned something, even  if it wasn't something I was going to pursue. Even if it wasn't something I necessarily was interested in learning more about, it still helped frame, contextualize and and support the beliefs and ideas I was building and developing.

People rarely asked about what I did for a living, they asked what my blog was about. They asked how I ended up there. They asked me questions I rarely get asked in my daily life. Questions that felt kind of refreshing.

And that's when I realized that the 20SB Summit was a perfect fit for the city of Chicago. Just as the buildings paid tribute to, reflected, and supported each other, so did the bloggers of this conference. Whether you were there to talk or learn, whether you cared about photography or monetizing, there was an interconnectivity you could not deny.

I was inspired by the things other bloggers were doing, but also humbled by their warmth and their openness toward each other. At times it made me feel like a self centered narcissistic coot, somebody who wasn't nearly as open or supportive as he claimed to be. And yet by the time I actually had to physically walk away from the last remaining group at the conference, I felt sadness. Sure there had been awkward, frustrating, or uncomfortable moments, but when searching for adjective, incredible was the only one that felt appropriate.

There are millions of bloggers that can exist in this same space and not compete. Nobody needed to defend Chicago just as nobody needed to defend being a blogger. This particular weekend in Chicago, everything was working together rather than trying to outdo.

There's no limit to the amount of words a blogger can use, nor the amount of bloggers that can exist in the world. Indeed, there is enough love, passion, and support to keep everybody loving and blogging for a very long time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The 27 Club

It’s called the 27 Club or the Curse of 27.

It's made up of famous musicians who died at the age of 27. The “Club” is quite large but there is a core group that trumps the others in terms of talent and fame. They died for the following reasons:

Heart Failure

All in all, it is a pretty terrifying list of words.

I am not a musician unless you count the one song I taught myself on guitar or the 8 years I blew at the trumpet (pun intended). But after some considerable internal debate I have started to consider myself an artist as of late. And whether it be film, music, or some other art form, the link between intense creatives and flaming out in a terrifyingly public manner at early ages is irrefutable.

It has crossed that point where I have begun to wonder if some people embrace the 27 Club as a self fulfilling prophecy, a right of passage, or just inevitability.

Now I don't consider people like Joplin or Cobain my peers. Indeed the only peers they have are those in the same Club or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I do however believe I have a certain understanding of the creative mind, and what it feels like to be overwhelmed by your ideas.

It can sometimes seem like trying to push 500 pounds of putty through a pinhole. And what that can do to your mind, heart and soul can be overwhelming.

It also depends how you view creativity. If you believe that there is no muse and that those of us lucky enough to create are merely catching the tail of a passing idea and pinning it down, then the idea of the flame out might seem a bit narcissistic or attention seeking.

If you believe that ideas, art, and music come from deep inside individuals, and that those individuals are responsible for creating these sometimes wonderful things that we then all digest, then you might see how that kind of pressure could drive someone mad.

But regardless of what you believe, that is just the process of creating. It doesn't account for things that can happen afterward if you are lucky enough to be successful. Things like fame and success and wealth. Those factors alone can turn a normally solid mind and body into mush.

I turned 28 this weekend. Part of it is frightening and part of it is a relief. The latter is because I have every intention of becoming a wildly successful creative type, and I have made it over one of the key hurtles… living past the age of 27.

My buddy at work who sits next to me never misses an opportunity to remind me about the 27 Club. At last I can relax about that and concentrate on all the terrible awful things that can behold a 28 year old.

But the part that scares me most is actually just being a 28 year old. I am not one to condescend to people younger than me because I think they don't know as much or have seen as much as me.

Quite the opposite. So many of my friends who are younger than me I find so much more impressive than myself. People so intelligent or talented that they have been able to achieve incredible things at an age earlier than I.

I constantly find myself looking up the online profiles of actors, writers and directors to see how much time left I have to achieve success at the age that they did, or, if they achieved it before me.

But 28 is three years past 25 which is the age I had originally targeted for myself to be and feel brilliantly successful. Now mind you I had really no idea what I was going to be or do or how I would achieve that brilliant success… I just knew 25 was the year to make it happen.

I know it had something to with my camp counselor in 7th grade telling me he was 25 and in his prime. He was a guy I really looked up to. He told me stories of girls, of partying and living this awesome life. All things I wanted for myself one day.

But having a goal without a plan is fools’ work.

I actually didn't even start the thing that I was passionate about and in love with enough to follow to success until the month before my 25th birthday. So looking at it now, it was probably unfair to put that pressure on myself to succeed when I had no idea how I was going to do it. It's like saying you want to be a millionaire but never leaving your couch.

Well I am now off the couch of my early 20s and am on my feet up and moving around in my 28 year old skin. And while it's nice to feel like I am making strides toward my goals, I have so many goals that sometimes it feels like I am just striding in circles.

And of course I worry about flaming out, about losing inspiration, or losing my creative abilities. I worry about it a lot. And the more I think about how much I worry about, the more neurotic it makes me about the whole thing.

And I haven’t even done anything yet.

But whatever the club, whatever the age, I am gradually moving my creative pieces into place, almost like playing Risk.

And it is quite an apt metaphor as it is a risk to expose yourself like that, to take chances, and to put yourself out there with your art, words, or music. But I am moving these pieces into place, slowly but hopefully surely. And I will continue to.

Because I would rather be a part of the club that tries and fails, than the one that never tried at all.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

20 Something Summit – Part 1

I’m going to Chicago.

And the crowd goes wiiiilllld.

No seriously there will be a crowd, or at least a gaggle. There will definitely be a gaggle. Why? Because I am going to moderate a panel at the first 20 Something Blogger Summit in Chicago.

I know what you’re thinking, a summit? Yes it’s THAT important. It’s kind of like the economic summit at Davos, but instead of captains of business from the most important countries, we have captains of content from the most important platforms, I.E. YouTube, Twitter, Blogger etc.

And also there will be few to none very old white haired dudes at this Summit.

I mean I’m going grey a little early but it’s not something I really want to talk about right now.

Any way, this conference is for bloggers in their 20s of all variety. If there’s a 20 something out there bemoaning their existence or making others giggle, you can be sure they will be finding their way to this conference.

So what does moderating a panel involve? Well there are many panels with many different moderators but here is what my panel is sure to involve:

  • Candy
  • Shenanigans
  • High Leg Kicks (technically most people would file this under shenanigans but I take my leg kicks very seriously)
But otherwise it’s a panel about Video blogging and how to rock at it. I’ll be joined by two awesome individuals who most likely will kick so much ass they will sprain their foots, or feets, or... feet.

But Rich, that’s just 45 minutes of a very full weekend in one of the greatest cities in the world. Is there anything else involved or will it just be a bunch of nerd types nerding out about their nerdery?

Surely not brave soul, in fact, I anticipate it being quite the outrageous affair.

Think about it, I am going to Chicago to hang out with roughly 200 people I do not know and have never met before, and I could not be more excited about it. Because unlike some people, I love strangers. LOVE THEM! I love them so much it’s scary.

Here is why:

Strangers are a blank canvas. Nobody knows anything about each other, so the bonding often has to be accelerated, and you're really just looking to see the cool parts of each other. Wait, not like, I didn't mean those parts, I mean...

When a bunch of people who don’t know each other get together somewhere very cool, it can be extremely awkward or it can be extremely awesome. Sometimes, it’s both.

But this is Chicago… in the summer… and we are in our 20s! This is the prime of our lives (at least, I tell myself that). And this isn’t like the annual accounting retreat. This is something a large majority of us don’t get paid to do. We do it out of love, and when you love to do something you love to share that with other people.

So how do we further/capture the crazy ‘nanigans that will ensue?

Well, based on my experience at Hotel Thrillist last year in Miami, a series of progressively more awkward social interactions since then, and a batch of poor ideas I have had recently, I have created a list:

1.  Those of you that remember my time in Miami last year might recall that my white pants made their debut. It was an epic debut filled with thunderstorms, late night pool parties, and a whole lot of a liquid called Torched Cherry.

I am proud to say that as soon as I can find them, I will be packing my white pants for Chicago too! This will surely cue up the good times.

2. I am bringing my video camera. There’s nothing I like more than editing a weekend of video content into a sexy short music vid put to a song I don’t own the rights too. Hopefully I can get people to say silly things, do silly things, or hold the camera while I do both.

3. The weekend of the summit is the same weekend as the Air and Water Show in Chicago. And if there are two things I love, it is air and water. The city will have an adrenaline injected energy that will infuse everybody in the city. Especially the bloggers. Don’t underestimate our adrenaline!

4. Two people who I sit next to at work, who are not related, nor connected in any way except for our job, will be going to Chicago of their own separate volitions for the very same weekend! What are the odds? Now I know this doesn’t affect anybody else, but it’s just really cool.

In fact for a while, I was considering having the two of them crash the Summit as my personal security team. But when I told my one coworker I would refer to him as my 'manservant' he seemed less than enthused and the idea quickly died.

But more than anything this is the first of something. Everybody always wants to be there for the first time something happens. It is what charts the course for the future of the event. It is when traditions are started, when expectations are met, or surpassed, and when that which is unscripted gets recorded.

Plus if you go to the first Summit and keep coming back year after year you can say things like, “oh you should have been here for the first one!”

See? Doesn’t that seem like something that would be cool to say?

So I will be in Chicago, living it up, tweeting, maybe blogging, and definitely filming. It is going to be an incredible weekend.

Even if I can’t bring my manservant.