Results tagged “writing”

Thank You, Andy

November 5, 2011

Andy Rooney died last night. I find myself crestfallen about this because I'd spent the last few years trying, off and on, to get in touch with him for the chance to thank him for his influence on my work. I'd even hoped to interview him for this blog, because I think the work he did mattered.

I'm a bit reluctant to admit that because I know the popular image of him: The rambling, out-of-touch curmudgeon ranting at the end of every episode of 60 Minutes. Though he never once said, "Did you ever notice...?" to begin one of his essays, there were certainly enough SNL parody-fueled efforts to mimic him that way that the caricature stuck.

But my image of Andy Rooney was shaped not by popular culture's impression of him, but by his work. And especially, by the work of his he was most proud of: his writing. As a kid, I had spent a lot of time reading and re-reading his early books that were collections of his individual essays, such as A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney, And More By Andy Rooney and Pieces of My Mind. (These are all collected today into The Most of Andy Rooney, but even that is hard to find.) I started reading these books when I was about 4 years old, and they stayed on the bookshelf next to my bed for at least the next decade.

In these essays, he covered the typical topics that people associate with the man; shampoo bottles and gas pumps, woodworking equipment and screen doors. But what struck me more was the lengthy pieces about waste at the Pentagon, written years before started creating stories about $500 hammers was both funny and pointed, in a way that was much closer to today's Jon Stewart show than our get-off-my-lawn perception of Rooney's work.

A Soldier and a Journalist

Rooney's writing was grounded firmly in his serious practice of journalism. He was justifiably proud of having reported for the Stars and Stripes during World War II, and the lengthy testimonials he offered to the bravery and achievements of the soldiers he covered were my first exposure to the accomplishments of those soldiers, long before they were named the "Greatest Generation".

Those experiences in the military undoubtedly influenced his work on what, to me, was his most important topic for his work: racism. Even as far back as the 1940s, Rooney was arrested for choosing to sit, and insisting on remaining, in the back of the bus with the black soldiers he served alongside. That legacy continued at the height of the early civil rights movement, when he won an Emmy for his writing on the notable CBS special "Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed".

Essays of Praise

That broadcast, was part of a series of what he always called "essays", reflecting his writerly bias in looking at his work. A year earlier, he'd written an (admittedly imperfect, by modern standards) pro-feminist TV essay called "'An Essay on Women", and he'd go on to write a lengthy TV essay on New York City in 1974, which memorably appeared in written form in the collection I linked to above. (I suspect it's no coincidence that I find myself returning to writing about social justice and New York City so often myself.) Of note: All of these essays were exuberant, funny, positive pieces in praise of the topics they covered. Despite his later image as a curmudgeon and his admittedly skeptical tone, the bulk of the work that defined his career was being a voice of advocacy for those out of power, whether it was African Americans, women, or the image of military veterans in the waning days of Vietnam. And he was loyal in a way that few can even fathom today; He spent six decades working at CBS.

Ultimately, I remember Andy Rooney in the way I think he'd wanted to be remembered: As a writer, a good and serious one, who reported on topics with a personal voice that made complex topics approachable and everyday topics noteworthy. I've always strongly felt that his legitimization of personal voice in his widely-syndicated newspaper column was an indirect cultural influence on the rise of blogs and other more personal media to their recent dominance of the media landscape. And most important to me personally, he taught me to take seriously the craft of writing, even when the topics themselves weren't necessarily serious. For that alone, I can't thank Andy Rooney enough.

The Busta

July 18, 2011

A few months ago, I introduced a blogroll on my site, making me probably the first person in more than half a decade to get excited about a blogroll. But my exuberance is based on the quality of the people listed there: I wholeheartedly endorse their work, and delight in being able to link to their personal blogs, where they create work of substance that they own and control, instead of merely feeding it on to someone else's social network or onto a corporate site.

As far as I know, no one's ever clicked on a link to someone's site from my blogroll. But that's now why it's there. In fact, my motivation is reflected in its name, "Leaders of the New School", which is a half-joking, but fully loving, tribute to the influence that I believe their work has. Its namesake hip hop group has been on my mind of late, especially because of Busta Rhymes' recent re-ascendence in the pop sphere due to his appearance on Chris Brown's "Look At Me" and his brief cameo in the A Tribe Called Quest documentary. (See below)

To my delight, there's even been a recent standout performance among the awesome writers assembled in my blogroll which rivals Busta's legendary guest spot on "Scenario", by Paul Ford. My friend Paul has just spit out piece after piece of some of the best-written, most thoughtful, most compelling writing of late. It's as exciting as hearing a guest verse on a Tribe song and knowing a star has been born. Here's a quick sample:

Social media has no understanding of anything aside from the connections between individuals and the ceaseless flow of time: No beginnings, and no endings. These disparate threads of human existence alternately fascinate and horrify that part of the media world that grew up on topic sentences and strong conclusions. This world of old media is like a giant steampunk machine that organizes time into stories. I call it the Epiphanator, and it has always known the value of a meaningful conclusion.
Jay Street was miles away—a two-hour walk even without two feet of snow, or without a limping wife. The clinic itself was more than 10 miles away, an impossible distance. I didn’t know what to do. Life before this morning was all planning, percentages, and optimism, but now all hope left me. I leaned against the wall of the station, thinking of the trudge back to the apartment, the thousands of dollars in chemicals slowly leaching out of my wife, all that health and all those eggs wasted. I thought: We didn’t get to try
  • Just before that, on his own Ftrain.com, Woods+:
[T]he new thing from the Gootch makes it really easy to sort people into the holes, which is good, because this lets you divide people into clusters and lie to each group in different ways, which makes it easier to preserve the fictions that make up our polite racist society. And it looks pretty sweet and works well so far, which probably means that there will be a huge battle-in-earnest between the Gootch and the Books, between Circles and Friends. For example, I don't know if you saw this but according to the New York Times Mark Zuckerberg is taking walks in the woods with people he'd like to hire. If he really wants you to work for him he takes you for a walk in the woods. It's gotten that serious. And this is a responsibility of a well-educated American, to think about Mark Zuckerberg taking walks in the woods with multiple unnamed sources.

The amazing thing is: We all can do this. Now, normal people like you and me can't write as well as Paul Ford. It's alright, he can't sing as well as you, so we'll call it even. But! What we can do, all of us, is put it out there. Write what we know, and what we live, and what we love, and put it under our own names where nobody owns it but us, unless we say otherwise. I've made a whole list of people who've done just that, at the bottom of this page, if you need inspiration.

Or, you can look to those who used a few moments to create a standout, passionate performance. I think one of the best of all time was Busta Rhymes; You might find your own. But at least be one of the people who gets nominated for having a great guest spot.

Pen Nerds and Finding Better Tools

March 16, 2011

While I've always liked doing a lot of my notes and writing with pen and ink, I've never been particularly well-versed in the latest innovations and trends in the handwriting world. But! I know this is exactly the sort of endeavor that attracts nerds, and that my network of friends and acquaintances would be well-versed in what the best options are.

So, I asked my Twitter followers for pen recommendations that would best meet my predilections. Here are their responses:

Some early trends jump out — 10 recommend a Pilot pen of some sort, and 8 mention Uni-Ball. The zebra, signo, and pentel all have vocal advocates. And what's clear to me is that I'll just have to buy a few different ones and try them out, but at least my friends have helped narrow down the selection. Because obviously, the thing that's keeping me from updating this blog more often is that I don't have the right pen.

The other improvement to my recording tools that I've been looking for is shown by the contents of this post itself; The latest versions of ThinkUp have progressed enormously, and doing fun stuff like embedding a list of replies (in this case, sorted by friends first, and then by number of followers) is really easy to do with just a click.

I know the old trope is that the answer to productivity is never a new tool, but sometimes there are tools that let us do things that would be a total pain in the ass otherwise. It's nice to have friends to help solve that problem.

Fortunate Insight

May 9, 2007

fortuitous When Matt Haughey first described his new site Fortuitous, which just launched two weeks ago, I was particularly excited because this is a new blog that's actually downright necessary. You see, while there's lots of "Ten Steps for Making Another Boring Web App" articles on Digg, there's very little that's written from the perspective of anyone who's focused on community or content, and even less information that's being shared by those who've actually made something that's had enduring success.

It's hard to take time to write this stuff up -- I always intend to, and just end up being too busy to do it justice. (I haven't been home for more than 3 days straight in about two months.) Other folks I talk to struggle because they're in a part of the web world that's more competitive, and they don't want to give away insights to their competitors. But there are some bits of insight that seem small in retrospect that would have been a godsend if I were just starting up something new today, and that seems to be the area of Matt's focus.

I helped a little bit with some editing on Living online, with web apps, and Matt graciously let me contribute a little bit to How to talk to the press, and what I realized is that I love sharing these little bits of information. I wouldn't pretend that I'm an expert on these topics, and I am certain Matt's not claiming to be one. On the other hand, there are some things you only learn through experience, and it's about time those lessons had a home.

Fired for Wording!

February 19, 2007

Sure, Microsoft Word is fine for kids who want to write papers for school, but serious professionals should be very worried about using this dangerous tool! Just a few weeks ago, I found out about this poor Des Moines woman fired for Wording at work!

Three hundred single-spaced pages of irresponsibility. Her name is Emmalee Bauer, so perhaps we should give her a verb -- be careful with your word processor, or you could get Emmaleed™.

In completely, totally unrelated news, there was a nice story about Vox in the New York Times.

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