Nov 6, 2014


I always feel like I'm blowing the dust off an old tome when I write a post here after several months of inactivity. The interface is hardened and tough from lack of use. I have to break it in again before it feels totally workable. But much like an old familiar story, I know where and how it goes. Sure, it's been a while, but not so long that I've forgotten. Soon, I'll be back in the swing of things; I look forward to being there.

Jul 11, 2014

Random Thoughts pt. 7 - Sports Edition

Writing has a way of becoming a circular process that eventually spawns itself. Since the creation of the newsletter, which required me to write and edit several stories, I've found myself thinking in terms of ideas and topics for this blog. Unfortunately, I'm rusty and often find myself left with half-formed ideas that aren't robust enough to support their own post. Here are a few sports-related thoughts.

Lebron James is being a Jerk
I don't necessarily agree with that statement but it makes a great headline. However, I do feel that the way he is dragging his feet on making a decision about where he wants to play basketball next season is reminiscent of a "Decision" he made a few years ago. Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony have effectively ground the NBA free agency period to a halt by taking their time and putting off what appears to be an obvious verdict. Now, I don't have a dog in this fight. I couldn't care less where James or Melo go, but the Red Sox are so garbage they are almost impossible to watch and with the World Cup coming to an end soon I need something to occupy the next few weeks of my sports consciousness because I can't justify following NFL updates in July. I just can't. So, someone announce something already so I have something to discuss the next time I hit my favorite watering hole.

World Cup Fever
I'm a sports fan which means I can get excited about damn near any type of sport (even NASCAR, it's a white-knuckle thrill ride). As Team USA advanced through the "Group of Death" I was all in, shouting and chanting with the best of them (can we all agree that Michal Bradley just had a bad Cup showing?) Even when they limped into the elimination round, I cheered, "I believe that we will win!" Then we lost and I must admit I was crestfallen. I was fairly certain that I was done watching the World Cup. Thankfully, I have great friends who are soccer aficionados who challenged me to keep watching because the game is beautiful. I did. They were right. Watching Costa Rica advance over Greece on penalty kicks was awesome. Then, I watched Germany beat Brazil like they stole something and that was awesome as well but in a different way, more on that below. Suffice to say, I'm becoming a fan and I like it.

Brazil vs Germany
I just wanted to share some of the commentary I've had and seen on Facebook and Twitter about the Brazil-Germany game. Names have been removed to protect the innocent. Enjoy!

"Germany is playing FIFA '14 against Brazil on semi-pro!" -Facebook
"I'm waiting for Brazil to rage-quit..." -Twitter
"Paris St, Germain paid 46mil for David Luiz pre World Cup... hope they kept their receipt." -Facebook
"How many goals did Germany score? A Brazillion!" -Twitter
"How do u make a Brazilian cry? Score 5 goals in 5 mins." -Twitter

On a serious note, I read that the German team now requires a police escort for safety. However, German authorities aren't really concerned since it takes Brazil 90 minutes to mount any type of offense.

My thoughts, randomized for your reading pleasure.

Jul 10, 2014

Newsletter Redux

I made a newspaper. Well, technically it's a newsletter, but I still made it. Aided by my co-worker, and new friend, Kris, I took what was effectively an inter-departmental memo and, through the magic of Journalism, transformed it into a legitimate professional newsletter. I swear, I have no ego about my accomplishment! The process was quite interesting, let me explain.

Close to a month ago, I and a few of my work compatriots attended a dysfunctional department meeting. I learned two things from that meeting: 1) I should complain less about the perceived issues in my office. 2) The entire department was putting together a "newsletter" to showcase the available services to faculty and staff alike. I immediately went into "journalist mode." Several ideas for content about my office sprang to mind and I found myself delighted at the possibility of writing news even if it was just for others at my job. This delight was furthered when Kris approached me, saying that he had some ideas for content. A brother-in-arms, I thought. Someone who understands news writing and how awesome this will be!

Kris and I, along with Sarah aka Parker (she is our photographer so it fits), had a business lunch. Over homemade hummus and crackers (Thanks Parker!) we discussed strategy and content, What was worth printing? What could we leave out? Why doesn't Journalism believe in the Oxford Comma? With a plan in place, we began in earnest to create our content for the newsletter. We decided to do two stories that would require interviews, the rest was general filler. Kris did a "spotlight" piece on one of our co-workers while I did a feature story on our boss.

I did page layout on the wall.
We went about the task at hand with fervor. In a short time, our content was complete, then, disaster struck. Parker brought a hard copy of the "newsletter" to us. There was no formatting of any kind and it was obvious the various offices had cobbled some information together and emailed it off without a second thought. Kris put a voice to my thoughts saying, "This can't be the newsletter." We wondered who was in charge of editing the final product as well as who had put this "mock-up" together. After a minute of lamenting, I turned to Kris and said, "We're going to have to do this ourselves. We need to take this and do it properly or it won't happen." Kris nodded in agreement.

Kris and I set to work on our new, grander scheme. We tasked Parker with taking photographs  of every staff member in the department, we figured out where and how to add content to extend the newsletter. We created a streamlined layout and formatting for the newsletter. It was difficult because each office within the department had different font sizes and font types. We spent a lot of time trying to line up text boxes and graphics to minimize empty space on each page. What made the process interesting is that we worked with a program that isn't normally used to design newspaper-style documents. Yet, despite that drawback, Kris and I found ways to achieve the look we wanted.

When we presented a fully edited copy to the department head, he was blown away by our production value. Whatever he expected, we went above and beyond it. That feeling is bittersweet.

Kris and I debate layout
I'm glad that I was able to impress people, but I also feel that the fact that I impressed them means they did not expect much. My degree is in Journalism, Kris was Journalism undergrad until he switched. Sarah used to be a professional photographer. Between the three of us, we have the skill sets to make something very good. I don't think it should have come as such a shock that we could create something of such high quality.

The newsletter was "put to bed" today (that's a Journalism term for finished/gone to print). I'm happy with the product because it needed very little proofing from the Marketing Department and despite some meddling, the content on the page is exactly what we planned. I hope this is the start of a new opportunity at my job. I can't wait to see the printed product...

Jul 8, 2014

Insight, or, Write... when it happens

A few weeks ago I couldn't sleep. I put myself to bed at a reasonable hour with the intention of rising early to begin writing a feature story for the newsletter I was creating. I tossed and turned, literally. Eventually, I had to face the fact that I wasn't tired. I was too wired to sleep because I was looking forward to the journalistic writing ahead of me. I sat up in bed, "woke up" my phone, opened a word document and typed the following:

The director of the Academic Center for Writing is a difficult guy to pin down. Ask him about his daily schedule and you're likely to hear a response describing the multitude of meetings he has. Quite possibly, he is about to be late. "I'm on so many committees, some I started myself," he says. That is quintessential (*), a man who is dedicated to his job and passionate about the students he serves.

Once it was out of my head, I had no problem falling asleep. It's interesting how it happens that way sometimes. I can't remember another time I was that excited about journalism.

Earlier this year, my father, in an attempt to cajole me out of a malaise, suggested that I write some news stories. He would act as my editor. He pitched me an idea and I followed up and wrote a short "newsy" story. It was excruciating. I had to fight through the writing process and was not happy with the final product. I don't even know where it is now.

Yet, when I began writing this latest feature story, it flowed from me so easily and  naturally that comparisons to riding a bike sprang to mind.

Maybe it was because I had a more active role in the research and interview process for that story than I did for the one I wrote for my father. Or, maybe it was that I was writing for myself, both as a writer and as the executive editor of the newsletter. Honestly, I can't place the reason, but I know that it was invigorating to find myself in the middle of the process again.

I look forward to more nights interrupted by flashes of journalistic insight.

* Names have been removed to protect privacy

Jul 18, 2013

Writing & Educating: A study of Philosophy

My good friend, fellow educator, writer and partner in crime, Gage, wrote a piece for the Boston Teacher Residency blog recently. His writing got me thinking about writing and teaching... and teaching writing and I came to realize that even though it was unstated, I have a well developed philosophy on how to teach writing to others. Simply put, learn by doing. Because writing is a process, it must be done constantly and repetitively. Sure, there are rules to learn that guide writers and show them how to do it, but to really and truly write, one must engage in the process. Sometimes, however, as a teacher, we must show students the process so they understand it.

I work in a writing center at a Texas college. One of the core philosophies of the writing center is to make the students better by not editing their papers and essays, but showing them how to improve their work by focusing on a specific aspect that can be strengthened. By doing this, the writing center makes students better writers because we don't take their work and make it better ourselves, we show them how to make their own work better through focused lessons on singular topics.

While I agree with this teaching idea, I disagree with its implementation. We writing center Writing Specialists are not to write or mark up students' papers when we work with them. The thought here is that if we do that, then students will just make the corrections we highlight and not actually learn from their mistakes. Maybe in some cases this is true but it doesn't give our students very much credit for trying to learn. I have yet to meet a student who's only aim was to have a writing specialist quickly read their paper and make some cursory corrections. Every student I've worked with has asked me to help them with something specific that they can learn and apply to their current  writing as well as their writing in the future. These students are eager to learn from us to make themselves better. furthermore, this awkward implementation gives us educators even less credit.

None of us work in the writing center to just glance at students' papers, do some superficial corrections and send the student packing. We are passionate about writing and it shows when a specialist stays a little later than they have to to make sure a student understands a concept, or when faced with multiple students, a specialist attempts to help them all. Whether we write on a students' paper is irrelevant when compared to these gestures. Moreover, sometimes writing on their paper is the best and easiest way to illustrate a mistake and how to fix it moving forward. It is frustrating when a rule hampers the furthering of knowledge.

Overall, I very much enjoy working in this writing center. I don't agree with that particular policy but it hasn't stopped me from getting my message to students. Still, it would be nice if my philosophy on writing and teaching matched up with that of the place I work.

Jun 17, 2013

Online Bios, Hate 'em!

I don't like writing mini-biographies, the kind used on websites to briefly introduce people to faculty or staff. They are terribly short and require you to cram some aspect of your life into 150 words or less. They are a pain to do and it annoys me just thinking about them. How can I distill my academic and work experience into such a small space? Here's one I wrote recently:

Rick is one of the newest members of the Ink Spot. He has taught English and writing at both the high school and collegiate level and is excited to bring his expertise to Mountain View. Rick has a Master of Science degree in Journalism from Boston University and a B.A. in English Language & Literature from the University of Chicago. Rick has worked as a freelance journalist for both online and weekly publications as well as a corporate communications writer. Most recently, he has worked as a substitute teacher for 6th-12th grade in the Little Elm ISD. Rick looks forward to bringing East Coast wit and Midwest charm to the Ink Spot.

Education, check. Work history, check. But does the bio really give a reader insight into who I am? No. I always feel like I'm missing some crucial aspect which is never found out until the bio is "live" on the website and effectively unchangeable. Here is another one, written for my Phreelance Writers blog:

Dash is a native of Dorchester who, despite popular belief and lack of an accent, actually grew up in Boston. He left Beantown for the bright lights and big times of Chicago and the University of Chicago. In 2007, he returned to Boston and met Gage through a tutoring job at the West Roxbury Education Complex working with high school students to improve their writing. Dash recently completed a Master’s degree in journalism at Boston University and freelanced for the Bay State Banner and UMass-Boston.

I feel like my personality comes through better on this one but it still remains informative in terms of my education. It even gives a sense of where I've lived in the past. But even this doesn't truly represent me, what I like and what I'm about beyond writing. Here's one more for you:

Rick spent his early years training in the Kung Fu style of Xiao Hong Quan at the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng City, China. At eighteen, he left China for America and undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago. After receiving BAs in English and Ancient Greek and Roman History, Rick traveled the world, getting into adventures across Europe, Northern Africa and much of Asia. In 2007 he decided three years of the "wandering warrior" life was enough. Settling on a career in journalism, Rick was accepted to Boston University's Journalism program. He is currently a first year graduate student focusing on sports journalism. Rick enjoys telling stories from his "wandering warrior" days. Ask him about his time in Thailand. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't.

This is, by far, my favorite bio I've written and had online. Elements of it are completely false, but presented in such a way that they are believable. When taken as a whole, and mixed with truthful facts about my life, who's to say the bio isn't completely true? Did I grow up in Boston or a Shaolin temple in Dengfeng City, China? If asked, I'd probably just shrug my shoulders and smile. 

While I'm not a fan, I understand the necessity of these bios. As a writer, I can bang them out quickly but it's not my favorite type of writing. Still, finding something within the writing process of the bio can make it less painful. Besides, we all know you really want to ask me about my time in Thailand!