The Daily Pay-Per

Forget the lemonade stands and the car washes. If you want to make a quick few bucks, social media may just be your cash cow. Or at least a very small calf.

For those who missed it, the Associated Press reported the other day on two social networks that will pay for your posts. Bubblews starts at a penny per like, view or comment for posts of a certain length (though the full formula gets a little more involved) while Bonzo Me pays its most popular posts a percentage of its ad revenue.

It ain’t much. But it’s something.

“No one should come to our site in anticipation of being able to quit their day job,” Bubblews CEO Arvind Dixit told the AP. “But we are trying to be fair with our users.”

Strangely enough, I’ve got mixed feelings on this one.

On the one hand, my writer brain is ecstatic that someone finally gets it. People go online for the content: to read stories, see pictures, watch videos, keep up with people and things they know and love. And for the most part, the bloggers, posters, video-makers, lovers, dreamers and other members of the Rainbow Connection do it for free.

That’s one thing when you’re putting up a note to friends that Aunt Ginny just got out of the hospital. But when it’s something that takes time and labor … well, as the old sermon goes, the workman is worthy of his hire. In particular, a lot of news agencies (he said modestly) have put a lot of content on the social networks; it’d be kind of nice to see even a modest return.

But – and yeah, you knew there’d be a but – there’s a potential tradeoff. He who pays, says.

I brought this up years ago when I jokingly suggested a federal bailout of the newspaper industry. While I don’t know a newspaper alive that wouldn’t cheer at a new funding source, I know plenty who would be hesitant to go on the government payroll. The reason is obvious: part of the job of the press is to challenge government when necessary, and that’s hard to do when it’s their money sitting in your bank account.

This situation is a little less blatant. And it could be argued that the social networks already have all the control they need. After all, we’re users of a free service, not customers; the Facebooks and Twitters and all the rest pay for the space and set the rules.

But given that, is it wise to offer one more leash?

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe it’s a good thing to make every poster a freelancer-in-waiting. If the control’s going to be there anyway, might as well cash in on it, right? Heaven knows most of us could use it.

But every time we’ve thought the social networks couldn’t possibly go farther, they’ve found a way. (Psychological experimentation, anyone?) And so I hate to open one more door, even if it’s one that holds a small paycheck.

It’s one thing to be a guest. Another to be an employee. For better and worse.

How will it all play out?

I’ll keep you posted.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Bust a Lip

Some people have the moves like Jagger. Somehow, I wound up with the upper lip instead.

OK, not “somehow.” After all, I do live in a slapstick movie that Chevy Chase would envy and Mel Brooks would direct. Part of that privilege is that I can see exactly what’s about to happen – just in time for it to do me absolutely no good.

It’s how I’ve wound up stepping off a perfectly good stage. Or finding sewing needles with my bare feet. Or chasing a barfing dog around the bedroom, running into every conceivable obstacle on the way. (Oh, you’ve heard that one?)

And in this case, it’s how tripping on one broken piece of sidewalk turned a healthy walk to work into “OWWWW!”

I got lucky as I caromed off the concrete. No broken teeth, no broken nose. That seems to be part of the deal with my invisible producer: no lasting injuries that would kill off the chance of a sequel. Short of that, anything goes.

And in this case, “anything” was my swollen upper lip, to the tune of three stitches and enough blood for a Friday the 13th film.

Fun, huh?

Educational, too. For the past week, in fact, it’s been a constant tutorial in the Iron Law of the Universe: “You can never do just one thing.” Consequences snowball, whether it’s the Amazon butterfly raising a typhoon or the casual dinner remark sinking a political career.

In this case, my failure to pay attention to what my feet were doing didn’t just win me a Rolling Stones look-alike contest. It also guaranteed:

 

* That I would be unable to be understood by voice-message trees for at least two days. (“I’m sorry. I didn’t get that. Please try again …”)

* That drinking a glass of water would be on a difficulty level with competing in the Hunger Games.

* That drinking anything ice-cold would trigger expressions best not read in a family newspaper.

* That whistling would not be an annoyance to my co-workers for a while.

* That, contrary to “Casablanca,” a kiss isn’t just a kiss when your pucker feels like it’s hit a porcupine.

* That any kind of lengthy out-loud reading – longer than a page or two – was out of the question for the immediate future.

 

In a way, that last one hit the hardest. Reading is what I do. What I have done since the age of two and a half. Combine a love of books with a love of performing and the result is that I have read to and with anyone willing to listen for years: my dad, my sisters, my grandma, my wife Heather, our ward Missy, the dogs …

These days, it’s the vital bedtime ritual. Before the lights go down and the house goes quiet, I sit on the edge of Missy’s bed and read, a journey of the mind that has roamed from Missouri to Middle-Earth and from secret gardens to open warfare.

But when the stinging of your lip says “stop” after two pages, Hogwarts can take a little longer to visit than planned.

Well, lesson learned. And maybe even a small blessing with it. It only takes a few days of doing without something to discover what your real priorities are – what’s an inconvenience and what’s an essential. Being in a position to recognize that and to make adjustments later is no tiny thing.

It’s better still, of course, to be paying enough attention before a crisis hits. Especially when it’s often inattention that creates the crisis in the first place. Think, plan, imagine, observe. Act, however you need to, even if you don’t think you need to right now.

It may all seem terribly abstract.

But it’s amazing how fast it becomes concrete.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fighting Free

OK, last soccer story for a while, I promise.

When our good-but-not-yet-great U.S. soccer team got knocked out of the World Cup, coach Jurgen Klinsmann wasn’t surprised. He’d been expecting it. Even predicting it. And not because his team lacked ability or talent.

What they lacked, he said, were consequences.

“If you have a bad performance, then people should approach you and tell you that,” Klinsmann told the Associated Press. Get criticized, scolded, told off – and get stronger rather than go through it all again.

We’re familiar with that in Bronco country. When the orange and blue falter in the national spotlight, the phones light up at every talk radio station in the area. People write to the paper, post online, erupt across every social media outlet around and a few that haven’t been invented yet. If Joe Biden were found to have sold military secrets to the Purple People-Eaters of Mars, it would get bumped to page 3 to make room for Denver football outrage.

Get outshot four-to-one at the World Cup? Meh. Most folks shrug, walk away and go back to not caring about the “other football.”

So why bother improving?

It’s why I’ve got only lukewarm optimism for our future soccer prospects. But a lot of hope for this country.

Because if there’s one thing we do really, really, really well, it’s argue about freedom.

It only takes 10 minutes with the news, or five minutes with Facebook, to find a constitutional crisis. The Colorado attorney general facing off with the county clerk over gay marriage. Outrage and excitement over the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, and what it means for the religious rights of employer and employed. Quips, wisecracks and sometimes knock-down drag-out arguments over guns, wiretaps, property rights and a dozen other issues.

Some of the results frighten me. Some make me proud. All of them prove to me we still have people who care. Sometimes without a lot of information, true. But it’s a lot easier to educate the ignorant than ignite the apathetic.

So long as we care, we’re still in the game.

More than that. So long as we care, we can decide what the game will be.

We’ve been an argumentative people for a long time. One historian pointed out that if you go through colonial records, one thing you will quickly find is a lot of petty lawsuits. A lot of times, all that energy goes in no particular direction, sparks and cinders, quickly lit, quickly out.

But when it’s focused – then you get a bonfire.

We forget, you see. We forget that while government can lead, while government can set the boundary lines, we can change the entire conversation. That the decision about what freedom means doesn’t sit with a court or a Congress or a president – it rests with us.

The rules said blacks and whites weren’t equal. People fought that and people won.

The rules said women had no voice in the nation’s business. People fought that and people won.

The rules once said our future wasn’t up to us at all, that the most important decisions would be made over an ocean, on an island, by people who had mostly never seen our shores. We told them that if we didn’t like our government, we had the right – indeed, the obligation – to change it.

We hold the power. But only so long as we refuse to be satisfied until we get things right.

(A)ll experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed,” a certain red-haired Virginian wrote in 1776. But test that point too far, he warned, and people will demand change.

True of a soccer team. True of a nation.

I’m not saying complaining is all we need to do – absent any drive or action, it can get a bit tiresome, I agree. But it’s the vital first step. To everyone who says “Oh, it’s easy to complain,” stop and consider those words. There’s plenty of places where it’s not easy at all. There’s quite a few where it’s outright deadly.

Long may we brawl in the best of causes.

Maybe we’ll even get a decent World Cup out of it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Soccer? I Barely Know ‘Er!

Well, we made it.

In the world’s sport, a game few of us follow and even fewer understand, the United States has survived. More than survived. We’ve advanced with honor in the World Cup, making the “knockout round” with a run that went toe-to-toe with some of the best. Now it only takes one more win – yeah, right, “only” – to get us playing on the Fourth of July as one of eight surviving teams, the best of the best.

So, in honor of the achievement, and in hope of things to come, here’s a “lucky seven” of World Cup observations.

1) Is it just me or do professional sports teams now need a kindergarten teacher on the coaching staff? “Remember, play fair, no hitting and absolutely NO biting!” I’m honestly not sure which boggles me more – that there’s a World Cup-level soccer player with three biting incidents in his record, or that any team would keep him on after no. 2.

Hey, Suarez. If you want a quick nibble, why don’t you get it in the boxing ring like a normal person?

2) It’s clear to me that the United States soccer team learned everything it knows from the NBA. In a long game with a lot of back-and-forth movement, always put the most exciting stuff in the last two minutes for the fans at home. The networks will thank you later.

3) Sorry, my English friends. You guys are the ones who actually invented the word “soccer,” as in the old nickname for “association football.” And if you’re still going to get pushy about where the word “football” belongs, may I remind you that our ball looks a lot more like a foot than yours does.

4) It’s kind of fun to watch Americans get excited about a game where no one’s really clear on the rules. (Myself included – I get into it heavily during World Cup time, then sink into blissful ignorance for another four years.) It’s like taking a date to their first ever Broncos game: “OK, what are they doing now? Who’s that guy moving? Why’s Peyton Manning putting his hand there?” (Pause.) “Did we win yet?”

5) Like any sport, the memories that come with it are half the fun. And when I watch soccer, many of the memories are of my English-born Grandma Elsie, who with the aid of my sister Leslie, valiantly tried to explain the game to us in 1994, when the Cup tournament came to the U.S. (We all, of course, surrendered at any attempt to understand the offsides rules … but then, so does everyone else, including two-thirds of the referees.)

In later years, Grandma’s childhood stories often included accounts of going to the weekly soccer games with her dear sweet mother Annie Phoebe, a demure soul who would sit down, take one look at the action and scream “PUT YOUR GLASSES ON, REF!” So the next time you see me holler at a TV set, know that I come by it honestly.

(I might add that Grandma Elsie’s own passion, from the time she came to Colorado to the day she died, was Broncos football. Yes, football. See note no. 3.)

6) Yes, I know. It’s silly to get excited about 20 highly-paid men chasing a ball over a lawn for 90 minutes or so, while two other men try to stop them. (Watching 22 highly-paid men in armor fighting over a squashed ball on a lawn is much more sensible, right?) But you know what? We need a little more silliness in the world. And while it’s not curing cancer or landing someone on Mars, I’d rather see people get excited about this than the latest celebrity trial. If you get a taste for it, it might even bring you some harmless joy.

Just don’t, um, get too much of a taste for it. (See note no. 1.)

7) I know we’re overmatched. I know we’re probably going home soon. I know we’ve got all the chances of a crayon in a clothes dryer and might leave less of a mark.

But doggone it, I still can’t wait for Tuesday’s game.

Let’s have a ball.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Right Out of Their ‘Skins

I’ve thought about a dozen cute openings for this column. I’m not using any of them. The way I see it, if I’m just going to tick everyone off anyway, I may as well not waste any time.

Yes, I think the Washington Redskins should change their name.

And no, it’s probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.

By now, it seems like everyone’s weighed in on the ‘Skins, from President Obama on down to the Friday night pizza guy. (“So that’ll be a two-liter, extra cheese and hold the epithets?”) Now the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has added to the pile-on, declaring Washington’s trademark invalid. Well, once it goes through the appeals process anyway, which at the current pace of the American legal system, should resolve everything by the time Chelsea Clinton’s grandchild is holding office. But it’s the thought that counts.

Now, this is the part where you’re expecting to hear the back-and-forth you’ve heard dozens of times before. And that’s the trouble. You’ve heard it.

You’ve heard the charge that “Redskins” is a racist epithet, that a team name shouldn’t be a word you’d be embarrassed to use in casual conversation.

You’ve heard the counter-charge that “Redskins” doesn’t mean anything but a football team to most people these days.

You’ve heard the famous names opposing it and defending it, the reports that say Native Americans are deeply offended by it, the reports that say they don’t really care.

And after hearing all of it, most folks haven’t really changed their minds. If anything, they’ve fortified their positions.

So I’m going to take a different tack.

“Redskins” needs to go because it’s dumb marketing.

Let me take you back to the last time there was a controversy over the Denver Broncos’ name. Do you remember the people marching in the streets, the impassioned speeches, the critical commentary on regional and national TV?

Of course you don’t. And there’s a reason. It didn’t happen“Broncos” is not the sort of name that inspires controversy. (For that, you want something like “Sports Authority Field at Mile High” … but I digress.)

I know the rule that any kind of publicity is good publicity. But let’s think for a second. An NFL team is an expensive proposition, a multi-million dollar business that’s constantly in the public eye. What kind of conversations do you want people to be having about you?

Do you want them to talk about your players, your trades, your wins and losses, your old coach, your new stars?

Or do you want them getting into flame wars over your name once or twice a decade?

In most other industries, this wouldn’t be an issue. A name that gets in the way of marketing a product is a bad name. If enough customers are turned off by a logo, a color, a product line, out it goes. (New Coke, anyone?) It doesn’t even have to be a majority – just enough to give your company a bad rep.

And from that perspective, the current name of Washington’s football team is one that’s run its course. Yes, ditching it will cause grumbles, but those will eventually die down. (Right, Tennessee Oilers … I mean, Titans?) Keeping it means everyone gets to go through this cycle again and again and again.

At some point, it’s just not worth it.

Of course, if the owners agree, that does leave us with the issue of what the new name should be. This could be a fantastic marketing opportunity by itself, getting fans new and old to come together and find an identity that sums up the essence, the core, the heart of what Washington, D.C. means to people today.

Is “the Gridlocks” taken?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sound Off

There are a lot of wrongs to rail at in this world. Hunger. Injustice. The continued existence of the Oakland Raiders.

And since all those are taken, I’m going to snark about the Tony awards instead.

At least, I will if this microphone is working. No guarantee, that.

The Tonys, you see, decided that next year there would be no awards for sound design. Now, don’t everyone riot at once. I know, most of you stay up into the wee hours to see if this will finally be the year for … well, whatshisname. And the other one, too. The one with the hair.

Ok. I’ll admit it. To the general public – even the general theatre-going public – sound designers have all the renown of congressional interns. Unless there’s a scandal, you’re not likely to ever learn their names. And even then, it would have to be one heck of a scandal. (“Imported mayonnaise? Oh, dear.”)

But when you think about it, that’s exactly the point.

The anonymity, that is. Not the mayonnaise. Stay with me here.

When I was a kid, my parents took me to a lot of movies. And at every single one, we stayed until the final credit had rolled across the screen. Dad’s mom had worked in a behind-the-scenes job for one of the studios, you see, so he knew how important those miniature letters zooming past at high speed were.

Always stay, he told me. Always honor the work. For many of these people, it may be the only recognition they ever get.

That stayed with me. Even during the Lord of the Rings films, where half the New Zealand phone book had to roll by before we could leave.

Always honor the work.

It’s easy to cheer the actors. We see them, we hear them, we feel like we know them. And directors are not without honor. We know who’s (officially) in charge, whose name is tied to the success or failure of a production.

But there’s a whole invisible world in theatre that most audiences never consciously notice. Costumers. Light and sound designers. Stage managers. Prop masters. People in the shadows who, arguably, are more important to the success of a show than the cast. Anyone who’s worked in community theatre will tell you that finding performers is easy compared to finding capable backstage crew.

They rarely get bows. They rarely get recognized. But the work of the best can sink into your soul.

And that’s not a story only belonging to theatre. In most walks of life, there are people who serve as a living foundation – all but invisible to a casual glance but vital to keep things standing.

When we do notice, it’s usually because of a crisis. Think back to the flood. Sure, we saw a lot of cops and firefighters, the heroes we justly cheer every day. But we also noticed the folks who build the roads, who fix the water lines, who haul away the trash. (Actually, judging by the reaction to the neighborhood roll-offs, the trash haulers may have been the most popular people on the block!)

The foundation had been exposed. And it held.

And it’ll keep holding long after the spotlight has burned out.

If those people don’t deserve a moment of recognition, nobody does.

So to the ladies and gentlemen of the Tony Awards committee, I offer one word: reconsider. Sure, you might save five minutes on an already overlong night of glitz and glamour. But think of what you’re turning your back on to do it.

Honor the work.

Let it be heard.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drawing the Poison

I’ve been walking the yard with the dogs lately. I’m sure most of you can guess why.

If you can’t, I envy you.

Our two dogs, you see, have eating habits that only a canine could love. Our senior citizen, Duchess the Wonder Dog (“I wonder where she’s gone to?”) tries to chew backyard grass and sometimes the … um … stuff that dogs leave behind in backyard grass. Big Blake, meanwhile, has the instincts of a burglar, the stomach of a billy goat and the common sense of Roger Rabbit, leading him to grab any semi-edible opportunity within his considerable reach.

In short, if they see something lying on the ground that looks intriguing, they’re likely to give it a try.

And well … that’s just not safe anymore.

You’re probably sick of reading about poisoned meatballs. I know I’m sick of writing about them. It nauseates me to think that someone could decide that stuffing a meatball full of rat poison and throwing it in the grass could be a solution to anything.

If my neighbor’s been revving his engine, I don’t attach a car bomb to the ignition.

If his weeds are out of control, I don’t spread gasoline and light a match.

And if his dog is making more noise than a Jack London wolf pack, the answer lies in the cell phone, not the d-Con.

To a sensible person, it would be obvious.

But as I’ve said before, there seems to be a shortage of sensible people these days.

In my worst moments, I sometimes think friendly discussion itself is a lost art. Listen? Reason? Compromise? Please. This is the age of planting your flag and venting your spleen, whether it’s in the halls of Congress or the photons of Facebook. Because by jingo, you’re right, and if you can’t carry the day by facts, it’s time to do it by volume.

The old legal maxim goes “If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table.”

There’s a lot of table-pounding lately.

In a scary way, this is simply the next step. If debate is unnecessary and the rightness of your cause is assured, why not take whatever measures are needed to end the problem, regardless of its impact on anyone else? At a certain stage of self-righteousness, others don’t matter. At a certain stage, others don’t even exist.

Nothing exists to them but the anger.

I don’t want to overstate the case. There have been and will be people who make selfish choices, even deadly ones. But at a time with so much selfishness on the march, it’s time for the rest of us to draw a line.

We will not be bullied.

We will not be intimidated.

And we will find our way to a better place again.

We’re watchful now, because we’ve been taught to be. It’s a terrible lesson to need to learn. We will watch those we love to keep them from harm, and we will watch for the agents of harm so that they may be stopped.

But our duty goes farther.

On a smaller scale, we must create a place for courtesy and understanding to be. We must be ready to remind people that listening is more than an option, it’s a prerequisite. Yes, the ones who need it most will be the ones who are lest receptive. But the rest of us must keep the conversation open.

It will not be easy. Sometimes I’m not even sure if it will be possible. But I know it won’t be if we let the bullies and the screamers and the brawlers have everything their way.

Only in trying do we have a chance.

I’m aware of the paradox here: to be uncompromisingly for compromise, firmly for gentleness. But it can be done. Any good teacher or parent has done it. They’ve found ways – sometimes through much difficulty – to head off the rude and the hateful so that civility and respect can continue.

We have to find that way again. All of us. Together.

Let’s make a world where it’s safe to feed the dog.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing When it Hurts

I hate the Hollywood stereotype reporter.

You know the one I mean. The one who goes plunging into dangerous situations, without regard for his safety or anyone else’s. The one who can justify any stupidity in the name of “the story.” And most of all, the one who will walk up to a tornado victim who’s lost her home, stick a microphone in her face and say “So, tell me how you feel!”

I’m not that guy. I’m proud to not be that guy.

But I have to confess – grudgingly – that there is one grain of truth to the image. Good reporting often requires you to guard your heart. To stick your own pain and anguish on a shelf until later, and talk to people at their worst moments, so that a story can be told. A story that your readers need to hear, that only you can tell.

Which brings me to Isla Vista.

We’ve all heard about the shootings by now. We’ve seen the pain, heard the details, tried to make sense of what happened. It’s a horrific event. And it drew journalists in droves, each with a story to tell.

With one notable exception.

The shootings happened on a Friday, right in the back yard of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The first online article by UCSB’s The Bottom Line – a student newspaper funded by the student government – appeared Monday.

That’s three days later.

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about why. At first an op-ed said the paper wanted to “minimalize the emotional harm” to its staff. A later editorial then disavowed the first one, saying the staff had been reporting all along, and even Tweeted during the incident, but wanted to take the extra time to ensure accuracy.

“We did not think it journalistically ethical to harass our community in its time of grief and shock, and decided to hold off premature publication of an article so that we did not hurt anyone through misinformation,” the second editorial said.

It sounds noble. Even good-intentioned.

But it taught precisely the wrong lesson.

Look, I know these are students, still learning. I know this was a horror no one prepared them for. And yes, this event did not exactly go uncovered.

But – and I’ll say this as gently as I can – if they want to be journalists, this is what they’ve signed up to do.

Nothing prepares you for it. Nothing. I have talked to fire victims and flood victims. I have talked to the closest friends of a murdered hiker. I have written a feature on my own pastor the day he died of cancer. Every time, I wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else.

But I had to be there. Right there. Right then. Telling the story now, not three days from now.

And I’ll tell you a secret. Most of the time, the people on the other side of the notebook wanted me there, too.

No, they don’t want to talk to Harold Hardnose, Hollywood Hack. But that’s not you. This is your town. These are your people. And if they want to share their story with anyone, it’s going to be you, because through you, they can reach their friends, their neighbors, their families.

The other student paper, the independent Daily Nexus, found this out quickly. The LA Times reported how the Nexus’s editor, Marissa Wenzke, watched the owner of the Isla Vista Deli Mart shoo away several TV news crews – and then wave her inside because he recognized a friend.

“We care a lot about each other in this town,” Wenzke told the Times. “People love this place. We’ll help each other out because we’re all in this together.”

That’s the attitude the best reporters have.

Yes, be sensitive. Yes, get it right. But remember, your readers need to hear what’s happening, as soon as possible. From you. If someone else can do that job for you, why are you doing it at all?

Tweeting is a good start. It’s the modern-day news ticker, the quick alert. But if you can Tweet, you can write, even if it’s just by stringing together posts at first.

And you need to write. It’s your job. Even when it’s painful.

Maybe especially when it’s painful.

The good news: these are students. This is still a chance to learn. But it’s a lesson that needs to stick.

Don’t go Hollywood. Please. But don’t disappear until everything is absolutely perfect, either. That’s a phantom. Do the best you can with what you have.

Then, when the copy is done and the story is in, go home. Collapse. Cry, if you need to. (I have.)

Be a human.

And then be ready to get up and do it all over again.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Growing with the Flow

There are a lot of rough jobs in this world. Street sweeper at an elephant parade. Quality control for a parachute manufacturer. Speech coach for Bob Dylan.

But the roughest job of all may be the one inaugurated this weekend in our own backyard. Commencement speaker at a Lyons High School graduation.

Think about it.

What on earth do you say?

This is the class that saw its school turned into an island and its hometown into a CNN breaking news clip. These are the kids from the town that left town, the community that water couldn’t kill, the students who will never, ever again use the phrase “God willin’ and the creek don’t rise.”

What can you possibly tell them that they don’t already know? Especially within the tried-and-true themes of a high school graduation.

“Your entire world may change tomorrow and you have to be ready to change with it.” No kidding.

“Think back to when this school year began…” Um, maybe not.

“Be part of your community and ready to give back.” Can we get back to you on that? We’re running late to a Lyons Strong event.

Let’s face it. Life lessons have not exactly been in short supply around here. Once you cross off everything that the St. Vrain Flood made redundant, you might as well just give everyone two Dr. Seuss quotes, one proverb from Mr. Rogers, and then pass the paper and toss the hats.

After all, if you can’t listen to a 20-minute speech that might change your life (see vendor for details, satisfaction not guaranteed, void where prohibited), then what’s the point of a graduation ceremony?

OK, you can stop laughing.

No, I don’t remember the speech at my graduation. I’m betting you don’t, either. Commencement speeches have been pretty much fired and forgotten ever since David addressed the Israelite class of 1020 B.C. (“In a world of giant obstacles, sometimes life really rocks!”)

They don’t stay with us. They don’t need to. Deep down, every senior knows the real theme of every graduation since the beginning of time. And it’s one that might as well be an LHS class motto.

We survived.

We survived homework, exams, pop quizzes and the worst indignities our teachers could inflict.

We survived our own stupidity, our social life, and that moment with the lasagna in 10th grade that no one would let us forget.

And now, this senior class can say, we survived a flood that would make Noah look for a nice place in the Andes.

We outlasted. We persevered. We made it.

Even in the face of the worst that nature could do.

Between you and me, I think every school in this area should have a Lyons High School grad as a commencement speaker next year. These are the masters of disaster, and if anyone knows how to take the next step into an uncertain world, it’s them.

But then, it’s not really something you can say, is it? It’s something you do. Something you pass on by sheer, stubborn example.

And that example is now on stage for everyone to see.

Congratulations, seniors.

You survived. And then some.

Good luck to all of you. And mind the elephants on the way out.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Burning for Bookstores

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Everyone knows that.

You don’t touch Popeye’s spinach. Or swipe James Bond’s car. Or get scuff marks on Elvis’s blue suede shoes.

And if you’re a sensible human being who wants me to keep my (precarious) sanity, you don’t ever, ever mess around with my access to bookstores.

Trouble is, sensible people seem to be in short supply lately.

If you’re a book addict, too, you’ve seen the progression. First, the smaller bookstores got squeezed out, like the old City News on Main Street, where I worked my way through college. Then came the larger fish: Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, Borders.

And now? Now the bell may be tolling on the mighty shark known as Barnes & Noble. After successfully savaging all its competition, the retail book chain has been cutting stores, cutting expenses on the Nook, and most recently cutting its list of owners, as Liberty Media decided to sell its stake and run.

It’s enough to make a person think of dinosaurs and meteors.

Instead, I think of wildfires.

No, I’m not suggesting we put all of Barnes & Noble to the torch. After all, bookstores are my natural habitat. I can disappear more thoroughly there than Bilbo Baggins with a magic ring, coming up only for meal times. Maybe.

There’s a smell to bookstores you can’t get anywhere else, of paper and dust and dreams. Maybe a few other things besides; my beloved City News wrapped popcorn and pipe tobacco into every scent.

Best of all, a good bookstore is a center for serendipity. Wander the shelves and you’ll meet at least one title you’ve never noticed before. (Come to think of it, I met my wife the same way.) Amazon’s recommendations may be near-prescient at times, but it still can’t match the shuffle-the-deck surprises you get from just one hastily glimpsed cover.

Old-fashioned? Sure.

Nostalgic? Undoubtedly.

Dead? Don’t bet on it yet.

This is where the wildfires come in.

Every Coloradan who’s survived the last couple of summers knows how a wildfire works in a forest. A lot of big trees get cleared out, some of them very old and very loved, that seemed like they’d stand forever.

And once the flames die down, there’s a space cleared. And new life can come to the undergrowth.

“I see room for smaller bookstores again,” one friend said on Facebook.

“Maybe this will allow the mom-n-pop local bookstores to come back,” another agreed. “That would be a good thing.”

It would indeed. And I see some of the spaces that could do it. Sellers who pay attention to the customer, who become crucial community gathering points, who don’t have the cumbersome supply chains and monstrous overheads of the world’s Bookzillas.

The chains seemed to offer every book in the world. But Amazon can do that, and do it cheaper.

The smaller ones offer you not just a book, but a home.

They’re out there. Heck, they’re out here. And they’re ready to write the next chapter.

Maybe I’m being unduly optimistic. Maybe the big chains clear-cut the bookstore landscape so that nothing’s left. But somehow I don’t think so. Book-lovers can survive this fire, every single one of us.

Even if it is a real Barnes-burner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment