on sincerity

It's so hard to be sincere sometimes — or at least to come across that way.

We twentysomethings seem to define ourselves and the things we like in roundabout ways:

"I just like that ironically."

"It's so bad it's good."

"So over it."

Or, as some friends of mine recently said about a YouTube video:

"It's so unfunny that it's so funny but it's actually not funny at all
"I laughed out loud a lot, basically"

"You just described everything our generation finds amusement in."

So as you might imagine, I found myself at a loss for words when I watched a short documentary about black women embracing their natural hair that really resonated with me — unironically, sans giggles.

I saw the video when my friend Wayne posted it on Facebook, so I clicked "Share" but then spent the longest time trying to figure out what — if anything — to say alongside the link.

If I left the text box blank, would people assume I was making light of an experience and an ethnicity that's clearly not my own?

Would they think I liked this look at natural hair in the same way I enjoyed that "I Love My Hair"/"Whip My Hair" mashup? That was more about the sum than the parts.

Would it seem as if I was giggling like I did over that one bitch-with-weave moment on Cheaters? That ain't even... correct.

But was there a way to convey that I took sincere delight in these women's decision to embrace the natural beauty they had been suppressing, and it resonated with me as a white man with naturally straight hair because, really, it was about more than just hair?

Eventually, I whittled all that down to this Facebook-sized comment: "Self-acceptance is beautiful."

Based on my friends' responses, it seems I struck the right tone, but it really shouldn't have been so hard to do so.

Since this peculiar bit of writer's block, I've been thinking about how many of the things I say aloud and especially that I send via text message are literally untrue but instead carry a sarcastic meaning. That underlying message is almost always understood on both ends but troubling nonetheless.

It seems that relying on so much snark makes it harder to convey what I mean without it. Well, I see now that I mustn't let my gayforward communication skills get rusty.

on interestingness

the Spice Jeep
Come on, pick a favorite...

I want to expand on something I mentioned last night. Instead of pondering the full impact of this past weekend's Flinn reunion on yours truly, I just offered up a fairly weak sauce and poorly explained example: that I might not want to talk about work all the time.

Now it's not that my work as a reporter isn't interesting or that I'm looking to avoid all shop talk outside the newsroom. Nor am I suggesting that I'll expect my non-Flinn Califriends to discuss the finer points of biological network models, community agriculture, getting shot during combat medical training or any of the other specific things my fellow Flinns are engaged in.

Rather, what I was getting at is that this past weekend reminded me that the most interesting things about each of us are not always directly tied to the most obvious things about us — namely, our professions and/or our majors.

This is something I learned long ago in preparing for and engaging in youth ministry with SSP: Sometimes, asking a high schooler about his or her classes or activities sparks a lively conversation, but oftentimes you have to ask something they're not expecting — like "What's the last song you had stuck in your head?" or "Who's your favorite Spice Girl?" — to dodge the standard answers that we all (youth and adults alike) have at the ready to address the standard questions.

And it's something that's key to how the Flinn Foundation's selection committees have picked scholars over the years. As Flinnlets (i.e., prospective Flinns) we're often told while preparing for The Big Scary Interview(s) that our questioners aren't looking for a predetermined right answer to their queries but rather for how we engage with the question. And the scholars program has a reputation for not seeking out students who just fit into a certain mold but instead looking at the whole picture. "There is no blueprint for a Flinn Scholar," the foundation will tell you.

Anyway, this past weekend's Flinnsanity reminded me that we are all so much more than our jobs and our majors, as interesting as those things may be. The reunion even included a session on work-life balance in which Kim, one of the Flinn alums leading the session, lamented the fact that people automatically assume, sometimes wrongly, that a person's profession is his or her one true calling.

"Don't make the mistake of thinking that the thing that pays the electric bill defines you — or is the only thing that defines you," she said.

Certainly, the thing we spend most of our time on at work or on campus is often one of the defining factors in our lives. I think that's the case for myself, and it seemed to also be the case for Dawn, a current Flinn who I met on Saturday. When I asked her the Kim-inspired question, "What is your life about, which may or may not include what your major is?" Dawn replied that she's all about food and agriculture and such, which ties in with the degree in global health that she's pursuing through ASU's anthropology school (aka SHESC).

But just because that's the first interesting thing she mentioned doesn't mean it's the only one. Within a few minutes, we had somehow gotten on the topic of my years as a camper and staffer at SSP, which prompted some stories from Dawn about a program she had been involved with as a high schooler, Grand Canyon Youth.

Other times, interesting things about people come up without any ties to what pays the bills — or what we're paying tuition bills for.

Take, for instance, another Flinn whom I met this weekend — Jared, who calls himself The Mediocre Singer-Songwriter and performed a song of the same name at the reunion's talent show:

After hearing this and a couple other side-splitting songs from Jared in the Saturday afternoon Musicale, I chatted him up and asked if music is something he sees as a career path or something that's an aside to some other degree program or life path. He said that The Mediocre Singer-Songwriter's tunes come to him in fits and spurts and that he isn't able to produce a song by just sitting down and willing himself to do so. Plus, he said, the music industry is notoriously capricious. So as it turns out, this music man is a math major.

So I don't want you to think that this past weekend is just going to prompt me to shoot down all shop talk with an "Ugh. Can we talk about something other than work?" although I do reserve the right to occasionally be that whiny. Instead, the Flinn reunion really reminded me that we too often just skim the surface when talking with each other, focusing on the résumé bullet points when there's so much more to be discovered and discussed within each of us. That's what I'll be looking for more often from here on out.

on success and failure

Tonight I decided to finally delve into Peter Jennings' biography, which I had been meaning to pick up for the past few days.

In case you don't know, for as much as I often deride the daily foibles of television news, there are a number of broadcast journalists whom I hold in extremely high regard, and Peter Jennings is chief among them. In fact, it was my childhood desire to emulate Jennings that first set me on the path toward my eventual career as a print and online journalist.

Anyway, I forget what it was that inspired me to move Jennings' biography to the top of my seldom acted-upon reading list, but by page 22, I was getting restless.

Now, I don't mean that the narrative — a patchwork of words from a whole slew of people who were mostly on a first-name basis with Peter, culled from transcripts of interviews and a memorial service that followed his death in 2005 — bored me or allowed my mind to wander. Rather, I was really getting into the story of Jennings' first stint anchoring on ABC, when suddenly my mind jumped ahead to what I knew would be the inevitable end of that chapter.

See, the twentysomething Jennings' time as solo anchor lasted just two years, from 1965 to 1967. As he left the anchor chair to move back into reporting, Peter Jennings with the News was seen as a perhaps novel but ultimately unsuccessful experiment of a last-place network with a fledgling news division. As Ted Koppel recalls in the biography, "(ABC) was fifth in a three-man — or a three-network — race." Jennings himself once called it "a little ridiculous" to pit a 26-year-old against the likes of Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley.

Thinking ahead to the eventual end of Jennings' first American anchoring job prompted me to think much farther back in history to another early-career epic fail — John Wesley's roughly two-year stint as a colonial chaplain in America in the 1730s. Norwood called the whole trip to Georgia an "unmitigated disaster" for both John and his brother Charles.

And yet, despite early false starts of sorts in America, both men became well-known and respected leaders in their fields. One became the face of a network; the other, the face of a movement.

Well, that got me thinking about my own life and how I've never really had a Wesley-style unmitigated disaster or a Jennings-esque assignment that comes before I'm really ready for it.

Sure, I have almost daily "epic fails," like just now when I spent a good five minutes scouring both my apartment and the downstairs laundry room for my phone, which was hiding underneath the Jennings biography that I had just put down. And I've certainly made mistakes in my personal and professional lives that I've learned from.

All along, though, I've been seen as this good kid who made good grades and did good work, and I've got an apartment full of awards, plaques and diplomas to attest to my general on-trackness, if you will.

Now, I'm not saying I want to fail at something. No one in his right mind sets out to fail for the sake of failing.

Instead, what I think I've realized tonight is that I want to set myself up for possible failure — or possible triumph — instead of too often sticking to safer paths that boast a narrower range of outcomes, which generally tend to be centered just north of mediocrity.

I've done this sort of thing before, you know. Among the awards and such, also hanging on the walls of my apartment in Palm Springs are photos and front pages from my time in Cape Town. It was a trip that almost never happened, but I thank God that it did. Over those three months, I not only saw and worked in a new part of the world, but I also made friends and discovered things about myself that I never would have back here in the States.

Although the result was decidedly more positive, my South African journey could be seen as one of Wesleyan proportions. Now, perhaps I need to seek out an assignment (professionally or personally) that I'm perhaps not yet fully suited for, much like the 26-year-old Jennings who took to the anchor chair for a short time ahead of a much longer and much more successful run as anchor that would begin more than a decade later.

Or maybe it's something else that doesn't hew quite as closely to the experiences of either of these two men whom I hold in such high esteem. Whatever it is, I know it's time for me to focus on at least one or two Big Things once again.

If I haven't led myself into unmitigated disaster or gotten in over my head by this time next year, I won't count that in and of itself as a failure. But if I've neither succeeded nor failed at something big, something important by next summer — all for lack, or even fear, of trying — that will be the worst kind of failure.

on hipness

So I wrote this last Thursday and meant to post it Friday, but my pre-weekend plans got in the way, so now here are my much-delayed thoughts on hipness:

Part I: Coachella

Photo by Caesar Sebastian

When this year's Coachella lineup was announced last last week, I was rather impressed that I had heard of (and in some cases, straight-up heard) many of the artists who'll be playing in Indio come April.

You know, back in high school, I only had this vague idea of what Coachella was and probably knew 0.3 of the bands that played the festival... and now all these years later, I live in the Coachella Valley and kind of maybe want to go to Coachella — assuming, of course, that there are enough bands I want to see that won't be playing while I'm at work Saturday night.

Part II: KWXwhY?


This past past Saturday, I was listening to KDES (Tempe translation: KOOL) because, you know, I'm all 65 years old and whatnot. And I heard the DJ say that KDES' long-anticipated move from 104.7 FM to 98.5 FM is was coming up on Feb. 2.

That means the station that's now was on 98.5, KWXY is leaving FM forever!* I heard earlier this last week that the beautiful music station is moving to its old AM frequency, but things still won't be the same. Lots of markets have older-than-oldies on AM, but ever since forever, we here in Palm Springs have had classy old jams on the FM... along with all the cuteness of a station by senior citizens for senior citizens. This is the station that calls itself "the valley's 24/7 news source" because they have their DJs read national wire stories at all hours of the day and night. Srsly. I think I've heard more local news about Canadian cities on KWXY than I have about Coachella Valley cities. Also, some of the DJs go all out during news time and tell you that the temperature is, say, "65 KWXY degrees" before consulting "Doppler 98-5."

But even though I like to poke fun, when KWXY moves moved back into the static-y, mono world of amplitude modulation, my life is gonna get got a lot less classy... or I'll just have to get used to the much more low-fi version of Sinatra and company.

The possible silver lining to all this change on the airwaves is the hope that someone, somewhere will deem the soon-to-be-wide-open 104.7 frequency a proper place for a much-needed alternative station for the Coachella Valley.

Ah, but who am I kidding? The powers that be will probably turn 104.7 into the valley's fifth-or-sixth-ish classic rock station. Srsly. We already have two that bill themselves as classic rock stations (KMRJ and KDGL), a Jack FM (KAJR) that plays classic rock a majority of the time, a hard rock station (KCLB) that revisits the '70s and '80s way too often and a healthy helping of classic-ish rock on KDES.

Actually, since I wrote this on Thursday, I found out from my colleagues' reports in Sunday's paper that 104.7 is now licensed to Redlands, and 95.9 switched formats on Monday to what was billed as a kind-of KWXY replacement but has so far sounded like a slower and sappier version of the old Jack FM playlist.

* I can't actually guarantee that it'll be forever. What do I look like? A magician? No. I'm Ginger Jeffries, your First Alert forecaster. Duh.

Part III: Draw the Circle Wide

Speaking of local radio, I should add that KCLB does play quite a bit of new rock amid the oldies. Lately, they've been really big into Skillet's "Monster," which cracks me up to no end because I remember back in high school when:

When I first started getting into Christian pop and rock way back in 2001 or so, it seemed the conventional wisdom was that the Christian music scene was always a few months or years behind mainstream music. As I recall, Britney and Christina preceded the likes of Stacie Orrico. Likewise, *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys begat Plus One.

But ever since I left the all-Christian-music-all-the-time scene in '04, I've kept hearing a whole bunch of singers, bands and groups that at one time only came on Air 1 and The Effect.

My all-time favorite band, Switchfoot, is all over the place — movie soundtracks, commercials, the radio, ESPN college football intros (and events)... and they also randomly show up in Palm Desert when I go out of town.

I've heard Skillet on the radio and on NBC football promos this past fall, and at one point back in AZ, I even heard Thousand Foot Krutch on a real rock station.

Hell, even sweet li'l Katy Hudson was resurrected as girl-kissin' Katy Perry.

All of these instances and various other "This sounds familiar" moments always make me smile and/or laugh.

Who knew that so many of my '01 jams would be tied to such '10 hipness?

I mean, none of my old Jesus jams are getting played on KWXY. The only songs from the past two decades I ever heard on 98.5 before the big switch were some Michael Bublé track and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's 1993 Hawaiian-style cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "What A Wonderful World."

But one of those old Air 1 bands, MUTEMATH is scheduled to play a Sunday set at this year's Coachella festival.

And thus, the hipness comes full circle, y'all.