Thursday, February 3, 2011

The One-Year Anniversary

Today, Random Human Neural Firings celebrates its first anniversary. For me, this is a bit of an achievement. As I established right out of the gate, this is not my first attempt at running a blog. If you Google the name of this blog- or my name, for that matter- you will quickly see another blog by the same name that I attempted in 2005. I didn't stick with it very long, because I never got any comments but for one guy (who's followed me here, you know who you are). It didn't seem worth the effort if only one person was ever going to see it apart from me.

Besides, as with a lot of my earlier writing, it really wasn't that good. So I went on to other projects. I'd attempt other blogs as well, but each was more abortive than the last.

A few years later, I came across a segment on the Today Show about Lisa Ling's excursion into North Korea. Lisa had been in my consciousness prior, primarily from other documentaries she had done for National Geographic- and, curiously, a Folgers commercial- but pretty firmly cemented her in my mind. I didn't watch The View, I didn't get Channel One in my school, so Explorer and Folgers were where I saw her first. Soon after, I came across a blog she was running on the now-defunct Uber. Lisa wasn't getting too many comments either, though she was definately getting some. There was some sort of conversation going on; more importantly, it wasn't a trollfest or the usual celebrity instance of a bunch of fanboys and fangirls gushing 'omglolILOVEYOU<3<3<3' every time some the celebrity in question ate lunch or burped or posted a vacation photo. There was intelligent discourse going on. And if there's one thing that will attract me to a message board, it's accessible, reasonably intelligent conversation. So after familiarizing myself more with Lisa's body of work (and as I've stated here before, a fine body of work it is), I hopped in. Evidently, I hopped in well, because after a little while, Lisa started noting how much she liked my posts. Well, that's always a bit of an ego-stroke. If she likes what I have to say, who am I to deny her? Uber would instead, shutting down and taking Lisa's blog with it. She shifted to Facebook and Twitter, but since I was on neither at the time, contact was lost. When I registered for Facebook, contact was re-established about halfway through the detention in North Korea of Lisa's sister, Laura, and Euna Lee. I joined thousands of other well-wishers, many of whom were doing more than I was capable of, all of whom deserve due credit (especially ringmaster Brendan McShane Creamer) and the vast majority of which are still friended with her today. After the release of Laura and Euna, things slowly got back to normal, and even though there was the period of no contact and the increased audience (still an intelligent audience; she has a way of attracting that), it became clear Lisa did still remember me, albeit a bit hazily, as on Facebook I was posting under my real name and on Uber I was posting under a screenname, mtvcdm. (It stands for 'MTV Celebrity DeathMatch', a show in which claymation celebrities fight to the death. Interestingly enough, Lisa appeared on the show once, fighting Lucy Liu. She almost threw a punch at one point. You can watch it here if you're willing to deal with an awful pregnancy subplot featuring Debbie Matenopolous.)

Besides, Lisa and I hadn't actually physically met yet. That was remedied when she gave a speech at UW-La Crosse, and since I didn't have a headshot on Facebook- my avatar was and still is the logo from the videogame Mirror's Edge- she didn't have any idea what I looked like. This led to the following first encounter in La Crosse:

Me: "Hi, Aaron Allermann."
Lisa: (quizzical head tilt)
Me: "...from Facebook?"
Lisa (instantly) "OMIGOD HI!"

That night, I first mentioned to her my interest in entering the journalism industry (I currently work in retail), trying to sum up my path so far, and to be honest, I made something of a botch of it. I babbled at her, pretty much, and it's a wonder I was even coherent enough to understand.

This is where another major factor comes into play, my brother, Erik, comes into the picture. He had written for the high school newspaper and majored in journalism at UW-Whitewater; I decided this was a path I wanted to follow. The path, however, was bumpier than I could have ever imagined.

I got onto the school paper my junior year, as the humor columnist (as was Erik), as I wasn't allowed on as a freshman or sophomore. My junior year just so happened to be 2001-02, and 9/11 came along early in the semester. Humor was the furthest thing from my mind, and so was just about everything else, for a solid week. I naturally wanted to do a 9/11 article for the coming issue. I wrote what was, for me, for the time, probably the best article I'd ever written to that point in my life.

It never saw print. My teacher killed it on the grounds that too many other staffers were writing 9/11 articles of their own. I forget what article of mine actually wound up in print. I'm really not interested in looking it up. To add insult to injury, I never got a senior year on staff. There was no staff. There was no paper. The faculty had shut it down because not enough articles had been written praising the faculty.

In college- Madison Area Technical College- I intended to major in journalism, only to find out too late that journalism was not offered as a major. There was one elective course, News Writing and Reporting, and since one class is better than nothing, I took it, taking along the AP stylebook Erik had given me. The instructor was Larry Hansen, the third major factor, who watched as I more or less blew the doors off everything but the human-interest segment (where I still scored a solid B and, as it would happen, my only piece to date that's seen print in an actual newspaper), doing what good teachers do and showing what I still needed to work on. As it would happen, I also had a manuscript for a book on journalism in the works. Again, as one of my earlier works, the writing wasn't very good by my current standards- the prose was rough; I could go back and point out several places where my arguments looped back around and ate themselves- and I've since shelved it. But the class and the manuscript got enough of a rise out of Mr. Hansen to offer me a student-help job as a research assistant for a future class he was creating. I leapt on it like a football player on a fumble. A day still sticks in my mind where I spent eight hours straight crafting a fictional crime report from scratch on basically adrenaline and maybe a bottle of Mountain Dew at some point.

Basically, my idea of fun. I was really rather sad to graduate and have to leave that post.

Since then, things had stalled out; no luck getting further articles placed in papers or anything placed anywhere. That's where I found myself on that day in La Crosse. Lisa's response was to keep at it, because something's got to break through sooner or later. Several months, several articles and rejections from most of the papers of record in the Great Lakes region later, the subject came up again, and this time Lisa suggested I start a blog.

Now, Erik had encouraged me to try blogging again as well. I was apprehensive; I'd tried and failed quite enough times already. But it was Lisa here that pushed me over the hump. The reasoning was, she's the professional, highly successful journalist with 20 years experience, and if the professional, highly successful journalist with 20 years experience says start a blog, what can you do but take another run at it?

That was last February 3rd. Soon after, Lisa reposted my first non-introductory piece, 'Burn The Debt Clock'. This instantly put to rest any 'but nobody's going to read it' concerns. Certainly someone was going to be reading now, and one of those readers is Lisa Freaking Ling. This time, this blog was not going to die in a week and a half.

Over the course of the year, she's continued to be very supportive, including a plug to a Marquette audience the next time she was in Wisconsin. If you've been wondering why her name keeps coming up around here, that's why. If it wasn't for Larry Hansen and Erik Allermann (the latter of which has helped out with editing along the way), this blog would not be worth reading. If it wasn't for Lisa Ling, this blog would not be here at all.

If you've liked anything, if you've learned anything here in the past year, go thank them. I'd appreciate it; I'm sure they would as well.

In any case, because this is, as stated, part of an attempt to break into the industry, being one year in is as good a time as any to see how things have been going on that front. I still have much to learn- one always does- but I'd like to think I've come a long way from where I was back in my high school days. These are what I consider to be my best ten pieces from the previous 12 months, presented in chronological order. Whether I have what it takes, that's up to you.

2/6/10- An Open Letter To The Racists
3/15/10- Japanese Minorities
4/17/10- Rationale and Inhibition, or Lack Thereof
5/4/10- Disrespect The Met
6/21/10- The Xhosa Cattle Killings
8/9/10- What Is An American?
9/18/10- Cooper School and Maddow School
12/5/10- Wikiplexed
1/11/11- Easy Answers Where None Exist


Alex said...

This has been an interesting blog and I hope you keep at it.

Pinyan said...

I always wondered what your nick meant. Continued best of luck on your quest to enter the wretched-seeming world of journalism.