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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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“Striptease,” a poem for #BlackPoetsSpeakOut

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

A Grandfamily’s Unexpected Strengths

Barbara Wells is a case manager at the Program for Recovery & Community Health in Yale University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this article for Generations United‘s Together Blog. It appears here with the organization’s permission. 

Barbara Wells knows a thing or two about adversity – how it can either break you or tap unexpected strengths.

As someone who succeeds at challenges, the biggest one came for the single grandmother in 2006, when her grandson, Jay’son, moved in with her after his parents’ incarceration.

Until that moment, Wells, whose grown daughters had their own children, enjoyed her life in Newport News, VA., where she lived for 17 years and worked as a crane operator at a shipyard.

The freedom to travel allowed her to take off for New Haven, CT., after her mom’s heart attack in 1992.

And, while boarding a bus back to Newport News, Wells’s right foot went through a snow-covered pothole before she lost her grip and and her left foot slipped on the ice.

She broke her right leg in five places.

When doctors told her she would never work a crane again, she decided to stay in New Haven and go back to school.

Her life before Jay’son looked like this: finish school, move back to Newport News and work as a social worker.

Nowhere in those plans included a second parenthood raising a grandchild. “Since I had to get him, I said, ‘I’m going to raise him now. I’m not going to let him go into the system,’” she recalled. “‘I’m going to put my life on hold for right now.”

That was eight years ago. “Now,” the grandmother said, “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Wells is among 2.7 million older Americans raising one or more grandchildren under age 18, according to 2012 census data.  “Of these caregivers,” data reports, “1.7 million were grandmothers and 1.0 million were grandfathers.”

bwellspullquoteThis grandfamily’s new light includes Jay’son, 14, starting high school at New Haven’s Metropolitan Business Academy. “I’m very proud of him,” Wells said. “Most children who are not living with their parents have some type of behavioral problems.”

But through therapy, she said, “he’s doing such a remarkable job.”

And so is Wells, who recently graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with her Masters in Social Work.

The grandmother, who’s a case manager in Yale University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, is even thinking of relocating with her grandson to Maryland, North Carolina or Florida for full-time work and a fresh start.

Jay’son’s got his eyes set on Virginia, which piqued his interest during a recent trip to Newport News. When asked how he felt about moving, he told her, “I will just have to meet new friends.”

While their days are brighter, Wells recalls those dark times that nearly broke them. “When he was younger, it was a little tough,” the grandmother said.

She recalled 6-year-old Jay’son often worrying about his future. “Grandma, how am I going to be able to take care of myself?” he asked her. “I’m afraid.”

The anger came when he got older. “He didn’t want to go to school,” the grandmother said.

About 7.8 million children, like Jay’son, across the country live in Grandfamilies, or households headed by grandparents or other relatives.

Just when she and Jay’son thought they reached their breaking point, they tapped unexpected strengths.

Wells found hers in New Haven’s services for grandparents raising grandchildren, her friends and family, and even her grandson.

Through the Consultation Center of New Haven’s Elder Programs, the grandmother’s resources included support groups, parenting skills training, respite opportunities and legislative advocacy through the Center’s Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program.

The Kinship Fund, which the Connecticut Children’s Trust Fund runs, helped Wells make the financial adjustments to care for Jay’son.

When the social worker, an undergrad student at the time, had to make her 7 a.m. classes, her family and friends – especially Jay’son’s paternal grandparents – took care of him.

“Grandpa Johnnie was close to the only positive male role model in his life,” she said, crediting Grandpa Johnnie and his wife for helping her reach her goals.

“It is alright to co-grandparent,” said Wells, adding that she and Jay’son’s other grandparents call each other “grandparents-in-law.” “They have been right there by my side.”

When school nearly broke her, Jay’son was another unexpected strength. “He’s a very intelligent young man despite his diagnosis of ADHD,” Wells said, remembering an undergrad video project her class partner sat on until the last minute.

Barbara Wells (center), posing with her daughters and Jay’son, holds a grandson who lives with his mom in Dubai.

When Wells’s classmate lost their recording on her way home, “Jay’son and I were up at 3 o’clock in the morning,” she recalled. “He recorded the video and made sure I had it ready for class the next day.”

During grad school, he helped Wells with her PowerPoint presentations.

As for Jay’son’s unexpected strength, it came from his grandmother.

During those undergrad days, when Wells couldn’t find a sitter, she took her grandson to school with her. Watching his grandmother study hard inspired Jay’son to take his education seriously.

“It’s nice to show children what college is about,” she said.

Now, he won’t stop talking about it. “He understands that you can pick your classes on the days you want, if they’re available,” the social worker said. “He loved it.”

Wells’s classmates also loved having him around.

Now, it’s hard for the social worker to imagine her days without Jay’son, even as she recalls how her life changed that night in 2006.

“When I first got Jay’son,” Wells recalled, “I had to seek services for him.”

A stranger at a center surprised Wells with her reaction. “Are you going to take  your grandkid?” the woman said. “Oh, I would never do that.”

Despite those concerns, Wells has no regrets. “It was tough,” she said, “but the joy I get out of watching him grow into a nice, respectable young man was worth it.”

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Art Appreciation Month!

Everyone’s got their list of favorites – favorite movies, books, restaurants, etc. Inevitably, someone gets left off those lists.

This is an on-going list I’m building. In honor of this wonderful commemorative month, I’m highlighting these eight artists I’ve profiled here on this blog, and who I think people should know. Click the collage below to visit my new “Memes” page, where you can learn about each of these talented artists and people I’m proud to call my friends.

artist collage

Again, the list is on-going. I’m still creating memes for other folks I’ve profiled. So please check the “Memes” page often for new faces.

Happy Art Appreciation Month! Since I like dialogue, please list your favorite artists with links to their pages in the comments.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Hustle vs. Heartache (UPDATE)

(STILL: Courtesy) Giovanni Adams in his role as Hustle.

Three years ago, I did a story on Jason Tyler and his film crew’s project, Hustle vs. Heartache  — a story about up-and-coming rapper, Hustle, fresh out of prison with a dream of making it big as a hip hop artist, forging a relationship with his young son and finishing old business with his soul-singer dad, Heartache.

Back in 2011, Jason was a grad student at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

When I interviewed him and his crew, they already raised $30,000 with a goal of reaching $100,000 for what started as a thesis film and became a feature.

Jason’s team has since graduated, exceeded their fundraising goal and are now in post-production. They’re an edit away from picture lock, a stage in film editing before the changes are complete and approved.

Afterwards, Jason’s crew kicks their film into the next stage that includes additional edits and audio mixing.

They’ve also secured an impressive cast that includes Blu Mankuma, of Smallville fame, and Vanessa Bell Calloway, who old school heads will remember from Coming to America. Learn more about the cast.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Blog Tour!

Meet Alan King!

Meet Alan King!

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
-Albert Schweitzer

I want to thank Lisa Panepinto, who first tagged me last month for the blog tour (sorry it’s taken me a minute), and Bianca Spriggs for rekindling my inner spirit when the fire went out.

Each writer of the blog tour is asked the following questions. Here’s what I had to say: 

1) What am I working on? 

Right now, I’m trying to get my manuscript, Point Blank, published. Some of the poems were written before I started the Stonecoast MFA program. Once I started grad school, Point Blank took on a life of its own —  exploring race through various Black male archetypes.

The characters that populate these narrative poems exist between urban and suburban areas. The imagery in Point Blank is influenced by natural landscapes, hip hop, and the urban scene. It’s my hope that Point Blank also speaks to injustices committed by or against people left in the margins as a result of racism, classism, and related economic disparities, while showing their humanity in a way that invites the reader to reconsider what s/he thought s/he knew.

I was honored that my mentors, Joy Harjo and Tim Seibles, helped me shape this manuscript. Tim showed me how sensory and psychological details intensified a reader’s experience of each poem. I added details to earlier drafts that not only make the reader feel like they’re inside the poem and experience, but also takes them inside the head of the speaker.

When I struggled during my first semester with how detailed I wanted to be in my poems, Tim offered this bit of advice: “We love soloists for what they give us, not what they hold back.” That’s become my mantra whenever I approach the page.

I owe just as much to Joy Harjo, who, with my title poem “Point Blank”, had me consider the age of my speaker and his friend, both 12-year-olds, which Harjo noted was the age most guys are at the edge of puberty. Adding those extra details helped make the poem richer. Harjo also had me consider alternate time (what’s happening in another time that connects to the moment in the poem).

“A poem is an energetic system,” she once told me. Because of her suggestions, I now consider various levels on which my poems work. Because of Joy and Tim, I’d like to think the poems in Point Blank pose like bodybuilders, showing off their new muscles. Seibles and Harjo forced my poems to do extra bench presses despite them being tired and wanting to relax.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My work differs the same way we’re all different. I can only bring my point of view, which is shaped by personal experiences, to a subject. While I’m not the only writer to explore certain issues through persona — Peter Parker, an earth-bound angel, Hulk and others — I do bring my own insights, which are going to be unique to other writers the same way their insights differ from mine.

3) Why do I write what I do? 

The late John Wooden, basketball player and coach, once said: “Be true to yourself…make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books…”

With that said, being true to myself requires me to write what I’m passionate about, what inspires me after drinking deeply from life.

Most of my work is autobiographical because I pull from my own experiences. Being true to myself requires me to bear witness to my life while I hope my experiences speak to someone else’s. Tim Seibles said it best during my interview with him for BOMB magazine:

What I’m trying to do, as a poet, is to bear witness to my life because I believe my life is like other lives. What I mean is that my problems, my anxieties, my passions, my loves, my disappointments link up pretty readily with those of other people.

…[I]f I talk explicitly about sexual desire, I’m not the first man in the world to look at a woman and feel that burn in the gut…

With my poems, whether they be explicitly erotic or explicitly political, I hope I am simply putting language to something that many people feel.

That’s what I strive to do in all of my poems: speak truth to power.

4) How does my writing process work?

I am not productive away from people. I need the sounds of life as my backdrop — overheard conversations in a restaurant or coffee house, the squealing bus brakes, car horns, the loud scrape of a chair leg sliding across floor tile, etc. I need something happening in the background while I write.

I also don’t do good carrying a pen and pad. The expectation of writing turns off my creativity. That’s why I love my EVERNOTE app, which I’ve installed on my android phone and my laptop. So when I’m hit with an image or a few lines, I whip out my phone and start typing in that app. When I get to my laptop, I can flesh out the ideas and keep going.

I’m often inspired by people-watching. The conversation of things unsaid between strangers. I’m big on body language and the narrative therein.
________________________________________

Let’s keep the blog tour rolling with these next two bloggers:

Robert Hookey is an author and a bellman at a hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. He grew from a “stereotypical shy, retiring kid” to a wonderful storyteller, who’s days as a bellman aren’t short of funny and awkward adventures. He’s the personality behind the blog, You’ve Been HookedThe funniest story he told me was the situation with him and Min. Louis Farrakhan. You have to read his profile here to find out the rest.

Meet Ned Hickson.

Next up is Ned Hickson, an editor and humor columnist for the Siuslaw News, a small Oregon newspaper where the motto is: Your dependable source for local news. Twice weekly. Unless we lose count. He’s the personality behind the blog, Ned’s Blog: Humor at the Speed of Life.

 

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Proper Yardstick

yardsticks

Stock Image

Today, I started — then stopped reading — the article, “The Top 10 Worst College Majors, Definitively Ranked.”

I saw it this morning on Facebook and, despite the red flags it, and other titles like it (“top ten” this or that), usually raised, my curiosity told me to click the link and skim the list.

It didn’t take an educated guess, however,  to know where the article was going.

Of course, the fine arts was among those listed with anthropology and archeology as well as film/video & photographic arts.

The only point of those articles is to reaffirm this hierarchy of personal pursuits and professions, as if success, whatever that is, could only be measured by the same yard stick.

And why are we measuring against one another anyway? The Canadian author Ann Voskamp said it best: “Pick up a yardstick to measure your life against anyone else’s, and you’ve just picked up a stick and beaten up your own soul.”

These soul-beating articles, like “The Top 10 Worst College Majors…,” aren’t only pointless, but do more harm than good.

(PHOTO: madamenoire.com)

They discourage people from pursuing what they’re passionate about and, instead, encourage them  to major in what they think will get them good jobs that, while paying generously and offering great benefits, will ultimately make them miserable.

My father didn’t understand that then (study something that’s going to make you some good money, he usually said), so I majored in computer science — convincing myself that it made sense because I loved video games.

Nevermind that I didn’t have any coding experience.

After graduation, I could make $90,000 starting pay. That’s what I kept telling myself until I flunked my major and ended up on academic probation.

It took an advisor, running off a list of other possible majors, to help me rethink things.  When I asked her how much money I’d make after graduation, she frowned.

“What do you enjoy doing?”  she asked me. “What gives you the most fulfillment?”

That’s when I remembered the poems my classmates and I studied from Elementary through High School. That’s when I remembered the short stories I wrote to get the characters out of my head. That’s when I remembered how fulfilling it was to — having sweated out each line and stanza of my own poems — to see a draft that got closer to what I wanted to express.

That’s when I decided to study journalism.

(ARTWORK: top.janga.com)

Yes, the publisher paid pennies for work that always followed me home. Yes, that same publisher laid me off and I went unemployed for a while.

But doing what I thought was fulfilling allowed me to explore other careers in writing. I worked a handful of gigs — from a contract consultant on a book project, to teaching middle and high school students creative writing, to touring D.C. Public Schools as a visiting writer for a prestigious literary organization.

During that time, I went to grad school and published DRIFT, which continues to open opportunities for me.

After graduating with my MFA in Creative Writing, my pay jumped by $15,000 when I landed a full-time position as a communications specialists for a national nonprofit.

If there’s anything I learned during those days of uncertainty, it was this: diversify your income streams; never just have one source of income.

Right now, I have four — three in addition to my full-time job.  And guess what? I wouldn’t trade my experience for another.

To paraphrase Vince Lombardi: fulfillment of all we hold dear is that moment when we work our hearts out in a good cause and lie exhausted on the field of battle — victorious.

And that, not the “Top Ten” articles, should be the yardstick with which we measure  both our personal and professional successes.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A Saturday Cipher

(PHOTO: Words Beats & Life)

Gathered in a circle, with our backs to each other, a woman walked the circumference of bodies, tagging each of us with a celebrity’s name .

Without saying a word, and without knowing our assigned characters, 14 labeled staff and Board members wandered around a board room, reading one another’s back to match up with their pair.

On this Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t unusual to see Ossie Davis looking for Ruby Dee or to see DJ Premier greet GURU with a pound and a hug.

This activity was part of a team building exercise at the Words Beats & Life (WBL) staff retreat. Talk about a way to engage employees and board members — all of whom grew up during hip hop’s “golden age” and who ranged in age from early 30s to late 40s.

WBL, a DC-based hip hop nonprofit, started as a conference at the University of Maryland, College Park in the fall of 2000.

Since its incorporation in 2003, the organization has set out to transform individual lives and communities through hip hop with its programs. In addition to its multi-media hip hop arts Academy, a global journal and a hip hop business incubator is WBL’s annual festival that started in 2008.

(PHOTO: Words Beats & Life) DC muralist Aniekan Udofia

The nonprofit recently hired me as their Arts & Culture editor.

At today’s retreat, my partner,  a talented emcee and teaching artist, and I were among the pairs that developed an impromptu commercial for WBL, which was part of the day’s second exercise.

During the event, the staff and Board reminisced on 90s LPs (“Yo, Raekwon’s ONLY BUILT 4 CUBAN LINX! That’s my joint”) and discussed the organization’s future in addition to hip hop’s potential for youth development.

In a 2012 Teach-in video, Tim Jones, director of Education in the Elementary to Career initiative at Martha’s Table,  rhapsodized on hip hop as a form of gang resistance, helping rival crews take the battle from the streets to the dance floor.

A WBL Board member noted how hip hop’s also used as a coping mechanism. “There’s always a song that helps you cope or deal with a situation,” she said.

Hip hop helped a popular local DJ with public speaking. “DJing helped me build confidence to be in front of people,” he said.

The self-affirmation from mastering the turntable, according to another DJ, helped him question, then reject the negative perceptions some people had of him.

That self-confidence helped him build a record of both professional and personal successes.

(PHOTO: Words Beats & Life)

As for me, hip hop helped make me a better writer. I’m always amazed when I hear emcees like Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, Invincible and John Robinson, among others.

They always challenge themselves to switch up their wordplay and cadence so their LPs are more a showcase of their various styles — each song a surprise exciting my spirit.

As a writer, the lesson I take from hip hop is to push myself to  always go with a fresh approach or new way of tackling topics in a poem or article.

With WBL’s wonderful work, hip hop is helping a younger generation realize, and fulfill, their potential.

Learn more about WBL. You can #dogoodbetter as a donor or volunteer. You can also join the cause by following them on Facebook and Twitter

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A Poet on his Way to a Reading

(PHOTO: Courtesy of Sidwell Friends School) That’s me, right there!

Yesterday, I left work around 9:30am and hopped the red line to the Tenleytown Metro Station.

During my 13-minute walk, I took a deep breath and exhaled – praying that I don’t bore the students and that I don’t get caught off-guard with a question.

While the nervousness is normal for my school visits, that day’s session was a special one.

My friend and poet Hayes Davis invited me to speak to his class at Sidwell Friends, a prominent private school just north of D.C.

Chelsea Clinton and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Margaret Edson are among the highly-selective Quaker school’s notable alumni. It’s where Malia and Sasha Obama are currently enrolled.

So you know I wanted to make a good impression with it being National Poetry Month, the only time “the world,” as blogger Marie Basile put it, “recognizes our obsession with white space…”

How’d I do? Read the school’s write-up to find out.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Meet Edward “Ned” Hickson

Editor’s note: This profile is part three of an on-going series on successful bloggers and their process. Read part one here and click here for part two. 

Edward “Ned” James Hickson doesn’t believe in “road blocks.” Instead, the editor and humor columnist sees each perceived obstacle as a catalyst for him to blaze his own trails.

It’s a lesson he learned from his stepdad, Glenn, who was a problem solver. “Nothing was ever a road block to him,” Hickson said in a recent interview, “it just meant a reason to discover a new route.”

And those wise words gave an aspiring journalist, whose formal education stopped at high school, a survival plan. The Lawnsdale, California-native’s life story is analogous to those of born geniuses like George Burns, Julie Andrews, Sean Connery and Wolfgang Puck among others. They succeeded despite their limited formal education because of hard work, sheer luck and natural talent.

Hickson’s natural talent is his comedic timing. It helped him during the 10 years he worked as a chef for Morrison Inc., which owned several restaurant chains (including L&N Seafood, Silver Spoon and Ruby Tuesday’s.)

During that time, he rose from assistant chef to regional chef, overseeing restaurants and openings in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, New York State and Alabama.

Hickson’s humor seemed to follow him wherever he went. “I tried to keep things light during high-stress meal periods and restaurant openings,” said Hickson, who now  lives in Florence, Oregon. Humor was so much a part of him that, “if I stopped making quips, the kitchen knew it was time to get serious.”

(PHOTO: Courtesy of Ned Hickson) Edward “Ned” Hickson, 15-year veteran journalist.

But he’s rarely serious about anything — except his wife, Alicia (who he affectionately calls “Alicia The Beautiful”), and their four kids who range in age from 12 to 19.

Otherwise, Hickson’s always in joke mode. “Humor plays such a big part of my everyday life,” he said. “I grew up surrounded by funny people in my family — my parents, grandparents, cousins, my older half-brothers. They always had me laughing.”

Now, he entertains readers as a humor columnist at the Siuslaw News and on his personal blog, “Ned’s Blog: Humor at the Speed of Life.” When he started with the paper, he covered sports until he pitched the idea for a weekly humor column.

His editor, who already took a chance hiring Hickson despite him not having prior journalism training and experience, asked: “You really think you can be funny every week and not run out of ideas?”

To this, Hickson nodded. That was 15 years ago, when the paper hired him to replace the sports editor who quit. “A friend who was working there jokingly suggested I apply,” he said. “I had no journalism experience and am not really a sports nut.”

He submitted his application and got an interview. “I was up against some recent journalism grads from the University of Oregon,” Hickson recalled. Fifteen years later, he still wonders if the editor was drinking that day because he got the job.

But Hickson has no regrets. “Taking that job was one of the best decisions I ever made,” he said. Then chuckling, the columnist added: “I’m not sure he feels the same.”

Hickson’s readers are still laughing. “My first rule is to always make fun of myself before someone else,” the veteran columnist said. “Unless it’s Justin Bieber; I’ll always make fun of him first.”

That’s the best way Hickson gauges what’s funny. “If I can laugh at myself, then so will readers,” he said.

It also doesn’t hurt that his approach to humor nearly mirrors that of Larry David, whose sitcom-engine style made “Seinfeld” a successful show.

Developing the story for each episode, David picked a mildly annoying habit of a character or their lover and blew it out of proportion. It’s successful because that annoying habit is relatable to viewers.

Hickson’s approach is slightly different. “I’d rather take an everyday situation, blow it completely out of proportion and put myself right in the middle,” he said. “The more absurd the situation, the funnier it gets.”

It worked for a Chuck Norris bit he did for this interview. Here’s his response when asked what his readers would be surprised to know about him:

Readers would be surprised to know I recently got into a tussle with Chuck Norris over the last t-shirt at a One Direction concert. It turned out to be an extra-large, and my daughter wears a small, so I let him have it. The shirt, I mean — not my fists of furry. And yes, I meant “furry” not “fury.” Ok, fine. That didn’t really happen.

(PHOTO: Stock)

It’s those random creative moments, which spring from simple “what ifs,” that make his columns successful. In response to this question — What if the guilt associated with throwing away unwanted fruitcake became an actual disorder? — came his series of columns on FDAD (Fruitcake Disposal Anxiety Disorder).

That column is his most successful one at the paper. With the outpouring of encouraging words, he also got some hate mail. “I discovered there was a strong lobby of fruitcake supporters who weren’t amused,” Hickson recalled.

In fact, they were so hell-bent on defending the candied-fruit treat that they mailed dozens of them to the paper.

Hickson’s response? “I held a taste test in our newsroom and wrote a column about the results,” he said, adding that he actually enjoyed two out of the 12 fruitcakes he received.

But that stunt in the newsroom is nowhere as daring as what he writes about for his blog. “The creativity blogging offers has given me an opportunity to explore humor writing in ways I couldn’t do as a columnist,” said Hickson, who started blogging for over a year and a half ago.

Since then, he’s guest blogged on other sites, met other humor writers he admires, published his book (Humor at the Speed of Life), and built a following.

Michelle Terry’s among them. “OMG…I’m going to love reading your stuff,” the fellow blogger and proud mama of two posted. “…hope you don’t mind another gushing fan.”

Another fellow blogger, Claudia Felsberger, felt she’d hit a goldmine. “Skimmed through your blog. It made me draw the conclusion that you’re awesome!” the freelance journalist and photographer posted. “Humorous, entertaining, thought-provoking, maybe even a little bit awkward, but awesome!”

Encouraging words aside, blogging gives Hickson what his job couldn’t. “There’s a real sense of immediacy in blogging that you can’t get with newspaper writing,” he said. “I love getting an idea, writing it up, posting it and seeing the ‘comment’ icon light up.”

His actual process for creating each post is more involved. It starts with him arriving to the newsroom at 5:30 a.m. “I prefer to write early in the morning because, in addition to fewer distractions, I’m not really awake yet,” Hickson said.

That helps his freethinking in addition to blasting AC/DC through his iPad headphones while sipping coffee. He usually has a rough idea of his topic and doesn’t over-think it until he’s at his keyboard.

“I’ve learned to  trust my instincts, so I like things to develop as I write, as opposed to using an outline,” Hickson said. “This works well for humor because the funniest things are almost always born out of spontaneity.”

He likens the process to stand-up. “Except I get to sit down,” the blogger said. “If I bomb, no one knows it but me.”

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

Another thing most people didn’t know is that he responds to comments and/or tweets if they pop up while he’s writing. “They don’t interrupt my flow,” Hickson said. “At least for me, they  keep the creativity flowing by maintaining that level of spontaneity.”

Then it’s time for the oral test. “I read the piece out loud. If my tongue gets tripped up, it needs more polishing,” the columnist said. “That’s also when I check for timing.” Does he need to add a pause? Elaborate more? What can be cut? Those are the questions his internal editor ask before he hits “Publish.”

He’s usually done before 9 a.m. when the other reporters roll into the newsroom. That he posts daily, sometimes twice a day, gives you a sense of his dedication.

But the labor’s not without a pay-off. In addition to new followers, he got the WordPress administrators’ attention, resulting in them selecting two of his posts — both a year apart from each other and within a week of Hickson’s birthday — among their eight favorites to showcase. This process, on WordPress, is known as being “Freshly Pressed” and results in a major traffic surge.

The first time, WordPress “Freshly Pressed” his blog piece, “Surgery is Safer When Patients Come With Instructions,” which resulted from a report on an increase in cases of wrong-site surgeries.

Hickson’s post was a response to his question: What precautions would I take to make sure my vasectomy didn’t turn into an appendectomy?

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

That post recorded 1,200 hits in two days and gained him nearly 300 new followers. “I always answer every comment and email, so my weekend was a busy one,” the blogger recalled. “I had no idea what to expect. I couldn’t believe it.”

He also couldn’t it when he got “Freshly Pressed” again last August for his piece, “If You Can’t Fix It With Gum and Duct Tape, It’s Not a Real VW Bus.” The idea for that post resulted from the buzz of new generation Volkswagen vans that Hickson felt lacked the character of their old counterparts.

That post recorded 878 hits the first day and hundreds of comments, along with 400 new followers. Though the earlier experience prepared the blogger for this time, he recalled: “It was still overwhelming.”

It’s the creative process that keeps him grounded. His advice to first-time bloggers: “Write with regularity. Whether it’s once a week or once a day, be consistent.”

That consistency doesn’t just benefit the reader. “Writing is a form of meditation,” the journalist said. “The more you practice it, the more focused and instinctive it becomes.” He added, “Eventually, your creativity will begin to anticipate that routine and be waiting for you when you sit down at the keyboard.”

What also keeps Hickson grounded is another lesson his stepfather, Glenn, passed on to him: “Do something well and the rest will take care of itself.”

Everything the journalist and blogger approach with that philosophy worked out well. “I started with one newspaper column and just focused on the writing,” Hickson said. “Today, it’s in 30 papers in the U.S. and Canada.”

Scott Write and Sandra Walker are among the editors happy to run Hickson’s columns in their papers. “I only had to read one of his columns to realize his humor transcended regional lifestyles and geographical boundaries,” according to a testimonial from Write, editor of The Post in Centre, Alabama. “That was almost two years ago, and his column is now an eagerly anticipated weekly feature.”

In her testimonial, Walker pointed out Hickson’s intergenerational appeal. “Ned’s column has attracted not just the usual middle-aged class of newspaper readers, but also the high school students who enjoy seeing something lighthearted in the newspaper,” she said. “We are thankful to have his entertaining wit and wisdom as part of our newspaper each week.”

The philosophy of doing something well gained him additional blog benefits. “I’m approaching 3,000 followers, which is something I never suspected, particularly with my limited social networking knowledge,” said the blogger, who managed to link his site to Facebook and Twitter.

“I’m just focusing on the funny,” he added, “and letting the rest take care of itself.”

Hickson’s also focused on taking care of his family — whether it’s cheering on his kids at sporting events or helping them with homework. “Any time I can spend with my family is quality time,” he said. “My wife is truly my best friend and someone who makes every moment together quality.”

In fact, the few pleasures he enjoys, once the kids are in bed, is curling up on the couch with his wife while she reads aloud his post for the day. “When something catches her off guard and she laughs out loud — that’s the best,” Hickson said. “If she were my only fan, that would be enough for me.”

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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