Support Quality Journalism. Now.

Ladies, gentlemen, and friends outside the binary, we’ve reached a tipping point in our relationship with the media. Journalism has finally reached that critical mass required for real change.

I could sit here and dissect why this has happened, but frankly, it’s better left to others and we don’t have time for that. We’re in a crisis and the only thing that can fix it is cash money and your eyeballs.

We, the consumer, MUST change our media consumption habits. Now.

We, the consumer, MUST demand better reporting and reject clickbait, entertainment gussied up as news, and opinions dressed up as reporting. Now.

We are the ones with the control.

The dirty secret is that all that bullshit that’s being touted about as journalism doesn’t exist if we’re not there to consume it. We need to stop looking at trash. Now.

Our president has been very vocal about his dislike for the media, as I’m sure many of your friends and relatives have been. So. If you don’t like it, how can we change it? Talk does nothing. You’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is.

Journalism requires money. Quality journalism requires more. There’s a reason why reality shows are so prolific. They’re cheap to produce and inherently lack developed content. Journalism has gone the same way. The institutions that haven’t died off yet have had to change to meet our expectations so they can scrape together what little cash they can and keep their doors open. We cannot expect good journalism for free.

I’m not saying the media is faultless, not by a long shot, but again. We are the source of the revenue. The reason this milquetoast, underdeveloped, bullshit thrives is because we’re literally paying for it. We click and say, “Yes, this is adequate.” We keep coming back for more of the same.

On the other hand, the answer is not to get disgusted and throw up our hands, either. We need to find the good reporting that exists and support that. A rising tide lifts all boats. We need to demand quality by rewarding quality. Now.

How do we do that?

  • You’re going to need to read. Find news sources that are doing the work. If you’re not sure, find articles that have been shared with you and go beyond the headline on your Facebook wall. Dive in. See what that organization has to offer. Read.
  • Turn off AdBlock. If you’re blocking ads, you’re blocking revenue. Support good reporting with your eyeballs.
  • Read the article on the website of the people who reported it originally. Aggregators websites do not create content. They just steal and regurgitate it. This means you will need to follow your news organizations directly, visit their site, their app, their Facebook page… Otherwise, they do not get the ad revenue. Someone else who stole from them does.
  • Subscribe. Do they have a print edition? Sign up. Do they have a digital subscription? Even better. Less dead trees, more money to support good reporting. USE YOUR MONEY. VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLARS. YES, I AM YELLING.
  • Ignore nonsense. Shit is too real for you to care about what quick trick is going to trim inches off your waist, which celeb was caught red handed, 13 times a pizza was the realest, or what tattoo you should get based on your name and the street you grew up on. This is not news.

 

We, the consumers, need to take an active role to control the future of journalism. Blame is bullshit and counterproductive. We need to change. Now.

It starts with you. It ends with you. Do it. Now.

Yes, Virginia, I still mail Christmas cards.

We never sent Christmas cards out when I was growing up. Our family is tiny so there was no one to send them to. …So I’m not sure where the idea of sending Christmas cards came from, really. But I can remember as a teenager scraping together cash so I could buy my first pack of cards. They were Hallmark cards (so fancy) with a picture of mugs of cocoa and a heartwarming sentiment inside. Feeling it needed to be “Christmasier”, I also handfed the cards through our inkjet printer to add Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening to the interior of the card.

Teenaged Lauren, you were such a dork.

I sent the cards to my far-flung friends that first year. Everyone seemed tickled by the sentiment… probably because I’m such a geek. The next year, my list quintupled. (Gotta love the in-laws!) OH MAN. CARDS FOR EVERYONE!

One year, I handmade cards. Like I said – Lauren of back then was a total dork. I did not realize what a huge undertaking it was going to be. Still, they didn’t turn out so bad!

 

(I haven’t done it since.) (I usually go to Papyrus after the new year and scoop up cards in bulk at 70% off.) (I hope not paying full price at Papyrus doesn’t ruin the Christmas magic, in-laws.) (Parentheses are like secrets in writing, right?)

I know it’s antiquated, especially in this digital age. But I like it. I enjoy sitting in front of the TV and writing until my hands are sore. The sense of accomplishment at throwing fistfuls of cards into the mail… So good. This year we got a stamp for our return address and stickers to seal the envelopes, so I think I’ve hit peak Christmas card lady.

I don’t have a lot of traditions. But this one is mine.

Short Stories For Short People #4: Get In

She was stuck in rush hour traffic when the rumbling started. Earthquakes weren’t typical around here and, frankly, it didn’t really feel like one. There was something about it. Didn’t feel like it originated in the ground. It was in her chest, her arms, and legs somehow. After a solid 30 seconds, it stopped.

She flipped from music to the local NPR station. Something about strange activity. Communications from outer space. A wash of excitement… quickly replaced by fear. Sure, aliens maybe, but the thousands of strangers surrounding her was her more immediate concern. Cars were starting to honk. A white SVU ahead of her sideswiped a Prius to get over to the shoulder. He sped off.

Things were about to get crazy.

She put the car into park and began to mentally assess where she was in town, what supplies were in the car, and if she thought it was safer to stay in here or head out there.

Another couple cars zooming by on the shoulder. Maybe it was safer in here for now.

She noticed the wind picking up to the point where the car was shaking. She looked out her window, peering up.

A jet or… a spaceship? Hovering in the air above her car. She gawked at it. It was black, shaped like a fighter jet that had been stung by a bee. It didn’t seem too far away, but she was a terrible judge of distance.

Then, her cell phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Do you see me?”

“Honey?”

“Yeah!”

“Are you the goddamn space jet?”

“Yeah.”

“…you don’t work for the post office, do you?”

“Nope.”

“I knew it.”

A ladder unfurled and bumped the side of her car.

“Get in. We’re going on a trip.”

Lessons For The Modern Homemaker #2: How To Set Up Your Christmas Tree

Step 1: Approximate the area where your tree will live for the season. It’s just like that old saying – location, location, location! You want something central to your living space, but out of the way enough that it’s comfortable to navigate around and sit near.

Step 2: Clear away any furniture or fragile pieces from the area where you’ll be working on the tree set up. Sure, things will be discombobulated for a few weeks but, hey, ’tis the season!

Step 3: Gather up those ornaments and sort them by color and by type. No one likes to get the entire tree decorated and realize they forgot their handblown German gingerbread man ornaments! It would be like leaving the house without your pearls on!

Step 4: Get yourself in the holiday mood! Put on some Christmas music. Get yourself some mulled wine. Oh, you should put on that Christmas classic you have on DVD.

Step 5: Fall asleep on the couch watching the movie. Wine is warm and tasty. Just give in to that comfortable feeling. Catch some Zzzs! You deserve it!

Step 6: Dream of adventure. Dream of fire and wind and the earth below your feet as you run. You see the city in the distance, peeking out of clouds and mist. You call to the skies. You feel a strength inside you that you’ve never known in the dreary, grey day-to-day of your waking world. You see your friends and you call to them. You can laugh with them and see them and walk with them like you haven’t in years. They haven’t aged a day and neither have you. It is joyful. When evil comes to threaten them, your anger is palpable. You take your sword and shield and fight for them. You can fly. You can fly, dammit. Why haven’t you been flying? How did you miss that this was something you could do? It’s just like second nature. You start to fight. You are strong. You never feel fatigued. You just feel strong. You fight some more and you win. A talking bear tells you that you did a good job. The wreckage of the battle resembles your high school, but, somehow, like, it’s not really? You’re in your underwear.

Step 7: Wake up.

Step 8: Forget the tree.

“Welcome to Cityline!”

Before we really had the internet and podcasts as a limitless fount of information, the residents of my hometown had Cityline. I loved Cityline. It was a phone system done by the local newspaper where you used a directory to call and listen to information. It was updated regularly and had some great regional info and some fun syndicated content.

The earliest mention of it I could find was from this USA Today newsgroup post archived on MIT’s website from 1992:

SPOKANE BUYS CITYLINE SYSTEM:
   The Brite Voice Systems Inc. says it has sold a Cityline system 
to the Spokane (Wash.) Chronicle & Spokesman-Review. The system 
provides a variety of telephone information services to the 
Spokane market. Spokane Chronicle & Spokesman-Review serves 
Western Washington and Northern Idaho. It is owned by Cowles 
Publishing Co.

That’s pretty dry, but from my research was kind of a unique move on the part of the Spokesman-Review. And the Spokesman-Review used the heck out of it. Searching around in their archives you can find many articles that reference it. “Call Cityline to hear a song!” “What do you think? Call Cityline and leave us a message!” It’s all over the place.

Thanks to Google News and the Spokesman-Review, I can show you a clipping of what the Cityline Guide looked like. I think this eventually doubled in size.

A phone tree for a city information line. A variety of topics are listed with phone numbers.

As a kid, I know I called up and listened to the comedy recordings, which were usually a person doing a bit with a funny voice or a lame joke. Mr. Science’s World of the Really Amazing I remember checking out every week. The trivia games were good, too – you would answer by pressing a number on your phone. It was interactive in a basic way. There was choose your own adventure style stories later on, listed under the heading, “Adventure Stories”. I had forgotten that, but reading this reddit thread jogged my memory. There were also mini-soap operas, if my memory serves me. It updated the entertainment pieces weekly, so I can remember looking forward to dialing in and listening to the latest installment of my Cityline numbers.

Sometimes you’d end up stuck in one section of the phone tree and you’d have to hang up and try again. Sometimes you’d find a neglected number that hadn’t been updated in some time. There was also entering a random number, too, and seeing where it led you. I’m sure I tried to listen to all the extensions at one point.

And the voice of the main announcer… I can still remember it. I tried valiantly to find any recording of Cityline but they just don’t exist. The latest mention I can find of Cityline is from a Spokesman-Review article in 1998. Googling the number shows it was acquired by a local cinema, which is kind of a smart move when people are used to dialing it up for movie times.

I just told my husband I was blogging about this. “It was the thing I would call up on the phone when I was bored with no friends around.” He made a face. “It’s really dumb and dorky.” He agreed. But you know what? It kept me company. It was a formative part of my pre-teen years. I was informed and probably slightly obsessed with it.

RIP, Cityline. Thanks for the memories.

A follow-up to “What happened to LaserMonks?”

Bless the internet. I am constantly amazed at the things I see this wonderful network of computers do.

I got a notification that a new comment had been posted on my LaserMonks post, which you can read in full here, and lo and behold – an update of sorts! A commenter going by “faithfjord” shared a news story from a couple years ago from reporter Keith Strange with “The Mount Airy News”. Mt. Airy is a little town in North Carolina with a population of about 10,000. How “faithfjord” found this article… well, now you know why this post opened with me marveling at the power of the internet. Anyway.

The article, which you can see here, details the entrepreneurial endeavors of Vann McCoy, which the article notes he felt the call to serve, moved to Wisconsin, joined a Cistercian monastery, and went by Father Bernard. Guys. This is Father Bernard McCoy, the former CEO of LaserMonks. It’s him. He doesn’t name the company in the article but discusses his previous role both in a business and in the church. It’s him.

He explains what happened. He’s reflective and contemplative. It’s not terribly detailed. He says essentially that running the business and the monastery was a tremendous amount of work shared by too few people. They decided to close up the monastery. It was a crossroads for him and he left on a sabbatical soon after.

Wow. I had my answer. The answer to a great mystery that occupied my idle thoughts from time to time for years. People would comment on my original post and I’d be thinking about them again. (It always got a fair amount of traffic, always people led here by the same question I had. Googling “What happened to LaserMonks?”) Sometimes, the question was prompted by changing my printer ink. Or tasting the jelly I used to order from them with the cartridges. (A really delicious jam called Trappist which does a seedless raspberry that is fantastic, by the by.)

I was telling a friend about this yesterday and they asked if I was satisfied. It’s hard to tie my feelings to satisfaction. I just… I get it. I get being done. I get being in the thick of it and saying, “Enough, it’s over, I can’t do this anymore.” Is there more to the story? Maybe. But… that’s okay. I don’t need more than this.

Reading this article… I saw the pieces of the story of LaserMonks I hadn’t fully considered before. The toll something like that takes on a person. Work, even good work like the kind monks were doing in Sparta, is hard. There’s a human cost when you throw yourself into something so aggressively and fully. It’s not sustainable. You lose yourself along the way. Even if it is for good reasons.

I also feel really relieved. It’s so helpful to see someone who has walked down different paths and had his share of success… but who’s also been so willing to change course. Father – er – Mr. McCoy started out studying physics and astrophysics, shifted to other courses of study, and then became a man of the cloth. Then LaserMonks. And when he moved back to Mt. Airy after his sabbatical, he started up a business making moonshine. MOONSHINE! Is that not great?! They make whiskey and other goods, too. (You can’t take the entrepreneur out of the man, can you?)

I feel like my adult life has taken such a weird course. I didn’t go to college out of high school. I’ve had a bunch of odd jobs, a couple careers, few side ventures, lived in many places… And hey. Now I can proudly mark “some college education” when I fill out surveys. It’s just validating to see someone else with that same sort of path. Seeing someone take the time to figure out their life… and try again with a new thing. Someone who seems successful and happy.

I didn’t expect the LaserMonks story to wrap up in a way that had such a profound effect on me. But considering the subject matter, should I be surprised?

The “Mt. Airy News” article wraps up with a quote from Mr. McCoy saying he hopes he can inspire others to live well. You have, sir. At least this lady. Thanks for your openness and honesty. If I ever find myself in Mt. Airy, I’d like to buy you a drink.

A Winner Every Game

The floor in front of a ticket game in an arcade with a large pile of tickets coming out of a machine.

I’m good at arcade games. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the cheap tchotchkes you can cash tickets in for. Or those games where you pick up a stuffed animals using a crane. It’s just fun figuring out the timing and there’s that WOOSH of success when you’ve conquered it. The photo above is a pile of tickets from a particularly good day where we went home with a bunch of toys to donate to Toys For Tots and an Amazon Echo from a Cut the Rope game. Not bad.

I’ve always had a knack for these things and I can’t quite tell you why… other than it’s an activity that brings me total joy. I give myself a budget and from there it’s a totally anxiety free experience. It’s something I’m moderately skilled at and I have fun with it. Sure I feel a little silly with this as a “skill” of mine. It’s nothing I’d ever list on a resume.

Fake screenshot of a resume for me with my gaming skills.

If I win, awesome, I get toys and candy and a sense of accomplishment. If I lose, well, I had fun playing and I still probably get a Dumdum lollipop out of the deal. I do well with it because I feel totally confident.

“Well, duh,” you say to yourself, “that’s literally anyone doing a fun thing they like.” But even with my hobbies I still have this pang of unease. When I paint, I worry it will be ugly or that I’ll mess it up. When I read books it snowballs into feeling bad about not reading more and then I’m not reading at all, I’m just thinking about reading while holding a book. Even now as I write this, I feel the pang. Is this worth talking about? Will anyone read it? Does it matter if no one does? How does this contribute to my ~writing career~?

I just wish I could have that feeling of total confidence and control like I do when I’m playing in an arcade. If this were some self-help blog, I’d list five ways to start synergizing my real time career expectations with my hobbies… or something. Throw the word ‘millennial’ in there about a half dozen times. But I don’t have five ways or even one. Hell, I don’t even know what millennial means anymore.

But I do know that I’ve identified the goal. I need to find my way to that place where I’m running around, and nothing feels like work because I’m laughing and having a good time. I need to feel like I can be a winner in every game I play. All I can do is try to be more comfortable and enjoy playing the game, whatever it might be. If I figure out a foolproof way to do that, I’ll let you know.

Part of Your World

As a kid, I did musicals. My first taste was a scene in a showcase at theatre summer camp. I had a brief solo and after that, I was sure I had What It Takes. I saw the community theatre in town was casting for the musical “Heidi” and I wanted in. For hours, I nervously practised the only song I knew I could sing for the audition, “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid.

See, the problem was I could sing but I couldn’t read music. I wasn’t a musician. I picked up on things as I listened to them, which is a neat skill to have but it makes it hard to, you know, learn new songs without hearing them. I listened to that part of The Little Mermaid VHS tape over and over until I knew every word and note.

I remember calling the theatre, anxious because I didn’t have the required sheet music for my musical audition. “What are you singing?” “…Part of Your World. From The Little Mermaid?” The manager chuckled and I was assured it would be fine, just as long as I let the pianist know. Maybe he was a big Disney fan?

The audition was packed. A lot of girls had come. 60, probably. Some vied for the lead role, but I was just content to show up and hope for the best. I sat and watched as they called each girl up one by one. They stood under a spotlight, announced who they were and what song they were singing, and then they sang part of the tune.

One girl, fairly early into the process, got up and announced who she was and her song, but I didn’t clue in until she started singing some familiar words.

“Look at this stuff? Isn’t it neat?”

No.

“Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?”

No no no!

I reeled. She was singing my song! It was the version of wearing the same outfit as someone else and I was doing it at My Big Audition! When the girl finished, I hurried up to an adult in the wings.

“That’s my song like the same song I picked the same song oh no I don’t have another song and that’s my song and-”

I was told it was okay. This happened sometimes. Not to worry, I just needed to sit down, things were fine. They shooed me away.

I sat. But a few girls later… the song started again. “You want thingamabobs? I’ve got twenty.”

Girl after girl proceeded to sing that goddamn song. Enough that I lost track.

My name was called. I begrudgingly sauntered to the stage. Head down, already defeated. I stood in the hot light, raised up my head, and said, “Hello, my name is Lauren and I am singing… Part of Your World.” You could sense a collective groan.

I rushed the lyrics as I sang. Part of being nervous, I guess. Once I got to the “I want moooooore” lyric, the piano cut off. “Thank you!” the director shouted and it was on to the next girl.

I bawled in the car, convinced being cut off was a sign I’d screwed it up and I wouldn’t end up with a part.

After a few days of moping, I got a call from the director offering me a spot in the chorus. I was shocked and elated.

Since then, I’ve heard lots of stories of first auditions being a Disney song. I’ve heard “Part of Your World” a few times, too. What a relief. It wasn’t a faux pas, it was a right of passage! You start in theatre, you tread the boards, you sing some Disney songs. It’s just what you do.

And it’s kind of the perfect song, too, right? You want to be where the people are. You want to see them, see them dancing. You so desperately want to be apart of that world.

I quit subscription boxes.

A pile of cardboard shipping boxes with the text 'it's not you it's me'.

My first subscription box was at Quarterly. Quarterly gets really neat people and businesses to curate boxes of cool stuff every quarter. You buy in at a set rate (like $50 per box) and select your curator. Their box gets shipped to you and the items within are totally secret to you until they arrive.

It’s a great concept. I jumped in when one of my favorite blogs, Unclutterer, was getting in on the action. It was exciting! Like Christmas! A box with secret items on my door step. And I liked the idea that these were selected by someone whose opinion I valued. The objects within would be worth my money.

But soon the novelty wore off. I had $50 of items to help me organize my home, but they weren’t all things that I would be able to use. Or return. I canceled before my next box came.

This is the problem with these subscription services. If you’re not familiar, they’re showing up hot and heavy on the internet lately. It’s a model very similar to Quarterly (described above), but with different products. There’s clothing, makeup, accessories, toys, pet treats, meals… all kinds of things. Selected for you by the experts at these companies and shipped to your home.

The companies are nice enough. My experience with Stitch Fix and Dia & Co., two services that evaluate your style and send you five clothing items to try, were great from a customer service standpoint. (And each of them shipped me items made in America when I asked if they could!) The folks at Blue Apron were kind, too, when I canceled after my first week. The food wasn’t too shabby, either.

But the clothes are never quite right. One or two items will be okay… or I’d have to settle on one article of clothing so not to lose my styling fee. (The fee is $20 you pay initially, which gets credited to the price of an item you keep.) Blue Apron had meals that weren’t really my style (or had nuts in them, but those are easy enough to omit or avoid) but I tried them anyway.

Here’s my core issue. It’s something that can’t be erased by the fuzzy happy feeling that is “I’m getting a special package in the mail with a surprise inside!” Nor free shipping. Or coupon codes.

These companies employ experts to handpick a package for me. But… they’re not experts on me. How could they be? I am one lady out of thousands. The allure of asking an expert to pick something especially for me is tempting but it’s a hard fantasy to deliver on.

I’m sure there are people out there who are like, “Yes! Nailed it!” and end up with five new clothing items in their closet. I’m sure there are people who thrive in the structure a food delivery service gives them. Who are excited about new makeup. New toys. New stuff. But I can’t seem to find a groove. Usually it’s a hit and miss.

I think I’ll keep to being my own personal shopper. I know what I like to wear and what I can eat. If I see something in a store, I can make a decision about it without having it shipped to my house first. There are a lot of wonderful things on the internet that I’ve enjoyed doing  and buying – this just isn’t one of them.

As for all the subscription services I’ve listed above, just remember – It’s not you. It’s me. Thanks for trying.

Dear Clorox,

Hello marketing team at Clorox! Saaaaaay. I seem to have disrupted your Streamlined Digital Content Synergization Schedule or whatever with the popularity of my suggestion of Pumpkin Spice Bleach.

This message from your representative would seem to indicate that you think this is a bad idea!

This is a picture of the official Clorox Facebook account saying Pumpkin Spice Bleach isn't real.

 

Woah woah woah. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss what is a golden marketing opportunity. One that I have handed right off to you! For free, I might add!

But you see, this is just the tip of the quickly melting iceberg. There are lots of other marketunities here. (see what I did there) (you love it) (seriously I’ll just take a job in middle management now thank you)

For example! At Easter time, lots of families have cleaning up to do after making a big holiday meal. I’m sure there are spills from their adorable offspring, all hopped up (get it) (again I’m a genius) on chocolate bunnies.

I PRESENT TO YOU…

A container of Peep flavored bleach.

Peep bleach! All the marshmallowy sugarness you love, but none of the staleness and regret over not just buying Cadbury Eggs instead.

See, what I’m suggesting is that you’ve got to focus on other chances to get your product into homes! Might I suggest that the ides of March may have something in store for you?

TA DA.

Luck of the Irish Bleach, with a leprechaun puking a rainbow.

Irish eyes won’t be the only ones smiling over your spotless bathroom! Luck o’ the Irish flavor will be able to knock out a mess from even the most rowdy of St. Patrick’s Day parties. What does it smell like? Rainbows and bleach!

And finally, in the last of these dog days of summer, what better to choose than…

Sweet Tea Clorox.

Served up to consumers in a jug, just like real Sweet Tea. Bring some southern comfort to your floors!

I hope my suggestions have sparked your imagination. You’re welcome. I am available for team building exercises, secret shopping, and market research assistance. I await your phone call.