David Sedaris’ “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” part I

Next up is David Sedaris’ latest book of essays, “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” and I ripped through the first 84 pages within a day or two of picking it up.

First off: I have no idea what the title means. None at all. I suspect I’ll have an inkling at completion of the book – and I’ll be actively thinking about it while I’m reading the rest of the way – but for now my best guesses even come up short.

That aside, from the first essay in the book – titled “Dentists Without Borders” – it’s pretty vintage Sedaris. Witty, sarcastic, pointed humor, poignant undertones, playful, intentionally or unintentionally (hard to tell) melancholy at times.

For me – and this may be an odd and possibly inaccurate way of describing this – the most enjoyable part of reading Sedaris is the range of emotions he drags you through. At the top, he’s brilliantly funny. Brilliant.

Take this bit from Chapter 2 – “Attaboy” – where Sedaris is comparing the brutal parenting he received as a child to the softer variation he witnesses now:

There was no negotiating, no “parenting” the way there is now. All these young mothers chauffeuring their volcanic three-year-olds through the grocery store. The child’s name always sounds vaguely presidential, and he or she tends to act accordingly.

“Mommy hears what you’re saying about treats,” the woman will say, “but right now she needs you to let go of her hair and put the chocolate-covered Life Savers back where they came from.”

“No!” screams McKinley or Madison, Kennedy or Lincoln or beet-faced baby Reagan. Looking on, I always want to intervene. “Listen,” I’d like to say, “I’m not a parent myself, but I think the best solution at this point is to slap that child across the face. It won’t stop its crying, but at least now it’ll be doing it for a good reason.”

I don’t know how these couples do it, spend hours each night tucking their kids in, reading them books about misguided kittens or seals who wear uniforms, and then rereading them if the child so orders. In my house, our parents put us to bed with two simple words: “Shut up.”

I am almost spit out my water when I read that.

It was a legitimate moment of joy, the kind that doesn’t come too often for me when reading, the kind where all outside thoughts that like to trickle through my mind in the middle of a page – that make me go back and reread the entire last paragraph at times – totally dissipate. That’s the best part of reading Sedaris.

At the basin of the Sedaris Emotional Spectrum is a heavy loneliness usually delivered through the distance between Sedaris and his family, most prominently his father.

In Chapter 4 (“Memory Laps”), Sedaris recalls growing up in Raleigh and earnestly searching for his father’s approval. Of course, he never seems to capture it. Whatever he does – swimming competitions, school, even growing up and writing a best-selling book – is met with condescending barbs from his father.

You never get the sense that Sedaris believes his father doesn’t love him, only that he rarely, if ever, feels that love. From the chapter:

It’s not my father’s approval that troubles me but my childlike hope that maybe this time it will last. He likes that I’ve started swimming again, so maybe he’ll also like the house I bought (“Boy, they sure saw you coming”) or the sports coat I picked up on my last trip to Japan (“You look like a goddamn clown”).

Greg Sakas would have got the same treatment eventually, as would any of the other would-be sons my father pitted me against throughout my adolescence. Once they got used to the sweet taste of his approval, he’d have no choice but to snatch it away, not because of anything they did but because it is in his nature. The guy sees a spark and just can’t help but stomp it out.

There’s a density to Sedaris’ writing, wrapped in a quilt of quick-witted one-liners, that settles heavily in your chest once the comedy stops.

I guess that’s what ultimately makes his work enjoyable and satisfying. Without that emotion, this book of essays would be like any other frivolous collection of pages that deliver laughs without an anchor. Hopefully the remaining chapters of this book uphold that same standard.

Left off: Page 86

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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Vanished, part II: The end for the Arnett airmen

For part 1 of my “Vanished” review, click here.


In the last “Vanished” post, the remarkable World War II book by Wil S. Hylton, I wrote that two things in particular would gnaw at me until they were resolved: What happened to Jimmie Doyle (and how that affected his son Tommy) and what’s driving Pat Scannon to continue on with this search mission, through all these years and all these hurdles.

The actual history at hand was a distant third interest to me, even though it was meticulously reported and genuinely interesting.

All that held true through the end of the book, but I do have to amend the third point a bit. As Hylton dug into the fighting more and fleshed out the failed mission, I became more riveted in the events themselves that took place and, for a moment, less hitched to the two nagging questions mentioned above.

Specifically, an inside view of the Japanese kempei and the mass grave on Police Hill, where the kempei buried the Americans they execute, was captivating in an unsettling (more so than thrilling) sense.

According to war documents, three American airmen who bailed out on the B-24 over Koror were imprisoned by the Japanese. Art Schumacher, Alexander Vick and Johnny Moore were held for days and interrogated before Aritsune Miyazaki, the kempei’s leader, received orders to execute them. The men were put on a truck and driven out to the Japanese jungle camp, where an execution team awaited and took them out to the jungle, into the darkness up on Police Hill.

Three holes had been dug and Miyazaki called for the first American, Schumacher, to be brought forward, where he was ordered to kneel in front of his grave before being shot in the back of the neck.

The next American (accounts couldn’t clarify if it was Vick or Moore) was delivered before his grave, and after a long slash of a Japanese sword through the back of his neck, he toppled headless into the ditch.

The third American received both treatments: a failed beheading – the coward who swung the sword eased up and couldn’t drive it all the way through – before being shot in the back of the head. The graves were filled with dirt, and Police Hill’s tally expanded.

It’s a gruesome, chilling account and one of the few moments in Hylton’s book where I felt entrenched in the ugliness of the South Pacific rather than the family narratives at play. It was one of the only times I felt like this was a war book, not a story about a single character searching for the missing piece of their own life.

Of course, it was the latter that drove me through the book, and that never changed. From the beginning to the end, it was always Tommy Doyle’s relationship with his father and Scannon’s own motives that kept me turning pages.

When the Arnett plane was found, an update was posted online that Nancy and Tommy Doyle read from home in West Texas. Nancy called Scannon to confirm, but he couldn’t. That was against strict military orders. According to policy, only the military could verify the plane and then notify families. Scannon, if he wanted the military’s continued cooperation, had to respect that.

“I can’t tell you it’s Jimmie’s plane,” Scannon told the Doyles. “Here’s what I can tell you: It’s a four-engine bomber, it’s in the water and it’s near Koror. The only four-engine bomber that flew over there was the B-24, and there were only three that went down near Koror. We’ve found the other two. So you have to decide for yourselves.”

A few months later, Tommy Doyle had received his diving certification and he and Nancy were sitting on a boat in Palau with Scannon, Jimmie’s plane in the water below. Tommy splashed into the water and headed for the ocean floor, accompanied by another diver.

When he reached the plane, the other diver, Joe Maldangesang, backed off to give him some space. Tommy touched the plane and swam around to examine different parts of it. He stuck his head inside for a closer look at where the airmen positioned themselves. Emotion rushed through him. On the other side of the world, on the ocean floor of the islands of Palau, some 60 years later, Tommy finally felt close to his father.

The excavation crew would locate a ‘DOYLE’ dog tag later, along with human bones and boots and parachute material and other artifacts, finally putting to rest a complicated family theory that involved Tommy’s father abandoning him for a new life after returning from war. When Tommy visited with other families and asked them about their experiences, he found others had similar theories.

He never really understood why this theory existed or where it started or how it carried on for all those decades, but that small piece of the mystery that would forever remain unresolved seemed insignificant now. Tommy didn’t much care about the reasoning behind a fake tale. He was able to make peace with a hole in his soul that had haunted him. That would be more than enough.

As for Scannon, I can only speculate about what personal void truly drove him to do all of this, but it’s probably accurate to say the history and thrill of mystery sucked him in and the people and their family stories kept him there.

Hylton mentions in the Acknowledgments that Scannon told him he would someday see this as something much bigger than Scannon’s own story. That became abundantly clear even for the reader, someone who didn’t invest the emotion and effort required to produce this book.

Seeing this search through was Scannon’s own way of serving his country, the kind of calling and tedious work that couldn’t be accomplished unless you were blessed with Scannon’s research expertise and singularly obsessed mind. I can’t imagine many people possess the combination of both that digging up the Arnett plane required.

I figured after the search was complete, Scannon would salute the men he helped find and head back home to his previous life, but that wasn’t the case. He had already moved onto the next mission.

The book ends with Scannon and a team of people trudging through mud in the island jungle, retracing the maps of the Japanese kempei and locating their battle camps. They found the foxholes the Japanese hid in to fire at American planes, and now Scannon felt pulled to continue the search for Police Hill and the mass grave of countless other Americans who never made it home from World War II.

Why he’s doing this, I don’t really know. I don’t know if he’s, like Tommy Doyle, searching for something in himself that he’s never been able to find, a sense of familial gratitude or patriotic servitude or something. Maybe, like the reason behind the Jimmie Doyle conspiracy theory, that’s not something for us to know.

The only thing that’s clear about Pat Scannon as “Vanished” comes to a close is this: If he commits to finding the graves of the unknown number of Americans who trudged to their death up Police Hill, to honor them like the Arnett airmen and close family narratives like that of the Doyles, you believe that he will.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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Now Reading: Philip Seymour Hoffman, a better Twitter, CVS cigarettes, Amazon pilots

‘Now Reading’ is a collection and sharing of online stories and is meant for minimal consumption by the few readers of this blog. Topics include books, food, culture, photography, media and technology … there are no rules. Have a story to add? Share it in the comments.

Philip Seymour Hoffman reads

With the Super Bowl last Sunday and then a busy few days in the college football world with National Signing Day, I was a bit late to all of the Philip Seymour Hoffman reads that circulated the Internet after his sad death a few days ago.

So I collected a handful of the ones I read and will lump them all together here in case you, too, were late to the content and would like to read a few of the good pieces out there.

Derek Thomas on The Atlantic discusses Hoffman’s incredible versatility and all the different roles he not only performed but performed so extraordinarily.

This seems to be the most common theme among the written Hoffman memorials – that he was brilliant in becoming entirely different kinds of people over and over again, effortlessly playing contortionist with his acting talent. This was the source of Hoffman’s on-screen magic but also, possibly, a driving force in his drug addiction and eventual overdose (hold that point).

Alex Pappademas runs through Hoffman’s career arc in his obit on Grantland.

Michael Wilson in The New York Times did good, if incredibly sad and depressing, work piecing together the final days of Hoffman’s life. It’s still a mystery – and maybe always will be – why after more than two decades sober, Hoffman turned to heroin. In the last days of his life, though, there were signs things weren’t right to those who saw him in public, as you’ll read in Michael’s piece.

Jeff Deeney, a recovering addict, writes an important – and quite polarizing – piece in The Atlantic based around the question of how to best handle heroin users. The number of heroin users is quickly rising, and Deeney advocates for legal injecting sites like Vancouver has. He writes that these sites allow for users to be monitored by doctors, and overdoses can be potentially reversed with a medicine called Naloxone.

Deeney writes that we need to forget about the idea that this keeps people using drugs and focus on what it does do – keep them alive and give them another hope of getting clean. Dead people, as Deeney writes, can’t get clean.

This will be an uncomfortable viewpoint for many – giving people a place to “safely” inject heroin – but Deeney is certainly more informed on the subject than most people, and the premise of his thinking is something we can all agree on. That is, that only thing that matters is finding the best way to prolong an overdose knowing that time, if nothing else, gives people a chance.

Mark Harris writes in Grantland about Hoffman’s New York legacy — how he represented the people in many ways – and Lee Siegel writes in The New Yorker how Hoffman could amazingly sink into his characters and also the cost of that kind of artistic expression.

I want to link those two piece together, because they both tackle that question of cost, which I think is the most mysterious part of Hoffman’s decline and, ultimately, his death.

As mentioned above, people seemed to love more than anything Hoffman’s ability to become different people. But when we begged for more of this from him, did we ever ask, “If Philip Seymour Hoffman can so easily and magically become all these different people on screen, then who actually is Philip Seymour Hoffman?”

This snippet from Mark’s piece was particularly poignant:

On the nights I watched him play Willy, I found it impossible to imagine what he did after the curtain came down. How do you live one man’s apocalypse six days a week and then step back into the intact and undisturbed self you left somewhere in your small dressing room? What does it cost? Like all of his stage work, his Willy Loman felt, to me, dangerous.

The “suffering artist” narrative is a slippery cliché that I think is far overused, but I don’t say that to dispute its veracity in totality.

I think pain, in some form, does exist deep in many brilliant artists, but it seems (to me) to be more of a wandering pain than a suffering pain. When you give yourself totally and fully over to characters, who are you? Are you anyone, precisely? Do you “own” your life anymore, or are you predominantly a caricature, drifting from script to script for money, and “real life” is very much just another role to be filled?

It’s a weird, philosophical thought, and I don’t actually intend to get so “deep” on that, but it makes some sense, right? If you can easily be 10 people, you can’t possibly so easily be one.

What did that contortionist talent do to Philip Seymour Hoffman? Is that what drove him to drugs, this elusiveness of self inside him?

I have no idea. These are just thoughts.

A better Twitter

Twitter has been taking a bit of a public beating with its recent underwhelming earnings report, and its less-than-impressive user growth is the issue at hand here.

Robert Hof writes in Forbes about the four ways Twitter CEO Dick Costolo plans to improve the platform.

How Amazon forced CVS to stop selling cigarettes

I thought this Marcus Wohlsen piece in Wired about how CVS is trying to stay ahead of Amazon’s jaws by ditching tobacco products and rebranding itself as a place of wellness rather than just a place to buy an assortment of goods was fascinating.

Speaking of Amazon, a promising new comedy pilot

Margaret Lyons in Vulture discusses the three comedy pilots Amazon recently released, even writing one is “my favorite pilot in years, and by a lot.”

Scroll down to the third pilot – “Transparent” – for the goods.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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A new book review style and Vanished, part 1

We’re gonna try something a little different: When books are the content type of choice on this blog, I’m no longer going to wait until I finish the book to write about it.

Instead, I’ll post blogs while I’m reading it, hopefully sharing that experience along the way and making the process of consuming books more engaging and fun.

This is how we write/talk about television shows – it’s commonplace to post episode reviews, which makes following the show over a course of weeks more enjoying and interactive. Right now, like many, I’m watching HBO’s ‘True Detective’ and look forward to reading Alan Sepinwall’s thoughts each Sunday night or Monday morning, or scanning different culture sites.

For some reason, nobody that I know of has taken this approach with books even though we can draw parallels between these two forms of content – both are carried by narrative arcs, with a chapter being a book’s “episode.” So why not engage them in a similar way?

I’m going to now, and hopefully it’s a fun way to read (with the only difference being I won’t take weeks upon weeks to get through a book, I promise).


Let’s start with a book I’m in the middle of now and loving – “Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II,” by Wil S. Hylton.

I’m 158 pages in and have felt the narrative – at least from where I’m reading – shift.

The book sinks its hooks into you immediately by getting you to invest in the search for Tommy Doyle’s father, Jimmie, who allegedly was one of 11 men who went down with an American plane over the Pacific islands of Palau in 1944. Army mission reports stated the airplane crashed in shallow waters, but investigators could never come across the wreckage when they traveled to Palau.

This fostered conspiracy theories that the men made it home alive but didn’t return to their families, that they were hiding in the United States for reasons unknown. A story rippling through the Doyle family in West Texas went like this: Jimmie made it back alive and was in California living with a new wife and two daughters and didn’t care about a relationship with his son anymore.

Tommy didn’t believe that tale, necessarily, but odd things happened as he grew older. The Army sent his mother letters indicating they were looking for Jimmie. They offered conflicting information about what happened, saying some men survived but never identifying who specifically. It remained unclear if the Army was withholding that information or really didn’t know.

Tommy grew up, played college football at Texas Tech and then became a high school football coach in West Texas. Through all those years, questions about what really happened to his father gnawed at him, but he never made an effort to seek answers.

He knew that inside a large wooden trunk at the edge of his mother’s bed was a lot he didn’t know about his father – a collection of letters Jimmie wrote to his wife from war, detailing the emotions and thoughts he wanted on paper if he never had the chance to deliver them in person – and possibly even some evidence to piece together a case about what happened in ’44 and what had transpired since. Tommy saw that trunk and always dodged the urge to open it.

When Tommy’s mother died in 1992, he and his wife Nancy inherited the trunk, and it found another resting place, this time in his home, to sit unopened. For two years, Tommy ignored it while Nancy was mesmerized what might be in that big box. It was more than letters, surely; it was the plug to the hole in Tommy’s life. Finally, in 1994, Nancy asked Tommy if she could open it and dig through the contents by herself. Tommy said fine.

Nancy started reading the letters and became ever more engrossed with not only Jimmie, but the other men who supposedly went down in that plane too. She began making phone calls and trying to track down information. Most of her attempts failed to produce anything of significance.

After six years, Nancy was ready to quit the search when she came across Pat Scannon, a scientist who had been six years deep into a personal journey to find that plane. Scannon made numerous trips to the islands on exploration missions of sorts, keeping notebooks on what he found and relentlessly seeking sources that might be able to help piece together the truth or at least a passable semblance of it.

Early on, there’s no dominating motive for Scannon other than his own fascination with scientific mysteries, but as he keeps on, he becomes pulled by a strong obligation to honor the soldiers who went missing. He devoted countless money and time into something lacking a tangible benefit but whose intangible reward suddenly became powerful and enthralling.

After becoming immediately hooked on Tommy’s story and the search for his father, I now find myself much more interested in Scannon as a character. I still feel compelled to know what happened to Jimmie, but more in the sense that the book would feel incomplete without knowing.

For Scannon, it’s something more. I’d be bothered if the resolution to his request isn’t revealed, because there are so many questions about why he’s doing this that “patriotic obligation” doesn’t sufficiently answer.

Wedged in between those two narratives are a lot of nuts-and-bolts World War II history, meticulously reported by Hylton and interesting to even the moderate history person. Because of Hylton’s easy storytelling ability, you don’t need to be totally fascinated by history in order to enjoy this part of the book.

Still, the history is a distant third among my interests. I’m not nearly engaged with what actually happened to this plane during the war as I am with what happened to Jimmie Doyle in relation to his son Tommy and what void remains in Scannon’s own life to compel him to see this through.

Those are the two answers I’m seeking from here on out in “Vanished.”

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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The archive of the Internet

Apropos of nothing, over the weekend I was thinking about the mere hours a significant amount of content is relevant on the Internet.

It probably was spurred by the deluge of stuff around the Super Bowl and how something posted Sunday morning had long been forgotten about – and maybe was already off the page entirely on some sites – by kickoff around 6:30 p.m. ET.

For an industry obsessed with page views and social media shares and milking value from these digital links, this is, quite literally, insane.

It’s counterintuitive to the mission, but it’s also how the Web has conditioned us. A 24-hour shelf life for a piece of content feels abnormally long, never mind something that people consume for a whole two days. We create, we blast to our social channels, we wash ourselves off and go again.

Because that was already rattling around my brain, I connected with this Benjamin Wallace piece in New York Magazine about Ezra Klein and his new venture at Vox Media that he’s currently creating.

The piece picks at Klein’s mission with his new project, trying to read around the edges and determine what this new thing Klein calls ‘Project X’ will actually look and feel like. I’m not that interested in guessing what Klein’s new site will be exactly – so I won’t speculate on his plans here, as I have no idea and am more than cool with just waiting for his unveil — but one little nugget that he divulged to Wallace is fascinating, in my opinion.

Here’s the important snippet from Wallace’s piece, which is a good read:

While Klein is being circumspect about the operational details of Project X, he suggests that breaking-news squibs could be very short and attached to constantly updated background articles, a bit like Wikipedia entries written by professional journalists. Long features might be regularly freshened up.

From the way I interpreted that (and other parts of the piece that I won’t spoil but will encourage you to go check out in Wallace’s story), part of the essence of Klein’s vision is news and stories move so fast that they leave people constantly fighting the current to keep up. Media is rapidly producing new content while forgetting preexisting information that is essential to understanding what’s current.

The tendency of the Internet, it seems, is to say, “Hey, here’s something new! Consume!” Rarely is it, “Here’s something new, and now here’s what you need to know to actually understand it.”

As noted in the NY Mag piece, Klein seems to believe in the power of the digital archive and allowing content to live and evolve rather than just killing it off and creating something fresh. He notes The Wirecutter, a tech site that advises people on the best products to buy, and how information is always contained to a single page but the information itself on the page changes frequently. So, a page about the best TV to buy right now isn’t recreated over and over but rather just refreshed.

Another example from the story is a Serious Eats page that Klein referenced when he wanted to find the “secret” menu at In-N-Out. The Serious Eats piece lists every one of them and has more than 75,000 like on Facebook.

“And the reason isn’t that when it was published it was a huge newsbreak,” Klein tells Wallace. “The reason is people keep going back to it.”

I’ll leave it there without trying to further interpret Klein’s vision, as I don’t want to misrepresent him.

But it scratches the surface of an interesting conversation regarding content and digital media: We trumpet the strength of the Internet as a place devoid of space or time limitations, and yet we hardly tap into its incredible recall ability in terms of content.

The most robust content archive around is (mostly) dormant, because all of our energies are put towards something new.

How we reinvigorate that archive and keep content alive and serving a purpose seems to present a valuable opportunity.

At the very least, it’s an interesting concept to spend a few minutes on when you’re watching content that’s been posted seven hours ago dwindle further down the screen and then off into a dark place the Internet was supposed to be designed to keep lit.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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Now Reading: The digital media bubble, American Hustle’s flaws, Brian Stelter’s rise, prayers

‘Now Reading’ is a collection and sharing of online stories and is meant for minimal consumption by the few readers of this blog. Topics include books, food, culture, photography, media and technology … there are no rules. Have a story to add? Share it in the comments.

Carr on the online news bubble

David Carr of The New York Times followed up on a piece he wrote recently about Ezra Klein leaving The Washington Post for Vox Media with a deeper look into what’s going on in the digital content industry. Specifically, Carr is interested in one question: Is the digital boom we’re seeing in the media business a bubble or simply the foundation upon which the future of news will be built?

The executives and media types quoted in Carr’s piece firmly believe the digital movement is just beginning, which seems true; we’re certainly not going backward from here. The idea of a digital bubble popping up is compelling, but I don’t see it – it’s not like our world is getting less mobile or our culture is going to cease being fascinated with the advancement of technology.

What’s more interesting – and practical, in my opinion – is the discussion of how to compete and survive in this kind of industry. Carr addresses this and asks others about it – give his piece a read for differing perspectives on how to approach business in an industry where product is so easily ripped off.

We’ve learned in the early growth of digital media that there are ways to make lean livings, but some of those come at the cost of content. This system of packaging and engineering content to go viral on the Internet isn’t debilitating in and of itself, but it can be at some point if too much of the Web does this without investing in the production of original content. At that point, we’ll just be cannibalizing ourselves.

The best sites, I think, will always be the ones that create the most original and smartest and most compelling content. How do you do that while being a profitable business? There’s some room to experiment with different models in that framework. It may be that the expensive forms of journalism find fewer homes around the Web – such as ambitious projects that require writers being on the road for extended periods and racking up thousands upon thousands of dollars in bills – or that, if you want to be in that business, you need to create a multi-stream model to sustain it.

Whether that comes from digital video revenue or television money or a subscriber system for exclusive content or something else, I’m not sure, but it could be difficult for a site subsisting solely on one form of ad revenue to compete with those backed by larger coffers.

However it works out, I think content always wins. What outlets do with that content to monetize it will change, but if you can produce the goods, you should be a leader in an industry where so many sit back and react.

Willa Paskin takes “American Hustle” to task

I’m not that familiar with Willa Paskin’s work as Slate’s TV critic, but I thoroughly enjoyed her piece on “American Hustle” and how the film is flashy but ultimately empty.

I saw Hustle and was entertained by it, but I didn’t love it and that’s probably due to one of Willa’s main points: The film consistently backs itself out of even semi-threatening situations or discussions. In Willa’s words:

The film pulls back, chickens out on the realistic possibility of anything life-threatening happening in this underworld of low lives, scam artists, shady characters, and wise guys. Ugly consequences wouldn’t be any fun at all.

Good read – give it a look if you’re into biting culture commentary.

The remarkable rise of Brian Stelter

The New Republic recently ran a profile on Brian Stelter, CNN’s senior media correspondent and the host of “Reliable Sources.”

Stelter is a fascinating guy, but I don’t find his appeal in his age – although to do what he’s done by his late 20s is pretty extraordinary – but rather in how he built his profile in the TV news industry.

In college, Stelter started a blog based on his infatuation with the television industry, and he was early enough in the Internet wave to smartly exploit an advantage over newspapers covering TV: He could publish as frequently as he wanted, and by posting rumors and gossip and tips, his blog became must-read if you wanted to be current on the whispers of the industry.

That earned him the attention of executives, who became trusted sources, and off Stelter was into a career of robust media coverage.

Prayers of the dead

I can’t adequately describe this story from Casey N. Cep in The New Yorker about an old woman who wrote out prayers in code as she was dying.

All I can say is it’s fascinating and not very long and you should read it.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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Chuck Culpepper will go anywhere for anything, damn it, and good for him

I could be totally wrong about this, but it feels like digital media is just beginning to figure out that it’s, in the vast majority of cases, supposed to be something altogether different than media in the predominantly printed-page time.

Before, too often would Internet content look and feel not like digital native work but like print work simply posted online. People like to read 5,000-word pieces in glossy magazines, therefore, the philosophy seemed to go, this is what people want online. The Internet felt like a vehicle for transporting the same content to different places rather than an incubator for creating something entirely new.

This is difficult to describe, because there’s a crossover effect that still applies – some truly great stuff works well in magazines and on the Internet. There’s actually a lot of content like that out there, and we’re all better for it.

But now, it seems, we’re reaching a place where the advantages of the digital space – limitless design possibilities, interactive visuals, social media engines, an ability to share and track what’s shared and so on – are being cultivated and utilized to produce things we’ve never seen before.

Quartz provides awesome business journalism mostly in relative snippets; Yahoo has Tech and Food sites so beautiful I don’t want to click on anything, except when you do, you realize you never actually depart that beautiful mosaic; The Dissolve has combined a classical feel with great, contemporary film writing; Vox Media just hired a big name to carve an original vision for a news site.

And those links are things I clicked on just in the last hour. There’s no argument available that this digital realization – that, hey, we have the ability to do so many incredible things that don’t ever leave the Web – is bad for the media business.

More mainstream careers are being built and blossomed in the digital realm. We’re becoming incredibly aggressive, and innovative, in the pursuit of traffic, which, ultimately, leads to more efficient business models and more opportunities for more people. Awesome.

And with all of that said – thank God for this Jeff Pearlman Q&A with Chuck Culpepper, a lungful of salty ocean air that many of us hardly ever receive for we don’t need to (and, remember, this is great!) step outside our digital worlds, ever.

Jeff, an accomplished author and former writer at Sports Illustrated, does great writing interviews on his site and this one with Chuck struck a refreshing chord that I wasn’t actively seeking. Chuck talks about his writing career, which has taken him all over the world and left him there for extended periods of time. He is a nomad in every sense. He doesn’t have kids and therefore is not bound to a place; he uses this to his advantage by seeking adventure wherever he can find it.

He has made residences in Los Angeles and New York and Portland and Paris and Dubai and London and other places. The way he talks about adventure, you sense that he has probably another five locations left in him before he retires to some place on a lake somewhere.

I admire Chuck’s curiosity and vigorous pursuit of adventure. Just listen to him describe his time in Abu Dhabi:

I loved just about the whole two-year thing, even as there’s guilt intertwined with that because of the grim labor situation for guest workers, most hailing from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, some of whom became friends, and one of whom (Filipino) I roomed with for seven months in Dubai, a real education about this world. (It’s a f—— hard world.)

I loved everything from the sports editor to the deputy sports editor to the cohorts to the new Emirati and Arab and Indian friends to the occasional sights of camels peeking out of trucks on highways to interviews with Arab female athletes, unfailingly inspiring. I loved sitting up half the night with two souls I treasure, a married couple, he and she, Osman and Anisa, both sports journalists, Pakistani and Indian, listening to them talk about life in Karachi or the natures of Pakistan and India. I also believe we need Osman and Anisa in the United States, if they’re interested, to converse with as many Americans as possible.

I had few moments of loneliness, and certainly none of fear, as Abu Dhabi and Dubai are safer than anywhere I have lived, an idea Americans, unacceptably, don’t grasp. (We should know the world better, period.) There were edifying discussions every day if you wanted to have them. A Syrian man gave me, through words and smartphone video, a harrowing sense of the bleakness that has visited the lives of his family and friends inside the country, not to mention the devastating stress on himself from afar.

(The gym was the only way he could sort of cope, so his chest kept getting more impressive.) An Iranian man with his wife in the Abu Dhabi airport learned I’m American, hugged me, said we should be friends and handed me a date (fruit).

As South Asians often take care of their parents to the point of co-habitation after growing up, a Pakistani man on a bus asked me – and you can see how he might wonder about this – if, once Americans have grown up to adulthood, we ever see our parents again.

(Answer: “Oh, yes. Some of us even enjoy it.”) In a gay club (not an official one, and no kissing, of course), I saw Egyptian and Lebanese and Syrian young men singing every word, in English, to Lady Gaga, and while I wished the music could change somewhere in the 24 time zones just for variety, this was amazing. I made a friend who is a Nepalese soldier. I mean, this goes on and on and on and on, to the point of embarrassment at my own wonder.

Don’t get me started.

And then, I fell crazy-in-love with surrounding myself with people unlike myself, with the whole frontier of that. I love walking, and on some evenings in Abu Dhabi, I’d walk through sidewalks filled with Pakistani men, just out in the night air after work, many of them staring at this strange creature with light hair and blue eyes, some smiling and waving insecurely as if timid to greet. I went to Mumbai – a three-hour flight – and people just talked to me all through the days, whether it was three 15-year-old boys plopping down next to me on the promenade near the Indian Ocean to ask me about New York, or two men walking by and snapping photos of my weird and pasty face, causing laughter nearby.

I used to feel nervous in new places; now I revel in the mystery. A given place never has the same allure as at first sight.

Isn’t that refreshing?

It’s the sound of a person relentlessly seeking one of the simple thrills that can’t be had by remaining chained to a chair creating great Internet content (and, remember, this is great!). The ultimate irony?

Chuck works for a digital outlet – Sports on Earth. But the way in which he works for that company is not digital, but rather in-the-flesh journalism.

There’s no grand point to this, and I don’t mean to say Chuck is unique in that he’s an Internet writer who gets out in the world – again, there’s a lot of that.

I guess the only point here is that as we watch the digital world physically shift – to a place literally defined almost exclusively by traffic figures and social shares – it just feels good to watch someone say, “Screw it – I’m heading out for a bit. I’ll be back with the kind of content you can’t find in here.”

(And now I happily return to my invigorating digital gig.)

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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