After Alton

Thoughts on Alton Sterling, the shooting of Baton Rouge Police officers and the next steps forward.

IMG_6916

Nothing has been the same in Baton Rouge since the death of Alton Sterling.

The sadness and frustration has been everywhere. It could only have been made worse by the murder of three innocent Baton Rouge police officers less than two weeks later.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Nihilism and nachos

I was feeling a little kooky the other night. So I filmed myself making ground beef nachos ​with nihilistic quotes.
I should mention, the ground beef was still mostly frozen when I started cooking this. (Good stuff though. Grass fed.) 

My attempt at keeping the ground beef in the pan was pretty futile. My ingredients were also somewhat depressing (cheese, beans, beef and corn chips), hence the nihilism.
Truthfully, I was feeling a little down when I made this. Somehow it made me feel better though.
Also the nachos made me feel better. Nachos always make me feel better. 

Expect my exposé on Baton Rouge’s nacho scene soon.

Patriarchs and equestrians

IMG_2334This summer I had the opportunity to follow a trail ride in Louisiana. Being a native-born Washingtonian who’s only lived in the South for a little more than a year, the experience was one of the most uniquely Southern things I’ve ever done.

I pitched this story to the editor of Country Roads Magazine earlier this fall and had my piece published, alongside the images of a local photographer who has also been documenting the trail riders, Jeremiah Ariaz. 

There is so much to say about the trail riders, especially from my own personal perspective, but alas, there is only so much room to write in a magazine. My piece details the history and culture of the trail ride, how it has modernized over time, and how it is, at its core, a family tradition.

Traveling in the dead of July in South Louisiana (easily 110 fahrenheit or higher), I rode in between convoy of horses, golf carts and pickups, taking photos and chatting up some of the riders. The thing that got me about the event was how paternal the tradition was. As I saw fathers, young and old, riding alongside their sons, I was reminded me of going to “fish camp” with my dad back in Washington state.

Continue reading

Reviewing HST and the 2016 and 1972 campaign trails

Freak power, or something.
Freak power, or something.

For years Hunter S. Thompson fans have told me how great “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72” is. With the presidential campaign in full swing I figured it would be a great read, but after finally finishing it, I am totally disappointed.

I’ve never been “heavily” into politics, but I assumed by picking up the book maybe I’d get a better sense for the topic. Maybe I’d get a better sense of HST himself. Maybe I got both. But in any case, the book was a total snooze, which sucks because I love HST.

I actually bought the book in 2010 while in Iraq. When I wasn’t bumping down a dirt road in Salah al-Din province I was reading packages of books that I purchased on Amazon. Since then I had been pulling “Campaign Trail” off the shelf, reading the opening chapter’s description of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and thumbing through Ralph Steadman’s erratic illustrations, only to tuck the book back on the shelf again.

This is a frequent issue for books I’m told I need to read, but have no serious interest in. (It took me years before I had the guts to finish “Lord Jim.”)

Continue reading

So this is what the crossroads looks like

The blues and writing about the genre; filling the hole in my life; my early musical ambitions; revelations in Louisiana; acceptance and understanding

A personal break through for me as a journalist (I think) came after recently speaking with blues musician Chris Thomas King, the Louisiana native and so-called King of New Orleans Blues.

ChrisThomasKingKohSamuiFest2005
Chris Thomas King

I’ve known of King since he starred in “O Brother Where Art Thou” as Tommy Johnson, an early blues musician from the Mississippi Delta. His eerie and reflective rendition of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” always intrigued me as a kid. When I was learning how to play the guitar, and when I was acquainting myself with the blues, I often did my best to imitate King’s sound. I never thought that one day I’d speak to the man.
Then again, I never thought I’d live in Louisiana, the heartland of the blues.

My interview with King comes at an interesting point in my life: I am 26; trying to establish myself as a writer; managing a newspaper in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana; displaced from my home state (Washington); in a committed relationship with someone for the first time; and yet I am still somehow lacking in some aspect. What it is, I can’t say.

I have a good life, but the things I once found fulfilling – even just a few years ago – seem forgotten to me. My “lust for life” seems like a forlorn quest, or just another unremarkable path to self-acceptance. Perhaps that’s not such a terrible ending, but I have a hard time imaging how I will ever reach that ending happily and at peace.

As a kid, the answer to happiness – or at least self-respect – was an easy one: music.

Since taking up the guitar at 12, I took the phrase “play till your fingers bleed” to heart. Although I never actually cut my fingers on the strings I damn sure tried. I loved my guitar. It was actually my dad’s guitar that he owned since he was about 19; an ember-colored Applause, similar in design to the Ovation guitars. I wasn’t very sentimental at the time, but I enjoyed the fact that my father was passing down the skill to his son with the very guitar that he learned on.

The guitar was huge for my size, but it was a point of pride for me. My friends’ parents bought them nylon-stringed guitars and cheap-o electric ones, but not me. I was determined to learn the hard way. As my friends quit after just a few months of playing, I stuck with it and I got better.

Music, and certainly the blues, taught me so many things about myself when I was growing up. My guitar was my therapist, my friend, and – as corny as it sounds – my first love. I could consult it when I was angry, lonely, happy, etc. I was constantly pushing myself to experiment with it.

Continue reading

Getting comfortable

Photo Jun 01, 3 59 46 PM
A fried fish po’ boy from Couyons in Port Allen, Louisiana. Can you say “heart failure?”

It was about 2 p.m. last Monday and I hadn’t eaten much. I went to Couyons, just down the road from our office in Port Allen, Louisiana. It’s a Southern-style eatery. Nothing fancy, but damn good food.

I bought a $12 fried seafood po’ boy with a side of mac and cheese. I wolfed it all down in about seven minutes and was so stuffed that I barely made it to work.

I got back in the car (somehow), drove back to work, pulled into our lot, parked, left the engine running, cranked the A/C, leaned the seat back and fell asleep for about 45 minutes.

I’ve lived in the Deep South for almost a year, and I’ll tell you, it is not easy. But I’m catching on.

Inspiring cartoons

My dad got me into journalism. Growing up, there was always a newspaper on the kitchen table in the morning next to a half-empty mug of coffee and he was always buried into both. My mornings usually began with the sound of mom and dad crinkling the paper open and shut as they searched their favorite sections.

Before I really took an interest in journalism as a career, my dad used to show me the David Horsey comics in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. (This was when the paper was still in print and I was still in high school.) Horsey’s comics were always so easy to understand, even for a high schooler with little knowledge of the world. They made me feel smart, engaged, but they also made me laugh.

Photo Apr 21, 11 22 45 PM (1)A
My Earth Day 2015 illustration.

I considered becoming a cartoonist in high school. I scribbled a lot in my teenage years. I drew a bunch of weird shit. My mom said it was cool, which was enough to keep my going. Even though the idea of professional illustration died in college, I still consider dabbling into it.

And so this week I made an illustration. In my letter from the Editor, which was about a Earth Day’s importance in Louisiana, I scribbled up a picture in AdobeIdeas of a truck driver tossing a piece of trash out of his car.

Perhaps this won’t win me any awards, but I really enjoyed creating it and I hope to continue.

Exploring journalism with firearms

Don’t stop exploring. A camera is a firearm. Shoot well, write well. Some of the best knowledge I gained through college.

A bare bones M16 A4. This is the same rifle I was issued in the Army. Much like a camera, a rifle requires a lot of technical know-how to operate efficiently. This includes basic technique in posture, breathing, and grip, but also knowledge of the mechanics of firearms, including trajectory, muzzle velocity, and sighting.

This spawned from a brief college workshop with Bettina Hansen, a photographer at The Seattle Times, and Josh Trujillo, a photographer at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. If you’re in a creative jam, Hansen said, pick up a new device or a new medium and learn something new. For me, that device was a DSLR camera.

I’d owned cameras in the past, but never seriously considered pursuing photography. Prior to Hansen’s class, my technique (if you want to call it that) was to snap as many pictures as I could and sort through the ones I didn’t like. It was the same effect as shooting a 50-meter target with a shotgun as opposed to a long-barreled rifle.

Cameras are technical the same way firearms are. This was something Trujillo had told us. To shoot well with either, you must have good posture and know-how of the mechanics behind the device. Simply snapping (or firing off rounds) is a sure way to fail.

The technical knowledge I gained from Hansen and Trujillo planted a seed that developed into a passion. I learned how to make good pictures (sometimes), by finding the right angle to line up the shot, the right source of light, and the right ratios on the camera.

A year into photography and I found the same technical approach can be applied to writing.

As journalists, we are trained to mash the subject and the conflict together until they peter out into a conclusion; to beat the story into submission, like a butcher tenderizing meat. This is the core lesson of most early news writing classes. Reporters suck in every sight, sound, and word that they can and then regurgitate it onto a Word document.

But this takes away from the artistry of writing. After it’s done so many times it’s not even fun. It’s the equivalent of a shotgun blast, or a hells-chance blast from a machine gun. It‘s messy.

As with shooting a photo, or shooting a target, it takes focus, concentration, and most importantly, skill.

Permanent shadow

“[George McGovern] is still naïve enough to assume that anybody  who is honest and intelligent – with a good enough voting record on “the issues” – is a natural man for the White House. But this is stone bullshit. There are only two ways to make it in big-time politics today: One is to come on like a mean dinosaur, with a high-powered machine that scares the shit out of your entrenched opposition…. And the other is to tap the massive, frustrated enemies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to immediately choose between a Ford and a Chevy.”

I just picked up “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” It’s been on my shelf for five years and it’s about damn time I finished the thing.

I’ve never been able to totally immerse myself in politics the way so many hard-boiled reporters do. But it is somewhat of a personal goal, and if I’ll ever understand it, I may as well start here.

So much of Hunter S. Thompson’s writing resonates with today’s political landscape. Especially the above passage. It makes me wonder how much has really changed. On the surface, we have these great technological and social achievements, but beneath it’s business as usual.

Thompson was writing in the shadow of these incredible conflicts, like WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I like to believe that my generation has evolved from such things. But maybe I’m dead wrong. Maybe that shadow is permanent.