Jan. 8, 2017
Written for the La Crosse Tribune, Houston County News and the Coulee Courier
The deeper I get into my twenties, the less I feel compelled to talk about myself. This is probably because if you compared my life to a road, it would either be some kind of trap roundabout or reprehensible detour.
But for the important sake of letting readers know the person who is reporting on the general public of their community, here is some of the blueprint that led me here, as the newest suburban weekly reporter for River Valley Media Group.
I spent a year working with and reporting for the talented La Crosse Tribune sports staff. Highlights from my tenure of reporting for sports all came from the stories I felt best portrayed the human element — from a college wrestling national champion and burgeoning triathlete, to Venezuelan-born amateur baseball player and waning legion coach.
The youngest of three brothers, I grew up on the south side of La Crosse, and returned a couple of years ago. Our parents raised us to know the importance of kindness without ever explicitly telling us that. Testament to our kindness, is that I’m the only member of the family not working in a school, and that we once adopted a 13-year-old aggressive, deaf and blind dog that was months away from dying (three and ½ to be exact — Poor Sheba).
My love for newspapers probably stems from my parents, who I saw read the paper every morning growing up. Material from the local paper has been the centerpiece of discourse for my immediate and extended family for as long as I can remember, from analyzing the river drownings to concurring that Joe Orso is a suspicious character, we bonded over the content we gathered from the paper. I learned only a couple of things about my late great-grandmother before she passed — that she was devoted to feeding the birds, and that she read the newspaper cover-to-cover every day.
My underlying infatuation for storytellers and personalities sparked for me as an 11-year-old, after I read an article about Barry Bonds written by Chuck Klosterman in an issue of ESPN The Magazine. I remember being hit by that brainwave you get when reading writing that burns more than it flows, shaking the indifference from you as the words percolate your mind.
I remember in my pre-adolescence, being inspired by that fire, and then having the instant jones to find and assemble my own voice like it. It wasn’t so much that I felt a call to writing, but rather a call to have fit, helpful opinions and the boldness to declare them. Like David Carr writes in his memoir “The Night of the Gun”: “It wasn’t that I wanted to be a writer; I just didn’t want to be stupid.”
When I got to high school there wasn’t a school paper, so a classmate and I joined forces to create what should have been called the Saddest Online School Newspaper. The first newspaper story I ever wrote was on the Million Dollar Arm contest ran by a professional sports marketing agent in India, which I plagiarized from an article in USA TODAY.
When I slipped into my first perceived spell of what I now know to be clinical depression a couple months into my first semester of college, my fondness for newspapers grew, because the complimentary issues of the Star Tribune and New York Times that I grabbed outside my dorm every morning reminded me of the parents that loved me and the rest of the developing world that had little to do with me.
I studied journalism and wrote for the campus newspaper while at Winona State University, but the shambles of my mental health and the lawlessness of my behavior muddled my ability to grasp the clear motive for me to be there. Forgoing my senior year and the overwhelming advice I got from academic counselors and my parents that it was a terrible idea, I moved to Minneapolis to write and work for a nonprofit agency for local performing artists.
I learned a lot about the artists I wrote about and art itself in that position in Minneapolis, and formed a routine of ending each day with an extensive writing session, spawned after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule in his book “Outliers”.
But as my writing voice developed, my financial foothold in the Twin Cities never came. I worked and quit probably a dozen manual labor jobs, which included washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant where the workers only communicated in their native language, and bike-delivering sandwiches from Jimmy John’s on a broken bicycle.
But even in the most vagrant and washout moments of my life when I was deprived of hope, I stayed loyal to newspapers, and pined for them even more. I evaded my St. Paul apartment and the collapse of my relationship inside to the corner gas station (shoutout to the Marshall Stop) so many times to acquire a donut and a Star Tribune, that whenever there were patrons in line behind me, the regular cashier would announce in his Persian accent, “Dees guy, dees guy knows newspapers and dees guy knows donuts!”
Every successful rapper and athlete is quick to tell you they have no regrets, but saying you have no regrets doesn’t get rid of all your regrets. I carry my regrets like the few extra pounds my mind has put on. I’m still far from a success story, and prefer to still feel in debt to reclaiming myself.
Extraneous list of things I like: porches, live music, dogs and cats, NPR, making lists, Kanye West, the movie Almost Famous, taking photos, HBO shows, hats, Green Bay Packers, bars with couches