What I’ve Learned in 2006
I’ve always been one of those guys who does everything the hard way. I bristle at advice, preferring to make my own, sometimes costly, mistakes and then gleaning from them what I can, if I can.
I screwed up so badly my first year of college it took me three more years to bring my GPA up near anything resembling respectability. And it took me five years to graduate.
I taught myself to type when I was in fifth grade, but instead of using the manual my teacher gave me (her name was Ms. Thompson, I recall), I thought it would be better to figure it out by myself. As a result I only use seven of my fingers to type, I stare at the keyboard the whole time and I make a lot of typos.
In the early days of my career I ignored the advice of a college professor (his name I don’t recall) and decided that I didn’t need to market myself, thinking I was good enough that, after a couple years writing wiseass columns and features in the Loyola Maroon, all of the heavy hitters in the magazine industry had likely heard of me and all I had to do was sit back and wait for the job offers to roll in.
Even my kids came to me the hard way: standing up in a canoe.
I’m kidding about that last one. It’s an old joke.
But since taking the editor’s chair here at YES! Weekly in December 2004 I have tried to learn more, to wring all the knowledge I can out of life’s sopping wet bar rag. And in this space at the end of each year I’ll tell all of you what I’ve learned.
Even though we put out 52 issues a year, each with thousands and thousands of words, people can (and will) judge us on a single story or stance and that judgment will color their opinion of us forever.
In that same vein: Perception trumps reality every time. Hell, perception is reality. Everybody likes to think they’re the smartest one in the room and that what they think is clearly the apogee of human thought. But really, there is only one smartest guy in the room and he usually doesn’t know it’s him.
When your urine starts to smell like coffee, then you’ve had enough coffee.
Fighting midgets are much funnier in theory than actuality. In real life they’re not very funny at all.
Anybody can sue anyone at any time for anything. For real. And it will be that way until courts penalize people for nuisance lawsuits. Getting a judgment, thank God, is still another story.
Make sure you have all the facts when you take a stand. This goes back to the Duke lacrosse case in the spring, when I wrote a fairly scathing column that drew some faint lines between the Duke guys and my own high school’s lacrosse team, which was populated largely by mouth-breathing mooks, many of whom went on to play for the Blue Devils. I really thought the guys raped that girl based on the documentation I had seen and I let them have it. Now, though I’ve heard very little from the prosecution, I’ve seen enough of the defense’s case to plant a reasonably doubt in my mind as to their guilt. I’d still like to get a look at that baby, though.
Conversely, you’ve got to work quickly in this business. When you smell a story, jump on it. Don’t waste time, because if you do it’s likely someone else will jump on the story before you get your butt in gear. Strike while the iron is hot. Make hay while the sun shines. All of that.
A vasectomy is no big deal and, in my case, an extremely responsible move. Three kids in four years is plenty for a guy like me.
Also, if you make jokes to your doctor about getting zonked on prescription drugs, you will not get the prescription you want.
Imitation is truly the most sincere form of flattery. People don’t steal your ideas; they pay tribute to your ideas. Let somebody else call them thieves.
Scoops don’t matter. Not anymore. With so many media outlets, and the news cycle shortened into minutes instead of days, a big story gets before everyone’s eyes more quickly than ever. So scoops don’t matter. Except to people in the news business, all of whom are acutely aware of how and where the story broke.
Everyone thinks they’re funny. Not everybody is.
And finally, I learn and relearn every day that I love what I do and am thankful to be sitting where I am.
The world is good. Life is short. Love is eternal.
Happy new year.
To comment on this column, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.