56 hours, 1300 words: Editing and the untold stories

Last night, I had the distinct privelege of attending a This American Life listening party at the home of Apricot Irving (the headphoned woman at right). Irving produced a piece for this week’s Haiti-themed “Island Time” show about returning to the Haiti of her youth in late March, two months after January’s devastating earthquake brought the already impoverished country to its knees.

After we’d listened to the episode in its entirety, Irving shared with us some of the many stories contained on her 56 hours of tape collected in Haiti that didn’t make the cut. (To put it in perspective, Irving’s TAL piece clocks in at 12 minutes.) She was particularly (and understandably) attached to one segment featuring an exquisite soliloquy about love and loss by an American doctor who for decades has called Haiti home.

“I really thought this was going to be the one,” she said, adding that both she and another producer were banking on the clip making the final cut. In the end, the TAL team decided it was just a hair too sentimental, and excluded it from the broadcast version.

This resonated with me as a writer who’s had many (probably most) of her stories cut way down so as to be more coherent and manageable – and, y’know, fit on a page. While much of this word-whittling is beneficial to my work (in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a rambler), there are certain passages and paragraphs whose elimination gives me prose pangs. Continue reading

Do the Hustle: Or, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again

Recently, a fellow freelancer said (via email), “I think Becca should lead a workshop on hustle and self-marketing. :) ” I was flattered, but also stunned. Why me? Sure, I’ve got several steady gigs, but I’m hardly a shining example of self-marketing prowess. I mean, just look at this site; it ain’t bad, but it ain’t amazing, either. And sure, I self-promote on Twitter, but I’ve only got a modest number of followers, and I find it to be much more fruitful for finding story ideas than for selling myself. (But perhaps that’s because I only log in a few times a day, else all I’d do is tweet.)

The hustle, though? I’m all over that. Hence, I told my colleague, I think the workshop would consist of this advice:
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again.

My (very modest) success as a freelancer really comes down to:
-Putting in my time. Three years pounding the pavement in Portland has given me enough time to write about almost every conceivable topic, and a few in-depth. My work speaks to my abilities as both a generalist and a beat reporter (sorta, if North and Northeast neighborhoods can be counted as a beat)
-Coming through. At least where work is concerned, I am the anti-flake. (more on that a couple bullets down) Continue reading

“It means ‘granddaughter of the Tundra’ in Eskimo.”

I’m pretty sure this post will cause an angry mob of moms in bamboo fiber yoga pants to burn down my house.

Excerpted from an email to a friend:

What’s up with white (progressive) parents naming their children after Eskimos?

(Context: The coffee shop I’m in is overrun by a bunch of stay-at-home moms whose androgynously and exotically named children – Anuk, Miksa – screech, scramble, and generally act adorable as their parents watch from behind the counter or on the couch with a mixture of bemused wonder (“did I really make that?”) and unabashed pride (“yes, yes I did.”))

Is it because white people hate feeling rootless or lacking in distinct culture and thus dig into other peoples’ native names to give their child a unique identity? Is it because they want to demonstrate to the wider world their openness to all cultures (or at least the exotic indigenous ones – you’d never meet a white girl named Shaneequa)?

Then again, it could just be a penchant for randomness. Celebrities and coffee-shop moms alike have been known to name their children after states (Dakota) or fruit (Apple).

(why yes, I did study social anthropology in college)

But seriously, Readers…whaddaya think? Leave your pearls of snarky wisdom in the comments…

On chromosomes and confidence (a two-fer weekend post)

1) I’m finally starting to realize just how hard it is to be a professional woman working in a male-dominated environment. I used to quasi-dismiss old-school feminists who continued to rant about the glass ceiling and continued (though more subtle) sexism in the workplace, probably because I’m a post-feminist, Title IX female who’s never known a world where damn near everything was off-limits to the double-X sex.  But the more I work on projects with few women and many men, the more I realize that a) it’s harder than I’d like to admit to make my voice heard amidst all the rapid-fire (nerdy) testosterone and b) many men like strong women in theory, but in practice they don’t actually want a colleague and/or sparring partner who could actually take the upper hand.

2) Caitlin Kelly examines a) in this post about why men blog more:

The answer is pretty much the same as why I don’t get a souped-up snowmobile and drive it straight up a mountain at 120 kilometres an hour into a well-known avalanche zone. It’s more of a guy thing.

Guys seek thrills and speed. They go for the adrenalin rush. They get pumped by going higher, faster, farther than anyone else. They want lots of action and instant gratification. That’s also why guys like blogging – instant opinions, and lots of them.

A 2004 University of Michigan study harnesses the power of research to tackle b) in the context of romantic relationships:

Men are more likely to want to marry women who are their assistants at work rather than their colleagues or bosses. …the current findings are consistent with earlier research showing that expressions of vulnerability enhance female attractiveness.

Back to a): Could it be that (most) women are generally less confident than (most) men? Check out this study on why more women don’t run for office: 

“The impact of self-perceived qualifications on a woman’s decision to run was nearly double that of men. Surprisingly, although many of those surveyed had attained success in male-dominated professions, women were twice as likely as men to rate themselves “not at all qualified” to run for office. Men were about two-thirds more likely than women to consider themselves “qualified” or “very qualified” to run for office.”

From the Unpublished Archives: Q&A with In B Flat’s Darren Solomon

Just about a year ago, I interviewed Darren Solomon, the creator of the brilliant collaborative music and spoken word project In B Flat. I pitched the resulting Q&A to several outlets, but nobody picked it up. (Le sigh.) I’ve thought about “self-publishing” it here for quite some time, but always held off just in case I found someone who would pay me good money for it – or, let’s be honest, any money at all. (Or even a cookie. Y’know, one of those face-size chocolate chippers?)

Well, here it is, in its entirety, for your Blogathon enjoyment.

Darren Solomon, a Brooklyn-based musician best known for his work with electro-jazz group Science for Girls, has given music geeks the world over an aurgasm with his YouTube orchestral experiment, In B flat. The home page of his website, inbflat.net, is a pastiche of 20 YouTube videos, each featuring individual musicians, vocalists and spoken word artists performing a short piece in the key of – you guessed it – B flat. The videos can be played separately, simultaneously or, most effectively, by staggering the starting times, creating a hauntingly beautiful collage of harmonies and images which constitute a singular musical experience – a remote collaboration that feels strangely intimate.

I spoke with Solomon about In B flat, the process of creating music with close friends and total strangers, and the disparity between virtual connectedness and physical isolation which characterizes the digital age.

REBECCA ROBINSON:  How did the idea for In B Flat come about?

DARREN SOLOMON: It was really a technical issue that gave me the idea for the project.  I was looking at a site that had a few embedded YouTube videos when I realized that YouTube doesn’t prevent the user from running more than one video simultaneously on the same page.  I used this idea on the intentionally irritating Cumbusfest, which is a part of this blog post.

But I also wanted to try something a little less painful with the concept.  If all the videos could be in the same key, without a steady rhythm, I figured they might sound really beautiful together.  The user could have control over the individual tracks, and always get a nice sounding result. Continue reading

“Maybe I’m just old, or maybe you’re just right”: Reflections on judging the Bruce Baer Awards

I shifted positions in the wooden chair, looking around the fluorescent-lit room at the rumpled old men with whom I’d be spending the afternoon. Notebooks open, pens at the ready, these current and former journalists were gathered in the press room of Oregon’s Capitol buidling to judge the state’s most courageous investigative journalism and bestow upon it an award named for their dearly departed friend, Bruce Baer. One of them, who I knew through my work with The Sentinel (whose print version is also dearly departed), had invited me to join this old-boys network; by accepting, I had singlehandedly lowered the median age by at least two decades.

Roger (my fellow judge and Sentinel connection) laid out all the entries on a table, making 15 crowded piles of paper, each a different story or series tackling rogue cops, delinquent landlords and other scandals dug up by Oregon’s intrepid reporters. He opened up the final envelope, reached in, and pulled out not newsprint but a CD.

One of the judges, a white-haired man in a pink dress shirt, stared bug-eyed at the disc and exclaimed, “what the hell is that?”

It was going to be an interesting afternoon. Continue reading

Monday by the Numbers

22: Number of times I stopped one task to start another (thanks, ADD-addled brain)

3: Pairs of shoes worn in a 10-hour period (when it rains, it pours, and when it pours, your shoes get soaked)

15: Number of stories I read in preparation for my stint as a judge for the Bruce Baer Awards

8: Number of people contacted for story interviews

4: Number of actual interviews conducted

87: Combined length, in minutes, of interviews

2.5: Bananas consumed

180: Degrees between my day’s end and its beginning

1: Story published on the Oregonian website (find it on the cover of tomorrow’s Metro section)

0: Amount of energy left, in percentage points, kilojoules, and/or brain cells