The Legacy of Harris Wittels: Comedian, Writer, Friend

Have you ever heard of Harris Wittels?

As I was reading through my open browser tabs this morning (my lazy way of bookmarking sources around the internet I want to return to), I rediscovered an episode of You Made It Weird, a podcast series hosted by Pete Holmes that Wittels was featured in last November. I didn’t recognize Wittels’ name until I read the description and remembered that one of the writers of the popular NBC sitcom, Parks and Recreation, had passed away earlier this year. That writer was Harris Wittels.

From onset, the conversation between Holmes and Wittels is unapologetically dark and honest. The podcast feels like an invitation into their conversation as friends, one of familiar ease peppered with inside jokes and personal details. They’re both engaging as they discuss their attempts to grapple with the reality of death, finding purpose in life, and the tyranny of addiction while skillfully using humor to break the tension time and time again as the discussion progresses.

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Wittels shares his engrossing journey as an addict at length and brings depth to the retelling of his experience with addiction as a son, artist, boyfriend, and friend. You get the sense that Wittels is speaking about his experiences from the safety of his distance to them but learn that he’s a month into the infancy of his sobriety at the time of production. Yet he explains how he became a part of drug culture and progressed from recreationally using prescription painkillers to shooting up heroin with ease.

I’ve never been a witness to addiction in another person’s life.

I recommend listening to this episode if only to hear a first-hand account of the complexities surrounding addiction and the journey to sobriety. However, if you already understand this from personal experience or in witnessing someone you know live in that reality, you don’t need a podcast to associate you with addiction’s capacity for destruction.

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Throughout the episode, Wittels remains disarmingly candid in the way he shares the decisions he made under the impetus of drugs; a will born out of the resistance to experience withdrawal or the emotional fatigue of life. He also shares the financial, relational, and emotional tolls that the fight for sobriety would cost him. Wittels would continue this fight until his overdose earlier this year.

Wittels’ laughter, as it bursts throughout his conversation with Holmes, reminded me of a friend I used to spend many of my high school days with; someone I used to share jokes with while exchanging adolescent loneliness for the comfort of friendship.

They both have the same easy giggle.

I didn’t personally know Wittels and I’m not entitled to any memory of him.

Still, I am saddened by his loss and the thought of the people he brought energy, laughter, and the comfort of friendship to. Professionally, Wittels was an integral contributor to crafting the familiarity that so many audiences felt towards the Parks and Recreation cast, the same magic that made my friends and I fans of this clever and often heart-warming show. He engineered many of the jokes we retell to one another to make each other laugh or remind ourselves of the outrageous enthusiasm with which Leslie Knope would live her life. The impact that Wittels’ instinct for humor and creativity had reaches further than he could have possibly imagined.

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The loss of any person to the tyranny of drugs is terrible. Listening to Wittels’ experiences as shared in his own voice, however, is not a legacy to the way in which his life ended. Instead, it is an intimate reflection of the value the people in our life hold and our endless responsibility to reclaim our purpose, as well as that of others, from the damages or discouragement we’re subject to as members of this world.

Before closing the show, Holmes extends a genuine word of comfort to Wittels, one that is almost awkward in how authentic of an attempt it is to reach across the divide and say to someone who has just shared their experience of extraordinary struggle, “please feel included, and welcomed, and loved in this reality… you’re not alone.” He explains how he’s observed that his efforts to create, do stand-up, and tell stories are collective attempts at communicating this same eternal message to another person, and reminding himself of this message, too.

Wittels’ embraces the moment and adds in his own reach across the divide by reminding Holmes of that time they played music at his party, “one of the most fun memories ever”, when Holmes was on bass.

As you listen to his story, and even read these words now, may you be reminded you’re not alone.

Life Lately: Being Carrie Bradshaw or Something Like It

November has treated me well.

To begin with, it’s currently 68 degrees in New York City. Given that I lived 20 years of my life in Florida (don’t hold this against me now), weather between 65 and 90 degrees feels optimal. I’ve totally evolved to adapt to humidity and sweltering temperatures; bring on heat waves and I’ll pass on the snowstorms. But currently, it feels like Spring which I’m 100% kosher with, too.

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I’m not a fan of small talk but if you know me already, this doesn’t count as small talk, right? SO can you believe November is almost over?

(This is where you emphatically say, “I know, right!?” and contribute an anecdotal story about how quickly time is passing.)

On the subject of small talk, have you watched Chelsea Peretti’s stand-up comedy special on Netflix, One of the Greats? She has a bit where she talks about how exhausting it is to maintain interest in a dinner party conversation or small talk when you’re among a group of people you don’t know very well. She makes the excellent point that small talk would be a much more tolerable experience if you could just make a pterodactyl screech in between the bits of exchange, you know, to openly acknowledge how awful it is for all parties involved.

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I’m with this idea so if you hear me make a pterodactyl screech the next time we’re chatting, I’m just trying to spice up our convo. If you’re unsure what a pterodactyl screech sounds like, you should Youtube that immediately. Or screen the Jurassic Park trilogy, you know, whatever. I’m full of great suggestions so let me know if you need more.

As far as what I’ve been up to lately, life feels like Bradshaw levels of luxury lately (um, minus the Manolo Blahniks) in that I don’t have any responsibilities between Monday – Friday, at least none that require me to commute or report to an office. I’ve been filling my days with networking meetings and personal errands, including a couple of coffee dates with folks at Time Inc. tomorrow. It’s not cosmos with Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha but good enough.

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Beyond that, I’ve been interviewing and enjoying how quiet New York City is during the day when the masses are at work. I walked around Lower Manhattan earlier and got to see a few monuments I’d never visited before like the African Burial Ground Monument or the NYC Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza. I’ve also had a lot of brunch but that’s due in part to the fact that on weekends, I work doubles at a restaurant that feeds me a meal during each shift I work and provides a generous menu discount at other times. This used to be my favorite restaurant in the neighborhood to dine at before I began working there so it all worked out prettyyyyyy favorably.

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I know it can’t last.

I mean, I’ll keep the restaurant gig even after I get hired because I work with a really interesting and kind group of creatives who are working on writing their own scripts, novels, or comedy routines while they moonlight. And you know, the aforementioned food. But I know the luxury of these days where my time is not fixed to a schedule can’t last. I don’t want it to, though.

I just want to do good work, that I believe in, amongst good people. I’m idealistic enough to believe that’s possible, as I’ve already written about at length.

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From Selfie to Imposter Syndrome and Pursuing Your Dreams In Between

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This is part 1 of a series sharing my journey to land my dream job. I look forward to sharing this process with you as the days unfold it and thank you for reading.

Earlier this month, I posted this selfie (heh) to Instagram.

A few of my friends commented that I looked sad in it. I deleted the first comment because I was embarrassed by it but I decided to leave the second one up, along with the photo, because doing so felt honest. As a result of this particularly unusual meta Instagram experience, I realized my friends were right. 

I was sad.

I hated my job and the lack of agency I felt in not being able to do work I was passionate about was making my day-to-day disposition pretty bleak.

The day after I posted that selfie, I quit.

I requested a meeting with the Managing Director of the office I’d been employed at for five months and I told him, after weeks of being asked to reflect on the possibilities of my future at the company, that recruiting just wasn’t for me. I had taken the job because I valued the company’s vision and leadership, and it provided me with an exit from the non-profit space I was burned out by. I also knew it would be an excellent way to build my professional network in the digital media industry given the company’s specialty. My functional role in recruiting, however, left little opportunity for strategy-building, driving change, or program development – areas I had loved and thrived in prior to this role. I thanked my boss for the opportunity, applauded his talent for building a hard-working, friendly team of colleagues I didn’t want to leave behind, and packed my desk in order to be on my way by lunchtime.

The next day, I laid in bed absorbing the shock of what I had just done.

I reflected on times in the past where I’d taken similar leaps of boldness and landed on my feet. I encouraged my instincts on as I cycled through waves of anxiety that I had made a huge mistake. That day, I became my own cheerleader and coach, developing a strategic game plan while also delivering the most inspiring locker room speech of my life… to myself.

Between watching episodes of Being Mary Jane and picking at containers of take-out, I reflected on the job titles and responsibilities I wanted, regardless of whether I believed I was qualified for them or not. Managing Editor. Senior Writer. Associate Editor. Editor in Chief. I allowed myself to dream a little and all of my dreams lead me to a place where I would employ my leadership abilities, my research savvy, and my love for discourse within the internet community into an Editorial position at a digital media company or news organization.

The following Monday, I reached out to several friends who are especially talented at writing cover letters and resumes, and asked for their best tips and examples. I took several ideas I had set aside for this site and began creating an aggressive editorial calendar to cement this place as one I could freely write in as I learn, develop my voice, and make (many) mistakes. Finally, I took a long look at my resume and capitalized on the communications experience I’ve had thus far, pivoting the breakdown of my skills in a way that would allow hiring managers to connect the dots between my previous roles and the direction I was newly determined to head.

I applied to over 25 jobs that day and immediately received three emails requesting follow-up interviews in return. Allow me to digress and point out that this kind of turnaround is HIGHLY unusual. I’ve been in the job market on and off for six years and have never experienced anything like it. In speaking to people much wiser than I am and reflecting on this experience, I’ve realized that a huge factor that determines success – one that we have very little control over – is timing. The paradox is that you won’t know when the time is right but if you keep waiting to act until you do, that moment will never come.

Friends who have witnessed my career trajectory unfold throughout the years have asked for insight on my ability to shape the experiences and opportunities available to me. It’s been absurdly encouraging to receive texts from friends this morning, sharing that my example has lit a fire under their own feet in the direction of their dreams. I realize the problem with “follow your dreams” philosophy as it’s repackaged to us in our modern world is it doesn’t account for how much work it takes. Not the cliches, or well-meaning “Top Ten Entrepreneurs Who Followed Their Dreams And Hit It Big” lists on Forbes. And by sharing this process with you, that’s exactly what I hope to communicate – that there’s no such thing as an overnight success or flash in the pan.

The reality of my experience is I make my mind up about what I want (admittedly, this one took a while), seek the advice of people who are smarter than me, and I start knocking on doors hard and long enough for people to hear me and open them. I figure if the timing is right and I’ve done my research, it’ll work.

This is the philosophy I used in securing a lunch date with the Vice President of Innovation and Engagement at a company I admire after I emailed him in interest towards a project they’re launching exploring opportunities for youth empowerment within journalism.

This is the philosophy I used when I reached out to a coach at my gym who also owns a restaurant and got the hostessing gig that’s keeping me afloat until I return to a traditional office space.

And this is the philosophy I used when I reconnected with the local alumni chapter at a national organization I’m a part of and enlisted to support in their rebranding efforts to gain more exposure to their network.

I have an interview in a couple of hours and an interview on Monday, in addition to a follow-up meeting with the CEO of another company I am interviewing with scheduled next Thursday. It would be easiest to keep this process to myself and let y’all know when I finally snag a job I’m excited about. Yes – it’s easiest to share the milestones in our life online when we can sum up the process without mentioning all of the tedious effort, moonlighting gigs, research, and strategic networking it took. But I wouldn’t be okay with perpetuating the lie of the #Luckygirl. It would be dishonest to say “got the gig! #blessed” and put a big bow around the delivery of the news as if it didn’t take a daily dose of humility, a stubborn sense of self, an eagerness to learn, and grace.

All of the grace.

To face rejection with dignity, ask for help, and have the courage to say (when necessary), “I don’t know but I’m going to learn at any cost.”

I’ve always held positions that specialized in a communications capacity but editorial is the untapped frontier for me. And over the course of five years, imposter syndrome has kept me from entertaining my desire to break into it or invest in my professional development within this area. After I posted that selfie, I decided – if imposter syndrome was going to continue terrorizing my energy and confidence in myself, then I would just embrace it’s presence in my life and become the best “imposter” I could possibly be.

Anyway, I couldn’t give any more attention to all of the reasons my dreams couldn’t possibly be realized.

I had work to do.

In Defense of The Bedford Stop

Earlier this week, I discovered The Bedford Stop, a reality series on Youtube set in Williamsburg “about Brooklyn girls avoiding reality.” I watched the 16:56 minute pilot episode upon reading a review of the show featured on The Gothamist.

Written by staff writer, Lauren Evans, the article begins humorously enough as Evans discloses the Vicodin haze she’s watching the show under while recovering from an undisclosed medical ailment. Her disposition towards The Bedford Stop begins open-mindedly, musing over how she doesn’t expect to hate it when a Schedule II narcotic is keeping her company. As the review progresses, Evans dismisses the show’s merit, referring to the viewing experience as “viscerally repellent.” She closes the article with a series of open-ended questions; asking what kind of audience exists for non-substantive productions like The Bedford Stop and what appeal it carries to anyone considering to watch it.

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Visitors to The Gothamist appear to agree with Evans’ sentiment as many have linked to clips of the show in their comments as further evidence of the despair that Williamsburg “culture” finds itself in. A debate whether the show is actually a parody or not has since dictated the discussion.

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What both visitors to The Gothamist and Evans miss in their reviews is that the very mystery of whether it’s a parody or not hints at the genius of the show’s creators. The Bedford Stop understands that reality TV, at its most lucrative, finely balances the line between truth and the aggrandized, seamlessly weaving fiction with non-fiction for the entertainment of their audiences. This formula allows the viewer to immerse themselves within the plot of the episode, regardless of how absurdly it may evolve, and inspires familiarity with the characters while they engage in larger-than-life theatrics like Teresa Giudice and NeNe Leakes, two of the most famous reality tv show celebrities featured on the Real Housewives series, have demonstrated throughout their reality tv careers.

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In the pilot episode of The Bedford Stop, Olena Yatsyuk, is introduced as a main character and reality tv wildcard trope. In evidence of such, the episode revolves around her decision to hire professional photographer, Max Schwartz, to take a Tinder headshot for her. Yatsyuk is later featured in a scene where she delivers an expletive-laden tirade over the fact that Melissa, her roommate, didn’t say hi to her at Brooklyn Bowl. Despite these obvious exaggerations of character, the cast of The Bedford Stop appear to be living a life very similar to that of most modern young transplants living in New York City today; dating, nights out with friends, petty disagreements, half-hearted excuses explaining they can just work out “later” and continue enjoying happy hour for now. It simply magnifies these day-to-day life scenarios in order to bring the reality tv show essence full circle, or full production rather.

The About page on the Youtube Channel of The Bedford Stop doesn’t provide any clue into whether or not it’s real, but I hesitate to believe it’s entirely authentic because of how unapologetically it perpetuates the stereotype of New York City’s most cartoonish (and perhaps most unequivocally villainized) caricature – The Hipster. In my five years of living in New York City, it’s been my experience that people who are rosé-drinking, trust-fund Hipster archetypes are quick to downcast their own privileged nature, masking their eau d’yuppie stench by pretending to be one of the “original” locals at Pete’s Candy Store or Barcade. Furthermore, The Bedford Stop is littered with background props cementing the cartoonish Hipster stereotype it wryly pokes fun at, like the posters of Lana Del Rey (saint of the American Apparel buying, Urban Outfitters sporting collective within Millennial culture) that decorate Olena’s room.

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For the cast of The Bedford Stop to reveal themselves as actualizations of Williamsburg stereotypes for public consumption would mean subjecting themselves to the abasement of the online community (much of which has already unfolded). It would also demonstrate a rejection of the social capital made possible when we subscribe to our modern culture’s “too cool but effortlessly so” brand of popularity. Effectively, it would be an admission of their tragic existences as the collective punchline of Hipster jokes that comedians across New York City have been recycling since 2008.

In contrast to these assumptions, The Bedford Stop demonstrates several clues that their cast is in on the ruse.

Most notably in the way the editing and narration resembles MTV’s hit reality TV series, The Hills, which has been openly discussed as a show succeeded by its scripts and fabricated drama. Even our introduction to Alex, the main protagonist who recently graduated from FIT and moved to New York to pursue her dreams, parallels Lauren Conrad’s move to Los Angeles for a fashion internship at Teen Vogue.

The success of The Hills was attributed to the instincts of the editors in post-production and how compellingly the conventionally attractive cast capitalized on relationship drama at the behest of producers. Similarly, The Bedford Stop takes a cast of friends and shows them navigating through situations most New Yorkers of Millennial or Gen X age would recognize while exaggerating them in ways that demonstrate their absurdity (like paying to take headshots for Tinder when everyone knows you only take headshots for LinkedIn and if it’s not that stuffy, you can use it on Tinder to suggest you’re a legitimate Adult ™ person but even then, it’s weird.)

Magnifying the tedium of everyday life in a way that both entertains and solicits “are they serious right now?” reactions from audiences is the same formula the Kardashian family used to build a multi-million empire on the back of a reality tv show sharing their intimate lives with the world; their show premiering it’s 11th season on November 15th. Clearly, the creators of The Bedford Stop are capitalizing on all of the elements that make fictional “reality” tv shows a success. Perhaps they know that The Hills maintained a steady viewership of approximately two million viewers each week and are repackaging this winning formula for a modern audience, one that just so happened to grow up debating whether Lauren or Heidi was the justified one in the deterioration of their friendship.

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However, these clues demonstrating the show’s ingenuity seem to be lost in the online community’s reception towards the show.

Simone Wilson at The Patch refers to the characters as “enemies in their [sic] adopted habited”. Her review grows increasingly irritated as she refers to one of the characters as “the real demographic threat … that background chick with the caked-on bronzer, the job in ‘merchandising’ and the vocal fry that could kill a Kardashian.” From reading a collective of reviews written in the same vein of disdain, it’s obvious that the visceral response of the online community is to reject the show and the experiences of it’s characters altogether, when I would argue that this impulse to do so implies how much we refuse to accept these characters as reflections of ourselves.

David Colins at Brokelyn in contrast seems to understand the hyperbolic nature of the show, and employs the same theatrical exaggeration by referring to The Bedford Stop as “the most incredible and important piece of New York City media of the 21st Century.”

In the way the show’s creators have successfully managed to generate attention, I suspect they understand that Brooklynites love discussing their borough and themselves far more than anything else. This evidence is demonstrated by the way the local media community has bashed the show, reviling the bottom-feeding hipsterdom The Bedford Stop represents while distinguishing their own exceptionalism against the experiences of these characters. The commercial success of shows like Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, and 19 Kids and Counting further demonstrates a viewer’s voyeuristic desire to validate and comfort the superiority of their own lifestyles by watching lives outside of what we’d be willing to associate ourselves with in person. Maybe the creators of The Bedford Stop (and with the native Spotify ad, I suspect there are more than we realize) understand, like many TV executives before them, that people are attracted to shows that inspire them to reflect on the distinction of their own existences apart from the protagonists on screen while maintaining an anonymous distance.

Bobby Finger at Jezebel understands this phenomenon as shared in his retelling of his own meta experience after watching The Bedford Stop.

“After finishing its pilot episode, I questioned my own existence as a human being who lives in New York among other human beings who are capable of creating, filming, starring in, editing, and uploading something as simultaneously miserable and captivating as The Bedford Stop. Are they really here? Are they really real? Are they living and breathing in my reality? And, more importantly, am I?”

In his article, he also refers to the show as “simultaneously miserable and captivating”.

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His choice of words hints at the sheer level of marketability there is for “non-substantive” tv.

Rating statistics reflect 37.7 million American viewers have watched a reality television show in 2015. Consider that The Bachelor, which will premiere it’s 20th season in January, successfully pulled in $187.3 million dollars in ad revenue in 2015, while it’s counterpart, The Bachelorette, averaged 3.2 million viewers per week. Human nature is naturally curious and our meticulously data-mined research on the nature of our entertainment choices reveal that we love to peek into the lives of strangers beyond our present day-to-day reality.

Gabriel Bell at Nylon points out that the key elements making The Bedford Stop so notable are how it isolates a sense of familiarity from the viewer by representing semblances of their own experiences on-screen. “What’s important is that The Bedford Stop is an amazingly accurate, dare we say, trailblazing look at what is happening in the neighborhood—a documentary series so unblinking and honest that the viewer feels transported into the lives of the people who define the area now.”

Perhaps the criticism of The Bedford Stop feels like criticism against my own existence.

The very nature of which is stereotyped because I live in a rent-stabilized apartment in Brooklyn, yeah, and maybe would live in Chelsea if I could but I’ve never considered it because my level of income in New York City contrasted with the expense of living here is a laughable subject. The truth is I do find a great sense of familiarity in the cast of The Bedford Stop, if only in that I was immediately reminded of my own conversations with friends who despite being kind, complex, and interesting people can also be vacuous in their comments about how they can “taste the difference” from Whole Foods produce and produce at a perfectly decent alternative. And similarly, I can be obnoxious in my refusal to take the train home after a certain hour despite the fact that my budget for Ubers is maxed out this month. Again. These are the priorities I live with as I go about my day to day life in NYC and the fact that The Bedford Stop captured modern life in New York City so accurately encapsulates the privileges associated with being a young, unattached professional living here.

In the closing of her review in The Gothamist, Evans suggests that if The Bedford Stop doesn’t resemble your life, it’s because your existence is based on more substantive experiences than getting a professional photographer to capture a headshot for you to use on Tinder. Her assumption fails to consider the tedious minutia of life that think-pieces across the Internet are devoted to; reflecting on largely arbitrary subjects like caring about how many followers you have on Instagram, whether you should make-out with a stranger on the first date, or what Disney princess iteration of a hot dog you resemble the most. As it stands, people are attracted to content that makes their own human experience feel validated. And The Bedford Stop fits the bill.

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All of this leads me to wonder where the authority of residents who lived in New York when it was “the old New York” begins and ends. When do they become caricatures? Card-carrying oligarchs scuffling around who complain about the neighborhood changing while ignoring the socio-economic trends that have lead us all here? Maybe The Bedford Stop doesn’t entertain or amuse local New Yorkers who knew Williamsburg before it was WILLIAMSBURG but for some kid in Iowa dreaming of making it to a world beyond the banality or prejudices of his hometown, the fantasy projected in this Youtube series is as good as the real thing.

Alternatively, I’m willing to believe that the cartoonish stereotypes of both the Hipster and Crochety Old New Yorker do exist on both ends of the spectrum. But then there’s my old boss, a woman of color who has owned property in Brooklyn for 30 years who enjoys the coffee shops and added amenities that gentrification has brought to her block. Or my dear friend, a local artist and Millennial with no assets of her own who prioritizes the conveniences that modern technology afford to us while making under $48k per year and paying $500 in Student Loans on top of her rent and regular expenses each month. Multitudes exist everywhere. This isn’t news. But distinguishing ourselves from the cast of The Bedford Stop, in the way the internet community has scrambled over itself to do, feels disingenuous. Especially when I recognize so many overlapping themes surrounding our collective experience in New York City, mapping across race and socioeconomic status.

Ironically, Lauren Evans own by-line states that she lives in the “baby-pampered paradise” of Park Slope “despite my [sic] distaste for children.” Before Park Slope became the BabyBjorn enclave she despises today, it belonged to working class Irish and Italian migrants and soon after transitioned into a white family-oriented, middle-class thereafter. Do we all eschew the residents immediately before or directly after us? Is that our inheritance as New Yorkers? If it is, I can come to terms with the fact that we’re all somebody’s punchline. But dismissing a show that subverts the Hipster stereotype into an identity you’re forced to consider your own experiences and existence against? The way the internet is falling itself to do over The Bedford Stop when they may very well be in the onset of commercial fame?

Well, that’s missing the point.

A Sneak Peek Into Viceland

Have you ever watched a Vice documentary? I’m inclined to assume everyone has but that’s because I run in the very demographic that creates and consumes the content that Vice produces.

Vice originally launched as a government-subsidized magazine in 1994 when it was still titled Voice of Montreal. In 1996, the publication changed its name to Vice and has since evolved from a subculture indie magazine stocking the shelves of American Apparel to a $400 million dollar media conglomerate. Not bad for a ‘zine.

Between its Youtube popularity, digital news site, HBO-produced series, and Viceland, its newly announced network channel, Vice has been a craftsman of new opportunities for audiences to engage with hard-pressing issues. Viceland will be launched in February 2016 as a partnership with their $250 million dollar investor, A+E Network. A huge part of its notable success has been the freedom with which Vice reports on stories that are ignored by other media outlets. Essentially, its willingness to take risks like pushing back on a government illegally detaining one of their journalists, or creating shows about weed culture, the culinary adventures of a rapper from NYC, and the (often dangerous, often painful) day to day life reality for members of LGBTQ communities in different countries has paid off in dividends as people continue to tune in.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Vice’s story-telling and brand evolves with this significant new foothold in the market. Their sneak peek for the network in the video below is worth-watching and made me in awe of the complex, often unseen reality for people living all around us. Humanity is pretty incredible. And Vice knows it, too.

In Defense of Dreaming

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Platitudes about following your dreams are in no lack of supply.

With their moniker of positivity and nearly dogmatic insistence to consider a life more favorable, perhaps even more magical, than one’s present reality, the passive ease with which we share these messages is pretty common.

Far less available are quotes about the work it takes to achieve the reality we speculate on between our coffee cups at the job we hate, meal prep, or the bills we can’t seem to catch up with. Life, unless you hail from a home of significant financial privilege, doesn’t really make accommodations for our dreams. On the contrary, it provides an ample supply of dead ends, distractions, and reasons why our hopes should wait on the back-burner.

I believe there should be an anti-thesis to life’s ever-bearing prescription of discouragement, but hearing or saying (or sharing) “follow your dreams” doesn’t lead us anywhere at all. What I propose we begin sharing instead are small imperatives of action towards our dreams. Investments made on a daily basis. Active dreaming – “Begin dealing with your resentment so you can be the woman you want to be.” “Don’t make this frivolous purchase so you can be debt-free and own the home you have in mind.” “Remember that contact you made at last week’s conference? Email them. Now.”

I’m not sure about you.

But I don’t do well when I’m not actively dreaming.

When I stop imagining the possibilities I want to achieve for myself, my current and future family, or my career, I slip into a listless shell of myself.

Do you experience this, too?

I observe the lives of others and wonder why I feel like an outlier at times – Hungry to taste everything I’ve ever dreamed of and ridiculous enough to believe it’s possible if I put in the work.

Attending the Time 100 gala.
A consistent career as a writer.
Financial independence by 25.
A new country traveled each year.
A home to someday share with a husband and children.

Some of these dreams (many of which I won’t share, lest they turn into my responsibility) feel silly in their extravagance and others are simple rights I believe every person should be entitled to as a clause within the words “pursuit of happiness.”

I’m aware on the criticisms imposed on my generation – Criticisms that dismiss this ambition and energy by remarking that Millennials don’t have a grasp on the limitations imposed by the current market or corporate culture. However, I can’t entertain them because doing so would mean ceasing to grasp at opportunities for excellence or ingenuity the only way I know how; With unapologetic zeal. Instead, I hope to understand the current state of the industry (and broader context of the world) I belong to in order to most effectively expand or break it’s bounds.

We’re in an interesting space in time where our generation is criticized by fore-comers while we simultaneously transition into positions of leadership at established companies, create new ones, build movements, and inform campaigns.

I look forward to seeing what we build together.

Next to Normal – Dylan Moore

When I asked him when he first started drawing, Dylan Moore laughed.

“Growing up in the home of an art teacher,” he explained, “makes it hard to distinguish a beginning. I’ve always drawn.”

As naturally as one’s hand is an extension of the arm, so has Dylan Moore’s art been an extension of his life. His talent is due in part to being born to a creatively talented family and bestowed a namesake heritage including the likes of Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas. The rest of it is credited to his relentless work at improving and capitalizing on the efforts that have carried him this far. Although he can’t remember when he began putting pen to paper, I remember the first time I was captivated by his work.

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I’d noticed Dylan, 24 years old and newly moved into Brooklyn, at church before. He sat in the row in front of me each Sunday, sketching as he listened, and I usually paid little mind to it beyond noticing how easily shape took form on the paper in front of him. This time, I glanced down at his sketch and was captivated by the portrait of a handsome boy whose eyes were covered by cicadas. He appeared on the page like magic, first in a series of fine outlines, then increasing in detail as the curves of his face were shaded in, and I remained transfixed by the kinship I felt with this boy who couldn’t see.

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I didn’t know it at the time but I was staring at a metaphor for the shadows I was experiencing in my personal life. I couldn’t put words to what I was going through and Dylan’s drawing made sense of it for a moment, making me feel less alone as I vacantly sat through service. I introduced myself to Dylan later that afternoon and shared my admiration for his sketch, feeling immediately embarrassed after having confessed to peering into a journal I was never invited to look into. 

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Ten months later, I found myself interviewing Dylan at a coffee shop in Park Slope, paging through stacks of his sketchbooks, laughing awkwardly as our conversation danced through the formalities of acquaintances, and musing over the origin stories of his many illustrations.

“I don’t feel like I communicate very well. I say more in art work than I can normally and I’ve always had a passion for it. My senior year of high school, I used to do theater stuff and had a director who said apply to art school to continue doing it. It just so happened to go in another direction.”

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Dylan himself is not easily forgettable with his fire red curls and gunmetal piercings. You get the sense that he doesn’t take his image very seriously but his naturally striking features combined with his quiet disposition makes his presence feel like it’s meant to be observed like a piece of art itself – To be engaged with from a distance, up for interpretation, and perhaps as a consequence, mistakenly interpreted as a reflection of other’s people’s perceptions rather than an accurate portrayal of who he is.

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Dylan’s scope of work explores the grandeur of nature and composites it against the understated beauty of the human body. In observance, his art reminds the viewer of a humbler time when we were more conscious of our mortality and it suggests we would benefit from reconsidering that time again – To reflect on our existence with the symbiotic miracles of carbon, oxygen, bone, and muscle that make it possible in mind.

“The driving themes in my work aren’t my own because I haven’t had a lot of life experience. I lean into other people’s ideas and use allegories inspired by science or whatever literature realm I’m exploring at the time.”

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“I did a big show in November exploring how people relate to nature. The overarching theme was the history of environmentalism and how our relationship with nature isn’t black and white. Whether you want to improve it or you’re apathetic to how your existence impacts nature, there’s a lot of gray area that isn’t considered when people talk about the environment. The things we do tend to have effects we don’t plan for. The show was called Balance because our relationship with nature isn’t black and white and neither is much else.”

Dylan quotes JC Leyendecker, Sterling Hundley, James Jean, and Odilon Redon as inspirations and like many of these artists before him, his own beginning as a professional has been possible through a series of lucky breaks, chance meetings, and tireless effort.

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“At first, it was very slow. I would rarely get illustration jobs. I was living in Charlotte after I graduated and was invited to do a piece for a gallerist. At this gallerist’s opening, I met another gallery owner who invited me to do a piece for them. I had to get my foot in the door and meet people naturally. I still do.”

As long as I’ve known him, Dylan has been humble about his work in a way that understates the appeal of it and allows it to speak for itself. Even each time I’ve complimented it, he seems embarrassed by the attention yet at the same time, he doesn’t minimize how much of his life has been rearranged to accommodate his career as an artist.

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From moving to New York, to working multiple jobs, and being commissioned for art on top of his regular hours, if there’s anything I’ve learned from befriending Dylan, it’s that making art is a sacrifice and whether your work is a kind master or not is beyond your control. Our economy is built to suggest that the value of your work is determined by those who will observe it and the pressure of this reality is felt by creatives – whether or not they believe it’s true.

“I don’t feel like I’m happy enough yet with what I’ve done so far I don’t anticipate I’ll ever feel happy with what I’ve done.”

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“If I sit through something I think is awful, it’ll get better the longer I work at it. I experience an ugly stage in every piece I paint and I used to get very frustrated about it. But it’s necessary. You have to go through the ugly, push to be better and get past the road block. As you practice that, you’ll notice your own eye for composition, contrast, and color improve as you do.”

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As Dylan left me with this advice, I thought about how appropriately it applied to matters beyond art. What helped me get through last year was fixing my eyes on what I knew mattered to me. What mattered to me was following Dylan’s example in pursuing a career I’d be proud of, lifelong friendships with people I respect and admire, and a commitment to my values whether others celebrated them or not. I’ve long considered the sacrifices each of these things would require.

The boy with cicadas is frozen in time.

I’m grateful to be seeing more than ever.