Something changed in me this year. I know, because I was on the phone with a friend a few weeks ago. I was telling her about all the work I’m putting in with Stry and Very Quotatious and the fellowship, and she didn’t say anything.
And then I saw her a few days later, and I told her that I was speaking at TEDxMU, and I mentioned that I’d started working out with a trainer for the Belly Challenge, and she just stared at me. It looked like she was trying to X-ray me, to look straight through me, to figure out whether or not she was talking to the Dan she used to know.
She knew something had changed. She knew that I’d started to find a new center.
I started to realize it, too. And I started to think about what had changed. And then it hit me. It feels like just a moment ago that I figured it out:
I fell in love.
And here I am writing it, and not caring how cheesy it sounds:
I fell in love.
And again, and again, because it is too wonderful not to say:
I fell in love.
I fell in love with the waking up in the morning absolutely full of awesome. With the feeling that I have when I’m absolutely exhausted after a workout. With the smile I have on my face when I cross something else off my TeuxDeux.
I fell in love with doing. I fell in love with building things. I fell in love with the work.
And then I started to notice a whole world full of fellow builders. Turns out I’d lived in this world the whole time, and I’d barely noticed.
I used to be stressed, and I still am. But now, stress is good stress. Excited stress! The “We’ve got a deadline to make because we’ve got shit to do!” kind of stress.
I find myself smiling a lot. I find myself in front of journalism classes, running around and jumping on chairs and yelling about building things and being awesome, and the students look at me wondering how much Starbucks it takes to make me this loud at NINE FUCKING O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING ON A TUESDAY, and then I tell them that I don’t drink coffee, and they look at me like I am absolutely mad.
And I am. You have to as mad as I am to do the things that I want to do.
There is so much to do, and there is not enough time, but that’s okay. The truth is, there is enough time for now.
And the truth is: When you are as in love as I am, it feels like I have all the time I will ever need.
And the truth is: When you are as in love as I am, time hardly matters at all.
What we build is what matters, and time is only there to show how long it can last.
Back in December, I went out to Phoenix for NewsFoo, a conference for 150 of the brightest minds in news. I’m not sure why I was invited; my guess is that I was there to keep the group’s average IQ from skewing too high.
Regardless: I was there, and at the conference, I got to give a five-minute Ignite talk. The gist of Ignite: Presenters get five minutes and 20 slides. The slides automatically rotate every 15 seconds. So it’s a whole song and dance type of presentation.
Back in July, I decided to defend my choice of telephonic device with a blog post, titled, “Why I Do Not Have a Smartphone.” Many people read this post, said they appreciated my opinion and then told me that I was a moron.
The questions about my phone persist. Every week, a handful of people offer to buy me a nicer phone. Many still ask me how I can live without a phone that checks email. The very sight of me flipping open my phone to take a call gets chuckles.
So I’ve decided to take a formal stand. This week, I launched Smartphoneless.com, a destination for me to post thoughts about and defense of my very phone. There are others like me out there, bravely venturing into a world where needing directions requires asking a live human for help, where taking a picture requires an independent photographic device, where playing Words With Friends is limited to the other fifteen Internet-connected devices we carry around in our bags. Smartphoneless is for the rest of us, the quasi-untethered who walk among the masses.
I may be an idiot by birth, but I use a flip phone by choice.
Follow along with my smartphoneless life, if you wish.
By now, you’ve probably read about Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea.” Mortenson, according to a “60 Minutes” report, embellished, fabricated and radically altered key details in his book.
Which is a roundabout way of saying: Greg Mortenson is a liar.
I can’t prove to you whether or not Mortenson has lied — I’ve never read “Three Cups of Tea,” and I wasn’t with him in Afghanistan or Pakistan to confirm or deny any details presented in that book — but I know he’s not alone among the accused. The list of writers alleged or proven to have told stories that were more fiction than non-fiction is growing. James Frey famously altered details for his memoir. David Sedaris has come under scrutiny for his words. All fall into a particular category of liars:
They are writers.
Writers — particularly writers who specialize in the re-creation of events that they themselves experienced — don’t always portray real-life events in the most accurate light. I’m not talking about outright lying — wholly inventing events and then claiming them as nonfiction isn’t excusable.
I’m thinking more of the nature of personal recollection. The best personal stories get told and retold, and often, they change. They become bigger than their parts. They operate in a vacuum independent of space and time.
They are, often, part-true and part-bullshit.
Everyone has a fish story — some have an entire memoir’s worth — and I’m okay with that. No one’s confusing David Sedaris for David Halberstam.
“Some of the allegations regarding Mortenson seem to fall into the category of poetic license — collapsing time to tell a better story. That was an issue that I discussed Saturday with James Patterson and Charles “Chic” Dambach on a CityLit Festival panel on memoirs. They both acknowledged taking some license in their books, and I really don’t mind that — but an author should acknowledge the practice in a preface or elsewhere in the book.”
I couldn’t agree more. But it shouldn’t stop at books. I think this very blog needs some sort of explainer as to the way I tell stories. I’ve seen what “60 Minutes” did to Mortenson. I don’t want to get the Steve Kroft treatment.
Dear danoshinsky.com readers,
The stories you will read about my mother on this blog are true. On the whole, at least. My mother really did ride a fire truck dressed as Mrs. Claus. She did hold up the ‘Hola, Dan, mi puta grande’ sign. She did once abandon me in a stroller to go chasing after a limo that was not actually driving Kevin Costner through downtown Washington. All of these things are true.
What cannot be verified as entirely, scientifically accurate are each of the conversations within the respective stories that appear on this blog. Those conversations appear here in the most complete version that memory will allow, and where my recollections differ from those of the other involved parties, such has been noted within the context of the story.
I cannot fully guarantee that every word here is exact. Some memories have worn beyond the point of recognition. There are times when I will tell one version of a story, and then, months later, I will tell an entirely different version of the exact same story. In nearly every case, the latter is a more embarrassing, degrading or absurd version of the story, and my readers have repeatedly requested stories that feature any or all of those qualifications.
I can guarantee this: these stories, in no way, have been embellished to enhance the credibility of the author (or his mother). They have not been edited to portray the characters within as overly competent or even decent.
These are my stories, and I am just doing my best to tell them. They are not meant to inspire you. They are not meant to portray life as anything other than absurd. They are here because I have lots of embarrassing stories, and other people like hearing them.
I remember that I didn’t like music all that much. I’d spent my childhood listening to sports talk radio — to 570, and then to 980 when it moved up the radio dial. I’d come home from school, and I’d catch the last hour of Tony Kornheiser’s show. I’d start my homework, and Andy Pollin and a team of local reporters would be talking about Redskins season. I’d go to bed listening to Ken Beatrice, a host with a Boston accent that would’ve shamed the “Car Talk” guys.
There wasn’t a backing track to my childhood as much as there was a whine — a low drone of Washingtonians, watching their sports franchises sink further into the muck, their only outlet a radio call-in show that catered to the most neurotic, most obsessed among us.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I started listening to music. It started during a summer up on the Cape, when I’d discovered a classic rock station with good taste. I learned that I liked U2 and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I discovered the Guess Who, and I remember listening to a lot of J. Geils Band. I made my first — and only — radio call-in request that summer: Van Halen, “Hot for Teacher.”
That fall, with some coupons I’d been birthday gifted, I went out and bought my first two CDs: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Greatest Hits,” and Jet’s “Get Born.” My first car, my grandpa’s Olds Eighty-Eight, had been passed on to a cousin. I’d come into possession of another Olds, this one white, and with a CD player. For all of three or four minutes in the morning, on the drive from Wood Acres to Walt Whitman, I rocked.
Of course, this isn’t a story about an 18-year-old who gets an Oldsmobile and falls in love with a quartet of Australian rockers who ripped off Iggy Pop. That wouldn’t be much of a story, really.
No, this is about this one moment I remember.
I remember that I’d made a left turn that day onto Whittier. I remember that it one of those in-between days in late winter — maybe February, maybe March — where the words “unseasonably warm” come to mind. I remember that my friend, Alyssa, had burned me a CD of a band she liked.
I remember turning left in my white Olds, and the school day ending, and the windows down, and the volume a little too loud, and the sound I didn’t know I wanted to hear.
The band was the Black Keys, and the first song on that CD was “10 A.M. Automatic.” It’s the kind of song that jolts you if you’re not ready for it.
Three notes in, I wanted to know where this band had been hiding from me. They had this massive sound. The recording sounded like it had been aging for decades.
Why hadn’t the classic rock stations been playing these guys?
I went home and Googled them, and I learned two things:
1.) They weren’t an old band. These guys were in their mid-twenties.
2.) There were only two of them.
Two guys could make a sound this big?
I bought their second CD, “Thickfreakness.” Then their first. I got to college, and I started buying more blues albums: Sonny Landreth, Hubert Sumlin. I read that Sumlin had played with a Howlin’ Wolf, so I had to look him up. I read that Howlin’ Wolf had been a contemporary of a Muddy Waters, so I Googled him.
Then I started working as a DJ at the college radio station, and that opened up an entire library of blues artists I’d never known. They’re old friends now: Lightning Hopkins, Cephas & Wiggins, Townes Van Zandt.
The Black Keys came to Columbia, Mo., in the winter of my sophomore year. I remember them being loud, and at points, louder-than-loud. I remember smiling as big as I’ve ever smiled.
There was the other thing I remember, too: I remember wondering why more people didn’t listen to this band I loved.
How could you listen to a song like “10 A.M. Automatic” and not love these guys?
I remember staying up late one night, before we had DVR. It was back in my senior year, a few months after I’d heard the band for the first time. They were playing Letterman. YouTube wasn’t out yet. I’d never seen them perform before. I remember looking around the TV, trying to see if there was someone else back there playing guitar or bass. I just couldn’t see how two guys could make that much sound.
I remember the first time I heard one of their songs as a backing track on a TV show, but I don’t remember the show. It was either “Entourage” or “Friday Night Lights.” But I remember smiling, because I knew someone else out there was going to hear that sound and fall for it just like I had.
This year, the Black Keys released an album called “Brothers.” It was their third full album since “Rubber Factory” — the LP with “10 A.M. Automatic” on it — had been released. Their most recent album, “Attack & Release,” had been produced by DJ Danger Mouse, he of Gnarls Barkley fame. The two band members, Dan and Patrick, had each released a side project. They’d also backed a hugely ambitious rap project, called BlakRoc, that somehow worked.
I’d been listening to the band for five years, and I’d pretty much accepted the fact that the Keys weren’t going to ever go mainstream. And I was okay with that.
And then they went big.
They won a VMA. Ended up on “Colbert.” Played “SNL.” Had a few music videos top a million hits on YouTube. Stopped playing dingy venues and started playing amphitheaters and concert halls.
The hipster’s dilemma, of course, is that I’m not supposed to feel that way. The Keys were the first band I ever loved, I ever felt was mine. And now they’re everyone’s. I’ll never get to see them play a venue as crappy as Columbia’s Blue Note again, and that’s where they’re meant to be heard. In a dungeon, preferably, or at least some place with exposed pipes and $2 PBR drafts. Last time they were in D.C., they played 5,000-seat DAR Constitution Hall. Next time, they’ll probably play Verizon Center, and 18,000 people will show up to watch.
They’re still one of my favorite bands, but they’re not just my band anymore.
But if they win this Sunday? Some kid’s going to go out, and… well, actually, no, that’s not entirely right. Some kid’s going to open up iTunes. He’s going to download “Rubber Factory.” He’s going to load it onto his iPod. He’ll go out for a drive. Maybe it’ll be a sunny day. Maybe the windows will be down.
Maybe he’ll hear those first three notes of “10 A.M. Automatic” like I heard them.
I hope he does.
I actually remember this one other thing. I was watching an episode of “Friday Night Lights.” This was about a year ago. It was one of those classic “FNL” montages — no words, just some light music and darkness falling and Dillon, TX, slowly melting away. I remember the music well: some fingerpicking on guitar, and a voice that absolutely ached.
I remember Googling the lyrics. The song was, “When The Night Comes,” by Dan Auerbach.
Dan Auerbach, the lead singer of the Black Keys.
And I remember feeling like I’d rediscovered that sound all over again.
For the last 10 days, there has been something wrong with me. I have been slightly more irritable than usual. I’ve been twitchy at work. I’ve gone through long spells when my mind appears to be in a very different place.
I’ll admit that this diagnosis hasn’t been doctor-confirmed. (1) But I’m still confident in it, partially because I can’t imagine many people have spent as much time thinking about their own ass as I have.
Some kids spent their childhoods looking up at the sky and guessing what each cloud resembled. My mother has stories of me, a two-year-old who’d come out of the bathroom describing in great detail what I’d just produced.
In fourth grade, when a family friend was asked what he was thankful for, he replied, “The toilet.” I just nodded in agreement.
Things get murky (4) about three weeks ago, when I started to feel an odd twinge in my right shoulder. I went to the doctor. His verdict: a pinched nerve in my neck. He told me to take two-a-day of some pill that had more Xs in its name than I cared for.
That night, after popping the first of the pills, I felt something where I didn’t want to. Let’s call it an unwanted tingle.
I blamed it on the chicken fried steak I’d eaten at lunch.
But the tingle was still there on the second day. On the third, I started to feel that something was seriously wrong. I looked, of course, to my stool. (5)
By week’s end, I was really worried. I was twitchy at work. I was tingly when I didn’t want to be — and where I didn’t want to be.
On day seven, I had to drop my laptop off at the store for some repairs — a note that would seem unrelated, except that afterward, I had a sudden urge to check WebMD for advice on my condition. I went to the public library to check my email, read the terms of agreement and decided that Googling anything beginning with the word “anal” might get me banned from all city buildings for the next year.
Finally, I got the laptop back. I checked first to make sure everything was in working order with my Mac — at least everything’s okay on this end, I told myself — and clicked toward my internal diagnostic confirmation.
Gastrointestinal problems? Check. Dermatological discomfort? Check. Special sensations? That might be one way to put it. Never had such an unspeakable tingle sounded more obscurer.
I walked over to the bathroom, where I’d left the bottle of pills on the counter. I felt up my shoulder, and I thought about my other twinge. Suddenly, the pain up top was tolerable.
The symptoms are now starting to subside, but the tingle was still there today. Also worth noting: I haven’t exactly figured out a way to casually mention my temporary condition at the office. It hasn’t been easy keeping my mind off of it, either.
In a chat with my boss this afternoon, I started to drift off. My boss asked if I was listening. I assured her that I was.
“I just can’t tell what you’re thinking about right now,” she said.
I squirmed a little in my seat, and I started to assure her that I had only two things on my mind. (6)
Then I decided that I probably shouldn’t think too much about any number two.
Though, you’ll admit, ‘slight anal leakage’ isn’t exactly a tough one to figure out. ↩
We’ve collected just about every one of his volumes. ↩