the Real M.V.P.

Another day, another mass shooting in America.

Yesterday, it was the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City. It should’ve been a time and place for unbridled joy, a communal celebration. Instead it turned tragic in the blink of an eye.

It’s senseless. It’s heart-breaking. And it’s waaaay too frequent in the land of the free.

Thanks to the politicians who are in the pocket of the gun lobby, it’s always “too soon” to talk about the role that weapons play in these massacres. But I hope that eventually media superstars such as Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce will follow the lead of their teammate Charles Omenihu and use their platform to advocate for common-sense reforms.

That IS a fact, Charles. Here’s another: we, the people, want reform.

I hope when he’s done praying, Patrick (of gridiron and State Farm commercials fame) will be a good neighbor and also advocate for common-sense reforms.

And here’s hoping that Mr. Taylor Swift not only keeps his heart with all who have been affected, but also uses his voice to speak up and speak out. Because gun violence is something we know All Too Well.

A million people saw Charles Omenihu’s tweet. 10 million saw the tweets from Mahomes and Kelce. We’re not asking them to be role models. But they do have the opportunity, and the forum, to be leaders off the field as well as on it. Until then, Charles Omenihu is the real M.V.P.

At Your Service

I don’t spend a ton of time on LinkedIn (or social media in general) but below are two posts from other folks that mean the world to me:

I honestly couldn’t tell you how Jaylin and I first connected… a mutual acquaintance sent him my way more than a year ago. We chatted a few times, I gave him a few editing suggestions for his resume, threw a few companies onto his radar, and made some introductions. He’s a smart, enthusiastic young man, and I’m glad he found a spot to start his career journey.

I’m always willing to carve out time to talk to new/recent grads about career paths. I’m certainly no titan of industry (as witnessed by my checkered career), but even a schlub like me has some advice worth sharing with youngsters who are just starting out.

Matt’s being way too generous by billing me as a mentor. (I think it just means I’m older than he is!) But when we do get a chance to catch up outside the office (usually on a bike ride or a kayaking adventure), it’s great to be able to get beyond small talk and chat about bigger picture stuff. He’s a great dude — those Cleveland boys are the salt of the earth — and always fun to be around.

In the words of former Cincinnati Reds radio broadcaster Joe Nuxhall, I’m “rounding third and heading for home” in my career journey. But it’s nice to know I’ve had some impact along the way.

Cool Luke Hand

I think it’s cool that Luke Combs had a hand in putting Tracy Chapman and her 35-year-old song back into the spotlight.

Their Grammy performance is here.

Some have taken issue with the fact that a white country singer has “cashed in” on a song by a black female artist. But this is not a Pat Boone situation, where record labels would take a popular R&B song by a black artist and use white singers to create a sanitized pop version that was more palatable to predominantly white audiences. The most egregious example is Pat’s soulless cover of Tutti Frutti:

In this case, the cover came from the heart:

“My dad would play me that Tracy Chapman self-titled album, I just loved that song. So, when I went into the studio to record…I was like, what if we just did this cover of ‘Fast Car,’ just ’cause I want to do it?”

He clearly adores both the song and the songwriter:

“Tracy, I want to send my sincerest thanks to you for allowing me to be a part of your moment. Thank you for the impact you have had on my musical journey, and the musical journeys of countless other singers, songwriters, musicians, and fans alike,” the post continued. “I hope you felt how much you mean to the world that night. We were all in awe of you up there and I was just the guy lucky enough to have the best seat in the house.”

Luke Combs on his Instagram

It’s not like Tracy Chapman didn’t get recognition for the song when she released it – she won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance back in ’89 for “Fast Car” (and she won Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Folk Album for her debut album on which it appears, and “Fast Car” also was nominated for record and song of the year, while her album received a nomination for album of the year). She’s been nominated for 13 Grammys overall and has won 4.

Not to mention the fact that Tracy Chapman wrote “Fast Car” and owns the publishing rights, so her royalty checks have been getting a lot fatter of late.

Billboard estimates that Combs’ version has generated about $500,000 in publishing royalties globally from its March 17 debut through June 8. Chapman alone is pocketing a sizable portion of that total.

Source: this Billboard article from June of last year… the Grammys bump will take those totals way higher

It’s not about the money, though. Luke Combs has introduced a great song to a whole new generation. And if his audience tends to skew less hipster and more hip waders, so be it. He’s building bridges, and we probably could use a lot more of that today.

In fact, Luke’s cover of “Fast Car” won a CMA Award for Song of the Year – an award that goes to the songwriter, making Tracy Chapman the first black woman to win a CMA. So he’s helping break down barriers too.

“I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there,. I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’ ”

Tracy Chapman in Billboard last July

“All of this was done to honor the amazing woman, songwriter, and artist that she is, The entire opportunity for us to even be on a stage with Tracy Chapman is what this was all about.”

Luke Combs’ manager Chris Kappy in this Entertainment Weekly article about the how the Grammy performance came together.

Millions of new fans have found and embraced a great song by a stellar songwriter. Let’s give Luke a hand, because that’s cool!

P.S. My favorite Tracy Chapman cover is still this one:

Some Stuff about Stuff

This short Paul Graham essay from 2007 should be required reading for every American. In fact, we should have to read it at least once a year. Maybe around spring cleaning time.

Stuff is an extremely illiquid asset… The only way you’re ever going to extract any value from it is to use it. And if you don’t have any immediate use for it, you probably never will.

Companies that sell stuff have spent huge sums training us to think stuff is still valuable. But it would be closer to the truth to treat stuff as worthless.

In fact, worse than worthless, because once you’ve accumulated a certain amount of stuff, it starts to own you rather than the other way around. I know of one couple who couldn’t retire to the town they preferred because they couldn’t afford a place there big enough for all their stuff. Their house isn’t theirs; it’s their stuff’s.

Stuff takes up space. Not just in your home, but also in your head.

And unless you’re extremely organized, a house full of stuff can be very depressing. A cluttered room saps one’s spirits. One reason, obviously, is that there’s less room for people in a room full of stuff. But there’s more going on than that. I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what’s around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting.

I’m certainly guilty as charged on buying too much stuff, especially when it’s a “bargain.”

But one thing that might work is to ask yourself, before buying something, “is this going to make my life noticeably better?”

Stuff sticks around. It can haunt you.

The purchase price is just the beginning. You’re going to have to think about that thing for years—perhaps for the rest of your life. Every thing you own takes energy away from you. 

It’s better to free up some headspace for memories of life experiences, not stuff. Things like travel… or just time spent with good friends.

If I want to spend money on some kind of treat, I’ll take services over goods any day.

If you don’t take it from Paul Graham, maybe George Carlin can convince you:

Home (Court) is Where the Heart is

Xavier eked out a one-point win over Georgetown in men’s hoops last night. The key play on the court was a last-minute dunk by freshman Dailyn Swain.

The key play off the court happened at halftime, when dozens of… ahem, “mature” Xavier alums gathered to toast our dear friend Ned, who passed away in October.

Ned’s wife Felicity and their daughter Grace (front row, 2nd from left and left in the photo above) joined us. Yesterday would’ve been Ned’s 60th birthday, so it was a difficult day for them emotionally.

But I know they felt the love and affection from all of us gathered there to pay tribute to a wonderful human being. “All of us” being: LJ and Patty, Maynard and Teresa, Art and Sheila, Phil and Suzanne, Tom, Lisa, Maria, Drew and Lyn, Phil and Jenny, Jack and Sherri, Joyce, Chrissy, Eddie, Jimmy, Joe and LeAnn, Amy, Jill, Jackie and Mike, Lynne, Mike, Doug, yours truly, and some others I’m surely forgetting due to my… ahem, “maturity.”

We met at a bar in the upper corner of Xavier’s arena. The actual bar was taken from a longtime student hangout near campus called The Norwood Café (or “The Woods” in our parlance).

We spent countless hours at that bar with Ned some forty-odd years ago, so it was a very fitting spot for our gathering.

Those who couldn’t make it in person joined us in spirit in our toast, from all over the country.

I made a photo collage poster and we hung it on the wall near the bar… so many great memories with a guy who always made us smile.

I just read a Chuck Klosterman essay where he wrote that it’s irrational to think that just watching a game will have any impact on the outcome. But still we, the fans, believe it to be so.

Last night, we all left the arena smiling. And those of us who are Ned fans truly believe that he had a hand in making that happen.

It was Ned’s birthday, but we’re the ones who got the presents. Sure, the Xavier win was great, but the better gifts were the chance to gather, the hugs, the laughs, the smiles. Ned’s not here, but he’s still helping us win in the game of life.

Man & Woman vs. Machine

I hate winter. But I love this:

It’s a lovely illustration by a lovely person, my friend Damjana. She’s from Slovenia. I’m from Mars (a.k.a. Arkansas). I met Damjana and her friend Mija in Ireland 33 and 1/3 years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since (as also chronicled in this post from 2020).

I can’t help but smile whenever I see Damjana’s dancing snowman. Which is why I’ve printed it out and taped it on a wall of my “home office” (a.k.a. dingy basement). It’ll help me get through the dreary months ahead.

You can see more of Damjana’s illustrations here.

Real artwork, done by a real live human being – accept no substitute. Even in the age of AI.

As a WordNerd™ who has zero talent in the design/illustration department, I’ve always admired amazing artwork. As someone who worked at ad agencies for more than a decade, I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with some of the best artists around.

Keith Neltner. Tommy Sheehan. Rob Warnick. Chris Dye (working with his brother Nathan). Tom Post. Andy Sohoza. Each fantastic in their own right. Each with a unique style.

AI-generated art is nothing more than a synthesis of the handiwork of folks like them, and millions more flesh and blood artists.

If you’re just an inept artist like me and looking for an illustration for your puny little blog, sure, go ahead and use Dall-E 2, Stable Diffusion or Midjourney. But if you’re working on a commercial project, enlist a human being. You’ll get art with heart. Art that creates connection. Art that will make you smile. Totally worth it!

Anti-social Media

Here’s a suggestion for 2024: put down your phone, and pick up a book.

Yes, I know I’m the old man yelling at a cloud. You can’t fight the rising tide of the Facegram and the Tic-Tac (or whatever it is the kids are staring at for hours-long stretches these days).

But if it’s vicarious living that you’re looking for, drop your feed and feed your head a tome or three. In other words, trade the Kardashian sisters for The Brothers Karamazov.

“I consider reading the greatest bargain in the world. A shelf of books is a shelf of many lives and ideas and imaginations which the reader can enjoy whenever he wishes and as often as he wishes. Instead of experiencing just one life, the book-lover can experience hundreds or even thousands of lives. He can live any kind of adventure in the world. Books are his time machine into the past and also into the future. Books are his “transporter” by which he can beam instantly to any part of the universe and explore what he finds there. Books are an instrument by which he can become any person for a while—a man, a woman, a child, a general, a farmer, a detective, a king, a doctor, anyone.

Great books are especially valuable because a great book often contains within its covers the wisdom of a man or woman’s whole lifetime. But the true lover of books enjoys all kinds of books, even some nonsense now and then, because enjoying nonsense from others can teach us to also laugh at ourselves. A person who does not learn to laugh at his own problems and weaknesses and foolishness can never be a truly educated or a truly happy person. Also, probably the same thing could be said of a person who does not enjoy learning and growing all his life.”

Gene Roddenberry, in Letters to Star Trek

I plan to practice what I preach this year – unlike other years when my reading eyes were bigger than my book belly.

My goal is 52 books in 52 weeks. It’s gonna happen.

In summary:

May 2024 be Golden

Jim James is the lead singer of My Morning Jacket, a great band that started in Louisville, KY. He can be a bit “out there” at times, but the email he sent out to the My Morning Jacket mailing list yesterday is worth pondering as we flip the page to another year.

Maybe it’s a bit too “Successories posters” for you.

But there’s probably a nugget or three you can latch onto.

Be generous and compassionate. Pray for an end to all wars, an end to all violence and hatred. Work and pray for equality and love and universal human rights. Try to be honest and kind to everyone you meet – even if you are sad. Help someone along their way. Sing a simple song. Listen to the wind. Listen to the birds. Learn something new. 

May your 2024 be “Golden.”

Wrestling with Writing. And Vice Versa.

A few days ago, Cincinnati Magazine sent out an email touting their most popular stories of the year, with a three-pronged qualifier:

I’m not sure if they consider “pro wrasslin'” a sport. Doubtful. But I’m going to convince myself that they DO consider it a sport. How else could you explain the fact that the photo essay I wrote back in June didn’t make the list?

OK, I won’t delude myself any longer. Heck, I won’t even dupe myself into thinking that the “essay” part was the main event – Grant Moxley‘s photos were the real stars of the show.

But honestly, I wouldn’t care if the article was the least popular one of 2023. If you had told 10-year-old Dubbatrubba “in the future someone will pay you to attend a low-budget wrestling event, interview some wrestlers, and write a brief story about it” I’d have been so happy that I would’ve given you a celebratory Brainbuster. Or maybe a Camel Clutch. Or a Figure Four Leglock.

As a wee lad, the highlight of my rural Arkansas Saturday mornings was tuning in to professional wrestling on one of the two TV stations that we could get via our crappy rooftop antenna. (If you’re keeping score, they were the NBC and CBS stations out of Little Rock, a good 100 miles away. The ABC affiliate’s signal wasn’t as strong, thus I was denied a chance to see Happy Days in its prime. Talk about deprivation!)

I loved watching old-school pros like Dusty Rhodes, Andre the Giant, Ernie “Cat” Ladd, Sugar Ray Candy, and the Iron Sheik. I knew it was mostly an act, but it was a great escape from the challenges of everyday life. (And growing up poor in rural Arkansas, there were plenty of those!)

So when Cincinnati Magazine editor John Fox — an longtime friend of mine — asked me if I could write a photo essay about a minor-league wrestling organization based in town, I was ecstatic.

I loved the chance to connect my childhood avocation with my current vocation. It was an absolute blast!

I may never be a world champion in writing (or even win the “intercontinental belt” whatever that is), but at least I’m in the ring, taking my best shot.

P.S. having attended a Northern Wrestling Federation event where one wrestler did a backflip off the top rope and landed on another wrestler outside the ring, with only a thin piece of plywood protecting them from the concrete floor, here’s my response to anyone who tries to tell me that pro wrasslin’ is “fake.”

Shot to Hell

You never know what you’re going to find on Twitter* but it’s usually a hot mess.

*yes, I still call it Twitter – if the egomaniacal twit that owns it wants to pay me $8 a month, I will start using the new (lame) name.

Here’s a lovely Twitter post from Christmas Day – one that perhaps misses the mark by a country mile on the whole “spirit of the season” and “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” vibe:

Here’s a different image for you, Commissioner Gipson:

Thankfully the better angels joined the conversation to provide a bit of perspective for Gunnut Gipson:


Hey, Commissioner, your Twitter bio lists “missionary” among your credentials:

Why don’t you make it your mission to quit pandering to a very small minority. This reply summed it up nicely:

You see, Commissioner, until people like you start showing some common sense, Santa’s just gonna keep bringing us more senseless deaths.