Be yourself, be kind … and read often

Published 10:44 am Saturday, July 22, 2017

To quote the bard: Parting is such sweet sorrow.

By the time you read this column, I will have worked my last day at the Austin Daily Herald, which makes this my last column.

A myriad of ideas crossed my mind as I knew my last column was approaching. I thought of witty, elaborate and big things I thought about saying — stuff about the news industry in the Trump era, stuff about the changes in newspapers, the worth of newspaper … and so on.

Email newsletter signup

But when I sat down to write this column, all of that was gone; they felt empty and just not me. My thoughts were boiled down to a few simple ideas:

Be yourself, be kind and, if I’m to sound a bit like an old man, read. Really, do creative things as often as you can.

First, it’s time I come clean: When I started at the Austin Daily Herald in October 2009, I didn’t think I’d last long.

I doubted I had the stuff to make it on daily deadlines. A few years later, I thought the same thing when I took the job as editor. I doubted I could keep up with the pace, just like I doubted I could keep up with writing a weekly column.

But somehow, here I am more than seven years later with at least some people sad to see me go.

I learned one lesson in high school that I actually successfully put into practice early on at the Herald. Just be yourself.

I was one of two captains of the Albert Lea High School Marching Band drumline back around the summer of 2004. I can still remember getting in trouble with the band director for, long story short, trying to lead the drumline like my predecessors had led it before. I was trying to be someone else instead of being me. Long story short, that got me in trouble.

I didn’t fully get the lesson of that until years later after I became the editor at the Herald and was second-guessing some of the decisions I’d made. We handle quite a few sensitive stories here, and I was handling them in a way that felt right to me, which I feared occasionally went against how some of my predecessors would handle it.

Finally, I decided — to quote Shakespeare again — “To thine own self be true.” Or, as one of our past Herald interns liked to say: “You do you.”

The more I was myself and trusted my instincts, the happier I was — and the better I did at my job, at least by my own assessment.

Second, be kind. A saying has been used a lot in the Herald newsroom, which I think is credited to Eric Johnson. To paraphrase with a different four letter word: “Don’t be a jerk.”

Be kind and fair to the people around you, and that will make a big difference. But, as we all know, that doesn’t happen too often.

I love this quote from Kurt Vonnegut:

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God [expletive deleted] it, you’ve got to be kind.’”

In a professional sense, kindness has meant trying to be sensitive and fair here at the Herald, and I’m happy that a few people upon hearing I was leaving said they appreciated my articles were fair. That meant a lot.

And I can’t resist another Vonnegut-ism, which I’ve often shared here: create something to “make your soul grow.” And I’ll add: Read something — anything — to make your soul grow.

But for me, reading and audiobooks have helped me keep the weird world of social media and daily stressors at bay.

Finally, thanks to my readers, supportive family and everyone in town. It’s been fun to hear comments about columns, articles and the Herald in general — at least most of those comments. And I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know the community and its many great people. You will all be missed.

I’ll miss my coworkers, both current and former ones, and working in the Austin community, which really is a vibrant town with a lot of promise.

Thanks for the memories, Austin.

Some final listens

Since I started this as a music column, I wanted to give you a list of the albums I most often go back to that I came across in my time writing Listen In. Here they are:

“Angles” by The Strokes

This is one of the first albums I reviewed while writing Listen In, if not the first. It’s a great, peppy album from one of the best garage bands around.

“Helplessness Blues”

by Fleet Foxes

This has been one of my favorite albums since it came out. I can still remember listening to it for the first time on a bike ride and feeling blown away during this jazz-like bridge in the middle of “The Shrine / An Argument.”

“Regions of Light and Sound of God” by Jim James

This, I believe, is one of the only albums I gave a five-star review while writing my column. Sure, I was probably more fanboy than staunch reviewer in that. However, I love James’ creativity and sound in his solo works, both in this album and “Eternally Even.”

“Circuital” by My Morning Jacket

This was my introduction into My Morning Jacket and its lead singer Jim James. Their albums are always solid, but trust me: They’re better live. Perhaps one the best live rock bands I’ve seen.

“Seeds” by TV on the Radio

This is perhaps the album that I keep coming back to over and over. It underwhelmed me at first, but it’s an album with tons of depth and feeling. And it’s downright catchy.

“On the Water” by Future Islands

Just after I listened to this band, I went to their concert with a lifelong friend and chatted with a few band members. They’ve been a favorite ever since.

“The King of Limbs” by Radiohead

No band has better hit my moods more consistently than Radiohead, which has long been my favorite band. I wrote about the unique “newspaper” style.