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On being a Band Dad

30 Nov

Photo by Omar L. Gallaga

I haven’t done a lot of personal writing this year due to … a lot of things. Just some personal ennui, and a general fatigue with journalism, and a sudden interest in stock trading of all things.

But I sometimes do miss the kind of writing I was doing on Medium the last couple of years after I left the newspaper. I got to be more myself in my writing than I ever had before and then I just stopped when leadership changed over there and I stopped getting paid for assignments.

Well, whether I’m getting paid or not (decidedly not in this case), I still like to share, so here’s something I wrote over there, completely on my own, about what it’s been like to be a marching band dad. Hope you enjoy it.

2020: Big

9 Jan

An Email from the Realtor for the House from ‘Hereditary’

28 Jun

Dear Mrs. Fentonwick:

Thank you for your interest in the property at 129666 Paimon Lane. We’re thrilled to have this gorgeous house on the market after a lengthy delay and I’m happy to address the questions your client has sent since we met at the open house last week. I’ll answer them in order:

  1. The house is not currently zoned for a school district. It was previously in the Salt Lake City School District, but the zoning was redrawn a few months ago with the property just out of the boundary. If this is a problem, we can petition the school district, but in the meantime, I’m happy to provide a list of private tutors and private schools in the area. This might be a good opportunity to consider home-schooling as an option!
  2. I’m embarrassed about the dense trail of ants in the hallway your client walked into at the open house. We contacted pest control immediately and I am enclosing a receipt for that work. The swarm of flies was also cleared from the attic.
  3. Since the open house, all markings and candle wax pools have been removed from the interior of the treehouse, as we discussed. The religious group that was using it for small gatherings has since relocated to its own church and did a thorough job cleaning.
  4. On the matter of the 1/12-scale miniature houses and dioramas your client asked about: good news! Any undamaged works left in the house by artist Annie Graham will be included with the home. Since her disappearance, the art gallery she was working with dropped its request for the pieces, and they will remain on the property with the exception of “Charlie Decapitated,” “Quicksand House,” and “Family On Fire,” all of which are still being held as evidence by the sheriff’s department.
  5. There are no longer any bleached, naked people lining the bushes alongside the house. We have asked those individuals to leave informing them that heads would roll if they stuck around, and so far, they have respected the request.
  6. We were unable to remove the leather-bound notebook from inside the fireplace. It’s stuck pretty firmly in there! Please consider this a conversation / art piece.
  7. The looping symbol that is carved throughout the house and on some of the remaining furniture is obscure, but we believe it’s Gaelic for, “Good luck and good fortune!”
  8. The welcome mat at the front door is included with the house. Very fortunate that “Charles” is your client’s name as well!

If there are any other questions about the home, the treehouse, or the surrounding property, please don’t hesitate to contact my office. This unique, rustic property is a steal and I’d appreciate it if you could convince this family to buy the house! I haven’t slept in weeks.

Shonda Conroy
Eighth Circle Realty 

What’s next?

23 Apr

New me, new cards


Change is trauma, I guess, or at least a shock to the system you can’t really gauge without some perspective.

Your body re-forms a lot of its own cells constantly as you move along in this world and in a decade you’re mostly not even physically the same parts. And I can imagine that a sudden change of environment, a big swing of emotions and priorities and goals must speed that along, the stress-shedding of even more skin and bone and follicle.

Last year was all about change, the “Bulldoze” year, this year was “Foundation,” building on new ground and starting new things.

It’s late April and there’s a bit of a lull right now. South by Southwest took up a lot of my energy in March (more on that below) and the weeks leading up to that and as soon as that was done, I dived into a big project for a publication I’ve always wanted to write for that I hope to post about here really soon. That took me into early April, then I had to finish up my taxes, which were incredibly complicated and weird for 2018, and then I was in the middle of some home appraisal stuff, preparation for a whole other project that I’m excited about and now it’s now and I’m taking a deep breath and resting a little bit and seeing where I am.

Everything from like Halloween to Easter is a big blur, preparing from one holiday to the next, traveling a lot, spending as much time as I can with my kids now that I’m not rushing home from an office after 6 p.m. every night against traffic.

I got past the bit where I was stressing out about money every day. Even after I knew that a contract I signed for 2019 was going to keep me financially OK, I was still worried about Christmas gifts, the costs of all these house things that needed repairing or improving, the ridiculous cost of having basic health coverage as a freelancer, and this looming fear that whatever I owed on my taxes for what turned out to be a windfall year (minus putting a down payment on a new house) was going to wipe me out.

now it’s now and I’m taking a deep breath and resting a little bit and seeing where I am

That didn’t happen, but I still have that nagging need to hustle, to keep accepting assignments that only pay $50-$100 just to keep income flowing instead of wasting time, just to cover dinners and dental visits, to hedge against some future costly emergency. Not every day anymore, but often enough that I can’t sit still for very long.

There are days that are incredibly relaxed, when there is nothing due and no place to be when I can work on the shed/guest house that came with this house with my dad, putting up particle board and using saws and drills. Those are days when I can catch up on movies I missed when my life was too busy (shoutout “Civil War”), or to just go the gym and not feel rushed to get it all done in 45 minutes.

But it’s not without problems. I get bent out of shape chasing invoices that don’t get paid for a long time, I always feel like I should be writing more, even when there’s no assignment in front of me, I have that fear of disappearing and being forgotten because I’m not pushing stuff out there like I used to.

When I went freelance last year one of the first things I put on my to-do list was “Make business cards.” I played around with some designs on the Kinko’s website and wasn’t really happy with any of them. My brother, who’s much better at design than me, agreed they weren’t great and I just kind of put it aside. Truth be told, I don’t get asked for a business card very often, but the few times I did at interviews it was always that awkward, “Oh, I don’t have them yet, working on it…” and I wanted something to hand out, even if it was a happy face on a piece of lunchmeat (how great would that card be? But you’d have to keep them in a mini fridge you always carried around.).

So after SXSW I used a coupon code I got from a very good Moo booth at the event where they gave out lots of samples of their stuff. I threw something together that I ended up really happy with. Sure, the fonts are all over the place and the photo could be sharper (it’s a picture of a picture), but it reflects me more than some simple modern design. They came so beautifully packaged in little ornate boxes that I felt spoiled, like I was treating myself to something I really didn’t deserve. Moo really makes lovely stuff, you should give them a try if you need cards or other printed stuff.

The only thing on it I really wonder if I should have done differently is the title. “Technology Culture Reporter.” Is that what I still am, more than 20 years since I started using that title? Aren’t I doing a lot more than that? Is there room for me to list all those things? It it better not to pigeonhole myself at all?

Maybe by the next round of cards, I’ll be something completely different.

South by Southwest 2019

Photo from me at the Henry Winkler acting workshop panel. He was magic.

A month ago, it was South by Southwest, maybe, I don’t know, the 15th or 16th time I’ve gone (there were a few years in the early 2000s where my main job wasn’t so tech focused so I skipped some).

I always thought that if I left my job at the Statesman, that would be the end of me being obsessed with SXSW every year and running around covering stuff. But a month before, I got asked to contribute as a freelancer for Austin360 and the Statesman’s business desk and to get badged up and so there I was, back in the mix. But it was really different this year in a lot of great ways.

For one thing, I didn’t spend a couple of months planning and prepping and writing lots of previews and exhausting myself so much that by the time SXSW starts, I’m already burned out on the whole thing. It was nice coming in fresh, doing the things I was assigned to do (or other assignments I picked up for other publications on top of my initial list) and then spend the rest of my time actually enjoying SXSW.

Ironically, I managed to get sick the day it all started with what we call the “SXSW Crud,” but a week earlier than usual, so I soldiered on with boxes of Kleenex and a very phlegmy cough, but managed to make it through.

Working with the Statesman team did give me the opportunity to go back and sit in on some planning meetings and to visit the newsroom again, something I hadn’t done since around October. I’ve been telling people that I don’t really miss the newsroom or the act of committing daily newspaper journalism, that what I’ve really missed are the people I worked with and the feeling that comes from being part of a large team working together to make something bigger than any one of us.

That’s true; I miss the social part of my job, being able to look up from my computer monitor and seeing friendly faces of people I respect and admire.

But when I visited, I didn’t expect the warm wave of nostalgia I got from just riding the elevator, the one I’d ridden thousands of times before. The little warm fuzzy from being recognized and greeted at the security desk, the temperature of the conference room and the scuff of the conference room chair on my legs. I was in that newsroom for more years than I’ve ever lived in any home in my life, and that’s probably going to remain true for a really, really long time.

I don’t miss being there every day, but the thought that in a few years it may not exist — that the staff will move to an unfamiliar place as the building is razed or built out into something else — fills me with a lot of sadness. But I guess I’m learning how important it is to make new homes, to find new places you love, and to be out in the world more.

I’m trying to explore more, to be less tied to locations and rooms, to feel as comfortable in wide open spaces than in bulb-lit interiors. It doesn’t always come natural for me.

All I did for the Statesman at SXSW:

CNN’s clubhouse at SXSW was… bogus

In the lead-up to SXSW, I also got asked to double up on some panels and write different versions for the journalism organization Poynter. This was a much bigger challenge than I was expecting! South by Southwest is exhausting enough and when you find the time to sit and write something, it’s a small miracle, but then to start over and try to write the same thing again, the thing you just pretty much said what you wanted to say about, from a different angle… well, that was tougher than I thought it might be.

So for Poynter, I offered a more journalism-focused take on the Trevor Noah panel, a more Poynter-iffic take on the panel about rural/Trump country reporting, and a third piece that wasn’t double-up for the Statesman, a very powerful panel about covering family separations at the border.

SXSW activations, always a constant

And because I wasn’t done overloading myself with work, I also did two pieces for a blockchain news site, Modern Consensus. I interviewed Austin’s Dave Sikora after he did a panel and I covered a “Blockchain deathmatch” panel that included Jimmy Song, whom I profiled a few months ago for Breaker Magazine. And for the Book + Film Globe site, I did a wrap-up of all the crazy SXSW activations including ones for “Game of Thrones” and “The Highwaymen.”

We told her how much we loved “Russian Doll” and she was nice enough to take a pic with us.

It wasn’t all work, though. I still got to have fun and hang out. Thanks to Jeana, who was not as shy as the rest of our group, I got to meet Natasha Lyonne at an afterparty for a premiere of “Booksmart” where Santigold played and Olivia Wilde celebrated a birthday.

I ate a fucking lot of cheese. I gave good cookie advice. I bought a “Nancy” shirt that arrived in time to wear for at least one day of SXSW.

There was lots more, but like every SXSW, it has already started to fade and compress and feel like one long fevery dream where everything happened all at once.

South by South Rest

Here’s the rest of other things I’ve been working on since February.

For the aforementioned Book + Film, I did a review of Rooster Teeth’s Austin-made anime gen:LOCK which I really enjoyed. I finished off the season after this review was published and I thought it finished strong and left me wanting more. I also reviewed another Austin-made creation, Battle Angel: Alita, which I liked a lot less. Comment writers noted that I don’t seem familiar with the source material, and boy howdy is that true. I had major problems with the film version.

I had much nicer things to say about the pretty perfect conclusion of Broad City. Most recently, I wrote a mixed-bag review of Donald Glover’s strange but also strangely compelling mini movie Guava Island, now available on Amazon streaming.

For the Statesman, after SXSW, I wrote about a really great exhibit that took place at the Texas capitol building, “Refugee Is Not My Name.”  For the business section, I did a piece on Austin-made AR pet-adoption app “Furiends.”

And, new freelance gig! I started writing some piece for Barnes & Noble’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog.  My first two pieces were a roundup of scariest Stephen King books that aren’t Pet Sematary and a roundup of six very funny comic books / graphic novels you should be reading.

Wendi Aarons and I returned for our second piece together at McSweeney’s. It was timed to Equal Pay Day but ended up running a few days after that. It’s called “If Women Completed Work Based On Their Percentage of Wages Compared To Men.” I thought it came out really well.

And for Texas Standard, I did a whole bunch of things, here’s that list of topics:

I should also note that I’m still doing daily audio segments for Tech Minute Texas; the site has been updated with 30 more segments, so we’re up to 130 total and I’ve got more coming.


When I wasn’t working, I celebrated a birthday, did a long-ass 8+ mile hike for a waterfall in Arizona, ran a 5K with my daughter,  got confused for a dog, adopted three fish as pets, got into a fight with Build-A-Bear, celebrated Manu Ginobili’s retirement, made a really dumb video nobody saw, saw Kacey Musgraves in concert and got excited for Latino Comedy Project’s upcoming new show. I’m not in it, but I backed the project and can’t wait to see how it turns out.

These have been good months and I can’t wait for summer.

Jimmy Song’s Bitcoin faith, ‘Russian Doll’ and other recent writing from a time vortex

11 Feb

Jimmy Song photo

Photo by me, for Breaker Magazine


I was warned, repeatedly, that freelance life was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, particularly in regards to working with editors and with getting paid.

Five months into my post-job life, I am finding that’s not only true, it’s fuckahellatrue, like so true it makes all other reality a fiction. You know that movie The Truth About Cats and Dogs? This freelance stuff is more true than even that film, my apologies to Janeane Garofalo, just speaking my truth.

The rhythm is what has been throwing me off, the sense that deadlines are much more fluid, that the time between the time I turn something in and the time that it’s published can stretch and stretch (to months, even), that I can get paid for something I wrote within two or three days, or two or three months.

These are not novel concerns, these aren’t new issues, every freelancer I know is a choir in no need of preaching to on this. But for me, someone who spent 21 years adhering to schedules and budgets and deadlines and calendars, it has sent me into an existential time dread.  Someone who cares about me deeply recently pointed out that I seem to have lost all sense of time, and that’s not inaccurate. Sometimes the weekdays just fly by because I have no deadline to wake up early, no deadline to get assignments done and plenty of “Overwatch” and “Apex Legends” to play.

Not that I’m wasting my days doing nothing (my Netflix viewing is up like 80 percent, though, make of that what you will), but I’m working in shorter bursts, not sitting at my desk soaked in the monitor glow all day.  I don’t keep up with Twitter as much as when it was in my face for 8-10 hours a day. I answer emails on the go, sometimes I’m not even at home or in Texas when I do.

I had a week recently where it felt like nobody was responding to emails I’d sent and pitches I’d made, where I didn’t have any urgent writing pending apart from some long-term deadlines I’m in the middle of, and I didn’t even have any thoughts worth Tweeting.  There began to be a sense that I was disappearing, that I was losing the thread of myself and what I was supposed to be doing outside the normal family/house/pet obligations. It was a weird displaced feeling, but not completely unwelcome. At the height of my time at the Statesman, when I was putting out stories and podcasts on top of all the freelance stuff I was doing, I sometimes got tired of hearing my own voice, got tired of being the carnival barker peddling my own warez all the time.  I wanted quiet, I wanted to stop talking, I wanted to retreat into myself for a little while and be still.

And now I’m getting some doses of that and… it’s an adjustment. Be careful what you wish for, right?

But then that quiet is broken up by responses and publishing and money in the mail, and suddenly I’m back into it.  It was just temporary.  And now I’m talking again.



I woke up this morning determined to get going early, to make this week count. And to my surprise, I saw that a story I’ve been working on since last year was suddenly published.

Breaker Magazine is a New York online publication that pushed out lots of news and culture stories about the blockchain and Bitcoin scenes.  I got hooked up with them last summer by a mutual friend and in the fall, I started working on a profile of Jimmy Song, an Austinite who was making waves in that world with some very strong (and often brutal) opinions.  I met up with him and found him to be super nice and easy to chat with, a contrast to his sometimes spiky online hot takes, and a fascinating subject.

The story went through some significant edits and a major rewrite, resulting in more rounds of interviewing.  I’m so pleased with the result; it’s been a long time since I went through a process like that, the kind of edit where you begin to question your own self-worth as a writer, but I was so lucky to have editors who could see the finish line and what the story could be.

I think Jimmy is something more people in Austin’s tech scene should know about.

Elsewhere in the Omar-verse, I’ve been keeping busy writing culture reviews for Book + Film Globe and additional stories for the Statesman.

The great Natasha Lyonne. Credit: Netflix, yo


I did a review of the excellent Netflix series “Russian Doll.”  Honestly, I could have written another 5,000 words about the nuances and greatness of this show, but it was written the weekend the series debuted and I was trying really trying hard to keep any spoilers out of it because it really is something best viewed fresh. The review seems to have resonated with people who were unsure about investing time in the show. A Facebook friend wrote, ” I literally went from zero to 100% in terms of interest in this series,” so that was nice to hear.

In other Netflix-related writing, I reviewed the last bunch of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” episodes for Book + Film Globe.  I had given up on the show early in Season Three, but decided to catch up over the holidays and I’m glad I did. Despite some of its faults (and I get why people started to turn away from the series), I think it ended well and that the stuff it was good at (dense joke writing, absurdist characters) vastly outweighed the problematic. If you fell off, too, I really think it’s worth finishing.

For Austin360, I followed up my Paul McCartney concert column with something a little bit less emotional, a story about how bad I am at organizing all my digital photos and videos. Here’s a little clip from that video I describe in the story:


I also wrote a more newsy daily story for the business section about Retro Studios taking over development of Nintendo’s “Metroid Prime 4.” A big deal for gamers!

On the “Texas Standard” radio show, we’ve done segments about smart watches and health, about why Instagram is doing so well (plus viral egg photos), Apple’s recent security/privacy woes, and a follow up on that Austin360 photo organizing piece.



Things are pretty good! It looks like I’ll be covering South by Southwest again for the Statesman next month and I have some other projects and pitches in the pipeline.  Thanks to everybody who’s been supportive.

If you’ve made it this far, all three of you, I want to ask — would you be interested in an email newsletter of stuff like this and some additional writing/recommendations/multimedia?

I’ve been mulling doing that (and maybe cross posting it here).  I definitely wouldn’t charge for it, at least not until I felt it was something worth paying for, and maybe even then I’d just do it as as additional content.

Some of my favorite online writers have been doing really interesting stuff with their email newsletters and I wonder if that would give me incentive to update more often.

Anyhoo, if you have thoughts, let me know!

‘All You Need Is Love’

21 Jan

I mentioned in it in the last post, but the Statesman published my lengthy, very personal piece about taking my kids to see Paul McCartney. When I wrote it, I wasn’t expecting it to be a Sunday features centerpiece, so that was a really nice surprise.

One thing I didn’t really get into in posting this before is that now that my kids are 11 and 9, I’ve been thinking a lot more about how and when I write about them online. I still Tweet about funny things they say and do once in a while, but I’m not a full-time family blogger and as they’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to be a lot more careful about letting their stories be their own and not for public consumption.

Like a lot of longtime bloggers, I was absolutely horrified by a recent piece on the Washington Post by a blogger who has chosen to go another way.  For this piece, I ran the final draft by my kids for approval before I sent it to an editor.  The thing is, maybe even that’s not enough. Can a 9 year old really give approval to have her photo and a story that involves her run online and in print where thousands of people will likely see it?  I think on some level my kids understand what it means to have a photo of them on Instagram or to get comments on Facebook about something. But I wonder and worry sometimes about this larger kind of exposure, the kind that lives permanently online, searchable in archives.  I think it’s up to every writer to figure out how not to hurt the people around them that they write about.  But it’s getting absolutely trickier; I’m finding myself having more conversations with my kids about what is OK and not OK to post online and who will see it.

In this case, the feedback on the article was really positive and my kids were happy with seeing it published.  Which was a huge relief.

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