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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.

Recent writing: Jack Black’s YouTube, Black Mirror, tech+health and purging, comic’s return and more

9 Jan

“He’s blogging again? I thought blogging was dead.”

 

One of the predictions I made for myself toward the tail end of 2018 was that as the year wound down, things were going to get really quiet and really slow.

This was going to be my first holiday without a full-time job since… before college? Wow. That’s weird to even wrap my brain around.

I’ve been extremely lucky with freelance assignments and my ongoing gig on the radio thanks to Texas Mutual, but around October, it wasn’t certain that my contract for that work would be renewed for another year and how busy I’d be in November and December. I figured things would slow down to the point of worry; that I’d be stressed about money going into that shopping season and that everybody would stop answering their emails and I’d be left with an extended, unproductive hiatus.

That really didn’t happen. My contract was re-upped for another year of Tech Minutes, so I was working on scripts for that through the holidays. I’m still doing weekly segments for “Texas Standard.” And I’ve found a really nice home for weird, pop-culture article ideas on Book + Film Globe, thanks to the wonderful writer-turned-benevolent-editor Neal Pollack.

I also got involved in a few others things I’ll list below. This was a very different holiday season than years past, and with all the shifts and changes, it was nice to have some steady work going, but not be so swamped that I couldn’t take some time off to enjoy a little travel, our first real Christmas tree ever (I really gotta recycle this thing soon), and to catch up on some movies and books.

It was just last week I was saying how grateful I’ve been for how things are going and I keep feeling the need to reiterate it. It’s only because of the people who care about me and those who’ve been kind enough to keep me writing and making stuff that I’m able to sit here comfortably on a January afternoon and say that things are just fine, great, in fact.

So here’s what I’ve been working on that’s out in the world already:

I’m probably having the most fun doing stuff for Book + Film, where I’ve recently gotten to geek out about the most recent season (22!) of South Park, advocate for a forgiving re-watch (but only in 3-D!) of “Avatar” and break down the highly anticipated choose-your-own-adventure episode of Black Mirror, “Bandersnatch.” I liked it OK, I think? Or maybe not? I had mixed feelings about that whole thing.

Originally, the idea with Book + Film for me was just to do the occasional movie or book review, but given that I don’t go to the movies that often, it’s been refreshing to be able to write stuff about TV and other things that don’t quite fit neatly in a box. My most recent article is a review of Jack Black’s new video-gaming YouTube channel, Jablinksi Games, and I got to have a lot of fun with it. And bonus: free curse words! I feel so giddy and unrestrained!

Right before Christmas, the Statesman / 512tech ran a piece I wrote on holiday tech purging. You could also use it for post-holidays spring cleaning. This is one of those articles that has a little do as I say, not as I do.  I don’t always follow my own rules for eliminating clutter, but I swear I am trying to sell/donate/trash as much old technology as I can. I feel like it would be a lot easier if Marie Kondo would just come to my house and do it for me.

I’m still doing more pieces for the newspaper; a family column about taking my kids to see Paul McCartney in concert is running this Sunday (update: it’s been posted online!) and I have another one about what to do with digital family photos publishing sometime in the future.

Speaking of newspapers, I was quoted in a New York Times piece about the changing tech culture of Austin. It dovetails nicely with something else I’m working on, so I had already been thinking a lot about what we lose in a city this size when housing prices soar and it gets too expensive for a lot of people to stay.

On the “Texas Standard” radio show I recently talked about cryptocurrency regulation, whether Alexa or Google Assistant is better, how to save money online when you shop, more on year-end tech purging and what predictions I have for 2019’s tech world. This week, I did a thing about what’s new and weird at CES, the big electronics trade show.

I really should be wearing a costume for these things.

 

Also wearing the Omarstradamus seer headdress, I appeared on the TWiT TV’s Tech News Weekly to discuss what I expect for 2019. Two words: Folding phones! It’s gonna happen!

The other very cool development was that my brother Pablo and I revived our long-in-hiatus comic “Space Monkeys!” for a couple of new strips.

You can find our meditation on the word “Swole” here and a special Christmas comic over here. And we have a brand new one about Netflix and “Bird Box!” We’re having fun with it, so we will probably keep doing more.

 

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope you’re doing just fine and making some time to enjoy your life.

2018: Bulldoze; 2019: Foundation

2 Jan

 

2018 was my hardest year, the biggest year of change, the one where even my closest friends and family kept asking, “Are you OK? How are you handling all this?”

But it was also an incredibly rewarding year with lots of love and laughter; that’s the part a lot of us forget when we describe what a garbage year it was, that there were still so many wonderful moments to be thankful for.

I am thankful that after leaving a job of 21 years, the fears I had of not being able to support myself financially were unfounded. People came out of the woodwork to help me and to work with me and to open new doors for me and I worked hard to keep those doors open.

I am thankful that my daughters are healthy and growing and becoming wonderful, talented people that I love spending time with. And I’m thankful that I’m loved even when I’m not feeling very lovable or worthy.

There are a lot of things I’ll miss about my life before 2018, but this new path has been so unexpected and exciting, full of offers and new projects and love I could never have imagined for myself. I’m optimistic that will continue.

My incredibly prescient word for 2018 was “Bulldoze.”

For 2019, it’s “Foundation.” I hope that I can keep building a great life for myself and the people I love this year.

At ‘One Page Salon’

16 Nov

 

This is a piece I read in front of an audience at last week’s “One Page Salon” at the North Door in Austin. Thanks so much to Owen Egerton for the invite.

 

It’s going to be all right.

I can tell from your face that you’re not so sure if that’s true, so this is supposed to be reassuring. It’s all right. You’re going to be OK.

Unless something happens. Or things don’t work out. That’s definitely possible. Things go wrong for people all the time. They make a wrong turn, some barely-there decision, and suddenly they’re neck deep in manure. Not real manure, figurative manure. Do you know much manure you’re need for it to be up to your neck in literal manure? Even if you’re short? That sounds expensive. And trust me, you don’t have money to be spending on that right now.

Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean you can’t afford shit. I just meant you probably shouldn’t be spending money right now on THAT MUCH SHIT.

We’re getting way off track here.

So. Things seem a little weird. I get that. Maybe recapping will help.

You got divorced. Pretty quickly. After being married a really long time. That has to be jarring. The not-being married part. And you bought a house. Buying a house is a huge, ridonk headache, but you did it and now you live in that house and it even has pretty plants and a beautiful patio. Well done.

But then you stopped co-hosting a podcast you loved, one you’d been doing for five years and that stung a little. And, related: you stopped doing the podcast because you took a buyout and left a job you’d been at for 21 years. 21 years! That’s half your life! Wow! And now you’re freelancing, which is a very nice way of saying you’re an unemployed writer. Self-employed. Self-employed sounds better than unemployed or underemployed.

That’s lot of stuff that happened. And see, I think the problem — not that there’s a problem, things will be fine! — is that most people deal with stuff like that over a period of a few years, but you went and did all that in like three months. Some people have a mid-life crisis, you had … like… a midlife Cuban Missile Crisis.

But it’s going to be OK. Unless it’s not, but let’s not think about that.

You’re worried about money, but that’s never been your problem. You hustle, you work hard, you’ll make do. You’re worried that you don’t know what to do next. But remember all those days you sat in an office wishing you weren’t sitting there and feeling like you were wasting your time? At least you can waste your time on your own couch now. That’s an improvement, right?

You’re worried that you have stopped doing the thing that defined you, that everybody knew you for, the thing that gave you worth.

But what if it’s going to be all right?

And it’s just time for some new definitions?

At the Texas Conference For Women

9 Nov

Me and another guy standing outside a bathroom:‬

‪”They changed all the bathrooms to women’s.”‬

‪”That’s awesome! But… I really have to go.”‬

‪”Me too.”‬

‪”What do we do?”‬

‪”Well, don’t go in THERE. I know that much.”‬

‪”Maybe there’s one upstairs?”‬

‪”I’ll race you.”‬

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