Apocalypse Now and Later

We faced a monumental decision two months ago. 

Do we suffer death across the globe the likes of which no one living has experienced outside of a pandemic fiction novel or do we stave off unprecedented global depression and keep the machine of industry going? Both choices were the size of horse pills and bitter as hell to swallow. Yet somehow, our collective brain trust managed to swallow both – thanks to a slow response and an even slower desire to repair the damage with cold, hard cash. 

Incomprehensible death? We got it. People suffering from unemployment and terrified of this dark future we’re barreling toward? Right here.

Way to go, humanity.

As an apocalyptic event, however, The Stand this is not. Sure people are chalking up sidewalks with messages of positivity (“together apart” or something just as insipid), which remind me of episodes of The Walking Dead rather than spunky cheer, but they’re still going to Walmart to buy that chalk. They’re still collecting Funko Pops at Target and, worse yet, making pukeworthy videos of their braless boredom dances on Tik Tok, which is likely where our true apocalypse resides. We’re making fashionable “Rona” masks to wear when we walk our hairless cats and bringing baked CBD products to our already-stoned parents. We’re posting sunshine memes that basically ask the question, “Can you believe this shit?”

In essence, we’re intellectually dissolving the same way we always have, just without shaking hands. And this end times event kinda sorta has an end date.

The 2020 Apocalypse is like a Now and Later, the 80s candy that tore through our teeth like a diabetic tornado. In a way it’s a sweet reward to stay home and pat ourselves on the back for making a vague difference, sharing barely fleshed out conspiracy theories designed to keep us up at night giggling with sinister intent, but later it begins to tug at the soul. Even introverts ache for the sound of another voice, even if that voice just wants to know if we want fries with that. Like the Now and Laters of my youth, it’s not bad now, but later your stomach begins to ache. 

Even Edgar Allan Poe, papa to the modern mystery, had to hit the cobbled streets every blue moon. He’d venture from his Baltimore writing desk to absorb the wisdom and energy of those living in his town, before hunkering down to quoth the raven once again. Even he, I believe, would have written a sequel to Masque of the Red Death by now entitled Can I Take off this Damn Masque Yet? He was famous for one act of self isolation the Poe Street literati still jabber about – that of his final days. Poe was discovered wet and incoherent on a cold, rainy October day in 1849. He was so out of sorts that he died without offering a single sensible clue as to what befell him. He’d been missing for almost a week when he died. Had he been kidnapped, had he been “cooped,” or had he uncorked a drunken binge? The answer is still anyone’s guess. Read more about it here. One thing’s for sure, he could isolate the hell out himself.

Another famed mystery scribe pulled something just as isolationist, though she vanished more than thirty years later. Agatha Christie melted into shadow for eleven days in December of 1926. The constabulary were quick to start a search for the missing writer, as she was a local sweetheart in Britain, and found her vehicle quickly, but the famed mystery author herself was nowhere to be found. While she was eventually located alive, checked into a hotel under the assumed name of her husband’s mistress, Christie offered no clues as to her disappearance, or refused to, and the explanation has never to this day been revealed. Read more here.

Both knew the art of mystery well and proved adept at using them to self isolate in style, or at least memorably, leaving us to wonder how well we’ll perform when forced to do it for months at a time. 

Not that we have to wonder. Lose the bra, lose the mind, and hop on the Tik Tok apocalypse. Just don’t forget the chewy sweetness of it all when you do. I’m sure Poe wouldn’t forget, though I don’t think Christie would smack down on Tik Tok. She’s more a Twitter girl.

And don’t forget to keep that apocalypse hair off social media.

5 tips for non-fiction, photographic histories

 

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There are plenty of paths to success when on deadline. Some prefer to wait until the last minute, as pressure makes them produce. Others prefer the slow boil, working at a snail’s pace until it all comes to a head, but only one of these techniques helps when it comes to historical non-fiction, particularly the sort that require finding a lot of photographs and documents from a certain era. If you have to work with others, particularly organizations, start early. You never know what will happen, photos can be misplaced, just plain gone, and the documents you thought would help may prove lifeless.

With my Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History book, forthcoming from Arcadia Publishing, I lit a fire under my chair the week I got back the contract. As the Museum book marks my third Images of America challenge, I thought I would share five tips to making the process an easy one.

1. Be confident you can get the materials and photographs you need before submitting a proposal. This way you’ll go into the work without a forehead vein popping out. Keep a bibliography document open at all times so you can add your sources without a drop of stress sweat.
2. Start writing. Write early and write more than you need. I tap out a longer chapter first, then take a weed whacker to it. Stray bits of information can always be saved for the photo captions, where I believe the meat of the research resides. Copy and paste those bits to a separate document for later use. I create individual documents first, then marry them to a master doc at the end.
3. Pay attention to the important deadlines. With Images of America, there are usually a few of them. Try to get there early. You’ll feel good about yourself.
4. Spend the clock talking to the people who know a great deal about the subject. Buy them dinner if they seem up for it, or just smile warmly, but make sure they’re included. This way they’ll remember you over the coming months when they unearth something that would be cool in the book. Answer their emails, send them emails, just talk to them.
5. Be a photo wizard. You don’t need a wand, just a lot of pics. Gather more than you need, maybe a hundred more, or maybe just bunches more. It gives you a chance to weed out the so-so pics for the strong ones. In the newspaper business, editors prefer faces to be as big as a quarter, or failing that a dime, but any historic photograph that gets your heart hammering is a good photograph.

OPINION: Stop Blaming the Media

Interviewing actor Jon Voight during a fundraiser
(and after a monsoon soaked everyone)
for the Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2013.

These days it’s trendy to blame the messenger.

The media is stirring the pot, inciting violence, lying to you, etc., as if they were a giant hive-mind not made up of men and women toiling in poverty, but determined to undermine the stability of every neighborhood in America. In the newspaper business, most reporters can’t afford rent without having a roommate or spouse with a better-paying job. Most of us reading a news story make more than the person who wrote it.

As a reporter I was part of the team that broke the story on the nineteen Granite Mountain Hotshots that perished in Yarnell, Ariz. I photographed President Obama and his family at Grand Canyon. I’ve hobnobbed with drug dealers and celebrities alike. I may not be a reporter anymore, but I still cling to the tenets instilled in me while earning my degree in journalism. I was never a Borg.

Money

There are issues with the media to be sure, one being the drive for money. Newspapers, television news, and the rest are businesses first and foremost. They are out to make money and they go where the money is. Fox News caters and delivers news to a largely conservative audience. CNN the opposite. And in the drive to deliver 24 hours of news every day, they dangerously over analyze and guess at possible answers.

But who chooses the news? You do.

News is often created by what you click.

What is trending on social media? Let’s do a story on it, Obviously that’s what people are interested in. And it probably has something to do with a Kardashian. Let’s look at our website and see what our most popular stories were last month. Let’s do more stories on that, even if it’s got something to do with an unfounded conspiracy dreamt up by a sociopath. The readers loved it.

You feed the algorithm

It’s that simple. You clicked on it. You scanned headlines and chose something, and that was recorded by a simple algorithm and reported to the folks who gather the news. In any business, you give your customers what they want, and they base what the public wants by what the public clicked.

Still want to blame the media? Go right ahead. Should the media behave more responsibly and operate in a vacuum? They won’t be in business long if they do. Should they become non-profits, controlled by the state, or produced for free? Think about it.

Let’s just call it a conspiracy.

It’s easier to click on questionable news sites where those educated in journalism are nowhere to be found, where you find lies that conform to your beliefs, whether left or right, rather than looking in the mirror. These sites sell you hyper-sensationalism and trade on paranoia. But trust them if you’d like. Trust they are telling you a truth not to be found anywhere else, even though there’s no way to know where these stories really came from – that these sites don’t make money from every click.

Do you really want mainstream media to behave differently? Stop clicking on the stories you complain about. Lay off the sex, the death and the cute animals acting like humans. Redirect the flow. Bring back the news that matters to you.

It’s in your hands.