Sunday, July 27, 2008

240. "The Stigma of the Yellow Envelope" First Ever Op-Ed Published at the UC Riverside Highlander

My Easter Day Card from UC Riverside Parking Services. It's nice to know that the University really cares about me and the students in general.
First Op-ed Letter Ever Written was tragically not a scientific subject, but on parking tickets.
The original article. You can retrieve the pdf file of this article at this link:
They left out the photocartoon and the graphic title "The Stigma of the Yellow Envelope." Almost sounds like a modern blockbuster airport sleeze novel that is varying the themes of The Scarlet Letter.
The newspaper the article was published in. Date included. Sometime in April. Someone contacted me two weeks after the article was sent. Talk about "lag time" transactions.
I was honored to share the same "leaf" page with this clever cartoon above. A moment of brilliance in a not-well known student newspaper. Perhaps a little better than UCSB's Daily Nauseous (quote a geology professor for saying that!) simply because the newspaper is more conservative about the subject of sx and partying.
I also shared the VERY SAME PAGE with a giant Chipotle Burrito ad. That is just so awesome! Mexican food is overally very tasty and very unhealthy but Chipotle is a chain burrito place that you will leave not feeling guilty for what you ate--but perhaps feeling a bit full. The food is also a little bland for me. American version of Mexican food. *Sigh*

I am so excited to expose a monumental feat, the initiation of a good habit, a next step toward institutionally incorporating my brain into society... I had my first ever newspaper op-ed/letter published at the UC Riverside Highlander during the spring of 2008. It's a new layer I have added to my life, beside the usual self publishing on lulu and on my own blog. I am slowly learning to take the "next step" in the protocol of publishing: after you finishing writing a piece, you submit your work to multiple sources and see whether these sources accept or reject you. It's an experiment, you see. Right now, my strategy is to submit to the "top sources," and if that doesn't work, you submit to the "local sources." It's the same totem pole effect with scientific jourals. Sort of. There's a "hierarchy of prestige" in terms of where you get your verbage some published PR. The best part is that even though you get a few "misses" with publishing, when you do get a "hit," you start establishing a bond and relationship with the publishing source. Which then becomes fun. Your first "hit" is the hardest hit. But after that, you start establishing routine interactions. And that's when things can start getting on a good publishing groove.
I realized that I in part want to be some form of journalist--more so an investigative science writer (not one of those people who mindlessly crank out 700 word articles on a daily basis just to fill up space). I have been encouraged by this pathway ever since I met Sarah Simpson, the wife of Tim Lyons who is a Geology Editor at Scientific America. I was further encouraged after I met the whole gang of aspiring science writers in the Santa Cruz Science Writing Program. One science writer by the name of Brittany Grayson--who I clicked really well at the conference--is now an outreach person for COMPASS/Seaweb, which is a big deal and an amazing position. Brittany also pursued an internship with Discover in New York. Wow!
Despite this immense love for writing about science and environment--or investigating the Biologically Incorrect interpretation of Modern Reality, it is of great tragedy to admit that my first op-ed/letter I ever published was about... parking tickets. I suppose you can imagine my invisible Shiloh beagle tail tucked between my legs. Christina Allison, a writer and retired professional theater performer, informed me that if I were in New York, my first article would have been about taxi drivers.... Oh.
I suppose location matters.
It was an honor though to have my article published on the same "leaf" sheet with a cartoon called Deadend and a Chipotle advertisement, as explained above.
I first thought that publishing in a newspaper was the last "new thing" I needed to do before my Diversity StoryTelling Collection became complete. But it turned out that there are lots of things I still haven't done, like publish a piece of poetry or a short story. Or publish a book through a publishing house, not Lulu. Or publish a scientific article. *Cringe.* I thought all I was going to do all my life was write scientific articles. Wow. Was my brain trapped into one uni-direction. Well, I guess I have to keep experimenting.
[Break! My father just disturbed me. He pointed out a five-part series on the costliness of wildland fire fighting "CNN burns" on the LA Times. They didn't interview him. I saw the writing style and it was the writing of chaos. Those news reporters do not know science, nor have their ecological understanding straight--especially when trying to be ecologically metaphorical in describing the Zaca Fire "Pygmy Forests of Chaparral." That was just so insulting to what I learned in basic principles of California Vegetation.]

I am still slightly thrilled about having something of my work published. Even a meagerly article of trivial signifance. It's a start. That's all. The hardest part is always starting.
I vividly remember how my father was more pissed off than I was when I received the parking ticket. He told me that I should write an article to the school paper. We both drove to the 99 cent store and brainstormed the article. The next day, at a Starbucks in Moreno Valley, I hammered out the article in sweat and agony. Two weeks later, I received a response. The Highlander wanted to publish the article. [Sorry if I am being repetitious, my father really disrupted my train of thought!]
I have come to understand a little on how editors FILTER the writer's original writing. In my case, they didn't use my catchy title "The Stigma of the Yellow Envelope," nor my graphic cartoon Easter Card from the Parking Services. To me, the article looks boring now, simply because the "eye catcher" elements were eliminated. Maybe due to space issues. Maybe because the school paper didn't want to piss off bureaucracy too much. It would be interesting to interview the editor and ask him about the decisions he made to manipulate my article. And why.
I have come to learn that literary "editing" is not about editing grammar and spelling. It is about other parties imposing their views and values upon your own original work. Now that I am starting to get into good habits of submitting my work, I think it will be an interesting process to figure out my threshold of "how willing am I to bend" in terms of other sources manipulating my work to their agenda and purposes. Such is the process of industrial media ecology.
In terms of writing structures of op-eds, I suppose there is some degree of variation. All I know is that newspapers write to "sell," so they are more willing to sensationalize ideas and harp on human emotion over rational thought. There is a triangle mode: flashing people with the hot thesis and fun facts, and then the article tapers off with sparse, diffuse lines of nonconvincing evidence to support the flashy thesis. (I want to cry). Then there is scientific writing, as Milton Love likes to call it "strange and stoic. Devoid of emotion. Uninvolved. This bizarre form of distancing that doesn't represent objectivity, but merely represents detachment." (I am paraphrasing). My question is as to whether we can find a balance between holistic use of our brains: use emotion without sacrifice of rationality and intelligence.
A commonality of all writing structures is the thesis, or in op-eds, the "lede." I suppose a "lede" is a thesis with a schnazzy twist. In most cases, "forceful cleverness" that more than likely may backfire. The structure I like to follow in an article is "interpreting a personal experience to universal truths of society," as I did with this article: extrapolating a single parking ticket to the values of holidays and the structure of university bureaucracy.

The second part of this newspaper writing experience was that I had the opportunity to share the "lede" of the article to a group of environmental scientists at a one-day COMPASS training program spear-headed by Dr. Nancy Baron (director of the Aldo Leopald science-society training program). It was an amazing experience to have a room full of scientists wearing journalist/literary hats. Wouldn't it be cool to form a "Writers Group" at Bren? To have a group of scientists meeting once a week to share short stories and poetry? What a flippin' concept! That would be a dream. Simultaneously comical as well.
I also had an opportunity to interact with Michael Todd, an editor at Miller-McCune, a science-policy magazine that has started up in town. I am very interested in interning with him because in our extensive conversation that day, I have come to respect and trust Michael as a journalist and person overall. He was very frank and honest about how journalism works. For example, he informed us that he gets bombarded with emails all the time, and that if I don't follow up with a phone call after sending an email of an article, then the article I wrote will most likely get buried, as if there was a catastrophic mudslide of emails burying my original, pure ideas. My article quickly becomes a fossil email. Sigh. Uncovered after some technological geologists uncover it a few years from now. Michael also mentioned how in science, people become experts in a decade. In journalism, people become "experts" over night. Wow. That's cool. And that also sucks. It explains a lot about how society runs. After hearing those things, it started to make me doubt whether I wanted to truly be a science journalist, or be in the middle world in the university of doing research and simultaneously long-term science journalism.
So, I have come to trust Michael. When I am ready, after I do my environmental media philosophizing... I will contact him for an internship.
It is interesting to think that as soon as you add layers of publication to your original writing, there are not only added layers of editorial filtering of your work, but you acquire new layers of an AUDIENCE. The most important issue that concerns me is that when I am first writing something, the ONLY audience I should have is MYSELF. Because I must stay true to my mind's heart. The most difficult task in life is to internalize and untangle your own brain... let alone to think that you can untangle the brains of others? Ha ha ha. Writing has psychological significance. Writing is an alternative to drugs, psychiatric wards, and overall self-destruction. So the first step is writing is to untangle your brain. In the succession of re-writes you then start adding layers and coatings to your core onion and allow audiences and other people to impose their views upon your work. This filtering process can be good or bad. But the more filtered it gets, the more likely it will be "accepted" by society. Filtering is like a peer-review process. It's not right or wrong, it slowly over time becomes common agreement.
When I am writing, I cannot be preoccupied with the notion of "What do other people think?" Then I am not in the shell of my own brain. That question can stifle anyone's creativity. Besides, life is too short to worry about what other people think. That worry was subliminally the first 17 years of my life. Then the resulting anorexia took out that question and threw it in the trash bin. The most important thing is your own sanity and existence.
Now that I have been skipping back and forth, I am returning to the question of a career of journalism. I am in a slight state of discouragement from the COMPASS training conference, but I need to know that I need to experience journalism as an intern. It will perhaps be the next grand experiment in my life. The super scientific question of the day will be: Does my intellectual creative metabolism math the metabolism of a newspaper?--Daily or Weekly?
My creativity comes in spurts. I know I tend to be overstimulated and oversaturated with ideas rather than undersaturated (dxm my prefrontal cortex, won't it shut up!). Those are technically good things. Good signs for journalism survival.
But to overlay my creative metabolism with the metabolism of a daily or weekly newspaper.... I do not know whether I can do it or not.... but I can't wait to see how a future internship will go.

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