Why Have a Blog?
Honestly? Because I need the distraction.
But that oversimplifies my true motivation behind this project. There’s much more to it.
I do actually need a proper distraction from real life responsibilities. As CTO for a tech company who’s growth is suddenly gaining serious momentum, husband to one, father of two, and bearer of various other professional obligations that directly relate to my primary job (which in turn directly relates to my ability to maintain the stability I want for my family), I have a hard time not spending every available hour working on one of these major areas of my life. At this point, even time walking my dog is neatly scheduled on my calendar. So having a project that gives me an opportunity to step back and think about all of these things, lightheartedly (or passionately) opine, or even share some excitement I recently experienced about something really geeky that no person in my non-internet life gives a shit about, is something that I believe will improve my quality of life in a way that other activities probably would not.
I love writing
In 1988 my second grade teacher gave my class a free-writing assignment. We were to write fiction, poetry, or anything else we wanted. Those who were so inclined could read their work in front of the class. In the ’80s, at least where I lived, grade school children weren’t given homework assignments, outside of practicing for band or orchestra or working on GATE projects. It was long enough ago that I don’t remember many of the details, but I do remember that this project was exciting enough to me that I worked on it at home, really putting a lot of thought into my stories in anticipation of reading them for the class.
Most of the kids likely thought it was silly, but what I remember is that at least one or two were true fans of my work, and that was a driving force behind my writing; the feeling of having others show real interest in something I created hit me hard. I remember writing for those fans, considering what they would enjoy imagining my characters doing, and then nervously reading my two- or three-page stories for the two dozen or so kids I attended 2nd grade with. It was exhilarating!
In high school I became extremely interested in journalism, particularly in op-ed writing. Reporting was fun, too, but I had a hard time taking it seriously and remaining objective on my assignments. My passion was immense, and as a junior I became assistant editor of the school paper, then chief editor in my senior year. Two aspects of journalism in particular sucked me in and revealed some of my true passions in life – deadlines and management. Writing under a deadline is unlike anything else, and for someone who enjoys writing in the first place (and also works well under stress) it’s an indescribable adrenaline rush. I didn’t know the stress of a deadline could drive me beyond what I previously had considered my mental and physical limits until I was responsible for getting a publication to press on a deadline. There’s a big difference between a hard deadline and an arbitrary due date. Having a math assignment “due” tomorrow by 5th period just wasn’t the same as having a newspaper due at the printer by 6am. The consequences of one are maybe a lower grade or perhaps busting out an extra credit assignment later, effectively pushing the real deadline out indefinitely. Whereas missing a publishing deadline means people will not receive the publication as expected, money may be lost depending on the arrangement with the printer, and one’s reputation can be irreparably damaged.
By Marshall Stokes
Written for and published in the University of Idaho Argonaut, 1999
The mayor of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. is trying to improve the town’s image by giving away $100 every month to people caught in acts of kindness, according to an Associated Press article earlier this week. The Illinois suburb’s reputation was tarnished by a past mayor’s prison sentence for tax evasion, numerous lawsuits by City employees, and occasional fistfights at council meetings.
So the mayor thinks that he can fix everything by giving away a measly $100 every month. Well, I asked UI students on campus this week if they would overlook tax scandals, fistfights, and corruption in their local government for $100, and only 14 percent said yes. However, nearly 50 percent of those surveyed said they would gladly overlook the Monica Lewinski scandal if President Clinton gave them $100, which says something about what our values are.
Since spring break is right around the corner, and the mayor of Oakbrook Terrace has all these hundreds of dollars to give away, I asked students in the survey if they would travel there for $100. Surprisingly, 35 percent said they would, apparently overlooking the fact that $100 would barely get them farther than Montana.
Far more interesting than Illinois, however, were the disaster stories that some students offered when spring break was brought up. Ronald Hardy, a sophomore at the UI, told of his vacation to Tijuana with three of his friends for spring break two years ago. “It was fun at first, but we kind of neglected to heed the warnings about the water in Mexico.” Hardy’s face grimaced as he finished the sentence. “I woke up early the first morning there to find myself sprinting for the bathroom. I almost didn’t make it.” He said that he and his friends spent three days and three nights on the john, “and all there was to drink was more Mexico water. We were running like faucets.” Hardy continued, “It was at that time that I felt great shame for my European heritage which brought forth Montezuma’s Revenge.”
While this student’s horror story may have been entertaining, at best, another student, who asked to remain anonymous, told of a nightmare vacation from his childhood. He explained that his family was flying to South America for a spring break vacation when their small prop jet crash landed on a tiny island off the coast of Ecuador inhabited solely by a mid-scale underground sugarcane organization. “Apparently they were short on help, because they forced us to labor on the sugarcane plantation at gunpoint. I thought they were kidding at first, but they weren’t.” He continued, “It was almost ten days before the Coast Guard rescued us.” Although the students words did not make him sound very traumatized, from the way his eyes constantly darted around nervously, I can guarantee that he was not making it up.
So there you have it. Don’t drink the water in Mexico, spring break is not as safe is it seems, and, on a completely unrelated note, Oakbrook, Illinois can’t buy a better image for a lousy $100.
This kind of stress elicited such true excitement in me and showed me a part of life I hadn’t really encountered before – passion. There were nights when I literally loaded the trunk of my car up with computer equipment from the journalism classroom to take home in order to finish up a paper in time for the printing deadline, because no one else was going to forfeit their evening for it. And there was no way I was going to let my school’s reputation take that kind of hit! I was so in love with journalism by the end of high school that I had every intention of pursuing a degree in the subject, even though I already knew I would not likely be able to come out ahead in such a competitive field. But, at the last possible moment, while filling out my college application, I noticed computer science was an option on the list of degrees, and I selected that instead, experiencing a moment of profound realization that I had true skill in that field already thanks to the considerable amount of time I had spent tinkering with computers since the 1980s. Who knows what would have happened had I not made that decision? It’s very likely I would have dropped out of school much earlier, and then spent many more years than I did being lost and unhappy as a 20-something.
In college, despite my enrollment in engineering school, I joined the newspaper staff as an opinion columnist, where I churned out silly pieces on generally mundane topics with the sole purpose of making a few keen people laugh. One of my favorite tactics for adding texture to my column, in the form of seemingly hard data that would back up whatever opinion I was arguing, was to walk around campus polling people on the topic. I’d come up with a serious-sounding question to ask unsuspecting students and faculty, then make sure to stop at an uneven number of people polled so that my statistics looked real. For example, when seven out of 11 people poll a certain way you can say “64% of respondents agreed…” and still not have to do a whole lot of leg work. I thought it was hilarious to have these “statistics” in my articles, and then share the most ridiculous quotes from those who were interviewed. To my delight, I had numerous fans by the end of my single semester as a writer for the University of Idaho Argonaut, and I even got paid for my work! Best of all, though, is that one of my greatest fans turned out to be the love of my life, but I cannot credit my writing talent alone with that life accomplishment (that’s another story altogether).
Since my freshman year in college, however, I have created few outlets for this hobby. In my mid-20s I wrote anonymously for a controversial and well-hated blog on the topic of the marijuana industry in northern California, and in my late-20s, living in Austin, TX, I created and wrote for AustinVittles, but that was short-lived as I turned my focus toward my career and the goal of securing a life of stability and, with any luck, financial freedom for my family. I continue pursuing that goal to this day, and with any luck I’ll earn some free time to spend on family and hobbies here in the next few years.
Desire to Write Affecting Work
Finally, I have a tendency to over-write. Even in a professional settings, my emails and technical documentation tend to be just too long; too many words. Perhaps by getting it out of my system, so to speak, using this blog as an outlet, I’ll manage to keep my work-related written communications shorter and more direct.
If you write for fun, what drives you to do so?