A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper personal column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in more than 130 countries.-- My metaphor--Sunrise on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Freelance whirlwind of advice on twitter and more

@HeideWrite in #clarkclass. Photo by @Adamropp
#clarkclass, my two-week intersession class on twitter for professionals, has concluded another session. It's a highlight of my teaching because I  bring in a bunch of successful professionals to share their experience and advice.
Students love it because it's practical and relevant, and the speakers are younger and bring fresh ideas.
After each session we debrief, all students recount something that impressed them, that they learned. Then we post them on the class blog, #clarkclassUCO. You can see all those briefings there if you wish.
But one speaker I must share here is my former student Heide Brandes, @HeideWrite, who charges into a classroom--a whirlwind full of caffeine, energy and advice--about much more than twitter.
Twitter has been huge in this UCO grad's success as a freelance writer, but most of her comments to #clarkclass were more about living and writing. 
Still, she told the class that her goal was to " to travel for free, make a ridiculous amount of money to do it, and I will use Twitter to do it." Someone tweeted that, and before the day was out she tweeted that the universe opened with a glorious opportunity, just from that tweet.
Before taking the risk to live on freelance writing, she has worked in PR and in newspapers considering community journalism the best there is.  Now going on three years as a freelancer, she has a retainer from Reuters, and has been on the front page of the Wall Street Journal for covering the Moore tornado. Most of her work though is smaller and she said last year she wrote about 500 articles. Hard work in addition to all her other activity, including running a belly dancing school.
Here are the class debriefing remarks, recorded by @SydOKC: 

  •  “She has got over 100 jobs from tweeting.” 
  •  “Talent is as common as raindrops so you have to beat out the other competition through hard work.”
  • “Interesting that she uses twitter to connect with people.”
  • “You have to start today. One day will never come."
  • " You cannot wait for things to come to you.”
  • “When you have to succeed you will. She seemed driven.”
  • “We spend a lot of time thinking about what others think. Do not waste your time. Be yourself.”
  • “Don’t be someone’s bitch.”
  •  “As a writer, you need to be reliable.”
  • “She had a balance between business with social and fun side with belly dancing.”
  • “In regards to being personal, tone down, but stay genuine.”
  •  “Don’t let fear stop you.”
  •  “Have value in yourself. Don’t cut yourself short.”
  •  “Beat the deadline.”
  •  “Don’t settle with just meeting deadline.”
  •   “In general, she inspired us to go on.”
  • “People's opinion doesn’t count unless it pays your electric bill.”
  • “Don’t meet the deadline, beat the deadline.
  • “Be confident in what you do with your work.”
  •  “Don’t write for free unless it helps you."
@okieprof tweets:

  • "I discovered that twitter could change my life.
  • "I'm no longer in twitter high school or twitter college."

Prowling rural cemeteries

Prowling cemeteries on the backroads, I find all kinds of stories that should have been told. 
You can tell the years when a flu or other epidemic hit by the common death dates. You can find how hard life was for early settlers by the large number of infant graves. You can discover segregated graveyards, across the road from each other, and determine races by the poverty or richness of the gravestones. You can find the immigrants graves by their ethnic names. 
On my drives through the country, away from suburban traffic and noise, I've found five rural graveyards within less than 30 minutes of Edmond. I'm sure there are more.
I always stop and walk through them, drawn to the veterans' graves, impressed that after many years, even in neglect, some relatives still decorate them. On this Memorial Day weekend, they bear silent witness to service, and love.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Decorations and stories amid the gravestones

Santa Fe National Cemetery, the Sandias in the distance
Today there will be American flags on thousands of veterans graves in America and around the world.
Santa FE Cemetery
Cemeteries beckon me inside their gates, especially National Cemeteries and small rural ones. When I'm traveling backroads and see one, I invariably stop, get out and wander through them, reading the names, the dates, wondering about the stories. I don't think I'm morbid, though as I get older I'm more aware of mortality, but that's not why I'm so fascinated.  They are emotional experiences that prompt my imagination, curiosity and wonder.
And on this Memorial Day, originally Decoration Day, I'm more aware. I've visited six national cemeteries--Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Fort Smith, Arlington, Punchbowl in Hawaii, and Santa Fe. On my bucket list is Normandy, on D-Day. I hope next year. I've also visited Confederate cemeteries at Manassas and Vicksburg. As a Southerner, I'm in awe at all of them.
I'll admit a special fondness for Santa Fe, where we buried my late favorite uncle, Michael Henry Clark, almost four years ago. Wish I was there to put a flag on his grave.
Unusual grave of a Spanish American war vet at Santa Fe.
Unfortunately, I can't find my photos of Gettysburg, or even Vicksburg, but they remain vivid in my mind. The past is not dead in those places, but talks to you.. 
As I travel the backroads just around here, I've come across many graves of veterans, of black and white  Americans who served their country in many wars, including scattered graves of Confederate veterans. These add to my sense of stories lost and untold.
So here are photos. Listen and you can imagine taps being played, caressing each grave. Next, the private cemeteries.


ConfderateVeterans Rest, Vicksburg, where only 1,600 of 5000 graves are known
Union unknown at Gettysburg National Cemetery
Santa Fe

And here are the concluding lines of "Thanatopsis," by William Cullen Bryant, that I memorized in high school long ago. Seems fitting. Salute those flags today.

"So live, that when thy summons comes to join   
The innumerable caravan, which moves   
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take   
His chamber in the silent halls of death,   
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,   
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed   
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,   
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Memorial Day amid the graves

A Civil War veterans grave in rural Oklahoma, decorated for Memorial Day
I didn’t know Buster, but I wish I had.
JUNE 30, 1922 SEPT. 24, 1944
I don’t know how he died, but this 22-year-old Oklahoma paratrooper with the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne fell in Europe not long after D-Day, fighting for freedom, when I was home safe, a few months old. His name is etched in marble on one of the headstones in the U.S. National Cemetery at Fort Smith, Arkansas.
This Memorial Day there will be speeches and flags and flowers and 21- gun salutes and prayers and Taps at this cemetery just across the border from Oklahoma. There will be similar services in other cemeteries all over America, saluting the veterans.
Roses the color of blood grow on the fences, as about 9,500 grayish-white headstones of veterans from frontier days to the Gulf War sweep over the grassy green hills, like the white stripes on the American flag, gently rippling in the free breeze.
JUNE 2, 1932
NOV. 28, 1950
Most of the headstones are uniform, 24 inches out of the ground, 15 inches wide, gently oval at the top, 3 feet from the next gravestone to the side, 10 feet from the ones above and below it. On some there are small crosses above the names, the service, the dates. Simple. Sparse, Military. The precision is perfect and from any angle the headstones maintain perfect rank order--marching like rows of men going into battle--only here there are no more gaps where comrades are cut down by enemy fire. Here the ranks march on forever, into eternity.
JUNE 16, 1919 APRIL 13, 1944
The cemetery office doesn’t have biographical records on how all the veterans died, but some stand out. Like Lt. Pogue of Fort Smith, missing in action since April 13, 1944 over Europe. German historians and the pilot who shot down Lt. Pogue’s P-38 fighter  located his remains a few years ago. They were buried with full military honors on Dec. 21, 1996--52 years later. His widow, who never remarried, couldn’t attend because she was in a Ft. Smith hospital, and she’s since died. But his son, Walter Wayne Pogue Jr., who probably never met his daddy, received the folded American flag with triangle of stars showing as his father was laid to rest with 21-gun salute.
JUNE 29, 1920 JAN. 1, 1945
There is a section where men who were buried at sea, and those whose remains were never recovered, are buried. Those graves are closer together, clustered for companionship. They may have died alone, but they’ve joined more than a million other American veterans who’ve died in the defense of their country.
1834 SEPT. 11, 1863
This is one of the few national cemeteries where Union soldiers are buried alongside Confederates, because the South occupied the Fort in the War. Most Southerners are buried in Confederate cemeteries or in thousands of private cemeteries. More Americans died in the Civil War than in any other, and people still put flowers on those graves.
1924 1986
About 350 graves a year are added to the Fort Smith cemetery. Any veteran may request burial in a national cemetery, and the surviving spouse, or a child who dies under 21 years of age, may join him. Every veteran receives the regulation tombstone, and the folded flag for survivors. Retired veterans and those who were killed in action receive full military honors, including the 21-gun salute. A fresh bouquet of red carnations was placed at Pvt. Deason’s grave recently. People remember a long time in a national cemetery.
And there are more than 100 Unknowns in the ranks of these headstones--no stories, no names, no dates--of men who died and are forgotten, except for a marker in a graveyard of heroes, ordinary men who fought and died in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Air Corps, Coast Guard. All are equal in the cemetery--officers rest beside enlisted men.
The cemetery is quiet but not deathly silent. In the spring and summer, meadowlarks and mockingbirds add their songs to the air. The sky is hazy. There is the smell not of bodies cut down, but of fresh-cut grass. Life. In autumn, breezes swirl falling  leaves into garlands on every grave as a year slowly dies. And winter brings snow to bury the graves in dignity and silence once again, over the gentle swells, up and down the long ranks of graves, past the etched names of states--Iowa, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma--past the years--1819, 1864, 1918, 1943, 1950, 1969-- preserving the order of march, marshaling forces for a final charge.
I wish I’d known them all. Don’t you?
At the two-story brick house that serves as cemetery office and headquarters, a plaque carries President Lincoln’s words as he dedicated a national cemetery at Gettysburg 147 years ago. Hallowed ground. Above, the Stars and Stripes wave in the breeze over the grass patterned with headstones.
Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day, started in 1868, three years after America's bloodbath. Survivors and families began decorating the graves of those brave men who died, with flowers and flags.
The practice continues, not just in national cemeteries but in public and private ones all over America. 
Every day at 5 p.m., the haunting, plaintive notes of Taps echoes across the green hills, caressing each white gravestone.
Goodnight, Buster. Goodnight, Lt. Pogue.
And thanks.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this was a newspaper column of mine.

Friday, May 15, 2015

From an 'F' to the top of #clarkclass

@rcrissinger talking to my students on the stairs
My students' eyes got wide when Rob Crissinger @rcrissinger  told them today that I'd flunked one of his writing assignments (He went on to ace the course). That was 2004.
Today he's one of the edgy top PR professionals at Bumbershoot PR @BumbershootPR, changing the arts and entertainment world of OKC, using social media among other tactics.
The lights came on as the lights went out--the power went out 10 minutes before he arrived, so we congregated on the stairs as he told how he got to where he is as one of the early adopters of twitter.
Close up--student photos by Devyn Frazier and Brittany Robinson
(He got an F because I told him no first person writing and he could revise it. He didn't and handed it back. He got the F--in retrospect, he was right.)
He continued to wow the students with not only his personal stories but the stories of how he and Bumbershoot use twitter and serve clients. They're a small agency that doesn't hold meetings, that has clients and H&8th, Dead Center Film Festival and many more. 
After he was gone, and the lights came back on in the building, as usual, we debriefed. Here's what the students said, recorded by @SydOKC
@okieprof #clarkclass photo by Gary Parsons

  • “You can do what you want. Don’t give into the game everyone else is playing.
  •  “I got the vibe that he strives to be the best in PR. He was really driven.” 
  • “I like that he hit on the percentages of Twitter. 80% personal and 20% business.” 
  • “Twitter is only effective if you’re listening and broadcasting.” 
  • “Rob’s Twitter page changes and before hand it was silly and fun, showing his personality. He doesn’t worry about always being professional.” 
  • I think part of what attracts us to media is not having to always being professional.” 
  • “He doesn’t think he could do his job without Twitter. That blows my mind. People within my circle don’t use it professionally. Hearing that Twitter got them a job, it blows my mind that this silly social media side is impactful.” 
  • “I like how he said he likes the fun side of Twitter.”
  •  “I like that he makes Twitter fun.” 
  • “Today isn’t about being better; it’s about being creative.” 
  •  “Twitter is changing the rivalry between PR and journalism”
  • “The definition of news is what people are talking about. It’s really true to Twitter. People don’t post what they aren’t interested in. They post what they think is happening. “
  • "Networking is the key to success in any career.”  
  • “Everything happens for a reason.” 
  • “Interact with someone on Twitter. You can talk to one person in a certain manner that grabs their attention and you’ve reached many.” 
  • “Favorite and retweet.”  
  •   “Twitter helps you amplify your voice.” 
  • “He does a 'shit-ton'  of research.” 
  • “He really went inside and showed you how he orchestrates with any project. He plans ahead. He preplans 20 steps down the road about what the sparks will be. I’m going to apply that myself.”
  • “Media never sleeps, clients never sleep and therefore he doesn’t sleep.”
Grump and Guru--Adam Ropp photo
@Okieprof tweets during Rob's discussion
  • Social media is the fuel to get people to other media
  • PR is people art
  • Social media is the great equalizer
  • We are in a world where information hits you from all sides and never stops.
  • PS. My students make us look good.
(If you want other student comments, search #clarkclass on twitter.)