My night in Ferguson, MO.

I’d like to make this point ahead of time: this post neither affirms the position of the police nor those accusing the police of misconduct. This will not hurl accusations, nor will it provide excuses. This is not meant to justify anything, nor is it meant to condemn. This post is meant to give you a look at the night through my eyes, to inform and allow you the chance to come to your own conclusions. There will be more posts in the future with my opinions and takeaways from the night. All the following pictures and videos are mine.

***

If I’m honest, I’ve been running away from my keyboard ever since I heard about the rioting and looting in Ferguson, MO as I was in the car on August 11th. Since then, protests around the country have called for “Justice for Mike Brown.” My Facebook news feed seems to come up with two or three new posts every day on the subject, shares from either left-wingers or right-wingers who say “Too bad the other guys will never listen.” My sister called me, saying that I needed to write something about the incident so friends would have some insight. One person even posted an article directly to my wall, saying “we have the right to protest not “act a fool.”” He’s white, by the way, in case that changes your reading of the sentence.

I’ve posted links to certain articles since the shooting (fact, satire, op-ed), but otherwise I haven’t commented myself. And it’s because I’m a journalist.

Let me clarify: I’m a freelance game journalist. I have no expensive camera. My credentials likely don’t carry me to places like this. My credentials are the ones that get me into comic book conventions. And I love it.

With that said, it’s taken me five years to start introducing myself as a journalist of any kind, in part because people give me the look you probably just gave the screen you’re reading this on. Freelance journalist, game journalist, or otherwise, I take the “journalist” part of that title seriously. So that’s why, a couple nights ago, against the better-judgement of friends and family (had I asked any of them), I drove the half-hour from my current residence to Ferguson, MO.

***

 On August 18, 2014, I thought the whole city would be a war zone, that streets would be empty, that people would be fighting to get out. A bit scared and unprepared, I took most of the items out of my wallet, just keeping my driver’s license, state ID, a small amount of cash and my debit card. In a cheap backpack I packed a notebook and pens, a long-sleeve shirt, my tablet computer and wireless keyboard, and my cell phone’s backup battery pack. I tried to look up locations for Ferguson-area protests online, but strangely couldn’t come up with any results. An article talked about an interview taking place outside of the Ferguson police station, so I decided that would be a good place to start.

The 30-minute drive to the police station actually took 40, not because of anything tragic, but because I drove right past it. I arrived around 4:30, expecting to see hundreds of people outside, holding up signs, marching, and demanding blood. Instead, outside was this:

Police Station Protesters
and this:

Police Station Protesters - 2

Cars drove by in both directions, some honking their horns in support, others flipping off the protesters while rounding the corner. One man, a large black man with an over-sized white t-shirt, black shorts, and a friendly smile, brought his little girl to the protest; no older than three, her face was covered in Chee-tos dust.  I talked to the man about the weather, we agreed that it was hot. Another protestor, a skinny black man with gold fronts on his teeth, was particularly agitated that Nelly hadn’t made an appearance at the scene. “After all the support we gave him, he ain’t even gonna show up? He should have been the first one here, the first one offering to pay for the funeral. What’s ten grand to him? What’s twenty grand? [If] He really care about the community, why don’t he pay for all that stuff we took? Just write a check and replace all that–“

A white man sitting on a box with a scruffy face and blue cap (who affectionately dubbed the little girl the “Cheeto Queen” with a grin) cuts in: “Hey, man, don’t ever, ever admit to doing something like that. Unless the cops have you and they force you, don’t admit to that kind of thing. It just makes it worse for you.”

“But I’m just sayin’ tho. What’s fifty grand to him, what after all the support we gave him?”

The protestors are peaceful, even enjoying each other’s company as they debate current events. Then, a squawk from a nearby police band radio perks up the ears of a woman wearing a baggy white t-shirt and sunglasses. Her long braids swish to the side as she turns to listen.

“5o cops cars being dispatched over to Lucas and Hunt,” she says. “We gotta send some people over there!”

“Yeah!” an older black woman says, sitting under an umbrella. “They need backup!”

The talk continues, but I jump into my car and GPS my way there.

***

Humvees on Lucas and Hunt

“Lucas and Hunt” is the name of a single road, an exit right off of the highway. Traffic flows relatively freely on the highway, but hits a virtual standstill once I make it to the exit. Ahead of me, I see 5 military vehicles posted at a stoplight. I pull out my phone, tweeting the sight. Seconds later, a notification:

For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that someone would pick up on that, retweet it as “real” news. I get off of the ramp, slowly advance forward on the street, when I’m passed by 8 speeding cop cars with flashing lights and sirens. I fire off another tweet. Soon after, a notification:

I start to feel guilty, wondering if I’ve pulled the trigger too soon, if I’ve ruined a planned situation. As traffic creeps forward, I see where the cops are rushing to: a large shopping center parking lot.

Police Staging Area - Entrance

Law enforcement vehicles cover the terrain, with news crews parked and their vans using gigantic towers to send signals through the sky. Business continues as usual around them; the Target, Schnucks grocery store, and more are still open, though traffic creeps by the storefronts as people watch the shuffling around the lot. I park my car and walk around, feebly attempting to investigate, but can’t deduce much other than there being a large, police-taped off area in the center of the zone. While circling the outside, I see two guys talking to a girl right on the edge of the tape line.

“Damn, this must be one hell of a tea party these guys are about to have, huh?” I interject. The girl, a white brunette with a small purse and shorts, laughs, the two guys snicker a bit. Since I’m successful, I fire off another couple of jokes, both with similar responses. “So,” I venture, with the ice broken, “what’s everyone here for?”

Now one of the guys genuinely laughs at me, hands folded across his black shirt. “Are you for real?” He shrugs me off and looks back towards the squad cars in front of us.

“No, seriously,” I say. “What’s going on here?”

“Are you not from around here?” he asks.

“No, I’m actually from the other side of the river. I’m originally from up north, but just seemed dumb for me to be this close to what’s going on and not see it for myself.”

“Oh. Well, this is what they call the police staging area,” he tells me. “This is where they dispatch all the cops from to whatever’s going on at night.” His counterpart stands silently, gaunt face towards the cars.

I mentally turn a shade of red as I remember the tweets picked up as if they were some sort of serious news, an incident about a breaking event. Turns out it was just cops going back to base. Sheepish, I shut up a bit.

“Well, I’m going to head to Florissant,” the speaking guy says. The girl says she was just on her way there, too. They break apart soon after, and I pull out my phone to tweet again, to clarify that my earlier post wasn’t a breaking event, but was likely just cops coming back to the staging area. I look up from my phone, and see officers donning riot gear. For some reason, I turn around, look further up, and see two members of the National Guard on the Schnucks’ rooftop, camping a sniper position.

Police Staging Area - Rear

The post to clarify the cops were going to the staging area never received a response.

 ***

Around the news crews, the feeling is almost positive. Though they’re out for a serious situation, they’re also doing their jobs, removed from the actual protesting, still seeing co-workers while getting powdered for on-screen time. It reminds me of going to E3, the large video game convention that takes place out in LA every year. Attendees need to be credentialed to gain admittance out there, so even though most everyone is there with a job to do, there’s a certain feeling of camaraderie that comes from being surrounded by like-minded individuals. Still, I can’t get over the sense that this is just the calm before the storm, and I can’t stop thinking about what will happen when the sun goes down.

I completely circle the staging area, but realize I’m not going to get any information. There’s a massive crowd of police, local and state alike, gathered for a pow-wow in the center of the staging area, and there’s no way in hell I’ll get close enough to hear any of it. I walk back to my car, unsure of where to go next, until I overhear a member of a news crew talking about sending people down to the Quick Trip, the gas station burned almost to the ground during the first Ferguson riot. I look for Quick Trip on my phone using the Maps program, and I see there was one located on Florissant, not even a mile away from me. Shutting my car door and throwing my backpack back on, I hike towards the direction of the Quick Trip.

Daylight still covers the sky as I go down the large, paved hill on the side of the Target parking lot. Once I touch the Florissant sidewalk though, I can see the police force just a quarter of a mile from me. Police stand in the middle of the next intersection, directing traffic away from the gathered crowd. Some people are walking the same direction as me, while others walk past me in the opposite direction. Many carry red roses, a memorial of Mike Brown’s shooting. As I stop to tweet, one guy walks towards me saying, “Come on, come on…we gotta do this, come on, come on…” He’s got a certain energy about him, a positive one. He’s ready to make his voice heard, it seems. I try to start a discussion with him as we walk, but he doesn’t say much. I let him carry on without me.

Looking across the street, it seems like people are gathered at the McDonald’s on Florissant. As I approach I see more news vans and reporters, this time standing in the parking lot of Ferguson Market and Liquor, another store ransacked by looters, the site where police-delivered video footage shows accused Mike Brown taking a box of cigarillos and shoving around workers at the store. The store is boarded up now.

Ferguson Market and Liquor

It’s not just local news in the parking lot. I recognize newscasters from CNN, also hear one broadcaster say he’s from BET News. Multiple faith leaders appear wearing black suits and white collars. Anderson Cooper conducts multiple interviews while guarded by a surly escort.

Anderson Cooper and Co

I wander around the press area, but then, many people are. I expected armed guards or the like to surround these celebrities, but instead I stand with neighborhood bystanders just a few feet away. Nobody particularly cares that Anderson Cooper, or any of the other news people, are here. Outside the press area, protesters march in a large, racetrack-like oval that stretches from the corner we stand at to the next stoplight, roughly 1000 feet away. A group of marchers are doing call and response:

“No justice!” the man with the bullhorn yells, wearing black aviator sunglasses and a bulletproof vest which reads “POLICE.” The word “Killer” is written above it in white marker.

“No peace!” the crowd responds. They repeat this four times.

“Justice for who?” the leader switches.

“Mike Brown!” the crowd hollers as they continue down the street.

I wonder what justice would mean to the people out here in the streets.

I’ve been to a protest before, but not of this size. Considering the news coverage, I expected the group to be much rowdier, more disorganized…a bit of me is proud to see organized, peaceful protest. Then I look down and see three elementary school children, holding roses and protest signs. They’re most preoccupied with trying to shove rocks through the holes in the drainage grate below them. I think about justice, and it’s them I want it for. I think about how I hope everyone out that night, protester, police, or otherwise, hopefully wants the same thing.

Protest Children

But this sign is out there, too:

Some of the Anger, a Call for Sacrifice

In the press area, a thin black woman stands with a man in a striped-black shirt. She calls the police officers “fucking pigs,” then when they turn around she says, “Yeah, that’s right, I’m in the zone of the peaceful people. But you’re crooked, you’re murderers!” A couple officers walk over to her and escort her out of the press area. One of the police officers looks back, a bit of pain on his face. “See? This is how they–” and the rest drifts out of my earshot as he turns back around.

***

Protests at Sunset

The sky is clear, and sunset paints beautiful reds and golds through the cloudless twilight. I walk the protest circuit once, moving too quickly to stay with any one group. Spread out around the half-mile track, large blocks of open space separate some of the roughly 300 marchers. Most businesses have windows covered with wooden boards and spray painted, some in an almost cheery fashion: “OPEN!”

Still, riot-ready police appear on the scene with shields, masks, and vests. A row of six police cars park in front of the sidewalk near the news area, effectively blocking off the area from protesters. The tone changes as night falls; new people arrive in the marching groups. On a motorized scooter, one old black man rides alongside a marching group. The group says, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” as the march is known for. In the brief pause, the scooter-rider yells: “Fuck the police!” A couple people try to convince him to stop, but he won’t listen.

 ***

Night falls on the protesters around 8:30. Many of the older folks go home, while young marchers come out and take their places. At this point, multiple groups march up and down Florissant, each with its own character and energy. Younger groups seem infused with more anger, mainly directed towards police. A new chant arises: “Hey hey, ho ho, these crooked cops, they got to go.”

In contrast, another group still moves, singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Helicopters fly overhead, searchlights painting the crowd. Police cordon off the press area with tape, pushing even those who are peaceful non-press out of the press zone. I pull my cell phone out while it’s plugged into my external battery pack, giving the impression I’m supposed to be there. I’m ignored. To my right, a news person on the phone talks to someone, says that it’s “ten times quieter than it was on Sunday.” This comes right after a group marches by, a woman with the bullhorn echoing a call from earlier.

Anger: “Indict, convict, send these killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” #Ferguson https://t.co/9KjjJRH0hG

— Josh Boykin (@JoshBatman) August 19, 2014

Most in the group are on their cell phones or talking amongst themselves.

***

At around 9:30 a crowd flocks outside of the Nail Trap store; a man has been taken down and arrested, cause unknown. “No justice, no peace!” rings out again from the crowd, but only briefly. A few minutes later, an impromptu press conference takes place with Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, a man originally from Ferguson speaking as the representative for the police. Though Johnson tries to address the concerns of the quickly-growing crowd, it becomes clear they won’t be satisfied with his answers. When he talks about maintaining and saving the city, he becomes empassioned:

“What I’m telling you is that I’m not going to let this community die…I want you to look back at other communities where we’ve had riots throughout this country, and these communities aren’t being rebuilt. They’re not rebuilding. You go down West Florissant right now, Quick Trip closed. It’s closed, and I’m going to tell you next it’s going to be Wal-Mart. And next it’s going to be Sam’s. And after all this is over, we’re going to look and say, “Now where do we go? We don’t have anything.” And I’m telling you: we’re going to have a community.”

As much passion as he puts into his speech, only a couple people clap in response. Johnson says, “I’m not going to let those bent on ruining this community affect you, the peaceful protesters–” and is cut off when a man responds: “Start with your officers!” This statement gathers more crowd support.

***

Post-Bottle Crowd

The police form a line across Florissant Ave, blocking traffic on foot and via vehicle. The crowd grows angry. An object flies through the air, lands at the ground of the cops. Some scatter, while others recognize the object is just a water bottle. Still, this is enough to aggravate the police. They trigger a piercing noise like a car alarm that sets everyone back momentarily, but doesn’t quell the situation. Protest leaders walk around with bullhorns trying to keep the angered people from getting too close to the police. Multiple leaders start to form a human chain. One of them with a bullhorn looks at me, says, “Come on! We have to stop this!” I join the chain, heart racing and unsure of what I just got into. We walk forward, pushing against the oncoming forces. Our chain breaks, but so does the advance. By almost 10:30, the mob at Florissant and Ferguson breaks up, with protesters still grouped on either side of the street. Once the street opens up, police vehicles drive down the center of the road down a block to the Quick Trip, where more protestors are still gathered. I hang around Ferguson and Florissant for a few minutes, then migrate down the street.

***

As I get closer to the new crowd, I hear police yell over bullhorns to try and get people out of the street. With every call over the PA, someone responds with “Go to hell,” or some other aggressive response. The change in tension is palpable; here, defiance hangs thick like mist as protestors sit at the Quick Trip. Many wear bandannas and masks. The police continually repeat that those who are either in the road, or aren’t moving can be subject to arrest. The police also say that those who defaced or are carrying government property are subject to arrest. I look around and see a teenager holding a Yield/Do Not Enter sign. He walks to carry it to the middle of the road, seemingly telling the police not to enter.

Cops Don't Enter

His act triggers more outright defiance; others near the QuickTrip gather construction posts and create a make-shift barrier across the road at the intersection. Some start hurling rocks and other objects at the police, which garners a new response from the officer on the PA:

Reporters and others on the opposite side of the street from the QuickTrip don gas masks in response. The tone of the officer on the PA is growing noticeably agitated. A nearby protester walking down the street says, “We can’t leave just because they told us to!”

Suddenly, an arching object from the police side flies out into the middle of the street. Many scatter, fearing the crack of tear gas, but this canister is just smoke. The smoke is enough to trigger the on-edge crowd, though: firecrackers fly through the air, popping and crashing to the ground. Gunshots sound from a distance through the smoke, down the road past the Quick Trip. A bright, whirling fireball-like canister arcs its way from the police side down the middle of the street, rolling its way to a man’s legs roughly 20 feet from me. He starts to dash away, and I look around and see people ducked behind the concrete barrier in front of me; instinctively, I’ve ducked as well. I peek over the barrier to see the canister whirls in place, then fizzle out.

My eyes burn, as if someone poured pepper all over my eyelids. I can feel it on my lips, and my nose starts pouring: some of the canisters amidst the smoke are tear gas. I run away from the conflict, keeping my head low as I hear more pops of fireworks go off. Some of the people knock over nearby portable toilets, pushing the telephone booth-like structures into the street to try to block vehicular advances. The gas starts to overrun my senses as I cough and drip, running just to get away from the burning. Eventually we’re out of the spread of the chemical, but a reporter trips and falls, laying on the ground. Others gather to help him up and I get behind him to make sure he doesn’t stumble backwards. Sure enough, the burning and coughing start again, though: the wind is blowing the gas back towards Ferguson Avenue.

Walking in the Gas

Some may call this wind a lucky break or divine intervention, as the gas chases us constantly back towards the starting area near the press. Every few minutes the chemical would reach us again, journalist and protester alike, forcing continual migration towards police presence which hadn’t actually taken action yet. As we walk, one journalist mentions how his sinuses have never felt clearer before being gassed, to the humor of his colleagues. But as I listen to the protesters talk, they don’t share the humor. I hear anger towards the police, but also towards protestors who have left after being tear gassed, protestors who have remained peaceful amidst police antagonism, and the journalists who are getting paid to record their struggle. Many share that anger; with no leader, no focus point, people simply feel angry at seemingly everything. Florissant Road is open again; cars travel tro-and-fro sporadically in the middle of the night.

The 12am curfew was called off earlier, but around 11:45 the police presence at Florissant and Ferguson start to advance from their positions, forcing everyone to go home. They point guns at those standing idly, shining bright flashlights at them and yelling for them to go home. No supposed action seems to trigger this response. By midnight, they’ve even broken up the press area and demanded that everyone tear down and leave. As I walk away I check Twitter and see a game developer who posted that she was leaving the scene. We tweet each other briefly.

Now I realize the police are blocking the way back to my car; unsure whether I’ll be potentially assaulted by an officer for heading back to the media zone, I walk down another road that I soon realize won’t take me back to my car. The road that I’m on is large, and mostly deserted, and since I don’t know other people in the area I decide it’s best to move to where I’m not as likely to be seen or attacked by the agitated (either police or protestor). I instead walk to the nearby railroad tracks that lead back to my car, heading along them to stay out of sight. When I near the bridge that goes over the police sitting at Florissant and Ferguson, I duck and slide down a nearby hill, landing on the sidewalk on the other side of the barricade.

Cops are Still Out

I run up the grassy hill leading to the police staging area, making note of the National Guard troops positioned on the driveway. At the top of the hill a wave of tiredness washes over me and I wander my way back to my car. Once I get in and shut the car door, a calm, almost happiness, come over me. I message and tweet the parties who discovered I was out there to let them know I’m safe, then make my way back to Alton. A National Guardsman waves me goodbye as I pull out of the parking lot.

***

Around 2am I sit at my friend’s house in Alton, eating Taco Bell and watching CNN. Ron Johnson is on, speaking about the night’s events. 31 people were arrested, some from “as far as New York and California.” A news caster asks why the public was pushed off of the streets right around midnight if there was no curfew. Johnson points to the two pistols and the Molotov cocktail sitting on the table. According to him, those items were obtained from a car that left a shooting, was followed via aircraft, and pulled up across the street from the press zone. When the cops tried to act on the car, press rushed the scene, potentially endangering the situation.

I turn off the TV and go to bed.

Taking a Moment to Be Thankful (Selfies Oncoming)

I should be nearly done with my #30DayThanks challenge, and I’m not. 30 letters of thankfulness handwritten and delivered over the course of 30 days…I’ve sent 7. In fact, over the last week or so, I haven’t even touched the project. Now that I’ve moved from Madison to St. Louis, I feel like it’s time to restart.

I still rule my first attempt at #30DayThanks a success. Some of those seven letters really touched the people who got them, and it makes me so glad to know that. Also, the act of reflecting and writing these thoughts has changed my perspective, already made me more thankful on a regular basis. I’ve done so many amazing things over the past few months, these last 19 days in particular…I feel like I recognize the little moments more, appreciate time spent with family and friends like I didn’t before I spent this time focusing on thankfulness. 

The following is a chain of selfies. Sorry.

Since I left my job in March, I’ve done tons of things that I’m thankful for:

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I saw an old friend, met her daughter, and toured parts of Michigan I’d have never seen otherwise (including an excellent bakery).

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I road-tripped to a Milwaukee Brewers game with former co-workers (more than were in this picture, and I’m lucky to be able to call them my friends).

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I flew to Richmond, CA and spent time with my Grandmother on my Dad’s side, just hanging around enjoying each other’s company.

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I also visited my aunt and cousin, touring a bit of Santa Cruz along the way.

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I explored tons of San Francisco (one of the most gorgeous cities I’ve ever been to), and shared it with one of my closest long-distance friends.

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I watched my Kid Sister walk across the stage of her college graduation, one of the proudest moments I’ve had yet…

Photo May 18, 4 31 58 PM

…and I got the chance to be pretty damned proud of some graduating friends, too.

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We took photos with some extended family (as well a couple important members behind the lens)…

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…and we spent some time taking immediate family photos, too.

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I traveled to Providence, RI and watched one of my oldest friends get her Master’s from an Ivy League university (and we took one of our first good pictures together).

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My mother and I went out together for a special lunch to celebrate her birthday…

…and those are just the things I have selfies from.

I’m so privileged to have the friends and family that I do, to share the experiences that I have, and I don’t know that the me from even just a few weeks ago would appreciate them the way that I do now. So, instead of berating myself like I usually would at this point, I just want you to know that I’ll be starting the #30daythanks project all over again starting tomorrow.

Thanks for being there, everyone. Looking forward to a new, shiny 30 days of thankfulness.

-Josh

#30DayThanks, Day 5: Keystone Thankfulness

I’m on Day 5 of my 30 Day Thankfulness project, and already I see changes in my life and perspective. This week I’m out in Providence, Rhode Island, to visit a friend for her graduation at Brown…and this has definitely got me thinking about thankfulness. I find myself thinking about gratitude more often now (especially if I still have to write/send my letter). I set my deadline for writing and mailing for 9 AM the following morning so it aligns with my Daily Success Checklist (I’ll talk about that another time).

I feel more prone to being considerate in general; maybe I’m thanking people too often now. Or it feels that way, because I feel like thanking ALL THE TIME NOW. I finished reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit a couple weeks ago, and as anyone can tell you (like I do with all books I read), I’ll frame the entire world’s actions based on lessons learned from that book for roughly the next three weeks. I’m thinking that writing this daily thanking letter creates what The Power of Habit calls a keystone habit: an initial habit that, when followed, creates a pathway to other habits. 

It’s what happens when you start running every other day and decide to diet or bicycle to work (or when you decide that you’re going to have a cigarette while out drinking with friends). Your brain receives a positive response from doing habitual actions, and linking new actions to those positive responses makes it easier to take on new habits. Starting a new routine with a simple keystone action instead of a complex routine allows the brain to cement the new habit and link new actions together, creating a powerful tool for change.

For me, writing a thank-you letter in the morning puts my brain in a positive state, one where I’m investigating the world around me to find things to appreciate. This means I naturally look around more often and find things to appreciate, and subsequently I thank people when they’re involved in making those moments. I guess this creates a sort of positive habit loop

Or I’m making this all up.

Either way, on Day 5, I’m still glad I’m taking the challenge on. 25 letters to go!

-Josh

#30daythanks is a simple challenge: send a hand-written letter of thankfulness to someone at least once a day for 30 days. If you want to do this and want to mail letters, but are short on resources, contact josh.k.boykin at gmail for assistance.

Post on Twitter/Facebook with #30daythanks to get in on the project and inform others. Also, feel free to email or comment any feedback or suggestions!

Be Thankful: The 30-Day Thankfulness Challenge

A friend of mine moved into his new condo today, and he wanted some help. I’m not working a 9-5 right now, so I had the time; I originally thought it an 11-2 task, but volunteered for an all-day affair. Allergies and asthma weren’t kind to me today; my friend asked if I wanted to leave multiple times, but I told him I planned on sticking around until the job was done. And I’m glad I did, because there were fireworks just outside of his condo for a local festival this evening.

Fireworks do something to me that I can’t quite understand. I’ve talked about this before, but my first memory involving fireworks is me, sitting on my dad’s shoulders as a young kid, screaming bloody murder because I was convinced I was going to be hit by the giant, cascading green bloom in the sky. Even after that near-traumatic experience, fireworks managed to work their way into my heart. Some of my favorite memories have been gathering with friends or family for fireworks, distracted from cell phones and life just for a few minutes to see pyrotechnics in the sky. So when I left my friend’s place today and saw the fireworks booming a short distance away, I sat on the trunk of my car alone and watched the show in the brisk night air.

(Yes, it’s brisk here in Madison at night in May. I have no idea what’s going on with weather.)

When I drove home, I realized I felt happy. Damn near sick…but good. I felt like I accomplished something, pushed through difficulty and sickness and followed-through to the end. And, to be honest, before I started writing this post (or the post that was supposed to be on my new site before I found out about the hackers), I felt incredibly sore and shaky, convinced I’d pushed the envelope just a bit too far and I’d be sick tomorrow. But I realized that I wasn’t just feeling happy; the feeling putting a smile on my face was thankfulness. And that feeling I had to act on.

I’m thankful that I live in a nice apartment where I feel comfortable and have my own space. I’m thankful that I have friends and family all over the country willing to let me visit and stay with them, and I’m thankful I have the resources to be able to do that recently. I’m thankful that I have successful friends, people who take pride in what they do and do it even when it’s hard or frustrating. I’m thankful that I have family that would do anything for me, even when I don’t deserve it.

Even after saying all these things, I have to admit I’m not great at expressing thankfulness to the people who deserve it. So I’m starting this tomorrow, and I hope you’ll join me:

The 30-Day Thankfulness Challenge

It’s simple: physically write one letter a day to someone you’re thankful to, then mail that letter. The goal is to both write and mail one letter each day; feel free to write/mail more than one in a day, but no counting multiple letters in one day for multiple days.

The goal is twofold: to make thankfulness a daily priority, and to make sure one person finds out they’re appreciated every day for thirty days. I think it’s important to physically write and mail the letters; physical letters are special. (I might have to type up the letters I write and mail them alongside the written ones like a secret decoder key) Yeah, you’ll probably have to ask people for some addresses. Don’t be afraid; they’ll appreciate it in the long-run.

Thirty days, thirty letters. Thirty expressions of thankfulness. And it’s not even November!

I’d love to hear if you’re going to join me on this challenge. Post on Facebook or Twitter with #30daythanks, and maybe we can get some other people in on it, too.

If you’re short on resources and funds, contact me at josh.k.boykin at gmail and I’ll help you out. Let nothing stand in the way of your gratitude.

Thanks for reading.

-Josh

Another Change of Approach

From marketingdeviant.com

From marketingdeviant.com

I had a couple of birthdays a few weeks ago. I turned 26 at the end of September, and the next day was my 1-year anniversary with my company. Happy Birthdays to me.

I’ve been feeling this coming on for a few weeks, the nagging, the itch to come back to this blog, to start this again. I have a habit of trying to develop myself in cycles, of feeling motivation and going really hard at everything for a few weeks, but then the motivation drops and the difficulty increases and I get busy and I give up and about six months later I do it all over again. Or five months in this case.

I’d love to say that things will be different this time, that I really have my head in the game, that I’ll be consistent and rise to glory and all those things…but I don’t know that. 25 was a year that passed with few celebrations or personal developments. At 26 I’m now consistently stressed, haven’t put nearly as much effort into the things I care about as I claimed I would. I work a job that doesn’t make me happy very often, though admittedly I work with fantastic people. I’m fifteen pounds heavier. Some would say to get over it, that this is simply how becoming an adult works. Though I don’t believe it, I can’t doubt that it rings with a bit of truth.

If none of this sounds optimistic it’s because I’m not optimistic. I’ve been unhappy for a year (more than that, really), and it took me until recently to finally conceptualize that it’s not my job, not my relationships, not my writing I’ve been unhappy with. I’ve been unhappy with me. I’ve been disappointed in myself time and again, made mistake after mistake without feeling like I’m progressing towards being a successful writer or entrepreneur. Some of you might have known me in high school or college and thought me a bit…confident. I don’t have that confidence anymore.

In its place now is a bit of trepidation, a bit of fear, and a lot of humbleness. I’ve done everything someone is supposed to do at my age: moved out, got a quality, high-paying job, started paying off debts. And amidst that I feel like I’m backsliding. So, like the dramatic scene at the end of the action movie where the hero desperately claws for something to hang on to as he slides nearer and nearer to the cliff, I’m reformatting, changing my approach, grasping for a new mentality and dedication to power myself into a better self-image, a better position in life…to happiness, really.

When I look back on the last year I realize that, though I’m not in the place I wanted to be, I’ve learned a hell of a lot. I’ve learned how to put in crazy hours and how to stop putting in crazy hours when they become too much. I’ve learned how to be frugal and I’ve learned how to stop caring about the cash and have a good time. I’ve learned how to set concrete goals and measure progress and I’ve learned how to shut down and just let life happen around me. I’ve learned how to micro-manage and I’ve learned how to deal with letting a project grow its own wings and fly. I’ve learned how to give myself a break, and I’ve learned how to expect more of myself. Much of my growth came directly from the very job I felt was holding me back, and it’s been hard to admit that what has caused me so much grief has also given me so much. But now that I’ve done some growing in general (and hopefully some maturing), it’s time to realize that simply growing isn’t enough. I have to decide how to grow, where to grow, and when to make the decisions that will make me the man I’ll be for the rest of my life.

DRAMATIC, HUH?

A couple nights ago I came up with a system to make myself accountable for the way I spend time, to allow myself some flexibility in the way I strengthen myself, but also to make sure I focus on the skillset that I want to grow, the strengths that I am proud of. I’ll be setting concrete goals, rewarding my successes and penalizing my failures. I’m going to push myself consistently, set realistic goals, and understand that with struggle comes success. I’m keeping the details under wraps right now, but I’m hoping to shape myself into someone I know again.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t know who I’m looking at. I feel like I don’t know I am anymore, I don’t know how I got here. But if I tripped and stumbled into this life, then I’m damned lucky. I have an amazing family, spectacular friends, a stable, challenging job, and, if I take advantage of the opportunities in front of me, the whole damned world at my fingertips. Because even though I might not be optimistic, even though I might not feel a ton of confidence in myself, I still see potential. I still feel hope. But I need a change of approach. I need a focus.

This blog will undergo a change of format at the next post. This won’t just be me venting about my life (though I can’t guarantee that won’t seep in occasionally). HTML will go back to its original purpose: taking back life. Whether it’s taking life back from indecision, mediocrity, stagnation, depression, addiction, whatever the matter is….it’s YOUR LIFE. It’s MY LIFE. Either we can do or be done, change or be changed. Sit back and let someone take charge of your life, or stand up and say, “Hey, that’s my life.”

I’ll be taking it back now.

-Josh

Ten Thousand Hours.

Malcolm Gladwell says that if you want to become a master of something that it’ll take 10,000 hours of dedication.

But this isn’t a Gladwell post. It’s a Macklemore post.

When I first heard Thrift Shop on the radio I knew it was going to be a hit. It’s pretty easy to tell what’s going to resonate with the populous, what songs are going to get played over and over again. I found the intro pretty annoying. But I started listening to the lyrics behind the catchy beat and became really impressed. He took the mechanics of popular hip-hop and subverted the traditional message. Why pay ridiculous amounts of money to buy clothes? I mean, they’re just clothes, right? I enjoyed it; it was fun.

And then I heard Can’t Hold Us and I started to get it. I remember talking to some friends, saying, “Man, how ridiculous must it feel to put out tracks like he does, to have been rapping for years and the one that makes him blow up is almost ridiculous?” They said that he probably didn’t care, that the cash that’s rolling in probably makes up for it all, and that at least it’s getting him exposure.

I think it was a tactic, dropping Thrift Shop before Can’t Hold Us. Pull the audience in with the stuff that makes it comfortable and happy, then gradually start to show them the real stuff. Though I’d love to say otherwise, I think that if Can’t Hold Us dropped before Thrift Shop, even though there’s more vocal styling and skill in that track, he wouldn’t have as large a following today. But that’s part of mastering your craft and your audience.

His most recent album with he album has recurring themes: blood, sweat, and tears. Dreams. Work. Fighting for success. The flaws of consumerism. And appreciating the success once it comes.

Ten Thousand Hours is the name of the first track on The Heist. In in he says, “Ten thousand hours/I’m so damn close I can taste it.” He says he’s not a master yet, but I say he is. He’s doing things with hip-hop that are simply fantastic, and it’s damned inspirational. He talks about drug abuse, alcoholism, even writing about telling his family about his relapse.

Same shit, different day, same struggle
Slow motion as time slips through my knuckles
Nothing beautiful about it
No light at the tunnel
For the people that put the passion before them being comfortable

Kinda funny that his passion, the passion of my friends following their dreams, is the light at the end of my tunnel. That 10,000 hours isn’t going to get any shorter for any of us. So if you’ve got a passion, if you’ve got a craving, then you’d better get started. Do your craft for the sake of the craft, and you’ll inspire people you never even dreamed you would.

-Josh

C2E2 Blog: The Sun Brothers and Crowdfunding with Professionalism

sunbros

Brad and Wesley Sun (L to R), founders of Sun Brothers Studios. Picture taken from sunbrosstudios.com.

A quick definition of professionalism, placed in the words of the Brad and Wesley Sun of Sun Brothers Studios: “Even if it’s not what you do to put food on the table, treat it like it is.”

I tweeted this morning saying:

So writing this blog tonight instead of tomorrow is my attempt at professionalism.

The “great panel” WAS, in fact, a great panel; two men, after kicking the idea around of starting their own company (like many), actually got off their asses and started their own comic company (UNlike many). Before they even considered Kickstarter as an option they saved a ton of their own money, invested their own time, and basically finished their product. By the time they ended up on Kickstarter basically all they had to do was send their first graphic novel, Chinatown, to the printers.

Their fund goal: $11K. They raised over $25,000. Pretty amazing.

At the panel they gave some pretty savvy Kickstarter-specific tips, things like making sure to set up your Amazon Payments account early, and have family and friends back you on Day 1 right when the campaign begins so that other people who see your project get excited about the investment.

Those are good tips. But none of those are how I think they raised over twice their Kickstarter goal.

Here’s what they did:

  • Set a timetable. Sure, you have an idea, but what’s it matter if you don’t get it done? If you’re going to Kickstart your project then you’ll have backers who expect rewards for their contributions and you’ll want to provide those promptly. On the subject of backers…
  • Think of Kickstarter as an investment opportunity, not a charity. Wesley Sun drove this point home over and over again throughout the panel. Treat the people who pump money into your project as investors who want to see your project succeed, not random people who just want to give you money because you’re a cool person (even if that’s why your Mom and friend Lenny from down the street backed you).
  • Research your market. One of your biggest recruiting tools on Kickstarter is the video at the top of the page: watch tons of other videos to find out what works and what doesn’t. Then do what you do best, but, again, remember you’re reaching out to investors. You can be funny, but take your project seriously or else nobody else will.
  • Know your scope. Wesley and Brad knew they weren’t just interested in making one comic, so they marketed to backers like they were helping to build a company instead of publish a comic. It worked.
  • PLAY SMART, PLAY HARD, PLAY TO WIN. There are tons of variables in play when you do a Kickstarter: leave none of them to chance. Actually calculate how much money you’ll need for the project, and don’t forget that you’ll lose 10% between Amazon Payments and Kickstarter fees. Invoke every hook you can to bring in backers; the Sun Brothers launched their Kickstarter in October since Chinatown is a haunted house story and people would be thinking about Halloween. And don’t forget the power of face-to-face marketing: hit up local shops, send letters to your friends and family, do it all.
  • Don’t stop after the campaign’s over. Tons of the work only shows up after the campaign’s over. When backers wrote to complain about damaged copies of the book they ordered, even when they were damaged by the US Postal Service the Sun Brothers still sent out replacement copies to those donors.

Technology now makes it easier than ever to turn ideas into real products, to take our dreams and turn them into reality. But Wesley and Brad’s success shows it takes more than a good idea and a Kickstarter account: it takes professionalism. Hard work, determination, careful planning, and taking both yourself and your project seriously…like they said, it’s amazing what a bit of professionalism can do to help you become successful.

-Josh