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Opinion

Gonzo journalist lends literary influence to aspiring columnist

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October 31, 2014

“It is always bad business to try to explain yourself on paper–at least not all at once–but when you work as a journalist and sign your name in black ink on white paper above everything you write, that is the business you’re in, good or bad. Buy the ticket, take the ride.” — Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine

The Student Voice issues about a dozen editions each semester. I’ve only written two pieces and I’ve had a couple midterms already. This makes me either a failing weekly newspaper columnist or a slightly slow magazine writer.

The Voice has been a weekly for a long, long time, and I flog myself more than the public ever will for not keeping up with it.

When I finally got my hands on the last copy from the main rack at Chalmer Davee, I observed the cover for only a few seconds before flipping to the Viewpoints to see if my second column ended up getting published.

It did. And I saw the printed column about New York City that didn’t tell the whole story. My latest draft of it was about 1,500 words of mush that I eventually edited down to an incoherent bunch of around half that. There was a few lines of treasure in the heap of rubbish, but it easily could have been whittled back down to zero like I had done several times.

By the time these thoughts flossed through my mind, I had torn my column in half a couple times, crumpled it into a ball, put it back on the rack, and thought about taking the entire stack to the recycle bin. But then I thought about the other contributors and all of their hard work.

I figured that destroying my personal copy — valued at one dollar and now worthless — was good enough.

I was thinking that the nine-year-old with a microphone that I saw on “Democracy Now” probably covered the Global Climate March more thoroughly than I did. And I also thought of H.P. Lovecraft, the master horror writer that burned hundreds of his short story manuscripts to get lost forever because of his perfectionism. However, a more accurate description might be insanity.

As I walked away from the newsstand, I gained fuel from my dissatisfaction and wanted to crack open a fresh barrel of ink. I realized the mistakes were more valuable publicly than privately.

Snippet by snippet, at the very least I have noticed that more notes are being taken, the camera is strapped to the shoulder more often, and more thoughts are spent thinking about what stuff to write.

Our minds never turn off. During the day, our brains filter unfathomable amounts of information. The complexity awareness is the key to carving the words into my blank column space that I see every single week. I simply need to filter it further down to a few hundred of them.

Language is fun in every respect, but when you set yourself to such a high standard, it ceases. I need to remember all my quotes, inspirations, and guidelines to live by that I have brought up in previous columns to keep the pen ball rolling.

My long gap in between publishing certainly isn’t due to lack of things to write about.

Before the semester even started I had a list that I wanted to throw my brain weight into: coffee, chocolate, hemp, cannabis, alcohol, psilocybin, ayahuasca, religion, anarchy, and others. There is a semester’s worth of topics right there already, but then the possibilities expanded when school got back in session, and then exploded again when the work at the Voice started.

My current courses in journalism, politics, and history have provided an enormous springboard for local campus issues outside just the campus. There is also opinionating to keep up with on my sort of self-adopted beat of campus sustainability.

Every single one of these topics could be a column. It can get trenched deep as the Marianas real, real quick and can be attacked from all angles with the infinite portal of the Internet for information.

750 words should be easy, especially with half it potentially being filled with newsy facts of who, what, when, where, and why. What I get caught up with in each column is the idea that it is a 750-piece puzzle, and each of these pieces is a word that can be strung into a sentence, and then organized as a whole. There are thousands of options, and there sometimes seems to be no end.

This column was originally going to be my thoughts the recent art gallery but it turned into this rambling of an amateur journalist’s struggle instead.

However, I will mention my favorite piece out of the entire gallery, from Jimmy Smead’s stone skateboard collection: The “Gonz” board had a Ralph Steadman inspired graphic of Hunter S. Thompson painted on it. It is the perfect gateway to next week’s column about my Halloween experience of dressing up as Thompson.

Halloween is a time to be something you are not.

It is my chance to test out his individualist crazy addictive personality by some method acting. I definitely have his elaborate and mandatory breakfast spread on lock, but later on in the day my low tolerance might slow, but I will try with a pack of cigarettes puffed from a holder, neat whiskey straight from the bottle, and an additional six pack of beer.

Of course, I will have the pen, pad, and cam to record the story I get myself into.

As of this printing, I will have started my transformation with a shave of the head and beard.

“Buy the ticket, take the ride,” Thompson said. Indeed: Happy Halloween. Stay spooky.

Jack Haren is a journalism student with a political science minor. His free time is spent snowboarding, skateboarding, reading, writing, designing, listening, experimenting and living minimally. In the future he wishes to freelance and travel the world.