Category Archives: writing

I want to help, but: Giving Tuesday is hard to take.

I ran across our provost in the supermarket on Sunday in the cereal aisle. I probably looked tired and mildly overwhelmed.
 
“So many options,” he said perceptively, as I scanned the shelves with my face likely sporting a touch of bewilderment. I replied that I’m sure there’s research to this effect, not thinking fast enough to cite Hick’s Law on how the increasing number of choices can reduce one’s likelihood of making a decision.
 
And in a way, that’s the formula that has made Giving Tuesday almost more than I can take.
 
The idea behind Giving Tuesday is wonderful. I want to feel into it. But instead I feel overwhelmed.


Day after day

I suspect it seemed like a natural progression when it started: You had Black Friday where people stampeded poor associates and other shoppers for bargains. Then they could go online and act tech-savvy and dignified with Cyber Monday. After all that, helping a good cause on Giving Tuesday could assuage any guilt for conspicuous consumption.

But even in the “good old days,” there was an economic construct that could deter Giving Tuesday success: Money is a finite resource. Yes, you might have “saved” $10 or $20 or whatever on Black Friday deals, but if you spent $100 or $200, that’s the only concrete figure on the balance sheet. Although most of that went on credit cards, so one could say paying later can enable doing some good while feeling good about one’s savings.

But this year I just feel like I’ve been overrun without walking into a shopping center on Friday. I feel digitally displaced without even clicking a Buy button on Monday. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have taken over the month of November, and it’s not cool.

Too much

I don’t even remember when the first pre-pre-pre-Black Friday marketing email descended upon my inbox, and I’ve lost track of how many retailers have “generously” expanded Cyber Monday into Cyber Week (the emails feel more like an army of Cybermen deleting my sanity). To say that I received hundreds of emails from marketers in the past week related to shopping would not be an exaggeration, and that’s despite unsubscribing from several.

And don’t even get me started on retailers using “Giving Tuesday” as a pitch line, because that stuff’s in bad taste.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen so many great causes promoted by friends and colleagues and various institutions of higher learning. Part of me wants to support all of them. But …

… they are indeed all worthy. So I’m finding it difficult to find the time, let alone have the money, to support all the ones I want. A lot of fundraising happens in November anyway: In the past few weeks, I’ve already donated to multiple causes and am coordinating our building’s SEFA/United Way food drive. And that’s not counting all the stories, social media posts and other content worked on to help a range of charities.

I say this not to congratulate myself but to try to convince myself I’m not an awful person for not getting into the spirit of Giving Tuesday. If you have and supported causes important to you, that’s wonderful. If you’re a fundraiser and your efforts have influenced others to make a difference, fantastic!

I don’t want to give up on Giving Tuesday, but please forgive me if my will gives out until I can regain the holiday spirit.

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Respect the sport: This ain’t no fish story.

The author fishing

If you’re going to get up around 4:30 in the morning on a holiday, it should be for a good reason. The adventure of spending Labor Day on my first fishing charter seemed a pretty decent reason.

My friend Bobby Malo, who co-owns Sterling Cidery with his wife Amy, had reached out because his father (Bob) had booked a charter with White Cap Charters and there was room for me to join them if I was interested. It sounded exciting, so I replied in the affirmative. I didn’t ask about the whole we-need-to-get-up-way-before-dawn thing til later, but it’s not like I sleep in that much, holiday or other.

And so around 6 am, Bobby and Bob and I departed Bayside Marina with Mike, the captain who runs White Cap Charters, and John, his first mate who sets in all the gear. Having watched more than my share of “Deadliest Catch,” I realize there’s nothing particularly simple about fishing from boats of any level of sophistication. And while pursuing salmon from Lake Ontario on a beautiful (if somewhat hot) September day is not exactly hunting crabs in between winter storms on the Bering Sea, it’s no picnic either.

John set out the lines and downriggers and we had a rotation that Bob would take the first strike, then Bobby, then me. The fish seemed to take a couple hours to bite, but thien it was on like Donkey Kong. Bob’s first one managed to break free, and then Bobby brought in a really big king salmon. Then I waited and watched until the telltale pull on one of the lines meant it was my turn.

Folks, I’ve never charter fished before, let alone fished for anything bigger than a Nerf football, so this was quite a thing. Mike and John coached the noob through the basic rules of engagement: when the fish hits, let it run to tire itself out; once it stops running, first pull the pole up as much as you can; then start reeling and lower the rod quickly until the reel stops clicking; then raise the rod slowly as vertical as you can and repeat the process. That first fish felt like an eternity, but then I finally saw it on the surface and repeated the pulling and reeling until John had it in the net. It was all quite thrilling.

We ultimately made it around three times, with Bobby landing big fish on all three of his turns. Bob got one big and one smaller. On my next attempt, one hit and started running and we eventually lost it (certainly because it was about 300 pounds, or so goes my fish story). On our final attempt of the day, I got the reel on a cast that was more than 300 feet away and did a lot of pulling and reeling and repeating. It fought to the end, but eventually we pulled in one that was even bigger than my first.

While all seven salmon will be eaten at some point over the coming months, a part of me felt bad about the whole killing thing. But most of these are not very far from spawning and heading up river to die; they’re not exactly buying green bananas is what I’m saying. And it’s a large population and a thriving local industry, if the 20 or so other vessels also circling over the holes and chutes of Lake Ontario are any indication.

Mike said this is his final week of the season. The salmon are just one warm rain away from catching wind of the Oswego River and spawning upstream, there to be met by the throngs of fishermen in the lucrative fall salmon run. They are fresher and more sport at this point.

And when I say “sport,” the precision of the labors of Mike and John as well as the sheer effort we put into trying to land each one — my man vs. fish rounds felt about 10 to 15 minutes, although they were likely less — explains why charter fishing is so appealing and thrilling. To say nothing of the veritable feast that comes with it.

We finished the day with a late lunch at Turtle Cove, during which the skies opened up and scattered everybody else eating on the deck. But our group of three stayed out under the table umbrellas through the torrential downpours and steady rain that led us back to sunny skies. We’d just had an adventure on the high seas (or lake anyway), so enduring a bit more nature seemed only appropriate.

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All the lonely people — let’s help them all belong.

Cloudy morning over campus

I was on campus tonight for quick stop (saying hello to the 2018-19 Oswego women’s hockey team — go Lakers!) but a walk while killing time brought back some not-so-pleasant memories of starting college.

I saw a number of people sitting by themselves, maybe by choice, maybe not. I gazed out the window toward the bus stop where one student looked like he wanted to join a conversation but wasn’t sure how. I saw people who, in an exciting new environment surrounded by thousands of people their age, paradoxically looked a little lonely.

In essence, I saw myself in those people.

When I went away to school at Brockport, it should have been the most exciting time in my life. But it was the most lonely and discouraging first couple of weeks. I was a shy, skinny, awkward, pimply kid with bad hair. I didn’t know why all these kids who were better looking, cooler and richer than I would even want to hang out with me. I wouldn’t say I was homesick so much as just missing a place where I felt I belonged. Fortunately, I decided to wander down to the student newspaper, The Stylus, and found my tribe, including friends who remain to this day.

But what I’m saying is it’s not easy for a lot of people. They’ve left their usual friends, their routines, their comfort zones. They might be homesick. They might be unsure of what to do. They might be lonely.

One of the more gratifying parts of my job is working the incoming student social media communities, in essence trying to facilitate connections for our students before they ever reach campus. I’m blessed to work with staff and students to create content to help with the transition. And many of them find roommates, classmates, friends. But it’s not a perfect science. I met some nice people when I started college but didn’t click with them. That person who seems like an awesome roommate on social media may not in fact be a good match in real life, leaving people drifting.

I can only hope the lonely people looking for their fit can be as fortunate as I am. But even if we can’t make all the connections for them, we can do our part. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be willing to help. It’s the least we can do.

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An old camera, a new perspective

Arius takes a selfie

Arius takes a selfie

A photo of Arius taking a selfie, then the selfie he took.

My 5-year-old son Arius was digging through some drawers recently and found my old Sony CyberShot DSC-W110. Decent for photos and some video but got outmoded. Did it still work? Could the battery still charge? Yes and yes.

He showed considerable interest in it right away, and started to learn how to use it off what I could remember and his own trial and error. I was happy to see him fascinated with it and making a creative outlet of it. Hadn’t used it in several years, even before selifes were a thing (the good ol’ days) but he somehow figured out how to take seflies with it. And use the timer. Clever kid.

Arius takes a selfie

Arius figured out how to set a timer and take a selfie. I took hundreds, maybe thousands of photos on this camera and never learned how.

Moreover, I just found the experiment interesting: What does a 5-year-old find interesting exactly? His dad. The family cat. His surroundings. They aren’t the most technically advanced, although something about the spooky lighting in some of them is compelling.

Other than a nice diversion, it also reminded me about the importance of appreciating others’ perspectives. What I might find as mundane, Arius sees as fascinating. Things I think of as old can appear new to him. Whatever our line of work, it’s a reminder that our perspective, our knowledge or our point of view is not the same as our customers or collaborators or even our competitors! It’s good to see how somebody else views the world once in a while.

The author with backlighting

A cat with backlightThe author and cat with some scratching and purring

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Know who you are: The SUNY system’s role in equity

Sean Kirst speaks at SUNYCUAD conference

Sean Kirst — an award-winning journalist and author who is a SUNY Fredonia graduate — was both a keynote speaker at the recent SUNYCUAD conference and one of many SUNY success stories.

The recent SUNYCUAD annual educational conference had a lot of great information, but perhaps most appropriate were some of its keynote speakers reminding us of just what SUNY is. It’s not the Ivy League. It shouldn’t be. Instead, it has a much bigger role in addressing a more equitable society.

Sean Kirst, an award-winning journalist, author of The Soul of Central New York and a SUNY Fredonia graduate, recalled his own modest upbringing and how a SUNY education was really the only way up. Kirst — a top-notch storyteller who several people said gave one of the conference’s best keynotes ever — recalled the “lightbulb moment” in college when all the authors he’d read in his English classes finally made sense in their relevance to life. For decades at The Syracuse Post-Standard and now at The Buffalo News, Kirst introduces readers to wonderful humans, many of them underdogs in some way, but his own ability to tell these stories and his own underdog tale would not have been possible — as he said repeatedly — without a SUNY education.

Famed pollster John Zogby, while not a SUNY graduate but a longtime Upstate New York resident, brought up an important point as he talked about educational trends. While he notes it’s important that SUNY schools continue to attract top-tier students — the most talented and prepared — he said SUNY can’t forget about students who don’t have the flashiest SAT scores or high-school GPAs but can benefit the most from an affordable education. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many of these students who colleges don’t compete for because of their high-school academic profile yet have flourished in college with the opportunities they have — and who will excel (or have already excelled) in whatever field they choose.

As a conference organizer, I’m so happy we also booked Robbye Kincaid — director of Stony Brook’s Responding to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Project — as a keynote speaker, because she emphasized SUNY’s mission of creating opportunity and a more equitable society. We can never forget the inclusive mindset that realizes diversity’s central role in our campuses and society, a point of view that benefits us all.

Chancellor Kristina Johnson added her own affirmation that even with challenges come opportunities to grow, and that the SUNY system is a gem. I agree, and it’s the combination of shining stars and diamonds in the rough that make it so valuable.

I am blessed, as a campus-based storyteller, to see opportunity create these success stories regularly. One of my very favorite assignments from the past year was speaking to winners of our Diversity Graduate Fellowship, which is the SUNY ideal in action. One winner used to be homeless and is now poised for a counseling career helping at-risk and homeless individuals. Another is a single mother teaching at a science charter school with an eye on those who most need support. Another was raised by a single mother in the Bronx and knew a SUNY education was the only way out — and after her master’s degree will bring her important diverse viewpoint to the counseling profession.

The latter winner is Stacy Araujo, who came through the Equal Opportunity Program, which helps low-income, first-generation and other college students who might need more help in transition. (Another Oswego graduate who came through the EOP program is Al Roker, America’s favorite weatherman.) Araujo explained SUNY and the EOP program about as well as anybody I can remember:

“Without this program I would not be the hardworking, focused and determined student I am today,” she said. “And more importantly, I would not have thought myself capable of succeeding during my undergraduate years and pursuing graduate studies.”

As somebody who has an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from SUNY schools — and might not have been able to get them otherwise — I know this is truth. And it’s reason that every day I get to work at a SUNY institution, I know I can be part of making a difference for the better.

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Being remarkable by being unremarkable.

Author standing in front of a LeRoy Island sign

Maybe the only person that day to take a selfie on LeRoy Island.

Upstate New York is full of wonder. I’ve lived within an hour (or much less) of Lake Ontario for 40+ years but hadn’t heard of LeRoy Island until Friday night. And when I visited it, I realized why.
I planned a random Saturday roadtrip to clear my head out a bit, which I do from time to time, starting with fixed points of Waterloo Prime Outlets (to clear out my wallet) and Sterling Cidery. But what to do in between? Captain Jack’s on Sodus Bay? Nice, but nothing new. Chimney Bluffs? Been a while, maybe. Then I saw it floating on the map on the east side of Sodus Bay: LeRoy Island.
A map of Sodus Bay, with an arrow pointing to LeRoy Island

Thar she blows.

Go ahead: Google “LeRoy Island.” I’ll wait.

You back? Kind of a mystery, yes? Some Facebook checkins but no official presence. Some real estate listings. Not much else. My interest was piqued.
So after supporting the Seneca County economy at the outlet malls, I headed north on 414 but instead of turning right on 104, I went straight on something sometimes called Lake Bluff Road. Orchards and vineyards and farms lined the road. Off on the left toward Sodus Bay, I started to see the nouveau riche fabricated monstrosities, million-dollar plots individually or in cul de sacs boasting the coveted lake view. Those disappeared and the countryside returned. Following winding roads and instinct, at last I reached it: LeRoy Island.
What’s remarkable about LeRoy Island is that it is generally unremarkable. You drive across a bridge lined with fishermen, past a gritty marina that says parking for customers only (read: not a tourist trap) and onto the island’s main road, where water remains in view on both sides of you. Marina aside, it’s all residential. And quaint. The main road ends in a loop, and you can explore the one-lane camp roads (I met no traffic) and see the whole island quickly. The camps and houses are nice but not showy; not a McMansion in the bunch, and the cars are not luxury vehicles and sports cars or enormous Land Rovers but the kinds of vehicles driven by everyday folks.
A little free library, where people will finish a book and leave it for a neighbor to enjoy

When you finish a good book, you share it with your neighbors.

It feels like a throwback but in the best way — to a time when the middle class could afford waterfront property, where people liked and respected and said hello to their neighbors (there’s even a little free library where residents put their books when they’re done with them so others can peruse them), where folks talk across campfires and wooden fences and fishing lines. I saw nobody with their nose in a smartphone (as opposed to the outlet mall, where you couldn’t go 10 feet without seeing somebody absorbed by technology).

The people of LeRoy Island know they have a bit of paradise but don’t have to brag about it or showcase it in selfies, because it’s so much more rewarding to just soak in what’s around you and appreciate your blessings.
In the attention-craving world of 2018, LeRoy Island is in no hurry to be found. And in that dedication to being unremarkable, it is a remarkable find.

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New position and role: making stories happen

Charles Kuralt on his typewriter

Back around elementary school, as I watched Charles Kuralt wrap up one of his magnificent “On the Road” segments, I decided that I wanted to tell stories for a living. And I now have a new role, new title and new responsibilities at work that makes this more of a reality.

I’m taking on a new title as director of news and media services, although if such a thing was possible, I’d like to think of it as the director of storytelling. I now head a four-person professional team that includes writer Jeff Rea, videographer Jim Kearns and photographer Jim Russell, plus a squad of great student storytellers as always, with our main goal of telling the stories of SUNY Oswego, and why the college is a special community.

Maybe that comes in the form of a news story (once known as a press release), maybe it’s a video (although topping the Oz Chicken Patty’s virality will be a challenge), a photo that transmits a thousand words, a narrative Facebook post, a tweet, a ‘gram, a Snap or a blog post. It’s rather exciting to think of stories taking so many potential forms, and working with a talented team that can help bring these tales of awesome people doing amazing things to life.

The main challenge will be trying to figure out how to make our resources meet the possibilities, as every member of the Oswego family is a hero with an interesting story (or two or nine) that we could tell, but whether it’s a Campus Update Spotlight, a video about student research or a Friday #oswegram, our job is to work together to bring this content to the world.

And while it’s not traveling around America in an RV telling the extraordinary tales of ordinary people, it’s still pretty cool.

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