Full Circle

After graduating college and realizing that I wasn’t going to instantly be a published creative non-fiction book author, I resigned myself to a soul-draining day job while I sought freelance gigs on the Internet. The very first publication that gave me a chance was SWITCH Magazine, founded by my friends Gerry Garcia and Danny Safady – though I didn’t know who they were at the time. The Editor-in-Chief was Kristopher Dukes and she enjoyed my college samples enough to bring me on board. The magazine was just starting out so payment was offered in bylines, which was fine for me.

Kristopher asked for story pitches so I tossed out this idea of doing bar reviews. My hope was to have a standard column titled Social Lubrication and I’d be the guy checking out all the new scenes. This was, of course, a great sacrifice on my part since I can’t stand alcohol. Anyway, my idea was approved and I dragged some friends out for some drinks. My first draft didn’t turn out so well even though my friends liked it. Kristopher kicked it back to me with supportive but concise criticisms and asked me to rewrite it, stating that she wanted it to be “more professional.” I pared myself down in the reviews and tried to mimic a few reviews I’d read online, while still trying to maintain my voice. Kristopher loved it and I sat back and waited for my first officially published work to go to print.

Sam Sarpong

Sam Sarpong

A few weeks later, Kristopher left the publication and moved to New York. I was dismayed, but when I contacted Gerry all of my concerns were wiped away by his request that I interview Tatyana Ali. Again, I sat back in my chair to take it all in. Sure, Tatyana Ali wasn’t Angelina Jolie, but it was more than I could have expected from my very first time interviewing anybody. I’ve told this story many times before so I won’t go into too much detail in this retelling, but you can read my interview with Tatyana if you’d like. Anyway, the bigger surprise was that Gerry wanted me to interview an actor/model friend of his – Sam Sarpong – as well. It was a big surprise not because of Sam’s acclaim or notoriety, but because Gerry decided to spring this news on me day of, leaving me in a pretty pickle since I didn’t know anything about Sam at all. I was already nervous as hell, trying to fake it like I’d been doing this journalism thing for ages. Now I had to come up with questions on the fly without even really knowing what entertainment journalists ask. Luckily for me, Sam likes to talk so I got plenty of good material. Luckily for the article, I write good copy. You can also check out my Sam Sarpong interview if you like.

I mention this moment because that first-time nervousness never really left me. Anytime I’ve sat down to interview someone, whether it be a one-on-one or a roundtable or a press conference, I’ve always felt this need to impress the interviewee. It was as if to prove to them hey, I’m legitimate. I deserve to be sitting in the same room as you.

Steve Hofstetter

Steve Hofstetter

Then there were the dry spells. SWITCH never got off the ground so I freelanced here and there for different regional publications of varying credibility, none of which paid me with anything more than a byline. Publication after publication folded and it was hard to pick up freelance work, so I promoted myself through my Web site, asking people on social networks to advertise me to their friends lists. One such person, who actually found me, was comedian Steve Hofstetter. We were both using the now defunct TagWorld and I guess he saw that I was a writer, so he invited me out to one of his Sunday shows, which I found out much later are free shows that he likes to do with no scripted material. Anyway, I told him that I’d be willing to interview him and pitch the article to random editors around LA if he’d advertise me on his page. He refused, stating that he found it “unethical” that I’d even consider writing a review of someone only for personal promotion. I admitted to him and myself that it was pretty tacky and felt deeply ashamed. I was turning into a hack.

Fast forward to several years later. For some reason, I’d always wanted to show Steve Hofstetter that I was a serious writer. I felt that I had made such a terrible first impression that I owed it to myself to prove that I was above that level of writers. So for one of my very early articles for Buzzine, I made sure to pitch an interview with Steve. I think the article went over very well. Steve was happy with it and when Buzzine was invited to an industry comedy showcase, which Steve hosted, I now had a tenuous relationship with him. So when he came by my table to chitchat, it was totally cool and natural. He probably doesn’t remember any part of our first encounter back in 2006, but the important thing is that I do and I think I’ve made up for it.

Even more recently, I had to cover a launch party for Catch Boutique, which is an online fashion retailer that offers video conferencing for style advice among other services. The host of the party and founder of the company, Natalie Howell, was floating around the event and I thought it’d be good to get some quotes from her for my editorial. The problem was that she was constantly surrounded by PR staff and celebrities. The situation reminded me of grade school, with me wanting to just talk with the cute, popular girl, but never did because she was always surrounded by people that would scrutinize everything I said. So I hung back and just took in the party. That’s when I saw Sam Sarpong. He hadn’t changed one bit, but of course he didn’t recognize me. When we performed what Danny calls the “hip hop hug,” which consists of a handshake, pull-in and one arm hug, Sam asked me, “Where do I know you from?”

For whatever reason, I suddenly felt empowered. To be more accurate, I felt the field was level – that I had value within the industry. More than that, I think it also has to do with just overall comfortableness that I never acknowledged before. When you go to enough events, you start running into the same people. It’s like college. When you’re taking classes related to your major, you run into familiar faces. I run into Corinne Kaplan at almost every event I go to, which makes me wonder if she’s on the same mailing lists. Anyway, the feeling of being overwhelmed by Sam’s star power (such as it is) from our first meeting in 2004 had given way to just being two professionals running into each other on our journey through the industry. This will probably sound odd, but when I gave him my card, I felt grown up.

Right after that, I hunted down Natalie for a few quotes. Entourage be damned.

When people use the term “full circle” it typically means a return to the beginning. I can’t say that I’ve simply returned to the beginning, because that would discount the tremendous growth I’ve experienced over the last couple of years. So instead I’ll categorize my writing career thus far as having made one full revolution up a spiral staircase.

So far, the view looks pretty good.