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Dear You,

I’ve been reading the work of a few literary journalists – Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, Lillian Ross, for one of my classes, and I decided to take a shot at some literary journalism of my own. I recounted an interview that I saw of Guitar Red, a homeless blues guitarist in Atlanta, Georgia, a few weeks ago. Guitar Red has a record deal! Don’t I wish I could be so lucky! His managers called up their University of Florida interns to come up for the weekend to record a show, a music video and interviews with some of the artists, and I got to tag along.

Since the opportunity was so unique, I figured it might be a good time to take a stab at literary journalism – telling a story/painting a picture completely based on facts. One of the literary journalists I’m reading now, Carlos Frias, wrote a book – Take Me With You, recounting his first trip to Cuba when Castro stepped down. He was sent on assignment by the Palm Beach Post, but the 5-part series he wrote turned into a book, a very good book, at that!

 I felt like I was there with him, walking the streets of Cuba, eating an “everything pizza,” because his writing was so colorful and detailed. I have no idea how to capture such a real picture in my writing. Carlos has also written a piece on our Tebow, right after the Championship win, which also seemed too real! His language is so AHH! It’s awesome!

As I started to write my own piece, I started thinking about these questions. How do you define literary journalism? How do you keep journalists accountable and make sure that they are accurate in their reporting? It’s an interesting phenomenon.

If I describe an event from my point of view or perspective, then it is the truth – it’s my truth, but I guess it could be different from someone standing on the other side of the room who saw a little more or a little less than what I did. Maybe if someone knows the background story to an event, the truth would be even more different for him/her. This new wave of modern journalism has such potential, but must really be approached with caution because there’s so much wiggle room.

Here goes, I tried.

MissFits

A Portrait of Guitar Red

Shrimp tails flower the grass in a park in Decatur, Georgia.

            An apparently homeless man sits on top of a picnic table with a wide, gap-toothed smile and a guitar, strumming its strings for the world to hear. The container of half-eaten shrimp sits next to him. With an old, worn scarf for a shoulder strap, college interns and his manager for an audience, Guitar Red plays.

            Some passersby stop to listen from a distance; others keep walking, looking back over their shoulders to get another look at the homeless man and the camera crew filming him.

            Red sits atop the table, playing soulfully for his audience, looking directly into the camera and speaking to his manager, Ben Rowell, who directed the interview. Rowell and his wife, Kim, own the record label Backspace Records and produce Red’s music.

“Gui-tar Red, that’s what they call me!” he yells, laughing into the camera. His laugh comes from deep within his belly, and it echoes throughout the entire park. It’s contagious.

You can’t help but smile at the older-looking man, clad in a red-checkered flannel shirt, blue pants, socks that ride half-way up his leg and worn shoes. He looks happy and at home holding his guitar, like a child snuggles a comfort blanket.

Every now and then, Red’s boisterous laugh and booming voice quiets, and he just plays, rocking back and forth, back and forth, to the rhythm of his songs.

“I wrote this one for my family,” Red says. Closing his eyes, he starts silently, rocking, playing a soulful, sobering blues melody. “Each string on the guitar is for my family, so I think of ‘em when I play,” he whispers, reminiscing, tears in his eyes. His family is all gone now.

            “I got my stuff to work on,” Red screams through his tears. “But cain’t nobody say that Guitar Red ain’t a good person.” Pushing his glasses up his nose bridge, Red strikes the chords on his instrument to a more jovial tune.

            Tears gone, he grins, laughing again.

Dear You,

I will admit – I do use Facebook, and I do have a MySpace account, as I’m sure you do, too. Right? They’re both great for keeping in touch with old friends and family members and getting the 411 on people you know, but I am concerned that these social networking tools are getting out of hand and can harm aspiring professionals if they’re not careful. CORRECTION: Aspiring professionals can harm themselves with these social networking tools if they’re not careful.

Yes, there are a few basic rules for safely using the Internet that would, of course, be applied while using these sites, but I think that users are more dangerous to themselves than cybersphere. Most people – I’ll stop using “young” because any and everyone uses these things now, are probably unaware of how many people can access their social network profiles. And we all know that some of the things up on Facebook aren’t things we’d want to pull up in front of our parents or grandparents, let alone let a potential employer . And that’s just it! Employers CAN, DO and WILL see the profiles of potential candidates.

It’s not uncommon for organizations to do research on potential candidates using these social networking sites. I mean, what better way to get to know someone you are considering hiring than by checking out the place they spend a whole bunch of time. Let’s be honest – we all probably spend way too much time on Facebook writing on each others walls from our Blackberrys and letting the world know what we’re doing in our statuses.

It stinks for people who have incriminating pictures and colorful language strewn about their pages, but I must admit, it’s a smart move for employers because it’s 1. cheap, actually FREE 2. anonymous and 3. relatively easy to do.

Honestly, why not err on the side of caution here, people? Or, better yet, why not err at all? We know what the right thing to do is! I don’t know how many classes and seminars I’ve been to that politely remind people to be mindful of the images and persona they portray of themselves on the Internet. When submitting an application for an leadership organization, I was asked to bring a print out of my Facebook profile.

A few rules of thumb for maintaining professionalism on the Internet.
1. If you wouldn’t want your parents/grandparents to see it, don’t post it.
2. Ask, “What would my professor/mentor/etc. think if they saw this picture?”
3. Consider the first impression you’re leaving on people who have never met you before.
4. Be careful of who you “befriend.” There are crazies out there, and spammers, too.
5. Erase friends crazy, inappropriate and offensive comments from your walls, or consider deleting them altogether if it’s too much to manage.
6. Don’t post pictures of you doing illegal activities.
7. Be considerate and do not purposefully offend others with ignorant pictures, posts, etc.

Some of this, to me at least, seems pretty basic to Internet safety, but even more so to social networking safety. I’m not saying you have to be Simple Sally, by any means, express yourself, but do consider what your Internet image says about you as a person and professional. Click here to find out more about how to use Facebook professionally.

It’s a small world after all…

MissFits

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The worth of our lives comes not in what we do or who we know, but by WHO WE ARE and WHOSE WE ARE.

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