At some point during my childhood, perhaps early middle school, my parents got me a set of VHS tapes called Where There’s a Will, There’s an A. It was a recording of a lecture by an aggressively pleasant man named Claude Olney, who’d marketed them to parents like mine via an infomercial starring John Ritter. In a generic lecture hall, he offered advice for turning bad grades into good ones.
I was not a terrible student, but I was also not a good one, either. I struggled to find internal motivation. So, I watched and re-watched Where There’s a Will, There’s an A, popping open the cassette’s plastic case and hoping to unlock the key to motivation, to finding that willpower. But I’m quite sure I just watched and re-watched the first tape, perhaps only the beginning, because I quickly got bored.
The only piece of advice I can remember may have been Claude Olney’s very first tip: suggesting that his audience use erasable pens. I can still hear his voice, a Midwestern-ish lilt, as he walked around the room to his in-person audience. “Do you have one? Do you?” he asked, handing out erasable pens.
This was both delightful and utterly baffling. I’d used erasable pens—this was the 1980s, after all—but all I remember them doing was smearing the ink and scraping off a top layer of the paper. They were useless.
While neither erasable pens nor the rest of the tapes transformed my grades or motivation, this spoke to some part of me that believed the key to success was external, in something I could buy, something that would fix me.
What really unlocked my potential was a pair of high school courses, in desktop publishing and then journalism. My teachers, Mr. Sauer and Mrs. Predmore, showed me that what I already loved—playing around on a computer, reading USA TODAY—were things that had value, and things that I could learn more about.
Their classes were not about memorization or trudging through literature that was way too dense for my teenage brain, but about problem solving and critical thinking. We created real things—designing flyers for clubs, publishing the school newspaper—that had tangible use.
Later, I joined Mock Trial, where our attorney coach, John Hooley, challenged our team to get to know the case materials so well we could argue either side. Mr. Hooley also embraced popular culture as a teaching tool, having us watch and re-watch A Few Good Men, with its delineation of the fact-finding process, its montage of late-night preparation, and, of course, its idealized courtroom oratory. As someone who always loved to talk and debate with others as a way of understanding my own thoughts, and loved pop culture, I loved it.
In these three things I discovered I could actually just do what interested me.
This was not a Hollywood movie where my life was instantly transformed. It took years and years and years for that to truly sink in. Even as I worked on the paper, I stayed in Math Club and even went to competitions despite being absolutely wretched at math; I got to college and thought I’d be an economics major (really). Once I locked in on journalism and writing, the passion that had previously manifested itself outside of classrooms, I wrote a lot about things that didn’t interest me. I’ve had lifeless jobs that paid the bills while I
Eventually, though, I found my way to writing about reality television—and then I was fired. But that failure led to better things, as failures usually do, and I created this site as a repository for my passion.
That was 16 years ago.
Today, on reality blurred‘s 16th birthday, I’m overwhelmed to think that for 16 years, I’ve been able to keep doing what I love, on a daily (or sometimes daily-ish) basis. This site has grown and evolved a lot over the years, and nearly all of that growth and change is a result of just doing what feels right. Sometimes those experiments fail; sometimes I’m wrong; sometimes my ideas evolve.
I’m beyond grateful for those who visit every day, (or daily-ish), especially those of you have have been with me on this journey for years, some as far back as that very first summer.
The amount of time I’ve spent reading Lifehacker, trying apps, and browsing the aisles of Targets everywhere is pretty clear evidence that some core part of me wants to believe in the power of the erasable pen.
But rubbing that scratchy eraser against that stubborn ink is just as futile as trying to find motivation and passion in something external. That may be something I’m still learning, but what’s very clear this morning more than 25 years after those high school classes is that every word I write in this space traces back to the fundamentals that Mr. Sauer, Mrs. Predmore, and Mr. Hooley instilled in me.