What Happens Next?

I woke up in the third city in three days. That’s not a complaint. It’s actually invigorating.

It’s been a few years since I last wandered parts of America with Model Stranger.

In fact, three years ago today I was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota en route to…well, somewhere else.

I’ve missed the constant upheaval that life on the road brings. I’m most comfortable when I’m uncomfortable. I like words like “different” and “up” over “same” or “grounded”. I’m at my best when I’m constantly bombarded by new challenges, when decisions need to be made, when all of my possible attention is demanded from many directions. I’m kind of a masochist in that way.

What I like the most is the idea of “new”. Now, believe me when I say I have a deep respect for history. I’m well aware and interested in all the past event and experiences that lead up to “now”. But I’m also acutely aware that time doesn’t stop moving forward. So I’m in no position to hang too dearly on to what was. I can’t impact what happened  but I can impact what happens.

And with that, it’s time to go make something happen.

 

L.A. You’re OK…

…well, parts of you are. Ok look. I’ve badmouthed L.A. quite a bit. It’s something you grow up doing in Chicago. Some of it’s pure pride in the best city on the planet. Some of it might be a blue collar thing. “L.A. is full of fake people who care about how their faces look, now how hard they work like us” or something like that.

Cameron Esposito recently framed it like this:

“I grew up hating L.A. too. It’s such a dismissive city. So segmented and cutthroat. There’s no sense of community and no culture and the people are vain and vapid and made of cars and Botox. Unless you’re a movie star or a Kardashian, find a different place to live. Because in L.A., if you’re a normal person, you ain’t shit.”
She’s from a different part of Chicago than I am – a part my side of the city also has strong opinions about – but it’s a perfect summary of the overall sentiment of the city. I’d add how I thought it’s muggy, smoggy, and the traffic sucks. Oh, man. THE TRAFFIC.

When I first visited L.A. back in 2005 I had a preconceived hatred. And honestly, my experience actually validated my distaste. It was muggy, smoggy, the traffic sucked. Oh, man. THE TRAFFIC.

Even my opinion that everyone lived in some fantasy world was validated, when the band I was there with took me up into the hills to a friend of theirs house. I mean, mansion. It was a mansion.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I got to swim in a ridiculous resort-like pool and eat amazing food, all while absorbing various tour stories from Grammy-winning band and their Grammy-winning friends. I held actual Grammy statues. It was awesome.

But it wasn’t reality. This is not how people live. This was not like any backyard barbecue I’ve every attended and likely not like one I’ll ever attend again. These people live in some fantasy. I would stop through L.A. 2-3 more times over the next few years. Some people showed me around. I did some touristy stuff. I ate some pretty solid fish tacos. I sat in traffic. Oh man. THE TRAFFIC.

I left, happy to do so.

So when I decided to go back to L.A. yet again to visit an old friend of mine, I told myself “Well, you’re going to hang out with Jeff. So, just focus on that.” Then I watched an episode of The Layover with Anthony Bourdain. He opens the episode with similar laments to those above. He’s a proud New Yorker. Of course he hates L.A.

But over the course of the episode, as often happens on his various shows, Bourdain starts to be reminded that there’s actually quite a bit that he likes there. He visits some cool places, with some cool people and in the end ponders if he actually could manage some semblance of a life there. I believe the final sentiment was still “yeah, probably not”, but watching him try to enjoy himself and thoroughly succeed in ways I like to enjoy myself with the kind of people I enjoy in the kind of places I enjoy, I decided “well okay. Let’s go in a bit more open minded this time. Plus, Jeff’s cool, so he probably does cool things with cool people in cool places.

And guess what. Jeff does cool things with cool people in cool places. I ate great hole-in-the wall Mexican food. I saw a place where TV is made. We hiked. There was drinking. All in all the way people live their lives in his neighborhood isn’t a whole lot different from where I live. Replace talk of who’s working on what show now with who’s at what tech startup now; and celebrity sightings with mountain lion sightings; organic food with organic food and it’s really damn close actually.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time. Now, that had a lot to do with my company. Jeff and I go way back and share some great memories of making films together in high school. Even if he lived in a ‘hood I couldn’t stand, odds are I would have loved catching up with him anyway.

But he, like the folks Bourdain spent time with on that episode, succeeded in reminding me that anywhere you go, you can find something to appreciate – and that people make a place. If you’re open to that idea, you can be pleasantly surprised and have some pretty great times.

All that to say – L.A., you’re ok. But you are muggy. And you are smoggy. And your traffic sucks.

Oh man. THE TRAFFIC.

TL;DR

Where were you when you first time you heard the earth shattering news? You know, the thing that would change everything. Where were you when you first heard Patrick Sharp can’t keep it in his pants?

Patrick Sharp is horny?

Wait, what?

This text came from a buddy of mine who typically goes back and forth with me about the state of Chicago Blackhawks hockey. It was apparently referencing a random tweet from some sportwriter guy about Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp sleeping with teammates’ wives or something.

That tweet was followed by an article on a site that has the word “Mockery” in the title that’s 1,000 words which basically says “that sportwriter guy tweeted that thing and then some people said some stuff to us. We can’t prove anything, but like, it’s totally true guys, cause like, that sportswriter guy tweeted it and Jimmy and Sally said so. Also there was joke about a Blackhawks player sleeping with people on the television show Modern Family, so that pretty much makes this all fact.”

That last part is seriously one of the arguments in the article for the rumors being true.

The article is terrible. Weak arguments, sketchy sources, non-existent facts. Whether or not the stuff might be true, this isn’t investigative journalism at its finest.

Regardless, this spread like wildfire on my Facebook feed…

This is not journalism.

C’mon Facebook friends. Really? This is where we get our news now?

Because, well, that’s what happens now. We read an article and our instinct is to click “share”. Or, more likely, we read a headline and our instinct is to click share. NPR demonstrated that with a brilliant prank last year, but research backs that up too.

This all got me thinking about how we often craft our memories and experiences, and about the role of truth in what’s said publicly these days. We’re outraged when a journalist makes up details of a story, yet we have no issue adding to the spread of falsehoods or potential falsehoods.

Those things are related. We hear things. We believe them. We share them.

There are so many urban legends, and false statements over history. In fact, a bunch of what we learned growing up – even in school – is simply, well, wrong.

Look at this amazing infographic from Information is Beautiful. I guarantee you’ll find something you previously thought was true on it:

Common MythConceptions

Click to see the full infographic.

Some of this misinformation is non-vital. Am I worse off as a person that I thought mama birds abandoned their babies if they could smell humans? Probably not. But some misinformation can be quite destructive (SEE: JonBenet Ramsey’s parents).

Sadly, in our currently impatient digital society, it’s often what’s read and shared first that holds the most weight.

I don’t know if Patrick Sharp did the stuff that was being said about him. But I do know the statements he made to actually credible news outlets today, were not blowing up all over my Facebook feed. The other side of the story and perhaps the right side, even, isn’t being widely told.

Even if this all blows over and it’s actually proven that all the stuff written lately about him is false, there will still be people sharing what they first read or “heard”.

What does this mean for us? When do we decide to slow down, and start “digging” again? Do we event care to?

I found a great about about it here. I think. Maybe. I dunno, I didn’t read it.

The Tonic of Wilderness

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Some mornings you wake up with heavy eyelids and a heavy heart to coincide. This morning was one such morning for me, and on mornings such as these I draw back from public interaction. Now I’m a digital marketer and more specifically a community manager, so there is no such thing as a true retreat. My coworkers may not have seen my face until the afternoon, but they’ve seen my IMs and my emails since the wee hours.

The world always beckons.

I fall asleep late at night to an empty queue, having responded, interacted, engaged all I can for the day. I awake to dozens of notifications and conversations I’ve missed while asleep – even for the short few hours I get each night. I wake up behind on the day, each and every day.

But I do not mind this. I am custom built for this. I will see it all, I will engage with it all. I will be everywhere I can, as often as I can be there. I will be “always on”. I will stretch myself thin. It’s something I’m good at, it’s something upon which I thrive.

But sometimes I need wilderness.

I need sanctuary. I need something untouched by the infinite connectivity of the digital world. Now, fortunately I live in a beautiful place in Boulder, Colorado – a place that has actual wilderness a stone’s throw away. I took a brisk walk this morning and found myself staring at what is still unfathomable beauty of the Flatirons – just out my back door.

But it’s not simply a hike or a day backcountry skiing that I’m in search of. It’s not a physical wilderness. It’s something inside me, something unsurveyed and unfathomed to this point.

I don’t know what my wilderness is yet, but I’m setting out to explore.

A View From the Dark Side of Stubbornness…Maybe.

I”m not a complainer, and aside from occasional thoughts shared on this very blog, I’m not big into talking about things that may be bothering me – and even when I do share, “it’s always vague and cryptic”, as a close friend recently described it.

I don’t often air my grievances and I’m not regularly found venting. I’m a devout believer in the “grin and bear it” attitude toward hardship and pain. There are probably noble things to say about that attitude – to call it brave, strong-willed, or to call me “a trooper” as my mom would say.

But really I’m just stubborn. 

In my defense, I’m a male Capricorn of German-Irish-Polish descent from the southwest side of Chicago named Andrew. Did I really have a choice?

Jokes aside, I am very stubborn. I don’t whine because that’s letting a situation get the best of me. I persevere because there is no other choice. It’s me versus whatever that thing against me is, and I’m going to overcome it. I’m going to. Simple as that.

This unwillingness to give in to life’s attempts to break me, I consider a defining trait, which has mostly been a positive thing for me. But as with anything, there’s a dark side to such a temperament, particularly when faced with a darker kind of stubbornness.

That kind of stubbornness is the kind that consumes a person. It’s the kind of stubbornness that knows absolutely no boundaries and does not differentiate between friend and foe because it simply can’t. It’s a primitive stubbornness, a belief that anything and everything is an obstacle and that all must be dominated or overcome regardless of circumstance.

People who possess this type of stubbornness tend to be pretty successful in life – like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos – but they are often difficult creatures to like as well.

I have a person in my life who I believe possesses this stubbornness, and an interesting battle between our strong wills played out yesterday. For some reason, and maybe it’s the overall circumstances I’m currently in and the wider exhaustion I’m battling too, I let it boil over into public (well, sort of – I never named the person and kept all potential details that might help identify this person private and I will continue to guard that privacy).

As a social media professional I don’t condone the public airing of grievances at all, yet here I was posting on Facebook, asking friends for advice on how to handle a particular situation.

Don't do this.

A close up of that text message exchange looks like this, my comments in blue (click on it to enlarge):

The exchange

Now, there’s an antagonistic history here, and to say this nameless person and I don’t see eye to eye on…well…almost anything…would be a massive understatement. These are not the first shots fired between us. And I mean between us, because I’ve had a finger on the trigger in the past as well. As you can see above by my “If you’re telling me, I’m telling you to fuck off” comment, I’m not immune to angry words. I own that phrase and apologize for saying it.

The easy thing may have been for me to have taken the post in question down and move on. Yet, I almost feel obligated not to. This person seems to feel they can order me to remove a picture that does not violate any rules, does not include them, reference them, nor involve them in any way, from a public setting, for no reason other than it bothers them personally. From the very start – the very first communication – there’s sarcastic insults and a mandate (“I’m not asking you I’m telling you”).

I don’t know folks. That doesn’t sit well with me, and I’m not comfortable rewarding this kind of communication and behavior by caving to demands. I don’t think lying on the ground kicking and screaming should get a child what they want and I don’t think it should get an adult what they want, either.

But maybe I’m being too stubborn myself.

The court of public opinion that has weighed in heavily thus far has without question agreed this style of communication is unwarranted. Even one of the kindest, sweetest, most thoughtful, gracious people I know, who weighed in with one of the kindest, sweetest, most thoughtful, gracious comments of all of them, began it with, “I think this person is acting like an inconceivable douchebag…however…” yet I take no satisfaction in that. I knew before I even showed it to people that this was ridiculous. It’s pretty obvious.

But I wonder if I’ve dragged this issue out because it’s a true matter of principle or just because I want this person to be abundantly clear they’re in the wrong.

I’d like to believe the former. It aligns with my principles, both personal and professional. Personally I don’t believe people should be allowed to demand or bully other people into getting what they want. Asking nicely goes a long way. Professionally, I don’t believe a social media post (or blog post, or newspaper article or YouTube video or major motion picture) that violates no rules, and is in the spirit of the forum it’s posted on should be removed because a single individual simply doesn’t like it.

I wonder if in posting that Facebook post and posting these thoughts here on my blog I’ve stooped to the latter.

Is my idea of being principled, of defending the fact that I’ve done nothing wrong originally, and of not being willing to cater to aggressive demands in reality just a cover for seeing this person as an obstacle that must be overcome, regardless of cost?

I don’t know yet.

I’ll guess I’ll be listening to Clarity while I sort this out.

UPDATE: Nah, I’m good.

What Were You Expecting, Chicago?

NOTE: For those following along at home, this one’s about football, so…um…bear with me. There’s a larger thing I’m working towards here.

So, it turns out the Chicago Bears aren’t really a great team this year. That’s surprised a lot of people whose job it is to care about that stuff, but even more surprising than the team’s play on the field has been the great levels of dysfunction off the field that have crept into the public eye.

I’ll let you Google what I’m referring to, but the peak of the franchise’s ongoing meltdown happened this past week when it was announced the team was benching quarterback Jay Cutler, a player they signed to a 7-year $126 million deal before the season.

The popular opinion is that Cutler has certainly not lived up to the expectations of that deal (fair, as I’ll go into later), however this is still a strange decision. Well, unless you’re a friend of mine whose name rhymes with Blacho.

Nacho Hates Cutler

Blacho’s not the only Cutler-hater around. They are numerous and they are loud. “Sucks” is a common word found after the quarterback’s name. Well, at least on Facebook and Twitter – which we all know are the places people go to discuss things in a civil, well-reasoned manner (yeah, or not that).

Now, I’m pretty indifferent when it comes to Cutler and the Bears, really. I have been known to debate his critics in bar conversations on occasion, but that’s been less about defending the man, and more about defending rational thinking. That’s what I’m trying to do here. And, here we go.

Everybody Hates Jay-mond?

A lot of the negativity directed toward Cutler has to do with his personality. He’s criticized for being aloof, a poor leader, generally unlikeable and disinterested.

Disinterested Cutler

“I wonder how late that Chinese place by my house is open.”

Sure. I don’t have anything to say about that, because those are subjective arguments, and well, a lot of players across sports have been unlikeable over the years. Chicago, remember Dennis Rodman? Though it absolutely helps if we like athletes, we don’t need them to be likable. We need them to play well. We pay money for tickets to games to watch sports-ball players play well and win sports-ball games.

But, Data!

So that brings me to the other argument the Jay-ters often make: Jay Cutler isn’t a good/winning quarterback. Sorry, Blacho et al. You’re wrong. Factually, statistically wrong.

Never argue with an idiot.

Oh, right. Um… well…eh, screw it. Here I go.

Here’s a look at Cutler’s stats as a Chicago Bear. These stats come from NFL.com, and I’m not manipulating them to make a statement or anything. Just showing raw statistics.

Year G Comp Att Pct Yds TD Int QB Rating League Average Worst
2014 14 347 525 66.1 3,640 28 18 89.5 89.19 69.1
2013 11 224 355 63.1 2,621 19 12 89.2 85.75 66.6
2012 15 255 434 58.8 3,033 19 14 81.3 85.47 63.1
2011 10 182 314 58 2,319 13 7 85.7 83.58 62.2
2010 15 261 432 60.4 3,274 23 16 86.3 83.86 57
2009 16 336 555 60.5 3,666 27 26 76.8 82.31 55.8
TOTAL/AVG 81 1605 2615 61.15 18553 129 93 84.8 85.02 62.30

The third to last column there shows QB Rating, an imperfect, but commonly cited metric when grading quarterbacks as it takes into account a variety of statistics in its formula. As you can see, during his career as a Chicago Bear, Cutler comes just under the league average for QB rating, and that’s really dragged down by one year (2009).

Out of 6 years as a starter, Cutler finished at or above the league average in QBR 4 of those years. What’s more, this year, the year of his benching, he’s actually having his best season looking at those stats.

Jay’s criticized for being a “turnover machine” but he’s never actually thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. “But what about fumbles, Coate? Cutler currently leads the NFL in turnovers!”

Okay, so that looks like this, adding fumbles lost, but also rushing TDs since that also wasn’t originally included:

Year Pass TD Rush TD Int Fum Lost TDs Turnovers
2014 28 2 18 6 30 24
2013 19 0 12 3 19 15
2012 19 0 14 4 19 18
2011 13 1 7 3 14 10
2010 23 1 16 6 24 22
2009 27 1 26 1 28 27
TOTALS 129 5 93 23 134 116

Yes. Cutler does turn the ball over a lot. Factually. Never more than he scores, however.

Also, many of Cutler’s failures may have something to do with the poor support systems he’s had around him. Bears receivers have combined to have the 4th most drops since 2009, accounting for over 15% of Cutler’s incompletions in that timeframe. SOURCE: SportingCharts.

Also the game situations have had something to do with his interception rate. Pete Prisco, a Senior NFL Columnist, dug through some data and figured out that in 2014 alone, Cutler threw 332 passes when his team has been behind, “a clear indicator that he’s usually in scramble mode, which can make it tough to play quarterback in the NFL.” That’s fair. If you’re under duress, you tend to panic. Professional athlete or not, that’s a normal human emotional reaction to stress.

Why Does This Matter, Coate?

Let’s pause for a moment.

None of the data above, and none of the mountains of data about Cutler’s Bears career does anything to justify his pay grade.

When you combine all the various stats Cutler has compiled in his Bears career compared to the rest of the league in those various seasons, Cutler ranks exactly 15. There are 32 NFL teams, which places Cutler at exactly barely above average.

So, statistically, Jay Cutler has not been as poor as generalized (“average” does not equal “sucks”), however there’s a larger problem, here. The Chicago Bears organization and its fans expected Cutler to be a Top 10 and maybe even Top 5 quarterback. They expected him to be elite. After all, he’s paid like it. His contract makes him the 7th-highest paid QB in the NFL.

It’s then fair to say, Jay Cutler has greatly underperformed compared to expectations.

The Truth Hurts.

But, here’s my question, and the heart of this whole thing. What were you expecting, Chicago?

Cutler arrived via trade to the Chicago in 2009 to much fanfare. In the 24 seasons in between the 1985 Bears Super Bowl victory and Cutler’s acquisition, Chicago had trotted out 27 different starting quarterbacks – most of them other team’s castoffs or career backups.

Craig Krenzel Who

Ten bucks if you actually know who this is.

With Cutler, Chicago fans would finally have a “real” quarterback – a guy with tremendous natural talent and a huge arm. This was the guy that would return the Bears to their former glory.

I now ask, what gave them any indication that would be the case?

Look back at the very first chart I posted above, and now look at this one:

Year G Comp Att Pct Yds TD Int QB Rating League Average
2008 16 384 616 62.3 4,526 25 18 86 82.24
2007 16 297 467 63.6 3,497 20 14 88.1 82.10
TOTAL/AVG 32 681 1083 62.95 8,023 45 32 87 82

These stats are from his two years as a starter with the Denver Broncos prior to going to Chicago. Cutler’s 62.95 completion % is barely above his 61.15% with the Bears. His touchdown-to-interception ration with the Bears isn’t much different than with the Broncos. His QB rating with the Broncos was higher than the league average, but not significantly. He averaged a QBR of 87 in those two years with the Broncos.

Let’s say he kept that as an average with the Bears. He’d still finish barely above the NFL average QBR.

Are you sensing a theme?

Cutler has always been barely above average. The Bears traded for a barely above average QB and have gotten exactly that same QB…they just haven’t gotten what they paid for.

Why Blame Jay?

How is that Jay Cutler’s fault? HINT: It’s not.

We live in a capitalist society. Cutler apparently has a really, really good agent. Just because he was paid as a top QB, doesn’t mean he should have been a top QB. There wasn’t anything in his prior career (other than “potential”) that showed he would become a Top 5 option.

Especially when you consider he was traded to a traditionally defense-and-run-grame-focused organization, and to be Top 5 he’d have to best QBs like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and even Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb, Phillip Rivers and Eli Manning. Most of those QBs have led high scoring offenses in the past decade and a few of them are sure-fire Hall-of-Famers.

The guy (potential for more aside) gave a consistent effort all these years. This, while playing under 4 different offensive coordinators in 6 years with the Bears.

Football is a team sport, and like any team sport it takes more than one player to be great. It seems fair to me that Cutler, the man who holds 14 franchise records as a quarterback – is really just a scapegoat (link goes to another post with even further evidence that Cutler hasn’t been the largest problem in Chicago).

Blame These People Instead.

McCaskey's suck

Those people in that picture are the owners of the Chicago Bears. They brought Cutler to Chicago, and well, not much else. These are the people that have been absolutely OK with average.

Need proof?

Since the Chicago Bears won their last Super Bowl in 1985, the team has gone 239-222. That’s a .520 winning percentage. With Jay Cutler as a starter, the Chicago Bears went 45-36. That’s a .556 winning percentage – which, is higher.

They’ve gone to the playoffs just 10 seasons out of the past 29.  5 of those 10 came between 1986-1991 when they still had some guy named Mike Singletary (Hall of Fame) at Middle Linebacker and Mike Ditka (DITKA) coaching.

Since Ditka left in 1992, the Bears have played in just 9 playoffs games, winning 4 (Jay Cutler played in two of them, winning one).

Blacho and others – it’s time to come to a sad realization – the Chicago Bears organization is mediocre and has been for a long, long time. Jay Cutler was just another mediocre player among many brought in. Actually, as proved above, he was slightly above mediocre. The Bears were better because of him. Not much, but still.

Jay Cutler’s tenure with the Bears is likely over. The Bears’ tenure as a mediocre team won’t end with him. Not until the ownership and management figure out how to put a good TEAM on the field.

 

Clarity.

Music is transcendent. There’s not a mood nor emotion that doesn’t have the perfect soundtrack, nor are there adequate words to describe the feeling of hearing the right music at the right time. There’s no way to draw comparison to the experience of being completely and absolutely overwhelmed by an album or by a live performance.

We’ve all had that feeling – that song, that album, that show that just…consumed us.

I’ve had a few, particularly around this time of year. Growing up in the harsh winters of Chicago makes you moody to say the least. Winter is a time of escapism there. You do anything you can to distract you from miserable gray skies, matching gray slush along the streets, and biting subzero temperatures.

The lucky or wealthy escape to warmer climates, many (most?) escape to alcohol, I escaped to music. High school was a time of musical discovery. My ear perked up at more than The Smashing Pumpkins’ Melanie Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Billy, I can’t stand you, but god I loved your music once) which had, alongside Siamese Dream and Adore, dominated my junior high listening.

In high school I listened to anything and everything my new classmates recommended and among those recommendations came Clarity by Jimmy Eat World shared with me by a friend name John Farrell. While Jimmy Eat World’s genre and wider catalogue are not among my preferred, this album and the title track gripped me in a way few albums or songs had before.

They struck me so passionately and impacted me so deeply that during a time where all I wanted was to be introduced to more and more, I found myself listening to Clarity on repeat.

Clarity was inexplicably inescapable. Iconic. Defining.

It remains that way. The past week as the weather has chilled in Boulder, Colorado I find myself walking to work with Clarity in my ears. It’s the perfect soundtrack for now, as it has been this time of year, almost relentlessly.

It’s music I come back to. I hope you have an album like this in your life and I’d love to hear what it is below.