Shadi Mirza

Marketing sherpa. Digital content wonk. Serial blogger. Not following your passion is death.

On short-lived New York Times writers and Neo-Nazis

Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

In mid-February, which practically counts as “back in the day” for someone with as short an attention span as I have, tech writer Quinn Norton was fired less than seven hours after securing a job with The New York Times. Her crimes? Being friends with a Neo-Nazi — and also tweeting crap like this.

As is typical of people who a) really, really suck and b) have little to no sense of self-awareness, she posted a long-winded screed basically saying that she was a different person when she posted those things. Also, there was some crap about “code-switching,” which, just, no. There’s a difference between changing your vernacular to suit a social group and being human garbage.

But the most heinous part of the essay, for me, was this piece right here:

In my pacifism, I can’t reject a friendship, even when a friend has taken such a horrifying path.

We’re not talking about a guy who said some abhorrent crap when he was drunk. This dude is so into Nazis that he got a swastika tattooed on his chest. To be absolutely clear what that means, Quinn Norton is friends with someone aligned to a group that:   – Orchestrated the murder of an estimated 11 million people – Tried to take over the world – Fought against and killed many, many Americans

Let’s get real: It is absolutely, 100 percent okay to not be friends with a Nazi. In fact, I consider it your imperative as a card-carrying American citizen to make anyone who shares Hitler’s ideas to feel as unwelcome in this country as humanly possible.

And don’t talk to me about “pacifism.” There are a million ways to sever ties with someone that don’t involve direct confrontation. Stop returning their calls and texts. Write a strongly-worded letter and send it via snail mail. I’m not the boss of you, though —use your imagination.

Unless your name is Jesus Christ, it’s really not your job to save anyone, let alone call a person with repulsive views your friend. I don’t feel sorry for Quinn Norton. Neither should you.

Take note, anyone in Florida who knows this social studies teacher. She should be dead to you. Stop returning her calls. Because keeping the company of people like that says a lot about you. And none of it is good.

Work less, yes, but also treat your wallet like a dumbbell.

While teaching English in South Korea, I got into an argument about money. This petty squabble wasn’t with my wife, but with another foreign teacher. I was marveling at how much financial freedom our ample salary, and lack of housing costs, would afford us when we returned stateside.

For whatever reason, this seemed to offend the guy. He regaled us with stories of long weekends in Seoul, $100 bar tabs and expensive restaurants. When he was finished, he said, “You like to brag about how much you’re saving. I’d rather brag about how much I’m living.”

Maybe it was the age difference between us —I was in the throes of my late twenties, while he, a baby comparatively, was fresh out of college—but I’d like to think I was just wiser. Money, for my wife and I, wasn’t to be spent on extravagant purchases but tucked away like a warm security blanket.

We didn’t have much use for stuff, anyway. Nearly all our possessions we sold or gave away before making the trip overseas, and we weren’t about to start amassing junk in Korea. Anything we did buy would need to be packed into boxes and shipped back on a boat.

It’s not an expat thing—but an American thing

But the more years that come between me and my time in Southeast Asia, the more I realize that my views on money don’t stem from age or wisdom, but being on the fringes of whatever capitalist fever is afflicting millennials.

To put it another way, I’m just a weirdo.

Bigger homes. Gas-guzzling cars. Fancy wines. The trappings of our culture require larger spaces, bigger bank accounts and sturdier livers. The “hustle” isn’t as much an aspiration as it is a necessity to bankroll increased appetites for spending.

You’re working way too hard

Holding down two jobs to finance a lavish lifestyle is admirable. I respect the hustle, even if I have absolutely no desire to be in charge of anything except the words I write. Working yourself to death may even make you feel like a badass.

But here’s the thing. Waking up every morning at 4:30 AM, kissing your framed photo of Gary Vaynerchuk and checking Outlook like you’re the CEO of a future Fortune 500 company is applying a maximalist approach when the opposite is just as fulfilling.

Spend less, want less and you’ll end up having to work less, too.

Guys, it’s that simple

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills every time I read a Quora question asking why people decided not to have kids, and the top response is something around wanting the money to travel.

You can raise a family and still have plenty of money left over to see the world, if you make it a priority. As someone with two kids and a trip to Europe happening in the next two weeks, I feel like I’m the world’s foremost authority on this topic.

It’s not that kids cost a lot of money—they do—but that you spend money like you’re Kanye West. Newsflash: you are not Kanye unless you are actually Kanye. In that case, hey Yeezy. I’m a big fan of your music.

Minimalism sucks sometimes

My house is 1,500 square feet. I’ve lost count of the number of my times me and my wife have lamented the lack of storage space. But, you know what? I’ll take a mortgage payment we can swing on just one of our paychecks over being house poor, any day of the week.

But, I mean, we still shop at Whole Foods and enjoy the occasional fancy restaurant. So it’s not like we’re living a Charles Dickens novel over here. We just don’t have a ton of stuff. Because there’s no place to put it.

And I guess I do have a side hustle if you count “writing on Medium” as a gig. I do make money from my stories sometimes, but I’d be lying if I said those checks went anywhere other than Starbucks. That’s another luxury I enjoy on occasion.

#Money #LifeLessons #PersonalGrowth #PersonalDevelopment #Korea

You have eternity to lay in a box. Move around a little.

Yo, bros—it’s me, Death. You might know me as the guy who swoops in after someone wraps their car around a tree. It’s a messy job, but I’m used to it.

More often, I’m the one who creeps up to someone’s hospital bed while their loved ones are saying goodbyes. Dying people look scared because, well, I have no corporeal form. You’d be terrified, too, if some empty-looking black cloak and scythe came floating toward you. Sorry. I can’t help it.

When you die—we all, eventually, shuffle off this mortal coil— you’re going to spend eternity rotting in a box. Worms are going to eat you, and that’s totally gross. Yeah, yeah, I’m told it’s some “circle of life” shit, but I’m Death. I stay in my lane. Let the Other Guy worry about what happens when worms poop.

Anyway, at some point in the future—I don’t do spoiler alerts, so I’m not going to tell you when—your body is going to give out on you.

Why not, I don’t know, enjoy it a little?

Take the stairs. Marvel at how your knees are able to propel you up multiple flights without sounding like a rusty door. They will sound like that when you’re older, and you may end up needing a walker, which is gonna suck.

Run a marathon. Bask in the sense of accomplishment you feel at being able to go 26.2 miles without sputtering like a lawnmower motor. Then, eat a breakfast greasy enough to stop your heart. 

See the world. Do you know how small and cramped a pine box is? It’s like a Hong Kong apartment, but for your dead body. Only you don’t pay the rent—your loved ones do. Suckers. There’s so much cool stuff to do and see in places that aren’t your hometown.

So get out there, big boy, and live each day to the fullest because you never know when you’re going to see me.

#Inspiration #Life #Self #Motivation

At least, this is how I did it.

Photo by Sharon Chen on Unsplash

It started with an idea for “broetry” on LinkedIn and ended with a 300-word story here on Medium about the time I ate hongeo. 

The character restrictions on LinkedIn meant the story had to be short. More importantly, I needed some thread connecting my experience to work life. LinkedIn, after all, is a professional networking site—not Facebook or Twitter—so I didn’t want followers thinking I was wasting their time.

I asked myself, what is the thread connecting the story of how I ate some truly vomit-inducing food to my professional successes? And I found it: in work, and life, I don’t shy away from uncomfortable experiences. Rather I dive right in.

After publication, the views started rolling in. Immediately, I thought, why not try it on Medium? At around 275 views and 10 likes, I saw the notification in my inbox: “You are now a Top Writer in Food.” Sick.

Here’s what I learned from the process:

1. Start small.

Unless you’re bringing a large following with you from your personal blog, or are already an influencer in your field, you probably aren’t going to crush it in a big category like “Productivity,” “Life Lessons” or “Writing.” You need killer content, followers and an almost preternatural ability to network.

I have less than 300 followers, and, clearly, Food isn’t a huge nut to crack if it can be done with less than 1K views (305, as of this writing). I have no illusions about what a relatively minuscule accomplishment this was. But I’m still going to celebrate the crap out of it.

2. Stop worrying about length.

I’ve obsessed with going viral on Medium to an almost unhealthy degree. I’ve read articles positing that longer is better when it comes to the length of your stories on Medium. Two-minute reads. Seven-minute reads. Heck, I’ve written 1,000-word screeds on the art of writing, only to see them die on the vine.

I got Top Writer with just 300 words. The lesson is this: stop fixating on making your blog posts a specific length. Write until you’ve exhausted your interest in the topic. Then, call it good because chances are if you keep writing long after your passion for your post has waned, your reader will know it. You can pop off and go loco once you’ve built a massive following.

3. Write cool shit.

Aside from length, several other clear traits probably contributed to the slight popularity of my story:   – A quote that hints, right at the outset, exactly what my story promises – A narrative, based on a very specific personal experience, about an obscure and interesting topic – A clear moral laid out at the very end

Don’t write what everyone else is writing. By that, I don’t mean you can’t tackle the same themes because there are certain ideas that do very well on Medium. But package them in a story that only you can tell. 

How many of us can claim to have sold all their shit, moved to South Korea and eaten skate that has been left to ferment with some straw?

4. Build your readership organically.

Yeah, you will get an audience by maxing out the number of people you can follow every day. It works—to an extent. But I prefer the slow burn. Write stories people connect with and, eventually, they’ll follow you to get more of your writing on their home page.

I write every day, and support fellow writers just as often. So, I see at least one or two new followers when I wake up every morning. It could be done faster, but at least I know the people following me actually enjoy what I’m putting out there and aren’t following me out of a misguided sense that they need to reciprocate my following of them.

Oh, and if you’re one of the 305 readers who supported my story about hongeo over on Medium, you helped me earn enough for an expensive coffee at Starbucks. Thanks a latte!

#writing #blogging #Medium

Or “How I spent my Saturday night”

I first heard about Black Violin in 2015 when NPR did a nice write-up. The duo, violinist Kev Marcus and violist Wil B., play a mixture of classical, hip-hop, R&B and jazz.

Having run through their breakthrough LP, Stereotypes, more than a dozen times, I knew what to expect sonically, but I wondered how it would translate to a live experience — almost every song on the album features a guest vocalist. Surely, they wouldn’t bring a whole cadre of famous singers on tour or, shudder, play over pre-taped vocals. my wife and I walked into the Chandler Center for the Arts prepared for anything and everything.

We couldn’t possibly have been ready.

From the moment we stepped through the doors, we were effectively tourists. Traditional merchandise tables stood side-by-side with dashiki purveyors. When we took our seats — in a sold-out auditorium, mind you — the woman seated next to me immediately introduced herself and struck up a conversation. Her brother had surprised the entire family with concert tickets, prompting the siblings to drive all the way out from Los Angeles.

A duo of college-educated Black men was playing their version of white music, and it had the makings of a goddamn event.

Then, it became one.

Yes, Black Violin played the title track from their latest album, but they also ran through some covers, as well as a lengthy improvised piece. They even riffed over “Bodak Yellow,” replacing the synth lines with strings.

Though there was no standing room to speak of, the auditorium turned into a party. People danced in the aisles. Social media engagement was encouraged. The DJ got to do a few mash-ups. The drummer soloed. Wil B serenaded his violin, named Jessica, with his own rendition of “Let’s Get It On.”

A classical recital, this was not. Yet, gazing over the crowd, I saw pockets of people who staunchly refused to get to their feet, clap or otherwise engage with the music. Were they expecting something else, I wondered? Did they clutch their pearls with knuckles not unlike the color of their skin? Or were they just sorely in need of a Red Bull and vodka from the bar?

The most poignant part of the evening, for me, was when Kev Marcus, caressing his viola, discussed what classical music meant to him. Among other things, it meant a full ride to college, a trip to Iraq for a tribute concert and transportation to stages around the world — not to play Bach or Mozart, but to perform on his terms.

And that’s pretty cool.

After the concert, my wife asked me to check movie times. A Black Panther show was happening right down the street in 30 minutes. We booked it over to the theater, continuing the theme we had already set for the evening.

Man, I know that Blade broke this ground in the 90s, and then slowly crumbled into irrelevance with a string of awful sequels. But I’ll be damned if Black Panther didn’t lay a new foundation and then build a skyscraper on top of it.

I was here for all of it. Powerful, intelligent people of color in almost every role in front of and behind the camera. A nuanced villain who is tragic in a Shakespearean sense. White characters reduced to narrative McGuffins. An honest-to-God Vine meme, in a major motion picture, that doesn’t fall flat. It’s a Marvel movie only in the sense that it features licensed characters and sticks to the same cinematic tropes.

But calling it a history lesson is apter. This is the story of an Africa that never was, and the diaspora that still is. And, yeah, some superhero shit happens around it. But it’s a testament to the film’s artistry that the Marvel stuff really does feel like a footnote. They could make a spin-off movie with just Nakia, Okoye and Shuri and I would buy out a whole theater.

What I’m saying is, my Saturday was dope.

#movies #music #race #comics

They aren’t going to save your kid from a school shooter.

Parents, you may have seen this Facebook post kicking around your feed in the past week or so (it’s been shared close to one million times).

I’m not asking you to share it. Nor do I want you to run out and purchase a bunch of doorstops for your kids. Rather, I want you to sit and have a good, hard think about using a small, rubber object as a means of protecting your kids.

Because, baby, what is you doing?

You’re asking too much

Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy. — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Okay, let’s assume the worst happens, and some crazed degenerate of a young, white male (comes barreling into your child’s school to pop off and go loco.

Ignoring everything they’ve been taught in lockdown drills, they whip open the trusty backpack, pull out a $2 doorstop and run toward the classroom door. This is the same door from which, presumably, a school shooter might emerge. To put it another way: you’re asking your kid to be a hero.

Isn’t that the exact opposite of what the doorstop is meant to achieve? Why risk putting your kid closest to where the bullets may fly?

Have you been to a school lately?

Presumably, you’ve been to your child’s school and seen the physical classroom where most of your child’s learning takes place. If so, you won’t even bother sending your kid to school with a doorstop. But let’s say you’re one of those parents who isn’t, ahem, all in.

Newsflash: The doors at every single school I’ve ever been in have opened out. Your doorstop isn’t stopping anyone.

Classrooms. Have. Windows.

Even if, by some miracle, your child’s classroom opens to the inside, and he or she manages to block the door, the kids aren’t in the clear. The funny thing about bullets is that they can go through most doors quite easily.

Also, I don’t know what kind of prison center your kids are being educated in, but I’ve never been inside a classroom that didn’t have windows. Bullets go through glass like a knife through butter.

Exercise common sense.

Before you share a Facebook post or, shudder, follow suit in equipping your kids with a fancy piece of rubber or plastic, take a few steps back from the feel-good social media machine.

This idea is stupid—especially if your motivation is increasing the chances your kids survive a shooting. Because training them to run toward the line of fire is a pretty lousy way of accomplishing that.

#Parenting #GunViolence #SchoolShootings #Éducation

Hi! My name is Shadi Mirza. If there's one thing you'll learn about me just by reading this blog, it's this: I never run out of things to say. Here are a few other things that might not be so obvious:   – I like my coffee how I like my magic. – I'm a father to two amazing girls. – If I have headphones on, the music coming out of them is probably death metal. – My firm belief is that it's only acceptable to watch a dubbed film when it's kung fu.

Connect with me: Email | LinkedIn | Medium

Or “Why I ate the rotten fish”

Hongeo

People should not be protected from the world. It cripples them.” ― Josephine Humphreys, Rich in Love

While teaching English in South Korea, I watched an episode of Bizarre Foods. Andrew Zimmern, the show’s host, visited the country and sampled a lot of the same foods I’d been enjoying.

One dish that stuck out to me was hongeo.

I’d never heard of it. Basically, skate (a kind of ray fish) is stuck in a basket with some straw and left to rot. The skate pees through its skin, so the ammonia from the uric acid allows the fish to ferment instead of spoiling. 

After broaching the subject with my wife’s co-teacher, he mentioned there was a restaurant specializing in hongeo right in our small farming village. We went there that same night. 

Imagine the dirtiest port-a-potty you can think of. Now, picture putting it in your mouth. That’s what hongeo tastes and smells like.

As we were eating, my co-teacher explained that hongeo is a “nostalgia food” enjoyed by older Koreans who grew up in a time when you ate whatever fish washed up on the shore. 

I choked it all down and withheld the urge to vomit. Did I smell like urine for the remainder of the night? Yes. Was my wife so repulsed that she insisted I sleep in the other room? Naturally. 

But, knowing all this, I’d still do it all over again.

Often, we shield ourselves from uncomfortable experiences. But in doing so, we miss the chance to connect with the world around us. Worse, we fail to grow as individuals and professionals. 

Sometimes, you have to eat the hongeo.

#Korea #Food #Life #PersonalGrowth

Seriously, bedrooms should not be used for punishment.

“You cannot teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better.” — Pam Leo

One of the many truisms about writing is that the more you do it, the better you get. I wish I could say the same about parenting. While blogging every single day has done wonders for my ego, I often go to sleep wondering if something I did or said to my eldest daughter, Nadia, has irreparably scarred her.

Fortunately, the “Parenting” topic on Quora always gives me a much-needed boost. It’s not that the parents who post questions there are “bad.” In fact, it’s the exact opposite—if you have enough humility to ask for help from other parents, clearly you care.

But this question really got me thinking a) because I’ve never had this issue and b) the solution has an Occam’s Razor-level of simplicity: if you want a break from your three-year-old, tell them to buzz off to their room for a couple of hours. If the child refuses to comply, there are deeper issues—not with your kid, mind you, but with your parenting.

Haters gonna hate (naps).

Before Nadia turned three we managed to get her into a public Montessori school. But there was a problem: this was a half-day program, so the children weren’t allowed to take naps. In fact, one of the requirements for admittance was that Nadia needed to be weaned off afternoon napping entirely.

Which was fine. From the minute she turned two, Nadia seemed preternaturally adverse to naps. You could say she hated them. Faced with the loss of those two hours to relax and watch something other than cartoons, my wife and I worried. What to do?

Enter quiet time.

This is exactly what it sounds like. You ask the child to go to their room and play independently, leaving you free to watch Netflix, read a book or do whatever.

But what if they won’t go?

Here’s the rub: if your child doesn’t enjoy being alone in their bedroom, you need to consider why. Maybe there’s nothing to do in there. Or, perhaps, you send them to their room as a form of punishment. And, thus, being alone in the bedroom makes your kid feel shitty.

Here’s why you should never, ever use the words “go to your room” as a form of punishment:

Decades of research in attachment demonstrate that particularly in times of distress, we need to be near and be soothed by the people who care for us.

But when you put your kid in “time out,” you’re essentially insisting that “they have to suffer alone.” And that sucks for them.

The bedroom is their refuge—and yours.

It also sucks for you. My heart goes out to that poor mom who went to Quora for real advice and instead got countless variations of this solution: make your kid someone else’s problem. She doesn’t need to throw money at the problem. She needs to give her kid a place to play that’s safe and fun.

Yeah, if you want a night on the town, you’re going to need a sitter. But if you just want some peace and quiet in the afternoon, that shouldn’t require forking out cold hard cash. You also don’t have to be the bad guy. Kids should love playing in their bedrooms. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve playing with, and breaking, action figures.

I mean, there was a lot of Nintendo, too, but I also played with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys.

#Parenting #Fatherhood #Discipline #Children #Psychology

Because what is it they do exactly?

If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “Oh, you’re an English major—you must be really good with punctuation and stuff,” I’d be up to my elbows in Venti Iced Soy Lattes. But give me that same amount any time someone made the assumption that I must write well because, gosh, I’m a copywriter, and I could retire early. Here’s the thing that bugs me about that:

As a copywriter, my currency isn’t words, it’s ideas.

Yeah, I know how to craft sentences that grab you by the eyeballs. They’re also grammatically correct 99% of the time (copyeditors, I love you). Anyone can write well, though. Heck, there are brand managers on my team who can put together a mean sentence. My bread and butter—the reason I get paid—is this innate ability to take the same idea and present it 100 different ways.

More than someone who plies words for a living, I am a creative. And this is my life.

8:30 AM (ish)

I roll into the office shortly after dropping my daughter off at her Montessori school—unless traffic on the AZ-51 is garbage (which it usually is). Then it’s like 8:40. The very first thing I do, before I even lay a hand on my laptop, is brew up a cup of coffee.

Listen, I’m sure there are people who can write volumes without letting a drop of magic bean water pass their lips. But I don’t know them personally, so they may as well be dead to me. And don’t come at me with that weak-ass powdered creamer action. I like my cup of joe how I like my magic. Black.  Anyway, coffee on my desk, I can finally get to work.

8:45 AM

You know what? Java has a tendency to shoot right through you. So I hit the head to do what I need to do, obsess over my Medium stats page and see how many bots followed me on Twitter. Because why celebrate having more than 200 followers when you can gnash your fingernails worrying how many of them are Russian propaganda accounts?

I digress. Cracking my knuckles, I place my fingers on the home row of my keyboard and wait for the magic to happen.

9:00 AM

But, first, I pause for a stand-up meeting. It’s a well-known fact that the only thing better than getting projects out the door is talking about which projects you’re trying to get out the door.

9:10 AM

Phew. Let’s do this. No matter what I’m writing—an email, banner ad or Facebook post, among other things—it all starts with the headline. So I write a metric ton of those. 

I spend maybe three or four hours writing headlines, with full awareness that the majority are destined for the garbage bin. Why? Because writing complete trash is the only way you arrive at gold. You can see the final headlines out there on the web if your Google-Fu is strong enough. 

But writing many iterations of the same headline isn’t just part of my creative team’s process. It’s critical for another reason:

Often, the headline is my only shot at grabbing your attention.

Now, don’t take this to mean that the body of any marketing piece is an afterthought. It’s just that if I don’t put in the work to hook you on the front end, why bother with the rest?

11:00 AM

Well, that’s lunch. (Hey, I get up at 5 AM to exercise. Don’t judge me.) How’d my latest story on Medium do? Oh, man, double-digit views! Internet fame and fortune, here I come. Should I start locking my posts now? My next story’s going viral—I just know it.

11:30 AM

Yawn. What time is it? Lord knows I’m not writing any more words unless I get another cup of coffee. 

11:35 AM

When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back. What’s another word for “budget?” How many times can I get away with using “tuition” in the same paragraph? What would our legal department say about this? Maybe if I just stare at the computer screen long enough, I can crank out another 30 headlines.

1:05 PM

There is absolutely no way I’m cranking out another 30 of these. I’ve said everything that can be said. Out of the last 40 I sent my Associate Creative Director, maybe five were “working.”

Am I a fraud? 

Have I reached my creative peak? Is there nowhere I can go with my ideas but down into the dank pit of human misery and suffering that is, shudder, agency work? Should I pimp myself out on Fiverr like the copywriting equivalent of a dime-store streetwalker? No. I can do this.

2:26 PM

After another cup of coffee, I’ll be able to do this. Damn it, who drank the last of the coffee?

3:30 PM

You know, the funny thing about 3:30 is that it’s way closer to 5 PM than it is noon. So, when you think about it, the day is pretty much over. God, why does Apple Music insist on cramming genres I don’t like down my throat?

4:05 PM

Just how do you become an “influencer” on LinkedIn? Maybe if I just pretend I’m a hiring manager, I can write a bunch of inspirational stories about choosing the guy who didn’t have the best resumé, but showed a lot of pluck. 

Or, like, I’ll just write a couple of hundred words a day about how modern hiring practices are broken. Because, darn it, we can’t expect job candidates to pepper their applications with keywords. Not that complaining will help anyone get around modern hiring practices—but it sure will make people feel good.

Oh, snap, five more people followed me on Medium. How many of them are Russian bots? Is that even a thing?

5:00 PM

Whoop, whoop. The little hand says it’s time to rock and roll. Peace out, suckers.

#work #life #writing