In one of my favorite speeches of all time, in accepting a Grammy in 1996, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam asks: “How do you get an award for art?”
In some respects, I can see where he’s coming from. Many of us got into writing, or some other art form, because it’s… well… not math. We can’t rank, quantify or define art, we can only appreciate it. Perhaps Robin Williams articulates this best in the movie Dead Poets Society, when mocks the notion that a poem (like a song) can be studied in any objective sense.
We live in a society that increasingly likes to rank, quantify and define things as they relate to one another and social media has only fueled this trend. Every publication in existence wants to tell you about the ten best vacation spots, places to eat or shows to watch. I’m not above this, in fact I’m guilty of it. Ranking things is fun.
But I’ll be the first to tell you that any institution that tries to rank academic programs, like U.S. News and World Report has done, with much fanfare in recent years, is missing a great deal of the equation.
As probably many of us who have ever worked in the outdoor writing industry have, I’ve long dreamt of starting my own magazine. During the recession, boat manufacturers suffered mightily, and so we saw the amount of fishing content in “Hook & Bullet” books suffer because all content is ad supported, and fishing content is largely boat-ad supported. So when we saw the recession eat into the amount of fishing content in print, I thought perhaps there could be a silver lining: filling a void that the economy had created as it slowly started to heal. One magazine, Angler’s Journal, is already doing a hell of a job with a relatively new magazine.
Starting a fishing magazine, however, is right up there in terms of its dream-possibility with going to the moon and marrying Jennifer Lawrence (or, for you females reading this, maybe Johnny Depp(?) — I don’t know, insert your actor of choice). Unless… unless you get a great deal of help.
For me, Emerson has been that help, and whether my dream comes true or not, they’ve aided it in every fashion that they could. Gian Lombardo, a fisherman himself, helped me design a survey to assess the wants and desires of future readers.
Bill Beuttler, the Department Chair of my program, approved the study whereby I’d assess that readership in conjunction with my attempt to raise money for the Melanoma Research Foundation, in memory of my father.
Emerson has great instructors that provide insight in the classroom into the careers we’re undertaking, but a lot of schools are doing that. I don’t know that this traveling, cancer-fighting, magazine-launching attempt would have been possible, in an academic sense, were I a student at any other college.
I’ve tried to go out of my way to thank the sponsors that have gotten on board to help me battle melanoma, and I’ll mention them again: Get Vicious Fishing, Sunology Sunscreen, Native Eyewear, Hanes, Rick Roth at Mirror Image and Buff on round 1.
But without Emerson College’s support, none of this would have been possible. And it’s not as though this were a program or project I signed up for and followed some pre-established set of rules. I’m doing what’s called a “Directed Study,” which is basically a program that the school established that allowed students to set up and execute their own academic project, should they have that ambition. For those of you who went to college, say, 30 years ago: Imagine having a program that said “Tell us what you want to study and how you want to do it and we’ll help.” That’s what Emerson is doing for me.
Gian Lombardo has invested his personal time and resources into this effort. Bill Beuttler had the faith in it to approve it. And the school has signed off.
They’ve truly taken my ambition, passion and creative direction and channeled and guided it with their years of experience in the industry.
And however they select their student body… they’ve recruited and admitted some great young people. Mary Nolan, James Spica, Samantha Keenan and many others in the program weren’t just “nice students networking in graduate school,” they were friends that were there for me when I lost my father. That type of character doesn’t show up on S.A.T. scores.
I’ve been so busy thanking all the sponsors for their help in this effort, I almost forgot to mention, tell you about, and brag about one of the most important institutions behind this whole project. And words could not do justice the positive impact Emerson has had in my life at a time when it was sorely needed, but I had to try.