Black Ribbon Award

Month: July, 2016



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I really like people. I do. I really like people. Like that’s probably the most surprising thing about this.

PBS presesnts

Like since I’ve become … this … I’ve had a much deeper appreciation for people, like as a concept and even on an individual level. I don’t mind meeting them. I mean, there’s no hassle anymore, like there’s no desire to seek them out for any reason other than what I need them for.

A film by the Evergreen Culture Collective

I don’t think I’ve ever outright hated someone I’ve consumed.


11:17 pm

So before we begin, I thought it would be good to get our arrangement straight for the record. Because I see a lot of uneasy looks from your crew. Camera 2 doesn’t even look like he can keep it steady.

That seems fine.

Okay, I will not feed on any of you. You will not film me feeding on anybody else. You will also not reveal any details you may find out about my life. My old life, I mean. Not least of all to me. And … and I will not give, and you will not use, my real name.

What should we call you?

Ted Cruz.

We have crucifixes.

Whatever makes you happy.

11:37 pm

This place has to be my favorite place in the whole city. This diner. It doesn’t look great, in fact it looks like it barely passes inspection.

Do you hunt here?

Do I hunt here? No. This place is open all night, and caters to a very no-questions-asked, no-strings-attached clientele. Over down that way is a strip club. Over the other way is a “massage” parlor. I hunt there.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

Actually this is just a great place to lay low. In fact that’s why I brought you here first. You wanted to document the vampire culture, the lifestyle, this is it, predominantly. People think all we do from sunset to sunrise is feed. We wake up, we feed. We go to the bank, we feed. We go to the movies, we feed. If only that were true. But really our appetite—my appetite, anyway—is perfectly satiable. And moreover, it’s not like we can snatch the first person who exits the ACE. There’s a lot of downtime, a lot of waiting. A lot of scoping out opportunities and assessing dangers. I’ve spent up to four hours here. It’s been taking some getting used to, because for a while I didn’t hunt. Early on I took a job doing a graveyard shift at a morgue. I won’t say which one, certainly not one with the best hiring standards. So that got me a lot of access. Not just to embalmed blood, but to freshly drawn stuff upstairs. So on breaks I’d pilfer that stuff, put it in my cooler and bring it back the next day in my thermos.

Is that an ethical choice?

We are entirely defined by dietary requirements. The only concern of mine is that I don’t get caught. I far and away was never this courageous before I was turned. Nor would I have taken any of the jobs I’ve had since. But that is what the changes do.

Why did you stop?

Because I realized that stealing blood from hospitals was way more unusual than simply murdering someone. It is very stressful. Especially now that I’m exhausting what remains of my old supply. Speaking of which …

This is why I love this booth in this place. I never used to take my coffee black, but now that all fluids taste like a concoction of urine and vinegar, and all solids taste like they’ve rotted, it doesn’t really make a difference.

But you’re still mixing things into it.

Well, yeah.

1:42 am

You guys are parked over there? Okay. So I’m out in Bayonne …

That should be fine.

Good, good. Normally I’d just walk because I have literally infinite stamina.


Actually … do you mind waiting here? Like five minutes tops. It’s totally fine just stay by this light. Okay?

2:05 am

Does someone mind going back inside and getting some wet naps? Like a bunch? They’re right by the mints.

2:45 am

You don’t know how long it took me to find the perfect place. House hunters are such fucking babies.

How did you find this?

Yelp. It had the worst reviews.

No I mean, how do you manage …

You think you’re the only people I have arrangements with?

Other people know?

Oh no, no, no. no. Some people think I’m homeless. Some people think I’m divorced or foreclosed on or whatever. With these people who work these jobs, they’re tough but you put on the right show the kindness of their heart just blooms like a spring flower. And so far they’ve managed not to bother to inquire as to why I have two units in cold storage and why I often go in and so seldom come back out. Humans, they’re the best.

So let’s do the tour. Freezer 1 is the cupboard. As you can see, supplies are … low. Freezer 2 is the bedroom.

You prefer the cold?

Not a requirement across the board, but at this stage it helps.


3:15 am

The graveyard shift.

At a graveyard.

Yes, yes.

I can’t count how many jobs like these I’ve had. This, the morgue, I worked in a porn shop for a bit. I’ve worked in a couple. They keep going out of business. I like how there’s so little paperwork involved. It’s like a black job market, the kind you take when you absolutely have to. And I don’t mind it as much. I have no ambitions anymore, no longing for betterment. It’s like a burden that’s been completely lifted.

I turned about two and a half years ago. I got on the F train from Brooklyn at like half past midnight. I was the only fucking passenger on the platform. All of a sudden I’m being pushed headlong into the tunnel, and into another tunnel then another. And so on. You never think it would happen to you. And in large part it doesn’t. Timing, fortune, never my strong suit.

Turning is … awful. You spend two months, in total darkness. At least I did. Being sort of weaned into it. But it’s like … it’s like getting the flu, and syphilis, and Ebola, but in reverse. And then when you come to you’re dead … but not. You’re not brought back to life but … reanimated. It’s the ultimate transgression against nature. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Killing someone I’ve fed off of is at its heart an act of mercy. People who survive, I call them leftovers, hardly true vampires. Disposing of them is the hard part.

4:07 am

I’m about 33. I haven’t shaved in almost three years, or gotten a haircut. This pimple right here on my forehead: there forever. Granted I didn’t shave very well before I left my house for the last time. So I have these longer hairs, down by the Adam’s apple, see? No matter what I do, I shave them and they grow right back. I remember so much about that night.

What were you doing?

I was at the Morbid Anatomy Museum. Seeing a presentation on fucking Goya.

Hold on a minute. Hey! Hey! [inaudible, screeches and hisses]

Who were they?

Just kids. Teens getting their rocks off. I was hoping it was some occult losers. I love fucking with them. It hurts to use The Face but it’s priceless seeing the fear on their faces. Real fear, the truest sign of life. My stem taught me how to do that.


The thing that turned me. I think it thought I was subservient. I’d say we parted because I didn’t want to serve anybody. But I actually didn’t mind. We parted under various irreconcilable differences.

Are you afraid of seeing it again?


4:43 am

Being a vampire is tedious. You’re given everlasting consciousness in death, but you have to maintain it. You have to work, find shelter, find sustenance that goes out of the bounds of legal norms. I don’t know if it’s better or worse than earthly immortality. I mean, you’re just becoming that.


No, the statue.

Do you remember your old life?

Some of it.

Do you miss it?

No. Or rather, I don’t think about it. It’s all hunger and sleep.

5:01 am

Of course there are others. I’m not eager to meet them. Many are a little farther along than I am. You’ve seen them. The Daily News is on it. Every week. A new “PCP freak out” where one person has to be subdued by an entire precinct. Or almost anyway. God help us if one of them is sloppy enough to get caught.

Do you believe in God?

I hope not.

10:27 pm

My complexion was always fairly pasty so I don’t really blend into this crowd any less than I did before. Obviously under better circumstances I would not be at this bar. But, uh, times are tight, so I am gathering intelligence. Groups are a hassle, it’s hard to sort of separate one out. And drunkenness just does something to their quality. I’m not that desperate. So we’re looking for couples. We’re looking for bad dates. I’m not sure why. When you’re so outside of the experience you can usually sniff it out a whole lot better. I can, for once, read people. So … ah, like those two over there in the corner. That looks like it’s nosediving pretty well. It looks like we have a nascent screenwriter and an associate account executive.

So now what?

We wait, and hope the guy lives near a park. They should be fumbling over the tab any minute now.

Why the guy?

Food and clothes shopping.

I think they’re going to the L or the G. Follow, like, 30-45 seconds behind me. If they Uber we’re fucked. I’m fucked, I mean.

11:03 pm

Okay, I know this somewhat reneges on our arrangement, but can one of you put your gear down and give me a hand?

11:30 pm

So I stopped using the internet around the time I turned. Living off the grid is fucking amazing. But … lately I see where it is somewhat necessary. Obviously I go through a meal’s things after I’ve eaten. Leave the money, of course, but take the library card. And the metro card, of course. But the library card is key. I go in, look up “how to drain a pig” and voila. Holy shit I forget how heavy these things are.

So, have you ever tried animals?


Like drinking from animals. Like rats?

Who do you take me for?

No, no I just …

No, no, I get what you mean. No. No quadrupeds. I tried twice, and each time I had a horrible reaction. It was like an allergy, or food poisoning. Nothing stayed down. Very messy.

Hey, could one of you take the jug and the funnel and put them right there. In fact, could you hold him, while I rifle through the rest of his shit? Thanks so much.

(Hey … hey, dude … what the fuck are you doing?)

(Don’t film me!)

Lenovo ThinkPad? What a crock. Hey, see if he’s my size, will you?


10:56 pm

What does the timer say on the washer?

35 minutes.

35? We’ve been here for an hour. I swear these things are busted.

I don’t have favorites. Life, you’ll find, is not entirely amenable to the demands of metaphor. I have no preference once way or the other. My senses are acute, more acute than they’ve ever been. But my tastes are duller than they’ve ever been. You keep saying the word “victim.” I don’t see them as victims. They’re meals, they’re sustenance. There’s no animosity driving me towards these people. I need something that they have.

But think about it. Who’s the real victim here really? People who can walk safely at any time of the day? Who don’t really need to go out and have a good time? It’s not like I can just walk into their brownstones. No. I don’t want to sit here and play the world’s tiniest violin, but think of my situation. Even without you guys following my around, I’m risking exposure. You think I’m not being hunted? Deliberately, methodically hunted?

You think there are vampire hunters?

Where there’s vampires there’s hunters. Probably under civil employ. That they exist isn’t the problem. What they’ll do is the big question.

I assume they’d try to kill you.

If I’m lucky. You get some private contractors in the mix I could be given an express ride to research lab Hell.

You guys found me pretty easily, if I recall. What, someone said “There’s this weird guy living in public storage, go document that yadda yadda yadda,” right? You don’t think that was a big risk on my part?

It’s not that simple.

Whatever, you’re here. I can’t remember what thinking was going through my head.

The pay perhaps.

$200 a day for 10 days? Goes real far in New York. All I’m saying is that the guys from Vice weren’t so lucky.


11:17 pm

I’m really excited tonight. We’re going to do an experiment, something I’ve been wanting to try for a while but haven’t had the proper balls to do so.

I thought you said being a vampire made you more courageous.

It did but this is a bit extreme. You know the “vampire rule”? Not being able to enter unless you’re invited? It’s true. Well, mostly true. I can walk into a store, I can walk into a hotel lobby or a hospital or whatever. But not any private property. Unless this works. This is a very happening area this time of night. Very lit, don’t you think? So surely there must be an apartment building were a party is happening. Preferably a big one with an open-invite policy. Just need to find the tell-tale signs.

(Like that window with all the people around it?)


Exactly like that one, thank you! That looks like the … third floor. So, just go in press each third floor button. There are only two so …

11:26 pm

So you guys wait right here, I’ll be right out.

[Hey, I’m so sorry do I—]


11:50 pm

That was a bad idea. It worked. But it was a bad idea.

What’s in the bag, Ted?

I don’t know, I just grabbed some stuff in a panic. I need to get rid of them. Where’s the river? That way is the river.


5:52 am

My stem never talked. I don’t think it could even see. We never exchanged words. It just nursed me for weeks until I was more or less what I am now. That was our bond. I think it must have been no younger than 400 years. 400 years, living in tunnels and sewers, in the shadows, coming up to just eat. History, society; hindrances if nothing else. I think if it had ventured onto the street it would be completely lost. I must have been one in a long line of caretakers.

I almost didn’t check if any of the people at the party were still viable. For a minute I thought, no, fuck it. Let it spread. Bring on the great Gothic Singularity. Turn everything upside down.

Of course that’s not how it works. They wouldn’t survive very long. Leftovers are just rabid raccoons.

I don’t think we can get you back to Bayonne in time.

Ha! I’m almost disappointed you noticed. It would be such a great closure on your narrative. I’m shit at storytelling. Anyway, I should probably not go back there. Maybe ever. I’ve got one of those mausoleums picked out. They’re like my summer properties.

You guys look tired.

(I feel like I could sleep for a whole month.)

If you do you should probably consult a doctor.

(Wait why?)

Mono gets around.

[Note: This post was derived from numerous instances of vampire lore and pop culture. Elements found here can also be found in 30 Days of Night, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Night Stalker, Let the Right One In, Daybreakers, Martin, etc. “Stem” was ripped directly from Vamps. The mockumentary idea was inspired by What We Do in the Shadows but based on Man Bites Dog, which is a serial killer movie but cut me some slack.]




“You’re not punk and I’m telling everyone” is the opening line of “Boxcar,” the anti-anthem of Jawbreaker, who wrote and recorded it amidst accusations they themselves had been receiving of having sold out, or of being on the fast track to doing so, all before they were signed to DGC. It is a song that resonates even after over 20 years. Punks have what I call “Boxcar syndrome,” a tendency to stop and ask what constitutes punk. Though perhaps “declare” is a better term, as it is not so much for exploratory reasons as for political ones, made by ones who either seek to dominate a scene or seek to prevent the dissolution of its purity. And really there’s no other practical application for such a line of inquiry, not in a culture the longevity of which spans generations and the reach of which spans—if not exactly mends—class divisions, for starters. For one to try to do that it would be better to ask why rather than what. Or in any case a variation on what, as in what compels one towards punk?

It’s not boredom, though most say it is. Boredom’s endgames are many, and a poor excuse to pursue any of them, be it going to a sports bar, getting a divorce, getting plastic surgery, or committing tax fraud. Boredom does not explain why punks are so intense about being punk, why so many commit so much effort to extending its lifespan and enriching its culture. More than boredom, punks are created by the absence of something else. In its earliest period—as a named genre anyway—it was propelled by an absence of freedom. What precisely was limiting them, or what expectations of which institutions they were shirking, differed from punk to punk, but each was fairly unison in having those limitations and related pressures dissipated by the primal surge of The Ramones or The Dictators or X. Indeed, they could explore their own limitations whether of aesthetic, physique, or philosophy. In truth, it came to resemble nearly all of the countercultures that preceded it. And it could very well have gone no further, fading, as many in the mainstream have assumed it did, into new wave; this were it not for its singular intensity. Bored punks soon got bored with punk, but they did not abandon it.

1987 is punk’s most significant year; more than 1977, more even than 1991. If the latter years were in any way revolutionary they were more so of marketing. The former on the other hand has a legitimate claim to shifting of paradigms. By that year, punk’s nihilistic streak had run out. Black Flag, Big Black, and a slew of hardcore brutalists had either faded or mutated. At the same time Ian MacKaye, then 25 years old, was founding Fugazi. MacKaye had effectively grown up in public, and his newest band was a long time coming when reviewing the previous seven years. Minor Threat are a staple for punk beginners despite having broken up 33 years ago. Certainly their musicianship was superior to many of their hardcore peers, but then-teenage MacKaye’s vocals and message did as much cementing, stoked as it was by marked self-righteousness laced with deep disappointment. Pleas for autonomy, in his estimation, got punks exactly nowhere. His was an individualism armored in principle, and in expression it reached a near-Lutheran level condemnation, so much so that the rest of the band forced him to clarify his position. After four years—including a self-loathing spell in proto-emo band Embrace—MacKaye, matured in musicianship and message, had retconned punk’s agenda for the foreseeable future.

The idea of principle as a good in itself became specious as the 1980s progressed, practically taking on the form of a luxury good. Those who had it first had to afford to exert it. Those who could afford to exert it did so only when and if it was expedient. Freedom was less of a problem in the collective mind at the time. In fact it was seen as a given. Soon people were less compelled to punk by an absence of freedom than by an absence of morals, for which Fugazi along with other DC area bands gave them a fitting outlet.

“Moral genius, like political genius,” Charles Fried wrote in The New Republic, “is far closer to artistic genius than it is to genius in science or mathematics. It has to do with putting together familiar elements in unexpected ways, combining and recombining the materials to take account of and overcome the constraints of those materials, and finally coming up with a whole that surprises by its power, its aptness, and its sense that we are experiencing something fundamentally new.” Fried was writing about Abraham Lincoln, but, as Alan Jacobs contends, it can apply very widely, and to MacKaye no less so. MacKaye’s father was the religion editor of the Washington Post, and raised his family in the civic-minded Episcopalian tradition, attending a church which, according to Michael Azerrad “was involved in all kinds of protests of the Vietnam War.” If MacKaye had shed the tenants of his religion he kept the fervor under strict maintenance. Fugazi demand an extraordinary amount from their listeners, conscious they are among those few outlets filling the moral absence for them. And they have created some memorable lessons on everyday dehumanization that have undeniable influence over how we address it today. This is most true of “Suggestion,” one of their earliest songs.

“Suggestion” is an impassioned denunciation of female objectification and male entitlement. To say that Fugazi’s ethics—affordable ticket and record pricing, no merch, no moshing—are a greater hallmark for them than their sound is unfair. A feminist perspective in punk was nothing new to bands like The Slits or X-Ray Spex, but where they were abrasive and playful, Fugazi were accessible and earnest. The song is tightly written for an almost rhetorical effect, strengthening rather than undermining the argument. A famous version of this song was recorded during an early DC show in 1988. Fugazi were known for improvising their shows, and here MacKaye extends “Suggestion” into several extra minutes to add a furious aside over Brendan Canty’s drumming, condemning “boys” who had attacked gay men. “Let me tell you now,” he says, “I don’t give a fuck what you are. But you do not beat up people for being gay, you do not beat up people for being black, you do not beat up people for being women, you do not beat up people [the drumming pauses] period.” He goes on for two and a half more minutes, but that’s the point, and it has echoed well into our current mode of discourse. It is the dominant mode, but not the sole mode.

“Savory” is the debut single off of Jawbox’s third album For Your Own Special Sweetheart, released in 1994. Like “Suggestion,” it is about female objectification and male entitlement, and like “Suggestion” it is one of the band’s best remembered songs. But with Jawbox there has been erected a kind of dark covenant in which explicit comparisons to Fugazi can only go so far. Jawbox had been a staple of MacKaye’s label Dischord in their early career. The label is as bound to ethics as any other MacKaye venture; it pools only DC-based talent, does not use contracts, and even encourages what some might consider competition. Sweetheart was released by Atlantic, making Jawbox one of only two Dischord acts to ever formally sell out (Shudder to Think being the other, releasing Pony Express Record on Epic the same year). The language of selling out is cruel at its heart, much more so in punk where it is used to impose aesthetic and ethical standards. It denies one’s agency. Yet Jawbox, through it all, were not much of a Dischord band. Or at least they were nothing like its ideal. They were individualistic, worldly, and aloof rather than communitarian, ascetic, and engaged. They made an easy transition to, if not a comfortable home in, the alt-rock world of 120 Minutes airplay, appearances on late night, and opening spots for Stone Temple Pilots. Jawbox, for all concerned, were a fine band for a different world. And yet the unified politics and divergent aesthetics between “Suggestion” and “Savory” invite further examination.

Storytelling is an odious term brandied about today’s media. I wish misfortune on people who use it in earnest, and of course my reluctance is excruciating when I use it here because it relates closely and dangerously with what “Savory” is accomplishing. Though it lacked the impact of its 1994 peers “Longview,” “Say It Ain’t So,” “Closer,” and even “In Circles,” “Savory” outlasts them with its far reaching intent and artistic depth. It is a portrait of evil, retelling the premise of “Suggestion” from the viewpoint of the objectifier. Its tone is cold and sinister; its groove is subversive, akin to a strip track for a depressive bachelor party. Though the lyrics are cryptic on the surface, they rather aptly detail a nature of control, obsession, and idealization, of being rapt with power yet misunderstanding who is holding it:

Hey angel, fly over and bless me
See you feign surprise
And I’m all eyes
And you’re all you need to be

It is not apolitical but political through implication. “Suggestion,” by contrast, is a song that shifts perspective between victim and bystander while still retaining a consistent didactic voice. Ian MacKaye’s lyrical stance is akin obviously to the preacher, but also the cable news broadcaster and other predominantly secondhand communicators whose renditions of events and ills are more detached and abstract than the passion, empathy, and clarity lead on. “Suggestion” may well be the first thinkpiece.

Fugazi got their name from a Vietnam War slang term for “a fucked up situation.” An irony of the band’s success is that as its name has grown more apropos over time its actual meaning has become more obscure. Since the start of the band’s ongoing “indefinite hiatus” in 2002, life outside of punk has shown no improvement in reversing moral errors. Yet Fugazi have ascended into institution and MacKaye into authority. They are the George Orwell of punk, whose sentiment is pervasive among right-thinkers while their message is a calcified moralism. If Fugazi are something to be gotten beyond, Jawbox’s modernist punk (with their nods to E. E. Cummings and J.G. Ballard) would seem a way through. In the former you have the accelerant, the clarifier and revealer of that which is always staring one in the face as one gazes haplessly around it: “We owe you nothing/You have no control.” In the latter, however, one finds the commitment and the cost: “What would you risk to rescue me?”

“Punk’s not dead,” Jello Biafra declared in the Dead Kennedys’ song “Chickenshit Conformist,” “it just deserves to die.” It is as close as anyone in punk has ever come to a kind of baby boomer sense of possession. Yet it is also half-right. Not that one era of punk is inherently purer than another, but that under fairer circumstances it should not live. Punk’s catalyst is error. It thrives on the relentless failings of the society that surrounds it. There was no other design inherent in it that would give it destiny or reason to take on the feat of giving substance to humanism. Our benevolent authorities, the ones we trusted rather than feared, simply failed to do so. They made it a niceness rather than a good, a call for calm because there is too much noise, a wishful thought experiment to fill a privileged boredom. Through punk culture it assumes a defiant cast not in favor of a new utopia of good but against an already sprawling and rusted utopia of indifference. It does not champion humanity but reasserts it as a kind of burden. It demonstrates the distinction between confronting and engaging with the realities of existence against managing it or downgrading its value.



Chet from HR: Okay guys, we’ve reached it, the final day of orientation. I just want to say for starters that you’ve all been super and it’s really invigorating to have such a bright group of recruits at Tiberius Media. I think our fiscal year vision is really coming into focus already. Def give yourselves a hand.

Audience: [claps]

Chet from HR: Now I know you think I say this to all the new hires.

Audience: [laughs]

Chet from HR: And you’re right. But I really mean it this time, I swear!

Audience: [laughs, mildly claps]

Chet from HR: Anyway, in accordance with the human resources outreach policy, we’ve invited another guest speaker to talk to you about some pretty important stuff as you all get your careers off and running. I’d like to introduce Chris Morgan, the founder and chief consultant for Idle Hands Strategies. Chris, are you ready for these guys?

Audience: [applauds]

Chris: Thanks, Chet. [pause] It is Chet, right?

Chet from HR: Myron, actually.


Chris: Chet from HR, everyone.

Audience: [applauds]

Chris: So in spite of appearances I’m not actually the strongest lecturer. In most cases I’d make a brief introductory statement of purpose and then immediately open the floor to Q and A. [pause] But I’m not going to do that today, because in preparing this presentation, it dawned on me that there’s something that young people in general, and forward-motioned young career-starters like you in particular, should be made clear of.

So I guess I’m basically the last in a long procession of “media consultants” who’ve come to talk to you this past week. You have heard the presentation on finding opportunity in failure, on finding hope in adversity, and on why muting your dad is good optics. People who, in effect, make a living telling you things you guys already know but that seem to please the shareholders; people who did not start off life with the intention of becoming such a thing until they found themselves with no more appealing options than taking a word and a vague definition and attaching it to them. They kind of roll with it and many suffer. But you accept this, because this is the hazard—perhaps even the penalty—of your situation; of being the few, the proud, the gainfully employed and upwardly mobile young. That sound about right?

Audience: [nods approvingly]

Chris: And for me to go up here and say “This is going to be different” is a very consultant thing to say. But that, in this case, is the truth. My journey towards consultancy has been one of laser focus. True, I didn’t major in the subject, but I did find a stronger taste for it compared to my previous pursuits. It is my calling, and I set about forming my consultancy with an aim towards providing consultation that is needed on a more practical than theoretical basis. It is also a very consulting thing to mention other important people one has consulted, like, I don’t know, Rex Ryan, Cher Lloyd, Chipotle customers, Corey Lewandowski. I’m not saying I necessarily have consulted them on a recognizable basis, but my intentions and their results have what I’d like to call tandem actualities.

I am here to talk about your brand. [pauses for groans] Which I’m sure you’ve been hearing a lot about over the past week, mainly the vitality and resilience of the Tiberius brand and how your presence within it reinforces both. It’s a compelling story, to be sure. But I’m here to tell you a different story. A story about people who aren’t you.

Mind you, the people I’m talking about could be, on the surface, very much like you. You could have roughly the same appearance, the same sartorial quirks; you could have the same taste in bands or film, the same alma mater, the same neighborhoods, even the same politics. These sound like great people, right? Maybe not. These people, I’m not quite sure what to call them—sirens, how about?—are very enticing. They will lure young urban upstarts like you with deep, cultured talk and strong drink. They work at, or eagerly retweet pieces from, that highbrow-but-voice-relatable website firing up the iPads of your demographic. Finding such a person in the otherwise vast sea of [YOUR CITY HERE] mediocrity is a blessing; people who, in spite of divergent career paths (however slight), surely share the same aspirations: to do good work with good people, to seek independence and self-worth, to live in an apartment complex that is spacious, allows dogs, and with rent and utilities you can pay almost entirely out of your own pocket. That is, until they wreck you—I think you know where I’m going with this—back into that sea.

There are many ways in which they can do this, though it always starts with their song: “What do you do?” Your mentors will know it well. It’s hard to resist, particularly when you are certain you have an answer worth sharing. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for since maybe your junior year internship; to say you work for [YOUR CONTENT AFFILIATE HERE] producing [YOUR CONTENT VERTICAL HERE], of which you are very proud. From there you would ideally talk about the varying joys and nags of your work here, and they will trade similar war stories, which then lead to dreams, which then lead to switching Twitter—and if things go especially swimmingly—IG handles. And that may happen. But that is the trouble. The song may go sour at any point. It could be an offhand comment early on: “Oh yeah, I applied there, but past the second interview I didn’t really think it was for me” or “This reminds me of something I read in The Baffler the other week. Let me DM you the link.” Or it could be the more than frequent retweeting of @ProfJeffJarviss. And these are the best case scenarios. You wouldn’t believe the horror stories I’ve heard of truncated, unfavorable Tumblr versions of conversations they’ve had, or posts of theirs shared with a derisive indifference to the fully appreciable art of matching punchy, humorous copy on Malia Obama’s first semester at college with GIFs from Smallville. This, I’m afraid, is your new reality. And here I’m going to help you to manage it.

One way you can handle this is to brush it off, to accept that not everyone will see the importance of what you do, including someone in the neighboring ideation cube from time to time, but that you should be contented that your station in life is much higher than it could otherwise be. A lot of people will tell you this, people like family members or high school friends you see on Thanksgiving who you aren’t sure ever left town.

My industry form-fitted solutions, on the other hand, are twofold. First is what I call the “knock” approach, or rather … Chet do you mind if you use the dry erase board?

Myron from HR: No, go ahead.

Chris: Thanks. [takes a marker and writes NO N E  C A R E S] So … N.O.C. Now this is not to say that this is literally true, or indeed that it is even figuratively true. But it is a good mental framework to have in forging a path through this industry. This will, in all likelihood, be the first of many positions you will hold. You will find yourself with new people, heeding new editorial standards, for new—and not necessarily improved—incentive. Yet no matter where you end up, N.O.C. must be foremost in your mind. The days in which it was taken for granted of even your immediate supervisor knowing your name exactly may yet live in fact, but that doesn’t mean the psychological toll of that reality is affordable. And once the N.O.C. mindset has taken its hold, you will be able to extend it as far as you can manage to other hazards.

Once you’ve achieved that, you can do the legwork of honing and, more importantly, owning your brand. Now I’m not talking about the brand in the Tiberius Media—or any other Media—sense per se. The idea of the “brand” as it is approached now isn’t entirely fresh; as I see it, it’s a convenient modern day terminology for what in another time might have been called purity of spirit. So if my host doesn’t mind …

Myron from HR: [nods while playing Candy Crush or whatever]

Chris: Okay … we can sort of lift ourselves out of the cage of dimension-two branding and ascend as many as two or three dimensions higher. We’ve been standing around here talking to you as though you are perpetual candidates for rations, when really it is you who are the nutrients for the organisms. It is through your skills and choices that you feed or starve a particular hive, and it will be that which shapes you going forward. And you’ll find you’ll have a lot of flexibility to your brand and how it assists your advancement in your career. Take my example, for instance. My brand is mortification. It’s not something I created or really cultivated but which came out of me and made itself wholly manifest in whatever I did as a public person. It could be seen on my face, in every physical tic, and around every hair follicle. It’s kind of a flush-over sensation that kicks in after every interaction, every decision, and every project. No one told me at the time but I’m fairly certain it was unusual when I was making my way at the beginning, but it stayed with me in such a way as to become an inseparable element. It indicates a certain stability with every undertaking I am allowed to be a part of. Were that to change, to sort of clear, even exorcise, itself, would, I think, bring my dependability into question. Pivoting, even compulsory pivoting, is a delicate thing that requires a whole other talk. I am confident, however, that my mortification will hold strong well into retirement. It is a part of me, it takes shape in me. We are codependent. I’m not saying that branding should be exactly like this, but it involves more trial and error than is admitted to, wherein one doesn’t so much hone it as one comes to terms with it.

Myron from HR: Thanks so much Chris. And I think I speak for all of us in saying I hope that this was a truly mortifying experience.

Audience: [claps]

Myron from HR: Guys, this concludes our orientation week. Please go to conference room F where we have frozen hot chocolate and assorted macaroons.