When it comes to the slam I maintain my integrity
’cause someone out there is listening closely.
“Why I Slam”
First off, “slam it” does not mean “shove it.” Quite the opposite, actually, and it was too provocative to not use it!
Second, I am totally burying the lede, but context is king, so read on. It’s kind of a fun story, complete with a happy ending.
The snippet and Wordle above are from an old (and mostly awful) poem called “Why I Slam,” which I wrote back in June/July of 1998, shortly after I made the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe’s National Poetry Slam Team, and our victory that summer in Austin, TX led to Burning Down the House and subsequent adventures in poetry and publishing, some related, some not.
It’s an unapologetic and belligerent mash-up of my first year in the poetry slam scene, and while the writing is embarrassingly sophomoric, the underlying sentiment holds up: When I throw myself into something, I do so 110%. Also, I don’t suffer fools gladly or quietly.
That tendency towards full immersion is something I’ve always considered a strength — and for anyone in a community organizing/engagement role, an absolute necessity, IMO — though the downside is it can often leave little room for other interests, even directly tangential ones. In some cases, it can even cut into more important things like family time, though usually only for short stretches. (My wife and kids will surely argue that point!)
For the past 16+ months, I’ve been as fully immersed in all things Digital Book World as I’ve ever been in anything since the peak of my poetry slam days, back around 1999-2000 when I was still running a little bit louder, writing consistently, had been elected to the Executive Council of Poetry Slam, Inc., and occasionally even slipped in a short tour or two. As with DBW, I was driven by the thrill of carving out a new niche from scratch, and engaging with a passionate community, and it was an all-consuming endeavor, fueled by a delicate balance of pugnaciousness and unabashed optimism.
Last week’s Digital Book World 2011 Conference, the ultimate measuring stick of everything I did under the DBW umbrella, was a resounding success by pretty much any measure, doubling paid attendance from 2010 and expanding the “conversation” to include bookstores and libraries, and exploring new areas like transmedia. From my perspective, it reached what I thought would be 2012’s goals one year early, and one of the most rewarding things I’ve seen is how often variations on the word “optimism” have appeared in press coverage the past several days, sometimes without even the slightest hint of irony or snark.
In slam lingo, and in my humble opinion, the Conference was a high-energy group piece that earned a perfect 30!
That doesn’t mean it was without fault, of course, but if you’ve ever been to a slam, you know a perfect 30 isn’t really about perfection, the poet, or even the specific poem itself. It’s really about a perfect moment in time: the poet(s), the words, the performance, the emotional connection with the audience… everything syncing at the right moment for an unforgettable communal experience.
The only perfect 30 I ever got in a slam was the night I proposed to my girlfriend from the stage of the Nuyorican with a poem — March 20, 1998 — and it came with a bonus point because she said yes. 🙂
But I digress.
Forgive all that preamble and context as I confirm that I’ll be leaving Digital Book World at the end of February.
It’s a bittersweet departure as it’s been an exciting run, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with a variety of intelligent, creative people who gave my sense of optimism multiple points of reference, and reaffirmed my belief in publishing as a community service in an age where content is increasingly devalued, and made the work I was doing with DBW immensely rewarding and worthwhile.
Perhaps the most bittersweet aspect of it all is walking away from the new StoryWorld Conference, for which I’ve been laying the groundwork for months, but I am thrilled that it’s now in the hands of the wonderful Alison Norrington, someone I look to not only as a mentor and inspiration, but also a friend. If anyone can pull it off, it’s going to be her, and she’ll have DBW’s excellent events team behind her and my DBW partner-in-crime, Matt Mullin, who is stepping up into the Nightwing role! And, of course, I look forward to supporting her in any way I can to ensure that it’s as amazing an event as possible.
But all good things do eventually come to an end, and for me, on the heels of an amazingly successful DBW11, I realized I was coming upon a crucial fork in the road, and while the DBW path will surely continue to be an exciting one for those continuing on, it’s one I realized would ultimately take me away from my true passion: Books, Authors, Readers and the myriad connections still to be made between them.
[B. A. R. Hmmm….]
The conversations currently being had and experiments being conducted across the industry are all great and necessary, and whatever role I may have played in helping shift the tone away from the pointless gloom-and-doom, I am eternally grateful for having had the opportunity, but now I want to leave the talking to others and get back to the doing. (That doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly be quiet, of course!)
Like a quarterback for whom the comfortable confines of the pre-game studio never quite matches the thrill of being on the field, I want to get back in the game.
I’m not sure yet what my next step is going to be, but I knew I needed a clean break in order to take it most effectively, so during the transitional period of the next few weeks I’m looking forward to exploring every potential opportunity that presents itself.
Books? Magazines? Apps? Transmedia? Audience Development? Community Organizing?
Yes. Bring it all on! Give me the damn ball!
[NOTE: If you’re one of those deep-pocketed angel investor types interested in publishing, read this and call me!]
To everyone who has been part of the DBW Community over its first year, in any form or function, my sincerest thanks, not just for your support, but more importantly, for your passion and perseverance, and for enabling me to continue to believe that the future of publishing is bright not because of technology, but because of the people who are dedicated to doing it right, no matter what tools they have at their disposal.
I fully intend to remain a member of the DBW Community, though probably wielding a slightly sharper optimistick from now on. 😉