When Your Best is Not Good Enough

By John Winn

Sometimes, no matter how fast we run, how hard we push, or how graceful we dismount, the best isn’t good enough for some people. You could put your entire life on hold, sacrificing birthdays, Christmases, proms just to work towards a single dream–only for it to evaporate in a London minute. But you don’t have to be an Olympic gymnast to know how it feels.

Yes, Jordyn Wieber was done wrong, and even a clumsy, non-athletic aspiring writer could tell that the point system in gymnastics is messed up beyond all recognition, but what makes Weiber’s cut Sunday from the all-around competition semi-final so moving wasn’t how dramatic or unexpected it was–but it’s banality.

Wieber was (and is) the Hillary Clinton of the U.S. Gymnastic team in 2012–the front-runner, the odds on favorite, the girl who would be queen. This is a girl who consistently posted stats in the 59.5-60.0 range, who has won multiple gold medals in international competition, and is pretty much the reigning female world champion in her sport. So when she failed to advance, it was an upset, to say the least.

Wieber’s loss resonates beyond the world of sports. How many girls her age have applied to Harvard, Yale, Carolina or a bunch of other schools only to get turned down?  How many women have struggled to advance in their careers, only to see less competent men become CEOs, CFOs, and managers?  You could be the top of your class, have excellent employment histories, and still not Make It.

There are a lot of factors that led to Wieber’s loss.  Deductions, judging, the usual behind-the-scenes politics–take your pick.  But that doesn’t take away the pain. Wieber just got a knife in her heart, and believe me, those memories are going to stay.  It’s like Neil Armstrong being told he won’t be allowed to walk on the moon–you think you’d forget that sort of thing?

I agree with Bela–I think the rules system in Olympic gymnastics stinks, and is probably the biggest sham this side of The City. But I am not an athlete.  But pain and disappointment are universal regardless of what you play or what your nationality is.  Put me on Team Wieber.

[UPDATE: Looks like Wieber made good on her plan to net a gold for the Fab Five.  You can read the details here.]

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Finding the Words You Need


By Alexandria Harris

 When I’m at a loss for words (and those who know me know that usually isn’t often) sometimes the only place I can express myself and make sense of it all is through writing. But sometimes the problem follows me into my sacred space, pins me down, and I’m forced to threaten it with my secret weapon: the thesaurus.

I’m sure we’ve all been through its pages of synonyms, trying to find the one word to save us from writer’s block. The thesaurus is supposed to be our friend, to bring meaning and connection to the myriad of words in its cousin the dictionary. But what if that fails?

This is the predicament I found myself in last night–scattered papers, a crude map, a Norse-English dictionary, a thesaurus, ninety six thousand words in Microsoft Word, and a glaring problem.

For the past three hours I had been pouring over the correlation between light and shadow, how to make the word Lumen sound cool, and an effective word for winter that would work well with court (I settled on frost).

My mission and problem was how to find a word to replace autumn while still retaining the meaning and it had to sound believable in front of the word court (somehow the cornucopia court seemed laughable and brought back too many flashbacks of The Hunger Games).

It’s sad that even though the average woman apparently speaks 20,000 words a day, but 500-700 words of actual value, none of the 500-700 meaningful words in my vocabulary could help me out!

I used the thesaurus, I went through my memory bank of things associated with autumn. Finally, I brought out the last line of defense: my siblings.

I am fortunate to come from a family of readers. We critique books like we’re in front of a camera with complimentary Columbian coffee, biscotti, and an audience hanging on our every back and forth. So in my desperation I called them in. We sat down for another half an hour (three heads are better than one) and tossed ideas back and forth.

Finally my 17 year old sister Morgan hit the jackpot. “Hey, why don’t you call it the Reaping Court?”

Then she back-tracked and said maybe it was associated too much with the Grim Reaper, but the possibilities were already pouring through my brain synapses and I was hooked. It was perfect.

Many of you are probably involved in critique groups or have friends who love to read and write as much as you do. You already know connections are essential. Seriously. I often talk a new story idea over to see if there is material  that doesn’t make sense or illogical scenarios. The best material can come from someone who isn’t too invested in your universe like you are.

That can be difficult. Finding the right words (and people for that matter) is hard. You don’t want a person who sings your praises and tells you that it was wonderful and transported them into a different world.

This person should be locked up in the back of your mind. You need a healthy mix of Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne because maybe we shouldn’t hear how great we are all the time. Otherwise we’d dig deeper. We’d be forced to face the reality that before the greats were greats, many people probably hated their work and it ended up in the slush piles or in somebody’s basement.

Only though critiquing and dialogue can material evolve to the next level. Usually nothing is so perfect or revolutionary that it cannot be fixed, tweaked, or reworked into something more remarkable.

Sometimes finding words requires us to say a few more to tease them out from where they’ve been hiding.

Through the lips of a young’un my concept was saved and I didn’t have to spend too much time staring at an empty screen. Sometimes you just need better friends, especially when the one you hold most dear is a thesaurus. 

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Racewalking?! Really???

 

As I’m sure most of you are aware, the Games of the XXX Olympiad (better known as the London Olympics) officially kicked off last Friday. One thing I haven’t been able to get over, despite my growing affinity to different forms of athletic competition, is the amount of events considered worthy of the Olympics that… well, they just don’t matter.

It is very easy, in this day and time, to be considered a ‘hater’ for not giving just due to a person or group of people that are finding success for doing something you are not or for something that anyone is capable of doing. Just look at reality television, mainstream music, and today’s job market. I’ve often been assigned this ‘hater’ title, or the title of ‘pessimist’, because I share these views; however, I’d like to think of myself as more of a realist (as I’m sure most pessimists do. Ha ha.).

Regardless of the label I wear, there are very few things in life that have a solid argument from the majority. In other words, some stuff is just plain wack, yo. As far as acting or entertainment, think Kim Kardashian. Or Paris Hilton, for those old enough to remember The Simple Life… when it comes to music, consider Waka Flocka or Ke$ha (yes, that dollar sign is placed correctly). Now I’m not saying that we, as humans, don’t have guilty pleasures; Lord knows I love me some Nickelback. But this doesn’t absolve the fact that something is wack. In fact, wackness is all around you… it’s an epidemic. You may just be numb to it… and that is why us realists exist.

I’ve been more dialed in to these Olympics than I can ever remember. Maybe it’s because of the timing in my life (23, fresh and free), maybe it’s because I sit at home bored contemplating the cardboard-sign-on-the-street-corner hustle, or maybe just because my interest in competition has spiked like never before. Whatever the case may be, I’ve been more willing to give every single event a fair shake at entertaining me for the next fortnight.

With six channels of NBC-family coverage, DVR and nothing but free time, I’ve pretty much caught every memorable moment thus far that has been televised. But after viewing some of these events and listening to the radio this morning, I’ve been made aware of way too many items that need to be permanently shelved, especially in lieu of baseball and softball’s exclusion from this year’s Games.

Here’s a list of what I’ve gathered so far. You can attain Olympic gold for:

  • Beach Volleyball
  • Archery
  • Men’s Field Hockey
  • Steeplechase (humans!)
  • Racewalking
  • Synchronized Swimming
  • Trampoline

Let that settle for a minute. Granted, all of these required a unique level of skill and technique, but really? The Olympics? The grandest stage of international competition, and all you have to do is be able to shuffle your feet faster than the rest of the world?

Maybe I’m alone, but I surely find it hard to process that sports such as these qualify… especially considering missing sports as baseball, softball, golf, even cricket. What do you think?

Brennon Keys is a former sports writer for the Pine Bluff Commericial. When he isn’t busy pulling his hair out, he works as a freelancer in St. Louis, Missouri.

Seven Pounds

By Alexandria Harris

If you thought I was talking about the Will Smith movie, I’m sorry to disappoint but I do think you should see it if you haven’t. This Will probably resonate more with the ladies (pun intended and sorry gents).

In a week full of disappointments, sadness, and confusion for our nation, I found some positive energy.

I lost my first five pounds after doing a structured workout. I know it may not seem like much, but I already feel great. I was an athlete in high school but during college I fell victim to all-nighters, little time to cook (say hello Ramen and take out), exhaustion, and caffeine.  Multiply this by four years and the freshman fifteen starts shrinking into the horizon like remnants of the sun.

When I was younger, I never worried that my grandmother was a cannibal, but she did always want to fatten me up like I was Gretel. Grandma loved feeding people. She never let anyone leave her house hungry and was always talking about how I was too skinny and needed more meat on my bones.

Later, after her death and during college, came the comments.

Mind you, even after four years, I by no means looked overweight. But when you come from an extended family like mine (loving and well meaning as they are) you need some thick skin.

Aunt: “I see you’ve gained some more meat on those thighs.”

Aunt: “Hello Ms. Chunky…”

Dad: “So when are you going to the gym?”

Aunt: “You need some new clothes for that new food baby of yours.”

Dad: “Don’t you live right by a gym?”

Uncle: “Don’t worry. Men like healthy women with meat on their bones.”

Dad: “I guess you haven’t gone to the gym yet.”

They meant well. They really did. But after a while, some comments start slipping through the cracks in the thick skin. I resolved after graduating college that I was going to maintain mind, body, and emotional health to help keep my life more in balance and I knew exactly the person I was going to call on to help me kick my butt into gear.

Jillian.  And boy did she ever!

Accomplishing weight loss to feel better reminded me of the days when I practiced for at least three hours a day in high school. There were also constant reminders of success stories along the way—Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks to name a couple. It felt as good as achieving one of my page goals for writing, or doing a random act of kindness.

The title refers to the goal I’ve set for myself in the next couple of weeks. It is so easy to get inundated with depressing things in the media, but accomplishing little wins in our personal life can center us and help us keep it all in perspective. It can also bring us closer together with our community–the first person I told after achieving my goal, was my dad.

So though it’s late in the week, I wish you well with any personal goals or achievements you are accomplishing or plan to accomplish this week and beyond.

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Racing to the Bottom: Gen Y Edition

By John Winn

As Brennon so thoughtfully pointed out today, ambitious young people (read: aspiring journalists) hoping to break into their field have run into some difficulty for some time.  The industry as a whole is rebounding, but one thing is dead certain: Gen Y is moving away from traditional print media as a career. It isn’t only aspiring journos running into trouble, so it’s worth it to look at Generation Y from the bottom rung: the entry-level job.

In the past, the words ‘drudgery’ and ‘work’ didn’t often go together in the minds of 18-29 year-olds. A booming economy, access to luxury goods, and the idea of a certain lifestyle fostered by shows like The Hills and Laguna Beach created the impression that if Joe or (increasingly) Joanna American was young, smart and witty that a dream job was in the offing.  This also coincided with a shift from a manufacuring to a knowledge-based economy, which influenced in no small part apiring journos’ dreams of becoming the next Arianna Huffington or David Pogue.

That dream is more or less over.  For those wealthy enough, or just lucky enough to grow up a few short years before the crash of 2008, scaling back simply means packing their bags and going to Europe, or taking on an internship at their dad’s-best-friend’s-newspaper-cum-website. Yet for the rest of us, it means the dreaded S-word: Settling.

 Not surprisingly, this has created some resentment not just among the generations, but within them as well.  It cuts across nationalities and classes, and is one of the main reasons why the OWS movement resonated with so many last year. Yet for many, just holding on to a job–any job–is considered enough of an achievement to brag about.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a crawfish plant or an auto dealership, aspring journos and non-journos alike are putting their dreams on hold sometimes permanently, telling themselves that they could come back to it later when the dust settles.

Like a lot of aspiring journos, writing and editing has been in my blood for some time. My brother works for Global Post.  My cousin writes press releases for a Montreal-based government relations company. Yet increasingly I count myself among those who have had their dreams deferred because of circumstances beyond my control.  A lot of my coworkers at the courier service where I work have had to do the same, and I know for a fact they won’t realize their dreams–ever.  I find my siblings’ obliviousness offensive, and resent their humblebragging in equal measure. I resent the talking heads and personalities who told us we were special, that we were guaranteed some Shangri-La $80,000 career and McMansion on the side. They’ve never walked an hour in my shoes–or in my case, ten.   

I curse their bones to the dust.

To those who are struggling in this economy: I stand with you.  To those who don’t understand–who will never understand–I hope you never have to choose between the life you want, and the life you can afford.  But you will never face that dilemma, will you?

Social Media Coordinator (and managing editor) John Winn is Hennen’s Twitterer in Chief.  In addition to writing for Hennen’s, His work has been featured in A Twist of Noir, Lightning Flash, Racket Magazine, and plenty of other online magazines.  He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

OVERQUALIFIED: The Distance Between Rookie and Boss

By Brennon Keys

 Ever been to that point where you don’t feel like doing anything? Exhausted every possible resource? Utilized every skill and colleague? Sick and tired of being sick and tired?

 Yep, I’m there. Been there for a while now. And while I’m sure there’s a calling for me to adjust, I haven’t.

 For those who don’t know me, I’ve always been able to bring people laughter with my life experiences. Especially the negative ones. Why? I don’t have the slightest idea… but I guess this is an opportunity to capitalize on that ‘gift’ (or ‘curse’, depending on your perspective).

 I am a recent college graduate of UAPB (Arkansas – Pine Bluff) with a focus in the print journalism field. Considering the day and age we live in, that’s a killer punchline in itself. I can hear the cynics and frenemies conversing in the shadows, like some chatty old women at the local beauty shop:

 Cindy Nick – “You hear about that guy that went to school to write?”                              

 Fran Emmy – “Yeah… good guy, but he lives in a time warp. Someone help him reset his DeLorean…”                                                                                                                       

Cin – “Just sad. Going into a dying field, and attempting to talk about sensical things? He’ll never make it…”

 Or something along those lines… but I digress.

 A bachelor’s degree used to be the key to financial and social success ‘back in the day’. If you attained one of these, you were on the fast track to being somebody important, someone revered and envied in your neighborhood, your field. Today, in this increasingly globalized and industrialized society, it’s the equivalent of graduating from high school.

 With that in mind, I think to myself, “That’s fine! I’ll still be on par with the majority of young adults, and find an entry-level opportunity that will allow me to show off my work ethic, superb intelligence, amazingly good looks and other gifts. Surely, I’m still ahead of the curve, considering how many high school dropouts I know personally and see regularly between my new alma mater and my hometown.”

 In short, these hopes have proven to simply be wishful thinking thus far.

 Funny thing about all of this is, although a bachelor’s has devolved from a luxury to a necessity, many of the jobs available (I’d go as far as to say the majority) still require you to have no experience or as little as possible. Similarly, on the other end of the scale, the higher-ups in my field laugh (literally, in my case) at recent college graduates walking in their direction with a degree in hand. They preach experience as the new necessity, in some instances over a decade of it. A bachelor’s degree is no longer considered that top-end prerequisite; it has become that dreaded middle ground.

 No sense in approaching directorial, managerial or presidential positions with degree in hand; they will simply turn you around and say “work a little harder, and a little longer”. So why not go for those positions that denied me summer after summer during my high school and collegiate years? Here’s where the story gets hilariously unfortunate… all encompassed in one, dreaded term.

Overqualified.

 A word I never knew existed, nor made sense in any context, suddenly masks the “under-qualified” label I’ve sported since I was 16. I carry it with me everywhere now; it’s all the rage. It has become my favorite undesired accessory.

 Going into job interviews and experiencing this shift in social ideology first hand has been something else. Growing up with the traditional mindset of “college or bust”, with two parents who aren’t college educated and who never acknowledged to me that I didn’t HAVE to go to college, it’s extremely disheartening and confusing to hear the interviewer point out my new label, and (in most cases, so far) disqualify me from consideration because of it. It’s discrimination, I tell you!

 How could celebrating a sheet of paper I worked and slaved five years for suddenly take me from being too wet behind the ears to being out of contention? I understand the practical concern (if I were to see greener pastures in my field, I would run to them without hesitation), but most hiring managers don’t understand what’s going on in my distinct field; at this point, there’s very little chance that such an ideal situation will suddenly appear for a fresh college graduate.

 Newspapers have explained to me (again, literally) that the only way positions will open up is if a higher profile position becomes available to a staff member or if a staff member dies. I wouldn’t put my money on either of those possibilities, but it’s a moot point when speaking to someone concerned about their own job security.

 I’m willing to stick it out with a company for at least two years. I’ll take less pay, I promise *sniffles* *shoves hands into pockets* *kicks rock*.

 In the meantime, I’m a proud new member of the Hennen’s Observer: This Week In Review staff. I don’t do this for the money (although I like green rectangles as much as the next person); I love to write and empathize with groups of people who often feel misunderstood, misrepresented or just plain missed. I love the art and I’ll do my best to keep it alive and well. Plus, I’m taking my shot at being humorous (if you laugh, I’ve done my job).

 Shoutout to all my ‘overqualifed’ grads of the Class of 2012! May your future endeavors be successful and prosperous, and continue to push through the setbacks.

Brennon Keys is a former sports writer for the Pine Bluff Commericial. When he isn’t busy pulling his hair out, he works as a freelancer in St. Louis, Missouri.

My Secret Milkshake is Better than Yours

By Alexandria Harris

 And though Kelis was in absolutely no way talking about a milkshake, I actually am.

 In the land of beer, cheese, Door County cherries, and usually humid continental weather it has gotten to 105 degrees.

 That was my breaking point.

 Some of you are probably laughing at me right now and that is completely fine. I’ll bear your laughs if only to have you arm me with one of those spray bottle fans (the ones that were cool to carry around in public five years ago) as I face down the heat.

 My Northern blood’s white flag goes up immediately when it gets into the 90s. Especially when there are heat advisory warnings. Air conditioning is my solace and I use it liberally. When I do have to go out, I placate my protesting body with sunscreen and treats. Secret treats.

 Only these treats are about as secret as wikileaks. Since I made you hungry Friday, I thought it would only be fair to quench your thirst today.

This year I was introduced to the world of secret menus. If you’re looking to mix it up at a few well known restaurants, step into my tastebuds *ahem* parlor for a minute. Your brain will love you for it.

 I was ecstatic when I found out these existed at places I frequented like Jamba Juice, Chipotle, and Starbucks. If you haven’t already been made aware, let me help you walk into the light my friend. Below are a few of my favorites:

 Starbucks: When I found out Starbucks had a Cap’n Crunch frappuccino that tasted exactly like Cap’n Berry Crunch, I had to try it. Not because I haven’t had Cap’n Crunch cereal since I was five (strictly a Honey Bunches of Oats and Cheerios brand lady) but because I had to see if it was true. It was and it was better than I’d imagined. Made with strawberries and cream, hazelnut, and a dash of toffee, it tasted like the real thing. If you don’t have an inner five-year-old, you could also order a Chocolate Pumpkin, a Tuxedo Mocha, a Super Cream Frappuccino, and more.

 Chipotle: I am a Chipotle fanatic. I love Chipotle almost as much as I am a raving fan for Chik-Fil-A fare. But I never expected for Chipotle to literally make anything you want–within ingredients. And since I’m a nut for their cilantro-ladden guacamole, I’ve had it with everything. But when you’ve been around the menu a couple of times and want a fantasy quesadilla with with anything you want or to mix it up with a quesarito who could pass that up?

 Jamba Juice: If you like candy but are afraid of cavities, have the taste in a smoothie! I personally recommend the Pink Starburst. It’s fantastic. As proof of how good its secret menu is, Jamba Juice also has flavors like Thank You Jesus and Hello Jesus among Skittles, Sourpatch Kid, Apple Pie, Now and Later, Strawberry Shortcake, and a few others. Here’s hoping I can drive by and get some Holy Ghost juice that will have me singing some praises after church next Sunday.

 Potbelly’s will make you a cheeseburger of all things. Yes I wrote it–cheeseburgers. The two other menu items are a Fireball (meatball sandwich with chili on top) and Wrecking Ball (combo of two sandwiches – the meatball and the wreck).

 For cooler treats, try out the Dairy Queen secret menu or a couple of my unhealthy favorites that aren’t open secrets, but still refreshing on unbearable days:

 Arby’s: Jamocha Shake

 Ruby Tuesdays: Peach Tea (they put little fruit pieces in the bottom small enough to suck up your straw)

 Starbucks: Green Tea Frappucino with a shot of espresso

 Chick-Fil-A: Banana Pudding Milkshake, Arnold Palmer, Cheesecake Shake (buy a piece of cheesecake and ask them to blend it into whatever milkshake you choose. My personal favorite was Strawberry Cheesecake. It tastes like the best near death experience you’ve ever had. Just don’t think about the calories afterward)

 Godiva: Milk Chocolate Chocolixir

 Coffeebytes: Duche de leche latte, Gingerbread Frappucino

 Red Mango: Acai Berry Shake

 Steak n’ Shake: Very Berry Strawberry Smoothie

 Kopp’s: Tiramisu, Cookies N’ Cream, Butter Pecan, Mint Chocolate (ice cream)

 And last but not least: Paciugo-Wedding Cake.gelato

 Enough said.

 For more restaurants with secret menus, this list has a nice compilation of some I’ve already mentioned in its gathering of twenty four restaurants. And on that note, I’m going to blast some seasonal Nelly to win the war of blaring music in my neighborhood and cool off with some sweet tea.  

Alexandria Harris is a writer and recent college graduate. When she isn’t writing, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, or working in her father’s company, she tweets regularly on her account @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin