“…identify talented people around you and then, instead of going into competition with them, or trying to wipe them out, make alliances, make creative friendships that allow you and your friends to grow together…” – Harold Ramis, soldier, doctor, Ghostbuster
Yesterday, I discovered an eerie coincidence. My last issue as editor of The 11th Hour, the alt-weekly where I got my start as a writer, ran from March 5 to March 18, 2009. The Devil Strip’s first issue will run from March 17 to March 31, 2015. That’s not something I planned, though I absolutely would have if I’d known I could’ve metaphorically picked-up where I left off. And, a house ad in that issue says the next will feature “You’re So Macon If…” submissions.
So yeah, I stole that idea. From myself (kinda). Truthfully, this is the second time I’ve stolen it. The first time, I took it for The 11th Hour from the pages of the Nashville Scene.
I like stealing things. It saves time, and though little else seems as unoriginal, I think theft is the cornerstone of creativity. When you do it right.
If it holds that there’s nothing new under the sun then creativity is nothing more than the smashing together of pre-existing ideas. For example, matching local pride with the “You’re so…” motif. Or, say, brings the alt-weekly format to bear on this city’s need for an outlet equipped to challenge the status quo while also celebrating and exploring our ample quirk.
Actually, dammit, celebrating and exploring what makes Akron special is our challenge to the status quo. That particular status quo is the idea that Akron is only the ghost of what it once was, the Rubber Capital of the World, which is to say a city you love but leave behind.
The narrative is changing. Another Akron is coming. I don’t know what it is, but I hear it rumbling down the tracks. It isn’t about the new replacing the old or the young replacing the establishment. It’s a meshing together, a new creation.
When I think about this, I picture something like last year’s exhibit at UA of the late John Puglia’s work. I didn’t get to meet him and I won’t pretend to understand his art—I’m not equipped—but what I saw seemed to use the scraps of what had been to poke around what the city had become. The through-line, as the exhibit’s title, “Never Not Working,” suggested, is evident in the character of the people who call this place home.
So, that’s why I say, steal! Build on what we know and let’s craft something fresh. Loot the world of its good and great ideas, bring them home and make them our own.
In that vein, here’s my latest heist: Keep Akron Curious.
You may recognize the similarity to “Keep Austin Weird!” That slogan, which is merely 15 years old but seems older, is one helluva mission statement, one borrowed by a campaign for Austin’s indie businesses that feared their incredible growth threatened to squish their weirdness.
Speaking of their growth, in those 15 years, Austin has grown by more than 229,000 people, or Akron plus Barberton and then some. That’s not to say the slogan alone is responsible, but the mindset it represents—rebellious, inclusive, creative, fringe—certainly helped. (Before you go on thinking, So what? That’s Austin. It’s the capital of Texas and therefore, apples and oranges, buddy, let me point out that up through 1970, Akron was 20,000+ people larger.)
But we don’t want to be Austin, and I agree with that. Akron is Akron. That’s my point here.
Akron is weird already, right? The blimps, the giant talking snowman, jojos and sauerkraut balls, energy domes, etc. And you could certainly define “curious” that way: eccentric, odd, unusual. But the heart of this city’s strangeness, in my opinion, relies on an ambitious sort of the other kind: inquisitive, probing, interested.
Ambitious curiosity is the source of so much of the bizarre curiosity that surrounds us. It’s about answering “Why not?” with an “Okay.” (How else do you get hamburgers pinned with a green olive on top?) Curiosity is the spark behind the inventiveness and innovation, whether you’re talking about Stanford Ovshinsky, the late Akron native dubbed “The Edison of Our Age,” or relative newcomers like Tiny Circuits and Wastebits. But it’s also about work. One reason I think Akronites embrace doing things, as David Giffels writes, “the hard way on purpose” is that’s where your curiosity pays off. You find surprises more often than they find you.
This is why I want Akron to be the most curious place on earth, as odd as it is inquisitive. Consider that the mission of The Devil Strip, Unbox Akron and whatever else we can get ourselves into.
I get asked a lot what makes this magazine different than others. Usually, I give a pretty boring response about target audiences and tone (something along the lines of “Uhhhhhh, because…”), but when I’m being really honest, the difference is much deeper.
By design, most media outlets seem duty-bound to educate and inform, which is great—wayyy better than seek and destroy, given the circumstances—but they do little to inspire curiosity. Without curiosity, we’re just receptacles. Inspire curiosity and you can improve civic engagement, voter turnout, local pride, etc., etc., because curiosity is where we become personally invested in the information.
So maybe that’s not the role of news media, but it is the job I’m giving myself.
It won’t be easy and we won’t always be successful but I want the stories we share to eventually make it impossible for you to move around town without finding mysteries you feel compelled to solve. I want you to itch with curiosity when you see a park or restaurant or business you’ve never explored before. I want you to be unable to look at another Akronite without wondering, “What’s their story?”
From there, it’s a small step to “I wonder what we can do with that old building.” Or, “How can we make these winters more fun?” Or, “Who can we bring together to make this idea work?”
How? By proving the journey is worth it. This starts, officially, next Tuesday with the first issue when The Devil Strip sets out to prove curiosity is contagious and Akron is the perfect environment for that kind of outbreak.
Plus, we’ll have a list of places to find happy hours, karaoke, trivia and drink specials. Because being social is good for you.
This man taught me everything I know about journalism.