To Yida →

My brother’s non-profit Operation Broken Silence has worked in Sudan and South Sudan for many years. They just spent two weeks in Yida, a refugee camp that has swelled to hold 70,000 who have fled the genocidal acts of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. The purpose of the trip was to film a documentary about life in the camp, in the shadow of the unspeakable crime of genocide at the hands of the Sudanese government.

Mark Hackett, meeting with leaders in South Sudan

Here’s The Memphis Flyer’s Chris McCoy writing about the trip:

“Yida is sort of a microcosm of what’s wrong with Sudan right now,” [Mark] Hackett says. “No schools, people who don’t have jobs, people displaced by the conflict. We wanted to go to Yida to get eyewitness interviews about what’s happening. But it’s also where most of our classrooms are. In Yida alone, it’s estimated that there are 20,000 to 25,000 kids. We’ve only put 700 of those kids back into a classroom.”

The teachers Operation Broken Silence supports are all local. “Before the war started, there were about 200 schools in the Nuba Mountains. Now there are fewer than 100, and none of them are functioning anywhere close to capacity. The schools that were destroyed, almost all of the teachers escaped, alongside the kids. They’re the only ones who understand the cultural context, and they understand what these kids have been through, because they’ve been through it, too. They’re better than any teacher we could bring in.”

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but I could not be prouder of Mark and the work he and his team are doing. In a world where people are jumping up and down about headphone jacks, it’s good to be reminded that there is some serious shit in the world, and that people are busying trying to make it right.

‘Can you take our picture?’ 

Visiting the Apple Campus

During WWDC last week, I took a drive down to Apple’s campus with CGP Grey, Federico Viticci and Myke Hurley. Ticci needed to pick up an iPad for his iOS 10 review and everyone wanted to get a photo in front of 1 Infinite Loop before Campus 2 opens.

Once we were in front of the sign, we asked two Chinese men who were there as well to take the photo you see above. They didn’t speak much English, but they were willing to help us out, taking several photos of our field trip.

I offered to take their photo to return the favor. When the older man handed me his iPhone 6, I couldn’t help but notice it was set in Chinese. While that in and of itself isn’t remarkable, it’s the first time I’ve used an iOS device set in any language other than English. I snapped a few photos of them, smiling under the flags just as we had. They reviewed the photos, thanking me for giving them a hand.

Our entire interaction took place in just a couple of minutes, but it’s really stuck with me. It’s easy to think about the community surrounding Apple being our favorite group of writers and podcasters, but it’s far bigger than that. I don’t know if those guys were attending WWDC, or lived in the area and were just checking Apple’s campus out, but clearly they were excited to be there. Had we been able to communicate any more deeply, I’m sure we could have compared thoughts on the keynote and shared our hopes for Apple’s platforms in the future. We probably aren’t all that different when it comes to our interests and obsessions. That’s pretty cool, and I enjoyed the reminder that all around the world, people are nerdy about the same things.

Mother’s Day 

For many women (and families) Mother’s Day is a heartbreaking occasion. For others, it’s a day of joy. In our household, I think it’s a mix of both. 

That photo is from the weekend our son Josiah was diagnosed with brain cancer. That Sunday, he was baptized in his hospital bed. So many people from our lives showed up, the crowd spilled out into the hallway, with people lining up to visit.

It was Mother’s Day 2009. 

This Mother’s Day, Josiah is still with us and is doing very well. He still has cancer, but has been off chemotherapy for several years. A check-up MRI is scheduled for this week, but assuming there’s no growth, then he’ll be back to being a first-grader and playing with his younger brother and sister. 

Through it all, I’m reminded daily how amazingly strong and caring my wife Merri is. She’s the best partner I could ask for in life, and my children are incredibly blessed to call her Mama. 

That doesn’t mean today is easy. The anniversary of Josiah’s story beginning is always hard. 

Pain and joy are often intermingled in life, but in those moments, there’s potential for grace. I hope you all can experience that today as we have.

On doing your own thing →

Earlier this year, a friend (and former coworker) of mine named Zac jumped off the ledge into his dream of opening a men’s boutique:

If you told me on January 1, 2015 that my year would consist of opening a store, running a brand, going to NYC, and going into debt I would have made a bet—and ended up going more in debt. If you told me that on December 31, 2015 that it would all be over, I would think you were the ghost of Christmas future that doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

His post is all about what he’s learned (and lost) through the experience. Although Zac and I’s companies are very different, there’s a lot in this post that resonates with me, and will for anyone doing their own thing.

Documentary Films 101 →

Mark Hackett — hey, brother! — writing about what he has learned in making films about Sudan:

If there’s one thing every human being in the world has in common, it is our collective love of stories and storytelling. The world’s most ancient texts are filled with sweeping stories of early civilization. Today, we can’t get enough of big-budget films, post-apocalyptic books, and real-life stories of ordinary people becoming heroes. We’re wired to come together around those who who create, write, and show.

A good documentary film does a lot more than simply provide the facts. A good documentary film will also provide a story. An excellent documentary film will have you so riveted to the story that you barely even realize you are learning a lot about the social issue the filmmaker wants you to focus on.

So, how do you tell a good story?

Whole-Ass One Thing 

While I worked part-time at my previous gig most of July, today marked the start of my first week working for myself.

While I didn’t get caught up on my to do list, it was great knowing that tomorrow morning, I’ll drive to the office space I share with my brother, record a podcast and jump right back into my projects. I’ll do all of this, during the working day, without stealing time from a J-O-B job.

It’s profoundly surreal, but incredibly freeing, to be focused on my writing and podcasting full-time. There’s still lots to work out with budgets and time management and extra things I could take on, but it’s all under the category of my work. That’s what makes it so much fun, despite the unknowns.

On NBC’s genius show Parks and Rec, Ron Swanson gives some great advice about splitting time and attention to Leslie Knope:

Don’t half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.

I’m in, Ron. Let’s do this.

Six years and about a billion miles 

As I’ve written about before, I have a very real strong tie to locations in my memory. Even as a child, nothing would trigger nostalgia like a place.

While I didn’t share it here, I’ve spent most of the year in and out doctor’s offices after a period of spending several nights a week throwing up and losing a bunch of weight. I’ve embarked on a gluten-free and diary-free diet, which has helped greatly, slowly clearing up all of my symptoms.

Of course, before arriving at this answer, I underwent a handful of diagnostic tests at a hospital about 15 minutes from our house. It’s the hospital where both of our sons were born, and where we went after losing a pregnancy in the fall of 2013. I remembered and thought about those events while parking, but as I was being walked down the hallway, the nurse and I passed the ultrasound suite where Josiah’s tumor was first discovered:

The day before, a routine checkup had ended in a conversation of “drive to the hospital. Don’t stop to go home, don’t stop for lunch. There will be doctors waiting for you in the ER.” Needless to say, we were shaken, but not until an MRI and that conversation on that creaky plastic couch at Lebonheur Children’s Hospital did we know the full extent of just how bad things were.

That checkup was six years ago today.

Before we drove across town to the ER, I had a few minutes to step into the lobby and get in touch some people. I called our parents and siblings, whom met us at Lebonheur. I texted my boss something vague, but that day would be the last day I worked for a month.

While May 8 will always be burned into my family’s collective DNA, Josiah’s disease doesn’t rule our lives day to day, like it once did. It’s been four years since Josiah stopped chemo, and just last week, had an MRI that shows his brain tumor remains stable. It’s still there — he’ll never be “in remission” — but it hasn’t grown. He’s finishing up kindergarten and, for the most part, is a normal six year old.

None of that seemed possible while sitting in that little room.

The years have been hard, and the mileage has been harder, but we’re intact. I never thought we’d get this far. The truth is that Josiah lives on the edge of what his doctors know about his disease. Any day, any MRI, any seizure could throw us back into the trenches. Living with that weight is hard, but we’re learning how to manage it.

I don’t know how many more miles are on this road. I don’t know this story ends, but for now, I’m trying to treasure every moment I can with Josiah and his siblings.

That Pale Blue Dot 

On Saturday, one of the most iconic images of all time turned 25 years old.

On February 14, 1990, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft took a photo of the solar system, capturing Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and Earth — which showed up as the “pale blue dot” in the brown band on the right side of the photo.

The photo — taken 3,720 million miles away from Earth — puts us in our place in a way that is beautiful and haunting. All of our knowledge, all of our passion, all of our shit, all of our everything is just a few pixels across.

It reminds me that, really, we are quite small, and I think it’s okay to be reminded of that every once in a while.

‘If you’re lying, I’ll f—-ing kill you’ →

My brother, writing about his trip this past summer to South Sudan:

Most documentary films coming out of war zones are created by veteran videographers and producers who have a rare skill for capturing incredible stories while cheating death time and time again. Not us. Sure, we have a ton of talent as a team, but we’re still learning how to navigate situations like the one above. We’re not the heavily tattooed, cigarette-smoking, bulletproof vest-wearing journalists depicted in Hollywood films.

We’re a bunch of guys in our 20s who grew up in white, middle-class suburbia. Just being honest. The only reason we travelled half a world away when we didn’t have to is because our friends in Sudan asked us for help.

36 →

Brett Terpstra has written one of the most amazing things I’ve read online in a long, long time. Happy birthday, bud.