RUSSELL | An Improvement Opportunity that Could Really Move the Needle!

Perhaps no motif is more ingrained in our psyche than that of the mentor or father figure offering up powerful life lessons in low-voiced, soothing maxims. As the undisputed “next generation,” we’ve come to expect these teaching moments in not just our films or television shows, but also in most of our interactions with people over 40. It’s hard to go a week without the typical “As you move into the real world, remember…” or “There’s an old saying in Tennessee…”

For me, many of these conversations center around the idea that we have the opportunity to undo or at least avoid the mistakes of our parents — to get the best out of the world we’re inheriting as we shape it into something more fair and welcoming for all. There’s one aspect of this “real world” before us, however, that many in the baby boomer generation still don’t recognize as a problem for their successors to address. The area, in my view, is a source of untold anguish and ruin – a dark spot we must bleach before it further stains American society. To me, there’s no question: we must let die the mass abuse of those stupid cliché business terms.

If you’re not familiar, some examples of these banal utterances include saying “improvement opportunities” instead of “problems,” or, yes, even calling managers “people leaders” and the H.R. department “people operations” (et tu Google).

RUSSELL | What I Don’t Like

My final column in the 2016-2017 school year was a bright and chipper reflection on the beauty and joy and sunshine in my nineteen-year-old life. It had heart to it, and it always makes me smile, so I consider the piece to be one of my best. Now, as I emerge from the rubble of my college experience, weathered down by the tempestuous winds of reality and adulthood, I still have that joy, but in a new way. It has a new tannin to it — it’s complex and firm, as the result of a process. As we all grow older, somewhere in the TCAT rides and the Bronx-bagels-with-cheese we learn to be happy not because of a naive assumption that bad things won’t happen, but because bad things did happen, and we’re still alive.

RUSSELL | On Texting

She wiggled her fingers through a clump of hair and pursed her lips. “It’s not like that.”

“What’s it like then?”

“He’s just…”

“Don’t ask any questions, just answer his.”

When you spend your Tuesday evenings “studying” at Starbucks, you grow so accustomed to eavesdropping on these types of conversations you forget you’re doing it. This time, I sat on a high up wooden stool, following intently as a pair of friends went back and forth about proper etiquette when texting a guy who quite clearly isn’t “the one.”

You don’t need an Ivy League education to ascertain that texting is a lot more complicated than it should be. When I get a late night iMessage from a friend I can only wonder whether it’s the result of a brainstorming session with a panel of trusted advisors or a drunk whim from Hideaway. But that’s the beauty of it.

RUSSELL | To My 18-year-old Black Self

Hey man! Big congrats on getting here. I mean that. In a week you’ll forget about how hard you worked to get into a school like this and you’ll just get caught up trying to make it to the next goal, so please just pat yourself on the back while you still have time to reflect. I’m sure you’re proud to surprise your high school guidance counselor who coulda’ sworn you were going to an HBCU.

RUSSELL | Culture’s Andrew Jackson

For some bizarre reason, I’ve unintentionally committed to memory almost the entirety of an exchange on the first page of To Kill a Mockingbird. In it, Scout describes her brother Jem’s broken elbow, eventually noting that when it comes down to it, the real culprit to blame is Andrew Jackson, because without the War of 1812 their ancestors would’ve settled the family somewhere else entirely. Her conclusion is absurd, but I think it stuck with me because our primal desire to pull back the lid and ask “why did this really happen” is a major aspect of our psyche, especially as children. It’s probably why origin stories do so well at the box office even though we walk into the theaters knowing exactly how they’ll end. I began to ask my own “why did this really happen” recently, after thinking about a story I heard about a month ago.

RUSSELL | Word 2017

Burnt popcorn has an odd appeal to it. It’s digestible nostalgia, and it tastes like bad TV movies and entire Saturdays spent in t-shirts and plaid pajama pants. I remember waking up on long summer days back home, during the glory days of tweenhood when I was too young to work and too old to watch shows listed as TV-G. I had chores to do and summer reading books to read and probably some practice or lesson for something on the schedule, but none of that was enough to keep me “busy” in any sense of the word. I had a lot of time and maybe the occasional burden, but never any responsibilities.

RUSSELL | The Stewart Avenue Junkie Network

They tell you some of the first signs of drug abuse are social; a person changes their look, their friends, their personality. Maybe they become more irritable, or their whereabouts more mysterious. Addiction is a catalyst for subtle transformations, and often it’s the amalgamation of these little changes — not glaring red flags — that tip loved ones off. In the past, I’ve seen shifts in my own friends from home, sometimes finding them more absent-minded, with new mannerisms and conversational reservations. It doesn’t even take a full-on tumble into hard drug abuse for one to seem a bit “off.” When a habit overtakes your life, the people familiar with your life notice, regardless of whether the habit causes long-term physiological damage.

RUSSELL | Life, In Valencia

The fourth floor of the Port Authority bus station is never as hectic as the first, so if I’m ever early for my Shortline I duck my head and speed upstairs to wait in line for the bus. This time, my bee line was intercepted by a suited yuppie in his 30s, walking at my speed in my direction, an oversized phone between his gaze and mine. To avoid a collision, I hopped to the left, glancing at him as he gathered himself and passed by. He was talking at his phone, so I took it for an ill-timed Facetime call until I looked a bit closer and realized the face on his screen was his own. He was vlogging.

RUSSELL | Waking Hours

If you’re the type of person who needs a break from the world and also thinks he can do anything, you may find yourself in a lean-to in the Adirondacks on a Friday night without a sleeping bag. And if you find yourself in such a situation, you’ll probably spend your entire night shivering, staring out at the tree-line and the backs of your eyelids in half-hour intervals from dusk to dawn. Last weekend, when this was my story, I spent half the night begging myself to go to sleep and the other half wondering if I couldn’t, and whether the cold had anything to do with it. My hiking trip fell at the end of a stressful week with a handful of late nights and a few all-nighters, so my pervading fear in the lean-to was that, sleeping bag or no sleeping bag, I’d worked myself into lasting sleeplessness. As I rolled and flopped in incessant attempts to find a comfortable position, I remembered my friend from high school, a certified insomniac, who would come to school each day with the same bags under her eyes and the same disappointments on her face because the phrase “tomorrow is a new day” loses its potency when each “day” isn’t separated by a good night’s rest.

RUSSELL | Taco Tuesday — Just Say No

I remember a lot from freshman year: 1 a.m. Nasties, a cappella concerts at Balch Arch, free food if you knew where and when to look. There was so much to love, and I certainly took it all in. I didn’t care how dumb I looked wearing my I.D. on a lanyard or strolling through Collegetown in a group of 40. I was living my best life and experiencing a world I’d hardly imagined. Regardless of whether you saw me in the library or on the CKB quad, I was almost always smiling.