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Respect my art

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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Having revealed several of my personal character flaws over the course of writing these columns, I’m going all in and devote a column to an even broader listing of them.

“Great, a thousand words of self-flagellation…how exciting,” you say? Hang in there, there’s a point in this. This is a warning and a plea.

I’m a terrible poet. I became interested in reading poetry when I was a teenager, and soon started writing it myself. Over the last 60 years I’ve published some poetry, done poetry readings, taken part in poetry slams (competitive poetry, if that even makes sense), and participated in online poetry forums. I write unrhymed poetry and am often accused of not being a poet at all!

After growing up reading every book I could get my hands on, I decided as a kid that I wanted to try writing myself. Thought it would be cool to be a novelist. Well, that didn’t work out very well because I’m terrible at writing fiction. I have trouble suspending reality and I hate the kind of constant plot twists, etc. that it takes to write good fiction. So, I switched to writing op-ed stuff and sending it to the local paper. And I found non-fiction as my thing. That seems to have worked out.  I was editor/reporter of the Tyler County Booster for years. Before that, back in the 1990’s, a friend and I published a couple of newspapers as a side hobby.

I love music. Music of most any kind. In 1960's, when I was 13 years old, and guitar infused Rock and Roll was becoming a thing, I had to have an electric guitar. I’ve now been playing guitar for over 60 years, even though I have no talent for guitar. I’m an intermediate guitar player at best, even though I practice guitar an hour a day. I should be well beyond intermediate after playing for 60 years. In fact, trombone was the instrument I went farthest with, playing with symphony orchestras when in college. I haven’t picked up a trombone since I was 25. Go figure.

A family friend who was a professional photographer noticed that the 10-year-old Jim was always carrying around a little Kodak Instamatic 126 camera and taking photos. I was obsessed with the photography in National Geographic magazine. So, he gave me an older, but real camera and taught me how to develop my own negatives and print photos. That led to an actual career benefit, as I’ve used photography throughout my working life. Yet, I’m not particularly talented in photography, I’ve just worked very hard to become technically very good at it. I protest to folks who argue otherwise that I’m not an artist. I just know how to pull the rabbit out of the hat. When digital SLR cameras became capable of shooting video back in the late 2000’s, I was in with video.

When computers became available for the common man, I was all in with them. Was a member of a computer club in the mid 1970’s where we built computers from kits. We had to wire up our own keyboards and, at first, used old Type 33 teletype machines for I/O. You had to learn to program, as initially there were no out of the box programs that ran on these kit machines. That also turned into a career writing the code to convert Minicomputer accounting and inventory databases to PC’s as that transition occurred and later as a database specialist writing database software. Now, I handle IT/Websites for Polk County Publishing Company.

Also, at 10 years old, I got hooked on HAM radio, got my license along with my mom and dad, and pursued that hobby for many years. I grew up hunting, was very interested in guns, and later competed competitively with handguns. Was obsessed with cars, as most guys of my age were, and got into restoring old Mustangs.

If you are a young person and are reading this, please do not think this is a roadmap to success. While I’ve had an amazing life, I consider the impulse that led me to it as a character flaw and have seen it destroy lives. It’s o.k. as a young person to explore possibilities. As a young person you are standing in front of many doors. Some will be locked because of circumstances beyond your control. But I believe you should at least open every door that will open, turn on the light, and look around. If you aren’t interested in what you see, though, turn out the light, close the door and lock it. And don’t look back.

Capitalism, having consumed all the physical world, has now made our attention its product. It has monetized our attention and turned us all into obsessive consumers of “content.”

Whether your vice is Facebook or YouTube or Instagram or TikTok or Twitter or Twitch or any other form of social media, these platforms exist for the sole purpose of making money. And they make money by capturing attention. They do not care about free speech, social or political discourse, or connecting family and friends. Their total concern is inducing you to consume more and more of their content, so they can constantly target advertising at you.

Don’t get me wrong. We live in a capitalist economic system. For media, advertising is essential. Producing any kind of media is very expensive, and the internet has conditioned many people to think all information and content should be free, which has destroyed the ability to survive with a subscription-based model.

The advertising model isn’t the problem or my point. It is that we are driven by this model to spend every free moment consuming, rather than creating. People making stuff built this country.

Most of those YouTube videos you consume while YouTube targets you with advertising so you will spend more money? The maker, the person creating that video, is not sitting around consuming YouTube videos. They are creating something new. It takes days to shoot and edit that 12-minute video you just watched. Creation is hard, but it is so much more rewarding both personally and financially than consumption.

Those rewards are what drove me to learn to do so many things over the years. Consuming words as a reader wasn’t enough. I wanted to write, to produce those words. Listening to music wasn’t enough, I wanted to produce that music.  Running programs on computers wasn’t enough, I wanted to write those programs, looking at photos in Nat Geo wasn’t enough, I wanted to take those photos. The satisfaction wasn’t in the consumption, it was in the creation.

If you want to look at it financially, as a bottom-line item, that YouTube “Influencer” with a million subscribers, is, between ad revenue and sponsorships, pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year (and for many a month) in income. And if you talk to them they will tell you they have little time to watch YouTube videos.

It is far more rewarding to be a creator than a consumer. Been there, done that.

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