Districtland

A new show about DC Millennials.

Short Films

Learn more about Russell's short films.

Humbled

Art. Ambition. Community Theatre.

Confessions of a Travel Blogger

It was early evening, the weather was perfect, and I had just ordered a pre-dinner beer in Medellín, Colombia, at an open-air wine bar called El Botanico, the kind of fancy chic restaurant my travel blogger guest enjoyed. Her blog, The Boutique Adventurer, promises “Adventures with a high thread count.” Expensive wine and fine ambiance in a city known primarily for its history of drug trafficking was pretty much her specialty.

A few days ago, she’d promised our small group of Unsettled travelers to explain to each of us how she’d launched a travel blog and reached, in one year, 10,000 followers, and all for less than $1,000. I can throw together a pretty WordPress site inside a few days for less than $100, so it wasn’t the website itself that impressed me. It was the followers. I wanted to know if this former marketing-exec-turned-40-something travel blogger, who boasted of having visited more than 70 countries, knew something about social media engagement that I didn’t.

Ordinary Life #1: The First Day of School and Post-Summer Blues

Among the many things they don’t tell you about becoming a parent is that your life will once again revolve around the school year. Apparently our Summer vacations are the result, not some anachronistic agrarian calendar, but of an effort by late 19th century school reformers to standardize academic schedules between rural and urban areas. In the days before air conditioning, it simply made sense to take a break during the sweltering months of Summer. That same logic applies to life in Washington DC. No one moves here for the weather, and, as its denizens are fond of recounting, the city was built on a swamp. It is beautiful here for six weeks in the Spring and six weeks in the Fall, but at all other times DC weather is something to be avoided, and that goes double for the Summer months. Congress leaves on recess for much of the Summer, so it makes sense for much of the lobbyists, the nonprofit activists, the think tankers, the policy wonks, and the journalists to leave as well.

An Unsettled Experience: My Month in Medellin

View from my Unsettled apartment in the Poblado neighborhood of Medellin.

It all proceeded naturally: the initial meetings, a honeymoon stage with drunken bonding and a party bus, followed by a precipitous dose of reality, with drama and disappointment, followed by a reset and new status quo, and finally a departure. Much like any intense group experience, really.

Though I could sense a familiarity to the group dynamics, my month in Medellín was unlike any other travel experience I’ve ever pursued, in that it was an attempt to port over my regular life into some far off foreign city, everything including my work and regular daily routines. I traveled with Unsettled, which is on the vanguard of a burgeoning crop of startups all catering to remote workers, and with lofty ambitions of changing the nature of work and travel (and just maybe the world). In addition to a flat-rate apartment and co-work space, going with Unsettled held the hopeful promise of an intense period of self-discovery with like-minded people.

Unsettled, and the changing reasons I travel

When I was younger I picked travel destinations without too much thought. I went to Italy to ski because I heard the Alps were great for skiing, and besides Italy seemed cool for everything else. Venice was Venice – it seemed like a place people should go. I went to Cambridge because a friend lived there, and then to Amsterdam because, well… it’s medicinal. Then Paris, then Barcelona, then a more nakedly Spanish party town, Alicante, all because they seemed like cool places.

God knows how I arrived at these decisions. In College, the “Grand Tour” I took with my sister seemed to pluck big, well-known cities off the map of Western Europe because the aggregate of everything we’d absorbed in that time (before the Internet made minute research into every detail of a place the norm) it seemed like the right move. We were College kids, and we didn’t know any better. After College, my horizons expanded somewhat, but I still picked places in “bucket list” fashion: a place I should go because I just felt like I should go.

My piece in Blue Virginia: What Kind of Candidates Should Dems Be Looking For Right Now?

Blue Virginia last week published something I’d be mulling for a while: given what just happened in 2016, what lessons should we draw, and what kind of candidates should be looking for as 2018 mid-terms ramp up? Here’s the TL;DR:

  1. Candidates don’t necessarily have to be local stalwarts with a lot of experience or money. The 2016 campaign showed traditional measures of candidate strength to be less important than conventional wisdom has argued.
  2. Activists should instead prioritize candidates with a compelling personal narrative and an alternative story to tell about America that is capable of countering the narratives advanced by Trump and the GOP.
  3. Democrats need to begin identifying and supporting a new generation of leaders who not only can win in 2018, but who will grow into the liberal leaders of the future.

Do read the whole thing.

It Is Now Vitally Important To Protect and Nurture the Personal Life

Reds 1981 movie posterTwo of my favorite movies are about the Russian Revolution. I maintain this is because the two movies happen to be just really damn good, and not because I have a particular soft spot for the events of 1917. One of these films is obviously Dr. Zhivago, although it probably ranks somewhere between 15 and 20 on my list of favorites. But the other movie is Reds, and Reds is and has been, since College, my all time favorite movie.

Most people I have this conversation with have never heard of Reds, much less seen it. So, perhaps a primer is in order. Released the year I was born, in 1981, Reds is about real life journalist John Reed, who, along with his partner Louise Bryant, was one of the only Americans in Russia at the time of the Russian Revolution. He wrote a book about the experience, a classic called Ten Days That Shook the World. Reed is played by Warren Beatty, who also wrote, directed, and produced the film. Diane Keaton plays Bryant, and Jack Nicholson plays their friend, playwright Eugene O’Neil. A fantastic supporting cast fleshes out various American writers, artists, and creative luminaries of that era. Reds was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won 3, including best director for Beatty.

Don’t Just Subscribe to Print Out of Charity – Do It For Your Own Sanity

Mother Jones Thank you screenYesterday I good and finally started to lose it over the constant torrent of news pouring outward from this dumpster fire of an administration. My favorite economist blogger said something to the effect of it being merely a weird day, not a very weird day. He’s a level-headed guy, that one. Others have suggested the news projectile vomiting outward from the Bannon-House is a calculated strategy designed to confuse, disorient, and exhaust the opposition. If that’s true, it’s working.

It’s not just me who is disoriented. I think we all are, us liberals. We haven’t seen anything like this, so it’s unclear how we should react, or what we should focus on, or how to deal with our own mental health in the process. By the end of the day yesterday, as I injected my third glass of wine, I wondered: were we 10 days in to this administration? Or was it 12? Obviously I couldn’t go on like this. We can’t go on like this.

Nationalism, Optimism, and How I Think About the Future Now that Trump Is President

Trump Innauguration SpeechI’m sorry to say, I just watched a President Trump deliver his inauguration speech. I wish it were Hillary up there. Actually, I wish it were Biden, telling us how he is going to build on everything Obama has done, but alas.

I’ve never heard such a nakedly nationalistic speech from an American politician before. As a student of history, I know there is a school of thought which says that nationalism is a sickness responsible for centuries of human misery. That in the struggle to secure one nation against another, or pit one nation against another, or compete, one nation against another, we humans have caused nothing but war, suffering, and injustice.

The thought that nationalism could somehow be a sickness, or that it is a bankrupt idea, is not exactly in vogue right now. Nationalist movements are sweeping much of the Western world, and I fear what is to come.

The Year Behind, the One Ahead (A 2016 Review and 2017 Preview)

At ITVFest with Districtland

Last year around this time I wrote that I planned to take it easy in 2016.

Heh. That was funny.

I was as busy as ever in 2016. But on the flip side, I did not go through any film production which quintupled the number of white hairs in my beard (See Districtland, making of…). On the contrary, this year I went through the best production of my life with the cast and crew of #humbled.

It’s sort of funny if you look at it. In 2015, I made a 22-minute Pilot episode for a TV show, which was shot over four days and cost more than $8k, and the experience nearly led me to quit film. In 2016, informed by many of the lessons I learned on that production, I made a 75-minute feature, also shot in four days, and costing less than $7k. And it was one of the smoothest, most enjoyable experiences I could have imagined.

The Complete Tom & Russell Talk Politics Podcasts

Starting in Mid-September 2016, my long-time friend, Tom Paynter, and I recorded a series of podcasts discussing the Trump-Clinton election. We recorded every week from then through to the election. Below are all of them collected, in order:

Episode 1 – Sept. 11, 2016

Not too long ago it dawned on me that absolutely nowhere have I heard two reasonable people, one a Trump supporter and the other a Hillary supporter, having a reasoned discussion about the election. This certainly isn’t happening on television (not that I watch much of it), and of course it doesn’t happen in print.

Without going into too much background (it’s all in the podcast), this is just to say: my friend Tom Paynter and I are trying out an experiment. He’s a Trump supporter; I’m a Hillary supporter. From now until the election, every week Tom and I will record a discussion about how we’re responding to the news of the week and talk about where our thinking is generally on politics, the election, and the issues which are driving national discourse.

Without further prologue, I give you, Episode 1: