Team Taco™ and friends! What a month we’ve had.
I don’t know about you, but I’m full of unease and anxiety over the potential of another lockdown. Some Team Taco™ Members are already back under lockdown in their countries. I’m full of anger that we don’t have a third one yet. I’m full of sadness that this is our reality when it really didn’t have to be. And I’m full of joy, because at least we have each other.
If you haven't already, I invite you to give me $24 and make this a weekly adventure we go on. You won't regret it.
Three People, Three Moments
I’m going to tell you about a problem I’ve been having all year. It’s not a particularly frustrating problem for anyone other than me, nor is it something that will change. I’ve been struggling with this for over a decade, but writing Taco Report has made it a weekly occurrence.
I want to try something new. I’m just going to explain it directly, vent about it, feel how I feel, and then let it be. Sound good?
I’ve been a writer for a long time. Looking back, lightning struck three times. Once back-to-back and then again a few years later. With one two week period and a single flight, the opportunity for what my life could be shifted. These three moments are the largest watersheds in my life. So of course they happened over holiday breaks when I was 13 and 19.
My father runs Christian radio stations. He’s the best in the country at it. He won too many awards for it in a row, so they literally changed the rules and made him a judge so he couldn't keep winning. There’s no money in running Christian radio stations, and we grew up poor. (I talk more about that in my love letter to Taco Bell.)
The radio station my father ran in Idaho was listener-supported. Which meant every six months, they were raising money on-air for three days. And throughout the year, he cultivated relationships and friendships with station's largest donors. We're talking people who donate between $10,000 and $100,000 every couple of years.
One of those donors became a good family friend. He was a radiologist with multiple clinics all over Idaho. He bought Apple stock in the ‘90s. He bought a custom Porsche he went to pick up in Germany. He took us golfing all the time at the best course in Idaho. He was, in a word, wealthy. He was, in a few more words, cool as shit and so kind to us.
He also owned a massive three story mansion of a log cabin in a small mountain town less than three hours away. He mentioned over a golf game that we were welcome to stay there whenever we wanted — he had a separate calendar set up to make sure he never double-booked a friend borrowing The Cabin.
Over the next decade, we went to The Cabin over 5x more than his family did. We were there about once a month every year for a decade. It was at The Cabin where I first knew I wanted to write.
We spent a week at The Cabin over New Year’s. That Christmas, my father gifted us the Complete Works of Robert Frost. I sat by the fireplace for hours every day, poring over poems. I experienced the freedom of the moon. I became a bear. I understood the difference between leaves and flowers.
Robert Frost changed my life. He changed how I viewed the world. Despite being dead for decades, he made a queer kid in Idaho realize he wanted to have a voice. He made me want to write.
I knew I’d never be as good or as special as Frost, but so what? Literally no one else is. So I just… started. Right away. I had a writing assignment that was due the first day back from Christmas break — the only bit of homework I had to complete while at The Cabin. I spent hours on schoolwork for the first time in my life. I finished. I threw it away. I started again.
The assignment? Three paragraphs on Christmas. The proudest I'd ever been of anything I made, I turned in a four page short story.
Which takes us to the second time my life changed in as many weeks — my English teacher noticed. What's more, she did something about it. Mrs. Mitchell, a close family friend, was the English teacher at our school. She taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. But she was trained in the arts – both creative writing and painting. Originally, she wanted to be a college creative writing teacher.
She pulled me aside after class and said, “This is good. It could be better. Do you want to learn how?” I didn’t wait for her to finish her sentence. Yes. Of course.
And from that point on, I had extra English. She’d teach the lesson for the class, assign the work, and then come to my desk to provide my extra work. For three years, I worked harder than I ever had in my life. During the last month of school, she told us she was quitting. She had taken at a job at the high school I was attending in the fall to, you guessed it, be the English teacher. Because of scheduling issues, I only had classes with her for another year or so. Then I dropped out of high school, but that’s a different story for a different time.
But those four years working with Mrs. Mitchell? She had me writing at a college-graduate level by the time I was a sophomore in high school.
Mrs. Mitchell changed my life. She singlehandedly taught me how to write. How to share my point of view. How to organize my brain in a way that I could get something out. The older I get, the more I appreciate how much effort and time she poured into me.
After dropping out of high school and getting my GED, I spent a couple of years bouncing around colleges in the Pacific Northwest. I had given up on being a professional writer and instead focused all my energy on photography and design. My sophomore year, spent at Walla Walla University, sucked. I had a growing suspicion that college wasn’t for me. My ability to focus or get through classes that I didn’t care about was at an all-time low.
My father made a deal with me. If I went to class and put in effort, he’d reward me. A session-based business school that my father attended in Austin, Texas — wonderfully named Wizard Academy — had a photography class coming up over Thanksgiving break. If I went to the classes I didn’t care about, he’d use some airline miles and send me to a photography class I did care about.
I went. And then I went. At the photography class, when asked how old I was, I said I'd be 22 on my birthday. Which was true! It was just three birthdays away at that point. Someone handed me a bottle of wine. And another.
I met the founder of the Wizard Academy, Roy Williams. He’d been working in advertising since before I was born. People paid him millions to write for them. Multiple best-selling books! And he took me under his wing.
I learned more in three days, day-drunk out of my mind, at the Wizard Academy than I had in 18 months of college. I flew home, dropped out, and went back to Austin. Roy let me take his classes on marketing and writing, that usually cost thousands of dollars, for free. He pushed me when I wrote lazily, he yelled at me when I goofed off, he silently smirked and gave me a little nod when I nailed it.
Over multiple classes I realized I could write for a living. Who cares if it was marketing? It’s what I wanted. It was the dream — my dream.
Roy Williams changed my life. He taught me how to make money with my point of view. That there's joy to be found in writing marketing. How to take the largest ideas and communicate them in as few words as possible. Big idea + few words = impact. Because of Roy, I’m an exceptional content strategist.
Which is at complete odds with how I prefer to write essays. Essays, to me, are opportunities to connect threads that seem impossible and make it feel like a foregone conclusion that they fit together. Essay writing is taking a meandering route because it’s a more enjoyable ride. These things don't fit, but they belong. Because of Mrs. Mitchell, I think I’m accomplished at writing essays.
When I sit down every week to write Taco Report, it’s a constant struggle between the two. If I think about an idea too long, it becomes fewer and fewer words. If I don’t think long enough, it’s all over the place. That tension, the friction inside my head, is the source of my best writing and my largest frustrations. And because of Robert Frost, I like the ending of what I’m writing to feel like a surprise.
Sometimes, I sit down with a single phrase in my head and build an essay around that. “I’m a runner.” Or “My relationship with my age has always been a bit off.”
Other times, it’s my best friend repeatedly responding to my complaints about not knowing what to write about with “Iguanas, man.”
But every once in awhile I sit down to write and all I have is a phrase that I can’t parse into a larger story. It’s finished. My marketing brain has whittled it down to its bare essentials and maximum impact. But a ten word sentence isn’t really enough to send to you. I have this internal expectation that Taco Report is a weekly journey, and a single line doesn't meet that expectation.
It’s incredibly frustrating to nail what I want to say so well that it feels like I can’t say it. Because it’s too short. It’s too concise.
Maybe sometimes you need to take a meandering journey to get to ten words. Maybe if I take you on a different route, through three deeply important moments in my life, it'll make it easier for you to hear what I really want to say. All I know is, for the last six weeks, any time I’ve sat down to write, the only sentence that comes to my mind is:
We’re making decisions for a world that doesn’t exist anymore.
TACO TOTAL — 1324/2021
This Week’s Taco Total — 56
July Taco Total — 155
We've been talking about the cities we may want to move to next. Tulum was never a permanent spot for us, just a perfect transition. But every time I think about finding a new daily taqueria, I get a little nervous about leaving.