Dumb Idea:

I had to—wanted to—write an article. If I was to write, I wanted to go full-hog, chasing interviews and information. The first idea: Why is Colorado College expanding? CC is building out into the surrounding neighborhood. I could interview students, administrators, faculty and campus-neighboring residents. It would be great. But I also felt like turning inward, looking at CC and how the institution affects our lives as students. I would try to learn how the CC admission process affects socioeconomic diversity in the student body. Students informally commented on the admission process, on the odious “Admissions,” with general distrust and dissatisfaction. “CC sucks. They’re up to no good.” 

This was looking to be another piece rife with complaint, throwing rocks at CC, Inc. But at least it would be “self-aware,” tasteful, even ironic; I mean, it is Cipher. At Cipher, we love salacious “dirt” as much as the next pack of muckraking journalists—if there’s evidence.

Before getting around to any such possibly nonexistent “dirt,” I had to inform myself about the admission process, so I emailed five “Admission Fellows,” CC seniors who interview prospective students and help the Admission Office. I was told that the Admission Office didn’t want more articles published about them. Perhaps the New York Times rattled them thoroughly enough by calling out CC’s historic lack of socioeconomic diversity. I wasn’t planning to rattle them further, and, if I had been, the dirtiest secret I was likely to have found would have been along the lines of “Jimmy’s SAT scores were not quite good enough, but his dad did make a lot of money, and Jimmy did write a touching confession about what he discovered last summer on his NOLS trip … let’s take him.” (Of course there’s more to it than that; don’t fool yourself.) I was certainly excited to uncover that the Admission Fellows strive to help prospective students decide whether CC is the “right fit for them.” And equally so to hear that CC is “doing its best” to increase diversity. Whether I wanted to stick to the find-out-dirt-and-take-down-CC modus operandi of student publications or to set an example by writing grade-A propaganda for CC was unclear. Well, not really. Both ideas were terrible. This article had to rest.

But not for too long. Because then I received a string of conspiratorial anonymous emails telling me that “Admissions is reading our emails,” and I felt that there must be dirt under all the daisies. But I was somewhat unconvinced. My co-editor Ethan and I decided that, considering the histrionic language of the emails, there was a 60 percent chance I was being pranked. But that 40 percent was my ticket to uncovering the next college-aged Snowden, only much less relevant. So I emailed back saying where and when I would be studying that night and where and when I would eat the next day. After waiting on the Cornerstone porch until after midnight and loitering at Rastall the next day, I decided my anonymous contact did not want to meet me. I never received a response to my email describing how to contact me through an encrypted messaging service. A friend of a Cipher editor admitted to sending these emails as a prank. Yet again, I had nothing meaningful about which to write. 

My co-editor Nathan was getting anxious since my deadline was fast-approaching and I had no notes and no interviews. Hoping to resolve this, Ethan and I chose to “find a story,” setting off into Colorado Springs on the first night of block break, my notepad stiff in my pocket. We were going to be adventurous college students, confident enough to confront strangers: “Tell me your life story,” we would say, expecting to hear, “Christ gave me the authority…” “My wife doesn’t know about …” and “Nobody believes me about (blank), but it’s true, and you’ll see one day.” Then we realized that that is the gist of most college writers’ work: the humanizing piece about the homeless, the locals, the graying bartender who tells you he was in Special Ops. This guy has had an interesting life! And I’ll get to know him enough over the course of an hour or two to write an interesting piece about his life! 

In my more cynical moments, I think we, college students, like to write those pieces because they don’t require us to invest much time, yet there can be much shock value. For the duration of our interviews with our targets-of-empathy, we get to live vicariously through them. Perhaps we are attracted to the great potential of other people to serve as our creative inspiration… maybe to make up for what we lack. I, student, coddled in the collegiate cradle, would love to “get a taste” of “life on the road,” the “genuine,” “anti-institution-capitalism-government-and-so-on” life. “Using … currency … is actually unethical,” and other such musings you admire philosophically but won’t choose to follow in your own life. You can return to your comfort, but you get to see how such wonderful (maybe not quite) asceticism turned out for that guy! And it really is beautiful to see people deviating from the standard model of life. Well, alas, Ethan and I passed enough homeless people and bar-stumblers on the sidewalks to conclude that there probably wasn’t enough interesting, unheard material there.

So, unsurprisingly, our conversation shifted to a discussion of the trials and tribulations of the college love life. That’s when you know you’re on the right track to an insightful article that, regardless of whether people want to read it, you really want to write. Wrong. If I were to scrap that article together it would consist of “Why can’t we have meaningful relationships? Get to know people. Don’t be a dick. Know what you want. Don’t be a dick. Be nice. Don’t be a dick. Be respectful. Don’t be a dick.” All the complaints that you hear over dinner with your best friends. But that article has already been written into oblivion many times over. 

Ethan and I got back to campus, faced each other, and acknowledged that we had failed in our purpose to “find a story.” We didn’t pull off the “real college journalist” shtick. Fortunately, maybe. “You’ll figure it out.” 

So I thought for a while, a day, a week. I couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, write about Kendrick Lamar’s new album. Nathan asked me what I had. “I’ve had trouble finding something to write about.” I’d like to think there was some genius in my utterance because Nathan responded, “Why don’t you write that? Write about the trouble of finding something to write about. That could work.” I semi-squinted at him and shook my head—that was a dumb idea. 


Part of the Obvious issue