It’s my two-year anniversary with Tengrinews – thank you, readers!11 march 2014, 13:48
Next month will mark my second anniversary of writing columns for Tengrinews.
When Tanya Kuzmina, editor of Tengrinews' English-language section, asked me to do opinion pieces for the fledgling news portal, I didn't have a clear idea of what kind I should do or the format I should use.
My initial discussions with Tanya were about a blog, many of which these days consist of short, pithy items rather than columns devoted to just one subject.
I began with the idea of doing items, but my strength as a journalist has always been looking at a single subject from a number of angles – so the blog quickly evolved into a feature column.
I'm glad it did. I love the format.
Photo courtesy of heyoscarwilde.tumblr.com
My Nazarbayev University students say one of my strengths as a professor is story telling, and a feature-column format is perfect for that.
A column allows you not only to present facts, but also your own views on a subject.
Although some of my columns have been straight news stories – such as speeches in Astana by British Prime Minister David
Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping – most have involved telling stories.
A number of the stories have been about that basic human emotion: love.
I've told readers about a number of problems my friends have faced in their love life.
When I tell a story, I usually try to make a point – and that's particularly true with a love story.
For example, one friend suffered when the girl he loved refused to take down sexy photos of herself on Facebook that prompted lewd comments from her male “friends.”
The point of the story was the danger that Facebook and other social media pose to relationships. The more I delved into this subject, the more I learned that Facebook had destroyed relationships across the globe in all sorts of ways, not just with sexy photos.
Relationships are hard enough without the additional threats that social media pose, so I consider the social-media danger an important issue, and many readers have agreed with me.
A number of readers have asked me if the stories I write about relationships are true, or whether I make them up.
My answer is that they're true.
I've changed the names of those involved and some other facts to prevent readers from figuring out the identities of those involved in delicate love-story situations.
Photo courtesy of ready2spark.com
My favorite author, Ernest Hemingway, advised young writers to write about what they know. That's what I do. Besides, why make up a story when we humans, with our many foibles, can generate so many compelling real ones – vignettes that are tragic, awe-inspiring, anger-generating, funny.
Only once has someone figured out the identity of one of the couples in the love stories I've written about.
The situation ended up being nasty because the guy who figured out the couple's identity went after the girl himself when he read that the couple was going through a rocky stretch. To make it worse, the guy was a friend of the man he was trying to betray.
Thankfully, the girl rebuffed the betrayer.
I may tell this story some day, but it will be awhile because to this day the attempted betrayal makes me nauseous. Nothing is worse to me than a man or woman who tries to steal a friend's partner.
I've been more careful since I wrote that column to hide the identities of those whose love stories I've written about.
The column I've done for Tengrinews that's given me the most satisfaction was the one in June of 2012 about Igor Tsai, who is the action-scene coordinator for the renowned director Timur Bekmambetov.
The reason is that the column opened the door to Bollywood for Igor.
Here's the way I explained it in a column I did in February of 2013:
“When Bollywood producer A.M. Rathman and director Arjun Varma Alluri saw 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,' they marveled at the film’s spectacular action scenes.
“The two were determined to hire the scenes’ creator to do the action choreography on two epic movies they planned.
“There were so many action-scene credits in 'Abraham Lincoln,' however, that they couldn’t figure out who had been in charge. So they Googled the movie.
“Up popped a story in the Baltimore Post-Examiner that I’d done last summer about Igor Tsai, Timur Bekmambetov’s action-scene mastermind. I’d originally written the story for Tengrinews. The Post-Examiner used it under a content-sharing agreement with Tengri.
“After learning who had orchestrated the 'Abraham Lincoln' action scenes, Rathman and Alluri asked Igor if he’d do the same on their blockbusters. The Almaty resident agreed.”
I learned as a young assistant city editor at the Post-Intelligencer newspaper in Seattle, Washington, that the key to building readership is good story ideas.
I've been really fortunate that my Tengrinews editor, Tanya, has great instincts for the kinds of stories that will appeal to readers.
Every time I've proposed a column that's different, or offbeat, she's agreed – and the idea has usually worked, attracting lots of readers.
One of those offbeat ideas was a column in which a friend, Jesse Foster, printed photos of two beauty queens on roses – and I invited the women to go out with me. They didn't – I didn't expect them to -- but the column was a fun read, generating a lot of smiles.
Photo courtesy of posthaven.com
Tanya not only recognizes a good story, but she's extremely well read, which means she can suggest new wrinkles to my story ideas that I hadn't considered. I've often used her thoughts to change my approach to a column, making it better.
Tanya and I have worked together for so long that we think alike on most subjects I want to write about. We don't exactly finish each other's sentences – but it's close at times.
I've also appreciated the fact that Tanya has let me do non-Kazakhstan stories from time to time. Of course, Tengrinews is a Kazakhstan portal, and a columnist like me should be writing about what's going on here, not in Timbuktu.
But Tanya lets me break that mold when a non-Kazakhstan story is compelling.
For example, she let me write several pieces about a tragedy in my daughter Angie's life – the murder of one of her twin 11-week-old sons at the hands of the husband she had trusted.
One of the reasons I wanted to write about this difficult subject was catharsis. Throughout my life, writing has not only been a source of creativity for me but also a source of release. It has helped me deal with difficult situations by letting me get my feelings out.
Although Angie's story was set in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, there ended up being a couple of Kazakhstan angles to it. She is a talented musician, and she stopped singing and writing songs when her son Bryan was killed.
I've tried to convince her to perform at the Almaty International Jazz Festival as a way of returning to her music, which is her first love. She writes and sings jazz and blues songs as well as pop numbers, so she'd be a good fit at the Almaty event.
In recent weeks I convinced Angie to help me write a love song for my superstar friend Batyrkhan Shukenov, who wants to try singing in English. When Angie agreed, I was thrilled – because it will be her first foray back into music since Bryan's death. I will be doing the lyrics for the song and Angie the melody.
Photo courtesy of wordpess.com
My blog has also allowed me to write in my favorite genre of all – humor. I love writing funny stuff, putting smiles on people's faces, having them stop me and tell me how much they laughed over a piece. Two of my favorite writers are the humorists Mark Twain and Will Rogers.
One of my funniest columns, readers have told me, was about a young friend who rushed up one day to tell me about her new puppy. Only she mispronounced the word puppy. It came out “poopie.” One person who read the column said it was the funniest piece of writing he'd ever read.
Giving readers a bit of joy, offering them perspectives about life in Kazakhstan that they'd never thought about, or simply making them feel good about their country's progress – those are some of the reasons I've enjoyed writing my columns the past couple of years.
Thanks to all of you for reading my pieces. I couldn't do it without you.