Mitchell S. Jackson
Episode 2: I Think We Got Kendrick Lamar
Award-winning novelist, nonfiction writer, and journalist Mitchell S. Jackson on profiling Kendrick Lamar while grieving his father, fighting for your words, and the joy of basketball fashion.
Mitchell S. Jackson has won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Magazine award for his writing, which has been featured in the New York Times, Marie Claire Magazine, the New Yorker, and the Paris Review among other places. He is also the author of the. novel The Residue Years, a nonfiction book called Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family, and Fly: The Big Book of Basketball Fashion which came out in September 2023. He is a columnist for Esquire Magazine.
Mitchell S. Jackson
Sasha called me one day she's like, “Mitchell I think we got Kendrick Lamar.”
Eden Dawn 0:10
Hey friends, welcome to We Can’t Print This
Fiona McCann 0:13
This is a podcast that tells you the story you don't know behind the story you do know.
Eden Dawn 0:18
I'm Eden Dawn.
Fiona McCann 0:19
I'm Fiona McCann.
Eden Dawn 0:21
Every week we interview a writer of some kind about the stories behind their stories.
Fiona McCann 0:27
And this week, we welcome Pulitzer Prize winner, New York Times contributing writer, Esquire columnist, National Magazine Award winner, I'm getting exhausted already now, novelist memoirist style maven, because that is true. Teacher, and born and raised Portlander Mitchell S. Jackson,
that renaissance man, he's amazing.
And in case you didn't know, he's also the author of the novel residue Years, the genre busting Survival Math, which I loved. And now, a new and truly gorgeous book Fly: The Big Book of Basketball Fashion
Eden Dawn 1:01
Which I loved and and I'm obsessed with.
Fiona McCann 1:05
She's obsessed. But first, before we get to that, we have been asking you all our audience, what you'd like to hear about from us, and what questions you'd like to ask too long time editors and writers, one of the questions we get a lot is what you should expect from an editor or from the editing process, which kind of dovetails nicely into our conversation with Mitchell, about working with his editor.
Eden Dawn 1:28
Yeah, yeah. And you and I have been on both sides of the editing experience quite a bit, because you have done it at a daily newspaper, we've both been at magazines for years, I have a couple of books. So I've gone through that process. I always say you have to go into a headspace of being ready to take ego out of something. So if you're having a shit day, if you, we all have, if you're having a shit day, if you're just like, you know, battered by the world, or tired or not in a good place. That's not the time to read that when you get your edits back from your editor,
Fiona McCann 2:06
because it can be so crushing. But here's why. First of all, I want to say just be prepared, most likely, you're gonna get a document back that's full of edits.
Eden Dawn 2:16
Yeah, you are and and for people who have not turned in something to an actual editor, the most common things is either, you know, Google Docs or word track changes, which is your editor will actually go through and move things around or strike through things or add comments. And so it literally will come back to you in this rainbow of colors where things, so you open it, and you do see a lot of red, and you get a bit worried because. . . punched in the gut
Fiona McCann 2:43
doesn't mean you're not an amazing writer. It doesn't mean your story's not great and deserves to be told, it just means your editor got it and thought, How do I make this better? And it's such a, I think it's kind of a tightrope walk in a way because you want to honor as an editor, the voice of the author, and you want to make sure that the readers understand what they're putting across.
Eden Dawn 3:03
Yeah, and the way you and I have talked about this before, and I was just explaining it to somebody yesterday, the thing I like about the way we work together, which has helped me understand the editing process in general, is if I if you're editing something of mine, or we're working on a project together, you might say, hey, Eden, this line this little bit here isn't working. You know, I this joke you're making isn't landing. What about this? And I say, No, I don't like that. I wouldn't say that. And it's not that we're just having, you know, an argument about my way or your way. The point is, from that we go, okay, well, what's the problem we're trying to solve? This joke isn't landing or this point isn't clear, or whatever? My my deep dive reference to this, you know, 90210 episode or whatever you're like, nobody knows that, like, okay, probably do well, no, they probably all know it. But that we then go, Okay, so what's then what else? And so frequently, that third way, is so good. It's the best way. And that's always the breakthrough in editing where you're like, Hell, yes, we got there.
Fiona McCann 4:09
You know, and I want you to absorb this too, as writers that it is your voice and your name on this thing. And while you can kind of go in there thinking, this is my perfect prose, and nobody should touch it. Because everybody can be made better everybody can make except maybe Mitchell s Jackson, but like most of us can be made better and benefit from that sounding board
Eden Dawn 4:27
And that's really what a good editor should be as a sounding board whose job is not to make your voice into their voice. That's a shitty editor. And I've had those I firmly believe that editors should not change words and then not tell the writer but I have read things before with my byline on them that have gone to print and then I'm like, Oh, fun. This whole last paragraph, and I never would have said I never would have said it. And that's not good editing to me. Really isn't. That that's not a dance. You know what I mean?
Fiona McCann 4:57
The dance is important, the conversation. I think people are sometimes either afraid to be difficult. And they're like, Well, I guess the editor knows better. But I feel really badly about this. Or they're sort of the opposite end of the scale in their ego. So in their ego, and you have to be somewhere in the middle, if you have a good editor, it'll be a conversation, it'll be at, I'm not sure this works. Let's, is there something else that, you know, that we can put here instead of just like you described about our perfect relationship.
Eden Dawn 5:25
our perfect relationship, but like I said, it still is hard to the ego, because most writers have egos. So you have to be able to let that go and admit that Oh, somebody might be able to make me better hear. And when you have toiled away on this thing to have somebody just kind of parachute in and go, Oh, hey, you know, this isn't working. I just like moved your last crap up to the top and roll and you're like, Oh, shit.
Fiona McCann 5:47
I know. Sometimes I want to say just and you don't not always have this luxury, but sometimes I'm gonna say just sleep on it. See what you think of you love to say just sleep on I like to say just sleep on it. Because I know for myself, I sometimes will react in the moment. And then I'm like, if I have a bit of distance true, and I let it sit, will I feel better about it?
Eden Dawn 6:03
And my final thought is, I believe in the dance, I believe in the third way. But if somebody comes to you with a really easy solution in your writing, don't be afraid to just accept the rhetoric the writer, you know what I mean? If the editor is like, hey, these three sentences on their own are convoluted and crazy. I was able to just pare it down into one and it makes sense, just except Except that track change these, that person has helped make your life easier. Just say yes, thank you, Chef.
Fiona McCann 6:29
Thank you. Yes, Chef. So anyway, with that, we should probably let Mitchell do some talking.
Eden Dawn 6:35
Let Mitchell do some talking. Okay. I spent my whole career writing about fashion and I went to fashion school. And I often felt quite lonely in Portland being the only fashion editor literally for years and years and years. So it's so nice when you read a fashion but that you love you're like, This is my pizza. I feel I feel the love here. But my first question is, you are so comfortable talking about fashion. Do you have any everything is self taught? Or do you have any training talking about fashion, like the technical aspects I was super impressed about.
Mitchell S. Jackson 7:12
I don't have any formal training. But I think you know, if you I've really been enamored with fashion since I was a little little boy. I mean, probably four or five years old. Looking into my uncle's closet, he had all the, Mario's, when Mario’s first came out in the 1970s. My uncle was like one of their first shoppers. And so he would have a closet full of clothes and all the colognes and I would always be looking in there and I didn't really know the names for stuff, but I knew what I liked. And I think the older I got, the more I started to pay attention to at least fabrication. So like, how did the weight of a denim feel versus or or the what kind of wool was in it? How did that feel in my hand versus another kind of one? So I started to really pay attention to that. And then, you know, the further I got along when I started kind of tangentially writing about it, I would have to know like, well, what's this scarf thing? Oh, that's an ascot thing that he's wearing. I went to New York and I was trying everything like I had cowboy buckles some years I had Gator shoes. I had ascots one year I mean, I've worn fur to the club one year like I was really searching and so you got to get up on that. And now I see, I see the connection between fashion and writing and like creating different textures and thinking about shapes and silhouettes and stuff. So now I can see it in a whole different way because of of the writing.
Fiona McCann 8:43
That's so interesting. I never thought of that connection. I mean, I love just following your Instagram and seeing your cool outfits all the time and your author fashion hashtag and I always appreciate it because I think sometimes people assume authors are just sitting in their what do you call it, a tracksuit, sweatpants Yeah, you know in there they're not even meeting anyone and I'm like no, we we show up
Mitchell S. Jackson 9:11
Every once in a while we gussy up.
Eden Dawn 9:12
We gussy up. I like it because you talk about Mario's—for people don't know like that's the the independent sort of like designer fashion store in Portland for decades, but also warms my heart because the stereotype that people from Portland have, you know, whatever, we're just crunchy and were like Birkenstocks style. I'm like, That's so that's just not true. But the thing I really love about this book, and I love specifically in your intro, we're like, we're not just going to talk about decades, we're going to talk about eras. Not only did you break it by eras, which when people look at the book makes so much sense. You did the thing that I really love when writing about passion was talk about eras and then people associated with it, because that helps paint the picture for the non fashion person so much. So tell me that era and like give me a person that's emblematic of the time. And I feel like that paints a picture for people, quicker than anything else.
Mitchell S. Jackson 10:15
I wish I could take credit, I actually was going to start by decades, probably because when I initially can, I didn't conceive of this project, it was brought to me. And I immediately was like, Okay, this is the thing that I'm the person I knew that I wrote about sports, and that I love fashion. So it seemed like a no brainer. And I think it was simpler in my mind to write about the decades because that was an easier way to kind of separate the years of the NBA and also because they were really pumping up the NBA 75. And then my editor, one of the editors on the book was like, No, decades are like arbitrary, like, you need to think about eras. And once they, once he said eras to me, then I started thinking, Okay, well, then what defines an era?
Eden Dawn 10:56
It's also the fashion is the easiest in my mind, and I'm the most biased person. But it is the most fun way to very accurately tell history.
Fiona McCann 11:13
I mean, Mitchell, it's so interesting to me, because your, you know, personal bookshelf of the books that you've written. Like, you never do the same thing again,
Mitchell S. Jackson
I mean, it's like, you know, you start out with an autobiographical novel, and then there's like survival, like none of the and that there's like a fashion and basketball book. You definitely can't be pigeonholed. I'll tell you that. But is there a, you know, for you Is there a common thread between all these books? Does your journalism you know, and your magazine, column do they all tie in together?
Mitchell S. Jackson 11:51
I mean, for me, it's really going, I’m a trained fiction writer, right. So I was never trained as a journalist. And I remember mentors, saying, you know, you're always writing your autobiography. And so while I'm writing about all of these other subjects, there has to be something of the personal in it. Otherwise, I can't stick with it long enough to go through a 10 million revisions, like, I wouldn't be worried about captions on a basketball book if I wasn't really, really committed to this project. And I spent, like, I actually had to fight with the editors to revise captions. That was the last edits that I made, were on captions in this book. And I fought like to the point where they're like, Well, the book is at the printer, and I was like, I don't care. Like I told him, I was like, my name is going to be on this forever, not yours, and I appreciate what you've done. But like 100 years or 20 years down the road, they're gonna be like, that was my book. And so, to me, it's like the fact that I love fashion. My very, very first published piece of writing was in the Portland Tribune, when it first came out I think, like 2000 2001 and it was called Almost Famous and it was about four basketball players from my neighborhood who never made it Pro. So that was Orlando Williams, Antoine Stoudamire, Marquis, it was three of them. And then I interviewed Damon Stoudamire for that piece. So that was my very first piece and my second piece was a draft story on Freddy Jones who was a local basketball player who got drafted by the Indiana Pacers so my very first writing was about basketball. So for me this is kind of an extension of that same thing with you know, I mean, obviously Survival Math is a lot about my family but it's me, taking a look at my family but then my community in a way that I didn't get a chance to look at it and the rest of the year so yes, always something personal and then the question is like, what's the context?
Eden Dawn 13:52
I think that's a journalist brain. And you say you weren't a trained journalist but to me, that's a journalist brain. We're always,the urge to be like, what's happening? What are the players behind it? How does it affect people? Because the questions we all have, we all want to answer
Mitchell S. Jackson 14:08
I really I probably am more of a journalist in the way that I come at writing. Then I am a fiction writer, like I never really got into fantasy or sci fi. I was always like, stuck in realism, even before I knew what realism was. And so yeah, I think and I'm also very thankful for having done so much journalism, the practition of it, right, like learning how to interview someone, learning when you when you hear a quote, like when I just finished reporting, I was at the March on Washington yesterday, or over the weekend. So I was reporting all weekend, right? And so I got 100 hours of stuff, but I know when I hear a quote, that's gonna help me out down the line. I know when I see something, I'm like, Nah, I gotta get a picture. or some video footage of that, because that's an image I need to recreate in whatever I'm gonna write, so that to me is very helpful even on the on the fiction side of it.
Eden Dawn 15:10
That's such a specific high when somebody gives you a quote that you know, yeah use inside you're like, yeah.
Fiona McCann 15:19
That's so it reminds me as well of that. There is a little quotation in the New York Times piece that we're going to talk about what you wrote about Kendrick Lamar, there is a I think it's Charles Simic. Is that right?
Mitchell S. Jackson 15:32
Oh, yeah, yeah, the attentive eye makes the world mysterious.
Fiona McCann 15:35
Yes. And it does remind me of that with that attention, which I do think is really necessary for a good writer and a good journalist, to see these details that illuminate everything. And I think that article also reminds me that one of my favorite things about your writing is that you always write, or it feels to me and maybe I'm wrong, but that you always write in your voice. Unless you're faking it, in which case, you're really good.
Eden Dawn 16:08
Best Mitchell Jackson impersonator, yes,
Fiona McCann 16:12
I have found that so inspiring personally, and I remember once writing a piece about you, in Portland Monthly, where I thought like, I have to write this in my voice, and like really making such a conscious effort that if I was gonna write a piece about Mitchell Jackson, I was gonna have to really write it in my voice, which is,you know, strange.
Mitchell S. Jackson 16:31
I felt that writing about Kendrick because I respected his art so much. I was like, I can't this cannot be, like, conventional piece. And I really worried about that. Like, I had to find a form that to me was going to speak to the creativity that I saw in his work. And I kept telling my editor like, Nah, it's just, it's just regular, like, it has to do something else. And she's like, I understand this. We'll get to it. I'm gonna Yeah, we better get to it. Because regular right now.
Fiona McCann 17:08
And you got you got to it. Yeah, yeah, that's,
Eden Dawn 17:11
let's get into it. How did you pitch it?
Mitchell S. Jackson 17:14
So I think something for the writers that are listening, is people always say like, Well, how do you pitch or which I don't pitch really, I don't know how to pitch and fortunately now people come to me and just say, Do you want to write about such and such, but I will say, around the time that I started the column at Esquire, Sasha Weiss from the New York Times Magazine, hit me up, she had read the Ahmaud Arbery piece, and she was like, I just, I want to work with you, Mitch. And I was like, okay, and she was like, Do you have anything that you're interested in doing? And I was like, Sasha, I never have any good ideas. But if I, if I think of something, like, I'll email you,
Fiona McCann 17:56
you never have any good ideas.
Mitchell S. Jackson 17:58
I don't really! like there's somebody else's idea that I can take and go like, okay, yeah, this is I should be writing about this. So a couple weeks later, I had really loved To Pimp a Buttefly and Good Kid Mad City because to me, Good Kid Mad City, an analog to that was Residue Years. It was like, young guy in the hood, who's a good guy who's trying to figure out how to navigate these circumstances. And so I felt connected and he was a West Coast dude too. So I felt connected to Kendrick from his first major release. And then obviously, Damn, he had won the Pulitzer. I was like, oh, to me, Damn, was like Survival Math. You know, it was like really experimental. It was still about home, but it was always also contextualized in where he was from. So I was like, Oh, and this is that. I didn't know that he was working on r Morale and the Big Steppers. I don't think anybody knew. So I was like, here's my idea. Sasha, I want to profile Kendrick while he's making something, so like, in his off time, I want to do that. And so she was like, Okay, we could not get a hold of dude, so this is actually when I started my column, this is 2021. So we're not getting a hold of him, and then fast forward to 2023. I've already signed on to be a contributing writer at The Times. I've done a couple pieces with Sasha, Sasha calls me one day she's like, Mitchell. I think we got Kendrick Lamar. She's like, Yeah, but it has to happen quick. I”m like Okay. She was like, Can you travel? Yeah, absolutely. So I think you might have to go to London. Well, let's go we goin to London. Yes. Yeah. So that’s really how it happened was it was like, if you remember really, it has to start with 2013 Well, he's 20 I think. Good Kid came out in 2012. And Residue came out in 2013. So for me, thinking about those two pieces together then thinking about Damn, I mean, yeah, Damn, and Survival Math. I think Damn maybe came out in 2018. And Survival Math came out in 2019. So like, how does this dude make a thing I'm really interested in how an artist crafts, you know, whatever they're making. So I wanted to be able to see some of that process. And then obviously, I didn't get to see it, this thing already comes out. And the other part of it was when they pitched it to me, they were like, he doesn't want to do a solo profile. He wants to do a profile of him and his best friend. And I'm thinking shit, you know how hard it is to profile one person, let alone a double profile. But okay.
Mitchell S. Jackson
One relationship, but still like, yes, Kendrick is such a huge figure. I didn't want to, if I took it, I didn't want to make Dave the small person in the piece. Right. And I think that was, that's the risk.
Eden Dawn 20:52
You did a brilliant job with that, because I did not know him. Yeah, you know, I did not know who Dave was. And I felt like I understood their relationship better. But the point is, like, it's a very specific world of having these two opposite parts to them. And getting to see that really in so many unexpected things. There was the like him having a collab and meeting with Trey and Matt from South Park about doing a comedy together. I was just like, what is, it's so unexpected. Do we know anything about that comedy?
Mitchell S. Jackson 21:27
Fhey're still working on it? I think. Yeah. Yeah. I interview Matt. Yeah, Matt for the piece was so funny, because I didn't know who Matt was at all. And I was sitting they had, like, it was right after the first concert. And it was like a little area for people who were on the risers. This guy comes over here like, Hey, man, you think they’d mind if I smoked some weed and here I'm like, bro, I don't know, like this is London, I don’t know what the rules are here. He's like, Okay, I'm gonna go check. Then he comes back. And he's like, Yeah, I don't know. I don't I don't know if I'm gonna smoke. So he just sits down. He starts talking and then and then the publicist comes over. And she's like, Mitch, do you know who that is? I mean, Matt is dressed like he could be a truck driver. Like on his last legs, like a grubby t shirt. A hat. Some jeans, like it's cold too, he don’t got no coat. She's like, that's Matt somthing someone and I still I don't watch South Park. So I didn't know this but I'm like, Oh, okay.
Fiona McCann 22:30
I've heard of South Park. Yeah.
Mitchell S. Jackson 22:32
Or South Park. Okay. Okay. So it, but it's interesting, because he started talking to me about Kendrick and Dave, like he knew them. He's like, man, I'm telling you, these guys are so great in the things that they do. And it's just a pleasure working with them as if I knew who he was and what their relationship was. And I had no clue. But I liked that too. Because he was just like a regular dude that just walked up and was like, can I smoke here? I'm like, I don't know. And then I don't
Fiona McCann 22:59
I come from Portland where it would be fine. Exactly.
Eden Dawn 23:06
That's a good journalism 101 tip for the for the new kids listening. Like if somebody comes up and starts talking to you, like they assume you know what's going on. Just let them exactly.
Fiona McCann 23:19
I like to say I like to do the secret Google, if you can, you know, when somebody's like, that's so and so. And you're like, yeah, yeah, totally. And then you're taking out your phone.
Mitchell S. Jackson 23:30
If I had had some Wi Fi there I probably wouldn't. We was way down in the Q2 or whatever that’s called. I didn’t have no service.
Fiona McCann 23:39
Oh, my gosh, that's amazing. So they're you were having a chat with him. And he was talking about Kendrick and Dave and you were like, oh, that's the South Park guy
Mitchell S. Jackson 23:48
So something I think that's connected to Fly and I think really speaks to Kendrick and his like, place in the culture is like in that room, right across from grubby Matt, who's a great guy who's very funny. was Naomi Campbell. Edward Enninful. Was Ricardo Tisci. One of those other big stylists just right over on the couch like just, you know, chatting it up waiting for Kendrick to come through which he never even came down there.
Eden Dawn 24:20
So you're gonna give me a fashion heart attack?
Mitchell S. Jackson 24:22
Yeah, like, I mean, I'm like looking like oh, this is the he brings these worlds together. Like I don't know what other rapper, probably Drake, but I don't know what other rappers would Oh, also, Martine Rose. She was in there like it was a lot of, It was a very heavy fashion event that that first night and so I thought like, wow, this guy's really, you know, like he's really about this world too.
Fiona McCann 24:50
That's so interesting. It does. It's like the overlap as you say between like Fly and an article like this. It all comes back to fashion Eden. We keep telling it
Eden Dawn 24:58
It always comes, again, always comes back to fashion. How do you take something like this? Because that's a huge feature. I don't know what the word count is. But that's a big 6500. That's a big feature. How do you? How much reporting did you do? Like, how much time were you able to spend with him and do that? And then how do you start shaping something, especially when you go the brief that you've given yourself from day one is, we're not doing a typical feature? Yeah. So I don't know. It just feels like you set yourself up with a with a tall order. Oh, huge profile.
Mitchell S. Jackson 25:32
So I want to start with I was at the Portland Book Festival. They kept shifting the date around as celebrities do, which I'll probably have had this happen several times. They kept shifting around. So they shifted it to where I had to run. I had to do my book event at the Portland Book Festival. Literally, there was a car waiting for me, I ran and I'm not saying like I was jogging, I ran out of the event, jumped in the car, went to PDX, caught a plane from PDX to Seattle, caught a plane from Seattle to London, got off the plane in London, when I got off the plane it’s in the end of the story, I got a phone call that my dad had died. But I was going straight from there to meet Kendrick so like, this is the, I want to say also, I was wearing the same things I wore, I have my outfit that I mean, I took it off to fly but then I put it right back on. I had on a Prada jumpsuit for my event at the Portland Book Festival. And when I got to London, I didn't have time to change. So I just threw the jumpsuit back on. And the very first thing that Kendrick and Dave said to me was, oh, bro, I see you, you fly. That was it. And it was like, we're a community now together like we actually bonded over fashion. Dave was wearing a Prada, flight jacket. And Kendrick had on like a little bandana. And some I forgot, I think some Nueva sunglasses. So I was like, Oh, these dudes. Yeah. Because you know, you never know if it's like the stylists, or how much of it is the stylists or if they actually know what they doing. And I was like, wow, these brothers know what they doing. And so that to me, was also very, it was something special. So the tall order really became not just the reporting. I had the pressure of planning or helping to plan my father's funeral. He was Muslim, so that he had to be buried in a certain amount of days from when he died. He died the day I got there. Well, first of all, it was like, do I turn back right now. Remember, this is something that's been percolating since 2012, 2013. You know, when you turn your phone on, getting off the plane, I just got out of Heathrow, I get a call from my sister. This is strange she never and I say never calls me. So I picked it up. She was like Mitchell, daddy passed. I'm headed to drop off my bags at the at the hotel to go meet them. What? So now I'm like, do I go turn back around and go to Heathrow and, and get a flight back? And now what will my dad want me to do? He maybe he will want me to work on this thing you've been working on? You can't, like all these people are depending on you, they already told you is going to be a cover, It’s for Kendrick like. Damn, I'm going to disappoint them if I don't do it. So I got all this stuff running through me. And so the whole time I'm reporting I'm getting calls from my family. So all of this is happening. And I don't tell them because I don't want to come in in the first place and be like, bro, my, my daddy just died. And I'm here though. So I'm keeping all of this separate. While I'm reporting and trying to laugh and joke and build rapport with the fellas. You don’t want to be like a downer, you know? Yeah. So that was the toughest reporting experience also because I had three days right. So it's like, it's three days is a lot of time. But then it's it's not. I'm doing a report on Al Sharpton. I have spent 10 days with Al Sharpton, across six states. Wow. Yeah. I mean, it's the most access I've ever had.
Eden Dawn 29:30
That’s a lot, more time than I've spent with some relatives. Yeah, exactly.
Mitchell S. Jackson 29:34
Yeah. So so by comparison, you know, so that it made that part tough. And then I just had this huge expectation that I, especially once you see the show, you're like, Oh my God, how can I disappoint? It's not even just him. Everyone that I met on his team was a great person. You know, he was getting back on with me for secondaries. And Dave got on for a secondary and a thirdary and like, I’m like man, I cannot fuck this thing up. And then my family is going boy, you better get her. So, I mean, what's not in the story is that I left, God was over me, because I didn't have any delays from London to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Portland, I had a car waiting at PDX that took me straight from the airport, my bags were in the trunk. When I got to my father's grave site. Like, literally when I got to that place, they were lowering my father in the ground. That's what I came from Kendrick, they were lowering my father in the ground. And the other thing was I was in Portland. I coulda went to go see my dad. But I was like, Nah, I catch him when I come back. The next time, I'm lowering him in the ground. So then we started writing. And I was like, Sasha, I just, I can't focus. I mean, it's probably mid November when I start writing. But the piece is coming out in December. So that was also a lot of pressure. And there was a point at which we I think I wrote down some stuff. And, and oh, no, in the interim, my friend, my one of my best friends turned 50. So I was in Mexico, trying to edit, and I gave it to Sasha. And she's like, man, we just, you know, it's we got some work to do. I know, Sasha know. And there was a point probably two weeks out where she was like look Mitchell. Everybody here understands what you're going through. We can push this piece, if we need to push it, like they'll be upset, but we can push it, or you and I can just turn to this and only this for the next 10 days. And I was like, I'm not disappointing all these people. Let's turn to this. And I was putting 12 hour days in on that thing. I don't know how many drafts but like, you know, I was like, I'm not gonna be the one that fucks up the Kendrick Lamar Dave story for the last issue of The New York Times. No one reading this is gonna care that my dad died three weeks ago, they’re gonna be like, you did not do what you said you would do.
Eden Dawn 32:15
You know, I really liked your choice as a writer to put it at the end because and I thought it was just so beautiful. You know, at the end talk about everybody grieves differently. And I'm like, and this is your grief. I just like I think a lot of other writers would put it at the beginning somewhere. I mean, it was a little bit emotional fuckery in the best way.
Mitchell S. Jackson 32:37
Yeah. I my old mentor Gordon Lish, he used
Fiona McCann 32:42
well, yeah, heard of him. I have heard him
Mitchell S. Jackson 32:46
back. The very first bit of actual writing advice he gave to me, I'll truncate the story. Talks a long time, then he tells everyone to go home and write a sentence and, and you come back and it's like, 40 people in a room and he says, okay, read your sentence. And I said, ‘she told me to hold it for safekeeping.’ And he was like, okay, Jackson, go on. Oh, shoot. ‘She told me to hold it for safekeeping. And then she took it back.’ He said, Okay, so now I got two sentences. I'm the only person to get to read two sentences, in the whole class in two workshops, like literally in two workshops. So I'm like, feeling very proud. Then I say ‘rent money from under the mattress.’ And he says, stop it. He said, Jackson. Don't you ever ask for anyone's sympathy on the page? Do you hear me? Don't you ever ask for anyone's sympathy on the page? He said, but I'll tell you one thing you got an ear and so if you think about those two bits of advice, don't ever ask for anyone's sympathy on the page. And Jackson, you got an ear. I mean, that's me on the page all the time. And so putting it at the top would have been asking for the reader sympathy sympathy I hadn't earned that you don't know me, you don't know my Daddy, why do you care? People’s Daddies die all the time, like, and I didn't want to color it in the same way. I didn't want to give them that information. When I first got there. Like I don't want to color your experience like I thought that would be unfair. Manipulative. But then the other thing was, I had to honor my father, like how can I go do this thing, have the experience and then not let it come into the piece in some way. And so that's why I was like, I gotta figure out how to get it in here Sash. I kept saying like, I gotta say something about my daddy dying or this piece doesn't feel honest.
Fiona McCann 34:35
But I also love how you kind of leave the question in there about like, should you just turn around and go straight back? And there isn't really one answer to that question. And you you know made a choice. And as a reader we're really grateful for it but who knows, whoever knows what the right choice in those situations is
Mitchell S. Jackson 34:58
For sure. I mean If I would have missed the burial. So, I mean, it could have, that that alone could have made it the wrong decision. Yeah, like 12, 10 minutes could have made that the wrong decision.
Eden Dawn 35:11
Wow. How do you feel now when you go back and read the piece or think about it?
Mitchell S. Jackson 35:19
So here's a writer's story. So when they call it down to the wire, I mean, everything I write them goes down to the wire, I'm always pushing on last edits. I just did this to Men’s Health over the weekend. I had two, I had maybe three edits, she had sent me that it was in layout. So it was a PDF. I saw it, I had sent Sasha back the edits. So I thought she got him. So the next day, I seen the printed ship version. I said, Sasha, the last edits I sent you aren't in here. I said, can you put them in for online, that will happen in Esquire, without doubt, there was always two or three changes I make from print to online. She said, Oh, no, Mitch, we have a very strict policy. We can't make any changes between print and online. I said what? She was like, yeah, she's like, we have to issue corrections. And it's got to go to a different department. And, and I'm like, okay, so I go to sleep, then now we're like, this is probably three days before Christmas. So say this is December 23. I go to sleep December 23. I wake up, I cannot sleep. Actually. I wake up at like six in the morning. I email Sahsa. So Sasha, listen, I've been thinking about these three edits all night long. Can you please push on it? She's like, okay, Mitch. She's like, well, I could ask Jake, you know, if he could talk to the department, and maybe he can write a letter for you. And I said, Thank you, Sasha, I guess she thought I was gonna be I don't want Jake to get involved but I was like nah, please. Yes. Let's get Jake on it. So, a day goes, I don't sleep again, I wake up again, Sasha is like Mitchell, Jake wrote a passionate letter to the department. And they are staunch, they will not make these changes. And when I tell you, I damn near cry over these edits. And it's crazy, one of them, there's a line in the in the biographical section where I say, outside of Kendrick's house, he would always hear pop pop pop for the sound of gunshots. And, and I had changed it to like, boom, pow, pap! To give a sense of different kinds of guns, the sound that they we make it and that was one and that gave me so much anxiety that, that I had got 99.8% of the way to where I wanted to be and the 2% was for some bureaucracy. And I actually still have the PDF with those edits. And so when I read it, if I read it online, liike I'm grieving over the three things that I wanted to change that I couldn't.
Fiona McCann 38:06
It's so hard. How many of us have come up against this as journalists where, you know, we're like, I really want this and the editor says no, I know best. And, you know, a lot of the times you kind of bow down because you feel inexperienced or you feel like Yeah, well, it's impossible to change. You know, it's really hard but I mean, again, you're inspiring me to fight even for my captions.
Mitchell S. Jackson 38:30
Yeah, man, fight for them captions.
Fiona McCann 38:33
I also think if anyone's listening here, pull out that piece do us a favor and read it with Mitchell's edits. Do you want to tell us what they were? There was that one?
Mitchell S. Jackson 38:44
Okay, hold on. Let me
Eden Dawn 38:46
I like this. I like this, we’re righting the wrongs
Fiona McCann 38:49
We might as well get the right words in if we have an opportunity.
Mitchell S. Jackson 38:54
Okay, it's called in my thing ‘Kendrick and Dave for online.’ So teenage Dave DJ, spending weekends wheeling Compton with his mentor for digs, Dave saving enough scratch to cop an Acura is what it says it should be to floss an Acura which is what we used to say. I want to just do that. I'm gonna do one more and I'll do the boom boom path because I can't remember exactly what it was but now I have the force quit Okay, let me bring this back. Okay, Meanwhile, all around Man-Man and Dave Boy: the Pirus. The Bloods. The Crips. The Eses. O.G.s, B.G.s, the loc’d out whoever. The frequent set-tripping and it says in this one, boom, boom, boom, but the revision was boom, boom, pap. I just wanted to have one different kind of sounding gun. And I mean, I had to lose at least seven hours of sleep over pap and boom.
Fiona McCann 39:53
Hi, hear you and you know what, your revision is better. I'm just
Mitchell S. Jackson 39:57
thank you as an editor. I appreciate that.
Fiona McCann 39:59
It is you're better
Eden Dawn 40:01
I agree. It's just adds some texture.
Mitchell S. Jackson 40:04
Yes, exactly. Yeah.
Eden Dawn 40:07
I like it. I like that we're doing our own edits now. Yeah. Aftermarket edits. Aftermarket window tinting/
Fiona McCann 40:18
We're editing the New York Times. No big deal.
Mitchell S. Jackson 40:27
This is my personal correction.
Eden Dawn 40:30
Personal correction. That's good. That's good. We're gonna get that trending. How you feel? You feel like we covered it at all?
Mitchell S. Jackson 40:38
Yeah, I mean, I've never. I mean, I think we got to some stuff that I was not able to share with anyone else, you know? So yeah, so good. I think there's something in here for writers. All right.
Eden Dawn 40:49
Well, thank you again, for joining us. His website is mitchellsackson.com. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter or X, whatever we're calling it now, both @mitchsjackson. He'll be at the Portland Book Festival in November. We'll obviously post that and you can check the literary arts website get the big beautiful book Fly: The Big Book of Basketball Fashion then message me and we can nerd out and talk about it forever because I love it so very much. Also I grew up knowing and hearing about Will Chamberlain obviously but did not know him, and now as a grown ass woman seeing those photos right
Mitchell S. Jackson 41:35
With the shirt open
Eden Dawn 41:51
There was some thirst trap editing that happened in this book. That's what I have to say about that. And you know it. I’m gonna keep it propped open on my desk for a sad day. That's it for We Can't Print This for today. You can see more info about this episode at our website or Instagram sign up for our newsletter and we also have bi weekly culture picks industry news , on and on.
Fiona McCann 42:27
Yeah, and a reminder that we aren't backed by anyone. We're just two independent journalists giving you an insider look at writing because we love it so you can support our work on the podcast by becoming a supporter on Patreon. And a reminder too, that Mitchell S Jackson will be reading tonight at Powells in Portland, so get down there show up 503, 971 also welcome all y'all come on down. And thank you so much to our producer Miranda Shafer and to Dave Depper for our intro music. This podcast was recorded at the Writers’ Block in Portland. And we always like to offer a big thanks to our third officemate, Rachel Ritchie, for turning on all the lights in the office before we get in.
Eden Dawn 43:13
She turns on every single light, She's so weird. I like it though. If you're a writer with a great behind the story story right to us at firstname.lastname@example.org