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The story behind the Public Comment Podcast

The creation of my Podcast, Public Comment, came about as an inadvertent and serendipitous cure for what I believe to have been a real existential crisis (that frankly plagued most of my 33 year life) which came to a head a few months after graduating William Paterson University with a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies (with concentrations in Political Science and History…and I was a mere 3 credits shy of a second bachelors in English.

Despite gaining admission to William Paterson’s Creative Writing MFA program and finally thinking I’d settled on a path to eventually becoming a professor of Creative Writing, I had failed to secure a teaching or graduate assistantship, as well as tuition funding and was forced to reevaluate what my plans ought to be.

I applied for every job I could find of interest in the realm of media, politics and art, including open positions at the New York Times, NBC, Vox, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and the New Jersey Health Quality Institute but to no avail!Feeling quite depressed and realizing many of the jobs I’d applied for didn’t REALLY appeal to me, and feeling rather pent up with an abundance of philosophical, political, and personal thoughts, I decided one day to do a live stream vlog on Facebook and open up, sharing my thoughts with as much honesty and rationality as I could, with those probing the digital and social media of the internet world.

What began as a highly experimental video blog series (did I want it to be a sort of confessional “video diary?” a political commentary series? An autobiographical sort of philosophy vlog?) eventually evolved into an extemporaneous personal essay podcast series bringing me more joy than I ever could have imagined as it helped me gain clarity, honesty, a balance of spontaneity and mind-map planning and outlining, and a sense of connection with the world by speaking directly to my fellow people and posterity about all of that which matters to me most in life.

When I was 9 years old—back in 1995!—I first began writing short stories—mostly horror stories. That summer I happened to see the movie Grease at a day camp and found myself in awe of John Travolta’s performance and wanted to become an actor.

This is the context in which a sort of existential crisis was born within me as I found myself divided by a desire to write and a desire to work in front of camera.

This only got worse when in 1999 I fell in love with the romantic song lyrics of the Bee Gees and began falling out of love with acting, deciding in fact, that I wanted to be a poet, and/or a novelist. I started writing song lyrics quite like a machine (wishing I was one of the Bee Gees or perhaps the Rolling Stones or…dare I say ((!?!)), Chad Kroeger, of Nickelback. I also wrote a series of novellas and still acted in the occasional play or self-produced  super-independent movie.

I managed to sustain my interest in poetry through the end of high school and thus it was only logical that I major in English in college. Unfortunately, as a result of severe anxiety and depression, impatience with curricula that I believed failed to resonate with me (all I wanted to do was read and study the poets I wanted to read and study!), smoking more than a fair share of marijuana (often with very bad side-effects in the form of extreme, rather traumatizing bouts of paranoia in which I grew convinced I was intellectually disabled and dying!)as well as a desire to travel, I dropped out of college.Although here and there I would return for a semester (before dropping out again) I could not maintain a desire to complete my college education.

Cocky though I was, this did not stop me from ambitious attempts at meaningful autodidacticism and an array of creative “projects” including a self-published book of short stories and word-collage poems I went door to door trying to sell in Los Angeles and Manhattan (to no significant avail!), a handful of vlog series,’ attempts to convince the world I was the next Nietzsche and then the next Ayn Rand, and finally, three runs for political office.Ambitious though I may have been, I was in many respects a profound failure, and especially financially. At one point I was almost homeless. Having lived briefly with a friend during a time when I stupidly and regretfully cut ties with my family and many of my friends, and then being no longer welcome in this friend’s home, I was dropped off at a hostel in Tampa with no job and not enough money to spend more than a week or two where I was.

Unable to find a job in Tampa, and eventually penniless, I escaped homelessness merely because the man who owned the hostel refused to kick me out and offered me a deal: if I read him my poems and listened to his lectures of sorts on music, I could stay there and he’d even share food with me.This was arguably the single lowest point in my life as I very seriously contemplated and even threatened suicide and had to be talked out of it by several people who happened to be on the upper deck of the hostel which I wanted to jump off of.

Eventually I mustered the sense to reach out to my family again and though I at least managed to find work, I persisted in working very low paying jobs like dishwashing and bussing tables while also continuing my various creative and intellectual endeavors.

It was after losing my first run for political office in 2013 (when  ran for a seat in the New Jersey Assembly—regretfully, as a Libertarian!) that I promised my wife I’d return to college and gain a bit more education.During the time of that first run I began attending town council meetings (especially those in East Windsor, New Jersey, where I lived) and speaking my mind during the “Public Comment” opportunities which were offered.I posted videos of my “Public Comment” speeches on YouTube and while I was often ignored or interrupted by Mayor Janice Mironov and though I was often not only the sole person speaking during these “Public Comment” opportunities, but the sole resident present, I was at times covered by the local press, and my YouTube video—on occasion– reached a surprisingly big audience within the community.

Sometimes people came up to me and said they knew me and saw me on YouTube though I did not yet know them.   This is what I was thinking about when, in November of 2017, I was invited to write a column for the College VOICE (the student newspaper for Mercer County Community College) and asked what I might want to call it.“Public Comment,” I said, and thus, the first official iteration of the “Public Comment” concept as a creative product of mine was born!I changed my mind a lot about what I wanted to do after college as I found my interests to be too broad to fix “in a box” one person put it. Sometimes I wanted to be a philosopher, sometimes a poet, sometimes a novelist, sometimes a journalist, sometimes I wanted to be president of the United States, sometimes a professor of History, Political Science, or Creative non-fiction, and other times a blogger, and or blogger.

Ultimately, I had settled on a plan to go to graduate school for Creative Writing, write books, and be a professor of Creative Writing, assuming that by “Creative Writing” what I’d really be embarking on was the study of true free thinking.I was wrong but in the midst of addressing my existential crisis after I realized I needed to do more than contemplate my next move but rather, actually make it, “Public Comment” and my unhindered embrace of free thinking, come what may, came about.Integrating political commentary and analysis, with deeply personal introspection, and philosophical contemplations in the spirit of my favorite essayist, Michel de Montaigne, I found a sense of harmony through I struggled with defining a focused mission statement. I remained determined however, to keep doing what I was doing, refine it, and develop a true digital media concept.

The Public Comment vlog I started turned into a vlog and podcast at the suggestion of my friend and former co-worker Heather Lockheart. After a few weeks of podcasting though I hypothesized that the vlog would be more aesthetically pleasing and fulfilling than a podcast. After a few weeks of that mentality, in the midst of researching the vlog and podcast industries and markets, I found myself proven wrong for a variety of reasons.Most of all, it was an empirical fact that “Public Comment” reached more people as a podcast than it did as a vlog.

Within a few weeks of initial podcasting, “Public Comment” had been downloaded over 100 times. In contrast, often, a daily vlog didn’t reach more than three people. Additionally, I came to understand that people would much rather listen to longer digital media works than necessarily sit and watch them. Along with these two considerations was the growing body of research that confirmed to me that in fact, the podcast is in the midst of an exceptional boom in an economy where in contrast many industries are suffering from job loss due to issues like automation.I decided to describe my podcasts as extemporaneous personal essays because I realized that’s what I was really doing in a most accurate sense of those terms.

To call them “monologues,” I feared would suggest they wera fictional and theatrical in nature. To describe them as audio diary or personal journal podcasts, I deduced, was too ambiguous and failed to highlight my “essayistic” approach to discussing topics. My essays are “extemporaneous” because I find the act of extemporaneous speaking to be both novel, more intimate, revealing, honest and deep than revised writing, and because that which is extemporaneous is not quite so spontaneous that, like raw stream of consciousness, it tends to come without any planning, or as the Beat poets put it, pure “first thought, best thought. ” Though young, and still in the early marketing and fundraising phase, “Public Comment” is increasing its reach, resonating with an audience and stimulating thoughtful conversations on social media about the human experience just as intended.

Start listening to INTRODUCTION: On Mediums of Self Expression
35:54
Start listening to INTRODUCTION: On Mediums of Self Expression
35:54