Michael Duck - Crunchable
What is your favorite memory from your time at Washington College?
The first one that leaps to mind is the experience of my weekly “Elm Night.” The newspaper was published every Friday, and that meant I had to have an actual physical disk (remember those?) ready to be delivered to the printer at dawn every Thursday. So every Wednesday night for the year and a half I was The Elm’s editor in chief, I didn’t sleep – I shepherded the whole darn paper into print, coordinating all the editors’ work with the writing, page layout, and photographs while usually also writing an editorial at the last minute. Around 3 or 4 a.m., I’d sit down with the final version and read every word that was about to be published. The final step was to leave the disk at an agreed-upon drop spot and then shamble into the dining hall for breakfast. (It was the only weekday I was ever awake when breakfast was served.)
Even at the time I knew that schedule was insane, but it fueled my sense of purpose and helped define who I was – and who I still am, in a lot of ways. My only regret was the one semester when I had a fascinating history class with T. Clayton Black – at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday, right after my weekly all-nighter and when I was, shall we say, not at my customary levels of alertness.
Dr. Black, if you’re reading this: I’m sorry!
And, though you asked for a single favorite memory, the two others I simply must mention here are: (1) The time my Queen Anne’s House friends and I threw a nearly spontaneous gathering in formal wear, which we called the “informal formal” and which was nearly broken up by Public Safety, and (2) the time I was with legendary Washington Post journalist Richard Harwood as he committed the act of public urination on campus.
What were some of your favorite events or milestones?
Whenever I get back to campus, I always make a point of stopping by that little garden with the simple fountain beside the Larrabee Art Center. I wrote about that garden’s dedication in my first real story for The Elm, within a few weeks of my arrival on campus as a freshman.
That turned out to be the start of a much longer story. I stuck with the paper and worked my way up to editor in chief by my sophomore year. And now I’ve been a professional journalist for nearly a decade.
What was the first book you read and loved?
I loved a lot of books as a very young reader (Dr. Seuss and the Berenstains were in heavy rotation in my library), but the ones I remember loving best were from a few years later – from around age eight, when I discovered a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure”-style series of books called “Star Challenge.” As the protagonist of each book, you were a young operative for the Network Of Worlds tasked with saving the galaxy, with a little help from your small robot companion. I spun that fictional universe in hundreds of different directions, inventing my own ships and villains and alien races and sidekicks and gear, most of which I built using plastic construction toys or cardboard. It was the most elaborate narrative I have ever created.
The other huge influence was the humor columnist and author Dave Barry. I devoured his weekly syndicated columns in middle school, right up through the day that something funny happened to me in science class and I decided to do what Dave Barry would: I’d write about it and show the story to everyone who’d read it. The response was overwhelming – the first time I could recall doing anything my peers actually enjoyed and respected.
In other words: For my student newspaper years, my whole journalism career, and all my work with Crunchable, I blame Dave Barry.
What is your favorite word?
At the moment, it’s “widdershins” – a word I learned just this month from Annie Woodall ‘01, one of Crunchable’s assistant editors. It means to do something in a backwards, counterclockwise, or otherwise contrary direction.
In fact, we liked the word so much that it’s going to be the theme for a Crunchable issue in the next year. I’m very eager to see what writers will do with it.
What is it like to be the editor of Crunchable?
Heh. That depends on what part of the production cycle we’re in, and whether I’m short or flush with essays to publish.
I volunteered to run this site in 2005 – four years after it got started and three years after my Washington College graduation. It was partly because I knew I needed something like this to keep me writing creatively. It was partly because it was a chance to be an editor, which is all I’ve always wanted to be, and because I knew it would help me stay better in touch with my college friends. I was also terrified that the great writing they’d done on Crunchable since 2001 might otherwise wink out of existence, if nobody were here to look after it.
But Crunchable was also an opportunity to learn how all this Web stuff works from the inside out. That fluency with Web design has turned out to be critical to my career, and today I help run the website of the newspaper where I’ve worked since 2003. In a very real sense, I owe my job to Crunchable.
So, what does all that feel like? Well, it’s maddening and stressful a lot of the time. But it feels tremendously important to be the caretaker for all these words, and it’s great to have my own sandbox on the Web where I can play with such a great community of friends and writers.