Reflections on 22

Danny horizontal headshot

If you had asked me a year ago where I would be on my next birthday, never in a million years would I have guessed that I would be here.

In August 2014, I was preparing to launch myself headfirst into a radio career. After a life-changing internship working on a syndicated morning show, I was head over heels in love with broadcasting. I walked away from that experience with countless mentors and a passion to do whatever necessary to get myself back into radio professionally.

However, as we all know, even the best-laid plans often go awry.

I spent my final semester of college cutting demo after demo, sending out countless resumes and name-dropping at every possible chance. After telling myself that I would only work for a large-market station, I conceded that, despite my experience with a top-rated show in a major market, I would need to start small.

Desperate to have a job by the time I graduated no matter the cost, I started applying for on-air jobs in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Boise, Idaho. In hindsight, it was borderline delusional to think that small town USA could handle Danny Clemens. Nonetheless, I continued applying full speed ahead, desperate to take radio by storm.

Unsurprisingly, my December graduation came and went without any job offers. The holiday season was bittersweet — I was proud to have (finally) earned my college degree, but struggled to find meaning in a world where my grades no longer mattered and I felt I had no professional prospects. To make matters worse, a relationship with a close friend imploded suddenly, leaving me wondering how to continue without somebody around whom I had spent years building my life.

As I found out, however, there is something remarkably liberating about your life seemingly collapsing around you. Halfway through January, I finally came to the realization that, with my radio career in the toilet and my personal relationships in flux, I had a rare opportunity to reinvent myself.

I had expended so much energy crafting a specific future for myself and building certain people into that future that I had lost my ability to be flexible. With that manufactured destiny seemingly out of reach, I was no longer constrained by the boundaries that other had imposed on me — or, perhaps more frighteningly, the boundaries that I had placed on myself.

Absolved of the confines of my former dreams, I decided to recognize the beauty in not knowing what was to come.

Of course, not everything was left up in the air — I was fresh off of sinking $40,000 into a college degree. I still had a particular set of skills that I wanted to utilize, but I opened myself up to applying those skills differently than I had envisioned.

Suffice to say, things fell into place pretty quickly after that.

Funny how things work out…I got my college diploma and my first big boy job offer on the same day! 🏆🎓💰 #UMBCGrad

A photo posted by Danny Clemens (@danny.clemens) on

By the end of February, I had landed a job that I wouldn’t have even considered applying for a few months earlier. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was walking into, but I needed to work and was excited to face something new head-on. My gamble paid off: I’ve been lucky to be stretched and challenged in ways that have helped me grow immeasurably as both a writer and a person. I’ve met fantastic people along the way and, through it all, have always felt that I landed exactly where I needed to be.

Did my dreams come true? Not by a long shot — but in many ways, I’m now doing exactly what I wanted to do on radio: telling stories, engaging an audience and injecting my own flair of signature Danny humor. The only difference? People are reading my words on a screen instead of listening to my voice over the air.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past 22 years, it’s that life is unpredictable. Despite your best efforts, things fall apart or never come together in the first place. To be successful, however, is to roll with the punches, play the hand you’re given and create your own happiness. In other words — make it work.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Here’s to 24*!

*Please note: 24 has always been my lucky number — I’m going to skip 23 and be 24 for the next two or three years to (hopefully) extend my wave of good fortune.

I Have Always Been Embarrassing, Part 1

Editor’s note: this is the first post in a series of embarrassing throwbacks. Click here to check out Part 2.

middle school dannyIt is a little-known fact that I have actually been blogging on and off for a decade. I first burst onto the blogging scene in 2004 at the height of the Xanga craze; I would come home from middle school every day, log into AIM and turn to Xanga to rant about the asinine and meaningless things that were tearing my middle school life apart. I am proud to say that my blog was relatively popular amongst my circle of friends; because we had nothing better to do, we would all reach each other’s Xanga pages every night and have fights in the comment sections that would spill into real life the next morning at school.

Before I had any sense of journalistic ethics or had any concept of the fact that my people beyond my circle of friends could possibly read my blog, I published a lot of heinous things that I am now painfully embarrassed by/excited to rehash in 2014. Although neither my Xanga nor my subsequent blog are still available on the internet, bits and pieces will survive into perpetuity thanks to archive.org. For the next few weeks, I will be revisiting my middle and high school blog posts and sharing with the world what a hot mess I really was.

2004-header

The first iteration of my blog in August 2004 was titled “Almost Perfect”. I was clearly an incomplete person back then: I now know that I am actually perfect. On the day after my 12th birthday, I took a quiz that described me as a prep, stating that “you like to look good and have fun! There’s nothing wrong with that!”.

And so it begins…

Continue reading “I Have Always Been Embarrassing, Part 1”

Overcoming Addiction

They say that every cigarette smoked takes ten minutes off of one’s life. If this holds true, then my battle with addiction has robbed me of approximately 45 seconds of my life. For over 20 hours in May 2011, I struggled to conquer my addiction to tobacco and regain control of my life. Although it was a long and arduous fight, I naturally came out on top and now have another thing about which to brag.

It all started during my Long And Glamorous Career in the Entertainment Industry (see Chapter 8 for more details) where everybody and their mother smokes because nobody seems to have put together that cigarette smoke plus vocal cords equals bad news. I had always felt a certain allure towards the idea of smoking even though I knew it was terrible for one’s health. The media has done a fantastic job glamorizing smoking to the point where even I, an educated, upper middle class consumer and a product of one of the best public school systems in the country, had a strong urge to try it out.

One night I met with an old friend from high school who was a social smoker. We were sitting on the edge of the pier at Lake Kittamaqundi reminiscing about days bygone when she pulled something out of her purse and asked me if I wanted to smoke it with her.

“Is that weed?!” I asked, disgusted.

“No,” she replied, “it’s a Black & Mild. They’re so good.”

Spontaneously and without any peer pressure, I agreed to experiment with this strange new thing to which she began to introduce me. To me, marijuana and crack cocaine are tacky as hell but somehow in my mind I rationalized taking a few puffs off of the cigarillo because I was bored and rebellious, quite a dangerous combination.

She pulled out her lighter, lit up, took a few puffs and deposited the cigarillo into my hand. Unsure what exactly to do with it, I put it to my lips, inhaled grandiosely and was thrown into a subsequent coughing fit. She explained to me that smoking was less “gasping for life” and more “casual inhalation”. Heeding her advice, I tried again and this time was able to take a puff without experiencing pulmonary arrest. Over the next fifteen minutes, I went through the motions of “smoking” several more times until they began to feel less unnatural.

As much as I wanted to pretend that smoking that nasty piece of shit made me feel cool and grown up, it just tasted like burnt meat and a vanilla Tootsie Roll (I love candy but even I absolutely hate vanilla Tootsie Rolls). Nevertheless, doing something grown up and rebellious automatically made me cool so I decided that I should do it again some day. Also, I secretly hoped that smoking that single cigarillo would make me lose 25 pounds like everybody else did when they take up smoking.

Afterwards, I doused myself in approximately fourteen spritzes of air freshener and cologne because I was too scared of walking into my house reeking of tobacco. Not that my parents would have been mad (or probably even noticed) but I feel like I would have disappointed them by doing something so stupid and reckless. Unsurprisingly, I tend to get very worked up in my head over situations that are a) hypothetical and b) unlikely to actually happen so I worried myself into a tizzy about my parents flipping out that I had smoked (another sign that I probably should not have done it). Needless to say, they did not even notice.

My second Black and Mild episode occurred at the the next day with Cara Marie Antico. We met for lunch that afternoon and I excitedly divulged the details of my initial foray into tobacco only for her to excitedly exclaim that she, too, is a gran aficionado of Black & Milds. Ecstatic, we rushed to Royal Farms and purchased a lighter and two more cigarillos. I was not even carded by the cashier which, frankly, ruins the entire idea of being a badass grownup rebel. But, I digress.

We hurried to the park and found a cozy bench next to the lake and immediately lit up – or, attempted to. It only took me about ten minutes to light the cigarillo once I finally figured out that lighters do not work very well when it is windy. In the midst of our conversation, I remembered reading that morning (I did my research!) that one of the main reasons that people smoke is to achieve the “high” affected by tobacco that consists mainly of lightheadedness and also a sense of calmness and detachment.

I tried and tried so hard to feel relaxed and lightheaded. Still feeling nothing more than my regular lucidity and thirst (and becoming annoyed that I was feeling nothing), I lied and remarked how great and relaxed I felt. Cara Marie agreed.

Over our ensuing casual conversation and my exaggerated lies, she noticed that I was not swallowing the smoke but instead just exhaling it. Subsequently she then taught me how to actually smoke and swallow. I could not quite figure out how to swallow the smoke and without choking so I decided to cut my losses and pretend. After I began to do pretend real smoking, I had to lie even harder about how great I felt and became more annoyed that I was not feeling so fantastically, orgasmically superb.

Nonetheless, with each jogger or elderly couple or park ranger that passed that bench and saw me smoking I felt about ten times cooler and more grown up even if I was fake smoking, lying about it and then laughing really loudly to look cool. For somebody who is image obsessed, this was the ultimate high (even if it was not at all affected by tobacco and completely contrary to societal values of 2011). In that moment, basking in the summer sun and feeling my lingering second degree sunburn intensify, I officially decided to be a smoker.

Later that night after my show, I was conversing with one of my favorite actresses whom I respected and looked up to when I decided to casually bring up my new affinity for tobacco. I shared a heavily embellished version of my glamorous and exciting day spent smoking half of a cigarillo. Her response was emphatic: “That shit is gross and disgusting and you should not be doing it.” Because it is rare for everybody to not agree with me 100%, I was caught off guard and forced to take pause for a moment.

Shocked, I decided to take her words to heart and do some serious soul searching as to why I really wanted to smoke. I then remembered that smoking makes you age prematurely and smell bad and that smokers cannot breathe well and therefore cannot do P90X. Suddenly, I envisioned myself as a fat, stinky old toothless slob waddling around sucking on cigarillos and wearing a white beater and gym shorts (photo credit to twelve years of health education from the Howard County Public School System).

And just like that, I decided to better myself and overcome my addiction.

Would I take it back if given the opportunity? Absolutely not. My struggle with addiction taught me valuable lessons about beauty and self-preservation that I otherwise would not have learned. Additionally, I have been able to share my story and inspire other smokers to kick their destructive habits (I think). People love to hear about things that I have done that make me better than them; I have learned how to effectively use my life experiences as a motivational tool. Because I, after all, am a giver.

State of the Danny

A lot has changed since my last post.

In the fall, I began taking classes at my new university. I’m still not enamored with my present situation but I feel that my dissatisfaction may be related more to the college experience than to a particular institution. Regardless, I am trying to take life a day at a time and get the most out of my education. Although I transferred in the fall as a Spanish and French double-major and a technical theatre minor, I dropped my theatre minor almost immediately and eventually dropped the French double major by the end of the semester and replaced it with a Political Science minor. Now that the spring semester has commenced, I am feeling some languor towards my language studies. At this point, I am just attempting to stay on my feet and find something that lights me up.

Around the same time, I also fulfilled my obligations at my old arts administration job and declined to renew my contract. I had a wonderful time with my company but ultimately decided that it was time for me to move on. Soon thereafter, I began what has turned out to be a fun and exciting career in fashion retail (of all places). Everybody likes to complain about retail/customer service positions but I have found myself fitting in very nicely and I have derived a great deal of personal satisfaction from my position. My job has also led me to the conclusion that I genuinely do enjoy meeting and interacting with people; it is perhaps one of my favorite aspects of my current position. One of my customers told me recently that I was the “stunningly pretty…er, handsome” and that has sent me on an unnecessary ego trip. Do I want to be selling clothes for the rest of my life? No. But I certainly am having a great time doing it for now. I haven’t anathematized theatre entirely, either; I am still doing occasional freelance work and have discovered that I prefer doing theatre as a hobby to doing it as a vocation.

My personal life continues to be, as always, relatively low-key. I am keeping my inner circle tight but we are having a blast.

Do I have all of the answers right now? Absolutely not. It was tough going from a sense of rigid self-assuredness to a state of  transitional soul-searching but I am hanging in there and being the best that I can be.

I leave you with this gem because, although I was not ready for the picture to be taken, I feel very attractive:

The Face of UMBC

I have applied to transfer to UMBC from community college to finish my degree in Modern Linguistics for the fall semester. While I was on campus on Tuesday dropping off paperwork at the admissions office, I was approached by the director of institutional advancement asking me if I was interested in participating in a publicity photo shoot. Naturally, I obliged (regardless of the fact that I haven’t actually yet been accepted). All photos below are property of the UMBC Office of Institutional Advancement.


As I have been excitedly telling everybody who will listen, I am now the face of UMBC. Additionally, they have no choice but to accept me at this point.