Category: Other authors’ writing

“these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights”

I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.”

Maya Angelou died this week.

This woman whose words make me want to love my too-big body and dance with men I can’t stop calling beautiful. This woman with a voice like rocking chairs telling me to always say yes when someone asks for help. This woman who wanted nothing more than for little girls to never be afraid to dance.

I remember reading “Still I Rise” for the first time.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

I remember feeling like I was on the precipice of some sort of great feminist breakthrough within my own skin. That it’s okay if my thighs touch and it’s okay if I feel beautiful and it’s okay if it scares the men who scare me. That I was beautiful and should laugh in the face of anyone who told me otherwise.

When I saw her speak in 2012 at the Missouri Theatre, I cried twice while sitting in the audience. She was warm like honey and didn’t back down from tough memories and made me beam so much I thought my heart was going to explode. It was as if she was speaking directly to me. As if we were on chairs across from each other, talking about becoming rainbows in each other’s clouds.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I’ve never read a word written by her that hasn’t moved me, that hasn’t made me want to reach into the pages and hold her hand. She has fought for equality with an intensity and grace rarely seen before, and I cannot even put into words the amount she inspires me.

She is a larger-than-life voice and body and spirit and heart. She exists without apology or qualification — simply as a poet with something to say.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get down exactly why she makes me feel the way I do, but I will continue to write and write and write in hopes of discovering.

I am going to miss her as if she were a close friend, this magnificent regal wildfire of a woman.

I guess that’s what happens when you lose a rainbow in your cloud.

maya

The Importance of Being Honest (or: “Why it’s Okay to Like People”)

There is no shame in being hungry for another person. There is no shame in wanting very much to share your life with somebody. — Augusten Burroughs

When did we decide it was so cool to hate everything?

My favorite thing about working with kids is they are completely unashamed to be themselves. They like what they like and they don’t like what they don’t like. They are their own people — small and goofy and wearing their shoes on the wrong feet and owning every little quirk.

Somewhere along the line, people got really, really afraid of being embarrassed. We would rather (as I put it to my friend Casey) “burst into flames” then be turned down or turned away.

We tone down our nerdiness around strangers, afraid they might alienate us for liking Firefly or Shakespeare. We hold back dance moves in the grocery store (sometimes). We don’t tell people we like that we have crushes on them. Or we do from far, far way (i.e. the Internet). We are so scared of letting our freak flags fly. Mainstream society wants us to be different, but not that kind of different oh god what are you doing what are you wearing go right back inside and change why are you dancing to ABBA we are in an airport right now. Not that I know anything about that.

Wait. Read that back to yourself. I just did exactly what I said I shouldn’t do in a blog post about why I shouldn’t do it. Why? Was I trying to be ironic? Was I nervous some boy will read that and think I’m weird and not ask me out to a coffee-bowling-hiking date (hint)? Maybe. Maybe I’m scared of being rejected for being a super big weirdo. It’s a tough issue though: We’re all super big weirdos, ans we’re all (deep down) afraid of being rejected.

It’s more than just rejection, though. The sting of rejection will (slowly) fade out, and we will grow from our experiences. Our fears run much deeper than embarrassment.

We are terrified of being vulnerable.
And it’s ruining us.

Think, just for a moment, how your life would be different it there weren’t lasting social implications connected to everything. If it was okay to tell someone, “Hey. I think you’re hilarious and caring and also pretty cute. If you wanted to get dinner or coffee or hold hands, I wouldn’t say no,” and not worry about forever ruining a friendship (or a comfortable silence).

Imagine if it was okay to say “I just don’t want to hang around you a lot anymore. You don’t make me feel good, and I think I deserve to feel good” if you wanted to move on from a toxic friendship or relationship.

Imagine if you weren’t trapped in an ever-thickening web of social norms and engagements and responsibilities. Imagine if you actually had control over your own life path.

The secret is: you do.
You just can’t be scared of it.

I am not trying to present this from a holier-than-thou pedestal of wisdom. I routinely choose to admire humans from afar, to squelch my emotions, to seem less than I am. But for what reason? Why should I dim down myself because of some preconceived social norm?

So this is my first step: a publicly announced foray into honesty. Whether it means speaking up or sitting back, I want to be my most genuine self. I want to feel full and grounded, not superficially balancing on a wire of facades.

A while back, I read a great piece by Rachel Lewis on Thought Catalog called “Tell the People You Love that You Love Them.” It has one of those bits you love and connect with so much, you kick yourself for not finding the words for it first.

But there is nothing more beautiful than being desperate.

And there is nothing more risky than pretending not to care.

Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Balancing the risk of getting hurt with the risk of everything working out. I think what we don’t realize is that the risk of happiness far, far outweighs the risk of embarrassment.

It’s okay to have a silly crush on someone. Sometimes I can’t stop smiling or saying dorky things, or maybe my body just wants to be a little closer. The mind games we play with ourselves is getting ridiculous. There is no commandment, carved in stone, that says “Thou Shalt Not Double Text.” Or “He Must Text You First Or Else You Just Look Desperate.” Or “Wait Three Days To Schedule The Second Date.” If you are happy, run with it.

All of this is not to say that Facebook messaging someone first will always go well. You could get a “haha cool.” You could be hugely underwhelmed by her banter. You could get no response at all. Things don’t have to happen like they do in quirky romantic comedies with a strong female lead (thank you for that category, Netflix).

They also don’t have to go horribly wrong. I have to remind myself daily that liking someone’s status on Facebook does not need to have any bigger, deeper meaning. That it’s okay to not be a pore-less magazine lookalike. That having it all figured out is vastly overrated.

So let us be wild and free from embarrassment. Let us learn how to respect our bodies, love our curves and edges. Let us stay up talking to someone because they make our minds light up. Let us be with people who, as Maya Angelou said, lift us higher. Let us be unabashedly nerdy around each other.

Let’s learn to like stuff again.

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Data and Graphics and Maps, Oh My!

(Firstly, can I take this parenthetical space to thank every single human who read my post and/or left a comment and/or followed my blog. Your support is flooring, and I am humbled beyond words.)

“We are so different.”

This is what one of my best friends and roommates (bffmates? room friends?) said to me two weeks ago while we sat in our 9:30 a.m. reporting lecture.

We aren’t that different, in reality. We have been roommates for two years, going on three. We share mutual love for Shakespearean humor, iced coffee and Tom Hiddleston’s face. We have been known to take synchronized doze-off-during-SVU naps. 

We don’t, however, share a love for data journalism.

On this fine Tuesday morning, neither of us had more than 90 minutes of sleep after pulling all-nighters to finish a semester project. We trudged into lecture, half-delirious and all sorts of exhausted. I was clinging to my coffee. Hannah was trying to keep her eyes open. Elise was worried for the both of us.

Mark Horvit, Investigative Reporters and Editors executive director and J-School professor, was guest lecturing. I had seen Horvit lecture a couple times before in lower-level journalism classes. He was funny and engaging, and, coincidentally, married to another one of my favorite journalism professors. Fingers crossed I wouldn’t pass out in the third row (from exhaustion, not from being starstruck).

He was speaking to us about investigative reporting and the art of finding “stuff.” One of his examples was using the advanced search tools within Google. Fun fact: you can search .gov domains for Excel documents. Why does that matter? Because instead of giving you 16.2 million results which are ranked by algorithms and advertising capabilities, Google will give you spreadsheets of government data about oil spills in a specific area.

And that’s just plain awesome.

I let out a whispered, but audible, “whoa” when Horvit pulled up the aforementioned public data. It was at this point when Hannah turned to me and said “We are so different.”

This is not supposed to make her look bad. Hannah is a phenomenal reporter, whose desire to learn and share people’s stories is truly awesome.

She just doesn’t get as excited over data as I do.

Call me nerdy (I’ll take the compliment), but that kind of stuff makes me really happy. I love explanatory graphics, maps and interactive interfaces. I especially love maps with data happening in real-time. There’s something about seeing the creative, visual presentation of important pieces of journalism that really makes me happy to be working in such a dynamic, flexible, ever-growing field.

If you follow my Twitter or have ever spoken with my about my career ambitions, you know I love The Atlantic. My dad has been subscribed to the publication for as many years as I can remember, but I never read it growing up. I think I discounted it, thinking it was gross, boring business journalism, or maybe simply writing that would go over my head (I have recently come to the realization that business journalism doesn’t have to be gross and boring). My love for the magazine bloomed over the last few years as I grew into my journalism shoes. Three articles in particular showcase The Atlantic’s attention to graphics and modern visuals:

  1. The Case Against Cars in 1 Utterly Entrancing GIFThe cdek for this piece is “Dense travel in a dense world makes sense,” which instantly draws you in. While The Atlantic didn’t create the .gif used in this piece, senior editor Derek Thompson contextualizes it, offering statistics and supplemental reading. He also refers to the .gif as “data viz,” which is up there with “charticle” in my list of favorite nerdy journalism words. 
  2. A Real-Time Map of Births and Deaths. When I first saw this online, my jaw dropped and I instantly shared it on Twitter and Facebook. A REAL-TIME MAP OF BIRTHS AND DEATHS? IS THIS REAL? HOLY BUCKETS. Health editor James Hamblin does an excellent job of putting together resources and other links. Check this out, y’all. It’s amazing.
  3. How Three Decades of News Coverage Has Shaped Our View of The World. This piece has a lot of information and three of the most visually-stimulating graphics I’ve seen in recent memory. This is another great example of The Atlantic finding graphics (this time from Oxford and Guardian) to illustrate an otherwise data-heavy article. Sometimes we need a tasteful aggregation of information, and that’s okay.
Screenshots of real-time maps are slightly less exciting...
Screenshots of real-time maps are slightly less exciting…
Thank you, Guardian, for this awesome, awesome, awesome map.
Thank you, Guardian, for this awesome, awesome, awesome map.

The purpose of this blog post is not just to gush about one of my favorite publications, but to point out that I did actually absorb something during beat meetings. My editor Katherine has been working on getting our beat to not rely on words. This seems silly: to tell a room full of writers to use more pictures. We reporters are selfish, and would really rather not relinquish our precious, perfectly-AP-styled words to the graphics desk. But we need to. Not for any more complicated reason than this: sometimes images do what words cannot.

And that’s fine.

The point of journalism is to educate, inform and serve the public for the greater good. If trying to describe proportions or worldwide trends in words doesn’t serve the greater good, that doesn’t make it very good, does it?

A Blog Post I Will Probably Regret

I’m tired, y’all.

Tired of not fully understanding my French reading. Tired of not having proper time to go the the Rec. Tired of my phone being broken.

Above all, dear reader, I am tired of being a Millennial.

Not because I’m ashamed of my Millennial brothers and sisters. Not because I wish I was born in another era (that’s a whole other story). But because I’m tired of being bashed in popular media.

I read another article the other day which sarcastically mocked 20-somethings. And it just might have been the straw that broke the 20-something’s back.

Hi, I’m an entitled and broke 20-something and today I’m here to share with you some tips and tricks to grocery shopping on a budget that I’ve picked up over the past year and a half. You see, I graduated college a year and a half ago and, without meal plans or home cooked meals from my parents, I ventured out into the Grown-Up Grocery Shopping realm… and failed over and over again. There’s only so many times you can subsist on Cheese-Its and Hot Pockets or clean rotting food from your fridge before you learn how to do this shit right.

Stop. Stop stop stop stop. Stop classifying an entire force of young people because you know a handful who live on Cheerios and Red Bull. Not every recent college graduate is only looking to get drunk on Thursdays and learn the easiest way to make it through Friday with a hangover until he or she goes out drinking that night.

Thanks, Time.
Thanks, Time.

I understand that there are a lot of those situations. I understand that the financial situations presented in GIRLS are not too far from fiction. I had less than $10 in my bank account for nearly the entire month of October. I currently have $5.95. I understand that reality.

I also know that it’s wildly unfair to generalize a demographic like 20-somethings. We are every race, every spot on the sexuality spectrum, every religious creed, every IQ, every career ambition. We are joining the Peace Corps and the Army. We are oil painters and janitors and accountants and unemployed and writers. We are parents and we are children. We are moving back to our hometowns and we are moving to South Africa.

The only thing truly tying us all together is that we were born in the early 90s.

So why would you think that a sweeping statement about our “laziness” or “entitlement” or “stupidity” would be anything close to accurate?

It’s hard to be a 20-something. You are told to check your attachment to your precious laptop in the same breath that you are told to respond to emails within the hour. You are told that grades aren’t everything two months before your GPA is .3 too low to apply for a coveted honors society. Spend time outside, but don’t forget to do your homework. You’re a student first, but you need to hold leadership positions in organizations. And work out. And eat well. And work a job. And work an internship. You look exhausted. You should take a day to take care of you.

Most of us are being pulled in 200 different directions at once. There’s school and work and money and mental health and friendships and (god forbid) romantic relationships and THE FUTURE. I’ve had so many amazing conversations with my three best friends about this conundrum. We’re balancing so much, and constantly on the verge of dropping it all.

And we don’t need someone calling us entitled.

I could go on and on about the pressure society puts on its 20-somethings, but that would only fuel the fire. The point of this post is not to whine. That would only prove a point I don’t want proven.

We are not living in the same society that our parents grew up in. This seems obvious, but the implications may run deeper than we give them credit. We live in a country in which you don’t exist until you’re online. A bachelor’s degree is considered the new high school diploma by many employers. Social change spreads at an awe-inspiring rate with viral blog posts and videos.

There are so many 20-somethings who eat frozen dinners or McDonalds every day of the week, who are hungover more often than they’re not and who don’t know how to write a check or address an envelope. I know a few. I’m embarrassed and concerned for their futures.

They also most definitely should not be the face of an entire generation.

What about a co-worker of mine who started the first ever collegiate chapter of Executive Women International? Or my friend Laura who recently left to serve in the Peace Corps? Or friends of mine working full-time to pay their way to medical school?

Why are these writers discounting a huge percentage of 20-somethings because the “they’re lazy” trope is so easy and prevalent? Is it because people will nod their heads and click “share?” Is that how readily accepted this generalization has become?

We live in a world that is both shrinking and expanding every second. People are closer and more accessible than ever. At the same time, our knowledge about how our planet works is constantly growing.

Why wouldn’t I work hard to see it all?

A Few Ignorant Men (And Women)

I almost flipped tables over today. Not because of my French midterm or my low bank accounts. Not even because I haven’t felt truly awake in a really long time.

But because a handful of humans continue to beat against the walls of my “everyone is good” heart.

A blog post by Matt Forney called The Case Against Female Self-Esteem has been circulating widely on my Facebook, and probably on yours too. I encourage you to go read it. Warning: you will be fuming afterwards. I gave myself a stress headache and a racing heart. If you don’t want to infuriate yourself, I’ll give you a play-by-play.

Forney states that women should be insecure, that female confidence is a plague on our nation. He gives a three-part argument:

  1. “Most girls have done nothing to deserve self-esteem.”
  2. “Insecurity is integral to femininity.”
  3. “Women don’t want self-esteem.”

As if the subheads weren’t already infuriating, it only gets worse.

  • “A woman with excessive confidence is like a man with a vagina. It’s an attribute that is at best superfluous and at worst prevents women from fulfilling their natural biological and social functions.”
  • “If girls want to play in our world, they’ll have to obey our rules. Otherwise, they know where the kitchen is.”
  • “Confidence doesn’t give men erections; vulnerability does.”
  • “Sorry, but homie don’t play that game. If I’m not the center of a girl’s world, I’m not going to be in her world period.”
  • “So-called confident women are as threatening as a pile of dog turds. Sure, you can scrape them off your boots when you get home, but it’s better to not step in dog shit to begin with.”
  • “Why do you think the average urban slut machine is downing enough Prozac to poison the water supply?”

The worst thing is the last paragraph.

At the end of the day, there are no Strong, Independent Women™. There are only shrews pleading for a taming. All the posturing, the pill-popping, the whining and demands for “equality”; they’re a cry for help. Girls don’t want the six-figure cubicle job, the shiny Brooklyn 2BR, the master’s degree, the sexual liberation, none of it. They want to becollectively led back to the kitchen, told to make a nice big tuna sandwich with extra mayo and lettuce, then swatted on the ass as we walk out the door.

I say we give them what they want.

 

Okay. The cordial, “don’t-get-too-loud-about-you-feelings” gloves are coming off… ARE YOU KIDDING ME. ARE YOU JOKING. IS THIS REAL.

The idea that there is a person out there who can, in good consciousness, type and publish a piece like this is horrifying to me. An even bigger problem is that it’s not only Forney who holds these views: Commenters are voicing agreement from the void of the Internet. Women, even, are nodding their anonymous heads, telling Forney how attractive they find him, how they want to sleep with him, make him happy.

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I want this to be a sarcastic comment, but I just can’t tell.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 4.40.58 PMIt doesn’t end there either. Forney has posted other inflammatory posts, such as  “Why Fat Girls Don’t Deserve To Be Love.” This posts hits especially close to home, as an overweight woman, and I was nearly naseous when he referred to overweight and obese women as “warpigs,” “cows,” “sluts” and “vermin.” This post includes quotes just as choice as the piece on insecurity:

“Women, regardless of size, crave one thing above all else: attention. Starve the heifers of it. Don’t speak to them if you don’t have to and don’t acknowledge their existence. Treat them like you would treat a child molester or a card-carrying Nazi. This includes your family; if your sisters, cousins or aunts insist on being losers, treat them like losers.”

I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I want to believe that people are good underneath all of our pettiness and wacky behavior. I want to believe there is a golden streak through the heart of every human, that wants to bring good into the world. I want to believe.

And then people like Forney and his followers open their Internet mouths and destroy that hope.

I know the people I surround myself with in my personal life are not the types to ever read a Forney post without screaming at the feminist goddesses, asking why a few ignorant men insist on ruining the reputations of good men everywhere.

For all of the goodness of my family and friends, and their sincere desire for me to succeed, there are people (with Internet connections and blogs) who think I am worth nothing if I am not cowering in a corner, waiting for a man’s approval.

How do we move on from here? How do I move past the fact that there is a group (not an individual, but a group) that thinks it’s okay to call me a vermin? That my career aspirations and educational pursuits are all fluff? That my place is in the kitchen not because I make really delicious oven-roasted veggies or turkey chili, but because that is all my tiny female brain can handle?

One of these days, I won’t get upset by the toxic words of others. I will do what I can to educate and forgive those who have spoken out of hate or naïveté, but I won’t let the negativity of others impact my life. I will live with respect and compassion, and do my best to be light in the lives of others.

Not today. Today, I am angry.

(note: I wish I had a solution to offer you, dear readers. But I am simply fuming and needed to get this post out of my system.)

I Only Get Goosebumps From Everything.

The way it worked was that they joined the Army because they were starry-eyed or heartbroken or maybe just out of work, and then they were assigned to be in the infantry rather than to something with better odds, like finance or public affairs, and then by chance they were assigned to an infantry division that was about to rotate into the war, and then they were randomly assigned to a combat brigade that included two infantry battalions, one of which was going to a bad place and the other of which was going to a worse place, and then they were assigned to the battalion going to the worse place, and then they were assigned to the company in that battalion which went to the worst place of all. If you listen to the eulogies, so much of war is said to be accidental. Poor Harrelson. Wrong place. Poor Cajimat. Wrong time. But for members of Bravo Company, which in 2007 and 2008 spent fourteen months in combat, in a bomb-filled neighborhood in east Baghdad, the war eventually felt like the wrong everything. Twenty-five-year-old Nic DeNinno was in 3rd Platoon. He thought of himself as a patriot who had enlisted in the Army for the noblest of reasons: to contribute and to make some kind of difference. Then he punched his first Iraqi in the face, and pushed his first Iraqi down the stairs. Now he was back in the United States, crying and telling his wife, Sascha, “I feel like a monster.”

Finkel, you brilliant human.
Finkel, you brilliant human.

This is the first paragraph in David Finkel’s “The Return,” a New Yorker piece discussing post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. The paragraph is almost 300 words long. The first line alone is 130 words. It is uncharacteristic and probably not grammatically correct and doesn’t let you stop reading. That’s the beauty of it, though: It doesn’t let you get off the train.

We talked about this lede in my News Reporting lecture on Tuesday. Katherine, my editor and the professor of the class, read the intro, then asked the class what we thought. My hand shot up (surprise).

“It works,” I said. “It takes you on that journey with them. You’re there when they’re starry-eyed and then you’re there when they are in the worst place imaginable. You don’t get to get off the train, just like they didn’t get to get off the train. You’re there with them.”

Of course I have an opinion about it: It gave me goosebumps.

If you know me, you know that I have a lot of feelings. It is not unheard of for me to get choked up at a Stanley Cup Final TV spot or a really restore-your-faith-in-humanity interaction in the airport or someone telling me I’m pretty. It’s in my nature and I’ve stopped trying to fight it.

This piece of writing, though. This intro specifically. It made me shudder all the way down to my toes. Something about using sentence structure to illustrate a delicate, hard-to-face topic is amazing to me.

Let me broaden that statement.
I think what’s truly amazing to me is just how good writing can be.

Every book, article, blog post (hi) or poem you’ve ever read in English is comprised of the same 26 letters. These 26 letters, in all their abstract, intangible glory, can quite literally pack a wallop. I’m sure you’ve had a physical reaction to something you’ve read. Your chest tightens or you laugh out loud or you cry. (If you’ve never cried while reading something, you aren’t reading enough.)

I’m not exactly sure of the point I’m trying to make here. Sometimes (read: all the time), when writing sticks to your soul, you just have to babble about it.

I think this is an ode to prose in mass media. A love letter to like-minded logophiles.

Words connect us across time. They correlate experiences we didn’t think were similar, or differentiate between experiences we thought were comparable. They punch us in the gut. They brighten our day. They make us half-whisper “Wow” in the middle of a bus station or newsroom or coffee shop.

They give us goosebumps.

They don’t let us get off the train.