Monday, March 28, 2011


My life right now is filled with two things: journalism and climbing.

I'm just interested in examining how I settled on these two pursuits. A friend recently pointed out to me the oddity of choosing journalism for my career -- for someone who is so dependent on receiving praise or at least affirmation and encouragement in what I do, I sure picked a hell of a job.

Journalism -- writing in general, for that matter -- is something where you can never reach perfection. It's so varied, and so subjective; your style and goals change whenever you change editors or audiences. Don't break up your sentence structure in APNewsNows. Write with confidence for weekenders. Don't use "says" in the writethru, but do in the newsnow. And on and on.

And with companies like the AP or Reuters, you may have half a dozen editors reading and rewriting your work. By the end, it might not even be recognizable as your story. And you have to be OK with that.

How'd I wind up here? How did I, seeking to be right as often as I can, end up in a job where there is no one right answer, no one right way of doing things? I have set myself up for a life of constant anxiety and endless, undefinable pursuit of something "better."

Perhaps I'm a masochist.

The other main pastime, then, is almost an about-face. Climbing is full of clear-cut victories, and the climbing community is, I would venture to say, one of the most encouraging groups of people you could imagine. Here I have found an activity where I am congratulated -- and can congratulate myself -- for simply reaching one rock higher on the wall. I enjoy it for what I accomplish; it is a solo effort, but not a solitary sport. For once in my life, I am (almost) able to stop comparing myself to the people around me and recognize that I can be happy with where I am.

It's also an activity that shows progress -- something else that's hard to track in journalism. With my job, I can see over a wide span of time that things have changed; at the end of my Reuters internship, I knew why the stock market fluctuated and what the consumer price index was and that the currency devaluation in China affected Chile because China was the world's No. 1 importer of Chile's No. 1 export copper. Whew.

And now, during the Legislature, two and a half months in I can identify legislators by face, if not by voice; I know a bit about what can be targeted in budget cuts and what's off the table; I know the day-to-day procedure of the session.

But there's not a lot of measurable progress in the actual writing. I still make the same mistakes I was making in my first week. I still obsess over understanding a topic before calling a legislator because I don't want to ask stupid questions. My stories are changed less substantially than they used to be, but editors still call with questions and alterations.

Climbing shows progress rapidly, almost immediately. You see the fruits of your labor: you climb more often, push yourself harder, focus on technique, and you improve. I like being reassured that I'm getting better; effort without reward is often deemed pointless.

Anyway. I have no conclusion yet. Just self-analyzing in the most public medium there is. Like y'do.

Love always,

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

well, I like my sunshine-and-rainbows approach

For all my complaining and lack of confidence, I really do love my job.

It's something I need to remember frequently and loudly, because journalists as a rule seem bound and determined to be cynical. I love Overheard in the Newsroom, but it gets a bit repetitive and grating if I read too much at once.

This is a job where you see a lot of stupidity; not denying that. And seasoned reporters don't hold anything sacred -- any tragedy is just timely fodder for comedy. You cover corruption and inefficiency and selfishness so often that it's sometimes hard to find a good story to hold onto. That's one of the reasons I so enjoyed covering the miners saga this past summer in Chile -- not only was it a thrilling, around-the-clock breaking news story, but it was a good story, coming at a time when Chile and the world needed a good story. Thirty-three men presumed to have died awful, despairing deaths half a mile underground survived -- that's fun to write about.

But it's not just those epic adventures that make me love my job. I love it because I'm always learning, and learning the most random things. I'm working on an update for my cougar-hunting-with-hounds story, so yesterday, a representative gave me some articles from WSU to read. I learned that there are a few scientists out there who believe killing off the old male cougars in a population makes the younger hooligans act out more, thus increasing the danger to humans and livestock. These scientists talk about cougars -- and elephants, and condors -- as if they were people, with a complex social dynamic in which the mature animals teach the younger ones what's appropriate. Random, but fascinating.

I'm still lacking the institutional knowledge I really want, but I'm trying to accept that that only comes with time. For now, I'm taking it in as fast as they give it to me -- transportation budget proposals, liquor privatization possibilities, which-lawmaker-is-under-which-state-agency's-thumb -- everything.

I'd still very much like to do environmental reporting. That's what piques my interest most these days, and it would let me learn more science. ("Science" sounds so vague, and immediately gives away my humanities-major tendencies...oh well.) More learning, every day learning, meeting new smart people who are less bound up in politics than my current sources are.

It's nice to be reminded sometimes that I have a cool job. One of my friends from the UW, who is going to change the world and is currently working on a triple major or something equally absurd, gets all excited whenever I talk to him about what I'm doing or post a new story on Facebook. It's encouraging, especially in a time when most people consider journalists to be gossip-mongers and exploitative and loose with their reporting integrity.

Today I'm reminding myself that I'm good at what I do. (Well, not right at this moment, since I'm blogging instead of researching cougar hunting.) The Senate transportation budget came out today; I started writing at about 2, and with numerous Facebook breaks, had an 800-word story by 3:30. A budget story, too -- lots of numbers to check and compare to the House's proposal; lots of information that needed to be boiled down into some readable format. The only edit it received was the addition of a graf comparing it to the governor's budget proposal.

So I'm good at this. And I like what I do, on the whole. And I only have a month left of employment, so I'd better enjoy it while it lasts.

Love always,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

blinded to the positive

In the past few years, I've often resolved to "learn to accept compliments." But I still struggle, and I know most people - especially women, I find - have a hard time, as well.

For instance - I have pretty eyes. I think so myself; I deliberately wear green so they look brighter, and I choose Facebook profile pictures that feature them particularly well. Most of the random compliments I get from people focus on my eyes. Just look:

Yet I'm sitting here writing this and just cringing at the absolute self-puffery that my words reflect. I want to erase what I've just written, because for me, pointing out something that I like about myself is vain, arrogant, self-centered and stupid.

On some level, I believe and enjoy the good things people tell me. Like I'm a good writer (I see that one and want to yell "LIAR!" a la Valerie in the Princess Bride, because what I am is lucky) and a good friend (though all I do is whine to the people around me) and my hair curls in natural ringlets when I get out of the shower (but is usually too frizzy to appreciate that fact) and I'm good at Spanish (though I'll never sound like a native) and my friends like me (but I'm still not the "Oh, where's so-and-so??" must-have kind of person at parties).

Why do I do that? Why is there a compulsive need to refute positive comments? I know I'm not the only one who does that, either. I have a friend - one of the loveliest people I know, the one with whom I laugh harder than anyone - who once told me that yes, she knew that everyone had insecurities like hers, but hers were actually true, and everyone else just couldn't see the reality of their awesomeness.

Almost everyone I know - I can compliment them, and the response will be some reason that my compliment is invalid.

We do this; there's almost a cultural expectation that we'll receive a self-deprecating response, and yet I don't enjoy hearing my friends knock themselves down. I want to convince them of the truth that I see - that they are beautiful, and funny, and total ballers. So I can only assume that they want me to accept the same truths about myself.

So again: I'm a good writer, and a good friend, and my hair curls in natural ringlets, and I'm good at Spanish, and my friends like me.

And I have beautiful eyes.

(I might not even delete this post for a whole 24 hours!)

Love always,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

come on, bartender, just a little more tender

It has been brought to my attention that I have a tendency to be rather hard on myself.

The person who most acutely pointed it out actually called what I do "flogging," which of course made me giggle, because of the band, you know. Flogging Molly. Hah. Yes. Moving on.

I'm going to try to be a little nicer to myself. Starting here. I'm awesome! Look at that, fakin' it til you make it, in action. Awesomeawesomeawesome!

So, yes. Cutting myself some slack, allowing for mistakes, for humanity...all very good goals.

We shall see how this project goes.

Love always,

Saturday, March 5, 2011

let me be done

It's been a rough week.

Excluding the emotional stress of outside events, work has me at a breaking point right now. It's not the job itself; I still love writing, still get excited when my byline appears; still get a kick out of meeting the legislators and striking up a rapport with them. My 60-hour week has at least ensured that I feel more comfortable in this setting, and lets me address (most) representatives with ease.

But it's been an awful few days. I don't do well when I'm sleep-deprived; I do even worse when I'm praise-deprived. I don't know where this comes from -- maybe having such wonderful, encouraging parents has set an impossible standard for the rest of the world and I require that affirmation everywhere I go -- but if I'm not being told that I'm good enough, then I'm not good enough.

This job is so much what I've been hoping for -- an in with the AP, the company I most want to work for, the broadest-reaching and arguably most recognized news organization in the world. My first job out of college -- that has to count for something, right?

And yet I sit here and know that I'm inadequate. It's such a contradictory feeling; I'm frustrated and angry with my parents and friends when they don't believe me when I tell them that I'm not good at this. They don't understand -- my mom cites all my bylines as evidence that I'm doing well, and doesn't listen when I tell her that those stories are shit, that they're easy, they're all spot news, they're not what I'm supposed to be doing. No one listens when I tell them that I got here because I'm lucky, because people like me and opened doors for me that I didn't deserve to walk through, because I've happened to be in the right place at the right time and had things fall into my lap.

I'm frustrated when non-work people don't believe me when I tell them that...and yet I would crumble if someone at my actual work agreed with me. From them, I need affirmation. I'm telling myself that I'm not good enough but I want them to tell me the opposite. I want to be told that it's ok, that I'm new, that I'm still learning, that I'm doing a good job.

But that's the problem. I'm right, and my parents/friends/encouragers are wrong, and I'm not doing a good job. I don't have the killer instinct; I don't understand the subtleties underneath their decisions; I don't see the deeper motives or understand the background story. I'm cut out for surface and surface only, which is what I've been doing all week...and even then, I screw things up.

I hate that all I do on this blog is whine; I would call and whine to individual people, instead, but I don't think I could keep my voice steady.

I'm exhausted by long nights and uncomfortable chairs and staring at a computer screen and one meal a day and no glimpse of daylight and the feeling that I'm letting everyone down. I was here from 9 a.m. to after midnight yesterday, stressed myself out of sleep for a couple hours then came in again at 10 today. And now we'll be here until at least 11 tonight.

The worst part is that there's nothing to look forward to. After we hit cut-off on Monday night, I have to get back to my real story -- my "Where Things Stand" story that looks at the status of the big issues at this halfway point in the session. Again, I'm good for surface only -- I know which bills are alive or dead, but fail miserably at understanding the current state of budget agreements, workers' comp, and Capitol dynamics.

I want a break; I want friends; I want to rewind about 6 months and go back to life as a student when everything was simple. I'm just not good enough to do this in the real world. I'm not tough and independent and fearless. I don't know what I am.

Love always,