Finding your pitch 32

It’s easy to describe certain parts of yourself to another person.

Your spontaneity. Your curiosity. Your degree in economics, or your knowledge of three languages.

What’s harder is describing parts of your nature that are inherent to your being but that are also vastly secret. Your tendency to snap. Your sensitivity.

I’m athletic – I climb, I run, I just started doing yoga and I commit to a number of other activities. I’ll tell people that. I love that about myself.

It’s almost been exactly a year since the waves of depression have swept over my mind’s shore, and that’s significant. Depression is a consuming, sinking experience. And like the fly in your room that buzzes, buzzes, buzzes around on a hot summer day, you know it’s there, but you can’t seem to do anything about it. It swallows you.

I had a psychologist once who told me, when I was depressed, to own my depression. Accept it. “It’s a part of you,” he said, smiling despite my raised eyebrows. “That won’t change.”

It’s a hard thing to hear. But like every part of me – my athleticism, my support of women’s rights, my drive – I listened to him and looked at my depression as just one more of those things. But instead of being swaddled by it, I sewed it into a pair of shoe laces, slapped it into a bag of climbing chalk, smiled it into my friendships.

My gym bag contents. I should buy a real gym bag.

My gym bag contents. I should buy a real gym bag.

Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell just recently became the coolest climbers in the world, and with it, brought climbing front and center in society. They became the first to free climb the daunting “Dawn Wall” on the 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. To non-climbers: this is a big deal.

As I watched this feat, hands sweating and probably freaking out my coworkers, I thought about the achievement. Climbing 32 pitches (32 lengths of rope – imagine a very, very, very tall rock) on the (arguably) hardest route in the world is absolutely astounding.

And it’s that 32nd pitch that I’ve thought about the most. The final step – the equally hardest and most relieving time. Muscles shaking and skin ripped, these men were likely in the wildest mental state at that point. And they kept going. Jorgeson told admirers to “find their own secret Dawn Wall.”

What’s my 32nd pitch? It is doing something active every day? Is it climbing that route I have worked on, or running that extra mile? Or being positive when I don’t want to be? Letting loose when I want to?

I am active because I need to be. As runner Emil Zatopek said, “It’s simply that I have to.”

“The opposite of depression is not happiness,” Andrew Solomon describes in his TED talk about his own experience with depression. “But vitality.”

I’ve learned to own my depression, and I’m happy to say it’s been a year since I haven’t been affected by it. I’m living a vital life. And by the looks of it, there will be many years to come that will be the same. I’ll climb when I’m tired and I’ll run even when nothing feels better than my bed sheets. I’ll eat my Brussels sprouts and I’ll also eat chocolate if I feel like it. Depression might be a part of me, and that’s fine, but it will never consume me as much as my love for the vitality I’ve found in life.

Because I’ll be too busy finding my own pitch 32.

What’s yours?

Climbers hang out around the bouldering wall at Earth Treks in Timonium, Md.

Climbers hang out around the bouldering wall at Earth Treks in Timonium, Md.

New hope 3 miles

I learn the cat looking through the window loves the free, free bird.

But the window makes the buds bright and the light blinding and the window is why the cat loves the bird.

A caged bird is not a sky bird. The bird is the sky.

But the window doesn’t know that.

Why would the window know?

North second

I was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital, today.

I’d been there countless times before, and this time, I felt strangely uncomfortable. Maybe it was my not-warm-enough clothing or the clouds in the sky or the quiet on the streets.

Men gave me stares that held the same intensity as the hard-city glare I gave back to them that I hate giving but give anyway out of a fear I can’t touch.

I was standing on a corner, waiting for the orange light to switch to the white light. Walked across the street. Walked down the sidewalk. Averted the gaze of a shopkeeper.

And then a young man with an urban style made eye contact with me.

“Your outfit looks nice,” he said. Not intimidating. Honest. “You look very pretty.”

I stammer and don’t know why. I say thank you, and I mean it.

I look back at him and notice his University of Florida backpack. Walk across the street. Wait for the white light.

Le vent se lève

“I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won’t take the easy road”

First Aid Kit’s “My Silver Lining” is playing in a coffee shop where I am sitting in my new town, York, in Pennsylvania. I have a conversation with my mother within which I decry the hip culture and all its hypocrisies and lack of a true identity. And then I go to a coffee shop.

I struggle with what I want. I visit friends in Chicago and pine for the gray sharp life under building shadows. I live in Montana and want to become a deer (or at least live among them).

I saw a post recently from a friend who lives in a beautiful, popular city. “I live where you vacation.” She does live in a place like that. I do not.

I follow my gut and move to a place where the river runs strong and the people look at you a little strange when you first walk in but who beg you to stay when you’ve decided to leave. I fall in love with this place. I fall in love with people in this place. Everything I want is in this place.

Except for my professional environment. I begin to wilt under the harsh fluorescent lighting. I leave work and head to the bar that is too tall for my small frame and I realize I have a new old-man cynicism that has come about 30 years too soon. I run across the same bridge every morning and I listen to the fast and penetrating house music so that I pretend that what I’m doing is worth it. I’m here for the community. I’m here for the mountains. I’m here for the friends who are like no other friends I’ve ever had.

I have a new chance and my heart breaks because of it. My heart breaks because of the people who took me to the VFW and to a potluck tucked into an Idaho field and to a secret waterfall by the Kootenai River. My heart breaks because I know that I will leave. My heart breaks because that is the way I am and will be.

I come to a place that reminds me of Missouri, and this sense of familiarity surprises and confuses me. The unassuming red barns dot the brilliant green fields and the yellow meadows. I came here when I was a child. I remember the maple syrup-covered snowballs and the peculiarity of the country life. I come back 10, 15 years later and it feels good. It feels safe. It is another place where people do not vacation. Most people likely do not know where this new place is. And I am happy with that.

I have adopted a phrase from a recent Miyazaki movie, “Le vent se lève.” “The wind rises.” Surely the wind will pick me up again. But for now I must be like one of the red barns and live among the green, green grass and let my reluctant roots touch the soil with more confidence.

I come to this coffee shop to be around people and to create some semblance of connection. I want to wander and leave and tie up my roots around my organs and my mind and my heart instead of push them into the ground around me.

The wind will always rise. But the wind rises through the trees and across the fields and it lifts the soils and carries the birds to their homes and the seeds to their place of rest. The wind is important but so is the soil, and as such, I must love the soil and slowly start to pull my roots from my heart that they protect so ceaselessly and stubbornly.

“Le vent se lève! . . . il faut tenter de vivre!
L’air immense ouvre et referme mon livre,
La vague en poudre ose jaillir des rocs!
Envolez-vous, pages tout éblouies!
Rompez, vagues! Rompez d’eaux rejouies
Ce toit tranquille où picoraient des focs!”

– Le cimetière marin, Paul Valery

“The wind is rising! . . . We must try to live!
The huge air opens and shuts my book: the wave
Dares to explode out of the rocks in reeking
Spray. Fly away, my sun-bewildered pages!
Break, waves! Break up with your rejoicing surges
This quiet roof where sails like doves were pecking.”

– Translation by C. Day Lewis


In a conversation I had last night that was totally unrelated to journalism, the word “tolerance” came up, and both my roommate and I looked at each other with the same look of trepidation, as if the use of the word “tolerate” instead of one like “accept” was going to reveal some egregious social error.

As we continued to have this conversation, we all mutually agreed that we really, really, really didn’t like the word.

The word “tolerance” naturally appears to have a lack of empathy. Tolerance isn’t acceptance or understanding. It is saying, ‘You are there and I am here.” And that’s the way it is and it will always be.

Tolerance is a medium of silent inaction. To tolerate something is to neither accept nor deny something, but it is simply doing nothing.

As I started thinking about it, I couldn’t help but feel a little stone weigh in my stomach.

This little stone is something that I have felt but until now have been so poorly endowed with the ability to describe.

I have for years had much doubt about the role of objective observer that the journalist personifies. It’s not that the intention of objectivity is bad — but I think our pursuit of objectivity is flawed because of unintended effects.

Yeah, maybe we should be unbiased and speak to all the sides of a story. And year, we’re doing that in the name of objectivity, but what does that really mean? What is the purpose of being objective? What is the point of maintaining this pedestal of moral superiority over our subjects?

By remaining objective and speaking to all possible angles and giving them equal time and space, we are being fair. But you could also say that we are tolerating parts of society that should not be tolerated.

We are tolerating the way the world is even when we shouldn’t.

For the first time I saw one of my huge issues with journalism encapsulated with this idea of tolerance. Yes, we write incessantly about issues with the goal of awareness, openness and objectivity. But by taking the role of reporter we are in essence tolerating. But it is upsetting because  every single person I know who wants to be or is a reporter is not passive and is not uncaring.

But the role we put ourselves into is so passive and so isolated and so tolerant.

I can’t exist and write about things or record things objectively. I can’t live with myself by telling myself that I can’t do anything. We talked about the film Private Violence in a documentary class I’m in, and we discussed whether or not the film was propaganda. But that’s irrelevant to me. Of course it’s propaganda. It’s activism. It’s trying to effect change and it’s pathetic that we’re even questioning the moral validity of a pamphlet that tells people what to say and what not to say in situations where violence could ensue. Of course that pamphlet has a slant but some things need a slant because objectivity is the least effective mechanism in this situation. If it doesn’t perpetuate the culture, objectivity at least shows how tolerant we are.

Yeah, Blackfish was slanted. The Farm had issues. But Private Violence was so moving because it was so personal. This is an issue of people abusing each other and it’s happening to some degree, close or far, in everyone’s family and friend circle. If there’s something else that deserves more empathy and subjectivity, I don’t know what it is. And if we’re questioning petty issues like “is this activism and is that okay?” about something with such human weight as this, then maybe we need to assess our own frame of reference and our own position first. We are journalists and we inform but that does not give us the liberty to tolerate injustice and give that tolerance the shining title of “objectivity.”

We harden ourselves as journalists to the worst plights in the world, and that’s admirable. But at this point, it’s inefficient and even detrimental to think that simple awareness is good enough, that objectivity is the only way to inform and that journalists are not humans. Journalists tolerate the ills of the world and tolerate the doldrums of the media system and them victimize themselves and say they don’t know how to change it. But journalists are the system. Journalists have the most methods of any professional to effect change. Journalists are the only people who can change it and saying otherwise is irresponsible. Tell people to do something. Do something yourself. Stop tolerating.

I don’t want to tolerate. “I want to be excited about something.” I want to go to sleep with the headache of getting something done and not being satisfied and wanting more. I want to be overwhelmed. If I hate a corporation I want to say it. If I hate abuse I want to say it. I want to cry and I want to doubt how I’m going to get something done and make it look complex and flawed and still okay but not doubt whether or not what I’m doing is validated by some arbitrary definition of what I should or should not be doing.

But I’m not trying to act entitled or lofty about my frustrations. I’m not saying that I want to spout off opinions and be unethical. But I feel like the way I connect with people is in unconventional ways and I’ve trying to figure out how to optimize that professionally. But I have had great success in being a human with people and being real and I shouldn’t feel the need to question myself. It’s not about me. It’s about the stories I tell. But maybe the best way to tell someone else’s story is not to say that you’re a reporter. Maybe it’s best to say you’re a person and you’ll tell the story the way other people are going to respond in some little, tiny way that may not benefit you as a “reporter” or that may not benefit “journalism” but may, in some way, become something more than just sending a byline and a 50-inch story over Twitter and thinking that’s good enough.

Making mistakes

I made a huge mistake just now in applying for a job.

A huge mistake.

And when it was revealed to me, I was floored. I was devastated. And when I pleaded for forgiveness, a superior said, “We all make mistakes.”

I went on a run and didn’t do interval. I ran the whole way there, and the whole way back. Adrenaline. Blood. Upset.

But I am not upset about it. I could get down on myself and flood my mind with thoughts of never getting a job, constantly making mistakes, never being perfect, never being right. I have always criticized myself. I have always blamed myself. I apologize too much because I want everything to be right. For everyone to be happy. And mainly for everyone to know how much I care, no matter how many stupid mistakes I made.

Now, I am not feeling sorry for myself. I made a mistake and I will admit it. It was a stupid mistake, too, a face-palm mistake.

But I won’t let myself dive to the depths of my mind about it. I’ve done that before, and I won’t do it again.

(Of course, I won’t make that mistake again. For. Real.)

And then I started thinking about how I used to be riddled with self-doubt and blame. Get this story right. Don’t make a mistake. Don’t mess up. Don’t misquote. Write it and make it perfect. 

It was exhausting. And maybe it was part of my environment, and the people around me pressuring me to be perfect. (And I think there’s a difference here: it’s good for people to pressure each other to be the best they can be, but pressuring for perfection edges on dangerous.)

But I know that I did it to myself, mainly. And in this case, I’ve made it to a point where I can say, yeah, I made a mistake. And it sucks. It’s a big slice of humble pie shoved down my throat with seven splashes of stupidity to wash it down with.

And I went out and went on a run and told myself, Okay. That happened and it sucked but you don’t suck. You’ll move on. No worries.

No worries.

I told a friend the other day that for the last year, I’ve said, “No worries,” more than I ever had in my life. I’ve told it to people who wronged me, and people who apologized for silly things like not doing their dishes. People have told it to me even when I felt I didn’t deserve it. I forgive people for being flaky and they forgive me. You don’t do your dishes. You slack on your work. You say something you don’t mean. If we constantly held each other accountable for every action, we would be exhausted from pleasing each other. It’s been a hard and long lesson, but I think the idea of forgiveness has finally imprinted in me. Yeah, shit happens, but it’s not a big deal. And when it is, you address it, and then it’s not a big deal.

I understand how that sounds like I’m a major appeaser and conflict-avoider and of course that’s true.

But it’s been relieving for the past year to be around people who push through issues and say, “No worries,” even if they were upset. Because at the end of the day, we forgive each other and love each other and keep going because it’s efficient and smart and the ultimate way to show someone you care is when you say, “I love you” even when they make fools of themselves (or so they think).

And then I started thinking about journalism, and writing, and how we beat ourselves up about a mistake we make. We are exhausted from holding ourselves and each other to such high expectations. And it’s understandable. We want to be perfect, and to make the best story, and I really do think we want the best from each other. But it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being as perfect as we can be.

It’s so unhealthy to constantly reach for this goal. We’re told to reach for the stars, but sometimes I feel like we’re reaching for a star that is moving away from us, not towards us. We need to find the right star to reach for. We’re a team, a camaraderie. And we throw each other under the bus and judge outlets when they make a mistake and say, “Why did you do that?”

Why did they do that? Because they made a stupid mistake.

And we hold ourselves up to this high standard, and that’s wonderful. But we talk about how our sources are nuanced and complex but we should realize that we ourselves are nuanced and complex and we make mistakes and we’re not perfect and not always objective.

And for the first time in a while (sorry Hannah for the as-of-late bitterness toward social networking), I realized the benefit of something like social media. We go on Twitter or Facebook or WordPress and say something and maybe we’ll regret and maybe there’s an error in it, but the fact that we felt so compelled to say something — whether it’s about something you hated that someone said in class or if it’s a news source excited about some tip they got — is beautiful.

I am one of the people who always jumps to the side of “Well, maybe we should hold off a second and wait until we know all the details.” But maybe it’s important for me to realize, and for us all to realize, how comfortable and forgiving the internet is — or can be. We chastise other people for making mistakes, and ask what went wrong. But instead, maybe we should say, “How do we as a profession fix this?” or “Who was really excited about this and tweeted about it?” or “How have we all made mistakes like this before?” Instead of pitting everyone against each other, maybe we can make mistakes on Twitter

(Clarification: cases like Jayson Blair do not apply. Intentional, malicious mistakes are not mistakes. They are the journalistic equivalent to felony. Disregard these extreme cases.)

Maybe we should learn how to forgive more quickly and yes, constructively criticize and ask what went wrong, but moreover, self-reflect and see what it is within all of us that makes us push “send” or “post.”

In my part-time jobs, I’ve made stupid mistakes, and I have felt awful. But you move on. Your colleagues around you support you and you don’t make those  mistakes again but course at some point you’ll make another one. But that’s okay.

There’s a difference between someone who makes a mistake out of negligence or laziness (as in this thing that happened to me, so I’m not innocent) and someone who simply makes a mistake. We need to take mistakes not as compromises of character or question of validity. Of course journalists need to be held to a high standard, and their activity on social media needs to be held to a similar standard. But, for me, working with the constant fear of making a mistake would be so detrimental to my work. I just can’t think like that.

So maybe social media is a medium of experimentation, and I can really, really appreciate that. We can post things and make mistakes but it’s not a big deal. You fix your tweet and you call yourself out (or someone else does). As long as you’re transparent about it (which is kind of inevitable on social media), you have the opportunity to be in a community that says, “Okay. That happened. It shouldn’t again. But we all make mistakes, and we can collectively move forward.”

We shouldn’t use social media out of fear of making a mistake so that we constantly please the Lord Master Internet People. I think there’s something inherently forgiving about the internet and social media, and that is crucial. It’s fleeting and sometimes fretful, but forgiving.

And instead of using social media as a forum of criticism and judgment, we can look at it as a constantly changing animal that shows us more about ourselves, the mistakes we make, and how we can move forward together.

And have no worries.

A creed

I believe in the profession of Journalism.

I also believe in the activism of Journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public; that all acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.

I also believe that serving to the public means both taking a role in a story and giving enough elements to the audience for them to make assumptions for themselves.

I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I also believe that nuance, complexity and subjectivity are okay for journalism too.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I also believe that, in following her heart, if a journalist wants to write a story about something that is not deemed newsworthy, she should be supported and not chastised.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I also believe that suppression of opinion in the newsroom is indefensible; the profession of journalism decries censorship and its own internal affairs should reflect that.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocket book is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

I also believe that my own pocket book should not be the determinant of whether or not I can access journalism as a learning journalist; that journalism (and journalism school) should reflect the democratic nature of its calling in its economics and revenue.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.

I also believe that fellow journalists should not have to fall on the sword because of dwindling advertising revenue.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds the best-and best deserves success-fears God and honors man; is stoutly independent; recognizes the individuality of unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power; constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of the privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance, and as far as law, an honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship, is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.

I also believe that journalism must continue to be a vessel of democracy and therefore must not be influenced by a superior power, a strict editorial board or outside force. I also believe that journalism will only fail if its own creators, its writers, do not have a voice to influence the medium in which their stories are told. I also believe that journalism has the capacity to be transformed across platforms and ways. I also believe that journalists are humans and are flawed just as much as the characters they write about, and therefore should not feel bad about the unreachable peak of objectivity. I also believe that journalism should not strike fear into the hearts of young journalists when they want to constructively criticize. I also believe that as a critical machine, journalists should be allowed to criticize the journalism system and not censored. I also believe that journalism can be an activist apparatus that can effect change and not be restrained by objectivity. I also believe in the integrity of journalism and its capability to withstand temporary mediums, like social media, and not compromise its honor.

I believe in the human nature of journalism.

I believe in the potential for journalism.

I believe that people care about journalism, even if they don’t know it.

I believe in the profession of Journalism as it is: a group of thinkers who can connect the world through a story, can have opinions and be free to maturely and thoughtfully acknowledge them — and who should not be afraid of doing either one.