Saturday, December 29, 2012

not-so-resolute resolutions.

Oh, the places you'll go...

The night I quit my sorority, I sat in Reveka's living room unsure of what to do next. I hadn't expected the identity crisis that came with leaving an organization that wasn't for me in the first place, but here I was--over a year into college and feeling more lost than when I first began. 

"You need a distraction," Reveka said, and brought up this new project she'd heard about from somebody else: The Day Zero Project encouraged people to make lists of 101 things they wanted to do in 1001 days. You had to write down specific things you wanted to do, and give yourself a deadline. 

I went home that night and started compiling a list. I stopped several times. The thing that scared me the most was knowing I wouldn't be able to accomplish everything. I just knew I wouldn't be able to, and not because I wouldn't try, but because I had this incredibly cliche fear of failure. I didn't want to make plans because I'd made so many of them before and they didn't work out.

But the website said to "welcome failure," so I figured I'd give it a shot. 

I made a list of 101 things I wanted to do by October 5, 2011. That day seemed so far away for a college sophomore sitting in her apartment engulfed in guilt for leaving her sisters and fear of not having a plan anymore. October 5, 2011 meant not being in college anymore and it meant even more uncertainty. Who knew, after all, what would happen in the next 2.75 years?

It's funny when I think back to making this list and all of the anxieties I had about it. It's even funnier to look ahead at June 2011 at my commencement speech where I encouraged thousands to embrace the unknown, the fear, the failures. In my list of 101 things, I never once considered listing "growing up"--but that's so vague, isn't it? 

According to my Word document, I stopped keeping track of the things on my list in June 2010, about a year and a half before my deadline. As I look at the list now, I see many more things I've accomplished, both inside and outside of my October 5, 2011 deadline. Maybe I've always kept this list in the back of my mind because there are quite a few things on here I've done that I never thought I would.

But there's so much more, of course, I still haven't done. Perhaps one day I will, but what revisiting this list has taught me is that it isn't too late to do all of the things you've wanted. Life is short, and we should be living every day as if there is the potential to achieve something new, something grand. Sure, I haven't found a way to pet a panda yet (grr, someday!), but I have learned to knit a hat. I won't ever stand in Times Square on New Year's Eve (what was I thinking?), but perhaps someday I will learn how to tie a bow tie and I do have plans to get a manicure after the holidays with Sarah.

At the risk of sounding self-indulgent (is that the right phrase?), I think I really get why I was so adamant in my commencement speech to emphasize that plans don't always work out. My life is proof of that--everything I thought I'd do at a certain time in a certain place turns out to have changed, and I really believe that who I am right now and where I am right now is where I'm supposed to be. At senior retreat in high school, Mrs. Sparks had said to me, "You are where you're supposed to be," and I never really got that until years later after constantly doubting my place, my identity, my purpose. 

Soon, it will have been four years since I first made that list of 101 things. It will also be two years since graduating from college, and one year since I've moved to New York. I may not have accomplished everything I thought I would, but it doesn't mean I should end my goals now. There's more to dream and more to do, so here we go...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the way i see it: there's a blog for every emotion.

I think I'm destined to be the Taylor Swift of writing--as in: every emotion is out there on the table. Every heartbreak, every tear, every night full of laughs and fun... A writer sees life differently than most, I've come to find, and so perhaps I'm no different than Joan Didion or Nora Ephron--or at least my dream is to strive to be like them: to articulate it all while avoiding that "Dear Diary..." feeling.

One of the things Amy told us at the start of Personal Essay was that the mark of a good personal piece is to speak to a larger audience than just your own eyes and ears. Humans share experiences, though sometimes we think we're alone in our emotions, and if you have the ability to articulate the feeling an event provides, then do it because it will undoubtedly speak to someone else.

That's the thing about things like moving across the country or being hurt by someone you loved: you're not alone in feeling lost, alone, scared, angry, hurt. And I hope that by reading about someone else's experiences, it can help to ease whatever anxiety or pain is bottled up inside the soul.

There may never be answers for some of the things that happen in life, but it doesn't mean we need to write it off as unimportant. As a new year approaches, I think it's important to start looking back and moving forward rather than looking back and staying put as I've done so often this year. It will be 2013 soon, and I want to continue to experience new sights and new people. I want to continue dreaming. I hope to look deeper beyond news flashes and learn more about the world. I think I need to reflect on the last three years I allowed myself to be used and discarded, and maybe I'll never understand why it all happened this way, but perhaps I can regain my strength to love someday.

There's a passage from Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking that sums it up best, and what I hope explains why I write and why I write so candidly and unafraid:
"This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself. I have been a writer my entire life. As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself."
Cheers to more words that mean more than empty promises.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

on being a straight ally.

My view while waiting to march with Mormons
Building Bridges at NYC Pride 2012.
A friend recently asked me where my interest in reporting on LGBT issues came from, and it made me pause. I'd been asked this before, in job interviews and on a personal level, and my answers have varied. But what I think I avoided was talking about the personal story behind my passion for what I believe is one of the most important civil rights issues of our time.

When I was 19, one of my best friends came out to me. It was a very personal moment, and one that I didn't know how to respond to. It was the first time someone so close had come out to me. It was a big moment for him and it was huge to be one of his first confidantes, and I saw the anguish in his face as he tried to find the words. Over the course of the next year, I watched his journey as he struggled to accept who he was in the context of his family and of society. In the years that followed the first year of hardships were more challenges, and my admiration and appreciation grew for him tenfold. 

And then the suicides began making national headlines, and the reality of the world we live in hit even harder. Seeing Prop 8 pass had been one thing, but suddenly it became terrifying: kids were ending their lives because of hatred that is truly and unfortunately the norm. It wasn't just policy in this country that was hurting a community; it was our culture. 

I began to read more and learn more, and as I did, there was a personal aspect to all this too: my best friend. A wonderful person who didn't deserve to be discriminated against for simply being who he is. And all of the kids ending their lives, all of the people unable to live safely and equally in a tolerant society…they were best friends of others too. 

It seems like an obvious and simple realization, but it's a powerful enough of one to make you really think about the inequality and injustice too many people face. When people asked me in college why I wanted to be a journalist, I always said it was because I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. It's because I want to tell stories, and tell them well; to unveil truths and to encourage a conversation. 

Somewhere between college and the real world, I lost that dream. I lost the drive and ambition to be a storyteller. I began adding to the noise, and not contributing to the conversation. The few moments where I had the opportunity to do what I studied in college to do in the real world were precious, but few, and I still pride myself on covering the Super Bowl parade (that became a story on the controversy behind whether or not the city should host a parade for returning Iraq war vets), the NYC Pride March (that was a story on a group of Mormons marching for the first time in support of equality), and Occupy Wall Street (that examined the one-year anniversary of the movement that seemed to have come from nowhere) on the ground, and not from my desk while on the phone. 

And when I looked back on those moments, and farther back to the reporting I did while interning in D.C., I realized that I can and still do have the chance to tell the stories that matter. I jumped back in with an incredible story of a 21-year-old activist's coming out and how it inspired him to do something crazy creative to raise money for an LGBT youth center and homeless shelter in NYC that suffered severe damage from Hurricane Sandy. 

In reporting and writing that story, I remembered why I wanted to be a journalist: because people have incredible stories, and with the right questions to capture the emotions of the moment, those stories can be inspiring, heartbreaking, captivating, and beautiful. When I think back to my best friend, who is now in a lovely and committed relationship, I realize that I learned to ask those "right" questions because of him and because of what he taught me in this journey he went through that he let me be a part of.

I truly believe the movement for LGBT rights and equality is one of the biggest fights of our time, and I believe in the stories to tell surrounding it. And maybe the words I write now won't be around 20 years from now, and these stories will fade the second they go up online. But what matters is that it's happening right now, and that there are lives being lived right now full of the struggles that come with discrimination from a society that still contains some who will choose to inflict pain rather than embrace love. 

Friday, December 14, 2012


From a vigil in Times Square (via Instagram)
I could recap the news for you, but the horror is well-known. I could list out statistics and rant and ask, "When is enough enough?" (Today may not have been the day to talk about gun control, as some have said. That's correct, because yesterday was when we should have had that conversation.) But I can't string any coherent thoughts together.

I can just say this: It is almost 2013. After today, I'll have sat in that newsroom for half a dozen mass shootings. I remember each day what happened--when I woke up, how I got the news, what I saw on our network and online, how long I was in the newsroom, how I got home... It never gets easier, you never really get numb from all this. Especially not today when you hear this one sentence, stated over and over: Of all of the victims, 20 dead were ages 5 through 10.

The night of the Aurora shooting, I was the last to leave the newsroom. It was just me, Keva, and Will, communicating via messenger in our different locations. When I did finally leave, it was late. I took a taxi home because I couldn't see myself making it on the subway, and--well, you know the story: I significantly freaked out the taxi driver by sobbing the entire drive home. He gave me a box of tissues. I went to my room and cried the rest of the night. (Granted, I was also going through my own unnecessary personal drama.)

Tonight, I saw the same thing happening, but am so grateful to have a nighttime editor in the same newsroom now, so I didn't have to endure it alone. And tonight, I was also so, so lucky to have someone bring me food and give me a hug and spend the night talking about everything.

And then there was a text from my mother. And IMs from friends. And reconciliation with another friend. And a message from the family of a person who kicked me out of his life. And tweets from people I've never met in person.

You forget sometimes to tell people you love them. It's easy to let people slip away. Sadly, it takes something unimaginable to become a reality before you remember.

Today, in one word, was horrifying. Perhaps, one day, we will not see this evil anymore.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

RIP Roy, the 'heart and soul' of SFES.

Last week, God called one of his angels home. From yesterday's Sacramento Bee:
Many days [Roy McKnight] arrived at school before 5 a.m. He unlocked the building, turned on the lights, cleared debris from around the school and "made sure everything was safe and ready for the children," said extension director Patti Sanchez. He cleaned bathrooms, emptied trash cans, plugged leaks, set up tables for bake sales and built decorations for holiday celebrations.

"He went about his work very quietly. He just got things done," said Ramirez.

As the sun came up and students began to arrive, McKnight stood outside and greeted each child by name before they scampered past Ramirez and into the building. He inquired about their families, zipped their jackets and told them to have a good day.

At lunch and recess, he supervised the playground, often joining in games of tag and tetherball. He was fun and mischievous in his role as hall monitor, but a stickler about rules against running in the hallways and talking too loudly.

More than once, he came home with bumps and bruises "from getting hit with a ball or running into a wall while he was playing with the kids," said Calagno.
Roy really did remember every students' names, and their parents too. My dad still has really good memories of conversations with him before and after school, and Roy always remembered the little details of what they would talk about.

Roy always encouraged me to get off the bench at recess and play sports I didn't really want to play, and when I started losing my hair and stopped talking to people, he made the crueler kids stop picking on me and let me spend recesses with my books again.

He helped me put up my posters when I decided to run for student council and, after I won, he helped me put more recycling bins on the playground and fix the broken stall doors in the girl's bathroom.

Rest in peace, Roy--truly the "heart and soul" of St. Francis Elementary.