For the girls

I want to talk about something I noticed a few weeks ago when Sam Freedman visited the journalism school. I would have written about this last week, as it was more timely with his visit, but last week I was too busy ranting about my writing process.

 It’s not something that was necessarily his fault, but it is something that I notice every time I hear a man speak about long-form journalism. For the first five minutes of his talk, Freedman mentioned only men when he talked about other writers he admired. He later threw in some names of women whose work he admired as some of the best longform he’s ever read, but men mostly dominated the conversation.

The reason why I’m not pointing to this observation as a fault of Freedman’s is that it’s not his fault. The man is simply reflecting his own industry. There are not enough women longform journalists. This is something that Joanna Diemkewitz and Kaylan Ralph, two 2013 Missouri journalism grads have tried to solve in the first year of their longform magazine, The Riveter, which features long-form stories by women.  

There are no other publications like this, and I think it’s an important part of the movement that women’s work is published and read.

This weekend I spoke with Julie Zeilinger, a junior sociology student at Barnard. Julie started a blog her sophomore year of high school called “The F Bomb” and published a book a few years later called “A Little F’d Up why feminism isn’t a dirty word.” Julie’s rubbed shoulders with the likes of Barnard alumna Anna Quindlen and says she has learned from the women who came before her about the importance of stories told by women for women.

She told me she thinks websites that vet news stories for women, like Women’s eNews, are setting a great example for journalism. The more prevalent women’s voices become in the industry, the more they will show up in longform journalism.

Julie also mentioned Anna’s encouragement for the new generation of feminists, remarking that this is not a trend she usually sees in older feminists who tend to get an “ego” about the apathy they see in the generation following theirs.

This mentorship might be the key to creating a journalism industry saturated with women’s voices. Anything will help. 


My discarded class project

I read one of my other classmate’s blogs today. She took a picture of our class activity from Friday, when we charted out our writing processes in magic marker and posted them on the wall. She’d posted her photo of her sketch, drawn with a blueberry-scented marker. The sketch  had clouds and squares and squiggly lines with text outlining her step-by-step writing process.

I had drawn a similar photo with an orange-scented marker and had also take a photo. But I deleted it from my phone. Why? Because it ticked me off. I sat down to write today, and like all dedicated writers, flipped through my photos on my phone for the first five minutes of focused writing time.  When I came across that orange diagram, I was supremely pissed off at myself.

 My diagram, in mad orange, read “ Step one” Passion: find an idea I like based on things I am interested in and read a lot  about.” OK. That’s fine. Makes sense.

Then it started to get depressing. “Step two: Confusion: But… how do I write it? ”Step three: Panic: deadline is when?” “Step four: Meltdown: I don’t know what I’m doing!”

 Reviewing this sketch didn’t exactly serve as encouragement. Although it was honest, and it helped me to understand that panic is often part of my writing process, I didn’t want it on my phone. I didn’t want to think about it. Because finally, I’m at the point in my writing process labeled “recovery,” followed by typing and more typing. Click, clack, caffeine. 

Refrigerator counseling

I don’t really know what to blog about this week. So, that is going to be the topic of my blog post: what to do when the well is dry but you’re staring at a deadline and you can hear it swiftly whooshing by.

 I’ve been dealing with this thing lately where I write the story in my head and then never quite get to the of being seated with my fingers making clacking sounds on the keyboard.  Sometimes, there’s less clacking and more napping. The more napping, the more anxious I become about said looming deadline, and the more I question if I’m cut out for this field. After consulting my therapists, Ben and Jerry, and my psychiatrist, Dove Caramel Milk Chocolate (she’s sensitive about her complicated name), I decide it might be a good idea to start typing something.

 At this point, I’ve built the story up in my head to be this looming, massive worry and I don’t know what to do with it. Seeing that Ben, Jerry and Dove Chocolate are no longer available resources, I usually consult other writers for some advice by Googling “procrastination advice”. I am aware that reading also constitutes not doing what I’m supposed to being doing, but at least it isn’t worth any calories.

I’ve come across several articles that are actually quite helpful; they are from other nerdy journos like me, who generally care about their work but are plagued by its workload.  Jennifer Blanchard, a writing coach from New York, compiled a list of articles written by other procrastinators about why procrastinating is not fun and how to avoid it.

They are titled things like, “10 Ways of Thinking that Lead to Procrastination” and “Things Procrastinations Fear.” Try deadlines.  And editors.

As a disclaimer, I wasn’t always a procrastinator. I’m usually not. And when I say procrastinate, I mean I’m not following my previous standards of getting things done. I like to be ahead of a deadline by at least two days, but since I’ve started working on stories that affect me emotionally and personally, I don’t know what to do with them. And thus begins the cycle of visiting my counselors in my fridge. I’m OK when I have to write about art events and concerts or even a light fender bender, but when it comes to a tumultuous, heart-wrenching story, I’m paralyzed. The only problem is this is what I want to do with my life, and I can’t afford a lifetime supply of Ben and Jerry’s services.





The Way to OK

This is going to be a blog post about adventure. It’s a blog post about going off the beaten path and finding something beautiful and having a lot of deep thoughts about it afterward. Wow. Original. Enlightening.  Whatever. I’m doing this.

Last night my friend Jessica and I went to McBaine, Mo to find “Big Tree.” As a mid-Missouri native, I’ve never had much interest in taking part in typical tourist activities such as finding a large tree and taking photographs next to it. For a while, this used to be a result of living in Seattle for a year, where mountains and water are only minutes away.

My snobbish Northwest-girl notions were squelched as soon as we pulled up to the tree. I wasn’t even sure we were in the right season anymore. The leaves were still spring green, and were specked with bits of blue from the 5:00 sky. We took our obligatory photos and listened to some girls perched on a nearby SUV discuss the popularity of the Kardashians and which one of the sisters they thought would have a body weight issue next.

Jessica found a Missouri green stink bug, named him Burt and accidently decapitated him when he tried to suction his slimy body to her hand. Devastated by the loss, we got back in my dusty burgundy 1998 Toyota Camry and headed for Eagle Bluffs. My dad had told us that we could find some real Missouri beauty there. Sure, Dad. But I packed my Washingtonian friend up, plugged in some Joni Mitchell and took off down the gravel road to the Eagle Bluffs Conservation area. We travelled for about 15 minutes and stopped by one of the ponds, just as the sun was setting. Jess decided to take “edgy” photos of me by the water and claimed I looked “so hipster.” She also claimed that one of the pools labeled “pool 8” is where they would drop the bodies in an Alfred Hitchcock horror flick.

We laughed as loud as we wanted and we kicked the gravel dust around us to the clouds swirl around our figures as we danced in the dusk fog. This all sounds so poetic and ideal, but it was. It really was.

Last Friday in class, we talked about writer’s block and how it affects each of us differently. For me, the writer’s block comes when I let my environment concave and unsettle me. I’ve felt like that for a long time. It’s always one of those moments when someone asks, “Are you ok?” and I answer “yeah,” but that’s not what I want to say.

 Last night, I went on a trip to the middle of nowhere with my best friend. We kicked the dust around and found bugs and took edgy photos by small conservation ponds. And I was OK. 

To go, to be, to love, to hate: the life of a verb in my life

When we learned that the theme for last Tuesday’s class was verbs, I almost sprinted out of the classroom and made a clean break out of Lee Hills Hall for the day. Verbs had been on my mind for the past two weeks in magazine editing, and I was not pleased at the thought of discussing them any further. “Thanks but no thanks, Jeanne,” I thought the moment after my intermediate writing instructor announced the days’ activities.

Once she caught the eye-rolls and throat clearings, my professor announced that we would not be doing anything even close to parsing or diagramming verbs, as she knew we had been doing in our editing class. We were going to play a game. Whoever could come up with the best verbs the fastest won a prize.

Intrigued but still skeptical, I pulled out my blue lined notepad and began scribbling down every verb that came to mind. Not surprisingly, the first that came to mind brought about images of pain; I had just been thinking about parsing verbs, after all.

As the class period progressed, I began to realize how much I truly love verbs. We just had a little falling out for a few weeks when they decided to be difficult little traitors glaring at me from lines and lines of text.

Verbs are what take stories from mediocre to fantastic. An example of this is a story I read this weekend in Esquire called the Flight from Dallas. In it, the writer, Chris Jones, tells the story of the five hours following John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, specifically the flight on Air Force One.

This was the first time since class on Wednesday that I notice how verbs propel (isn’t that a good one, Jeanne?) a story to excellence. I was so excited I took a pink highlighter to the story and coated every shining verb with a layer of neon approval. My highlighter practically went in a frenzy of color when I found this sentence: “Other passengers have spent the entire flight with their foreheads cupped in their hands, disappearing into the universe, invaded only by the occasional sob from elsewhere in the cabin and the chugging of typewriters.”

“Chugging of typewriters”? Oh, I have so much love for that compound sentence composed of a dependent clause that is proceeded by another dependent clause and an independent clause. Ah, there you are again, magazine editing. 

Another mentor

I’ve loved Anna Quindlen since I first saw the 1998 film One True Thing,  a family drama based on her book. It’s the first idea I had of the great power that comes with telling others’ stories through the empathy of one’s own. In the story, Quindlen, describes the life of a family whose mother has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Quindlen’s own mother died from ovarian cancer at age 40. A few weeks ago, my aunt asked me if I had liked the story and would recommend it. I warned her of its immense emotional effect but told her what a fantastic story it was.

A few days later, she texted me and told me she had finished it…and she wasn’t going to watch the film for a while. I’d expected this. Quindlen’s empathetic power translates to her readers. This is why, as I’ve been researching her for my Women and the Media research paper, I’ve been intrigued by her journalistic work.

Quindlen is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times and Newsweek.

What intrigues and fascinates me about Quindlen is that she still manages to tell her story through her columns. I’m reading her 1993 book Thinking out Loud, in which she discusses the journalistic process as just that, thinking out loud.  She talks about her need to be transparent in her columns, and in doing that, she points out the necessity of talking about her role as a woman in journalism. She talks about being the sole female in a room full of “good old boys,” and the necessity of evoking her experiences through journalism. In high school, I encountered Quindlen’s stories, and now in college, I encounter her process. I want nothing more than to learn from such a brilliant pioneer of the written word. 

It’s OK to say the f-word

This weekend I went to heaven. I went to feminist, film-buff, artistic, hipster heaven. This weekend I went to the Citizen Jane Film Festival.

And then I had to go back to earth.

At least I came back a more enlightened woman and journalist. I also might have returned with the confirmed notion that I probably belong at a liberal arts college on the east coast, where I can be free to don my long floral skirt, exercise a bra-optional policy and make independent short films with Lena Dunham.

Disclaimer: I do realize that not all women at these colleges fit this description. It’s an exaggeration. Go with it in the spirit of feminist satire.

I’m going to add to this charming introduction to say that this is the first time I have identified as a feminist on my blog and directly in any online social medium. I’ve always been careful to keep my biases clearly hidden as a reporter and am so careful as to what I consider a bias. For a while, I was afraid to show photos of my dog on Facebook for fear that a cat-lover wouldn’t want accept an interview with me (a slight exaggeration perhaps). Ah, the neurotic first few days as a reporter.

This semester, I’ve realized the types of issues that are important to me as a journalist. I’ve found a specific calling to report on women’s issues of equality and domestic abuse, and in doing so, I have wanted to explore how I identify myself as a woman storyteller. As a journalist obsessed with long-form narrative, I’ve always had an appreciation for well-known women writers, many of whom I’ve mentioned on my blog before. I made Joan Didion my laptop screensaver for a while so I could think,”Joan’s watching” every time I sat down to type out a story. Talk about pressure. Also, talk about seriously creepy.

When I think back to my childhood, it’s the women in film who first really grabbed my attention to the importance of storytelling. It’s no secret to any of my friends that I adore Meryl Streep. What they don’t know is that my love for her work is really just an admiration of her ability to tell someone’s truth so perfectly every time. She’s quoted as saying, “What really makes me feel so good is when I know that I’ve said something for a soul.”

I’m fairly certain women everywhere, regardless of their political views,
thought this selfie taken circa December 2012 was possibly the best one
ever taken by two human beings.

When I think about my purpose as a journalist, regardless of my gender, that’s really what the goal is, right? I want to be able to tell someone’s truth and do it flawlessly with each execution.

The label of “storyteller” always comes first in my career ambitions. Secondly, I choose to factor in the “woman” part in my goals as a journalist. I want to be able to say something for women, to tell their stories and tell them well. Just like every woman who presented a film at Citizen Jane this weekend, I want to be able to represent something to other women.

And that is my reasoning for saying the f-word.

To me, feminism is the cognitive choice to consider my place as a woman in my industry, to factor it into what I do. So many women whom I admire set an example for me without ever once rolling out the “big f.” You don’t have to be a feminist to attend film festivals like Citizen Jane. Additionally, everyone’s definition of “feminism” word is different and shaped by their own lives. My feminism is printed neatly on my imaginary journalist contract, reading: “I Hilary Weaver, am a feminist journalist.” Experiences like Citizen Jane teach me that I don’t have to keep this contract secret. This weekend, I learned that the f-word is OK for journalists to say out loud.