In college I wrote for the school newspaper for two semesters as was the required amount of time to endure such adversity. I was not a girl who was made for journalism. I don't like it, not even remotely. My academic adviser (the only journalism professor) had it in her mind from day one that I was a journalism major and signed me up for every single class. Granted, we didn't have a whole lot of English courses and I wanted to get any bit of writing instruction that I could so I took all of them and got sold my AP Stylebook after every semester swearing that I'd never need it again. I had to re-purchase it three more times and then once when I was in South Dakota. Finally, despite the fact that I'm through with college (for the foreseeable future) I have a copy of that blasted stylebook and I turn to it more often than I'd like to. Even still. Just for my blog. Just for you.
So anyway, I wrote for the newspaper and I was bad at it. It became evident very quickly that I couldn't write news because news was stupid and I didn't give two craps about it. Why would I want to write an article about how many millions of dollars were being spent on a new building that wouldn't even be sufficient for the need at hand when all it did was make me (and the rest of the student body) really pissed off that there were other areas that were suffering hugely? I couldn't write sports for the obvi reasons that I did not even remotely care. Finally I had a meeting with the editor who asked, "in your intro to journalism class, what did you excel at writing?"
"Obituaries." (It was true. I liked it.)
"Oh... We'll find something."
And that's when they created a section just for me. Feature writing: I was/ am pretty good at that. It's the truth stuff that news is made of but it's not boring as hell. It's about interesting things that people care about. Not that people don't care about how the budget is being spent--not that people don't care about war or who won what game when. Some people care about that but I know that I couldn't be the only person who didn't. I don't remember what my feature was called but every two weeks I profiled a student. I'd sit down with him/her and we'd interface and I'd find out what was exciting about them and I'd write 400 words or so about it. And it was awesome. I loved it.
But they wanted me to write about people on campus that everyone knew about. They wanted me to write about a football player who, I don't know, had overcome adversity to get to his place on the team. That was fine--I could have done that but he'd already spoken in chapel. They wanted me to write about the kid who danced all by himself, publicly, out on the campus mall. But anyone who had any interest in him had already gone up to meet him. And purchased mushrooms. And walked away happy. I was not excited about those characters who were happy to make themselves known. Those who went out of their way to share themselves. My editors were getting a little frustrated with my ideas but for the first one (mostly because they were also students and I was such a nice/ weird girl who never stuck to her guns except in this one case--and they didn't know how to say "no") they just let me do what I wanted.
I went to the online student directory (oh, no, Facebook had yet to make it to MidAmerica) and scrolled down all of the names in the freshman class and picked the most boring-looking, banal individual that I could find. And I called him. And I asked him if I could write a story about him. And he thought I had him confused with his roommate or something but I wasn't. Reluctantly and mysteriously (even to me) he agreed. And we met over chicken nuggets in the cafeteria and I asked him all kinds of leading questions hoping that he'd give me something to go on. It took a while but eventually we got into his heart and found the subject that made him laugh--whatever it was that took the edge off for him and I let him talk about it for about a half an hour. I snapped his picture, shook his hand and went back to my dorm where I wrote twice as much about this boy than I was supposed to. And when the paper came out a few days later, Ben was on the front page and I got to keep my feature just the way I wanted it.
Truthfully, and this is a truth that I never really spoke to anyone: I was intimidated by the on-campus celebrities. I was scared of them. I thought I couldn't write their story in a way that they couldn't tell it better. A lot of journalists find it easier to talk to anyone because they've got the notebook between them but that never helped me. I wasn't scared of ordinary people because I was an ordinary person.
One night I got an opportunity to interview Bradley Hathaway. I was writing for the paper at the time but I hadn't been asked to write this article. I was just going to write a feature about him and submit it and hope that they liked it. If they didn't, no big deal. Bradley Hathaway, at the time, was the star of the hip, Christian, white-kid community that my campus so eagerly embraced. A poet? Oh, but he wrote a poem about boobies that makes boys feel okay about being virgins because humping is an act of worship--I guess? Oh, okay then. Now they like him. A "hardcore," virgin poet. I learned that he was going to be playing a show downtown in Kansas City and I emailed him, asking if I could get a quick interview. He agreed--which surprised me and I went to his show.
And, there, I saw that he wasn't that cool. Just a guy. (Who kind of irritated me a smidge--sorry, Bradley, if you are the type to Google yourself and happen to read this, it was all a part of my growing up.)
Without talking to him.
Because I had been scared of him.
Because he was a "cool kid". Much cooler than me.
And I was deeply ashamed of myself for having actually believed that.
It still amazes me when people really, truly believe that they're something unremarkable. Ben was just a kid from a town. He didn't have any notable features. A guy of average interests who was genuinely surprised to learn that there could be anything of note to his personality. Anyone who's kind and humble and interesting should feel this way, I suppose. Anyone who's kind and humble is interesting and deserves to be known. There's fewer things to be distracted by when you're not blinded by the obviously fascinating. You can get into the real, human part easier. There's less of a guard.
Anyway, that's the story of how I kept from failing Newspaper.