Friday, August 29, 2008


I've read many good books in my travails through college. One of the things I loved about the people I knew was their ability to recommend exactly the book I needed to read to get me out of the 'assigned' reading doldrum and make me hunger for reading again. That book for my Junior year was "White Noise" by Don Delillo. Even now, when I think on some of the profound passages in that book, I can remember ones that never had any greater applicability than they do in this present (with me being unfulfilled by my current job and questioning one of my greater goals of becoming a professor). And so, I give you a relevant passage from a great novel by a wonderful American postmodernist:

“Who knows what I want to do? Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something like that? Isn’t it all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back and forth, electrical energy in the cortex? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain? Some minor little activity takes place somewhere in this unimportant place in one of the brain hemispheres and suddenly I want to go to Montana or I don’t want to go to Montana. How do I know I really want to go and it isn’t an accidental flash in the medulla and suddenly there I am in Montana and I find out I really didn’t want to go there in the first place. I can’t control what happens in my brain, so how can I be sure what I want to do ten seconds from now, much less Montana next summer? It’s all this activity in the brain and you don’t know what’s you as a person and what’s some neuron that just happens to fire or just happens to misfire.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

Obsessed with Doggie nonfiction...

So every since reading a review of Puppy Chow is Better than Prozac on this blog, I have become enamored with a genre seemingly exploding in popularity, mostly thanks to a little book called Marley & Me. I have probably dropped a hundred bucks on nonfiction books about dogs and their humans in the past month. I mostly blame the fact that I've had dogs, cats and assorted other animals all my life until I got to college. Even now, 'my' animals at the SPCA are not mine at all. Unfortunately, owning and loving and caring for my own dog is not going to happen anytime soon.

Until that time, though, I've been living vicariously through people such as Bruce Goldstein, who wrote a fascinating story chronicling his battle with manic depression and the black lab that saved his life.

The first section of this book is a personal, in-depth account of how Bruce's brain works during his swings. Hallucinations of devils and his kitchen knives encouraging him to kill himself are so realistic that you are terrified for him and also heartbroken as he drives the people in his life away (my uncle ended up divorcing my aunt cause he couldn't handle the periods when she would drive him away and accuse him of trying to kill her).
When it seems like too much for even the observer to take (imagine Bruce living this life) the star of the show enters, as if by magic. But, as the real world often teaches, things are not hunky dory right away. Panic sets in just after getting the puppy and Bruce almost gives up several times. It is only through trial and error, courage and unconditional love that Ozzy the black lab trains Bruce to live well.

Gut reactions
What's so great about this particular piece of puppy nonfiction is that you also get a heartbreaking and almost terrifying glimpse into the addled mind of a manic depressive. Manic depression is a combination of two mental disorders: Mania (which is a high mood usually accompanied by disjointed talking with broken up thoughts and rushed speech - kind of like someone who's had one too many espressos) and Depression (a severe low in mood usually accompanied by self-deprecating thoughts and sometimes thoughts of suicide). Both highs and lows in a manic depressive get accompanied by various forms of hallucination or paranoia.
And just like all examples of puppy nonfiction, you join the humans on a journey that can only begin when you live with a dog.

Bottom Line
All in all, one of the best books I've read in a long time.
Next on my list: Something by Jon Katz, no doubt. His stories of Bedlam Farm and the animals a city boy like him are raising there are quite poignant (A Good Dog made me laugh out loud and break out in sobs).

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Newspaper Business

There's a lot of things to be scared about in this business. If its not the constant layoffs, the huge newspapers going into the red for the first time (Washington Post) and the desperate outsourcing of such necessities as copy-editing!, its hearing from people that you trust and have been in this business for years that its dead. I've been told by a very good friend of mine who was recently laid off at my paper that I should think about how to get into a different field, quick, before I get laid off too.
But I cannot believe that. Sure my current paper is seemingly a dead-end right now, but there are other papers, there are even other ways to put out the news. Online is a huge one that still involves the written word, but can also bring into line such creativeness as photography, design and multimedia in ways that mulched fibers smooshed flat can never do.
Yet the newspaper is still my favorite thing to get. There's something...comforting about the way it looks and feels and, even, smells. It's wonderful proofing our first edition because all of that wonderful ink is still slightly warm and it smell just wafts off of it like apple pie smell fills a house when you're just thinking about making one. Of course, I was also obsessed (was?) with the smell of Sharpies and Dry-Erase markers when I was a kid.
But on another down note, it is quite bothersome to see some of the newbies (yes, I know I am 'relatively' new. But keep in mind I've been writing for newspapers since senior year of high school when I wrote for the city paper which puts me at roughly 5 years of experience). Anyway, some of these kids are so spoiled, or have not yet realized the allure and beauty of this business that makes things like threats of lay-offs, really low paychecks and over-controlling editors totally worth it.
Case in point: a person interning at my paper, who I also used to be the editor of when I ran my college newspaper, has decided to come and piss and moan to me every second she gets. See, she has been interested in this for just over a year. A year in which she worked at a weekly college paper starving for inches to fill up too much white space. So, having dabbled in sprawling investigative peices (which weren't overly well-written anyway), she arrives at her internship expecting to do 'big' things. And now that she realizes that she won't because she is just has too little experience, she is unsatisfied with the chance to get clips from a daily (a definite step up) just because they are about 'fluffy' teachers awards and the like.
My first story with the News Leader was about Mars being closer than it has been in a long time. I went on to write feel-good stories about local volunteers and about an adult spelling bee raising money for the community college. It wasn't until the very end of my internship (when I had proved that I was ready and willing to churn out whatever they threw at me, and do so in a efficient and well-written fashion) that I was finally asked if there was a story that I wanted to do.
What did I end up finding out? I was not doing huge political stories that I had first told my editor I was interested in (hence the first week of shadowing the political reporter), but I was actually happy doing people stories. I loved them, even though I had pictured myself as a hardcore newspaperwoman for most of my journalism dream-life. I chose to do a huge feature on therapeutic horseback-riding. It was amazing. A front-page spread wherein I wrote a detailed first-person of the ups and downs of a local stable and one of it's 'patients.' I paired it with a more unbiased, scientific exploration of the benefits and dangers of the therapy (I mean come-on, huge beasts that often enjoy stampeding being used to treat people missing legs or people with Down Syndrome?). It is still the story I am most proud of, even though I went on to do a few exposes at the college paper and a great stint as an editorial writer decyring the failings of our college's administration.
What bothers me is that newbies no longer want to do the grunt work. They want to just do what they want to do and not worry about perfecting there art enough to handle those sprawling stories that they prefer to write. That's what the newspaper business has always been about. Getting the news out sure, but also having a hand in that once-in-a-lifetime story that ends up coming along. Not only having a hand, but being the one who makes it the best it can be. The key is to enjoy yourself and just let it come. Cause it will just be a badly written story from an inexperienced writer if you don't put in the necessary time.

Long-live newspapers...I hope I never have to leave for good.