The Press Club’s Journalism Conference

On September 7, I attended the 27th Annual Press Club Conference on Journalism at NYU. As a former staff writer, and frankly, an American citizen, I appreciate the role of the press in a democracy. A free press is a pillar upon which this union stands and if the press crumbles, so goes the country. I’m not being old school here – responsible journalism and truth-telling is a civic responsibility. And, as Chris Cuomo says, “Let’s get after it.”

Journalism panel at the Press Club – more diversity, please!

The keynote speaker was Ross Buettner who along with Susanne Craig and David Barstow got after it when the New York Times reporters broke the story of how Trump inflated his ego (and flat out lied) by calling himself a self-made millionaire. Truth was he inherited, squandered, and exaggerated his millions. It’s curious why this story did not have legs, as they say. Maybe it’s that we, the American people, are bombarded with falsehoods every fricken’ day, including on this day, September 11, 2019 – has Trump (DT) no shame? — and we’ve become inured to this shady executive in chief’s penchant for falsehoods and exaggerations.

One question for the keynoter: “Is DT an outlier?” And the answer is, indubitably, “Yes,” the man is an outlier. We, the people, are so much better than this charlatan currently occupying the Oval Office.  

Investigative reporters like Barstow, Craig, and Buettner are my modern-day heroes. And like so many people of principle, they choose humility over self-aggrandizement. For example, Buettner admonished, “You always wanna’ be checking your own BS.” Wise words.

Also sage advice: “Don’t be afraid of sounding stupid,” said Alana Pipe in the workshop on Making Data a Routine Part of Your Beat, which featured two additional amazing investigative and data savvy reporters, Irina Ivanova and Will Bedderman, who specialize in using data to unearth hidden stories. These data and investigative stories take time to simmer so this kind of reporting requires patience, which is difficult for me. However, I remind myself to stay on topic and not chase side stories. I am so easily distracted: what’s the shiny new thing? Hey, I tell myself, follow the truth — but make it sparkly. After all, writers are competing for the attention of readers who might prefer shiny games like Candy Crush to the depressing news.  

Amanda FitzSimons listens to Hannah Bae’s wise counsel for freelancers.

The workshop on Workin’ It: Making It as a Freelancer was chock-full of advice. Hanna Bae  (@hanbae) was a fount of knowledge. Here are a few of her suggestions, plucked from my Twitter feed @MaryBethC

  • New voices, submit your writing to the WSJ and the Washington Post’s the Lily.
  • Use your interests. The topic of academic stress was interesting to Bae so she wrote about specialized high schools.
  • Reach out to local bureau chiefs in international settings for assignments and for professional development.
  • Peer mentors and friends are the best networking buddies!
  • Never pitch on social media; use thoughtfully worded emails.

In the conference’s opening plenary, panelists Zach Fink, Harry Siegel, Ruby Cramer, and Michael Calderone discussed The Media’s Responsibility in Election 2020. How can the press report differently (better!) this time around? Here again, my advice? Do not chase shiny objects!

On a discussion of whether journalists fear for their safety in a climate of hate-mongering from the president, both Ruby Cramer and Michael Calderone agreed that female and people of color journalists receive more hate on social media than their white male colleagues.

Zack Fink spun the current political morass as one that has sparked an uptick in civic engagement, a new “level of wokeness,” calling the current political climate “a backlash to elitism.”  

Still, there were calls for greater diversity in newsrooms (okay, that was me). Most of the audience seemed to be young people, women, and people of color yet the panelists and our media’s talking heads are often white, male pundits.

I think that the event was sold out because the Press Club supported college students and young journalists to attend the conference. We need these young people and we need the freakin’ press. Support your local journos.

To join the Press Club, I had to submit a few of my press clippings and pay my membership dues. Growing up, my father was a member of the Chicago Press Club and to me, there was nothing fancier than a night out to dinner with my parents and a bunch of press people. This is still true today!

On Twitter you can follow the thought leaders whom I heard from: @russbuettner @JenKayW @AbigailPesta @ZackFinkNews @mlcalderone @alanapipe @iaivanova @WendyJPollack @aefeldman @marypilon @rubycramer

They work in outlets such as: @CNN, @NY1, @BuzzFeed, @politico, @nytimes, @CrainsNewYork, @CBSNews,

Giving Up for Lent

I am not giving up wine or chocolate this Lent. I am looking at my life and making an impact – socially, spiritually, physically, creatively, professionally, politically, and family-wise. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a reminder that we are all going to die. And Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, the night before Ash Wednesday, reminds us that we are going to live until we die. Lent is 40 days of intentional living.

Here are my aims, remembering that this life is but a whisper.

Socially

Speak with words of deep love and mutual respect
No gossip or judgment – Believe everyone is doing their best
If I’m on time I’m late; Arrive early

Spiritually

20130425-085137.jpgPray and meditate
Practice mindfulness
Celebrate the diversity of religions

Physically

Stay fit
Train for a 10K in June
Eat more greens (fruits and vegetables) and less whites (carbs)

Creatively

Make art, especially cards and my art journal
Write in my journal every day
Send work out to be published
Less time passively taking in social media, more time producing art

Professionally

Read about what makes for good teaching every day
Listen well to students and colleagues
Be firm, but loving with classroom management
Remain organized with lesson plans – organization is the key to success

Politically

Give to: the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, International Women’s Writing Guild, and United Methodist Women
Support women and children who are marginalized and oppressed
Honor the sanctuary movement
Write to thank the activists on the frontlines
Support independent and women artists and commercial establishments
Speak up about gender equality
Celebrate and preserve the freedom of the press

Family-wise

Remain true to Chris and the kids
Do not overparent but guide my nearly-adult children to independence
Listen to and encourage the dreams of my children and family
Play more board games

I know I should make these resolutions SMART goals — measurable and time-sensitive. But for now, this is where I am starting. This is the beautiful thing about Lent — it is manageable; we travel from winter to spring. The miracle of renewal and resurrection is right around the corner. Stay optimistic. Have faith.

More on mindfulness.

 

Stay Happy-Go-Lucky

“I will never stop fighting for justice.” I told my daughter at the kitchen table, the morning after the election.

“I know, Mom,” she said.

I was glad that she knew this. I was glad that I had not lost the fight. I have been focused on teaching well and not so much on writing well over the last few months. I have felt defeated by this beautiful country that I love and the election results. But I refuse to give up. Je refuse. 

I will find beauty. I will make sure kindness wins. I will serve others. Throughout my journey, I will remain happy-go-lucky. It is my rebellion – to fight for happiness and to remain carefree. Despite my cares. I worry, mostly, about the progression of Chris’s Parkinson’s.

Last night Chris and I watched The End of the Tour about David Foster Wallace. Chris loves getting movies from the library. I love movies about writers. It’s a win/win.

It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do this.

-From David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on my blog every other Sunday morning before noon.

Yesterday, Jolain and I went to the Cloisters. Here are a few photos from the day.

I’m Sorry

Yesterday, on my way to work at about 7:30 am, after a bad night’s sleep, I was Citibiking on the Central Park bike path loop. I felt like a failure (for some parenting issues I’d rather not go into*.) Behind me, the Parks Department truck honked. I was slow. And now I was mad and frustrated. I was struggling to pedal up a hill — that one where the runners pass me on my bike — and this dude is honking! Really?!

Any way, I rode to the left side of the road and the Parks Department truck pulled up next to me. The driver leaned out of his window, “Hey, sorry. I was not honking at you. I saw my crew in the field and I was honking at them.” Then he drove off.

I began to cry. Because the dude did not have to apologize or explain but he did. And because — even after some perceived parenting failings — it’s not always about me. And that Park’s Department worker’s one random act of kindness, of apologizing, flipped my day.

So remember this — the next time a person honks at you, don’t curse yourself. Or pile on the self-pity or frustration. The driver may not be trying to get you out of the way; they may be simply saying hello to a friend in a different lane.

on my morning commute

*I know that when a writer says ‘I don’t want to go into it,’ it makes the story more interesting. For a hint as to my parenting transgression, you might get the idea if you watch my Listen to Your Mother story, Taking out the Trash on YouTube. See, I had lost my patience with one of my darlings And I wished that I didn’t. 

Daily Prompt: Daring to Tell Your Truth

Last year when Patrick Kennedy spoke about his family’s alcoholism on 60 Minutes — and his own — it totally inspired me. It made me happy that a man was telling his family truths. That he was seeking to heal by being honest.

Does every family think they are a little bit like the Kennedy family? I think my family is. And by family I mean the family I was born into, the family I married into, and the family I created. All three of these  families share a legacy of intelligence, humor, and service. And yes, a dynasty of not talking about feelings but forging on and accomplishing greatness no matter what.

Every family has their health struggles. How do you handle yours? Do you put on a brave face? Do you speak your truth? This topic often comes up when teaching writing to adults– What if writing my truth hurts someone? Maybe we should ask instead, What if it heals someone? What if the truth does set you free?

And then there is, of course, this advice (from Anne Lamott?) ‘If they didn’t want you to write about them, they should’ve treated you better.’ But some people can’t treat you better because they’re not in treatment.

I thought it was interesting that Patrick said his father Edward Kennedy suffered from PTSD because his two brothers were assassinated.

Talking about your family illness — whether is be Parkinson’s, alcoholism, depression, or cancer — is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.

kennedy

 

via Daily Prompt: Daring

speak_title_591x5812x

 

The Magic of Tidying Up

Once when Hayden was a toddler, I purged many of his stuffed animals, toys, baby clothes. I displayed his favorite things – a few matchbox cars, Winnie the Pooh, books about Mr. Sillypants. When he came into his room, he didn’t say, “Where’s my stuff?” he said, “Mom, where did you find all my things?’

That’s what happens when you get rid of your things, you find your things.

image

I hated these bookshelves in our entry way because besides being a place for books, they were a place to stash shoes and bike helmets. (Dont’ judge, people. We live in an apartment in the city – we don’t have a garage, attic, basement. We have narrow closets.)

image

I have been following the wisdom of the Marie Kondo bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It is not a simple process. You have to gather all like things in one place. Here are the steps:

  1. clothes
  2. books
  3. papers
  4. komono (miscellaneous)image

First, discard. Then, organize.

While the girls are at camp in Vermont and Chris is fishing in Canada, I have been purging like mad. I emptied two bookshelves. Then emptied six more.

I took time out to get a pedicure. Yay.

image

The least fun part was our handyman yelling at me and Hayden for using the wrong elevator to drag our book case into the garbage. Sorry. 😉

The most fun? Arranging the book cases. In one, I created a shelf for mine and my friends’ published work. There’s a lot of room for more books, friends. Here’s another book case.image

I reorganized the entryway. “Keep only those things that spark joy in your heart.” My father’s painting, my mother’s figurine, wall art from Hayden’s trip to Botswana, a mug/bowl made by our beloved babysitter Josie. (I can see in this picture that the bookcase and the door needs a paint job.) image

This is where the tipsy bookshelves were. The space is now becoming a homework or dining nook.imageThe basic tenet of the book is to get rid of everything that does not spark joy when you hold it in your hands. That’s tough. Because, like my clothes, not many of my books make me feel Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!

I don’t know if it’s because I don’t feel I deserve joy. Or being a good Christian, I have set aside material objects and taken joy from spiritual experiences. I enjoy relationships and adventures not things.

I have not wanted to make the decision of what to keep for the rest of the family. I piled many of the girls’ and Chris’s books to let them make the call. Our books were all junked together. As the children get older, I believe everyone should have their own bookshelf. (And the girls share a closet and during this process, I have thought they should have their own spaces.)

Maybe these shifting family space dynamics are spurred by Hayden leaving for college in three (yes, three!) weeks.

What did I learn?

It was hard to give away books that were given to me. Books that I still haven’t read.

I let go of half-read books or books that I hung on to for someday. Like, let’s say there was going to be Armageddon, I would be ready with my books.

Many of my books were accumulated for book club or before my Kindle.

Books get dusty. Blech. I had a headache doing this yesterday. So Hayden and I took a break and went to see Mission Impossible. Fun.

I have a ton of blank journals and half-written journals. I have baby journals, bird logs, yoga journals, books of lists, gratitude journals. The Marie Kondo method suggests keeping those and going through them during the komono or keepsake portion of the purge cycle. I can wait.

Still. I could not help but read some of my children’s writing as I purged.

Here’s one:

“The hospital is not as fun as you think it is. You get lots of shots, you have to stay in bed all day and night and you cannot walk around because you have wires attached to you.”

I think Hayden wrote this after one of his three heart surgeries/procedures. I think that one was from the one when he was 10.

This is why going through stuff is difficult. And gratitude-inspiring. And time-consuming.

I look at my stuff and think, Wow. How far we have come.

Or I don’t think at all, I simply feel. Does it spark joy? Yes, keep. No, toss.

There is beauty in minimalism. There is joy in simplicity.

Also read:

My post about decluttering clothes the KonMari way.

The Daily Post asks: What obstacles hold you back from getting it done this week?

 

A Poem for History and Heritage Day

Who was the nomad?
Was it you?
Did you use a walking stick?
A talking stick?
Did you find — as you journeyed — a sense of home?
Why did you leave?

Were you told to honor your father and mother?
But left any way
And now you are being left.

The natural right loneliness of the child, your child,
who fills his backpack, walks away and never looks back. Not once.
I don’t begrudge my children growing up.
I just didn’t know what you went through.
Until it happened to me.
It explains why everything fell apart.

Ancestors before me, have compassion. Forgive me.
I get to thinking it all began — I began —
when my grandparents and great grandparents came on a big ship
From Ireland and from Denmark and Norway.
Separate big ships. In the turbulent Atlantic sea.
Colliding in me.
Making my brothers and sisters too.
But mostly me.
I was born on three big ships crossing the Atlantic.

But I go back to fields and plains and caves.
Nomads.
Just like you.
We were all of us. Walking.
Walking with sticks.
Singing and laughing and arguing
And wondering who our children would be.

And now we set out, as nomads, again.

Where is your journey?
I hope you will find — as your journey — your way home.

Walking with a bag on a stick in Kenya
Walking with a bag on a stick in Kenya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wrote this and am reading this poem for History and Heritage Day, an alternative celebration to Columbus Day today at the Interchurch Center, NYC.