Last hurrah

Thursday, April 26, 2007
My newspaper at school lets seniors write a weepy goodbye and publish it on the opinion page. Here is mine, in all its glory, edited only to take out things that identify the paper. The name of the paper has been replaced with "College paper". I try not to be googleable.

"College surprised the writer in me. While in high school, my friends and I developed a bad habit of writing about each other. But when I arrived at [school] I signed up for fiction writing, and tried to keep what was written on the page separate from what was happening in my life.

I started college with academic papers that used extended metaphors, and I buried my theses somewhere in the third paragraph. I liked the way alliterated words tripped on my tongue, and I overused them. I studied literature and skimmed the newspapers. I didn’t drink coffee.

But somewhere along the way I became a reporter.

I forgot how to write in the dreamy stream of conscious that was the only thing I was comfortable with in high school. I chose inverted pyramids instead, found the thrill of writing on deadline, and discovered that I forget to eat while reporting. I started drinking coffee.

But I could never write about [College Newspaper]. Maybe it was because I was still writing fiction for class. Maybe it was because [College Newspaper] is such a bizarre place. Maybe it’s because it was never just a newspaper.

The inability to write about [College Newspaper] translated into blank stares when friends—who watched me stumble into an 11 a.m. class exhausted, skipped an exciting event, or change out of my pajamas to go back to the office in the middle of the night—asked me “why do you do it?”

Sometimes the answer arrived by itself. It was when a friend told me that everyone in class was reading my story, and now she understood why I didn’t stop to talk when I ran by her the night before. Or it was when a suitemate told me that she decided if it was going to be a good day based on whether or not my name was in the paper. ...

But stories I’ve covered and bylines in the paper don’t even make up a fraction of the answer. And, as a city writer, I’ve only written a handful of stories that I can imagine were ever read during class.

I am left trying to answer the why, trying to figure out what drew me to the office night after night, and find I can’t give a rational answer. But I know what it feels like. I know what it looks like.

It’s the tired grins I shared with other editors as I slid into a seat next to them—late to class as usual. It’s the smile on days when our front page is excellent—when it has breaking news, features, and good photos, even if none of us had bylines that day.

It’s the adrenaline rush that comes with breaking news.

It’s the heat of my angry tears when I thought that the editor position I was given was unfairly vague and that the writers I was supposed to work with had little idea what they were doing. It’s the feeling of surprise when a semester later, I realized that I had a job description that made sense and the scared freshmen who had sat in my first beat chief meeting trusted me and had become reporters.

It’s the sense of security when an editor defended me to an angry source. It’s the knowledge that I had been vested with the power to defend another reporter.

It’s the acknowledgment that there is no non-ridiculous way to answer the question “what are you talking about at 5 in the morning?” when the reason I had been standing... with a best friend for hours is because we’d been talking about newspapers—our newspaper.

It’s squeezing onto a bench where there really isn’t enough room because it’s essential that the whole news board sit around one table.

It’s the feeling of deja vu I had when I gave advice to a new editor and realized it was the same advice I had received from a graduating editor a year earlier.

It’s the comfort in knowing that I always have friends who are awake throughout the night.

It’s the way the words “my paper” feel on my tongue, and the nervous feeling that it’s going to be a long time before I find another paper that will be able to make me cry and laugh."

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Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

I have left my real name off of the blog so as not to imply that the blog is somehow linked with the journalism I get paid to do. (Still, I never write about my beat on this blog, and rarely express opinions about the day's news regardless of its relationship to my beat).

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Books pyramid image originally from the British website, Explore Writing.