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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My (Short-Lived) Career In Journalism

When I was younger, I hoped to parlay my interest in writing into an honorable career. My first major in college (there were a few of them) was journalism. Unfortunately my penchant for strong black coffee (which I believed marked the serious reporter) and  moonlight ramblings in my journal (which were occasionally carved into poetry), did not easily translate into the tough domain of journalism. My dreams of making a difference in the world by becoming an investigative reporter, were dashed within the first week of Journalism 101.

After a brief introduction to the field we were entering, the professor gave us a choice of two assignments which he believed would prove our mettle. Assignment One required that we walk into town, press our nose against the full length window of a neighborhood cafe, and record patron reactions to our intrusion.  I got as far as walking to the cafe and standing before the glass wall. Nose a safe distance from the transparent panel, I nonchalantly peeked inside. The first face that noticed me ~ that of a young boy in a striped shirt ~ spooked me.

Onto Choice Number Two. Schedule an interview with one of the many prominent community members willing to partake in a freshman writing exercise. Names, professional qualifications, phone numbers, and initial  questions were provided. All we had to do was make the call and conduct the interview. I rehearsed my introduction and lifted the phone receiver. My hand shook. My heart pounded. Gently putting the receiver down, I walked to the registrar's office, dropped the class and changed my major.

I used to think that I failed before I even began. For years I wondered how my life and career would have evolved if my  journalism professor had been different, if instead of being the sink-or-swim type, he had been the type who would nurture the aspirations of a timid, self-conscious student.  I still think that those assignments were a ludicrous introduction to the field, but anyone who reads the news knows that journalism is not for the weak of heart. Perhaps my professor did me a favor.

Besides, I didn't really fail. I simply followed a different path. It recently occurred to me that the stories I tell, the characters which haunt me into existence, originate from the same curiosity and commitment to the world that motivated my desire to be an investigative reporter.

Not everyone can press their nose against the glass. Not everyone is cut out for the front lines. But each of us has a calling. Time has taught me that there is more than one path to get to where it is we want to go.