This time, something’s different.

Another day, another -6F on the mercury. Chicago remains cold and covered in snow. One upside, at least, is that it’s too cold for cloud cover, so the light is gorgeous and the sky a crystalline blue.

We’ve got something going for us now, though: birds are singing. I don’t know what kind they are, but there’s a nest wedged into the roof beams of my back steps, and I’m thrilled to hear some life out there each morning.

Inside the apartment, things are trucking along. I’ve done some applying, interviewing and networking, all of which I believe is going to bear fruit in some way or another. I’ve also rediscovered my fiction groove, and am reminding myself of my own words, that writing fiction is also something I want for myself, and it’s not just okay but necessary to give myself time to do that.

I’m giving myself other projects too. Radio was something I always wanted to try more of in grad school, but time constraints and course availability meant that I was mostly focused on written storytelling. Last week I put out a call for audio story prompts, which I am still taking — if you’d like to suggest something here in the comments or over in my Tumblr askbox or on Twitter, I would find that super exciting! Yesterday, on either side of a less-than-successful trip to the Apple Store, I spent my train trip collecting natsound — the rumble of the tracks, the squeaky door, the automated announcements, the click of the turnstiles. I remember one Medill professor calling radio “the poetry of journalism,” and in trying to get more practice with it, I’m starting to understand that a little more.

The day is young, and I’ve got emails/cover letters/fiction/cover letters to write, so — on to the link party!  Continue reading “This time, something’s different.”

The Frozen North is not done with us yet

Polar vortex? Alberta Clipper? It’s been cold in Cook County this month. I’m delighted that we have a high of 32F for today, when earlier this week we were comfortably back in negative double digits and dangerous wind chills. The difference between this round of terrible temperatures and the last one is that I’m not hiding in my apartment as much. I’m pretty sure I have this XKCD comic to thank for that, along with a memory of an elementary school friend who’d grown up in Edmonton, Alberta, gleefully bragging about Halloween in weather like this.

Number of hours. NUMBER. But I like your message.
Number of hours. NUMBER. But I like your message.

I’m sure you’ll have noticed that this weekly check-in is not occurring on a Monday, and especially not this past Monday. I fell into a couple of traps on this front, mostly having to do with believing I had nothing to say. January is a really easy month to want to hide and hibernate through, especially when you feel like everyone else has their act together but you. But the thing about hibernation, to get all Advice Columnist-y on us, is that often you’re doing a lot of work that you don’t necessarily see, but that comes to mean a lot when you get going on something else. (As an aside, this week I learned that Andrew W.K. is actually an excellent advice columnist. Who knew?)

Part of that work, for me, has been reframing the way this job hunting thing works. A trio of “Surprise! You really need to hear this” encounters — one from Medill Career Services, one from a former professor over Facebook and one from a cousin at a funeral, of all things — has finally knocked it into my head that “Please, sir, may have I another?” is truly not going to get me far. Some people need to be able to back up their swagger with performance; I need to translate my skills and accomplishments into swagger. (Hi, potential employers who might be reading this! I hope by the time you see this, we’ve gotten to know each other well enough that you’re surprised that I’m in knots about this whole process.)

Another thing that smacked me over the head was a fortuitous trio of links about understanding what goes on in your head when you avoid doing something that you really want to do, like work and earn money.

Luckily the UNC Writing Center has our backs with steps and solutions we can use for real. Another tactic, which I undertook yesterday, is to give yourself an actual break, not just one where you hate yourself for getting off track about your real job, and do something that fills you up, rather than just kills time. I spent the day meeting up with friends, wandering the Art Institute of Chicago and seeing a movie about a 14-year-old who sails around the world.  Continue reading “The Frozen North is not done with us yet”

Big Block of Cheese Day is now real.

This was actually going to be a review of my rewatch of Season 3 of The West Wing, but I want to pause for a moment to acknowledge that this seems to have dropped tonight, and it’s real. Let’s just contemplate that for a moment.

That was kind of great, wasn’t it?

So my West Wing rewatch sort of began by accident. I have two tons of DVDs that I never watch, and it seemed like I should pare them down a little, which is still a less intimidating job than writing cover letters and setting up informational interviews. What I’ve learned is that Desperately Seeking Susan is still perfect, but The Illusionist, unfortunately, is not. I’m never getting rid of my West Wing box sets: that’s not the point. But when I return to episodes, they’re usually in the first two seasons. (Isn’t it a shame that show ended after Season 4? Maybe someday I’ll push through the non-Sorkin seasons, since I hear it got sort of good again towards the end, but for now, I’ll stick with what I’ve got.)

Here’s what I’ve learned from watching Season 3 in mumblemumble a few days.

Continue reading “Big Block of Cheese Day is now real.”

Things I’d never done before

One thing about funemployment is that you find all kinds of amazing ways to entertain yourself and to avoid the grueling, soul-sucking work of looking for and applying for jobs. Chicago also continues to be gruesome weather-wise — my dad keeps informing me that we’re due for an Alberta Clipper this weekend, followed by another polar vortex. I’m thisclose to setting myself up with a light therapy lamp, because it’s just so easy to lose inspiration to do anything much more than hang out under the covers and loaf.

On the other hand, I’m trying and experiencing a lot of things for the first time, because hey, it’s better than facing the alsdjkfhalkjsfh number of tabs from Media Bistro in the other window, right? Continue reading “Things I’d never done before”

I don’t mind Mondays

Okay, okay, I promised I would check in and stay accountable on Mondays, so here I am, accountable-ing. The above video is “Hans,” a track by David Ummmo, which used to be on the OmmWriter software, and which I find ambient and soothing in a totally unironic way. You might like it! I know between this and Rainy Mood, I can use all the help focusing that I can get.

This week, I:

  • Applied for a few jobs, which is a small start, but hey, small starts are better than not starting at all. I still hate cover letters and LinkedIn, but I don’t think that’s anyone’s big, dark secret.
  • Took advantage of Chicago being 40 whole degrees Fahrenheit yesterday and picked up Zombies, Run! again, for the first time since basically early December. I spent most of the (very slow, occasionally wheezing) run very proud of myself for not slipping on the sheets of ice all over the sidewalk nor drowning in the gigantic puddles at the corners of streets, which of course meant that one block from my apartment, I took a balletic spill with audible sound effects. I’m fine, if sore, but hey, once again, a hilarious start is better than no start at all.
  • Began the Code Academy lessons. It is frustrating to put yourself through the “Basic HTML” bits when you learned some of this stuff in 1999, but then again, it’s also possible that 1) code has gotten a little better in the intervening 15 years (which it has!), and that 2) you can unlearn some bad habits that won’t help you down the line. I was quite pleased to see that Code Academy includes in-line CSS very early on, so — I’m encouraged for the stuff I don’t know, is what I’m saying.
    • I don’t know how social Code Academy really is or gets, but if you want to follow my progress or be coding friends or somesuch, I’m pyBlaster10597.
  • Watched a lot of Leverage, which is a perfect show about running cons and found families. I love everybody, but I might love Hardison the most. The first season is available for free on Hulu, for those for whom Hulu is an option, IP-wise.
  • Wrote some fiction. Doing it in 750-word chunks is really good for me, it turns out. That covers just about one scene, at least for a first draft, and if it needs to go beyond that, I’ve already got my momentum going.

We’ve been having a little weather in the Midwest this year so far, so I have not accomplished much on the photography front (though I have been rediscovering the glories of the slow cooker, as well as the possibility of chocolate stout and bacon brownies; cooking more has also been a goal!). Temperatures are looking a little less surface-of-Martian for the next week, so that should help.

One nice link-drop to end on: “STEM Needs a New Letter” and “Why Her Will Dominate UI Design Even More Than Minority Report are two articles about the same story, at heart. Good timing, journalism imps (or whoever it is that ensures synchronicity in the news world).

Good habits begin somewhere

That’s a good thing to remember when, on your first self-declared day of responsible funemployment, you wake up at 9:30 after staying up too late on Tumblr. It’s never too late to start over, though.

On the plane home from Thanksgiving in Ohio, I made myself a two-page list/motivational speech about how I’m going to use this time between graduation and finding a job. The list includes projects like learning more code, working on novels 750 words at a time, keeping up with running in cold weather and organizing get-togethers for people from my cohort who are still in Chicago.

Worrying is easy, of course: it feels like you’re doing something when you’re pretty much accomplishing the opposite. This Thursday I’m headed out to Seattle for a week, which is going to be phenomenal, but I’m already telling myself that this is a perfect opportunity to fall behind and fail before I get started.

Nope. It’s going to be okay, and I’m going to make this be okay, and I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it. I was wondering if anyone might have some recommendations for me in terms of websites where I can learn things.

  • I thought I’d try Code Academy for the coding part. I know is out there, but if I can avoid paying for something, I’d like to try that. (Unless someone wants to talk me into Lynda? We used it briefly during an Interactive Foundations-type class this spring, but, er, I did not use it as much as maybe I could have.) If anyone can speak to Khan Academy, I’d also be interested in hearing how they do, on any subject.
  • Going through all my photos in hopes of developing some sort of portfolio has really impressed on me that I need to take more and more interesting pictures. I’d like to find a reliable weekly photo challenge to follow: and the official WordPress feed seem all right, but I’m happy to take other recommendations on, say, Twitter or Tumblr or something else I can follow on an RSS feed. I’m also going to try carting my camera around with me everywhere I go, and maybe referring to the Digital Photography School (or your favorite alternative!) for further help.
  • I’m getting a bit frustrated trying to find the right template for my portal/portfolio. I don’t want much — a static, WordPress-based site where I can convince people that I have good clips, can do other good stuff that Medill taught me, and that I would make a great hire. Anyone know of a minimal, tweakable template that might do? I can build one myself, but I’d rather the site look a little better than that, in truth.

Recently I found a fabulous handout from The Writing Center at UNC–Chapel Hill about procrastination. It breaks down why we procrastinate and what we can do about it in a really straightforward, non-blaming way, and it’s advice we all can use, anytime. This is going in my bookmarks, and I plan on returning to it often.

It also helps me to check in with status reports on a regular basis, and I find that if I announce I’m going to do something, that keeps me generally accountable about keeping it up. (Not always, true, but I’m chalking these both up to delay and not giving up. Some of these are even on my projects list.) So expect to see me checking in here once a week — maybe on Mondays, but we’ll see what works. If I haven’t, please feel free to prod me over Twitter or in my Tumblr askbox, which are the two most likely places I’ll see the reminder.

Another goal: get good enough at ukulele to justify buying a really nice one
Another goal: get good enough at ukulele to justify buying a really nice one

Affirmation time! This could be a period of, as Gus demonstrates above, hiding under the table. But I don’t think it will be. Off to go do things, gang! And please, if you have recommendations (or un-recs) on any of the points above, take to the comments and let me know what you think.

Happy Monday, all! Yeah, I said it. ♥

Welcome to the world, new Medill MSJs

I woke up this morning with nothing on my to-do list.

Okay, to be fair, that’s a hideous lie. I have jobs to hunt, fiction to write, books to read for pleasure, groceries to buy, an absolute hole of an apartment that I’ve been neglecting in favor of bigger projects, and I need to call my dad. But I have no more schoolwork to worry about: I’m done with my master’s program at Medill, unless there’s a secret handshake I still need to be taught.

My last paper was actually for an undergraduate class I took about depictions of war in entertainment media, which I turned in on Wednesday, hoping my professor will grok that in order to cite quotes from David Simon characters, you get to become one with some pretty amazing foul language. But my capstone project, that came together on Tuesday. I spent Friday through that morning doing pretty much nothing else. This was definitely the kind of weekend where you order one extra large pizza and live off it for a day or two, at which point you order more carryout, because who has time to go outside?

But it’s done, a long form nonfiction narrative (as they call it) about shape note singers, of which I am very proud. Fingers crossed, I can sell it somewhere and you all can read it and see where my lost weekend went.

Wednesday night Medill threw us a party, or at least a very nice get-together. I got to see classmates I hadn’t seen in months, thanks to our schedules, and there was an awful lot of “How is this year over already?” Some of us have jobs and internships, and I could not be happier to see where everyone is already landing. A lot of us are sort of scratching our heads and wondering where to go next, but I’ve seen us do some pretty amazing things over this past year. We’re all going to be fine.

What a year, though, right? I’ve been trying to keep a list for myself of the big stories we’re going to remember our MSJ year by: Manti Te’o. The Boston Marathon bombings. Pope Francis. Mandela. And snow… something. Snowbird? Snowflake? I’m sure it’ll come to me.

But, to be completely schlocky, what I’ll really remember is how I had the absolute joy and pleasure of getting to meet and work with and learn from so many amazing people that might never have otherwise been in my life. Whether we were racing between Evanston and downtown with an hour and a half between classes or biking 25 miles to see a botanic garden, grousing all night in the newsroom or watching the sun rise over Lake Michigan, tramping up and down Lawrence Avenue/26th Street/Sheridan Road to find sources or taking vanity to new and exciting heights, I’m glad we did it together. I really like you, cohort. Thanks for being so great. Let’s stay close, time zones and distance be damned.

I came to Medill after a very unhappy year. My mother died, and getting into Medill, to finally, actively move toward a career that I chose and want was the first good, big thing that had happened for what felt like a very long time. The other day I found myself realizing that this is a whole life accomplishment that I’ve done completely without her. I wish she could know; I wish she could see what I’ve been doing. (She knew it was coming, or at least something I wanted. She used to hassle me about whether I’d written my application essays and talked to my recommenders yet.)

I recognize her in a lot of the things I focus on or write. She used to say that our family business is stories: she was a psychologist, my dad is a retired English professor, my two sisters have been deeply invested in opera and photography, one niece is studying musical theater and my oldest nephew wants to make films. I’ve been writing fiction since I was 4. Journalism is such a natural thing for me to fall into, it’s a wonder I didn’t think of it sooner. But I’m glad I’m doing it now. I’m really excited about where my life is going to go.

So many people are so proud of me, I know. They’ve helped me get here with their love and support, and I cannot, I cannot thank them enough. Thank you, Dad. I love you. Thank you Neil and Steve and Elizabeth, for vouching for me. Thank you friends, who talked me down on bad nights and second-read my words and gave me better ideas and kept me happy with a life outside of school. Thank you Marcel and Charles and Michael and Louise, Steve and Rachel and Alan and Candy and Kurt. Thank you to Kim at Career Services, who is going to keep saving my neck when I freak out about my cover letters. Thank you to everyone who’s going to keep helping me. Secret handshake, Medill Mafia — we’re going to have fun together.

A little less than a year ago, I wrote Things I did on my first day of grad school. On Thursday, I woke up with a master’s degree under my belt. I’ll say it again, guys: what a freaking year. The next one’s going to be just great. Lots of love, gang. See you all along the way.

First day of the rest of my life

David, the king, was grieved and moved

Not many recordings can bring me to tears before the words even start. This lesson from the Second Ireland Sacred Harp Convention got me where I live right away. “David’s Lamentation,” Sacred Harp 268:

David, the king, was grieved and moved
He went to his chamber and wept;
And as he went, he wept and said:
“O my son,
Would to God I had died,
For thee, O Absalom, my son!”

I’ll have a lot to say about shape note singing and Sacred Harp very shortly, as it’s the topic of my capstone project at Medill, which is due this Tuesday. Until next week, assume I am hard at work on that — unless, of course, I’m poleaxed by human voices and a good pair of headphones again.

If you, dear listener, need a bit of a balm after that emotional suckerpunch, I’d recommend, from this same convention, this beautiful, joyous “Hallelujah.”

Yes. Yes, this is exactly what Cymbeline needs!

Cymbeline is directed by Michael Almereyda (Hamlet), based on William Shakespeare’s original text. Ethan Hawke (Training Day, The Purge) stars in the film which unfolds as an epic battle between dirty cops and a drug dealing biker gang set in a corruption-riddled 21st century America. The film also features Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, Penn Badgley, Anton Yelchin, Penn Badgley, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman and Dakota Johnson. The film has landed distribution in various territories around the world, but doesn’t yet have a distributor in the United States, and thus has no current release date. Stay tuned for updates. Thoughts? (source)

So many. The first being that the women are the stars of this play. It is so, so not about the dudes. Cymbeline himself is a weak king with a Lear-like temper and a Leontes-level ability to make good character judgments. Pisanio is an awesome secondary character but mostly inasmuch as he serves and helps Imogen. Iachimo (Hawke’s character) is often played as the evil-but-funny villain! Posthumus is a doofus! And I say that as someone who adores writing him. Imogen is who gives the play weight and an arc; it’s the Queen who is the real antagonist.

The trailer was up briefly, but then taken down. It mostly looked like strutting and posturing — and, unsurprisingly, almost exactly like the director’s Hamlet, particularly Dan Humphrey — sorry, Penn Badgley as Posthumus. The only good thing I’m seeing right now is that PJ Ransone has an unnamed role in the thing.

I really want a great Cymbeline movie. I really, really do. But I do not have good feelings about this one. If it rage-spurs me to get moving on Innogen and the Hungry Half again, though, that, at least, might make it worth my time.

(Once upon a time I wrote up some thoughts and feelings from a non-theater professional about how I’d love to see this play staged. Hey, who knows, maybe this film will surprise me. Don’t all you crickets chirp at once, though.)