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

Phenomenal and charming: The Martha Raddatz Story (and some links)

That's my hand! P.S. She totally digs this photo.
That’s my hand! P.S. She totally digs this photo. © Medill

My day on campus was supposed to be over at 12:20, but I figured I’d stick around, since Martha Raddatz was speaking. You should remember Ms. Raddatz as the moderator of the 2012 vice presidential debates; she’s also a very accomplished political and foreign correspondent. I’m only a Medill student for (ulp!) less than two months, so I have to take advantage of opportunities when they come up, right?

Martha Raddatz, as it turns out, was awesome. She was beyond lovely and had some great, great stories and advice. You can stream the event (about an hour) here, and/or read about it in The Daily Northwestern. After she spoke, students were lining up to talk with her and take pictures with her. I was going to skedaddle and catch my train, but I figured I’d thank her, especially for her words about covering military and veterans’ issues. Except I couldn’t find my phone! So I just said hi, and went on my way. There’s always a reception after these things, so I snuck in for a cupcake and a quick chat with one of my classmates. At which point… I found my phone. Right in my pocket, where I’d put it, on silent, before the talk.

No, augh, really, don't look.
No, augh, really, don’t look. This is enough.

Luckily I did get a chance for a selfie with Ms. Raddatz, who was gracious and friendly even though her handlers were tapping their watches. (Alas, I think it’s one of my less flattering photos, which… happens a lot when you’re taller than everyone else, including the person taking your picture. Oh well! It’s not like I don’t have selfies covered. They’re an evolving art form and a means of sociopolitical expression, after all.)

So, now my weekend starts! Time for more reading, writing and reporting, and maybe a little bit of fun too. Maybe. For the meantime, some link-mongering! Below the jump, we’ve got stories about radical education in Matamoros, Mexico; portraits of pre-Taliban Afghanistan; access to live shows at the Globe (yes, that one); a breakfast recipe I need to adapt to be egg-free (stupid allergies), because it just sounds that good; diversity in comedy, and more!

Continue reading “Phenomenal and charming: The Martha Raddatz Story (and some links)”

The counterpart to the “Hello, world!” post: “I aten’t dead yet.”

Well, that’s embarrassing — the first piece of spam on Magpie & Whale made it through Akismet, which I then had manually go in and delete, to my shame. It’s been, what, three months since I updated? Many apologies; there’s been a lot going on.

Medill is going well — it’s going very well, in fact. I continue to be wildly, wildly happy, with the program, with the people and with this profession. We’re coming up on the end of the quarter, and it looks like all my final projects are due on June 3, which is inconvenient, as that’s my mom’s would-have-been 70th birthday and I will be in Ohio that weekend. She, of course, would not let me get away with not doing the work, so it’s going to be a busy week.

I have a new side project that I keep banging my head against, trying to make it go from concept to outline to execution. It’s more “what if?” Shakespeare, though it’s more in line with the play (Henry IV Part 1, for the curious) than Innogen is with Cymbeline. (I also have not forgotten Innogen. It pains me that it’s still stalled. There is a break coming up, though, and hopefully that will be fruitful. Thank you everyone for your patience. If George R.R. Martin can [sort of] do it, so can I, goshdarnit.)

In the meantime, if you’re interested in the reporting I’ve been doing as part of the Medill News Service this quarter, here are links to my seven published stories so far; I have four more to go. I’ve been covering veterans and military families, and I’m spending this Memorial Day transcribing interviews conducted at the opening of the new exhibit at the National Veterans Art Museum, so I suppose that’s apropos. Continue reading “The counterpart to the “Hello, world!” post: “I aten’t dead yet.””

Things I did on my first day of grad school

No one is surprised that I really take to approaching strangers, chatting for a few minutes and asking if I could take their picture. Our first assignment, in our first Methods class (where we learn both the skills necessary for today’s tech-wielding journalism and whether we have unexplored passions for new-to-us media creation), is to spend an hour in the Loop and come back when we’ve taken interesting photos of people. Along with two other girls, I head south and west, along Van Buren Street, across the river and down into Union Station. Nearly 70 shots later, I’ve talked with Ed, who works a newsstand behind the Chicago Board of Trade; the owner of a liquor store and bar that’s closing after 55 years in the same hands; Ellen, who insists she only takes good photos when she’s standing next to her brother-in-law; and a postman, pictured above, who says, “I’m just working, I’m just working.”

Turns out I’m super into this. Can’t wait until I get to do this and write about it too. Continue reading “Things I did on my first day of grad school”