Saturday, March 11, 2017


I always wanted to write. Since the age of five, writing was my passion, and though I was very interested in creative writing, I was later drawn to journalism and reporting. To me, journalism was a form of service--offering to the public, to the community, facts that would help people live their lives safely and knowledgeably.

When I was nine, I started a newspaper on my upstate New York street (if memory serves, it was called the Gillespie Street Times, but I can’t swear to that). For a very brief period (because play eventually won out) I interviewed neighbors, collected data, and kept track of all the comings and goings (lost cats, pot holes, kickball games, etc.) My self-appointed job was to be accurate, because no reporter wants to be called into an editor’s office due to misleading statements or inaccuracies (though I was my own editor back then, and I sure didn't have an office!).

In high school I signed up for journalism. We learned to report on who, why, what, where, when, and sometimes, how. We threw spitballs and made squirrel noises at a teacher we didn’t adore when she turned her back to scribble on the blackboard. Another teacher we revered—he introduced us to coffee and motorcycles and insisted that our stories were factual, lucid, and significant. We went out into the field, gathering experiences, information and facts based on observation and interviews with credible sources. We were only in high school, yet we had begun to realize that some “real” reporters risked their lives for facts, traveled to war-torn countries, and put their lives on the line for the truth.

Onto college, where I volunteered for the college newspaper (for no credit, out of passion for truth). I spent long nights in the newspaper office, walking or biking home alone at 5 a.m. after the newspaper was “put to bed.” I was in love not only with the cute boy who wrote headlines, but also with words, truth, and accuracy.

I graduated and got a job as a reporter at a community newspaper. I worked and wrote nonstop: Meetings, deadlines, stories due the next morning after a town board or school board session that ended at 2 a.m. I always got quotes from both sides, reported the pros and cons, and checked my facts. No reporter wants to have to print a retraction or correction. (And btw, I was paid a pittance.)

Later, writing for magazines, I continued to deal with facts. I interviewed experts (including Mr. Rogers—on the phone!). I answered to fact-checkers, editors, and copy editors. Every detail was checked and rechecked. Even a simple piece about diapers or toys brought out fact checkers galore. Readers may not always know how long and nit-picky is the process to ensure that information is correct.

Some go to grad school--or to combat zones--to study to become better writers, reporters, to become investigative reporters, to learn how to interview well and write clearly. When these paths are demeaned, when those who seek to write and speak truth are maligned, a dangerous door is opened. Disparaging the media is a calculated step to create a confused and untrusting populace that can easily be manipulated.

Words have power. Words have meaning. Words can maim or heal. By far, most journalists write or report not to harm, betray, or confuse, but to inform, help, and clarify.

I’ve devoted my working life to words. Whether written or spoken, words matter. And like the sun, the truth always rises—quite often, due to the devotion and hard work of journalists. Yes, there are a few bad eggs (and a few mediocre news stations). But the vast majority of journalists respect and strive for truth and accuracy.

Don’t just “believe me.” You can fact-check me on that.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Matter of Perspective

When I was a kid, I loved seeing the world upside down. One of my favorite pastimes was to recline on my living room floor and stare up at the ceiling. From this perspective, the ceiling became the floor, and one had to step up over the door archways to get from room to room. My cluttered Victorian childhood home seemed incredibly neat and spacious from this upside down vantage point. I could spend hours just contentedly gazing while my mom dusted nearby or watched her afternoon soaps.

I also loved to gaze into puddles at the reflected sky. It was endlessly entertaining to stomp my feet in a puddle and watch the ripples spread across the reflected clouds. This pastime sometimes led to unexpected adventure. Once, my best friend and I, on our way home from school on a windy April day, decided not only to gaze at a giant puddle but to splash our way into the deep middle and purposely fall on our knees. Cold, wet, and giggling, we then ran home to tell my mother we had “accidentally fallen,” change into warm clothes, and treat ourselves to hot chocolate and marshmallows.

I also loved gazing through the stained glass window on the stairwell. The yard below took on otherworldly qualities, depending upon the green, blue, or red pane. Another favorite resting spot (in the summer) was to relax on a small incline on the front yard (back then it seemed like a hill). From here I could gaze directly up into the leaves of three towering maple trees, where I could imagine all sorts of fairies and animal shapes in the leaves.

The other day, out on a walk, I came across a few puddles and stopped with my camera. The experience brought back a rush of memory and emotion, thinking not just of how easily entertained I was in my childhood, but also of how willing and ready I was to look at the world from different vantage points. Today, I have my set opinions, political views, and habits; I’m less likely to ponder something from another’s perspective, or from the perspective of a rabbit or bird, for that matter. I see things straight ahead from my 5’3 vantage point, with my glasses or contacts on, and with plenty of thoughts and judgments spinning about in my mind. I’ve become less willing to splash and muddy my clothes in a cold, wet puddle, that’s for sure.

However…when I go to yoga class, sometimes I relish the headstand (or as we say in Iyengar yoga, head balance pose), or the handstand. Though I can’t stay up for long, I always feel energized, revitalized and strong when I come down. I guess these inversions are my grown up way of still playing with perspective. If I can stand on my head, all is not lost. I’m still able to see the world upside down--in a good way, that is, with fascination rather than fear, and with trust that I have the power to return to upright whenever I choose.