Tuesday, January 27, 2009

There's a lot happening with me in New York these days. The new semester has just started. I have piles of work to do and I'm preparing for life after j-school, which I look forward to tremendously. I'm in a pretty good mood these days, though; this can be attributed to finally seeing the back end of my miserable reporting class (I won't moan about it here, but not to put to fine a point on it, it was was shit) and having a very good break. I played tourist in New York, finally, then my old pal, Kev Dogg, came out from Los Angeles. Together, we drove up to Boston to see Heather, my college roommate, and some of the gang from the Emerson days. Few in my current life--which is filled with fresh-faced 22-year-olds--realize that when I went to school, I was the baby. With the old crowd, I was the baby again, and that was nice.

Being back in Boston also gave me the chance to kind of think about how life seems to progress for most people. Kev Dogg is a reasonably successful production manager in Hollywood, but he often finds his work unrewarding and is frustrated with his personal life. Heather lives in the sticks with her fiancé and they have a nice home, lots of furniture, regular jobs, a small business detailing cars and a bearded iguana named Pete. Mike, another of the crowd, recently married a chemist (I think--she does something with science) and was Manager of the Year at the hotel where he works. Of course, all this life stuff went on while I was out travelling and generally getting into mischief. It was a bit weird to see how much our lives had diverged, but it was also very reassuring, comforting even, that it's still so easy for all of us to hang out. It was also interesting to realize that despite our very different experiences, none of us has changed especially, nor were we certain about the future. It is as if we had all fallen into our situations by chance and were waiting for a nudge into whatever is next. There is an anxiety in that and we all feel it. Somehow, this made me feel better about taking out a lot of money to attend a school I don't particularly like and having doubts about what I am doing.

After Boston, I went up to Canada with a very nice Frenchman, Romain. We caught a rideshare up and stayed with one of his high school friends who has been studying aeronautic engineering in Montréal for the past four-and-a-half years. She lives just outside the city center and played a brilliant tour guide. We also went up to Mont Tremblant, a ski resort area an hour north of the city. This was the result of whim, on my part, to go dog-sledding, which was an excellent, though irresponsibly costly, pursuit. It was also viciously cold in Québec--the intensity of which I had never experienced before in my life. For the dog-sledding adventure, I wore three pairs of socks, including one, heavy, wooly pair, tights, under wool long-johns, under jeans, under a rented pair of ski pants, as well as several sweaters and a snow jacket.

Exhibit A:

Yes, that's frost on my hair and ice on my eyelashes.

So here I am back in school now. I've decided to make more of an effort to keep up with my blog. While I believe my writing has improved here, I see the need for a daily habit, just to keep at it. Plus, there's an awful lot going on at Columbia, so it's not that I suffer a lack of subject matter. However, my new aim is less to be a journalist and more to be a writer. Given the current state of the journalism industry, I am starting to think that I may not be well-suited for the cut-throat, alcohol-soaked and surprising shallow world of reporting. Thus, to come closer to my personal aims, I am focusing more on developing a keen eye through which to observe the world, a unique voice with which to describe it and lastly, an active mind, connected to a human heart, through which process it all. I assure you the last mentioned is not, generally speaking, ever addressed at the mighty, mighty Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, much to my naive chagrin.
Now let's talk about yesterday.

Gwen Ifill came to school. She's on a book tour (she's got a book called The Breakthrough: Race and Politics in the Age of Obama) , but showed up at Columbia for an 8:15 a.m. session. The student center where she spoke was full, most impressive given that journalism students tend not to be (sober) morning people (myself, proudly, excluded).

She talked about all sorts of things--how she got her start, about being a black reporter and how one goes about covering politics--then she opened the floor for questions. None of these were particularly earth-shattering. They mostly were about race and the fact that I can't remember them without referring to my notes means that they are probably not worth repeating. But Ms. Ifill was super sharp, very charming and down-to-earth.

Something I had hoped she would address was Obama's bi-racialness. There is so much talk about the "black man," we forget altogether, so it seems, that Obama is just as white and he is black. Not only that, his father was from Africa. This, to me, makes Obama, not at all an African-American in the traditional sense (though clearly the literal sense). As a half-Chinese/half-Irish American, I'm a bit put off by all this: It makes it crystal clear that race is PURELY a matter of color and only color. Now, of course, Obama himself might identify himself as being an "African-American," but really, that would have been a choice he made. In theory, he could have just a legitimately declared himself a "White-American," though few others would have accepted this. For all this talk about progress this country has made when it comes to racism, here is a bald example of how we really do only think in terms of color. And that's just sad.

However, I didn't ask Ms. Ifill about this. The conversation flowed away from this subject by the time I had the courage to speak up, I asked her what she thought about Sarkozy's plan to inject 600 million euro into France's print media industry by modernizing the presses, cutting delivery costs and giving a subscription (of choice) to every French citizen when they turn 18 (I particularly like this last aspect). This notion rubbed Ms. Ifill the wrong way and she jokingly asked, before I clarified, if he was giving out subscriptions to government-run papers (of which I don't believe France has any).

"This is a business," she stated firmly, bristling at the thought the government might get involved with the media, even as its industry is collapsing. (And this is not to say I agree with the current proposed bail-outs. Generally, I don't. But then again, I don't really see the auto industry playing the same cultural role as the media, which I believe to be the greatest engine for creating a well-informed public.) Ironically, my question came right after a comment she made about the dangers of a public becoming increasingly specialized in their consumption habits because of the Internet and how we have to somehow think of a solution to increase a vital readership. When I pointed this out, she just repeated that media is a business and it behooves us as journalists to figure it out how to reach our audiences.

Good luck, America.

But in all events, life is good and things, for me at least, look up.