Monday, February 23, 2015

The Deadly Nature of Life

My mother's cousin, Kathy, shared this article with me while we were sitting at my parent's kitchen table this weekend, discussing family and life and everything. 
It made me feel some feelings.
On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
The above passage is not just how I hope I would spend my last days, but how I want to spend all my days prior to them. Deepening relationships. Writing more, traveling, delving deeper into life and finding what else there is.
I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.
This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.
My great-grandmother is dying, but not any more so than she has been dying for the past year, or the past five or ten years. She is 101, she was nearly 80 when I was born, and she has outlived almost everyone her age. The life expectancy for a woman in the United States in 1993 was 75.5, meaning that every day I've spent with her has been above average, has been more than I could have expected.
Seven years ago, she had a stroke. Twelve years ago, she had cancer. If you had asked me two years ago how much longer I thought she was going to live, I would have said that she had six more months.
It feels like I'm watching to see how close someone can come to death without actually being there.
When I was four or five, the idea of death was very new to me. I remember asking my mom why people died, and if my great-grandmother would die one day. She told me that yes, she would, and I accepted it after a while. I didn't expect her to outlive my grandmother, and I don't think I expected her to still be alive by the time I was in college, but she is. I have been profoundly lucky to have her support and perspective throughout that, and I'm so glad that I had the chance to grow up with such a strong intergenerational influence.
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
This part, at the end of the essay, was incredibly powerful for me. The idea that what makes us feel at peace when we're nearing the end of our lives is the accumulation of that exchange, the collection of bonds that we make. I love the idea of our mission, in part, being to have this intercourse with the world.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Michigan Press Association Convention

I love these nerds.
This weekend, I attended the Michigan Press Association Convention in Grand Rapids, and I learned so much about journalism in the state, and the future of print media.
The first session I attended was on social media selling, presented by Amie Stein. It was targeted toward ad salespeople, but I still found it to be very useful. They discussed the importance of tracking keywords, which I'll be implementing soon at the Western Herald. I already track hashtags there (#wmu and #kalamazoo, for instance) but I could be reaching out to more people by utilizing keyword tracking with a program like Sprout Social.
I was also pleased to find out that stalking people online is a useful skill for salespeople, since I do it often. Stein said that she uses Linkedin and Facebook to find things she has in common with prospective customers, and comes into meetings armed with that information. While I don't attend sales meetings, I will be interviewing in the future, and the idea is similar - if I can find something I have in common with an interviewer prior to meeting them, it might help.
"You're not going to get to the New York Times by showing them stories you wrote about the fire last night." said Ron French. Enterprising reporting in the 24-hour news cycle was the second session I attended, which was a panel discussion with editors from Bridge Magazine, Detroit Today, and MLive. They discussed the ways their organizations approach enterprise journalism, and how they find time to rise up from day to day news and work on bigger, feature stories. This was hugely useful for me - I love those bigger stories, but I can't let them take away from my work as an editor. My recent series on college affordability and accessibility (parts 1 and 3 are available here, I'll see if I can get someone to put part 2 online today.) was exciting to work on, and I hope that I'll have the chance to do more of those types of articles in the future.
They also discussed the collaborative nature that some of their work has taken on, specifically about the Detroit bankruptcy, and how Detroit Today on WDET has functioned as a center for in-depth information about the bankruptcy, and as an archive of the process.
Vaccination was another major article discussed, as MLive released their feature about low vaccination rates effect public health just before the measles outbreak hit.
"It's important to be different so you're noticed." Joe Grimm said. I found the last session of the day to be the most valuable. Grimm is a professor at Michigan State University, formerly of the Free Press. He spoke about personal branding, mashups, and love. His premise was this: there are a lot of journalists out there, so you've got to have something that sets you apart from the rest of them. Most of us have something else that we also love, and it's important to bring that out, make a mashup of them, and sell that unique combination. He suggested learning another language, or becoming good at math, and said that someone who spoke Arabic, or was fantastic at analyzing data, would stand out.
He said that as a recruiter at the Detroit Free Press, his brand was about being nice, in order to compete with a recruiter at the Chicago Tribune who was mean."You have to communicate your brand in the way you act."
He also pointed out that with the shift of newspapers to online content, "We're standing at the beginning of the biggest change in journalism in 700 years." For Grimm, the future is bright, and the possibilities of journalism in the internet age are endless.
One story that was mentioned over and over was the Free Press story about James Robertson, who walks 21 miles to work every day. I was slightly confused about this - yes, it was a great article, and it did inspire a lot of people to help Robertson, but I feel like this distracts from real social issues. Robertson works a full time job that pays significantly above minimum wage, yet he cannot afford a car, and lives in a city lacking in public transportation. Countless other people are in similar situations, but rather than starting a discussion about the public transportation cuts in Detroit, or the car-centrism of our cities, or the fact that it's very hard to live in America if you're working class, people have focused solely on this man. They raised a large sum of money for him, which is great, but it doesn't further the conversation on economic inequality or labor in America.
I didn't have the chance to ask this question at MPA, but I want to know what my fellow journalists think - do you believe that journalists have a responsibility to further the conversation on social issues? Do you think the story about Robertson diverted the focus of the public from real issues of economic inequality, or do you think attention was diverted only from the Kardashians?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Butternut Squash Soup with Apples and Bacon

I don't have a food processor. I don't have a blender. This recipe involves the use of both devices, and instead, I chopped the ingredients up pretty small and just mashed them while they were cooking. I get the idea that this soup was intended to be far creamier than it was when I made it. Still, I liked the combination of sweet in the apples and salty in the bacon, and the butternut squash serves as a creamy mediator between the two. However, the soup as a whole felt a little heavy - perhaps this would have been different if I had blended it, or used more squash.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cabbage with Crisp Tofu and Peanut-Lime Dressing

I made this salad last weekend, and I really liked it. The tofu is good and crunchy, and the peanut-lime dressing is really good - I want to make it again and smother it all over noodles and vegetables. However, next time I make it, I'll use less onion and be sure to cut it up smaller, as I found it slightly overwhelming. I think I want to use this tofu prep style on other kinds of salads, too. It would be great on a spinach salad with walnuts and blueberries and strawberries.
Also, I assumed that four servings of this salad meant four side-salad servings, but it's more like four meal-salad servings, meaning that I had a ton of this salad, and it doesn't keep very well, so I ended up throwing out a fair amount of it. Next time, I'll make it for more people, or make a half recipe.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Stir-Fried Curried Chickpeas with Potatoes and Carrots

I've had fried chickpeas once before, and they were great. This recipe was a bit of an experiment for me, for a couple reasons - the spices, and the vegetables. The recipe called for curry powder and fresh ginger. I assumed that there was curry in my home, and while I was at the grocery store, I could not find fresh ginger. I threw some red pepper and salt in with the chickpeas, though. Instead of using potatoes and carrots, shredded, I used a sweet potato, chopped up. I think I should have used a larger pan, as well - the frying pan I used wasn't big enough to stir the chickpeas very well, and I think they ended up slightly soggy as a result.
Overall, I think this plan of learning to cook is going well - I've been feeling more resourceful in terms of food, and I think I've been eating healthier. I'm hoping to get friends together for dinner at some point in the next month, but I'm not sure what I want to make. Breakfast for dinner, maybe?