Sunday, February 28, 2010

That Million Dollar Question

What do you want to be when you grow up?

As a child, everyone has an answer to this seemingly simple question: a fireman, a doctor, a painter, a movie star, or in my case an Olympic figure skater. 

As a teenager, you realize your childhood response was anywhere from silly to unlikely to absurdly ridiculous. If I remember correctly, one of my younger sisters wanted to be a "ballerina veterinarian" when she was younger. Last time I checked, there wasn't much demand for these kinds of multi-talented professionals in the workforce, although who knows what kind of jobs might be created with the newest jobs bill. 

And then you get to college and the question becomes something your parents are paying you to find the answer to, and fast. I can't tell you how many times I've answered this question, or struggled to answer this question in the last 3 years, and more specifically the last two months I've spent here in Washington. I'm not sure if I find myself confronting this question at an unusually high frequency because complete strangers are legitimately interested in my life, or because this question has somehow become the one and only socially acceptable ice-breaker when interacting with a college student, but I do know that the more I'm forced to answer it, the more frustrated I become with myself and my inability to do so. 

Now I would consider myself far more apt to answer this question than a lot of my peers. I didn't come into college "undecided" on a major, and though I did switch out a musical theater minor sophomore year for a double major in political science, I have felt pretty sure since day one that broadcast journalism was the right college major choice for me. The internships, the extracurriculars, the classes, the trips, pretty much everything I have done in the last few years has solidified this, as well as developed and strengthened my interest in politics. At 20 years old, I've done more than most to find out what I like and what I don't. But when it comes to supplying that simple answer to the million dollar question that everyone is looking for, I just can't do it. In fact, from here on out, I refuse to do it. 

Isn't it enough to know what my interests are and be open-minded to the prospect of any career that marries those interests, the more creatively the better? I think we do ourselves a disservice by forcing ourselves to answer the million dollar question with a firm, unequivocal answer. The truth is, we are living in one of the most exciting periods in history where careers are transitioning and adapting every day to utilize new technologies and innovations, and meet the ever-changing demands of our increasingly diverse society. A huge percentage of Americans are working in jobs today that didn't even exist, or have a name when those individuals were in college and trying to answer the million dollar question. 

Journalism is one of these fields that's currently undergoing a huge transition phase. Everyone who complains about the demise of journalism and laments the extinction of the newspaper and bemoans the prevalence of the web and new media replacing the nightly news broadcast; these are the people who had simple and firm answers to the million dollar question. Change is happening, progress is the future, and to anyone who doesn't embrace it and jump along for the ride, I thank you, because I'll have your job one day.  

Furthermore, a lifetime is a really really long time. My mother has transitioned careers several times already in her life, and she jokes that she's still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. Many studies have shown that my generation will have more career changes in our lifetimes than any previous generation. It's now not only feasible, but likely that what we start out doing won't be the career we'll have for the rest of our lives, or for the rest of our twenties. 

And finally, life is unpredictable. Jenny Sanford probably had no idea she'd become the First Lady of South Carolina by ways of marrying a man who'd later become the Governor. And she probably had even less of an inclination that she'd write a book about her husband's affair that blew up in the media and captivated the country. I'm fairly certain she didn't ever answer 'Novelist' when asked the million dollar question. But things like that happen, life happens. The best opportunities in life are the ones you can't foresee, plan, or answer in a question, so why limit myself?

From now on when people ask me what I want to be, I plan to respond, "Successful and Happy"

Friday, February 19, 2010

Good Guys, Bad Guys

In one of my first posts this semester I talked about how corrupt the world of politics is and how journalism is the first line of defense that protects the American people by way of filtering out all the "grade A bullshit".  I've always harbored this sense of allegiance to reporting over politics, maintaining that I was on the more respectable side of the divide. Don't get me wrong, I've long believed certain media appendages (cough FOX news cough) stifle and complicate the political process more so than they aide it along; but I never truly saw it from the other side until today.

This morning we went to the DCCC aka D-Trip (The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) and spoke with a young girl who works in incumbency protection. Essentially, she aides incumbent Democrats get re-elected in their local congressional House races. Like nearly everyone working in DC politics, she's had a slew of jobs in her short professional career ranging from lobbyist for a non-profit, to working in local electoral politics, to working on the failed primary campaign of one of Martha Coakley's Democratic opponents, to of course working in the DCCC. Throughout the whole Q&A session you could just tell how much she loves what she does and how passionate she is about working in politics, and she said something to us at the end that really resonated with me...

She said something along the lines of, "I want to be clear: everyone thinks politics is so dirty, but it's absolutely not. These public servants truly are incredible people who really do want to do good things for people, but they work in a tough climate with even tougher media coverage." She talked about how all you hear in the news is coverage of the stymied healthcare bill, but no one's mentioning how the House has passed over 200 bills already, many of which had strong bipartisan support. She emphasized how the media creates a huge disconnect between reality and rhetoric, which obviously makes her job of getting incumbents re-elected an uphill battle.

For the first time I really did start to consider the disproportionate emphasis the media gives to failed legislation in comparison to successful legislation...all the "less sexy" bills so to speak that were passed when the country was distracted by the healthcare debate...200+ important laws that have positively impacted us in ways we don't even realize.

Rewind a few weeks back to when we met with a couple members from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, a small oversight and investigation team composed of legislative experts and lawyers who epitomize all that is good and righteous about politics. Unbeknownst to us, their investigations make our lives safer and healthier, and protect us from consumer fraud. They told us about a case they'd just finished that stopped this huge ring of aggressive sales tactics on the internet that had tricked tons of innocent and clueless consumers into losing literally billions of dollars through pop-up ads. Another speaker we had earlier this week was a Special Assistant to the President on the Domestic Policy Council. She talked about all the little projects her team works on that also get absolutely no media coverage, things like Obama's pet project on Responsible Fatherhood. When have you EVER heard about these things? You just don't.

Meeting all these people involved in politics and public policy out here in DC is truly a wake-up call. There are SOO many people out here who have dedicated their lives to public service, and really are working hard for us, and in many ways are quite successful. Sure there seems to be a myriad of overwhelming problems the government hasn't yet been able to fix, but why is this ALL we ever hear about? The system absolutely could be working more smoothly, I'm sure everyone in it wishes it was, but the truth is it's not as gridlocked as the media portrays it be. And I get it, I'm a broadcast journalism student so I know that government success is not as juicy of a story as government failure, constituent anger, and partisan cat fights; but it seems to me that the media does an extraordinarily poor job of accurately reflecting the truths of federal government. The only way to really know what goes on out here in DC is to see it first hand, all sides of it, and form your own opinions.

I still believe journalists have the ability to be the Good Guys and often times are, but for the first time I'm starting to see how they (we) can also be the Bad Guys, and keeping myself open to the possibility of switching teams. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Climate Change: Proof Positive

When it comes to global climate change...the proof is in the pudding. And by pudding I mean snow. When Al Gore brought this concept of "global warming" to the American public, many were quick to lambaste it as another crazy liberal agenda created to brainwash us into *gasp* caring about the environment (or really anything besides money and how much of it we can make aka 'The American Dream').

Perhaps one of the worst things Gore did was publicize this important scientific reality as Global WARMING...a title that many ignorant people use to theoretically negate the sound scientific principle of what is now being referred to more appropriately as "global climate change". This record breaking winter is seemingly as contradictory to the idea of the earth warming as it gets. Some Republicans have deemed this winter evidence of "global cooling". To which I say, even children who study weather patterns in elementary school have a better understanding of the science behind rain and snow cycles than these guys.

In layman's terms: warmer oceans ---> more water vapor in the atmosphere ---> what goes up must come down ---> snowpocalypse. Global climate change means that something we are doing, and doing a lot of, is effectively changing our global climate patterns. So for places that don't ordinarily get much snow at all to get dumped on like this, is if anything a validation not a contradiction of climate change.

Also snow is not indicative of temperature. It actually hasn't been that cold in DC, mostly 20s and low 30s. The average temperature in Washington in January, according to the National Climatic Data Center, was about a degree warmer than the average for the last 40 years.

To the naysayers that I earlier accused of being ignorant: I fully expect a barrage of angry comments with links to articles that attempt to disprove my point. I know first-hand how divisive this topic can be, almost as contentious as abortion. What I find interesting though, is that whether or not you "believe" (and I use this term loosely, as I refuse to put climate change in the same category as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy) there is evidence of climate change or not, what's so wrong about taking precautionary measures to reduce our short-term and long-term impact on the environment? Isn't it better to be safe than sorry? What's the harm in trying to be less harmful to the planet?

At the risk of sounding like what some would call a dirty tree hugger, I'd like to leave you with a highly applicable and slightly lewd concept I'm sure no one would contest: "Don't shit where you eat". Think about it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Let the Games (and the Dreams) Begin

Those who know me, know that I found my first love at a young age. The first time my feet found skates and those skates found ice, my heart also found happiness and my soul, comfort. 
For anyone else lucky enough to discover something in life that ignites this kind of passion, they understand my love affair. When I'm on the ice, the world slips away. The tension fades, the stress melts, and I feel truly at peace with the universe.  
Though figure skating always has and always will bring me this kind of joy, the sport started out as much more to me. For eight years I truly believed it was all I wanted to do in life. I was utterly amiss to the reality that only an elite few could turn competitive figure skating into something more than just a future of touring with Disney on Ice. My highly loving parents (and little sisters) believed in me and supported me right up until the very end of my fantastical delusions, when I became old enough and mature enough to see the reality of the situation.

After falling head over heels in love at the age of five, I then experienced my first painful break-up at the ripe age of 13. It took me some time to come to terms with the fact that my one and only ambition in life (up until that point) of winning an Olympic medal in figure skating would have to be let go in favor of a more practical career path with a higher chance of success. Like any other fresh break-up, returning to my love made me nostalgic for the passionate feelings I once harbored, and filled with wonder if my decision to part ways would lead to regret later in life. But time of course heals all wounds, and now returning to my love years later is like falling into the warm embrace of an old friend. Someone who's there for you when you need them, but doesn't feel neglected when you wait too long to visit.

There is one exception though. Every four years the "what ifs?" become hard to quell, as the rest of the world if only for a couple weeks, sees the unbridled emotion, intensity, passion, and beauty that made me fall in love in the first place. It's hard not to watch the Olympics and feel a sense of rejection seeing others so happy in love...a love that seems to have chosen them over me.

Then I think back to the 1998 Olympics and remember what it felt like to cheer on my figure skating idol Tara Lipinski, as she became the youngest athlete to win an Olympic gold in the winter games at the age of 15 (watching the end of that program when she knows she's skated well enough to win still gives me chills). And I realize that there are hundreds of thousands of little girls and boys around the globe that are watching this year's Olympic games along with me, dreaming just as I did, with the kind of wide-eyed spirits that make them believe Olympic dreams really can come true. And there's no harm in believing...
So let the Games AND the dreams begin. May this year's Olympic figure skating events inspire someone as deeply as they once inspired me. I guess I don't mind sharing my love with the world for a couple of weeks. After all, love is meant to be shared with others :)

Skating is something my sisters and I will always have
The most beautiful rink in the world, Rockefeller in NYC at Christmas
Another beautiful outdoor rink, Union Square in San Fran at Christmas

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Snow day 5 today and it just started snowing again...looking like there won't be any class all week, and of course Monday is President's Day so no class then. This is shaping up to be Winter Break Part II.

In the mean time, I've been catching up on my online TV. Thank God for the world wide web, what were snow days like without it?!? Anyways, if you have about eight minutes to spare, check out the first section of Jon Stewart's Monday night show. He does a segment called "Amerigasm" in which he claims that last week's tea party convention coupled with the Super Bowl Sunday AND Reagan's Birthday is enough to give any patriot an Amerigasm. He also addresses the absurdities of last week's tea party convention, including the opening speaker's supposition that Obama was elected by people who couldn't spell the word 'VOTE'... Cut to a series of mispelled tea party posters including one that says "No Pubic Option". I love Jon Stewart.

Monday, February 8, 2010

That Four Letter Word...


It's cold, it's wet, it's slippery, and there's a lot of it here. And while I didn't want to blog multiple times on this silly white fluff falling from the sky, how can I live through what is being deemed the "snow storm of the century" out here in DC, and not give it due coverage on my blog?

When I woke up the morning of the Snowpocalypse and looked out the window, I felt like someone had picked up our building and stuck it inside a gooey marshmallow. White. Everywhere...the trees, the buildings the cars burried, the bushes, the sky...all white. I guess that's called a white-out according to my mother who grew up in upstate New York where this kind of thing doesn't shut down an entire city and bring life to a screeching halt.

Fast Forward to today...Snow day? What a funny concept. It actually hasn't snowed in two days, but the entire city is still shut down: classes, the federal government, restaurants, above ground public transportation, the whole sha-bang. Having lived 18 years in a desert and 2.5 years by the beach, snow is about as foreign to me as it gets; so this concept of a snow day is kind of first. And then we find out these classes we're  missing will eventually be rescheduled, so in the near future there will be a week with double classes. Suddenly this concept of a snow day starts to suck (truly eloquent diction choice I know).

PLUS, not working and not going to class and not being able to go out and do anything results in extreme boredom, slight depression, a feeling that you're wasting valuable days of your life, and the urge to eat to fill the time, more specifically the urge to eat cookies and hot coco. After getting a little stir crazy in my tiny apartment, a few us of decided to tough it out, bundle up, and wander out into the elements for a bit, so we went to the National Mall. I quickly realized that my "snow gear" was a naive west coast interpretation of what was necessary and practical in this sort of weather. While quite warm, the fur-lined, shiny patent leather, knee-high boots with a wedge heel I purchased as "snow shoes", were probably better suited for a catwalk than a blizzard. After nearly twisting my ankle and falling several times, I was wishing I had a sweet pair of skis like this dude to get around...

We had a little bit of fun, as documented in the video below. And then what you don't see is when we decide to go off looking for a Starbucks or somewhere to eat. This is where the excursion takes a turn for the worse. We then make two realizations: NOTHING is open and we're LOST. The damn snow had covered all the street signs, and any distinguishable buildings that could have helped us navigate our way back to the metro. Suddenly the wind picks up and the cold, wet feeling really sets in, and I begin wondering if the pins and needles burning sensation in my hands is the first sign of frostbite. Obviously, we survived and I did not lose any fingers; blogging certainly would be difficult with a few less fingers. But yes, we had our share of snow, and being cooped up in that tiny little (warm) apartment for the rest of the Snowpocalypse didn't seem so bad anymore.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Becoming Fluent: My Life in DC

You can study a language all you want, but the best and perhaps only way to become truly fluent is to go to the place where that language is spoken and completely immerse yourself. That is exactly what I've done. And while I did study Spanish for five years, don't worry Mother, I haven't run away to Mexico. I'm talking about the other language I've been studying: Politics. And trust me, it's a language...and a culture too for that matter.

So here I am, living in Washington, DC aka the nation's capital; eating, sleeping, and breathing politics. When my alarm goes off in the morning I pour myself a bowl of cereal and flip on MSNBC to see what the early breaking headlines for the day are going to be. Then I get dressed (business casual) and head off to one of my Political Science classes. After class, I grab a paper and walk straight to the metro for the first leg of my hour-long commute to work. On the metro I see what the Washington Post has to say (a little conservative for my taste but the Metro Section is good for local news) only because my i-phone doesn't get internet underground.

I take the blue or orange line to metro center, a bustling metro stop where I switch to the red line. I quickly learned that if you're not running to catch the next train, you get the hell out of the way of everyone else who is. During morning and evening rush hour there are thousands of people rushing to be somewhere, men in suits with brief cases, women in skirts and heels, many also reading the paper...whoever thinks the newspaper is dead doesn't ride the metro. I like the metro best when it's so crowded you can barely squeeze in and everyone is hanging onto the rails on the ceiling for dear life so they don't topple onto their neighbors when it comes to a screeching halt. There's a real energy about DC at those times, it's like an unspoken urgency that everyone's got somewhere to be and something important to do

When I get off the metro in Tenleytown, I have about a fifteen minute walk to NBC that I like to spend catching up on the rest of the morning's headlines via my twitter RSS feed on my i-phone that is working now that I'm above ground. Once at work, I de-robe on my walk from the lobby to the newsroom; UGGs to heels, take off my coat, my gloves, my scarf, my hat, and feel 10 lbs lighter. Then it's 6 hours full of non-stop politics. There must be a hundred TVs just in the main newsroom alone, at least two on every desk and many more mounted on every available inch of free wall space...all playing different news channels. It's sensory overload and terribly distracting for someone with a little bit of ADD. Nevertheless I do my best to zone it all out and focus on putting together the research my anchor needs to be up to speed on all the news in her show and all the guests she'll be interviewing. 

Then it's showtime. Up to the MSNBC studio on the third floor where I watch the wires and hot messages in iNews to track breaking news during the show, and rush in reprinted scripts to the anchor during each commercial break as the producers in New York update the script during the show. But we're not always doing a show, sometimes it's just a day full of research, preparing for future stories and interviews, and since the producer that I work for is heading off to Vancouver this week to cover the Olympics for MSNBC, I've been spending a lot of time helping him prepare by brainstorming non-sports related story ideas and adding Olympian contacts to his outlook account (I was tempted to start jotting down some numbers, Hello Sasha Cohen, Apollo Anton Ono, and Shawn White on speed dial) but being star crazed is not an option in the news business, and if you're good enough they should be asking you for autographs not the other way day. 

When 6:00 rolls around I wrap things up and dart out the door, I am now one of the urgent metro riders, racing to get to wherever my night class happens to be that day. Sometimes they're back on the GW campus, sometimes we meet guest speakers in the Senate building. Last week I took the metro to Union Station after work and grabbed some Taco Bell (I don't eat fast food but I needed to eat fast), ran across the street from the train station to the Senate building, shoving tacos in my mouth. When I went through the metal detecter at the Senate, I found some taco crumbs in my coat pocket...decided not to share this fact with the hilarious Capitol Police men who were trying to convince us they were cooler than the Secret Service...I liken this rivalry to the bloods and crips. CA has armed gangs, DC has armed guards

After more political debate and discussion in class, it's home to eat dinner part II, whilst of course watching more news. Even outside of the daily grind, life=politics here. Whether it's visiting a museum, meeting Senate Majority leader and Nevadan Harry Reid for an early morning constituent breakfast, or even just a casual meal out with the handful of friends I have here, where we will likely discuss politics. It's impossible to turn it off. I'm worried that when I leave here I will find discussing or thinking about anything else boring, irrelevant, and cumbersome. As people out here say: It's a company town, and the business is politics. I spoke the language before, but now I'm becoming fluent, and perhaps by the end of the semester you might even mistake me for a native.