Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Did Over My Summer Vacation by Meg Donahue

Summer is a bit of a dead time in the department. And by "a bit of" read "a massively." The boss had it in mind that a few of the staff would do different rotations with our partners during the summer as we had time to spare. So that would mean we would spend a week in the photo department of the paper, a week with the radio station, a week with the cops reporters, so on and thusly. Someone called it a way to develop "Cross Departmental Competency" which was a far fancier term than what I was calling it. The Holy-Hell-They're-Going-to-Find-Out-I-Have-No-Idea-What-I'm-Doing-and-Ultimately-Judge-Me-Harshly-Because-of-it Rotation Week was a tiny bit longer of a term and required a big gulp of air halfway through saying it before you could continue, but it was apt as to the panic I had before I started my first rotation.

First rotation,  radio news and features.

You know how people criticize Aaron Sorkin by saying that no one talks in that clipped-quick-one-step-ahead-walking-and-talking-because-I'm-so-busy-I don't-have-time-to-sit-and-talk-because-damnit-I- have-places-to-go dialogue he writes? Fun Fact: It turns out that that is the native language of radio journalists on deadline.

My first assignment went by in a hazy streak of press release, script, voicing and AP style. I was, and remain, positive that it is the worst thing that ever took to the air. Like the Hindenburg of spot news. Ah, but my second assignment was a feature and I know from features. I've covered a decent amount of zoning board meetings and city council meetings but for me that was news, never a story. For me, stories live in the odd and overlooked corners of what doesn't get covered. Being a fan of the odd and overlooked, I naturally was drawn to features where these two flourished.

Before we go any further, I suppose a little back story is in order here. Macon, Georgia is known as the City of Churches. It has over 200 different churches within the city. There are only two mosques. Being as it was Ramadan, I did a story on being Muslim in Macon.

The good thing about journalism is that you are allowed to have short bursts of obsession. For that week Islam was my obsession.

I know the Arabic names of the five daily prayers all Muslims must pray. I know all the synonyms for "Mosque." I know the reasoning behind the fasting of Ramadan. I know they use a lunar, rather than a solar calendar to decide on what day Ramadan will start. I know the life stories of many of the congregants of the mosque. I know the stories they weren't sure they wanted to tell.

Of all this information, maybe 20% went into the actual story. But it was the best 20%.

Then comes the sound editing. We will go into that adventure in the next blog post. Also, I will post the story itself, so you get to see what all this panic and hard work culminated in.    

Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Open Letter to My Son of a Bitch Downstairs Neighbor Who Hits His Dog 

Dear Son of a Bitch Downstairs Neighbor,

My name is Meg and I am the person who hates you most in the world. Well, that's not entirely true. You see, I have a strong inclination that your dog (the one you keep out on a two foot by nine foot apartment deck, rain or shine) that he may be the one who hates you most in the world, and with good reason.

When you first moved in you kept me up during the NBA finals shouting about whatever it is people shout about during NBA finals games (you see, I don't care about sports. Just another reason you and I will never be friends). I wrote it off to apartment living and wished you the best. I don't mind that it sounds like you are constantly moving furniture around. Again, we live in rather close quarters and what else could be expected. I mean, it's not like these walls and floors are made of oak, right? 

But what I cannot and will not abide by is your abuse and neglect of your dog. You see, your dog and I have a special bond formed by our shared torment by you. Sadly, the dog is dependent on you for love and food and is at your mercy. Happily, I am not and can afford to tell you the truth. Today, when it rained, I came home to the second saddest howl I've ever heard an animal make. (The saddest howl I've heard was when my own dog was having a stroke. I never want to hear anything like that again.) God knows how long your poor dog had been out in the rain and wind. I came out to hear you slap it with the flat of your hand saying, "Stop it. Stop it." I realized then that not only were you cruel, you are stupid as well. 

I called over my deck with an overly-polite, "Sir? Excuse me, sir?" I was going to bottle my rage and in a laid-back, friendly manner remind you that animals are not to be left out on the apartment decks. In my mind I hoped that you would say to me, "Oh really, I had no idea." Then I would gently tell you about the dog park and how maybe you should take your dog there and how much fun it would be and maybe slip a few pointers in there on how to be a responsible dog owner as well. You wouldn't even realize I'd done it, but you would leave our conversation a changed and kinder man. Instead, you didn't hear me and went back inside. Not surprisingly, my little idea that I was flattering myself with about how I could change you in a five-minute conversation just didn't pan out. Then I started to actually think. 

Maybe you don't know any better way. Maybe when you howled someone hit you and said "Stop it. Stop it." If that's how it was then I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry that no one stepped in and tried to protect you from the cruel and the stupid. Even if I understand where you got your warped reasoning and you have my compassion I still have to try to protect your dog from you. I'm sure you understand. 

Tomorrow I will speak to the apartment manager and call the Humane Society. Hell, I'll repel down the apartment wall and kidnap that dog before I let you hit him again. 

I think you love your dog. I think you have a vague emotional attachment to him that you call 'love.' You just don't know yet that 'love' is just another word for 'responsibility.'  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

How I read and why

I take my reading very seriously; I arrange it by seasons. 

Spring is a great time for French writers like Choderlos and Balzac (but not George Sand, she's dead to me. I'll explain another time) and 19th century English writers like the Brontes

Summer is all about the Southern writers and others who live in a humid climate, like Rushdie, O'Conner,Garcia Marquez and Faulkner. 

In the fall I try to go to big American writers like Vonnegut, Ford, Hemingway - although a lot of his stuff takes place in Spain so it works for summer too- Fitzgerald, you know, Americana. 

Winter is the right time. "The right time for what?" you ask. It's the right time for Russians! Chekov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, it's all good. I have found that short stories and poetry are seasonless, they're like a cardigan sweater that way.

Being that it is winter I am attempting (for the fourth winter in a row) to finish The Brothers Karamazov. Don't get me wrong, it's good. No, it's great in the way Russian Lit ought to be great. It is dense with ethical questions like, "To whom do we owe our loyalty, what does it mean to be wise and what, exactly, is love? Can we love on a global level but hate on a very specific level?" Good stuff, right? So why has it taken me four winters to get through and still no end in sight? I don't have a good answer for that. I'd like to say something amazing like, "It has to be savored," but that would be a lie and as someone who has reread the first two hundred pages of "The Brothers Karamazov" FOUR(!) times I can tell you that one of the main themes (I think) is not to believe the lies you tell yourself. 

The truth is, that as I get older I find those ethical questions that I found so fascinating in the abstract, downright annoying in the practical. I think that if you are over the age of thirty you have wondered what love really is. Is it the 'only wanting the best for the other,' or is it the passionate self-destructing flame-out love that that is such a trope (and perhaps for good reason). Can one exist at the same time with the other? As for where our loyalty should lie, is it with the people who created something, or with the thing itself? Example: You get a job, with it comes a mentor. The mentor is fired, do you quit your job?

See? Most everyone has had either these thoughts or these experiences in their lives. Why is it we need to read about some miserable family, in miserable Russia not having the answers either? 

The only reason I can think of is that we don't read fiction for answers. We go to science or math for that. We read fiction (or at least I read fiction) for meaning. Meaning isn't the same as answers. It isn't as cut and dry as that. Meaning changes from one situation or one group of people to the next. It's 5=3 and it is no less right than 5=5. 

So I will trudge back to Russia where Dimitri and Alex and the Elder Zossima have been waiting for me patiently since last winter, snow filling up their boots. I will listen quietly in the background while Dimitri rages about what he is owed and Alex tries to love his family and hope, just hope, that some of the meaning of their story will lend meaning to my own. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Real Men Don't "Do" Valentine's Day

I feel bad for guys on Valentine's Day. It's such a LadyCorp day (see below for explanation of LadyCorp). I wouldn't blame guys if they felt like walking ATMs with a cuddle feature. Many ads for Valentine's go something along the lines of "Thank her for being with you, you sad sack of a loser man. Buy her diamonds or she will leave you for your less-idiot, more-handsome best friend. DIAMONDS!"  I feel for you guys, I really do. It seems like Valentine's is the one day that the LadyCorp laser beams are aimed directly at the male sex. This can be unsettling or even depressing if you haven't had a whole lifetime of LadyCorp advertisements telling you how fat you are, your hair is the wrong color, your skin is the wrong color, "Twilight" was a great book, you know, lies essentially. But men, we women have been dealing with this nonsense ever since we noticed that we would never be as pretty as our "Aerobics Instructor" Barbie and out of that grew "The Slapback." You know, the "woman, you are beautiful no matter what Karl Lagerfeld says about chunky women" inspirational essays. So, here is a "Brother Friend, You Are Beautiful" inspirational essay  concerning why dudes are awesome:

First off dudes, I knows you love the lists (and I knows that you hate when people say "knows" so I'm going to back off that) so this essay will actually be a picture heavy bullet-point list. Nice, right?

  • Dude, you invented democracy- Well, obviously, you didn't, but this guy Cleisthenes did. He took Athens' government from a tribal-warring tyranny to a ballot-casting democracy. Note: He never had to give anyone flowers to do it.

  • Dude, you invented electricity- Nikola Tesla didn't actually invent electricity, but he did do a lot of work with it, laying the groundwork for wireless communications and a really cool movie with Christian Bale. As he was a life-long bachelor, it's doubtful he ever had to send anyone a heart-shaped balloon to let them know they were appreciated. Mostly because he hated people and was a germaphobe but that's beside the point.

  •   Dude, you kicked the crap out of the Nazis- Winston Churchill may just be the coolest guy of the 20th century. Any woman with a brain in her head would swoon over the man, but look at him. Even younger he was ah, shall we say, "husky." He was a known drinker, had a speech impediment, dubious fashion sense and a penchant for stinky cigars. Yet women and men still love him. And I think this is where the LadyCorp gets it wrong. Women don't want men who just give them stuff. Any moron with a credit card can go into a jewelry store and come out with what some would call love. But mostly people want to be with other people who make them feel things, to see the world in a new way and to be understood. No amount of candy, teddy bears, shiny objects or fancy dinners will make a woman love you any more or any less. So relax. After all, dude, you invented love.

  • LadyCorp is my term for the Feminine Industrial Complex of magazines, ads, products and books that try to make women feel "less than" in order to boost company selling us crap we don't need.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's "Downton" damnit! Not, "Downtown"

I'm so lame. I'm so mainstream. Even my obsessions are "average." Would it be too much to ask that I have a native interest in cosmonaut headgear from the late-1950s? Or have a fetish for the different typology used by international newspapers? You know, something a little more fresh and interesting than my current and populist obsession with the costume drama, Downton Abbey

For those who live in a hole without access to public television or are you know, guys (I'm sorry ladies, I have yet to hear one man say anything ever about Downton, unless he's complaining about how much his wife or girlfriend is into it.) Downton Abbey is about a family who live in an awesome house during WWI. The show centers on the goings-on of the family (Who will inherit? Why is the middle daughter such a horrible Jan Brady? Why is granny so terrible/secretly awesome) and their servants (Who will clean the silver? Why is it that Daisy seems to be the Marilyn Monroe of the house? Why is Thomas so terrible/secretly awesome?)

The show in and of itself is awesome and all but you will see the real work of my obsession in the periphery. Namely, the time I've spent researching the life of servants during this period. I know now that the butler keeps all the silver in his pantry which only he had a key to. That a ladies maid was usually between the ages of 30-55 and did not have to report to the housekeeper, and that when Queen Victoria took over Buckingham Palace the kitchen was built just above the sewers of the city and when it rained the entire house stank.

Sometimes I wonder if all of this useless trivia has pushed out of my brain some more important facts, like the Pythagorean Theorem or who the third president of the United States was. You know, I can't remember who exactly the third president was but I'll bet he had a butler and if he had a butler, well then have I got some interesting facts for you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Second Impressions Count

I love when first impressions are wrong. I love when the world sneaks up on you and shows that people are more complicated and interesting than the first three seconds of a meeting can illuminate. For instance, the other night I was working an event at the club. It was a terrible night. There were two servers (I was one), one chef, ten reservations (all at the same time, natch), five or six walk-in parties, forty-minute ticket times and one very stressed out server (me again, natch).

One of our ten reservations dared to be twenty minutes late, so when they finally arrived we put them into the bridge room where I thought they belonged. The bridge room isn't a terrible room, but it is away from all the action in the bar area where we sat nearly everyone else. My reasoning at putting them there was that they seemed dull. A mother and her three kids. A quiet mother and her three quiet kids whom I have never seen before. Now, let me explain why I found this to be such an egregious character flaw. Everyone at the club knows everyone else. The club sits in the middle of a gated community on the outskirts of an upper middle class, white flight, newly minted city, Johns Creek (which I've taken to calling Jacks Crack). The people usually fall within recognized character types: The wives are either youngish second wives or are first wives with a boob job. The husbands work in town, drink too much, are insane about college football and think Obama was born in Kenya.

This woman and her family didn't seem to fit into this type. She was a first wife (obviously) but with no boob job or loud personality ( Oh Mary Claire, after a bottle of chardonnay you are such a hoot!) When their order was running about thirty minutes late, I went over and apologized. She and her family laughed that they had no where else to be so it was no big deal. Having had all I could take that night of the other members' faux martyrdom, stage whispers and general bitchiness, I could have hugged this poor woman. I was wrong. I mistook patience for dullness and kindness for blandness. I faulted her for being an outsider when an outsider was just what I needed that night.

For saving my sanity that night I gave the family the internationally-recognized gift of love. Free Key Lime Pie.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What our work comes to

I've discovered a clean house is not unlike the intricate sand pictures made by Buddhist monks. Their creations are work intensive, require a skilled hand, are undertaken for a higher purpose and will ultimately be destroyed by some assbag tromping through them with muddy shoes.

You see, for a very long time now I've wanted to live inside "Martha Stewart Living" magazine. Not literally of course, because unless you pick up the bulky Christmas issue, the magazine itself makes a poor substitute for you know, a house. I mean I want to live like Martha and her friends do. (Although anyone who has ever heard of Martha knows that woman has no friends. Those "friends" are a conglomeration of models and homeless people gathered off the street paid to look like they're besties with Marth.) I want to throw a summer solstice party replete with summer sun die cuts, hand-dyed umbrellas and organic strawberries that can only be purchased at a tiny family farm founded in 1803 in Montauk, N.Y. and whose shipping costs more than my first car.

In Martha World parties like that happen. Know what else happens? Personalized stationary, antique spoons, cement garage floor painted sky blue and stenciled with little bunnies, cashmere throw blankets for summer, picnics baskets so amazing it is as if NASA designed them and tiny ivory baby booties knit from virgin Peruvian wool. Sometimes I feel like Tiny Tim with my nose pressed up against the glass of the toy shop that is Martha World, wanting all of it but being able to afford very little of it. There is one thing that is very pro-Martha and very pro-girl-on-a-budget-with-Montauk-dreams-but-with-a-freelance-salary, and that is cleaning the house from top to bottom. Sure, my lamps are from Target rather than Tiffany's but if the effort is there it is bound to be just as nice, right? So I set to work.

Cleaning is nice in that it is immediate gratification. A tub that looked like a coal miner had bathed in it (the remnants of a spray tan) gleamed as white as a Hollywood actresses' teeth. After a thorough scrubbing the kitchen looked like the set of a cooking show, the den's homey smell came courtesy from a can of Pledge and some elbow grease. The foyer had a happy, bright look to it. All in all, the house looked great, for about ten minutes. Then everyone came home.

I stood helpless as the gleaming, Marthaesque kitchen descended into the mire from whence I had raised it as my father dirtied every pan in making dinner. My brain shouted out, "No! No!" when a cold coke can was disrespectfully put on the den table without a coaster. Hair dye was used in the bathroom and I swear I could hear the little black droplets fall onto the innocent white tile floor. Soon, the house will look like it always has, a little worn, a lot lived-in and kinda welcoming.

It seems as if perfection can only exist in a bubble. With that bubble placed up on a high shelf guarded by mean, pointy-toothed dogs where no one with sticky hands or dirty shoes can get to
it. But, the thing is, life isn't like that, only magazines are. We buy into this idea that perfection can last forever, but it can't. If it exists at all it is for two seconds before some assbag tromps through our work and that's ok. That assbag is a friend of mine.