4, 5, 6…

Counting train cars: 13, 17, 21… A not unwelcome delay, watching this machine become an entire moving horizon, thinking of the conductor tipping his hat to Henry Ford and Wilbur Wright and whoever invented the semi. He’s going coast to coast (or so I imagine) – an angry Pacific the last sight as his train slows in San Francisco. 65, 66, 67… Now cars piled high with coal. A relic carrying a relic in an alternative energy age.

78, 79, last. And a sad/proud whistle and the flashing lights stop and I wonder if the crew worries that one of these days, those rails will just end in a pile of rust and they’ll be stuck in Nebraska for good.

Hey-o, journalism students.

So it seems I’m disqualified unless I get myself into grad school ASAP, but this weekend a friend told me about New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s annual trip to different African countries with with one lucky essay contest winner.

Check out his blog post, a goofy video and instructions on entering here. Then pass it on.

Coincidentally, last week I had just started reading Kristof’s book Half the Sky (co-written with his wife and fellow NYT correspondent Sheryl WuDunn — ooooh, spouse news teams) about worldwide oppression of women, how they’re/we’re overcoming it and what we can do help.

Both worth a look.

Lessons Learned

St. Louis feels more and more like a hometown each time I go back.

Lady Gaga plays piano.

Bars can be fun. Since turning 21, I’ve only had the pleasure of making awkward I-really-don’t-want-you-around conversation with a cowboy wedding attendant at the Dukum and avoiding Ottumwa bars entirely. Turns out urban bars are much classier (or at least much more pretentious) which makes for fun games of “Name that Obscure Canadian Band” playing over the speakers while drinking cheap hipster beer.

My 80-year-old farmer grandpa dresses like a hipster.

There will never be enough time to spend with old friends, so…

When I have hugs to motivate me, I can get by on only 3 hours of sleep.

My morning-person personality is squandered on the night shift.

Express has a men’s section.

It’s hard to stare up at tall buildings for extended periods of time.

A reminder from high school history teachers: Four years (or three years) changes everything.

Word is our generation is destined for five to seven lifetime careers. Yay! I don’t have to be a copy editor for the next 45 years – or even the next four to five months…

I ranted about Ottumwa a lot. I apologize. It’s time to start taking steps to change this situation.

So the big question is: Can we all quit our jobs, drop out of school and live together in an adobe house in New Mexico?

My best stories start at the YMCA.

She beamed at me across the locker room, wrapped in her lime green, flower-appliquéd towel. And I knew there would be trouble.

We said our hellos. My new late-fifties friend started the conversation with, “I got tired of holding my swimsuit.” I didn’t ask questions.

“What are you here to do?” she asked.

“Oh, just use the treadmills, I guess,” I responded.

“I come here for the swim classes. They have them all morning, every morning. Water aerobics – it’s great! They have a deep water class. You would like that one.” This woman had an uncanny ability to discern strangers’ preferred type of aquatic exercise.

“Hmm, I’ll have to try it. You just do the exercises without touching the bottom?”

“Everybody gets floaties,” she explained enthusiastically.

Quick vision of myself wearing water wings surrounded by septuagenarians. “Yeaaah, I’ll have to work on my swimming.”

“Oh, you don’t have to be a swimmer,” she chuckled. “There’s a life guard.” And then the towel slipped.

“Waaahokay,” I squeaked. “Well, you have a good day now! See you…” I fast-walked for the door.

“You have fun!” she called. “It’s not worth doing if it’s not fun!”

Thanks for the life lesson, YMCA lady. And thanks for flashing me mid-conversation.

The Break-up

Dec. 10, 2009

Dear Winter in Iowa,

I have tried so hard to maintain our beautiful relationship. I praised you in the presence of grumpy, snow-hating bank tellers and shared a relatively happy hour shovelling snow with a neighbor.

But now…fuck you, Winter.

This morning, I’m over it. What we had was perfect, but the tow-truck and pissy police officer were too much (just because I misread the emergency snow route notice!? That’s low, Winter). Now I have no place to park, 30 days to get Iowa license plates, and I’m out the $25 of what seemed to be bribe money to get the tower to go away. That’s taken directly out of my Macbook-buying fund, Winter in Iowa. You know how much that means to me.

No more snow angels or cuddling up by the window at night to watch your flurries. We’re through, I’m moving on. Spring in Santa Fe is looking so good now…

Love (not anymore), Zoe

Happy-Go-Watergate

Two movies I’ve been meaning to tell you about:

1. “Happy-Go-Lucky” or “The Life of Zoe: Ten Years from Now, with British Accents.” I worried this movie would be too sickly sweet, even for me – especially after the main character, Poppy, has her (beautiful, fixed gear) bike stolen in the first 5 minutes and her reaction is unthinkably accepting. Sorry, Poppy, that’s never OK.

For some people, I think the optimism was too much. But it was a conscious optimism, the result of living with sadness, injustice, and whining and actively espousing something else. This is what redeems it from the rainbow-gumdrop land it might have been. There is poverty and abuse and just general grumpiness in this film, and Poppy is sometimes clumsy, sometimes stupid (fraternizing with crazy homeless men on abandoned side streets at night – not advisable), sometimes serious. She is not director Mike Leigh’s interpretation of our best self, but rather his interpretation of the contentment we could all have if we just had a little more respect for innocence and positivity and dancing and rowboats.

2. “Frost/Nixon.” First question, did Nixon really talk with that drunken slur all the time? Second question, how can two hours of talking about talking be so mesmerizing? Thirty years after the real-life interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and a disgraced Richard Nixon and I’m still edge-of-my-seat with bated breath as their explosive discussion plays out on screen. The mood is enhanced with a wonderful lack of the usual soundtrack suspense music (silence during Nixon’s pained pauses is the only thing that makes sense), and close-ups of actors who are highly conscious of the expression of triumph or fatigue their eyes are supposed to convey.

And pleasant surprise: Mr. Darcy of the latest remake of “Pride and Prejudice” as a silver-haired, Dwight Schrute-glasses wearing TV producer. His voice is still sexy.

18˚

There are two ways to know it’s really cold outside. Three, if you count actually checking the temperature on some weather Web site or old-school thermometer.

One, a childhood favorite, is when you can see your breath in front of you like a fluffy magic mist. This inevitably  causes me to pretend I’m some sort of human train — and I’m guessing I’m not the only one. We’re never too old to re-enact “The Little Engine that Could.” I think I can…make it to the grocery store door without losing any fingers or toes to frostbite.

The other took me a little time and some scientific reasoning to figure out. I keep a pair of sunglasses in my car for those elusive bright winter mornings. I put these sunglasses on and immediately get blurry spots right over my field of vision. Remove glasses, wipe on scarf, replace. And again with the spots.

Turns out, it’s just my smokin’ hot eyeballs causing the cold plastic lenses to fog up. Very, literally, cool.

In the (Virtual) Newsroom.

Last night, I dreamed of packing up my Ottumwa life — unconscious me throwing every pillow and trinket and cooking ladle into neat plastic boxes with some unknown but better destination in mind.

Last week, I heard more than I cared to about the desperate situation in which journalism and journalists currently flounder.

Our paper, as part of company-wide cost-cutting measures, demands five furlough days from each employee: Five days next quarter when we don’t come in to work and don’t receive compensation. Because I’m 21 and single and living in a cheap apartment with zero college debt, I’m trying to see this as five extra vacation days, even though it’s symptomatic of the issues that will more than likely leave me unemployed or changing careers in a very short time. For those with more bills to pay and mouths to feed and a 40-year career in this field, five unpaid days must be much more terrifying.

My editor was apologetic about the situation. I waved off the issue, but she refused to let it go. “No, it’s really not OK,” she replied bluntly, sounding concerned and tired and infinitely frustrated.

My friend said she and her father talked about ways to help my field out, which is silly and sweet and fruitless. At this point, I think the “get people to buy more newspapers” option is off the table.

But what to do? On the drive home for Thanksgiving, I got a call from a fellow student of media. He wanted to talk about the revolutionary measures that will be necessary to make news organizations viable again, I wanted to survive the four-hour drive on a rainy highway. But before dropping the call, I threw out the old Rupert Murdoch-backed “pay for Internet subscriptions” idea and he suggested a much more drastic but as-yet unknown overhaul — something outside the current business model.

Which would seem to be the motivation for a two-day workshop, today and tomorrow, involving the FTC and media executives.

Tax exemptions, copyright law and antitrust changes, oh my. I’m not even going to try to speculate solutions, leaving this in more capable hands.

But I know from an individual stand-point, many journalists are going to get tired of fighting. Tired of pay cuts and layoffs and hiring freezes and high stress/low compensation. A family friend, shouting over the DJ’s ’50s medley at a wedding last Saturday, told me about the trials of her 27-year-old daughter. She is stuck at a medium-sized newspaper just outside St. Louis. She likes her job, but it’s not going anywhere. Her salary’s been sliced, her coworkers let go, and no one else is hiring. She’s taken a part-time job at the Gap to make ends meet. Two years ago, her daughter had mentioned her going back to school to me (and at the same time warned me away from completing my journalism degree). Now that possibility seems inevitable for her.

With “My Sharona” playing in the background, this woman looked at me and said, “I think your class was one of the last to find jobs. A year from now, two years from now, if nothing changes…” We contemplate our wine glasses.

Then the first notes of “Billie Jean” begin to play and I get up to dance.