This piece was originally published on Medium on 26 August 2017.
Working in any media field is a little bit like being bludgeoned with worst case scenarios 24/7 and then some lately. If its not worrying about being discarded in a “pivot to video” it’s being bombarded by the never-ending news cycle, trying to keep pace with everything that seems to be falling apart. And if it is not that, there is the expectation from some employers that you work on call at whatever their hours are, and then the eternal struggle of wondering, will they actually pay me? When it comes to my writing, I constantly feel like I am always behind and spinning my wheels in the sands of writer’s block. It is where I am actually writing this from tonight while trying to finish a couple pieces for the local weekly I write for. I’m frustratingly drained, I’m anxious, I have too many loose ends to wrap up before a big life change coming in the next few months. I’m short on time and temper. Exhaustion and stress have hit my immune system hard all summer. I cover three towns; many of the people in them have my personal cell phone number and don’t hesitate to use it. And I swing between feeling like I’m pulling teeth on stories to having too much to juggle, all the time. As frustrating as this all is, while I’m staring blankly at 15 tabs worth of town commission minutes, I know that in a week, I’m going to feel absolutely lost. Because as bad as a place as I keep teetering on the edge of right now, I know that this is the thing that is helping me keep away the doom and gloom in the face of an ineffably crueler world than I want to believe in.
I joke that I work in Stars Hollow – and a part of me still demands a t-shirt reading #stillabetterjournalistthanRoryGilmore.
Though this is far from the whole picture, I have been lucky to work for a year in three towns where the good, the hope, and the dedication to community far outweigh anything else. I never meant to be a journalist, it is something I fell into and found that, parts of it at least, I truly enjoy. For about 20 hours a week (usually more) I get to ignore the national scene, ignore the international scene, disengage with the proverbial garbage fire that seems to be spreading in every direction, and dig in to a place where even when they disagree on how it should be taken care of, there is pride in citizenship and celebration of a place by the people who live within it, and in many ways strive to take care of each other.
I have learned to be invested in local politics at a level I’ve never engaged with before; I see the dedication it takes to keep small New England towns running and now believe more than ever that politics needs to be a service to others, not a platform for an individual. I’ve met so many people, learned about their pasts and their passions, their roots and the directions they want to grow in. I’ve talked to scouts about their service projects, middle schoolers who want to ban neonicotinoids, veterans who are reaching out to provide a lifeline to others struggling with the same mental battles they faced with no help post-Vietnam. I’ve learned why community theatre is important especially in small communities, why fife and drum endures and should continue to do so, the challenges of keeping people in these communities, and why people can’t help but return when they do leave. I get to watch small partnerships be woven together, and residents who see what is happening outside of what feels like a haven, and choose to take a stand though the ugliness doesn’t touch them. I meet people who dedicate their lives to not only preserving local histories, but uncovering the darker sides of the stories that haven’t been told. I get to listen to all the ways that people try to bring the global context into the local word, and I get to hear about how our local shines outwards into the global from international exchange students. Yes, there are budget troubles and anxieties. Yes, there are very real problems to be faced and there have been and will be moments when this community will have to make very real choices about who they are, who is welcome, and who they want to become. And yes, there could always be more people at the regular town meetings and commission meetings and all the other little things that fill a town government calendar. But even with the problems, even with a voicemail that is never empty and emails that become distracting and questions that I can’t answer because, no, I cannot investigate why your neighbor seems weird and whistles in his backyard all the time, I cover these towns, and I get the chance to breathe.
I don’t have many chances to breathe in my life. The more it feels like I can’t catch up and the closer my life crawls to a major life change, the more I am grateful for those moments where I can dig my way into stories that will never be a blip on a national, or even a regional level, but for the people I have grown to care about and the communities I have grown to love, they are defining stories. And I am grateful for the people I work with; writers and editors who know that sometimes the local soccer game is more important than the world cup, and the importance of digging into the minutiae of town governance – and they take both equally seriously, because both, in some way, will impact the lives of the people who read the local paper. At a certain level, though it might have been my job to be interested in them and invest in what happens at the hyperlocal level, not a single one of them ever needed to become invested in me. And yet they did. If I stayed plugged into only my own life, only national and international news, I would have a much darker view on the world. But watching the level of investment of people who genuinely care about local life, who want to do their jobs well and take care of other people and their community to the best of their ability in whatever role they work in, helps bring some light back to my world.
So now, it is too early on a Saturday morning. I have too many countdown clocks running towards change, I’m behind deadline, and I’m writing through my writer’s block because in the face of the last few days, I can’t thing of anything else to do. But I’m staring at meeting minutes about a new restaurant, and notes about a miniature horse demonstration, and somehow, everything is going to be okay, because these moments are part of the record of life just as much as the storms hitting the national news cycle right now. And I’m the lucky one who gets to write these down, and remind people that there is still something positive in the world, still things being made and not destroyed, just like the people who are doing these things remind me every day and through every interview.