Tuesday, 26 October 2010

When I Finally Grow Up (Part 1)

I've got rather messy career aspirations. For a good part of my life I've been having an internal struggle over what I want to do with myself. This is pretty normal of course, most people have no idea what their futures will be until they stumble into them sometime around their twenties. Usually, people know that they want to be in business, or in media, or in fashion. For me though, I knew there were only two specific ways I could turn out: as a doctor or a writer.

I come from a family of writers. My sister is a travel writer, got a 1:1 in English from University College London and gets flown around the world to give speeches on various aspects of the written word. Mama Burns is also a writer, following Papa Burns' job from continent to continent and editing various magazines and newsletters along the way, writing her own column in New England and now gradually breaking into the journalistic world on the West Coast. Papa Burns co-wrote a book once, Brother Tom studied English at university and the Twin is doing the same now.

You could say it's kind of in my blood.

Of course, we're all attracted to the romance of journalism. I remember reading Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diaries and assuming that all journalists must live debauched lifestyles on tropical islands with beautiful women and unlimited supplies of white rum. I also got lost in the idea of becoming a foreign correspondent, jetting off to Iran and Burma and Chile on the BBC payroll, whipping up a furor in the international press with my dry witticisms and then returning to a good night's sleep at one of my many bohemian loft apartments dotted around the globe.

It was under these pretences that I pursued a degree in Politics and Sociology at university in England. As a first year undergraduate it was hard to penetrate the student journalism scene (it's not what you know...) but I was soon embroiled in it after someone in my halls of residence drove a brand new Mini across the quadrangle and up and down the stairs. I'd signed up to be my 'hall reporter' in hopes of being assigned a decent story, and though they didn't want a lowly first year to write this particular front-page article, they would be happy for me to take some photographs of the wasted car and give a statement.

How exciting! I relayed to my friends in a cafe on the day the newspaper came out, That's me! I took that photo! I gave that quote about that stupid idiot driving the Mini! Unfortunately, a boy in the cafe overheard, came up to me and told me that I should probably not quote things that I didn't know anything about, and it later turned out that this boy was the stupid idiot who had been driving the Mini. Oops.

I learned to be a little more discrete in my journalistic ventures but remained just as enthusiastic. I hounded friends for stories and constantly scanned the news for mentions of my university. While chasing one particularly controversial story I was assigned to, I was given a phone number for a staff member at the uni and I called him up. After some particularly cautious (boring) responses, I decided to drop the tact and rile him up to get some more interesting quotes for the paper. We ended the conversation with him more or less slamming the phone on the receiver, and as I smugly Googled the man's name to find out his role at the uni, I realised that I had just been provoking and teasing the chancellor's right-hand man. Second oops.

By the end of the paper's run, I had managed to squeeze into the elite circle within the student newspaper, a place where few first-year students manage to go, and had earned the title of Senior Reporter along the way. It was only during the paper's final edition that it dawned on me what a little shit I had become. I ran around the university, antagonising people, eagerly searching for the most gruesome stories about students getting beat up and mugged and attacked. I looked for controversy and institutional unease. I was always the first to hear the latest gossip, and there was a certain thrill in being the one who got to dispense it on the front page, but it was always a short-lived high. I decided I wouldn't work on the paper the following year, that I would stand up for my morals, the morals that I had been decimating all those months simply for the sake of my silly title as Senior Reporter.

Then of course I was offered the role of Deputy News Editor and my morals went back out the window.

To be fair, I did my best to change my ways. I standardised the paper's writing: no more first person narratives (shudder), contractions (shudder) or whacky alliterations (SHUDDER). I gave more control to new reporters. In the end, I let the Editor steer the ship while I just sat in the background, scrubbing the barnacles off the hull. Unfortunately, the ship--for me at least--was sinking, and while I enjoyed polishing other people's rough articles and seeing my own work occasionally grace the front page, I knew that this would be the last paper I would write for. Journalism wasn't for me.

Luckily, STFU isn't a newspaper and so there's no reason why I can't post you a song that I think you'll all like. I picked this up a few days ago. If you are starting to feel the grind of Winter life, think of 'Sounds Like Hallelujah' from Seattle's The Head and the Heart as a big old overcoat that'll keep you toasty, if not for a full day then at least for the few minutes it'll be playing on your iTunes.


  1. Anonymous28.10.10

    You can always write prescriptions when you're a doctor...but will they still have writing by then!

  2. Thanks for sharing the song - love it.