Friday, January 15, 2016

Teach My Feet to Fly

Happy New Year, everyone! I got out of the 2016 blocks strong, but need to remember this isn't a sprint. This week has been dominated by loss and celebration, as tributes poured out to those who passed like David Bowie, Amiri Baraka, Lois Weisberg, and Alan Rickman. All of these folks left their fingerprints on local and wold culture in their own way.

My friend Scott Smith and his wickedly talented staff at Touchvision is looking for work after the company ceased operations yesterday. Touchvision was one of the more unique media experiments in years, bringing a digital edge to broadcast journalism and they seemed have found their footing before the rug was pulled out from under them. Chicago media is a brutal business. But the rewards are often worth the risks; Touchvision did some wonderful work in its short time.

Personally, I've been busy re-acclimating myself to work after a two-week publishing holiday. Sundays have been reserved for slow cooker recipes. Time management is still a problemit hasn't affected my work output so far but it's something I want to remedy soon. The story I read at Tuesday Funk last week was well-received. (Actually, I killed and I never say that!) 

I've donned my layers and, with the weather finally feeling like winter around here, laced my skates at McKinley Park and the Maggie Daley Park ice ribbon for a few laps for the dual purpose of getting some exercise and to train for Hustle Up the Hancock next month. (Note: All participants raise money for the Respiratory Health Association. If you have a couple bits to spare, please consider pledging me.)

This will work as the segue. I love ice skating. As a sport and exercise, it holds my attention the way only bicycling has been able to over the years. But I'm still relatively new to it and this is the tale of how I taught myself to do so. I read a more personal version of this at Tuesday Funk a couple years ago, so I did some editing to update it.

Assumption of Risk and Release: "I am aware that ice skating involves inherent risks, dangers and hazards which can result in serious personal injury or death. I hereby freely assume and accept any and all known and unknown risks of injury while skating at this ice arena and release owner, its management company, their affiliates, subsidiaries, successors and assigns from any liability whatsoever from bodily injury or property damage resulting from negligent acts and omissions in the design, operation, supervision and maintenance of the ice arena."

This subtle yet ominous warning, cloaked in standard legalese, is the Chicago Park District’s (“the owner’s") way of saying it isn't culpable if I happen to slip, fall, crack my head open and bleed on any of their ice rinks. It’s wrapped around my wrist whenever I show my season pass for the Park District's outdoor rinks. So far, the worst that has happened is the frequent loss of wrist hair by whatever bored 15-year-old girl working the skate rental trailer catches them with the adhesive. Sometimes I'll look at the disclaimer on my wrist and imagine myself prone on the ice, face down in a pool of my own blood after a nasty fall, holding my arm up to remind the other teenagers in charge of maintaining the rink's safety I knew exactly what I signed up for.

I've always wanted to skate but, for myriad reasons, failed to take up the sport until my late 30s, and even then didn't take it seriously enough to work on actually being good at it. Lord knows I wanted to. My cousin Patrick and I used to go to Blackhawks games at Chicago Stadium when I was a teen and watch Troy Murray, Steve Larmer, and Doug Wilson put the puck into the net, Al Secord and Behn Wilson act as the enforcers on the ice and Murray Bannerman skate out to the Hawks' blue line to freeze a puck.

But the Blackhawk we were most engrossed by was Denis Savard, who was the best stick handler of any player of his time not named Wayne Gretzky and had beautiful skating skills that matched his guile on the ice. There’s one video on YouTube titled “Unbelieveable! Chicago Blackhawks Denis Savard” where he dances between and around four Edmonton Oilers players after stealing the puck before he faces the goalie and puts a wrist shot into the net. 

Denis Savard epitomized the 80s Blackhawks' “cold steel on ice” mentality and we would stand in the upper obstructed view levels of the original Madhouse on Madison, screaming “Holy Shit!” whenever Savard would pirouette on the ice and set up another scoring opportunity for himself and his teammates.

Pat was an avid hockey player, still plays in recreation leagues to this day and passed his love for hockey and skating to his three sons. In those simpler times, Pat taught me the basics of following a hockey game and at one point even said he would teach me to skate.

I wanted to skate like Savard so bad I could taste it. But my teen years were marked by anger, impatience and a being easily disenchanted when things didn't immediately go my way. Rather than pester Pat to teach me some skating basics, I instead dug out his brother Danny's skates from the family garage and walked across the street to Hermosa Park on the Northwest Side.

Every winter the park fieldhouse crew, led by a man named Ray, would ice down Hermosa’s softball fields so the neighbors could enjoy some skating without having to leave the neighborhood. The problem with these makeshift rinks was that Ray and his crew did this without the knowledge or consent of the Park District and they were often stoned when they would break out the firehoses to flood the field. The ice wasn’t a smooth surface for skating and instead resembled a series of rock-solid moguls—extreme skating before there ever was an X Games.

My choice of skates was also shortsighted. I assumed, since the skates were Danny’s and we were close in age, they would fit me perfectly. And they would have… if I were five years younger; I picked up Danny’s size eight skates. That didn’t stop me from fully removing the laces in an attempt to force the skates on my size 11 feet. I eventually worked up blisters and hammertoes that would rival a runway model’s. I took the skates and threw them, without laces, back into the garage.

My hockey fandom grew as I became an adult, but I never acted on my desire to learn to skate. Once, a group of friends arranged a New Year’s Eve skate at McFetridge Sports Center. I didn’t let my lack of skills stop me from renting skates, loosely tying them to my feet and proceeding to make a royal ass of myself. My ankles wobbled inside the skates like a teenage Taylor Swift wearing stiletto heels to an awards show. Tightening them made things worse and suddenly I vacillated between repeatedly bouncing my head off the ice and barreling into small children like a 250-pound bowling ball, an endless stream of profanities flowing from my mouth. To this day my friend Todd reminds me that was the first time we met and that he didn’t know what to make of me.

Subsequent excursions to other rinks fared just as bad, although I learned to be self-aware, stopped swearing on the ice and instead used the children to balance myself and pull me around the rink, like sled dogs in the Alaskan woods. It still frustrated me to no end that everyone would lap me twice on a rink in the time it took me to make a half lap.

So I vowed after skating season ended a few winters ago that I would truly, really, seriously, cross my heart and hope to die teach myself how to skate. Unlike my teen years, I had two things in my favor: the patience of a man in his mid-40s and the Internet. The former taught me not to be discouraged by the failures of my younger self; the latter showed me the lessons I never allowed Pat to share with me.

I went to Play It Again Sports and bought a used pair of Sher-Wood Raptor 2 hockey skates in silver with black toes, heels and trim. The kid who sold them to me and sharpened them said they looked like they were never worn, but I bet he says that to all the boys. When I wear them, they give the impression that my skills are much better than they are.

With my purchase in hand I took to YouTube to search for videos on learning how to skate. The videos near the top of my search all involved learning to fall properly and get back up again, which comes in handy when you lose your balance and is the difference between getting back up to skate again and spilling your blood on the ice.

The next videos in my queue dealt with ice skating basics, taught by some blonde kid in cargo shorts from Florida skating on synthetic ice, which kind of pissed me off. I felt if a bro on plastic ice can do this, I can certainly try dressed in layers on a Chicago rink.

It turned out that this video on ice skating basics wound up being the one I returned to whenever I needed a refresher on shifting my weight, getting my balance and proper hip and knee placement.

The rink closest to my Bridgeport apartment is at McKinley Park on the city's Southwest side. Located on Western Boulevard just south of Archer Avenue, it serves as a slice of tranquility amid the constant bustle of motor vehicle traffic 20 yards away. I like McKinley not only for the proximity to my home but because of the beautiful views. I can see the downtown skyline on a clear day, the CTA Orange Line and freight trains curve around Archer to Western, ferrying passengers to flight delays at Midway Airport and empty shipping containers to temporary homes. Lindy’s Chili is a short walk away for when I’m done and need to warm up. But the main reason I like this rink is because I can work on my skills away from prying eyes.

My first trip to McKinley Park in November 2012 was one to remember. There was a United Nations of languages on the ice: people speaking English, Spanish, Lithuanian, Italian, Polish, Chinese, crackhead and gangbanger. There were girls in hockey skates and boys in figure skates; parents teaching their preschoolers to march on the ice and fall properly; gaggles of teens taking group selfies and flirting with each other around the rink; and other adults like me just trying to find a groove. I may have been the only one with Joni Mitchell's voice in his head singing about wishing for a river to skate away on.

I managed to get around the rink five times in a 90-minute span—no falls or wipeouts; the flat arches of feet aching only slightly. A return to YouTube showed me how to lace my skates properly for ankle and arch support and the next week I was back at McKinley putting the pieces together again. A visit to Millennium Park's ice skating rink with my then-girlfriend, her roommate and a friend visiting from out of town showed me where I stood in my endeavors, as I finally gained a measure of smooth gliding by the time we exited the ice.

Flush with confidence during that skate, I returned to McKinley Park between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the rink packed with families marching along their merry way, which provided plenty of opportunity to avoid the errant missiles that are kindergartners on skates.

As soon as I stepped on the ice I could tell a difference. The lessons I watched and the trips to the rink were starting to pay dividends. I skated for the first time with confidence and made my way around the ice with ease. Two hours flew by before I knew it and I wanted to skate more. My subsequent trips to the rink found me growing even more secure with how I skate.

I've found parallels between my improved skating and other areas of self-improvement off the ice. There’s been progress. Sometimes it’s barely measurable. Other instances, like when I successfully negotiate a turn on the ice, the smile on my face is so wide I couldn’t hide it if I tried.

We should always strive to grow even when we feel we shouldn't. At 35 I decided to focus on the writing career I always wanted, and it took me ten years to finally feel comfortable I achieved that. Now I’m trying to find that ever-vital work/play balance without pushing away the people in my life I love the most.

We can always be better parents, children, bosses, partners or spouses. And while it's nice to work on myself for their benefit, I've embraced that I want to be a better person simply because I’m through with settling for “good enough.” Having patience, learning from your mistakes and simply being aware of the world around you provides a knowledge base when you arrive at the obstacles that pop up unexpectedly. In many ways, I’m teaching myself to fall properly and get back up away from the rink.

The future guarantees few absolutes (and those aren't fun) but working on my shortcomings now will allow me to better enjoy the present and future. I'll never skate like Denis Savard but I don't have to. And Joni Mitchell may have had it wrong when she sang of wishing for a river on which to skate away. You want to skate to something, even if that means going in circles around a rink on the Southwest Side to get there.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Just Breathe

I used to half-joke that I considered every day I lived past 21 to be a miracle, given the circumstances surrounding my childhood. I’m a quarter century past that high water mark now and long stopped referring to my adulthood as the exception to the rule. Since today is New Year’s Eve, the conditions are ideal for some added reflection.

A few months ago, I would have written that 2015 was marked by loss: not only a job, but some friendships I treasured not because of where they stood at the time and where they were going, but because I couldn’t let go of what those relationships used to be. Many of the wounds were self-inflicted. Pema Chödrön wrote: “As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution.”

I demanded resolution and, in doing so, opened myself to more conflict. My efforts to build bridges burned more down instead, and I reached a low point I hadn’t felt in years. The last time I felt this shitty was when I was 30; similar extenuating circumstances combined to form the same critical mass. Then, I ignored it by saddling my bike, pedaling until I was past the point of exhaustion, insulting everyone in my path and living in a state of arrested development. Now, I’ve been able to face this honestly and identify it for what it was.

Depression isn’t a word that’s spoken in my family. Growing up, we took the “rub a little dirt on it” approach to dealing with problems—some of us still do. The thing about seeing a therapist and truly putting in the work to improve oneself is it forces you to be honest about the issues holding you back. For me, it was the first time in my life I faced issues like anger, insecurity, inferiority and loneliness without my standard shield of sarcasm to attack others. That’s hard enough to do when you’re younger; try doing it in your mid-40s. Surprise! Old dogs can learn new tricks.

It also helps to have a good therapist. Mine is excellent. In our first sessions we worked on basic behavioral modifications, like taking five-to-ten minute breaks during the workday for myself. Another one was to simply breathe whenever my anxieties or obsessive tendencies arose. One of the seeming simplest tasks, that’s been among the hardest to master. When my brain was a muddy stew over the summer, I forgot to do that. During the summer sessions where I regaled my doc about my shitty weeks, her first question was always, "Did you take the time to breathe?" I allowed that I hadn't. She arched her eyebrows and didn't say anything; we both knew.

Eventually, I returned to the business of living again. I gave my new job an honest try and discovered the same instincts and lessons I learned at Chicagoist serve me well at Bisnow. This time, however, I know when enough is enough and when to walk away. I can shut down the laptop at any time. I stopped stewing in my funk and reached out to friends old and new, who were there all along with open arms.

All I had to do was breathe.

I make the same New Year’s resolution every year: I resolve to not make any resolutions. My rationale is that’s one resolution I can honestly keep. I’ve added another for 2016. I resolve to take steps back to breathe; to take the time to assess my surroundings. That will open me to new opportunities, interests, friends, romantic interests and overall growth.

I’m also hopeful there will be opportunities to repair some of the friendships that ended this year. This time, that isn’t tied with resolution or rose-colored memories of what was. Sometimes you just need space to heal. There’s an old military tradition where friends who have not seen or heard from each other for long periods of time never question their friendship. These friendships resume at the same time they left off regardless of distance, time and what transpired between them.

We call these friends "family."

PS I’m kicking off 2016 telling tales out of class with my pal Andrew Huff at his monthly “Tuesday Funk” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 5 at Hopleaf. If you’re free, y’all should show up. I’ve been spending some free time finally getting back to the task of writing more personal stories and looking for outlets for them. This will be a great way to dip my toes back into that pool. 

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

While You Weren't Looking...

Teachers at Healy Elementary in Bridgeport receive support from motorists during the 2012 Chicago teachers strike.

It seems as though Chicago is reaping a ton of bad karma lately. The actions of the Police Department are playing out on a national stage and are now the focus of a Justice Department Investigation. Rahm Emanuel’s carefully crafted national narrative as a take-charge, no-nonsense mayor has gone up in flames of the flash paper on which it was drafted. As I type this, protesters have blocked Congress Parkway demanding further justice in the police murders of LaQuan McDonald and Ronald Johnson. The drumbeat for the resignations of Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez grow louder.

Amid all this, another chicken has come home to roost. The Chicago Teachers Union began voting today on a strike authorization. Odds are solid that, if you’re the parent of a Chicago Public Schools student, you’ll be looking for a babysitter in a few short months. Those of you reading this thinking, “didn’t they just strike a while back?” and wondering why they may walk out again, haven’t been paying attention to how the mayor and his allies have treated the teachers union since signing that 2012 contract.

Here are the Cliff’s Notes: almost immediately after settling the strike, Emanuel and the Chicago School Board orchestrated the closing of 50 neighborhood schools, the largest mass public school closures in American history. CPS laid off teachers in each of the years following the strike, citing a need to balance the system’s budget. The district increased class sizes, added an hour to the school day and cut funding and services at neighborhood schools, effectively making teachers glorified babysitters. The “safe passage” program intended to protect students making the trek from shuttered schools to schools outside of their neighborhoods was met with varying results, and incidents of violence in the safe passage zones. 

Meanwhile, the school board asked for—and received—the maximum property tax levy allowable to help balance its budgets and promptly pissed it away. It’s dipped into capital expenses and used voodoo economics to present balanced budgets to City Council. Public resources that could have been used to strengthen neighborhood schools continued to be funneled to charter schools and IB programs which perform as well, if not worse, than district schools. Former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty in a kickback scheme related to a no-bid contract. Conflicts of interest have arisen with members of the mayor’s hand-picked school board and companies (in which they have a vested financial stake) doing business with the district. Debt swapping schemes initiated by former school board chair David Vitale have eroded CPS’ bond rating. Gov. Bruce Rauner, who emerged from the 2012 strike as one of the most hawkish anti-union agitators, offered CPS pension relief in exchange for a property tax freeze, union busting measures, limits on public workers’ rights to compensation and a new education funding formula one can safely assume won’t work out in the neighborhood schools’ favor.

Yet, CTU is seen as the villain by some. As with most Chicago political landmines, it’s rooted in racism. From the Wilson wagons of the 1960s to the voluntary busing programs of the late 1970s, Chicago Public Schools has reflected the hyper-segregation of the city proper. We see and hear black CPS students speaking in stilted language and we crow they aren’t “getting the education my tax dollars are supposed to be funding.” We see mostly black and Hispanic teachers picketing and protesting and assume they should shut the fuck up, be thankful they weren’t among the layoffs and get back to work. CTU president Karen Lewis, who managed to whip a previously disorganized rank and file into a unified force, and still remains the only labor leader to beat Emanuel at the bargaining table, is viciously attacked for her gender, her race, her appearance and her politics. 

Organized labor has been under siege for years, teacher unions especially. We’ve been trained as a society over the decades to beatify teachers for doing the Lord’s Work in teaching Johnny to read, but condemn teachers unions as the root cause of why Johnny isn’t reading at his grade level. CPS failed to meet the pension payment obligations it agreed to under previous contracts with CTU for years, but it’s the teachers union that’s seen as a greedy drain on resources. That plotline is once again rearing its matted, rotten head. 

Here is what CPS is offering CTU in its current negotiations:  a 7 percent pay cut over three years; eliminating the lane and step compensation system for teachers; and massive increases to health care and pension contributions. CPS will not budge on decreasing class sizes, will not cut standardized testing and won’t discuss a lack of wraparound services and clinicians at neighborhood schools. The combination of the pay cut and increased teacher contributions to healthcare and pension payments would amount to teachers actually seeing a 17-20 percent cut in average salary over the course of a proposed four-year deal.

Emanuel, who's waged a war on public education since his first inauguration, is already working to shape the discussion in the public eye. He’s made the media rounds bellowing that a strike authorization vote “distracts from the solution.” Emanuel is a plutocrat who aligns closer to Rauner than the common man, so knowing how organized labor works may be a stretch for him. A union’s power is in its ability to withhold work. Unions don’t look to strike; they’re fighting for an equitable labor system. CTU knows first-hand what obstacles stand between your children and the quality education the city is supposed to provide. And the union isn’t one of them.

The last time CTU voted to authorize a strike, it had widespread support from the public. Things haven’t improved in the past three years and I’m certain they’ll find solidarity from those of us who remember when a quality education could be obtained in a Chicago public school.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

We Must Do Better

I’ve debated weighing in on the LaQuan McDonald murder and cover-up ever since the video was released. If you're reading this, you know what I ultimately decided. But I felt it prudent to be measured in my response, this being the age of the hot take and all. Even as I file this, I’m not sure it's worth sharing. But that’s never stopped me before.

Am I angry? I am. And that anger can help one dig a deep hole when processing thoughts on a subject such as this. The calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to resign in the wake of the dash cam video’s release grow by the minute. While their resignations would be a welcome holiday gift for those of us calling for justice, it won’t solve the problems that will continue to exist after they’re gone. In some cases, their resignations would worsen some of the existing circumstances. 

It’s like the hydra: cut off one head and two will grow to take its place.

I’m talking about issues like the culture of silence in the Chicago Police Department that enables the actions of police officers like McDonald’s killer Jason Van Dyke, and Dante Servin, acquitted of killing Rekia Boyd when he blindly fired into a crowd of people in an alley. Or the 10 percent of Chicago police officers with multiple misconduct charges on their records, who account for 30 percent of all complaints, who almost always walk away scot-free. CPD’s “no snitch” policy is as bad, if not worse, than the one they’re trying to break in black neighborhoods.

I’m talking about issues like the multiple independent reviews of police shootings that are deemed justifiable, from 21-year-old Tamir Rice’s murder in Cleveland to the several instances debated (and I use the term loosely) by CPD’s Independent Police Review Authority.

I’m talking about issues like the militarization of police departments across the country the past quarter-century. The motto “to serve and protect” has largely been abandoned. Police officers these days act more like an occupying force than one sworn to keep the peace and preserve life, even those of the criminals they arrest. Foot patrols have given way to armored vehicles, SUVs, surveillance equipment and LRADs, and cops like Van Dyke who unload an entire clip into a teen walking away from him.

I’m talking about issues like allowing police unions to intimidate critics and simultaneously claim persecution, as NYPD Patrolman’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch has recently. Or to control media narratives whenever an officer fires his weapon, as Chicago Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden does at the scene of every shooting involving a police officer.

I’m talking about issues such as how media outlets with limited resources accept the nonsense coming from Camden’s mouth as gospel.

I’m talking about the issue of how CPD may be overworked and stressed out, thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars in overtime pay the past four years, that is the linchpin of former Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s crimefighting initiative. Or the FOP’s claim the Police Department is understaffed, despite a 2012 report showing Chicago has the most police officers per capita of all major American cities.

I’m talking about issues involving the goosing crime stats to give politicians, if not the public, the perception the city is making headway on major crime.

I’m talking about the tone deafness of Emanuel, who said last week the culture needed to change, then immediately headed to Millennium Park to light the city Christmas tree. Or how his administration waited until after he was re-elected to approve the $5 million settlement with LaQuan McDonald’s parents. Or how the City Law Department fought to prevent the video from being released.

I’m talking about the vindictiveness of Anita Alvarez, a “tough on crime” prosecutor who regularly refuses to investigate misconduct cases involving CPD or the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. A prosecutor who almost never doubts the thoroughness of police investigations, even as actual evidence—from the David Koschman cover-up to McDonald—are examples of why she should.
I’m talking about neighbors and residents who justify their ignorance and intolerance of what’s happening by bringing up bogeymen like “black on black crime” or “why don’t they protest in their own neighborhoods?” (They do. Every day.)

I’m talking about the issue of Chicago’s historic and ongoing hyper-segregation that leads neighbors and residents to take a “NIMBY” attitude.

I’m talking about the complete breakdown in the checks and balances between this city’s executive and legislative branches of government that has allowed the mayor to act as an Elective Majesty for as long as I’ve been alive, with the exception of four years in the 1980s.

We can do better. We must do better. I vote like clockwork because, evidence to the contrary, I believe in the power of the ballot. I believe sustained protests can effect positive change. I believe politicians who consider their seats to be family heirlooms should regularly have the fear of having to find honest work instilled in them every four years. I believe in One Chicago, in Building a New Chicago in the neighborhoods that need the boost the most.

If we lose that belief, everyone loses.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Second Act

Whenever I tell someone I work from home, I always hear the same answer: “That must be so cool, to not have to leave the house for work.”

While working from home does have its advantages, it isn’t quite living the dream. The reality is more complicated.  It can be isolating, and folks who work from home can be susceptible to depression, anxiety, and see their social skills erode. If you’re like me and your anxiety already is at a high idle, you need to stay vigilant, or else you move straight from the desk to a tearful 90-minute nap, because you’re emotionally drained after the work day is done.

After I was fired from Chicagoist in March, I wanted a change from that routine. I cast a wide net with my job search. I wanted to stay in local media, but the current local journalism landscape meant most of the plum jobs were gone as fast as they were posted; the rest were filled at a snail’s pace, as companies had multiple vacancies in their professional hierarchies. So I extended my reach to marketing, public relations, content development and the nonprofit sector. My resume was polished to a new penny shine.

One thing I hoped for, regardless—after five years of mostly working from home, I dreamed of a job in an office, surrounded by peers, with a commute and the occasional bad lunch at my desk, followed by a mid-afternoon coma while counting down the hours to quitting time. 

So how did I wind up with another job requiring me to work from home? The answer, in short, was that it felt right. My now editor-in-chief, a charming woman with a languid Georgia accent, and a descendant of Southern newspaper royalty, said this wasn’t for everyone when we first spoke. What was supposed to be a 20-minute chat turned into an hour-long phone call where we discussed our backgrounds, individual writing and editing philosophies, and our mutual desire to be a part of something with the potential for growth. There were some stumbles in the weeks after I accepted the job, compounded by the other upheavals in my life. But in talking with her, I realized, like Chicagoist a half-decade prior, it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.

The struggles were evident as soon as I started my writing tryout. The language of commercial real estate (and of this publication) was as foreign to me as speaking Esperanto, and I resisted learning it, from the onset. It’s fast-paced, requires attention to detail, and the learning curve is steep and fast. My editors realized I was green and were patient, knowing they took a chance on someone with no business writing experience. From my perspective, I realized how much I allowed by reporting skills to deteriorate. My first drafts—even reblogs—were sloppy and required multiple edits before they were fit for publication. Doubt as to whether I had the ability to do this job set in deep and became a driving factor in my summer of weltschmerz. I would lash out at what I believed was nitpicking of my copy, which frustrated my editors. I ended my work days in fits of crying, yelling into pillows, and bad eating habits.

Eventually, it reached a point where, as I sat in the quiet room of Bridgeport Coffee House on a mid-August day, I considered reaching out to the Evanston law office where I first dreamed of becoming a full-time writer, to see it they had work. You had a hell of a run, the doubts screamed in my head. There’s no shame in going back. That night, I told my friend Michelle of my decision. “It’s good that you came to this decision early,” she said. While Michelle rarely offers advice aloud, the look on her face told a different story. “Don’t make a rash decision. You’re going through a lot, professionally and personally, and you’ll get through this the way you always have. You’re a fighter—fight.”

The next day I returned to work more composed, determined to get through the day without incident and doing the job to the best of my abilities. I spent the weekend soul searching and dedicated to taking control of this situation for the first time. The next week I pounded phones; incessantly emailed a growing list of contacts; turned in sharper, tighter copy; laid out a detailed editorial calendar to my editors that was greeted with enthusiasm; and listened to their advice. Around the same time, I started to receive analytics showing the growth of my page views, and how I progressed learning the language of business reporting. I’ve learned to trust my editors, and they have put their faith in me to do the job I’ve been hired to do, to the best of my abilities. The doubts began to recede and, though there are some days where they return with a vengeance, those moments are exceedingly rare. Like any good reporter, I’m finding the meat on the bone I want to eat, and trusting once again that if I find something interesting, readers will, as well.

I’m having fun again with the keyboard. I’m finding myself interjecting my personality into my reporting, which was one of the things that these folks liked about me from the onset. Most important, I’m able to leave work behind me at the end of the day. I spent far too long letting my job description define who I am, when I’m so much more. Not having to worry about that in my downtime has been a revelation. 

Journalism, at its foundation, is a simple endeavor—report on who, what, when, where, why and how; and get the facts right. It's equal parts science and art, but the balancing act is simple. Remember that, and you can do the job, and find satisfaction in it. Hunter S Thompson wrote, “Although I don't feel that it's at all necessary to tell you how I feel about the principle of individuality, I know that I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life expressing it one way or another, and I think that I'll accomplish more by expressing it on the keys of a typewriter than by letting it express itself in sudden outbursts of frustrated violence.”

Writing, for me, has been as much a therapeutic tool and a salvation, as an art form. And it will continue to be, long after I stop earning the right to be paid for the endeavor. It’s just nice to feel comfortable in my skin again and enter the day with clear eyes and a full heart.