During my first semester at the University of Arizona, I befriended an older classmate in Astronomy. Sarah was a sophomore in the honors program, so I quickly concluded this seasoned student would have a positive influence on me. Because I lived among sorority princesses and perpetually inebriated Beverly Hills natives in my dorm, Sarah was a healthy change of pace from the “Jersey Shore” wannabes on my residence hall. She was past freshman partying, drunken screaming episodes, watching “The Girls Next Door” instead of attending courses, and sleeping through mid-term exams.
Before big tests, we held study sessions to sort through the intimidating material. At the end of our first meet-up, we discussed our areas of study. Astronomy was just a general education requirement for the both of us, but we had no interest in exploring science professionally.
“What’s your major?” she asked. “Have you picked one out yet?”
“Creative writing. I want to write for newspapers and magazines and eventually pen non-fiction books,” I said, surprised I revealed my ultimate goal to this person. “Have you ever heard of the memoir ‘The Glass Castle’? I’d like to write a book like that about my weird upbringing someday.”
To my surprise, she’d heard of “The Glass Castle,” which was actually the first work of non-fiction to spark my interest in the genre.
“That’s great,” she said. “My major is elementary education. I hope to teach second grade.”
But she’d only recently gotten into the College of Education. As a freshman, Sarah had signed up for the pre-physiology major but quickly realized medicine wasn’t her thing. Though she could have gone down the doctor route and earned tons of money, Sarah knew she’d be most fulfilled in the classroom.
“My family and friends didn’t support my decision,” she said. “They continue to tell me daily that I’m too smart to be instructing a group of whiny children. I understand that I’m capable of doing more with my brains, but my heart is in education.”
“That’s fair,” I responded, even though I couldn’t relate to this experience. Everybody in my life supported my writing aspirations. I was also 18. They thought I’d outgrow creative writing.
Five years later, nothing could be clearer than Sarah’s confession. For the past nine months, I’ve been an online editor at TheDC. Somewhere along the way, I carved my niche at the political site as an entertainment, life, and style writer. On occasion, I’ll make photo slideshows of models, female actresses, or singers. No matter what, I always have fun and wonder aloud on the metro how I got so lucky career-wise. As a teenager, I used to make collages of celebrities from magazine clippings. Never in a million years did I expect to do something similar in my future job. Who said you had to move on from that stuff?
Unfortunately, many friends, acquaintances, and former classmates have belittled me for writing tabloid articles, covering stories about the likes of Charlie Sheen and “Sex and the City” writer Candace Bushnell, and putting together slideshows of voluptuous women and sexually suggestive food. The slideshows may not be my favorite creations, but they don’t embarrass me. I’d never put my name on something shameful. I’m proud of everything I’ve produced and make no apology for that.
I take no offense to the strangers who advise me to “get a real job, grow up, and quit writing crap,” but it’s hurtful when people in my life are condescending enough to say I’m too good or smart to report on celebrities and human interest pieces. I’m in control of my own fate, so give me a little credit. I swear this isn’t directed at anyone in particular, but rather a plea for others to stop underestimating me. I’m the youngest of four, for God’s sake. Do you really think I’d stay in a career I dislike? By the time I came around, my parents encouraged me to follow my dreams. My brothers and sister didn’t receive the same pep talk, so our priorities don’t align. For better or worse, I wouldn’t stick with a career that causes me misery.
Also, this position was not thrust upon me. If I wanted to cover politics like all the high brow wonks in this town, I could at least make the attempt. I’m employed at a political news website for crying out loud. I chose to write about entertainment, social issues, human interest stories, and style because political writing is not my forte. When I first arrived at TheDC, I had to weasel my way into the light topics before others realized that I had different accomplishments in mind than the rest of the staff. There’s nothing more transparent than an unenthusiastic writer, and I didn’t want to be that guy. If I covered politics, there would be zero soul, passion, humor, emotion, or excitement to my articles. Philosophically, I enjoy politics but have no desire to write about the political world.
While I suppose my talents could serve a “worthwhile purpose” on Capitol Hill, where I’d listen to politicians drone on and on about bills, my stomach would turn. For several months, I considered being a Capitol Hill reporter because I desperately wanted to find a way to get ahead in the nation’s capital. If I decided to pursue that path, I’d have to spend every moment of my free time studying up on hearings, issues, and policies. That’s never going to be me.
In truth, I don’t even belong in D.C., the center of all things political. The people are splendid and brilliant, but I’m much more drawn to New York City, which fosters creativity, art, culture, and diversity. This evening on the metro, I saw a young man dancing in circles around the train car pole. D.C. needs more colorful, fun characters like that, but the district simply isn’t the place for free spirits. I knew this when I came to D.C. and kicked myself for being too scared to make it all the way out to the Concrete Jungle. Someday I’ll end up there, but at the moment, I have no connections or friends in the area.
Getting back on track, political writing is not in the cards for me. I most enjoy covering women’s issues, human interest pieces, and culture stories, but entertainment news does not deserve to be pummeled so often. What’s wrong with a break from debt ceiling talk, S&P credit rating downgrade freak-outs, Libya insanity, and 2012 election speculation? Do we really need to spend every waking minute debating Palin’s political plans? Who cares if some random candidate drops out of the race? Why ride the tail of a former governor’s bus tour? Aren’t you exhausted?
I respect political reporters for tirelessly trying to inform the public, but whatever your profession, don’t squash mine. I’ll feel more insulted if you say I’m too intelligent for my job, as if I’m incapable of making my own decisions. If I didn’t want to write on these subjects, I’d do something else, but this is what I want for myself. As the journalism industry fights for its life in a weak economy, I’m lucky to have a full-time position, let alone one that I adore. Ever consider that?
Of course, I won’t be doing this forever. Every day, I think about my big dream, which is to be the next Sedaris or publish something like Jeannette Walls’s “The Glass Castle.” Until then, I’m having a blast, so don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m writing below my skill level. Whether or not that’s true, I couldn’t be happier and would appreciate it if others stop raining on my parade and putting down my line of work.