good riddance 2014

We’ve been in 2015 for six days now. I don’t think I’ve truly registered that. Here’s a post to say goodbye to 2014. 

The night before I left for my parents’ home this Christmas, the few of us who were left over met up for some tacos.

We were all journalism students–most of them photographers, and a couple of us writers showed up too. The end of 2014 was a mere two weeks away, and this seemed like an appropriate time to reminisce.

“What happened this year?” someone asked.

“Well, a whole lot of police violence…” I said.

“Right. There was Michael Brown in Ferguson, obviously, but also Eric Garner and Tamir Rice,” said another.

“And there was Ebola,” another person offered.

“Russia annexed Crimea…”

“ISIS beheaded those journalists…”

“Eh, ISIS in general was pretty bad,” I said.

“There was that Rolling Stone article about campus rape…”

“Boko Haram has been reeking havoc in Nigeria…”

“Guys, this is bad,” said a friend. “Can’t we think of anything good happen this year? Did anything good happen this year?”

I paused. “Well, Germany won the World Cup…”

“Oh, come on!” protested everyone else in the room. I guess none of them had German family members. They probably weren’t Bayern Munich fans.

More silence. I could on my friends’ faces that they were legitimately digging through their recent memories. Finally, somebody spoke up.

“We’re all safe and happy. And I guess that’s what’s really important.”

Everyone nodded in agreement, but I still felt frustrated. The answer was true, of course, but it seemed like a cop out. Things might be going well for me, but for millions upon millions of people in the world, the world was becoming an increasingly dangerous place. How are you supposed to avoid being weighed down by the news when your job is to study and write about it?

I’m going to leave that question dangling, because I plan to find how to answer it in 2015. Here’s to the new year, a year of digging and learning and staying on top of the news.

On a lighter note, how about this for a Transformation Tuesday? A year ago, I had dark hair and bangs. Now they’re long gone. R.I.P. high maintenance hair.

pierogi in greenpoint

It’s Dec. 27, 2014, which is almost 2015, and I’m ready for it. 

I carved out a bit of time in my break for filling out internship applications, and instead I’m sitting next to a pile of Hershey’s Kisses wrappers with my dog at my feet and I’m blogging instead. Go figure. 

I don’t like to forget things, but I often do. That’s why I try to scribble my thoughts down whenever I can. Even if it’s not well-written, or if it’s one giant rambling mess, at least it’s been recorded. So I’ve decided to share a memory from 2014. Read if you want to, or not.

Let’s start with New York.

Two days after I arrived, I decided to skip out early on the mixer for the business journalism conference I was attending. I was ready for dinner, and after reading novels and stories and blog posts about New York, I knew exactly where to go: Greenpoint in Brooklyn.

Greenpoint is one of the few Polish neighborhoods in the States, and I was eager to eat authentic pierogi. Roll your eyes at me if you must, but America is full of sickening pierogi imitations. It had been two and a half years since I had last visited my grandmother in Poland, so two and a half years since I had tasted real-life, actual, laboriously hand-made, cheese-and-potato peasant pierogi.

Thank you, God, for smartphones, I thought as I found my way to the G-Train. I was still dressed in the outfit I had planned for my New York Stock Exchange visit earlier that day, complete with a pencil skirt, blazer and oversized black heels. When I got off at the subway at Nassau Avenue as dusk fell darker and darker into night, I felt completely out of place.

Just walk around like you used to in London. I thought. You’ll find a place to eat, easy peasy. 

Except for a few things. I knew London fairly well. This was the first time I had ever set foot in Brooklyn. I was surprised to see that the streets were almost completely deserted. I saw a few mothers with strollers head inside their brownstone homes. Gentrification had taken over the Greenpoint of my imagination. Silly.

I walked into the first restaurant that I saw. It was a narrow place decorated with Polish memorabilia  with a bar up front and booths in the back. The bartenders and waiters were dressed in traditional Polish costumes, and although I’ve never been crazy about cheesy tourist vibes, I was too comfortable in the heated restaurant to consider walking back out in the cold. So, I sat down at the bar, ordered a bottle of Tyskie–my uncle’s favorite beer, which has an okay taste, not great, but I didn’t know of any other Polish beer–and opened the day’s Wall Street Journal so that I wouldn’t be bothered.

Wishful thinking.

Not ten minutes later, I received a glass of red wine.

“From the man sitting behind you,” the bartender told me in Polish.

A few things you should know about me before we move forward: I’m 23 years old, and I’m small. Five feet tall on a good day. I’m the sort of person that grandmothers look at and ask, “Well aren’t you terrified to be out in the city on your own?” And the truth is, maybe I should be, and sometimes I am, but I often feel at my most comfortable when I’m on my own and exploring. That is, until I get unwanted attention from men. Like, for instance, the 60-something year old man who was eyeing me and who had apparently sent me that glass of wine. Oh God. 

This was the first time I had been to a bar on my own, and it also happened to be my first time in New York. I had no idea what proper protocol was for this situation, so I smiled at the old man politely and took a sip of the wine. He then came over to sit next to me. I felt terribly awkward and was totally sober. I was going to have to sip on the wine a lot faster.

“Cześć,” he said.

“Dobry wieczór,” I replied with a formal “Good evening.”

Then he got real personal, real fast. He told me his name, and the fact that he hadn’t been to Poland for thirty years, but he was going to go back in a couple of weeks because he had cancer and that’s why he couldn’t drink alcohol, you see, and it was a terminal illness and that’s why he wanted to die in the country where he was born and grew up.

I felt bad for him for a moment. And then he said, “That’s why you must live in the moment, you know, and live without regrets.”

I’ve been hit on by enough slimy men to know exactly what that meant. So I breathed a sigh of relief when my pierogi–my gorgeous, delicious, authentic piegori!–were placed in front of me.

“Ah, I’ll leave you to your food,” the man said. “It was lovely meeting you.”

Saved by pierogi!

Except not.

I was just about to pay the check when he came back over. He had a beer in his hand.  The wine and beer had gone to my head a little bit, but for not being able to drink alcohol, this man now appeared flat-out drunk.

“You look so young, you know? Like no older than 19,” he said.

Whoomp, there it is. I assured him that I was 23 and spit out that memorized joke about how lucky I would feel in ten years. But he didn’t laugh politely as everyone else did. Instead, he asked where I was staying.

“I’m all the way in New Jersey,” I said. I got out my phone and began to draft a text to my friend Kouichi. Hey, we need to meet up.

“New Jersey? Cholera. That’s not New York. Come with me, I’ll show you around in my car,” he said.

“Oh, no, I–”

“Why not? Live in the moment, Kasia! This is New York City!”

He was leaning in closer to me, reeking of beer. I implored Kouichi to text me back, hoping that he would connect with me on some trans-city brainwave.

My phone buzzed. Yeah, let’s meet up! I’m in Times Square. Where are you?

“Actually, my friend–he knows New York well–he was going to show me around. He’s in Times Square, so I better leave–” I was thankful for Kouichi, but scrambling for words.

“I can take you there!” the man insisted.

“No, that’s all right. I’d rather just take the subway…”

“Well at least take my number.”

Now, that I could deal with. And that’s how I ended up with “Tomek Brooklyn” in my contacts.

The pierogi, by the way, were totally worth it.

sadder than fiction

This is tough. Really tough. My brain is struggling to structure the information, much less to process and analyze it. Let’s do it this way.

Here’s what we know:

Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely reported that Sept. 28, 2012, a young woman named Jackie attended a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on the University of Virginia campus. Erdely wrote about how Jackie was brutally gang raped by several frat brothers.

We know that since then, the pieces of the article presented as fact are now being questioned by other news organizations such as the Washington Post. The fraternity claims never to have had a party on the day of the alleged rape. Evidently, no Phi Psi man fits the description of “Drew,” Jackie’s rapist. And further, Erdely is being criticized because she did attempt to speak to “Drew.” One of the friends who ran into Jackie the night of Sept. 28 said that she was found a mile away from the frat houses, and that she was shaken but not physically injured. There are other apparent discrepancies, which you can read in the Rolling Stone apology letter.

So much credibility is being given to the agents who are pushing back on Jackie’s story–the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity especially. Critics are blaming Jackie for fudging details or making up the ordeal entirely. They are also blaming Rolling Stone for mistakes in fact-checking.

Here’s what Rolling Stone investigative reporter Matt Taibbi has to say about fact-checking at the magazine:

But in Rolling Stone‘s apology, Editor Will Dana changed the assertion that the magazine “misplaced” its trust in Jackie to: “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”

Where does this leave us? Concerning the facts of the story, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I’m not sure. But here’s what I do know. The backlash I’ve seen against this story is the most vicious I’ve seen in journalism. Why? I assume it has everything to do with the topic.

An estimated 1,929,000 women are raped per year in the States, according to the National Intimate Partner and Violence Survey. And yet every time a woman (or man) who has been raped is brave enough to come forward, society’s first instinct is to call her a liar. The percentage of rape allegations that are false is difficult to pin down, but it’s still very small.

We see the consequences with Jackie. Everybody’s favorite Twitter psychopath Chuck C. Johnson published her last name and is calling her a flat-out liar. Now, he’s opened her up to a world of harassment.

Here’s a Twitter vignette from Ta-Nehisi Coates that makes an insightful comparison with the notion of “crying rape”:

And what’s most infuriating is that since Jackie has been so ferociously hassled and ridiculed online, other rape victims are going to stay locked in silence. They look at what happened to Jackie, and they don’t want to live through the same consequences. So instead, they’ll stay under their blankets to try and find respite from painful memories. They’ll wonder what they could have done differently to avoid being raped. They’ll blame themselves, hate themselves and sink further and further into depression.

The system is rigged. No matter what, the loser will always be the victim of rape. 

lately

Things that are difficult:

Keeping your mouth shut when your political views on a topic are just begging to be shared with the whole world. You’re a journalist, Kasia. People can dismiss your credibility if you have an opinion, even if it’s backed by evidence. People don’t listen, not really. They divide the world into dichotomies and place you on whatever side makes the easiest sense.

Realizing that the dark bags under your eyes are slowly taking over your entire splotchy face. “Whoa, look at those circles under your eyes!” I was told yesterday. Three times. Who cares, who cares, who cares. I’ll get sleep tonight and I won’t look like a monster tomorrow.

Watching horrible things happen in the world and knowing that right now, at least, I feel utterly powerless.

Things that make the difficult stuff not-too-terrible:

Being assigned a story that excites you. Not feeling entirely powerless any more. (Stay tuned.)

Being able to have a conversation and ask insightful questions.

Getting good grades for hard work.

Doing cartwheels with friends in public spaces because it’s midnight and you’ve still got hours of work to go, so why not, really?

Playing with my dog.

ferguson/tempest/riots/racism

PROSPERO:

Abhorred slave,
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other: when thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endow’d thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in’t which
good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison.

CALIBAN

You taught me language; and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!

(Shakespeare, The Tempest, I.ii.353-368)

office space

Sometimes you try to write what’s assigned, and it just doesn’t work. The words are forced, artificially connected by too many conjunctions. When you’re a journalist, though, you’ve always got to write that story. Meet the deadline, even if the article is boring and you’d much rather be finishing up that investigative piece into which you’ve invested a semester’s worth of time. Meet the deadline, even if you’ve got a list-of-things-to-do afterward that will keep you up all night.

I’m sitting at my designated chair in the office at Jefferson City. In front of me, stacked legal pads scribbled with my notes, today’s New York Times, my planner which induces panic attacks when lost, a bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry that isn’t mine (although I tried it anyway, and then remembered how much I hate artificial sweeteners), a dictionary that probably weighs as much as I do, with yellowed pages, open to page 1027 which ends with the word “hand-minded.” I’m not sure why it’s in front of me. When I want to confirm that I’m using the right word, I’ll look it up on Merriam Webster online. That physical dictionary sits open, though, thousands of pages. An ancient relic.

There are no windows in this office—or there were, at one point, but they’ve since been “walled over,” apparently. The sports writers sit behind me. They are pretty fond of expletives.

Right now, it’s November and a cold front has made its dramatic entrance in Missouri. It’s cold inside the office, too. I’m wearing my red H&M coat to keep myself from freezing a terrible and avoidable death. I’m always cold.

This post isn’t written for anyone but myself. I don’t want to forget this space, not because it’s glamorous or exciting, but because it’s a physical place where I once worked and learned and avoided writing one story by writing another story and that means something, probably.

vote baby vote!

Gabriel Hackett/Getty Images

Gabriel Hackett/Getty Images

In journalism school, we like to talk a lot about reporters’ role in a democracy. Inform the public of affairs! Power to the people! Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable!

Too bad there’s a lot of pre-election reporting that falls into the so-called Horse Race; rather than covering the issues, journalists pick up on the minute details of a politician’s behavior, or unflattering fashion choice, or accidental speech flub. When paired with the negative campaign ads that saturate the t.v., is it any wonder that voters get turned off from politics?

In fact, on Tuesday, only one-third of Missourians are expected to go out and vote.

Perhaps our election coverage should cover voting itself. We’ve come a long way since the new American nation considered land-owning white men as the only people worthy of voting. It’s important to remember that women and minorities had to fight for their right to vote.  It’s also important to remember that laws continuing to disenfranchise minorities still exist.

I know that the upcoming elections are only the mid-terms. Maybe it’s not glamorous or exciting to vote on state amendments or local ballot issues, but they have direct implications for you. You’ve got a day left–that’s plenty of time to get educated about your state, district or town. (If you’re in Missouri, by the way, here’s a good place to get yourself up to speed.)

So in the end, it’s up to you. Power to the people! Go and vote!