Have you ever noticed that in this country, only three types of people ever get interviewed? Those three types are celebrities, bureaucrats and criminals. Criminals only get interviewed by the police, so they don’t count. Bureaucrats only get interviewed by local newspapers and public radio, so they’re out for pretty much the same reason. These days, politicians, athletes, porn stars and reality TV personalities have all begun to qualify as celebrities, so the luster that used to shine on that group ain’t what it used to be…
So why, when there are so many interesting people out there just lingering around with a good story to tell, is no one giving them the Terry Gross treatment? We don’t have a good answer, but the Stonebrook Institute of Higher Thinking does have a solution: we will be conducting those interviews.
This week, we begin with the IHT’s recently-named first faculty member, Sarah Wardlaw Jones.
Sarah was a high school friend of mine before pre-Facebook separation sundered our ongoing communication. I was glad to discover last January that a hiatus of 15-plus years hadn’t sundered our friendship, though. I wanted to ask Sarah about the intervening years between then and now, how she got away from her high school dream of being a big-time journalist and what she really thinks about the downhill side of 30.
Scott: I’m going to start this off with the question that has been bugging me since we reconnected last year. Namely, how did you not end up working in journalism while I put in a decade-long career in the industry before coming to my senses?
I ended up at UGA in my sophomore year of college after a successful year at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta. While I was at that GSU (I think you Georgia Southern alums may refer to it as the other GSU [Ed: we certainly do]), I was fortunate enough to write movie reviews for the Georgia State student newspaper The Signal. I could have probably stayed happily at Georgia State. However, I could not have stayed happily in my parents’ house. So, UGA it was. It was a happy transition for everything except my dream of being a big-time journalist. Grady College is extremely competitive, as is the student newspaper, the Red and the Black. I wrote one feature that was ruthlessly edited and took one journalism class that bored me to tears. Being an idealist at 19 years of age, I had a hard time with the concept that news organizations were, in fact, hopelessly biased. I truly believed in the concept of non-biased reporting. I apparently was the only one.
Around that same time I took up fencing. One of my friends in the fencing club was a history major. He and I had some discussions about what I needed to declare as a major. At this point I was nearing the end of my ‘undeclared’ status. Drama seemed, (laugh) unprofitable, so it was a toss-up between English and History. I decided I was better at reading than memorizing dates. And there you have it, a degree in English Lit it was.
I didn’t, however, give up the dream of working of a newspaper. I did work for a short period of time at the Athens Daily News/Athens Banner-Herald, alternating between the accounting department (!) setting ad page rates in their computer system and then making an ill-fated switch to the advertising department where I nearly bankrupted myself as an Advertising Assistant. My last chance to work in newspaper came to a crashing halt when I interviewed for a reporter position at the Marietta Daily Journal, nearly four years after graduating from college and almost six since writing anything other than essays for class. The editor said I was too far off the learning curve to write how they needed. Ouch. Like a hot knife to the heart and confidence being completely shattered, I took a job in Customer Service at Gateway Computers (you know, where the boxes had cow spots), then another job doing marketing for a real estate agent.
In 2001, I was blessed by being hit by a drunk driver on Hwy 316 as I drove home from work. I say blessed because, a) I was not killed and escaped with only a broken heel and some occasional osteoarthritis and b) because the job I got after that accident has been my happy place of employment for almost nine years now. [Ed: Working for the UGA College of Pharmacy in Instructional Technology.]
Scott: I think being a writer first and a journalist second helped me out because I was a pretty decent writer and even better at helping others make their work better. But I was a fairly mediocre journalist. This made me a bad fit for the police beat, but a perfect choice for sports writing.
The writing part of journalism is underappreciated in its complexity. First of all, everything we are taught about writing as part of “the process” in grade school gets turned upside-down. After years of being pounded with the five paragraph format (intro-support (x3)-conclusion), a new journalism student is suddenly faced with the prospect of starting with the end, filtering the middle parts by importance and then tacking on the useless shit for some editor to trim off unless he really needs to fill a big, blank hole in the newspaper.
The bias thing I have a more nuanced view on.
I don’t think bias is inherent in journalism (when journalism is done correctly), but it is inherent in human beings. That is why we need editors and proofreaders and other reporters who keep us honest. Unfortunately, as journalism went from being a noble profession where the business department and the editorial department wouldn’t even go to the same Christmas party to being an institution influenced unduly by the bottom line. This all got rolling when public companies began buying every newspaper in America from families and local interests. When those big companies began to hemorrhage money, the institution of journalism began to suffer. Now we find ourselves in a world where “pundits” give America much of their news and slack-jawed yokels who can’t spell “rhetoric” come away from listening to talk radio feeling informed and empowered.
In other words, you haven’t missed much. So where did all that passion go? Unless you’ve changed a whole lot in the intervening years, I think you’re more the type to redirect than to let go.
Sara: It’s funny, in a way, because I think I had several dead years, creatively speaking. You know, you get out of school, try to find your way in the world, flail around a bit, forget who the fuck you are and come to full circle to the person who most resembles you at an earlier, more true, stage of life. At least, that’s been my experience.
The passion has been channeled towards things that I find really fulfilling. Cooking has been a lifelong passion ever since I was old enough to help my grandmother Tellalian in the kitchen. As I’ve gotten older and “foodies” have become a new hipster genre, I’ve really begun nerding out about it. I have a chef-lebrity crush on Anthony Bourdain, like… WHOA!
Recently, I’ve started taking photographs. I would not call myself a photographer per se, more a chronicler of things I find interesting. Some pictures are good. Some are terrible. It’s all a matter of perspective. No Digital SLR for me. Just a standard Panasonic DMC-TZ4. These are mainly for my amusement.
Blogging about cooking has given me the ability to cook, write and take pictures. It incorporates three things I really enjoy, which has been fun. I really should blog more than I do, but I think I took it too seriously for the first few months and it became work. Now I blog when I have a story I’d like to share.
Running (which I hate, actually) has been an exercise (pun intended) in both fulfillment and futility. I’m not sure how it is that I make myself go out and run four miles, hating every single step except the last one. I do it, though, and feel really excellent when I finish. However, I’m not sure even I would call that a passion. After my car accident, my orthopedist said I might not be able to run again. Crushed heels make for poor ankle support. But, I come from a long line of stubborn bitches—no way was I going to just take that! I started on a couch to 5k program and even though I hate it, I managed to run several 5Ks and the Peachtree Road Race in 2008. Last year, I even did sprint triathlon.
See what I mean? Stubborn bitches. Triathloning was an amazing experience. If I had not been so lazy and broke, I would be doing one again this year. Alas, I am saving my hard earned money as an employee of the State of Georgia to buy a road bike. Which leads me to my other passion—I am very passionate about riding my bike. On this criminally beautiful afternoon, I really should be out there on the roads right now, alas…
Being on the bike, out in the fresh air, alone with my thoughts… I’m not sure anything is more spiritually fulfilling for me. Mentally, you can work on a lot of shit when it’s just you and 18 miles of farmland ahead of you. It’s amazing the little things you overlook as you drive past them in your car. I just hope one of those ‘little things’ doesn’t end up being me under some frat boy’s pickup truck.
Don’t get me wrong, I am getting back on the bandwagon, even with basketball-ravaged knees and feet that swell up like aggrieved teenage boys looking for a fight. I’m going to get my bike fixed soon and start on that path, which I think will be much more enjoyable (at least once I’ve been doing it long enough that my ass doesn’t turn into sausage every time I ride a few miles).
I think I had a pretty good creative lull of my own for a while, one which is recent. This blog is one way of coming out of it. I also take some photos, although I love my Canon, which is digital. Learning to be a good husband has been a feat of creativity in its own way, because I spent so much time living the bachelor life and going from romance to romance. Every morning I wake up and think, “Huzzah! She’s still here!” I’m still pretty quirky and more introverted in spurts than most people would imagine, so I can be a handful. Jessica hasn’t shot me yet, so that’s a plus.
I think I was on the cusp of giving up on a lifelong relationship when I met Jessica. I was 32, stuck in a journalism job I’d lost almost all passion for and coasting along without a plan. Now I look back and say, thank the bloody gods on Olympus you broke out of that funk, you canker-brained idiot. You were only 32!
Now I’m 37 and less afraid of 40 than I imagined I’d be, even if I am beginning to grow afraid of what the world (or at least my corner of it) will be like when I am 40. Jessica keeps me feeling pretty youthful, since she is, in fact, a decade younger than I. Also, I go out to bars for a living and still play video games regularly. There’s something therapeutic there, you know.
You, on the other hand, have been married a long time, at least by contrast. How’s that working out for you?
Tomorrow: Domestic injuries, wedded bliss, women who play Halo and (yes) “Lost.”