Deadlines and other myths

My staff and I just finished the second issue of our newspaper, The Mount Mercy Times. We can now let out that breath we’ve been holding and relax.  Now we can say that we know what we’re doing, for the most part.

When I was first appointed editor-in-chief of my school’s newspaper, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I had experience with the layout software, I had two years of experience as an editor, I knew the  AP style of writing, (though there are still of a few words that puzzle me) and I knew how to write.  Still, there was still that leadership role, something I had only experienced in small doses.

I’ve learned that the only way to learn anything new is to just do it. Jump right in the middle and “let’s see what happens” kind of thing.  Though I wanted to get a handle on my position before I actually had to actually do anything, it was almost impossible to do because I had no idea what to expect.  The more I thought about it, the more anxious I became.  I decided that I would take the latter approach and would deal with the issues as they came up.

When deadline for our first issue inched closer, I felt like I was thrust into another world, a world of deadlines and chaos.  I was used to deadlines, I was used to chaos.  But together?  I suddenly had to deal not only with my own story deadlines but all the stories that would go into the paper. I had to deal with headlines and leads and modules and photos and insets and all the other things that go into a newspaper. I knew a little about all these things, but I received a crash-course in the newspaper process. And I loved it.

Yes,  my life has become a three-ring circus.  Yes, I am being forced to be organized and manage my time more efficiently (something I wanted to do anyway…eventually).  And yes, my stress level is extremely high.  But I am gaining valuable information from each issue we put out. I am learning to delegate without feeling guilty about it.  I’m learning to be diplomatic and choosing which battles are important and which don’t matter that much.  I’m learning to speak my mind and be firm.

As editor-in-chief, not only am I learning the fine art of producing a newspaper, I’m also learning how to work with people, all kinds of people. I know I will continue to make mistakes, but how else will I learn?   The best thing I can do is to jump in and just do it.

Learning is a lifelong process

I consider myself someone of average intelligence. There were certain subjects I liked in in school, others I could have done without.  Math and science did not interest me.  I liked math, but only the easy stuff, like  adding, subtracting, and fractions. Algebra was like hitting a brick wall, most of it I didn’t understand. 

I liked science at first because we learned about single-cells and nature.  Once it got into the building blocks of DNA, though, I was lost. Language arts was my favorite.  I loved to write stories and was good at spelling, grammar and punctuation.  I was good at some subjects, lousy at others. I must have done ok because I graduated high school. 

I think one thing that helped me in school was  my love for reading. As a child, I read all the time, sometimes getting  in trouble because I didn’t want to do anything else.   I still read, but the books I read are all different. I read fiction, non-fiction, science-fiction, spiritual, self-help, and informative books.  I read books that tell you how to read palms and tarot cards (just for fun) and books that told people why they are the way they are.  I read to escape and I read to dream.

But as much as I love to read, I am also aware that books are not the only way to learn.  I recently learned something very valuable, something I don’t think I could have learned in a book.  Not traditionally, anyway.

My boyfriend, Jeff,  is a nuclear engineer by trade.  He’s worked at the Duane Arnold Power Plant  for almost 20 years. But now his position is Financial Planner.  He told me that he wanted to switch careers and they let him.  We have been dating for about six months and though I have talked to him about his work, I had a hard time grasping how nuclear energy works.  Until this past Saturday. 

We somehow got on the conversation of what he is doing at work, getting ready for what the nuclear plant refers to as an outage year. Jeff just got done doing the budget for next year and now they are entering a phase that will last a month. In this time, the plant will shut down (not literally, though) and go ‘off the grid’ and clean and do maintenance  (an ‘outage year’ takes place about every two years.  Jeff tried to explain what it meant but it was too confusing).

He then explained how uranium 235 (the core’s fuel) are in the form of rods and are inserted into the core and last two years.  The rods are released intermittently, allowing them to last the entire two years.  He said that uranium 235 is everywhere but is rare because it has to be in a certain form.  (This is where, at one time, I probably would have zoned out and nodded politely, but this was getting good!)

My reporter’s instinct took over.  I asked him if people were still afraid that something bad would happen at the plant and he said some were, but the chances of anything happening are practically nil.  He said the security is really high and that there are so many safety features built-in now, they have backups for their backups for their backups.  As if it weren’t enough, I asked him another question.

“How does nuclear energy work?”  He looked at me and smiled.  I don’t think he really expected me to understand, seeing as how I had already told him that I wasn’t that great in science.  He went on to explain that  a nuclear reaction occurs when an atom is split, particularly a uranium atom.  That is called nuclear fission.  When uranium atoms surround hydrogen atoms, they squish the hydrogen  causing a bigger reaction, the stuff bombs are made of, as in hydrogen bombs. This is called fusion.  If someone had sat me down and explained it like this in high school, I would have gotten an ‘A’ for sure.

Our conversation made me realize that I sometimes avoid things I don’t think that I’ll understand, maybe because I’m afraid I won’t.  Maybe ignorance really is bliss, but I don’t think so. I believe that knowledge is power.  The greatest lesson I have ever learned is that I have a lot to learn; about life, people, myself, among other things. Learning doesn’t have to be a chore, and it shouldn’ bet.  I learn different things in different ways.  I know I won’t ever know everything there is to know in this world. Besides, what fun would that be?

Speaking (or writing) my mind

I have never been a confrontational person. 

At times, it has hindered my expression of who I am as a person, but it has also helped me to stop and look at issues from every angle.  Instead of flying off the handle at someone because they didn’t share my point of view, I have paused and given them a chance to explain their side of the situation.  But it has also caused people to judge me as weak and not having a voice of my own.

More and more, I see myself as wanting to voice my concerns over social issues but feel like I had to watch what I say so that I don’t offend anyone. I would probably be labeled a trouble-maker if I said what was really on my mind. It’s a fine line between wanting to change the world and wanting to keep the peace.

I recently wrote an article about Terry Jones, the pastor from Florida who threatened to hold a massive Quran book-burning on 9/11.  It was the news topic for an entire week and people in high places took notice of this pastor.  People even threatened his life. 

Like many things I am passionate about, I feverishly set my keyboard on fire, blazing a trail that put my inner-most thoughts down for the world to see.  I showed it to my boyfriend, who had a few ideas of his own.

One of the statements read, “If this man were a Christian, he would already know what to do.”

I expected Jeff to agree with me because he refers to himself as a Christian. Instead, he came back with, “What’s your idea of a Christian?”  He went on to explain that people who aren’t Christians may not know what I was referring to.  I was a bit shocked at his logic but I couldn’t disagree. 

He went on to ask, “Are you saying that if I am not a Christian I am not a good person? Just what point are you trying to make in this article?” 

He wasn’t being mean, he wasn’t being sarcastic or condescending.  I realized that he was trying to show me that I was doing the same thing as millions of people the world over were doing; using religion as a way to personally attack those things that I don’t agree with.

I almost fell into the trap.  Almost.

If I am to speak my mind, or write about it, I have to remember not to attack people on a personal level.  That’s not who I want to be. I think it’s ok to want to change the world, but I think I can do that just by being an example.

Like the famous quote from Gandhi says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  I think that’s a good place to start.

Memories of a great man

My dad at his 80th birthday party

My father was a great man.  I don’t mean he was great because he was a hero or he invented something.  No, he was far greater than that.

My dad died on Sept. 6, 2008. I had brought him a cup of coffee that morning, something that had become something of a ritual. He was in a good mood, as well as he could be, hooked up to an oxygen machine, sitting in his chair that he practically lived in. He flashed his signature smile, with eyes twinkling, as if seeing me brought him the greatest joy in the world. I smiled back, gave him a kiss on the cheek and went back downstairs to get ready for work.

I wasn’t ready for what came next.  A cry came from my mother, one I had never heard before.  I sprinted up the stairs and was faced with the scene of her trying desperately to wake my dad up.  She looked at me with pleading eyes, her voice cracking, “He won’t wake up.”

As if there was something I could do to help, I began shaking his shoulder, but I already knew. I think my mom did, too. The realization that he was gone came quickly, but the shock, denial and acceptance seem to all intertwine at once, making the moment surreal. My father was 82 years old.

My father was a great man. He lived a great life.  He was a writer, an actor, a father, grandfather and a great-grandfather.  He worked in an ad agency, he was a meat-cutter, he acted in commercials and local television shows, and he was a retired security guard.  But these things did not define him. 

My father was a friend to everyone he met.  He was generous to a fault and would have given the shirt off his back if anyone had asked for it.  He had a kind heart, a good soul, and loved his family more than anything else.  My father was a great man because he lived what he taught. 

One of the more important lessons he taught me was the Golden Rule.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He taught me about compassion and empathy and not to judge too quickly.  He taught me how to forgive, and that everyone deserves a second chance.  While most fathers were able to spend their evenings with their children, he was usually working, often taking more than one job to provide for his nine children.  Even as a little girl, I knew that my father was a great man.

My dad almost died when I was four-years old.  He was in a car accident three days before Christmas in 1967.  He died on the operating table but the doctors brought him back to life.  As I was told that story many times over the years, it became clear that it was miracle that we even had him with us for 41 more years.

My father wasn’t perfect.  He had his faults, as we all do. He learned from his mistakes, often sharing stories of his own life lessons. His crazy sense of humor, his fun-loving, sometimes wild, antics inspired us to love him more.

He is still with us.  I see him in my children, my grandchildren, my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews.  And I see him in me, more every day.  I see a love for writing, a kind and caring spirit, and a desire to help people. I see that his death was not an ending, but a continuation of everything he was.

He is far from gone.  He lives in the way my daughter holds her newborn son and the way my granddaughter savors the last bite of her ice cream.  He is seen in my grandson’s infectious smile and kind heart.

I miss my dad but I know that all I have to do is look at my family and see him there.  I believe that greatness is not measured by what you accomplish while you’re on Earth, but from the number of lives you touch while you are here and even after you’re gone. Yes, my father was indeed a great man.