journalism

Why do you do what you do: thoughts on what makes your heart race

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I have been a full-time professional journalist for a decade and a free-lance, half-time writer for the past 3 years. Those who knew me then, when under eye dark circles were the byproduct of nicotine abuse and frantic nights in smelly press rooms keep asking: don’t you miss the thrill? The traveling, running around, caffeine addiction, anonymous hotels and incongruous schedules? I usually giggle and say I still have all of those: raising kids is a hell of a ride, too and to cope you need concealer and caffeine in equal amounts.

I had wanted to be a journalist since I could speak: I simply never conceived any other daily occupation. When that became a reality I had just turned 21 and felt as if I had won the lottery. I got paid to do what I always wanted to . It didn’t even feel as a job. I was blessed enough to have an amazing woman editor, who was an endless source of inspiration and funny, smart colleagues to hang out with till early morning. That precious set of circumstances changed after the first couple of years and  – as most humans do – I started living the reality of having a job: the occasional narrow minded boss, the sneaky co-worker, the internal politics and the back stabbing. If to that we add that being a journalist in Italy can be especially frustrating in terms of exposing the truth and correctly informing your readers, it’s easy to understand that I wasn’t sorry to leave. At the end of my working day, I didn’t feel uplifted at all. Rather depleted. 

Still, when Brussels started going crazy with anticipation of the US President visit in these past few days, the first gushes of nostalgia in many years resurfaced. 

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I stayed home for the whole day as advised on TV: the whole city was fibrillating, traffic was closed or blocked all around, Obama’s security detail was impressive. And yet I didn’t see with my own eyes any of that. I didn’t wake up at dawn to go to some hotel where the leader of the free world was staying, hoping to catch a glimpse of him or to have the opportunity of asking him a question. I didn’t observe the huge bodyguards nervously talking on their radios and I didn’t have a cigarette with shaky hands in the chill of yet another morning on the street, waiting for something to happen. I just had to switch on the TV to have an HD sight of many things I could not have seen with my eyes. Yet, it was not enough.

So I spent some time surfing the net, in search of the most accurate image or video footage of Mr. Obama’s EU tour and thought: why did I enjoy that much being a journalist during those years? What was that made my heart race and the fatigue go away? It wasn’t the news. I was bad at finding scoops and not shrewd enough to sail through sources and compromises. I was good at writing down what happened and lucky enough to keep some clarity of thought even at 5 am (but, well, I now realize that is what being in your 20s means). What made me feel alive was of a more anthropological nature. I loved observing power. People in power. Dissecting their gestures, their tone of voice, read their insecurities and their flaws. Their humanity.

Those I can’t see in HD professional video coverage of the news.

 

Have you ever thought of what makes your own heart race? 

 

1 year of blogging – The search for kindred spirits and how I got here

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A whole year has gone by since I first wrote on this blog. I remember the night when I started, home alone and bored and sick as hell. I had no idea what I was going to write about but I was spending too much time mumbling in my car or starting conversations at the dinner table that struggled to take off. And even when they did, they rarely took the direction I hoped for.

Getting to know and spend time with kindred spirits gets more and more difficult with age. When in school, we choose our friends according to mutual interests, compatible characters and shared time. At college it becomes even easier: it’s obvious that most of those enrolled in a literature class will love reading and writing and will constitute great friend material. Once in the adult world things get more complicated. We have less time and more limits: we hang out more with those sharing our own routine and lifestyle (the gym friends, the dog friends, the school mothers, the husband’s friends, the grocery store friends…) because, simply, it’s easier than venturing into the unknown to meet that stranger that will share our obsession for Russian literature.

My longing for kindred spirits started early on: showing the schizophrenic behavior that somehow is my trademark, I went to a business school. Me, the Tolstoy-by-heart-and-only-interested-in-reading-and-writing-person. Studying finance and math and statistics. I wanted to show my high school teachers that I could do anything, despite their written suggestion to pursue studies in the arts. Of course, they were right and I was wrong. I suffered through 4 years of diagrams, equations, formulas and theorems I rarely found inspiring. But that gave me a vague idea of the practical world I struggle so much with, and so I learnt something. There were no kindred spirits there. Apart from a couple of fellow students that made a U-turn and are now photographers, 90% of the people I hanged out with in my early 20s became bankers, lawyers or corporate executives. I look at their Facebook pictures and I feel like a child. They have business cards with fancy titles and maybe they look at them before sleeping and feel better about themselves.

Imagine my surprise when I finally found myself in a press office, sitting among people who all seemed to enjoy books and films and tv and to stay up at night to build a different world. As a 22 years old journalist, I thought I hit the jackpot. I was being paid to do what I loved most and be happy. The honeymoon lasted for a few years. Then my first, enlightened, amazing boss took another position and welcome to reality. Journalism is to most people just a job. As in almost every job, it’s difficult to sail through it without hitting internal politics, compromises, disappointments, unfairness and deception. I had my fair share of these and realized what I really enjoyed about the job wasn’t witnessing the news, uncovering the truth or telling a story (in this era, anyway, images get way further than the most seductive literary voice) but observing the actors. The people behind the facts. Those who had power and those who had none. Those who struggled and those who made the calls. The facts, the news, then became a mere byproduct of the interaction among the characters involved.

I retreated into fiction writing and here I am. In search of kindred spirits again since it is pretty rare to bump into an Alain de Botton’s avid reader at the playground or at the school fair. There might be some, of course. But they’re probably all in disguise as I am, concealing their passions behind everyday’s duties and a dose of comfortable laziness.

For exactly these reasons I didn’t tell about my blog to real life friends for months. I didn’t want to ramble to people I already know in real life and I didn’t want to have followers that felt somehow obliged to sign up to the blog, out of politeness, kindness or affection. I wanted to see if there was someone out there at sea who didn’t know a thing about me and still shared some of my interests. I found a lot. Thank you to all of you, cyber friends and readers, for finding my message in the bottle.