Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ooh, the Claw!

Enumclaw, Washington: the north gateway to Mt. Rainier. It’s also the city whose Patch site I’m about to begin running. Yay! That means planning out all the content for the week ahead of time and watching for breaking news there. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m ready for it. It helps that I spent the last couple of days there, walking the streets and figuring out what’s there. I had only been to Enumclaw once before this summer, and it was on a rainy day with horrible traffic. I’m sure I blogged about this already – I drove there from University Place in rush hour to see Kasey Kahne. I thought the town was a total dump and didn’t understand why it even had a Patch site. But now I do, just from being there when the sun’s out. 

On Thursday the 25th, I got out of bed at 3:15 a.m. to be in Enumclaw by 5. A group of ambitious bikers were going to ride around Mt. Rainier National Park, so I took photos and video of their start. Then this weekend, Friday through Sunday, is the street fair, so I did a gallery there this morning. I had technical difficulties with the Patch mobile app posting photos, so I ended up sitting around posting from my computer for awhile. But it all worked out. I was just very frustrated at moments. I’ve made good connections with Enumclaw, though, and I look forward to editing its site.

I haven’t done a whole lot of other things this week. My other adventure was to JBLM again on Tuesday the 23rd to see the dedication of a classroom to a soldier who died in combat in 2012. It was very heartwarming to hear the stories the other soldiers told about him and what a wonderful person he was. Visiting the base wasn’t as stressful the second time – amazing what a little experience does for you. As Brent told me, sometimes it takes time to gain their trust, but once you do, it goes very smoothly. I’m glad to have connections down there, and I hope to keep them.

I’m tired, as usual. I just got back from my friend’s 21st birthday party in downtown Seattle. I’m heading to Renton in the a.m. for Renton River Days, a community festival. Then it’s Belfair on Sunday and the Claw for the work week. After that, we’ll see… I have to start thinking about school soon.

Cheers,

Brita

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Traveling Soldiers

Yesterday I learned firsthand what it means to be unfashionably early. It wasn’t a good place to be early, either: Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It’s one of the largest military bases in the country, so naturally they work hard to keep it secure. I went there to cover an event celebrating the heritage of the Guns-A-Go-Go unit in the U.S. Army, a group of soldiers that flies attack helicopters, because veterans of the unit were visiting JBLM to meet the soldiers who currently serve in Guns-A-Go-Go. Before I could do that, though, I had to go through the gate to have my ID checked, and because I don’t exactly have a formal media pass, it wasn’t clear to the soldiers manning the gate what I was doing there. One of them had no idea this event was going on. I was supposed to meet the PAO officer at the gate but I got totally confused and drove around for a bit. This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been half an hour early. Then a soldier showed me where to wait (this was the one who didn’t know about the event) and I just stood outside my car for awhile. I had to explain everything – normally Brent’s the one who covers news at JBLM so I was completely new to them, and a lot of them aren’t familiar with Patch. (I’m going to change that, of course.) But it all turned out all right – the PAO showed up right on time and brought us where we needed to be. In terms of following rules, I held myself to similar standards that I do in the courtroom. (Which I also went to this week. More later.) I couldn’t go anywhere without an escort. Seeing everyone dressed in Army fatigues is of course a change, although it’s not like I’ve never seen it before, like at airports. It was the first time I’ve ever actually met active duty soldiers. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time speaking to them, since I mostly was taking pictures and posting to the Patch mobile app. But I hope I will get the opportunity before the end of summer.

The event itself was pretty interesting. I had to soak in as much as I could, because I’d never heard of Guns-A-Go-Go before. Back in the Vietnam War, a unit in the Army took cargo helicopters and attached weapons to them, and it became a successful method of pinning enemy targets. Now the 4-160th SOAR(A) company uses helicopters like this, although according to the company commander, the weapons are more for self-defense than attacking. The aircraft carry special forces to their mission sites. I met a couple of the veterans’ wives from Alabama and had a nice conversation (maybe even turned them onto Patch). I enjoyed seeing the soldiers interact with their kids, especially. So it was only a small part of the base that I saw, since it’s huge, a combination Army and Air Force base. Soldiers get deployed from there several times a year. I forgot that most of them aren’t from Washington, but all over the country. So were the Vietnam veterans who were visiting. Their generation is starting to get up in age – the commander told me that they now do honor flights for Vietnam vets to DC to visit the memorial, like they’ve been doing for World War II vets for awhile. (There aren’t many of those left, at all.) I think it’s important to get to know veterans of all kinds – glad Patch is giving me the opportunity to get up close!

I’ve had today off after yesterday’s adventures and used the time to go out to breakfast with my mom, work out at the gym, read, write, and play cello. Overall it’s been quite a busy week. My grandparents were here last weekend, when I went to Rhubarb Days and Summer Celebration (I was very tired of street fairs after that), then saw a Mariners game, which was a lot of fun (they won!). On Tuesday I Skyped with my future roommate, Laura, who is in Scotland studying right now, learned how Styrofoam gets recycled, met an enterprising 22-year-old who is co-running a non-profit for testicular cancer, and went back to the courtroom. This was for the same 14-year-old being held for alleged sexual assault of a young girl. That wasn’t very eventful, actually, as it mostly consisted of the parties signing documents stating they understood the charges. The media frenzy following was intense, though, as they interviewed one of the boy’s friends. I felt sorry for her and didn’t ask her any questions. I did film Lauren’s interview with the deputy prosecuting attorney and took notes. While the incident isn’t as fresh as it was the first time I went to the courtroom, the drama isn’t going anywhere.

What else did I do this week? I met a track and field star from Puyallup, heard the story of five Lakes High School students who saved a man’s life by performing CPR, and learned about a new middle school planned for the Renton School District. And I talked with my regional editor, and he seems to think I’m doing okay. I got a big assignment from him: guest-edit the Enumclaw Patch for a week coming up here. That means I have to run the site, generate as much content for it as possible, program the newsletters, and be really on top of it. Sounds scary, but I have the skills now. It’s time to put it all together. So starting on July 29, I’m your girl, Enumclaw.

I’m also planning a cello recital on August 10, if I can get it nailed down at my church. These next few weeks are going to be crazy, as I also have to start thinking about school again. I’m getting to the point in the summer where I’m attached to being here and don’t want to leave. I love my Patch editors and the people I’ve met in the towns I’ve visited. I want to do this for the rest of my life. It does get time-consuming, and I do feel sometimes like I’m dropping the ball on other people because of it. My brain is going a million miles an hour most of the time. But I figure, those who are most important to me will never fully leave my heart. My friends here on Mercer Island certainly haven’t, and it’s why I will gladly go play games and take “leprosy walks” with them any time. When I head back to Luther on Aug. 28, I’ll hang onto this experience as much as I can, while also finding room for everything going on. EEP!

Cheers,

Brita

WOW.

So today was intense. This whole week since the holiday weekend has been, actually. I’ve been all over the place – Puyallup, Tacoma, Redmond, Gig Harbor, and Federal Way. Then there’s the work I’ve done at home, teleconferencing with my co-workers (much more successfully than last time) and writing the Puyallup police blotter. I’ve also become more engaged with Patch’s Facebook users, who tip us off to stories all the time.

But I’ll start with today’s big event. Well, I have to talk about yesterday for that to make sense. Thursday morning, we learned of a report from Puyallup that a teenage boy allegedly choked a seven-year-old girl and left her in the woods. Once police found the girl, she was able to identify her attacker, and they took her to the hospital for surgery. She’s still there now; we hope she’ll be okay. But the story of what happened to her, after the medical reports came out, is truly gruesome. There are signs of sexual assault. And she’s seven. SEVEN. This is going to be engrained in her memory for the rest of her life. I feel for her so much. I want to just give her a hug and tell her I understand, even though I really don’t, because nothing like this has ever happened to me. (Although I can’t say that the feeling of being violated is entirely foreign to me. And I know others who have been assaulted, too.) So the teenage boy suspected of the attack is in custody in juvenile hall. I learned all about this from news reports that my co-worker Lauren wrote yesterday. Last night when I was out in Puyallup having beer and meeting community members, Lauren suggested that I come with her to a hearing to detain the boy for probable cause. I didn’t say yes right away, but I knew I wanted to and need the experience. It’s something every journalist must have to do in his or her lifetime. So I decided to go. I met Lauren in the parking lot of Remann Hall in Tacoma, the juvenile detention center for Pierce County, and we went and checked in. It was probably the first time during my internship this year that I’ve really felt the need to dress up for a story and be really careful about what I was doing. We had to go through a metal detector and everything. The courtroom was very small, but a lot of media members were there from local TV stations. The prosecution gave each of us a document detailing what was known so far about the case. No charges have officially been filed, although based on the evidence there is some idea about what might be pressed. I won’t say those here. The most chilling moment was when the boy came into the courtroom. He looked so young, which he is, and it was hard to imagine him harming a girl in such a brutal way. As I read through the documents, though, I realized we were putting a potential face to it. That’s when I thought, “WOW.” I didn’t have any reason to be afraid, but I kind of was.

The hearing wasn’t very long – just a few documents signed and the understanding established that the boy will be detained at least until his arraignment hearing on Tuesday, which I’ll attend as well. That one will establish more things, such as what charges will be formally filed. There will hopefully be more medical records for evidence. Everyone is being very careful here, with two young lives facing major impact. I feel for the boy as well, under such public scrutiny. I have no idea what he’s been through. We shall see… thinking about it just put a dark cloud over the rest of my day.

Today was a crazy news day overall, with a plane catching fire in London and a train wreck in Paris. Then there was a police chase in Gig Harbor and Tacoma. I had to go to Redmond to cover the Derby Days festival for them. Also this week I covered the trolley opening for Gig Harbor (which isn’t without public scrutiny since Pierce Transit has apparently cut a lot of bus routes recently) and started on a story about coyote spottings in University Place. Tomorrow I’m heading to Rhubarb Days in Sumner, and Sunday I’ll stay here on Mercer Island for Summer Celebration. I’ve got a lot of great stories on the docket for next week too! I feel like a real journalist. I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life, especially if I can continue working with these people. They are fantastic!

I suppose I should work on my fiction story for at least a few minutes before bedtime. Early morning tomorrow before Rhubarb Days – they’re having a pancake breakfast that I’m hoping to stop by. 🙂

Peace,

Brita

Book review: The Marriage Plot

I just read an interesting book. Who says I can’t blog about that too? Nothing’s off-limits, as I demonstrated in my last post.

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides, was published in 2011 but takes place in 1982-83. The story follows three Brown University graduates, Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell, as they struggle for self-actualization. Madeleine is definitely the central character, as Mitchell and Leonard revolve around her. She’s an English major, with a focus on Victorian literature written by women. (You can see why I gravitated towards her.) She’s also an “old money” type, as her dad is a former college president. Leonard is Madeleine’s boyfriend for most of the book. They break up for about three weeks, but then Madeleine realizes she can’t live without him. He suffers from bipolar disorder, and Eugenides manifests this disorder in some pretty intense ways. At his high points, or mania, he can do anything – he’ll sleep with whatever woman he sees, or at the very least satisfies Madeleine beyond her wildest dreams. He’s brilliant in class and exercises a lot. It’s these times that earn him a reputation as one of the most attractive guys in his class. At his low points, however, he cannot get out of bed. He’s suicidal and feels terrible about the drag he’s putting on Maddy. She finds herself in a nurse’s position, constantly having to watch him to make sure he doesn’t harm himself. Leonard has several episodes of this disorder, beginning with his high school years in Portland, Oregon. Madeleine has great intentions with trying to be a support system for him, but it was clear to me that she didn’t want to be his “crutch,” either, which I think she did become once they moved in together after they graduated college. The reader is always on edge about Leonard, too. Eugenides doesn’t let on the intensity of his condition right away, so when things really start happening, the impact is strengthened. The Madeleine-Leonard plot raises some important questions about how we deal with mental illness. Even after being in a relationship with him for over a year, Maddy still doesn’t seem to understand how to treat him. At one point after they go to a party, she asks him if he had fun, even though clearly he didn’t. She insists she’s trying to help him “get better,” but he responds saying that he’ll never get better, demonstrating his biological understanding of the disease (he’s a bio major). Or maybe she’s trying too hard, or is under the influence of her parents who don’t think she should be with him. Leonard’s parents seem to get it even less, ironically, as they’re one of the main causes of the disease in the first place, with their failed marriage and the way his mother seems to blame Leonard for being like his father. When his depression manifests itself at the worst, she insists that he’s lazy and not trying. His sister says the same. Meanwhile, I never had this reaction to Leonard. I was more just in awe of the way his symptoms came out. Eugenides clearly did his research. It was hard for me to make any sort of judgment call about Leonard; perhaps that was Eugenides’ goal – to make the reader ask questions. Even though it takes place 30 years ago, it’s still relevant today.

The other plot involves Mitchell, an on-and-off friend of Madeleine’s who’s fallen in love with her. He desires her throughout college but runs out of chances. After graduation, he goes off on a year of traveling with his best friend, hoping to forget about Maddy but failing, especially once he receives a letter from her. The two travel through France, Ireland, Italy, and Greece, until they reach their final destination in India. Mitchell is a religious studies major and is searching for a final resting place on his faith journey. He experiments with Christian mysticism and is completely obsessed with going to cathedrals. He considers becoming Roman Catholic, and in India he volunteers for a group associated with Mother Teresa and wears a big cross around his neck. While we all express our faith (or lack thereof) in different ways, I don’t think Mitchell ever wants to call himself a “Christian.” Like many people, he experiments with different expressions, as well as reading up on Christian thought and the Bible of course. By the end of the book, he’s going to Quaker meetings. Through all of this, Mitchell searches for answers about whether he’s supposed to be with Madeleine. It’s arguable whether he goes through depression himself, as at many moments he berates himself with self-loathing talk. His heightening sexuality is also a role player. He questions whether his desire for Madeleine is true, or if he is merely objectifying her. He’s a much more interesting character than Madeleine or Leonard, in my opinion – he changes the most. Plus, he also demonstrates the extent of Eugenides’ research – he would have had to travel to all the places Mitchell and his friend went to understand them as well as he seemed to.

Overall, the book was a very fast read. The edition I got was 406 pages but still fast. This might surprise you, since a lot of the text is academic jargon, describing what these young adults are studying. Of course, as an English major myself, Madeleine’s studies made perfect sense to me. Leonard’s biology was a bit over my head, but it makes its point well. Mitchell’s religious studies were not too difficult to decipher. The conflicts are fairly enticing – who doesn’t love a good love triangle? I had my own preferences about how I wanted the book to turn out. I won’t say whether those were met or not, but the ending was fine as it was. It probably helped that sex was a major theme of the book, particularly female sexual politics. The role of Madeleine’s sexuality sheds light on her relationship with Leonard. In fact, many of the scenes between them are downright pornographic – Eugenides doesn’t spare any details. Not many authors I’ve read – probably none, actually – have given as much credit to female sexual desires as Jeffrey Eugenides gave to Madeleine. Another female character who makes waves, albeit a minor one, was Claire, the girlfriend of Mitchell’s friend Larry whom they meet in Paris. She is the kind of feminist I wish I could be, with well-reasoned arguments and self-confidence to be reckoned with, breaking down the patriarchy of Western religion. She drives Mitchell crazy, and she kind of made me hate him. (Despite Mitchell being the most changed character, I definitely didn’t love him.)

The Marriage Plot definitely shook up my brain a little, although I can’t say it made me change my views on anything. My views are changing already, and the book mostly just confirmed what I am coming to believe on my own. I picked a good time to read it, though. It’s reassuring to freshly single folk and makes you think about what you can really deal with in a relationship. My biggest beef with Madeleine is that she always seems to think she needs a boyfriend. But even Mitchell, the boy who loves her the most, recognizes her need for autonomy. This book isn’t quite a beach read, unless you consider erotic academia a beach read. It’s a mix of fun and learning – sounds a bit like a liberal arts college to me.

More to come soon once work picks back up! Love you all.

Brita

My Other Life

Wow… it’s been over a week since I wrote last! I don’t even know where to start. I guess I will by explaining what I mean by the title of this post: I’m referring to the other major thing I am doing with my life besides writing, and that would be music. I think I talked about this in some of my other posts, but I play the cello and have been playing this summer with the Bellevue Youth Symphony Orchestra for the Fourth of July fireworks show in Bellevue. Well, I just got back from doing that, for the second year in a row. What can I say – it was a blast once again! (No pun intended. My apologies.) For things like this we play “fun” music, stuff from movies and video games, like Les Miserables, Jurassic Park, and Star Wars, and also patriotic music like “America the Beautiful” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” My parents and some of my friends from high school came to watch, and I got to play with some old friends from youth symphony. I have been involved with BYSO in some respect since I was eleven years old, playing in the organization’s summer day camp. In seventh grade, I joined the Premiere Orchestra and got second chair in the cello section – I was pretty proud of that. I moved up to Sinfonia the next year and was in the top division, Youth, for all four years of high school. I continued to play at the summer camps, both as a student and an intern (which is like a counselor, I would say). I won the Charlotte Field Scholarship when I graduated high school. Then in summer 2011, I came back as an office intern (and I also got to work at summer camp). That was useful for understanding how non-profit organizations work. Now I just keep track of the orchestra on Facebook and play for the Fourth. We shall see how much I can stay involved – I owe a lot to BYSO for giving me musical direction. So that’s been my other life this summer. I’ve also been practicing solo music quite a bit, as I hope to do a recital here on Mercer Island before I leave. I have a date in mind but need to get it approved by several parties, if I can just remember to talk about it. Music may be just a minor for me academically, but it definitely takes up as much of my time as any other major would. (Not that I’m complaining about that.)

In addition, I’m also a creative writer. That’s why I became an English major in the first place. Journalism may be what makes my living, but I don’t have to be un-creative with it, as I learned at one of my workshops in Kentucky. At the same time, I do want to keep up with my creative fiction work. I’ve finally gotten the ball rolling with that – last week, I made a resolution to write one short story a day for the rest of the summer. That resolution has morphed a bit, but not because I’ve given up. A story idea that came to me the other day has grown into something much bigger than I’d have the mental energy to do in one day. It’s somewhat autobiographical; or rather, it’s a fictionalized, more dramatic version of something that’s happened in my life. I just started writing on it, and I felt great about where it was going. Today I took a step back and started planning out the rest of the story and how I might want to structure it in the future. Right now I just want to get it all written. I can go back and edit later once I have the content in place. I already know it will need a massive amount of editing… but it’ll be worth it. I’m going to go back and forth between my planning notes and writing the story itself so I can keep myself interested – I frequently get these potent ideas, then lose interest after writing a bunch. So maybe I just have to be moderate about it. That’s no problem – I’ve got plenty of other writing to do.

Now that I’ve talked about my “other” life, I’ll give my usual updates on what I’ve done for Patch since June 27. I attended yet another Battle of the Bands, this time in University Place. Honestly, the Meeker Days one was better. That’s all I’ll say. That same day was my first time doing a teleconference with my co-workers in the Southern Seattle area Patch cluster. We did it over Google Hangouts, which is a great idea but the technology kind of failed us. We all got online and saw each other, but at one point for some reason, I stopped being able to hear three of the people on the call. So I sat there confused. (My co-worker Brent told me to blog about it.) It’s important to be able to do things like this, but also frustrating. We’ll try again next week – thankfully this week’s meeting was in person.

It was also very hot this past week. Hot for Seattle, anyway. Made sitting in traffic not very fun. I got to go back to Gig Harbor a couple of times to visit a distillery and some grocery workers who were picketing for fair wages. In UP I went to a kite festival and met that city’s candidate for Miss Washington. She was wonderful and we actually became friends after we met! So I hope to see her again soon. The least fun thing that happened was that I had to bother UP city hall about a recording of a city council study session. Once I got the recording transcribed, I had no motivation to write the story until Monday. Then I posted it to the top news spot without saying anything to the editors, so then they had to tell me not to post things so hastily, as well as giving me all these suggestions on how to make my stories better. Perhaps I was getting too used to the freedom from copy editors… In any case, though, it was a necessary “roadblock.” I need to receive criticism sometimes and not flip out like it’s the end of the world. Usually I think I do okay, but this time for some reason I got emotional at first. I talked with one of the editors, Lauren, on the phone for awhile and she helped me put it in perspective. Lesson learned: when in doubt, talk it out. Plus the journalistic lesson that Patch’s writing style is conversational – how would you tell this story to someone over breakfast? I’m going to keep that in mind from here forward.

The other annoying thing that happened was that I’d been planning to go down to Joint Base Lewis-McChord to cover a Seahawks youth camp that was going on down there. Getting onto the base requires permissions that you don’t automatically have. I tried calling the Seahawks about it but their phone line was unclear about how I could have accessed the people I needed. The base’s website was unclear too. Since I’ve never been there I had no reference point. I probably should have called the editor for the site down there. In any case, I didn’t end up going to the camp. It’s okay for now – we’ll work out the base stuff another time. Brent has suggested that I cover a soldiers homecoming sometime, which I would absolutely love to do. I’ll make sure to bring it up with him.

Well, I think I’ve just about exhausted my brain. People are still setting off fireworks here, even though it’s past the deadline of 11 p.m. I didn’t get to see the Bellevue show, since I was playing, but I can’t really complain about that. Playing along with fireworks is fun, you just have to watch your conductor very carefully. Which I did. Tomorrow (today, technically) I’ll go to Costco and watch a movie with my old high school friends. Summer life is pretty good – I’m relaxing and having fun while being productive at the same time. My motivation level has been consistently on the increase, and I am happy. Especially now.

Happy (belated) Independence Day!

Brita