I don’t think the past is better just because it’s cased in glass

Hello citizens of the Internet! I’m back (I know I promised in the last post that I was back, but now I’m really, really back!) and better than ever.

Along with the movies I’ve watched, the new music I’ve consumed (St. Vincent, Stromae, Run The Jewels, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend — I KNOW, I’M BEHIND. I’M WORKING ON IT), the late nights laughing ’til my sides ached, I’ve done a couple big things.

(From left to right) Myself, Colin Robinson and Maurice Tomlinson at the Supreme Court of Jamaica during the court's recess on the first day of the hearing.

(From left to right) Myself, Colin Robinson and Maurice Tomlinson at the Supreme Court of Jamaica during a recess on the first day of the hearing.

In March I traveled to Jamaica to cover an immigration hearing for the Belize documentary. There I met Maurice Tomlinson, an absolutely outstanding Jamaican LGBT rights activist who explained the situation on the ground. Maurice lives in Canada — where he fled after he was outed without consent by a Jamaican newspaper — but returned to Jamaica to fight against immigration restrictions on homosexuals in Trinidad and Tobago and Belize. While there we explored Kingston, sat through the hearings and shot an interview that will help round out our film and put it into context with LGBT rights in the rest of the Caribbean, while simultaneously showing the plight of other activists.

Post-Jamaica (like immediately after, less than a week) I began interviewing for jobs in New York City. The job I wanted the most was the most prestigious. The interview spanned two days, and the second day was a grueling journalistic competition, to say the least. I was pitted against one international reporter, one University of Albany student and 10 (yes, 10) Columbia University School of Journalism graduate students. I felt like my odds were slim to none when I realized I was the only undergrad from a school no one had ever heard of. But the experience I accrued during my time working for Naples Daily News proved to be invaluable. I could speak to records requests, content creation and creative thinking, which was on par with my competitors. Although, apparently, none of us knew how to spell (which I still say is a dead skill at this point).

In April I was offered a position with this major international newspaper based in the UK. I’m going to refrain for saying which paper until I’m a little more established, but all I can say is I’m. So. Freaking. Excited. I’ll be living for approximately six months split between London and a soon-to-be-revealed city in England, working with a local bureau. Then I’ll return to London for a month before going to work in their Manhattan office. I guess dreams really do come true.

Dinner with my extended family after my interview in Manhattan.

Dinner with my extended family after my interview in Manhattan. I’m the one in beige on the far left.

The day I found out I got the job in London, I found out I was nominated for four Sunshine State Awards. I’ve been applying to the Sunshine State Awards for the last three years and I’ve pretty much set up a nice, little home in third place every time I apply. I’m nominated for College Journalist of the Year, Best Profile, Best Coverage of LGBT Issues and Best Coverage of Race/Minority Issues. I’ve always dreamed of winning College Journo of the Year, but the good news is the two other student nominees are not only phenomenally talented and beyond worthy, they’re also Will Write For Food alumni. It just goes to show how far a student journo can go if you trap them and their peers in a homeless shelter for 36 hours. If that sounds like something you’re interested in (and want to see a picture of me! — and read my contributions) click here. This year is an alumni year (crying forever because I will be in the UK and unable to attend), so new applicants won’t receive a spot. However, you can learn how to apply for 2016. Do it. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next College Journo of the Year.

My cousin Hayley and I at FGCU's Grad Bash.

My cousin Hayley and I at FGCU’s Grad Bash.

In May I graduated college. Anyone who knows me knows I have felt like college was a chain around my ankle, keeping me stuck in one place. A place I didn’t want to be. Well the chain is off, and I’m getting ready to spread my wings (oh, god. The cliches. I’m sorry.) and explore the world.

Before I move, I’m spending two weeks exploring Europe with my best friend. We’ll start in Berlin, head to Paris for a few days, then Amsterdam, and then I have to figure out a final city. I’m debating where I want to go, but let’s just say I have a few choices in mind.

For now, I’m just wrapping up my time at Naples Daily News, and trying to remember what relaxing is. Am I doing it yet? And, in all sincerity, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a while. And it’s a really nice feeling and a great place to be. I haven’t felt this way in many, many months. But I’m here now, and while I know the tide ebbs and flows, I’m enjoying this moment.

Now we’re all caught up! As these next adventures unfold, be prepared to hear a lot more from me. Until then, safe travels.

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We have got scars from battles nobody won

Howdy all. I’m just checking in to let you know I’m alive, and I will be blogging more frequently. Life has just been insane. People left, came back and went their way again. My world is a changing tide and I’m just trying to hold on for my sanity. When I’m a little further from the situation I’ll be able to explain more. I feel like I’m always so cryptic. I really don’t mean to be. I just don’t want to air everything on here, because that’s not what this is for.

Anyway, I’ve missed blogging, and I’ll be back in full force soon. Thanks for waiting.

‘Cause my heart’s become a crooked hotel full of rumors

As a journalist, you have to keep your hand close to your chest. I always thought this was more of a cautionary tale taught in school: don’t make your opinions public, don’t have a bias. But who cares about me? Who’s actually paying attention to the things I say to my friends or on social media? Well, someone somewhere will be paying attention and that can really bite you in the ass if you’re not careful.

With race returning to the forefront of the media and all of the stories of suspected police brutality, it’s hard not to want to share an opinion, or a comment or even like a status on Facebook.

I told my cousin recently, “I haven’t made a comment one way or the other about the Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice case because I don’t want people to know where I stand on these issues in case I’m asked to cover something related to the topic. I’m scared to even like news stories.”

I know this may seem asinine, especially since a good journalist can write without showing an ounce of bias and ensuring the story is completely fair, true. But in this day and age of technology always getting the better of the least cautious, I’m too afraid to take any risk. And I guess in a way it paid off because tomorrow I’m covering a protest against the deaths of Brown, Garner and Rice.

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All that I know is I’m breathing

IMG_6008Forgive me for going almost a month without blogging. I hope your holiday was wonderful and the upcoming one is just as joyous. It’s been an increasingly difficult month for me, and I’m trying to just get one foot in front of the other at the moment. Baby steps. But, don’t worry. I’m here, I’m fine and we’re going to get through this month. Of course by “we” I mean “I” and by “through this” I mean “if you choose to read along you’ll come on this journey with me.”

My Juvenile Detention Center story is finished, and I’m emotionally all over the place about this. This project has been my baby for the past month, and it has been the only thing I can focus on for the last week. I can hardly explain how vaguely cathartic, yet frustrating revisions can be. I wrote the first draft of this story in early November after my first session at the JDC. I used bits and pieces of that first draft in my second write up after my second session at the detention center last week, and have since landed on my … I want to say sixth revision. I always feel like I’m going three steps forward and then, like, 14 back. It’s just this endless cycle of “oh, I like this,” “no, wait, this is shit.” “okay, this is much better … oh, no it’s not.” And on and on and on.

After draft number three I sent a copy of the story to my mom. I asked, “What don’t you get in this story?” It turned out to be extremely helpful, but she also didn’t sound captivated by the story, and to be totally, brutally honest — I was crushed. I’m glad that this happened though, because it pushed me to keep writing.

Another revision completed, my editor and I went over copy No. 4 on Sunday and he told me, “the parts of this story where you’re talking to me as Kalhan and you’re confident are captivating, but you get too formal and hesitant and it completely drops the momentum. You have a magnificent voice. You need to use it.”

And with that advice in mind I said, “You’re right. F*ck it.” And I stopped caring about menial formalities and words like “incarcerated females” or “garnered mixed reactions” and I just told the damn story. I still can’t tell if it’s any good (I’m standing too close at the moment), but I get the vibe it is. I sent a few chunks of rewrite to my editor to which he replied, “(now I) love it. That’s Kalhan talking, which is how it should be.”

I hope this does the girls justice. I’m so afraid I’ll have put so much into this story just to have it fall on its face. But, hey, learning or something … right? I guess we’ll see. The story gets its final read on Wednesday before it goes into the system for publishing on Monday.

I just keep reminding myself about those baby steps. Just get your foot back in front of the other, I think to myself. One breath in. One breath out. And the minutes go by. Once this story is in the can I’m going to need another big lead. Bigger than this. Bigger than Belize (not that Belize is done in any regard, it’s just so long term sometimes I lose sight of the next point of contact). Just bigger, more consuming. And I think the answer to that predicament is sitting in the bottom drawer of my nightstand.

I’ll let you know if I’m right. Next week on Seria — uh, I mean, what?

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We’ve got no money, but we’ve got heart

I spent last Tuesday night in the Southwest Florida Juvenile Detention Center.

Obviously, I was there as a guest. I tagged along with the Junior League of Fort Myers, a volunteer group of these absolutely lovely women who dedicate their time to empowering other women and children. On this Tuesday they were working with the girls at the Fort Myers JDC and I decided it was a story I wanted to cover.

We arrived around — you know what? I could go into all the boring details of how we got there, how we get wanded down, etc. But, really, all I want to tell you about are the girls in the JDC.

There are only five girls in the JDC population right now. I talked to three of them: Anna*, Amy* and Lily*.

Anna, 17, wants to be a cosmetologist when she gets out of the JDC. You can tell she’s been practicing her coloring techniques because part of her curly, dark hair has been bleached platinum blonde. Sadly, she’s on her 26th round here. But don’t stigmatize her. She’s not a bad kid. Anna is adorable, well-behaved and polite. She tells me her favorite thing she’s learned from the Junior League’s visits is etiquette (a word she can’t pronounce quite right) and she nods at her elbows places just off the top of the table. She tells me her first time in here was because of a small bud of weed she accidentally brought to school in the eighth grade. She’s been in and out ever since. She eats Chick-fil-a chicken nuggets the Junior League has brought and encourages Amy to try her avocado sauce.

Amy is 14. She has long dark hair and freckles. She’s in here for fighting, but you would never know it looking at her and Anna talking. The girls share their food, have inside jokes and once in a while say the same thing in unison, which sends them into a fit of laughter. Amy says Anna is like her mom. Anna corrects her and says she’s more like her Oprah. They tell me they knew each other from school prior to being in the JDC. In their matching heather gray sweaters and khaki pants, It’s almost like they’re at camp. Amy tells me she likes being in the JDC. She says she feels safe here. “You never know what’s going to happen on the outs,” she tells me.

Lily is the last girl I spoke with. She is 14 years old. He blonde hair is buzzed short and two parallel lines shaved into her head end right before her left ear. She’s small (she seems to drown in an oversize orange sweater) but her eyes are big and green with long eyelashes shooting out in every direction. She says she’s been in the JDC for a day. Her mom called the police when she got in a fight with her younger brother, who she says is bigger than her. She has a 21-day sentence at the JDC. She talks about her love of sports and how sometimes she “gets to go out and shoot some hoops.” She says she’s pretty fast. I ask her what basketball team she likes. She says, “the Miami Heat.” I tell her, “me, too.” She smiles and we high-five. Then I ask her what football team she likes. She tells me she likes “the Jets, even though they suck.” I tell her we like all the same sports teams and she high-fives me again, grinning in the warmth of sharing something unique with one other person. She looks me dead in the eye, as if needing to convince me, and says, “I’m not book smart, but I’m very street smart.” I tell her I believe her. Lily tells me she wants to join the military when she’s old enough. She said she doesn’t care what branch, but she said her father was in the military and died in combat “shooting the bad guys.” She wants to do the same. I tell her to keep rooting for the Heat before I leave (we both know it’s pointless to root for the Jets). She smiles and bumps her fist with mine.

So after all of this, I wrote a story, which I could tell was missing something. My editor and I decided I need to go back one more time. So next month, I’ll be back at the JDC to see if any of those girls are still there. For some of them I hope they are, for others I hope they’ve found their way out of trouble. The Junior Leaguers told me this program has a stigma because it’s in a jail. But if anyone met these girls, they’d know how much potential they have, how much heart they’ve got. They just need help and guidance and for society to not give up on them.

This experience made me really want to join a big sister-little sister program, because everyone deserves to feel like someone cares. And after this, I know I really care about what happens to these girls.

*To protect their identity, the girls’ real names are not being use.

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Once in a lifetime we’re breaking all the rules

I’ve been writing obits like people are going to stop dying soon. I actually really love it, as morbid as that might sound.

It’s a privilege to tell someone’s life story one last time, to have a person’s family trust you with that story. The first few times I wrote obits it was kind of mechanical. The relatives would tell me what I needed to know matter-of-fact-ly, and I would put those facts in order with a few quotes to break up the monotony. But the more I write these obits, the better I must be getting because recently they’ve become more emotional for the families. They’ll apologize, embarrassed by their emotion and I have to remind them how appreciative I am for their earnest responses. I sometimes don’t know what to say except “thank you for the opportunity to share your loved one’s life.” Each time I write one and send it to the source, I get a gorgeous email response. It’s a really rewarding beat.

Something I’ve become more aware of lately is how many people are with their partner for 50, 60 and (more often than you’d think) 70 years. I hope I am lucky enough to be with the person I love most in this world for 70 years. I look up to all the couples who have fought through the struggles and the hardship to make it that long together. So often I hear “they were my best friend” from the survivors. Of course, they’ll always tell me it wasn’t perfect. They had their fights, their bad times. But they never gave up on one another and reveled in their golden years together.

I’ve wondered: would I rather spend my life exploring alone — loving often but not long — or spend my life exploring with another person, sharing my story with one person who loves me unconditionally and unequivocally. I used to think I wanted the former because who would want to put themselves in that kind of danger and follow me around the world? I now know the latter is the life I want. When I come home from each adventure, I want to turn to this person and say, “well, that was fun. Where to next?”

These people are the lucky ones and we should all hope to love someone for 70 years. To have someone who spends a lifetime loving us, fighting for us.

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It’s yours to find

Do you ever feel like your fate sits on the edge of a knife? Lean one way and it’ll fall into chaos. Lean the other and it’ll fall into place. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.

I can’t tell you anything about the story I want to tell you about so desperately, but I think this teeter-totter feeling has a lot to do with it. Like I am sitting on the potential cusp of something really important, and I’m just not sure what’s going to happen. I actually feel this way in many aspects of my life right now.

In addition to this mystery story, I’ve been working really hard on getting application material ready for internship season. I sent off one application to The Boston Globe (*heavy breathing*) and I’m working on applications for The Overseas Press Club, WaPo and The L.A. Times Washington D.C. Bureau. I missed the deadline on a few opportunities like The Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I really want to leave Florida. So maybe I subconsciously blew those deadlines so I’d have to find a way out. Also, if you know me, you know I just love to sign myself up for responsibilities that are way over my head and then rise to the occasion.

EN staff writer, breaking news reporter, editor-in-chief, Will Write For Food staff writer, news clerk, associate multimedia journalist. Each one scarier than the last. Each one a way way way bigger challenge. I don’t know why I love this strange form of masochism, but I come out on the other side a better writer and a stronger person, so I guess it’s a good kind of struggle.

But here’s the thing: This is what makes me happy.

Having something to look forward to. Having a challenge. Being challenged. That’s where I excel. Again, I think this is why I’m so stoked for this potential story I can’t talk about. (We need a codeword for this story so I can stop calling it “the story I can’t talk about, yet somehow manage to keep talking about” so lets just call it Project NoFla). Both the applications and Project NoFla could fall through, but the work and effort toward that goal is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I really love this. And so, because of that, life in this moment is good.

WARING: OBNOXIOUS BASKETBALL TANGENT: Okay (I know I’m violating AP Style, leave me alone), other things I need to talk to you about: THE MIAMI HEAT ARE BACK. EVERY ONE ELSE CAN SUCK EGGS. CHRIS BOSH SCORED 30 PTS TONIGHT. NUHH UHH CAN’T TELL ME NOTHIN’… I’m really sorry, I know I’m embarrassing myself, but I just get so excited for that Miami Heat basketball. Spoiler alert: You’re going to have to deal with this for the rest of the season. TANGENT OVER.

WARNING:photo 1 FLORIDA WEATHER TANGENT: And speaking of season, today was the first cold day in South Florida. It’s 52 degrees in the Gulf right now, and I’m absolutely freezing. My New York blood has completely run thin, but I am so in love with this part of the year in this state. I want to drive everywhere with my windows down, my heat blasting and a good playlist drowning out the noise of the wind as it rips past my windows on the highway. I know there’s one person who totally gets this. TANGENT OVER.

SUPER IMPORTANT PSA. IF YOU’RE ONLY READING ONE THING HERE, MAKE IT THIS: Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. GO VOTE PLEASE. PLEASE. NO SERIOUSLY. AMERICA. VOTE. Yes, we all know the midterms aren’t as sexy and exciting as the presidential election, but there are some huge items on the ballot that need to be looked at in every state. Please, do your civic duty as a free American citizen; educate yourself and vote.

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Who is an honest man?

So many fun things going on!  I’m dying to talk about my latest projects, but sadly I can’t say much at the moment. What I can say is that I think this is going to be my first real investigative piece. I’m really excited and hopefully within the next two weeks I’ll be able to elaborate more about its contents. Stay tuned.

Let’s talk podcasts. I hope you’re listening to “Serial.” This brand new series comes to us from This American Life and NPR. It’s got all the elements to keep you coming back each week: phenomenal reporting, flawless editing and — like any good story — it’s impossible to put down.

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 11.50.50 PMSERIAL: Sarah Koenig is investigating the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a popular, beautiful, athletic high school senior in Maryland. Adnan Syed, Hae’s ex-boyfriend, was charged with and convicted of her murder. The only problem: there’s no physical evidence brought against Adnan. None. The conviction was purely based on circumstance. What I gathered from the podcast is Adnan was the only person with a motive in killing Hae. Supposedly Adnan also told this guy Jay (who knows way too many details about the murder to not be involved, but that’s just my opinion) he was going to kill Hae and he needed Jay’s help to get rid of the evidence. Jay apparently assisted Adnan in disposing of the body to some degree, but was never charged with anything.

Anyway, Adnan still proclaims his innocence and all his family and friends say he was a model child; Homecoming prince (or court), leading prayers at the community mosque, an EMT, popular, friendly, with good grades. So it’s hard to figure out who’s telling the truth and who the liar is here.

Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what scenario my money is on. I think Jay definitely is involved in the murder, and while I want to think Adnan is innocent (and I hope he is), it’s entirely possible and plausible he’s a really convincing liar. Also, I get the feeling we haven’t met all the players yet. Right now, “Serial” is on its fifth episode and Koeing is still in the dark about a lot on this series, too. Like how many episodes there will be or how the series will conclude.

Koenig said in an interview on “The Gist” that she is still actively reporting on the case and that each episode is still being edited just hours before it’s released. She also said she’s about 66 percent sure she knows how it will end, and therein lies what I love about this podcast. We’re essentially listening in real time. It’s gotta be daunting if you’re in Koenig’s shoes, but what an incredible challenge. Her reporting is so good and thorough. In one instance she talks to at least five sources to confirm or debunk the existence of a phone booth at a Best Buy in 1999. This woman is dedicated to her craft.

Episodes are released every Thursday morning and they’re free. Listen and tell me your theories.

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Let us shine for what it’s worth

I need a moment to gush about my job.

I hang out with interesting people, listen to their stories and share them — then I get a paycheck. (Okay, so I won’t be a millionaire any time soon, but who cares when you love what you do? Right? Right.)

Also, I just so happen to be in a tremendously lucky position. I work with phenomenal editors, who trust me, which is infinitely invaluable, I assure you. Without that, I wouldn’t have 80-plus stories filed in the last eight months. I wouldn’t have my first pitched and produced story published. I wouldn’t have lasted this long.

Spending the day with a person, getting to know a piece of them and then conveying that is an especially rare and precious gift. It’s so intimate and the pressure is immense, but when you do it right — there’s nothing like it.

My advice: if you can tell stories for a living, do it. If you can tell stories for a short period of time, do it. If you can tell stories forever, yours just might end up more interesting than those you tell.

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Your skin’s so fair it’s not fair

St. Vincent changed my life.

Okay, I know that sounds a little dramatic, but it was easily the best show I’ve ever been to and music is my Jesus, ergo Annie Clark is just as much a god as I knew she would be.

St. Vincent performs at The Fillmore Miami Beach.

St. Vincent performs at The Fillmore Miami Beach.

I arrived at the Fillmore at Miami Beach for the Digital Witness Tour about 40 minutes prior to showtime and after a quick pit stop at the merch table where I purchased (and subsequently cut up) a shirt with the St. Vincent album art on it, I was able to get relatively close to the stage, the crowd still thin. The venue was gorgeous. A tiered pit with seats overlooking the stage as purple and white lit chandeliers dangled overhead.

The crowd was disappointingly small as showtime approached, but as the opener cleared the stage (a lone dude with a guitar whose songs went on for waaay too long), the crowd thickened and I was able to get right up to the bar. Front row.

The lights dimmed and an automated voice asked the “fellow analog” humans to enjoy the show for what it is and not through a cell phone (a request I promptly ignored. Sorry, Annie).

The opening song Rattlesnake began, it’s synth cords repeating as Annie Clark danced to the intro while the crowd screamed with delight.

The show then rocketed into a stream of songs, old and new, including Digital Witness, Cruel, Marrow, Birth in Reverse, I Prefer Your Love, Prince Johnny and Laughing With A Mouth of Blood. Each song had Clark either performing choreo with Toko (her bassist) or rolling around on the stage like a robot-cyborg possessed simultaneously by Keith Moon and Sylvia Plath. She easily played 20ish songs, which was absolutely mind-blowing.

Clark stopped twice to address the crowd, “While I don’t know you, I know things about you,” she said gently as the room quieted, hanging on each word. She described how we were born before the twenty first century, how sometimes when you walk on a street you pretend that people are celebrities or don’t have hands if they’re tucked into a sweater. How you smile and your lip curls down. All insane ramblings from the mind of a genius.

St. Vincent performs at The Fillmore Miami Beach.

St. Vincent performs at The Fillmore Miami Beach.

Clark finished the show with an encore of Your Lips Are Red, a song I’d only heard once prior to the show, and is now probably not only my song of the moment, but easily one of the best songs I’ve ever heard live. Your Lips Are Red is like a hive of bees that has just fallen to the ground. It hums and you wait as the tension builds until it breaks into screaming guitars and Clark writhing alive with the ghosts of rock and roll past.

At one point, Clark climbed onto the shoulders of a security guard and held her guitar over the audience for the mobbing hands to grasp and play. She came inches in front of me, just a mere finger-length away. I was looking into the face of a silver-haired god.

I can’t really put into words what her show was, but it was something else. Something worthy of the title of brilliance.

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