Yes, I have a Farmer’s Only account.

I’ve seen advertisements for Farmersonly.com for the past few years. They’re always a little strange because they give you the impression of an early 2000s infomercial — barely finished and made with Windows XP or Windows ’95. I’m almost glad I made that observation in the first place, because when you visit the site, it’s not much different.

I’ve always been fascinated with online dating sites. In fact, this summer I downloaded a few dating apps on my phone to see the differences and try to learn about each of them. Farmers Only is quite different than any modern apps, primarily because of the demographics of people who use it. Besides the obvious difference that all the men are either farmers or wanna-be farmers or former farmers, a lot of them are older — in their 40s or 50s. It’s an interesting change from something like say, Tinder, where most of the men range in ages 18 to 30.

Farmers Only is very easy to use and there are a lot of disclaimers, for instance, “Don’t exchange credit card or bank account information over email.” I thought it was funny because in my generation, that’s almost common sense by now, but then you have men in their 60s and 70s who may have never used a computer before, trying to find a “nice lady” or a “country gal” to call their own.

This whole experience has been very enlightening, though I haven’t really found anyone who has been willing to talk to me. In fact, a lot of the men are confused and don’t understand why I’d be on the site in the first place if I’m not looking for someone (side note: don’t worry, I made it VERY clear in my bio why I have an account). Hopefully someone will come forward, otherwise I’m thinking of tweaking my angle a bit. I think it’d be really interesting for people to know what it’s like to visit a site like Farmers Only and what it’s like to try to find someone when you don’t have a technological background in this very technological age.

Writing for taste

In intermediate writing on Friday, we talked about writing for taste. It’s probably terrible to discount any of the six senses in writing (the sixth sense being intuition), but nonetheless, I suppose taste was always on the backburner for me. Intrinsically, I discounted taste as a sense to use for extremely specific situations, but then I realized the power of taste.

Taste is not just something on your tongue — perhaps even more than smell or sight, taste has the profound ability to bring the writer back to a certain memory or a very specific time in his or her life.

Ribs remind me of Sunday dinners. My dad stoked the fire of his smoker; his well-worn hands added hickory chips to the flames as he tried to find the perfect beer pairing for his homemade dry rub. It also reminds me of steaks and deep-dish pizza — the staples of my family’s diet.

Whenever I’m having a rough week, I pine for the sweet simplicity of sitting on the deck and feasting on fresh food. Writing about taste allows me the freedom to transfer that desire to the masses.

Sunday night in Como

I wrote this last night as I sat outside of Lakota coffee in downtown Columbia. I tried to let myself see, hear and feel the scene right in front of me.

Observation is always a strange exercise for me because often times I feel like I become the scene I’m describing. I move and feel with it and I suppose you could say that makes me biased, but I can’t help but speculate and pass judgment as I sit and watch. If something makes me feel, I write it down. So here was my attempt to paint a picture:

Artificial light washes over ninth street as a lone conman swaggers down the sidewalk and blows into a harmonica. “SEEEEEXY!” he screams between mismatched notes and chords. A pearly white smile fills his face and his bloodshot eyes water slightly as he dances with strangers walking down the street, crossing four or five times to make sure he meets everyone. His drunken dance only stops when he pulls the headphones out of his ear to scream, “SEEEEEXY!” once again.

The night air is crisp, but not cold — the perfect early days of fall when a sweaters are necessary but closed-toed shoes are not. The people of Columbia are out in force tonight.

An old man reclines in a chair outside Lakota with a giant textbook in hand, and an old blue heeler tied to his chair is curled at his feet. Sorority girls walk by and gossip to one another as their attire of Nike shorts and oversized t-shirts camouflage their bodies like zebras. The cacophony of children’s laughter spills out of Sparky’s as fathers try to balance a screaming child in one hand and a stroller in the other.

Every once in a while, a drifter stumbles down the sidewalk. Some ask for money, others gazing into the distance as if looking for their lost souls. A young girl with bedraggled blonde hair repeatedly asks those sitting outside for, “Just a dollar.” Her face is of another world and her bloodshot eyes dart back and forth as she swats a fly with one hand and clings tightly to the sleeve of her hoodie with the other.

The street is artfully alive for a Sunday; it’s painted with strangers and friends and drifters and lost lonely souls. It’s shaped by the dark and the low rooftops of historic buildings breaking the black with their silver surfaces. It’s washed in the sounds of conversation and the occasional SUV blasting loud music or a fire truck thundering down the center of the street, but mostly it’s living and breathing with the people of here and now.

Columbia is a halfway house for many. Drifters pass through on their ways to Kansas City or St. Louis, and sometimes they stay for who-knows-why. College students call it home for a minute or two, only to miss out on the rich culture of the people who have stayed and might not ever leave. It comes alive for documentary film and music festivals and game weekends and move-in days, but as quickly as the populous wave swells, it recedes.

Words.

I am a feeling person.

Sometimes my emotions bubble up inside me so much that they spill out my mouth and well up in the backs of my eyes. Sometimes they flow out of my fingertips and onto a page in a beautiful mess of words before an overwhelming calm seduces me into a sense of wholeness and I rest until the next urge floods my conscience.

I (finally) had time to read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott this week for Intermediate Writing. This afternoon I decided to go to one of my favorite places on campus to relax and read. I was perched in the best climbing tree in Peace Park, straddling one of the fattest branches and leaning against the trunk. I got lost in words in time and space as an early-autumn breeze gently tousled my unwashed hair. The overwhelming sense of serenity overcame my anxiety about classes and work.

I read:

“… sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.”

I’m not going to pretend that everything I write “rich and delicious;” I’m not going to pretend that I’m capable of writing the next Farewell to Arms or Wuthering Heights, but I will say that by ability to “milk my emotional cow” with words affirms my belief in myself as a writer — simply because I can’t counteract my overactive brain any other way.

Those who care about me constantly tell me, “Katie, your heart is too big.” To some extent it’s true. I am deeply affected if I hear or witness an injustice, and when I care about something, I cannot let it rest without coming to some internal peace. Words give me the space to sort out my bleeding heart and contain my feelings when I’m spending too much time or money dwelling on a problem I have not caused and will never solve.

When I am writing well, I feel fulfilled. Those thoughts and problems seep from my brain through my every pore in multitudes of rhythmic words. Though it may be fleeting, the peace is enough to keep me satisfied until the next moment when I need the words to help me through.

My Little Pony

He wasn’t beautiful. In fact, he was scrawny and his hips protruded from his dull, flea-bitten grey coat like two tillers on the either side of a sailboat. Poorly cut silver strings hung from his neck like forgotten tinsel on a two-month old Christmas tree. He had a sad excuse for a tail hanging limply between his two back legs and a clubbed right hoof turned inward toward the left.

He wasn’t friendly. If I got too close to him in his stall, he’d bear his teeth and pin back his ears. If I sat on his back, he’d kick when I squeezed to go faster and if I tried to tighten his girth, he’d bend his neck around to bite my toes.

He wasn’t beautiful, he wasn’t friendly, but his name was Charlie and I thought he was perfect.

My parents let me have him because he was cheap – an off the track thoroughbred with a little training, but a lot of promise, or at least that’s what the people who sold him said. In eighth grade I was hormonal and pimple-faced, but Charlie was my great prince, my noble steed and my best friend.

I spent many nights in his stall, draped over his back, playing with his mane and telling him about my first crushes, my first bad grade on a test and my first fight with my mom. When I got a boyfriend, he was there to assure me horses were much better than humans.

The day before I left for college, I went to see him one last time. He stood in the field with his head bent over a fresh patch of grass. I burst into tears the moment I saw him.

I recalled how my perfect little “project horse” had been with me through my awkward teenaged years, my moments of greatness and my moments of vulnerability when I decided on a university and made plans to leave home.

My parents called him a “money pit,” because in a lot of ways, he was. But he was mine and I was his and no matter how much my parents take credit for raising me, in a lot of ways, he did.

Charlie taught me what no parent, friend, boyfriend or human could. He taught me how to be brave, be patient and be kind, but he also taught me how to love deeply and purely – how to think of others before myself. I never really thanked him properly, but I think the years of care and love spoke more than any verbal thanks ever could have.

When I left Charlie, I left a bit of myself behind, but a gold-plated plaque from his stall door is nailed to the wall in my bedroom. It’s a constant reminder of how practicing love can change a life.

Hello! Where to begin?

There have been a couple times in my writing career when I’ve been so inspired that my hands started trembling, my mind moved at a million miles a second and my heart began to race. I tapped my feet on the floor as I scrolled through pages upon pages of information looking for the perfect anecdote to add to the picture I was about to paint.

It hasn’t happened often, but when these types of stories have fallen into my lap, I couldn’t wait to get them out into the world.

Information doesn’t do any good if it sits in our brains. I think people have the right to know what’s going on in the world, but I think it’s my job to make it interesting. A lot of people ask themselves, “What if?” but not many take the opportunity to go out and answer it. It’s not limited to, “What if?” It’s, “How come?” it’s, “Could it be?” and at the end of the day, how do we turn those questions into stories?

It’s a tall order.

I guess that’s what I’m hoping to learn from this class. There have been several times in my writing career thus far where I haven’t felt capable of sharing a story well enough to make people care to the extent I wanted them to. With this class, i hope I can learn how to tell a story beautifully, but also fully.

On my soap box: Us vs. Them

A confederate flag flies high over the capitol of South Carolina as the ghosts of Generals long passed haunt the streets bearing their names. A lone white man backed by hundreds of years of oppression enters a church in Charleston hiding a gun and a killer’s agenda.

Nobody expected a bible study to end in the deaths of nine, yet few seem bold enough to call it what it was – an act of terrorism. The media sweeps blatant acts of racism under the rug with euphemisms of “tragedy” and government officials “push” to end the violence, but the fact remains: nine innocent people are dead.

When that 21 year-old pulled out his gun and pointed it at the preacher, witnesses heard him say to the all-black members of the congregation, “You are raping our women and taking over the country.”

Minutes later, eight were dead and one was fatally wounded.

After moments like these, the country starts to have the “gun conversation”, the “racism conversation”, the “white supremacy conversation”, but how many people have to die before these conversations stop and actions speak?

I am proud to be an American, but not when I think about Ferguson, not when I think about Baltimore, not when I think about a teenage black girl beat to the ground in Texas for attending a pool party, or nine innocent people brutally murdered in a historic place of refuge.

We may have a black president, we may celebrate black history month and elevate black artists and writers and athletes and thinkers as great Americans, yet we can’t even protect them as our brothers and sisters. Until we learn to think together and respect each other, no amount of governmental restrictions or protests will do anything.

It’s not just black and white.

Our society perpetuates a fear of Muslims, of Hispanics, of Asians, of Native Americans, of the “us” vs. “them.”

Fox News screams about how they are taking over our country, they are ruining our economy, they are the reason our cities are getting more violent, but no one stops to think about how this might be a collective problem.

There is no us and them – there’s just us.

Passing policy isn’t easy, change doesn’t happen overnight, but I keep wondering what great act of terrorism has to happen – white on black, black on black, American on American – before people take action.

It’s not easy to love someone very different from you. It’s not easy to embrace a stranger without passing judgment. It’s not easy to look past preconceived notions to feel compassion, but in a nation dominated by “Christians,” I hope people can find the capacity to love.

People keep saying, “Change takes time,” but I’m sick of waiting.

A reflection.

This morning, I woke up feeling more powerful than I have felt in ages. Why? Because I’m a woman who loves herself.

Despite the fact that I’ve made a few (or maybe more) bad choices in the last year, I’m stronger because of it. I found my true love of reporting, met some incredible people and learned more than I think I ever have. I felt overworked and sometimes under-appreciated, but that’s life. For every time I felt that way, there were also people behind me, reminding me how much I am loved.

I got a (paid) job at the Missourian for next fall as an Assistant City Editor and I worked my butt off to get it. This summer, I’ll be working at a local newspaper back in St. Charles and I’ll be a waitress at a local restaurant. I’m going to get to spend some much needed time with family and remember what it’s like to be Mommy and Daddy’s little girl again.

But I digress.

It’s been a tough year for me socially. I’ve invested in some friendships and relationships that were not healthy, but I’ve gained a lot of beautiful, caring, loving friends as well. And this past week, I’ve put some of my biggest demons to rest.

What I’ve learned through the whole process is you can’t please everybody and you can’t change who people are. That’s one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn and it’s taken pretty much my whole life before I’ve realized it.

I’ve discovered I have to be there to foster the growth of the people I love and more importantly, people who love me back.

Sometimes you have to pick up the pieces after a disagreement, but other times, you just have to let them be broken.

I hate list articles, but I thought I’d share some conventional wisdom with my friends and family and hope they can learn from my experiences and not have to go through a deep bout of depression to get there:

  1. It’s okay to lean on your friends and family, especially when you’re finding it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t make them hold you up, but sometimes it’s OK to call your mom, dad or best friend and cry for a really long time.
  2. GO BE A PASSIONATE PERSON!!!!!!! This honestly saved my life. I love what I do. When I’m stressed, I go to the newsroom. When I’m sad, I read my New Yorker and get inspired. When I’m frustrated, I write it all down. My reporting dreams keep me moving forward and help me see the broader picture in my life. It also helps me to love myself because I love what I’m doing.
  3. Sit outside in the sun, climb a tree, experience mother earth. It may seem very hippie-ish, but you’d be amazed at what a little stargazing or tree-sitting can do for your psyche.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Nothing good comes from overthinking.
  5. Eat a little bit of ice cream and drink a little bit of wine if you have to. Life is too short to count calories.
  6. Try as hard as possible to love yourself. I know, that’s a really difficult concept when our culture is driven by comparisons: “How to lose weight in 5 easy steps,” “How to get the perfect hair,” “20 of the smartest people in America and their IQ’s.” But the truth of the matter is, once you start loving yourself, you start taking care of your body, you start forming better relationships and breaking off toxic ones, you start wearing your sexiest dress out on the town, and you start seeing the world as the wonderful place it is … because YOU’RE in it.

Alright, enough of me being cheesy.

But please, take some of my advice if you can. If you’re reading this, I definitely love you and I definitely think you’re important. It’s about time you start thinking so, too.

Today was hard.

I woke up in a sweat because I left my socks on when I went to sleep and I overslept so I couldn’t take a shower.

But that wasn’t the hard part.

I put on three different outfits and none of them looked right, so I settled on the “least worst” of the three. I couldn’t find a sweater to match.

But that wasn’t the hard part.

I went to my favorite class this morning (hint, hint, it’s the one where I get to talk about journalism the whole time). We started a documentary about one of the greatest columnists and reporters in history, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. It was appropriately called, “Reporter.”

Aside from the fact that I’m looking for the 20-something year-old version of Kristof to explore the world and write and have children with (What? It’s a blog. I’m going to be brutally honest. He’s a really smart, really attractive dude who happens to be an incredible writer), I was captivated by his manner of reporting. Over years of writing about conflict and unrest he discovered that people will respond most fervently to the worst case scenario.

Kristof realized an extreme version of “show not tell” would galvanize the masses far better than simply writing a detached column from thousands of miles away. If a writer could bring the people to the problem, help them empathize and move toward a goal, then perhaps he could make a change. And he did.

His coverage of mass killings in Darfur pushed international officials to recognize the problem and respond. The relentless, repeated columns on the conflict garnered the support of the international community. Yet, the conflict still rages on 20 years later.

If you don’t believe me, read his column from 2013.

Before I continue, let me just say I’m an idealist in every sense of the word. The glass is never half-full, people are always a light and a joy to me.

But on days like today, I have my doubts.

For example: the documentary showed a woman from the Congo in her 40s who used to have life and wealth and abundance, but huddled in a bundle of rags somewhere in the mountains, shrieking from bedsores on her buttocks, dying from starvation. It made me wonder: is there an answer? Can we even begin to help?

Then I left class and read an article about immigrants from Central America looking for a better life in America. They were barred by poverty, a lack of resources, the control of drug cartels, the threat of border militarization, the constant fear deportation. We left them somewhere — neither here nor there.

I went to the gym and the television screamed at me, NATIONAL GUARD CALLED TO RIOTS IN BALTIMORE. And some talking head pretended to have the answer as his city fell apart and I knew people watched from their homes but everyone was too scared to actually go and help.

And then I wondered:

Do we care? Does anybody care? Will there ever be a solution?

And I thought maybe if I wrote about it, people would care. But would my words sustain people’s interest?

Then I thought, could I ever remove myself enough from the situation to be able to report without feeling guilty for not helping? Could I ever be a Nicholas Kristof and examine the worst case scenario with a clinical approach?

I don’t know, and I don’t think I’ll know for a long time, but the unrest ate away at me as I went about my day. I know tomorrow I’ll feel better, but maybe I shouldn’t. Although I might convince myself to look beyond them, the problems always exist.

That’s why today was hard.

A reaction to the Rolling Stone fiasco

Yesterday, Rolling Stone published the report of the result of an investigation about a story they had published earlier this year entitled “A Rape On Campus” by Sabrina Erdely. The story explained in detail how a University of Virginia student, Jackie, was gang raped in a fraternity house and how authorities neglected to remedy the situation.

A few days after the original story was published, reporters from other news organizations began to question its legitimacy. In an interview with Slate, Erdely evaded the question of whether or not she had talked to the alleged rapist. Later on, The Washington Post reported there was no event at the Phi Kappa Psi house on the night that Jackie claimed she was raped at a date party. When Jackie finally did release her attacker’s name to close friends and supporters, they determined he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi, nor did other details of his description match with her accounts. Shortly thereafter, Rolling Stone removed the article and issued a statement.

Let me first say that I was deeply saddened by this whole situation. I have been following this story’s development closely from day one. Rolling Stone has been one of my favorite magazines since I was in middle school. As a music lover and a bit of a “crazy liberal” (I feel it’s important as a journalist to recognize my biases in the hopes that I can consciously make an effort to keep them out of my reporting) I have always been inspired by Rolling Stone. When I was younger, I wanted to be a journalism major so I could write for them. I am incredibly disappointed in the organization and their numerous, blatant oversights in reporting, editing and fact checking.

As I read through the report, several instances of “journalistic malpractice” really stuck out to me. Perhaps the most shocking was that Erdely did not first prove the existence of the rapist, nor try to reach him for comment. Erdely is an incredibly seasoned investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, GQ, Mother Jones, Glamour,  and Men’s Health who had the experience to raise a red flag.

As the Slate article put it:

“She must know the basic rules of reporting a story like this: You try very, very hard to reach anyone you’re accusing of something. You use any method you can think of, including the jerk reporter move of making a surprise, in-person confrontation. (Sarah Koenig, the host of the Serial podcast, provides a good example of reporter due diligence.) You try especially hard if you are writing about something as serious as a gang rape accusation. Sometimes, what results is a more layered version of the truth. Sometimes, the answer you get makes the accused seem even guiltier (e.g., Bill Cosby, asserting through a lawyer, that all the dozens of accusations against him are “fabricated”).”

Sometimes as reporters we are so caught up in ensuring the cooperation of our sources that we treat them too cautiously. Erdely said that she attempted to get the name from the victim, but Jackie seemed so distraught that the reporter dropped it. As the cliche saying goes, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” Erdely did not check it out and it came back to bite her.

A reporter has to be extremely diligent on his or her fact checking of any story, but especially one this controversial. When Erdely began to have doubts about the legitimacy of her source, she should have taken a step back and possibly pulled it altogether.

The report says, “Erdely’s reporting led her to other, adjudicated cases of rape at the university that could have illustrated her narrative, although none was as shocking and dramatic as Jackie’s.”

We reach a bit of a journalistic crossroads here and I think it’s the root of a lot of mistrust in journalistic institutions.

As an industry, we are prone to find the most extreme example to illustrate our point because we want to make a huge impact. With the same token, sometimes we forget to “check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.” These failures happen all too frequently: earlier this year, Brian Wilson was released from NBC after he fabricated details of his reporting in Iraq and New Orleans to dramatize his point.

When we fail to report in a balanced and “true” fashion, we shadow the real issues. Sexual assault on college campuses is a very real problem and often times, survivors have a difficult time coming forward to report them.

The University of Virginia has not taken action on all reports of sexual assault in the past and frankly, they are a good target for this kind of investigation, according to the Rolling Stone Report. However, the public did not need Jackie’s sensational, dramatic tale in order to appreciate the gravity of the situation, especially if it wasn’t true in the first place.