Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Not getting it

I've never been much of a jumper. I find my expertise is in making my way through large crowds. I'm thin, pushy and assertive, but not very springy. When I'm in a good mood, I feel I can jump higher. When I'm alone and stressed, my viscosity lowers and my ability to traverse large crowds is increased. I would consider these two attributes of equal importance.

The University of Illinois is a big place. Its sprawling campus is home to more worker-bee students than, I would think, any other university in the state. There are loads of crowds here. As a journalism major, I work in a competitive field. You can't just "take one for the team" and become a sports journalist. You have to work your ass off relative to everyone else working their ass off. You have to be a talented writer, you have to wisely discern turning points in games and know what questions to ask without making the rest of the lodge brothers look bad.

I first picked up the Daily Illini during a visit in my senior year of high school. I looked at the sports section (such was habit with newspapers since childhood) and read a column on Steve Nash. I liked it, but thought of some things that I would have done differently, which I thought were better. And I thought it'd be really cool to write for the paper. If I could get in to U of I, man, it'd be fun to see my face in print. Turns out I could get into U of I. It'd be fun to see my face in print.

Fast forward to freshman year, and I find the Daily Illini is actually quite an accessible organization. They take me in; my editor, Alex Iniguez, seems pretty nice. I get assigned a club sports beat and wait for further direction. I end up waiting quite a while, until October, when Alex floats me and the other two club sports writers a story idea with the plea "Please somebody do this story." I grabbed it, because it was underwater hockey, and I held my breath and dove in. I remember frequently corresponding with Alex, checking all my steps. Interviews? Practices? Length? Story tone? Whatever. Pictures? Pictures? Pictures? (I finally took the pictures.) And I came in with a story that I heard was hyperbolically called "the best first story ever." Which I basically still pride myself on today, sadly enough.

Alex worked with me to try and get me to a more prominent beat as club sports continued to dawdle. He was going to put me on hockey, then opted out of an additional hockey writer. He offered me women's gymnastics, and I opted for a column, showing this blog to him as a testament to my rambling abilities.

But I wanted to do more, and about this time last year, Alex and I talked and he convinced me to apply for assistant sports editor. Seeing as how I was the only willing applicant, I got the position and got myself in the newsroom. They convinced Jeff Kirshman, a sophomore, to take on the position as well. Assistant editors typically go on to become desk editors. The task was incredibly daunting at the time, but I knew there was a year before I'd have to be ready.

Amazingly, that year has come and gone. I've worked five days a week during the school year at the DI, critiquing stories, improving them, learning A.P. style, mingling with Jeff and the features desk, taking pointers from current editor Kevin Kaplan, seeing really good stories, seeing really bad stories. I've learned a lot. I've grown a lot.

At a certain point, you rise to the surface, or you make a leap to it. Or you sink. The more I filled in for Kaplan whenever he'd sparingly miss days, I grew in my confidence. If I could become sports editor my junior year, my senior year I'd have my pick of the litter. Jeff had told me with confidence that he didn't want to apply for sports editor. He had had enough of living at the DI and wanted to report again. After all, reporting is better for a resume.

I began using the words "heir apparent." They fit me.

Jeff and I's last day as true peers — before the word came down and the "apparent" half of the phrase could be dropped — we worked as well with each other as we had over the past year. Kaplan missed due to potential pink eye, and we ran the ship like two competent assistants would. The internet going down for two hours didn't stop us. We accessed facts that our reporters failed to find. We made sure everything was handed to the design desk on time. We had gone to news conference together, figured out what to play up through discourse, we stayed late, we watched the end of the NBA All-Star game, we finished the day together. I was exhausted. Too drained for drinks that night. Maybe another time, Jeff. It wouldn't be weird to ask. We had become friends through this job we loved and maligned.

The position of sports editor is a high-up one on the paper. The highest I care to go, really. I was coming into it like I had come into assistant editor, floating up through the mass of more qualified people per pointers from those I respect. Fifteen hours before the application deadline, Jeff had let me know he had a 180 degree shift of mind and was applying for sports editor.

Admitting you're flustered is rare — typically by the time you realize you were flustered, the damage has already been done. But Jeff's decision to apply flustered me, in an utterly fair way. I thought back to my application, which I had filled out in a more casual state of mind. I thought of new questions I'd have to answer, questions I hadn't been thinking of answers to for weeks. I went from needing an inductive appeal to needing to elicit deductive favor. My "good enough" wouldn't allow me a chance. I had seen a crack, and tried to fit through it. But no, this wasn't going to work that way. The bar had been raised, and now I had to leap.

Jeff had said earlier in the year, in a matter-of-fact way, "If I apply, they'll pick me over you." Fair, I thought. He has a year on me, a year which he used to cover varsity sports, and other than that Jeff and I were utterly equal in the eyes of superiors.  Things had changed now, though. I had impressed people. I had stepped up in times of need, and I had showed confidence. I was heir apparent, and no one shuddered at that.

Getting off the elevator on the third floor of the Illini Media building (the newsroom) for my interview, I was met, as the doors slid open, by Jeff. Damn it, he had worn a tie. I high-fived him/shook his hand. "Tag out," I joked, with a hint of nerve. I asked Jeff if he wanted to have a few drinks later. It would be a night for celebration — one of us was going to be editor, and the other would no longer have to be assistant. He accepted. The interview itself went well. Everyone in the room knew I could do the job. They asked me questions, and I answered some better than others. Nothing to do now but work and wait.

Nathaniel Lash, newly anointed managing editor, was the one who called me with the verdict. I was walking home, and had taken a detour so that I'd get the call outside, by myself. He apologized for an awkward miscommunication from earlier, and I could tell by his tone of voice there were more apologies to come. I understood immediately their decision to go with Jeff. That night had reassured me that either of us could do it, and it was cool having a chance to work with Jeff for a night in what was essentially a co-editing role, no assistance necessary. Nathaniel kept spoon-feeding me compliments after he told me the decision, and I kept chewing and swallowing them, because it seemed like a practical thing to do. When the conversation had lasted long enough, Nathaniel offered a final thanks, apology and compliment, and I hung up. I let the moment hang in the cool night air for a bit before putting my headphones back on. My iPod had kept me good company throughout the process.

For me, deferment means a new era and a new field. After spring break, I will begin reporting on the school's baseball team. I'm still planning on spending the summer here in Champaign, and hell, living with Jeff if possible. It's something that leaves plenty of room for opportunity, and brings about a little less stress to boot. I don't know for sure what I want to do next year, but I have a few ideas. And though I really, truly saw myself in that newsroom, working under Sammie, alongside Nathaniel and Taylor, with Jeff coming into me for edits and not the other way around, my time as sports editor will have to wait. And if I spend my time working out my reporting muscles, I'll be ready to jump when the time comes around again.

For now, I'll have to pocket my editor jokes, my meeting ideas, my editor fantasies, and my ideas for beat assignments for another year. It's a disappointing feeling. I lost, when I really thought I wasn't going to have to compete. I'm happy for Jeff, though. It's a challenge to me — earn my chops reporting, then I get another crack at the editor's chair.

It's important not to let go of failures like these — it's important to take them with you. I applied myself, and someone else applied themselves more successfully. And while it's hard to remember that you're not supposed to let your head hang, it's easy to remember that you're supposed to pick your head back up, look forward, and go somewhere.

Jeff, I'm happy for you. I think you made the right decision, potentially for both of us.

--Eliot Sill

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Did I Just Have the Best Weekend Ever?


I spent this weekend in Kiruna, Sweden. If you don't feel like looking at a map that's really far north. We're talking Lapland, the arctic circle, whatever you want to call it. Here are some highlights:

-Kiruna is obsessed with reindeer. I sat on top of or under a reindeer skin at least 4 separate times on my trip, I ate reindeer jerky and I ate a reindeer wrap. Families in the north herd these beasts and can have like 5,000 each.

-I took a ride in a one horse open sleigh. Literally. I sat under a reindeer skin in 5 degrees (fahrenheit) and rode through the woods on a sled being pulled by a north Swedish black horse named Rambo who was afraid of camera flashes. By the end he was sweating because 5 degrees is really hot for him. I also accidentally took a flash picture next to him because I'm an idiot and don't know how to work my camera but Rambo kept his cool.

-Kiruna has a hotel made of ice. Of course. Like literally the entire building is made of ice and snow. It includes rooms with reindeer skin covers (obviously), suites, an ice bar, a church and a reception desk. I got so cold taking pictures I can't even imagine trying to sleep there. It was sweet though, and those people can do insane things with ice.

-I went dog sledding. BOOM. Thought about Balto the entire time. It was just as cool as you would imagine. We rode across huge lakes and through woods and these dogs absolutely loved it. Halfway through our journey we stopped at what looked like a teepee (though that would probably be offensive to the lap-landers aka the Lappis) and our guide made coffee over a fire and told us all about the dogs. He said that they were the happiest dogs in the world because they are pack animals that love to run with their friends.

-The Northern Lights are possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. When they first start you think they might just be a cloud and that you're just imagining them, but then you realize that clouds aren't green and they don't grow and swirl and stretch. The first time I got to see them was just by happenstance when my roommate stepped outside and started freaking out for us to come look. Seeing the lights stretch across the sky after hearing so much about them and never really believing that this phenomenon could be real actually made my tear up a little. And I'm only a little ashamed by that.

-Kiruna is so far removed from anything I've ever known. It really does feel like you're on top of the world. Standing out on a frozen lake with miles of white and sunshine and trees and hills and not a sign of modernity in sight. In "town", everything closes at like 4pm, nothing is open on Sunday and there are approximately 2 cab drivers for the whole area. We had to book cabs hours in advance if we wanted to go anywhere. Kiruna has over a month of complete darkness in the winter and over a month of complete light in summer. They also have snow the entire year except July. Despite having only about 25,000 people, Kiruna is about as big as Mexico city, As one of the guide's put it: "we've all got a lot of space to live up here."

-I'm not the only one who's fascinated by this alien community. The horses of Kiruna, the dogsledding in Kiruna and the city itself have all been featured on multiple discovery channel shows and similar things. Plus they get tons of tourists (like myself) visitng every year. It's like these people are just living their weird, secluded, reindeer filled lives and people keep showing up like, "Holy crap, this is so cool! You live here? Lemme hang??"

- I also got to bond with one of the coolest girls my sister was friends with in high school (who I've always been intimidated by), a tiny Indian man, a ridiculous British guy and an Iranian girl who knows three languages better than I know one.

This trip was far more expensive than any other trip I've taken or am planning to take while in Europe but I have to say, it was worth it. Lapland is a magical place that hardly seems real even if you've been there.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Nick - Well Let Me Tell You

My watch is pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

Watch and sea.
It's so cool, in fact, that I get a lot of comments on it. People frequently ask me where I got it. If I were a normal person, I would tell them.

But alas, of the many things I am, normal is not one of them.

So here are a few of the different ways I got this watch. I think all of these stories are believed by someone somewhere.
  • My dad wrote an article for the State Journal-Register back when he was a business columnist. He wrote about a piece about local businesses including a medium sized watch shop, and the article won an award for journalistic excellence in local reporting. A number of the businesses featured in the article sent my dad gifts after the article won the award, and this particular watch shop invited us to come in for a tour. I got the watch there.
  • My grandfather worked at an Italian watch factory when he was a kid growing up in Sicily. He stole the watch thinking it was worth a lot of money, but it turned out to not be worth much of anything. So he stole a more expensive watch and I ended up with this one.
  • My high school engineering club, of which I was a member, entered a national product design competition. We designed a really shitty watch, and we didn't make it past our regional. By sheer happenstance, the team that won the nationals also designed a watch, and, as per the terms of the competition, their design actually got manufactured. The education nonprofit running the competition sent all the team captains a copy of the watch that won as a participation prize.
  • My friend Robert and I were at the mall in Springfield when we saw in one of those claw-grabber thingies a copy of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame 2. Robert, who is a sarcastic bastard, had been making fun of my terrible taste in movies all day and quickly offered to win it for me. I told him to go ahead, and, neither one of us willing to back down at this point, he puts in a quarter and tries to grab the DVD. Instead, he accidentally grabs the coolest watch ever. As per the terms of our agreement, I insisted that the watch belonged to me. I payed him back his quarter.
  • My grandfather worked at an Italian watch factory when he was a kid growing up in Sicily. It was about a mile from where he lived, and he walked there every day. However, he stopped working there when his mother got a job and was able to send him to school. Years later, when he was almost 17, he heard that the watch factory had burned down in a terrible fire. He walked over to see the damage, and amongst the partially-standing remains of the building, he found a glass case of prototype watches. He gave me and my brother each one, and he has fourteen more, all way cooler than mine.

I get stronger with every lie I tell.


Robert - I Just Want to Play with My Ball

There are things in the world that I will always appreciate more than money, art, Hannah. Those things are these things.

Recently, I couldn't believe giant bouncy balls are still only 25 cents at Old Navy. Recently, I stole a big red punch balloon from my neighboring apartment. Now I have two beautiful things in my life.

Now what to do with them! Well, that's easy, play with them constantly everywhere always all the time. I've been doing that. Punch balloon stays in the apartment, it is for indoor play--because otherwise the adjacent apartment will find out maybe. Maybe they hear me pounding it against our dividing wall hundreds of times in repetition? Who can say. Bouncy Ball goes outside, only when it is cold; it only fits in the big pockets of the big coats. anyway, I have some findings:

One. Punch balloon is light and easy to kick up and up and up forever. today i am Lionel Messi. I am the best soccer player in the living room.

Two. Punch balloon is amphetamines of balloons. That just means I'm addicted. I can play with Punch Balloon, alone, in my living room for like seriously 20 minutes. Everyone gone in the apartment, just me. It would be much longer, maybe three times longer, if not inhibited by resounding shame.

Three. Bouncy Ball is much more daring than Punch Balloon. Bouncy ball makes great leaps off the third story brick of buildings and sometimes accidentally the third story glass of buildings—and sometimes yes the first story siding of white sedans in the road. accidentally. Bouncy Ball is a man of accident, very fragile in direction, easily swayed by evil cracks and the laws of physics as it bounces in a spin, deflecting off into wild and crazy aims. Bouncy Ball is independent, and will one day leave me I guess. For he lives hard and fast, throwing himself into the world like a tiny bouncing dot—and really, what are we? at best these tiny bouncing dots. at par big bulbous masses of air, held by a thin rubber skin and falling to the ground too easy. like big punch balloons. at least punch balloons are loud.

Four. Great things are only Great in the places they ought to be. mohandas ghandi would not be a poor leader in canada, only a poor citizen. likewise, Punch Balloon is not well appreciated by the masses on the crowded, jammed, claustrophobic outdoor sidewalks. Punch Balloon is not the greatest ambassador to close fit bodies. likewise again, and this is more important, Bouncy Ball is not at home inside an apartment. Nobody is happy about the explosive and ricocheting noises of hard things hitting their softer things. He is as unwanted and as cumbersome here as David Guetta playing at max volume as I enter the apartment. nicki minaj, dear heaven. i'm sorry I ever listened to Monster.

Five. This is the most important- listen. Bouncy Ball hates pockets, but I keep him there often. That is because of my ultimate discovery. When I bounce Bouncy Ball along sidewalks, and I talk on the phone, no strange looks. Oh, look, that boy is chatting with someone, it's like he's spending time with friends. his bouncy ball is just extra. When you bounce Bouncy Ball along sidewalks, and you don't talk on the phone, plenty of strange looks. Wow, that kid is fucking depressing! only a bouncy ball in the world... fuck it. It's not depressing to have more fun than anyone else has ever had ever. I've solved the conundrum by experiencing Ultimate Fun whilst holding my phone silently to my ear. the same thing goes for playing with Punch Balloon alone in your apartment when your roommate barges on. it's a sacrifice, oh, a sacrifice for the sake of friends, for without friends, who would play with my bouncy ball with me? oh, the things i must do when, damn it, i just want to play with my ball.