*

When I started this semester, I told myself things would be different. I had a job that didn’t require me to work 30 hours a week, plus a lighter course load, plus a summer of quote-unquote rest just behind me. I had accepted that money would be tight and sworn I wouldn’t drink every night of the week. I was ready to hunker down.

The first few weeks of classes weren’t bad. My shifts shoveling ice cream fit fine into my schedule, and apart from a minor mishap in which I missed the first hour of a tutoring shift due to me being a complete and total space cadet, I had a positive outlook. There were a few stories in the pipeline that I was enthusiastic about, and I knew just who to call to make one of them happen: a former editor.

So I touched base. He’d taken the day off but I heard from him the next day. Thirty-six more hours of silence later (this puts us at Friday afternoon, by the way), I got a nice email complete with a list of contacts from one of the reporters I worked with at the Post-Dispatch this summer. It sat, starred, in my inbox all weekend.

Fast forward to today. I’m sitting at a desk in Lee Hills for a curation shift at the Missouri Business Alert when I stumble across a P-D Business Sunday link, Defense industry belts getting tighter, otherwise known as the story I was planning to write when I emailed my editor last week nosing around for sources. This is what we in the business call getting scooped.

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Before this gets misconstrued, I’m not upset my idea, or some derivative of it, was used. I’m upset that I was beaten to it despite my best efforts to make more time in my schedule for reporting. I want to say I’m discouraged, but I don’t think that word is strong enough. I’m disheartened and uninspired, not to mention overbooked for the foreseeable future. If this heat spell doesn’t break soon, so help me God, I will lose it.

Like I said, a support group would be nice.


I’m reading:

  1. Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers by Michael Schudson
  2. As much about defense spending/Syria as possible

I’m writing:

  1. Too many emails
  2. That thing about beards, I guess
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Destructive Creation

I could have kept my mouth shut but to my comments I have always been the parent that leaves the windows unlocked so they can sneak out without waking me.

“He got lucky,” I said. A dozen faces snapped in my direction, and I repeated myself.

This was Friday, during Tom Warhover’s infamous sermon on riffing. We were talking Jimmy Breslin and JFK. We had read a thousand words aloud, measuring the words with our tongues as licks to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

How many licks to the center of a poignant narrative about a national tragedy? For Breslin, apparently, one: an articulate working man who (thank God) was not a Nixon supporter.

The success of riffing is measured in quantity, not quality. It’s the writing part of the writing process. Observe:

He got lucky.
He ran abreast of some good fortune.
His cookie had been right.
The idea was better than the Chinese food.
Crisis comprises the Chinese characters for indigestion and out of toilet paper.

I was walking back from class when it dawned on me why I have been feeling so glum about my own work. We talk and talk about brainstorming and interviewing, we highlight ingenious cover ideas and narrative pegs, and we pat ourselves on the back for our finished work.

Good stuff, someone will say. Just fantastic stuff.

We don’t say much, however, about sitting at the computer with pages and pages of notes and ideas and crises and social engagements and emails from the J-school listserv flapping around like tiny, annoying birds; about the process of committing thought to paper, which is so damn agonizing.

Then a week passes and you haven’t written anything, let alone the mythical good stuff. You start to wonder what’s wrong with you until one day you’ve internalized enough self-doubt to derail your potential as a writer because you just aren’t keeping up.

Maybe I’m the poster child for “Misery loves company,” but more than to dwell on the end, I want (need?) a support group for the means.

My name’s Hannah Cushman, and I haven’t really finished a story for a year.


Working on:

  1. Beard implants trend piece
  2. Mo. defense contract industry as a function of the Arab Spring

Last three articles saved to my desktop:

  1. Turkey’s Thriving Business in Hair, Beard and Mustache Implants
  2. Appetite for destruction: the impact of the September 11 attacks on business founding
  3. Business under Fire: Entrepreneurship and Violent Conflict in Developing Countries

On getting it out

That this blog has been inactive for, say, two months is illustrative of the fact that I am afflicted by this funny little ailment that disproportionately affects writers called perfectionism.

It might also be the culprit behind that heinous run-on, but for the sake of deadlines, we’ll move on. This post is a shitty first draft. That is to say — and I’m paraphrasing here — I’m letting my authorial id run free. I don’t even know if authorial is a word, but it’s ok. I can go back and fix it later.

For writers like me, i.e. the ones who spend time Googling the smell of paint and agonizing over whether they should use a comma or an em dash, this is an important exercise. My high school swim coach used to make us visualize our sectional races. My shrink made me visualize eating once. This is kind of like that, except (marginally) less traumatic.

I’m trying to think of a way to phrase this without sounding like a tenth-grade book report and failing miserably. Prost to pressing on. I feel this weird sense of writer zen after devouring the first 43 pages of Bird by Bird. I think I described myself on the first day of class as a wayward senior. There are days on which I would actually rather do anything but write, including:

  1. Getting a root canal.
  2. Exercising.
  3. Watching Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance.

On these days, I’ll scroll through page after page of cat photos and social justice microblogs thinking intermittently of the work I haven’t finished and of the job I’ll never get and of my sophomore English teacher and how he’ll be so disappointed in me even though we haven’t spoken in three years. 

Deep breath.

Then I found out that every writer has those days. In fact, most days are those days. There’s this episode of Girls in which some auxiliary character says something like, “Most people say they’re writers because they don’t want to do anything.” 

I admit that I used to be one of those high and mighty literary types. You know, the ones whose cups of elegant prose runneth over. It still flows these days, but it’s the kind of flow you get the morning after you combine liquor and Mexican food.

In keeping with the graphic analogy, though, I always feel better when it’s out. And I’ll always forget how much it sucked. Writing, thy name is masochism. 

the holy sabbath

it’s a testament to my upbringing that a
gunshot — or six — feels like i am going
to die.

mine will be a city death, the kind
that goes unnoticed til i waft through
the vents.

i lie back down and breathing tastes
metallic, and i stare into the space behind
my eyelids,

and wonder who will feed my cat, if
he’ll lap the mess of blood and brains
like milk.

(i fed him bacon once and i
think it’s not so different
from that.)

or how many times landlord will have
to clean the carpet, if i am as stubborn
in death.

good mmorning

there is grit in the
sink, and it’s like tiny
flakes of face, you know,
sticky the way honey’s
sticky — and wages, or
at least i think so.
i should have gone to class,
or learned to read
tea leaves but what do
dead cells have in common
with earl grey, besides
the grey? and,
anyway, i don’t know if
i shed my future or past
or anything at all
but drugstore mascara
and the film of sleep.

(ob)noxious

The fastest way to dislike a food is for your shit to smell exactly like it in the morning.

A pack of hot dogs, 11 cents apiece, plucked from the sale cooler Memorial Day weekend.

A mouth-watering meal turned eye-watering excrement, food fit only for the porcelain gullet it disappears into with a sickening, watery belch.

You are embarrassed, despite living alone. You will never speak of this again. You flush twice to be sure and shrink beneath the banal gaze of your cat watching dutifully from the hallway.

You are repulsive.

The fastest way to self-satisfaction is for your writing to sound exactly like the book you read last week.

A free William Faulkner paperback, abandoned on some corner table in a coffee shop your frequent for its diversity, which really means it has one black barista and a homeless man outside.

Acclaimed experimental narrative turned clumsy homage to the prose you were moved to Tweet while reading.

You are proud. You wonder if anyone will Tweet your spiraling account of consciousness. You post to Facebook twice to be sure and swell as your blog hits creep up, five, nine, thirteen.

You are brilliant.

This post is about boobs

DISCLAIMER: I give all the props in the world to Angelina Jolie for making a public statement about her personal choice to seek preventative care. The following consternation is directed not at Jolie, but at the harmful media attention heaped upon her shiny new silicone.

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Let me begin by expressing how happy I am that the first-choice publication of “thought leaders” the world over (The Atlantic) has taken time to highlight breasts. And not just any breasts — famous breasts. Breasts we all know and love.

I say highlight, but perhaps I mean mourn. Angelina Jolie’s breasts are dead. Don’t worry, though: Angie remains all woman.

Hit it, Eleanor Barkhorn:

That [Angelina] can lose the part of her body most closely associated with female sexuality and still feel fully female is an astonishing statement.

Let’s forget for a moment that this statement has overlooked the entire female reproductive system.

What does Barkhorn’s logic say about me and my A-and-a-half-cups? Or my grandmother, who has 1.5 breasts because she opted out of reconstructive surgery after her partial mastectomy? Or my mother, whose breasts are a third of the size they once were thanks to surgical reduction?

Must my feeling of femininity be proportional to the amount of fatty tissue hanging off my chest? You remain “fully female” after you’ve lost it. How about if you never had it at all?

When did being a woman, let alone feeling like a woman become tied directly to sexuality? Barkhorn, after all, has only this takeaway to offer:

A woman is still sexy, even after she has her breasts removed and reconstructed. It’s hard to imagine a person who can say that with more authority than Jolie.

This empowerment bullshit is a thin veil over the same old dogma: If you are a woman, your value, to yourself and to society, is contingent upon your sex appeal. Attributing that to a woman doesn’t make it ok.

And refusing to accept that shouldn’t be a stigma. I can’t get past what it means to be a woman because, contrary to popular belief, being a woman is fluid and multifaceted and complicated and exhausting.

SEE: What it’s like to be on the walk of shame all the time

SEE: Facing sexism as a female reporter

See craned necks and cat claws and condescension. See your favorite leading lady fall into the arms of male affirmation rather than hard work. See shaving and makeup and short skirts and crop tops and flower crowns and Lana fucking Del Rey.

BUT IT’S OK, YOU GUYS, BECAUSE ANGELINA STILL FEELS GREAT ABOUT HER FAKE BREASTS AND SO CAN YOU.

“These idealists tend to congregate around universities. There they find an amenable environment of young, impressionable, malcontented and ambitious individuals, individuals who, were they legends of yore instead of still-pimply and poor-personal-hygiene-sporting men and women in contemporary Asia, would be dashing off to slay dragons and triumph over genies, individuals, in other words, who give corporeal form to the term sucker.”

— Mohsin Hamid, “How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia.”

I know no other way than this

Wednesday, I was asked to write three takeaways from my second semester at the Columbia Missourian. I took 90 seconds to scrawl something incoherent on the corner of some page in my notebook.

The only takeaway is this: I am my own obstacle. When I get an assignment I don’t want to work on, the whole machine shuts down. Paralysis. I wish I had the resolve to say no, or better: to get over it. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I don’t know what is fulfilling. But it’s not this.

Not this.

The two scariest words in the English language.

I picked journalism from the pool of writing-based professions when I was 18. I’m too fickle to write a novel, too proud to put a brand on my expression, too terrified to risk a closeted existence of poverty and bad poetry. Reporting. You can learn to love anything with time.

I don’t know if it’s the atmosphere of journalism school, learning from old dogs wary to learn new tricks —
I don’t know if it’s my peers, who have taken truth as their paramour as nuns marry God, celibate and devoted —
I don’t know if it’s just me, a malcontent, a cerebral mess of hormones and dread —

— but I’m not ready to make this commitment. There is no certainty that one of us won’t change: that reporting won’t become more commercial, that I won’t become less idealistic. There’s no certainty that we were ever in love in the first place. There’s no certainty that we ever will be, or that I can be, or that there is any more fulfillment to be had in any other field.

I made a friend recently who told me she wished someone had suggested she wasn’t ready to be in school. Somehow, I can’t banish the thought. Ten thousand dollars times four, five, six years is a steep price to put on self-actualization.

There are so many coulds, and as many shoulds and woulds and wishes and to know none of them are options is crippling. Paralyzing. I don’t have a choice. I’ve made my bed. It’s hard to be capable when you’re stunted by claustrophobia.

It’s not this. But it is this. It can never not be this.