In the face of distress

After shooting photos and gathering a story for a project, I felt parched. My shoulders were sore and hanging heavy, and my neck was aching from holding my head up for so long. As I was walking down the metropolitan street I was on, the one filled with tall buildings and all kinds of people that were masked, well dressed, and homeless; I knew I needed a drink.

I walked into the closest bar, one that I had ventured into on the odd night here and there. While I was putting on my grubby mask, I was feeling stupid for putting the damn thing on. The mask was very bright and colorful, and it showed a beach, the bright sun, and good times.

I wasn’t feeling in touch with it.

As I walked in, I was met by dim lights and dark wooden furniture that robbed any light from the outside of its shine. I sat down at the bar and removed my mask. What a dumb rule, though perhaps I am the dumb one going in with ease.

Anyway, the bartender was a woman with dark brown hair wearing a black t-shirt and dark pants. She had very fair skin that shone despite the dingy lighting of the bar; she came up to me right away and took my order. Just a pint of beer. A stout. Nothing special.

After my order, I asked how business was for her. She remarked with an eyeroll and a huff. Guess it’s a slow one.

I said, “I’ve been in school for journalism, and getting around collecting stories is tough; I can’t imagine how making a dime is any easier.”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “You’re in journalism?” she asked.

“That I am,” I said proudly.

“I’m also in journalism!” she exclaimed.

That made me smile, and even though she had a black mask on, I was certain she was smiling too. It was nice to share that commonality.

“What’s that been like?” I asked.

She shared her experience with me. We had another thing in common: we be old timers.

Well, I guess I should give myself some credit. I am still young, but I feel older. She is an old one in her class, but she has kept her head down for the most part.

“I don’t even worry about how I look. I’ll fire up my camera every time, and I always got my grey sweatsuit on with my hoodie over my head. My classmates don’t fuck with me,” she said in a very proud way.

This bartender, whatever her name was, seemed friendly, and she didn’t strike me as someone that would cause fear or anxiety to another person, but you can never judge a book by it’s cover, I’ve learned that lesson at least.

“All my journalism friends and other journalists I know are big drinkers, so it’s no surprise to me that you’re one. I have met so many in here,” she says.

I was taken a back by this. Journalists must have it rough with their coping methods if drinking is their way out.

“I don’t drink that much,” I lied, a lie I believed to be true.

“Well, that’s my experience at least.” She started making her rounds after that, the bar was busier than before.

I always have a book with me, and this time was no different. I was reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, and it was a tough read to say the least.

Anytime I started reading sentences that were describing murder, amputations, or cannibalism, I cringe and have to put the book away for a second. Ellis is a damn creep, but it’s good that he makes those things horrifying to read.

The bartender was back, and she asked me if I had read a book.

“Sorry, what book is this?” I asked.

She said, “Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman. You haven’t heard of it?”

I closed my eyes while I drank to signify no.

She added, “It really helped me rationalize journalism. I think all journalists should read it.”

This piqued my interest. I was a sucker for simple sales tactics, especially ones that refer to me and who I am, despite the fact I hate when people think they know me.

She wrote it out on a piece of paper, along with her name and number.

I lost that piece of paper, but I remembered the book.

In the months that passed since that meeting, I bought the book and read from it, but very slowly. I am usually a quick reader, but this one has been difficult for me.

For starters, it’s all based on the lie of news. That’s right, news is a joke. A form of media used, like any other, to get people to fill their lives up and be distracted by the mundane; essentially, what social media is for us nowadays.

After reading the first couple chapters, I found myself hesitating to keep reading it. After all, I am in journalism to understand and report on the news, and to give voices to those that have none.

Every time I look at that cover, with the two people with TV’s as heads, I scowl and grow concerned. Am I going to contribute to the endless swath of information that is considered useless?

My late professor, Jim Cunningham, believed in the news. He spoke proudly of his interviews and his experiences with some of his sources. He gleamed when he provided his anecdotes for his lessons. His obituary said that he had been involved in telling the news since he was young.

Man, not me. I mean, when I was 11, me and my sister acted out our own TV talk show right on our basement living room in Whitehorn, which is a neighborhood in the northeast of Calgary. I was the host, and my sis was the guest, though sometimes I was both the guest and the host. We used a recorder on our PC, which had Windows XP. We were lucky enough to get a computer right when Windows XP was released.

I had a lot of fun doing that, mostly because it was fun to make my siblings laugh, but also because I could act and not worry about being right about what I was saying. We had a tough childhood with angry, frustrated parents, so this was a nice release.

Anyway, I hadn’t thought about journalism or the news till I learned who Christopher Hitchens was, and later Albert Camus.

A woman I was seeing briefly was an enormous admirer of Hitchens, she even had him tattooed on her calf. The times we sat and drank Caesars and shared and talked was always nice, and she used those times to talk about nothing, that is till something like religion popped up, which was how I learned about Hitchens, the face of anti-theism.

Hitchens had this charisma when he spoke about religion, that you could not help but agree with him. He was very factual, not using emotions to make his points. Despite not using emotional appeals, he was over-the-top with his delivery when he spoke. I bought a few books that contained essays that Hitchens wrote, and some that had news stories as well. He writes quite well. He always ties everything into a nice little bow at the end, whereas his TV personality was quite brash and confrontational. He really didn’t give a shit what people thought of him, and that was also admirable.

Anyway, back on track, I admire both Camus and Hitchens, but I am getting a little long in the tooth. All my classmates (save for a couple) are much younger than me. They have their whole lives ahead of them, and this is a third try for me at making something out of nothing.

So here I am, a few months later, sober, and with a book that is half finished that challenges journalism. Boy I sure can procrastinate.

It’s not everyday that you receive something that challenges you to change course. How often do you stop halfway to your destination and turn around? If we as humans stopped every time something challenged us, we would still be hanging out in caves, or worse: dead and extinct.

I’ll admit, I was faced with a challenge over a year ago, and if I knew what I do now, I would of looked the devil in the face and laughed. But I was scared, and had no way to deal with life. Admitting that I was afraid, that I was a recluse, and that I was not in touch with my emotions has also been tough for me. My whole career before had me preach the importance of facing our fears and challenging them for growth, but it appears I neglected my own advice.

Life will always find a way to throw you a curve ball, if not in your work life, then in relationships and your social life. Sometimes both, but what does that mean?

It means life is challenging us to grow beyond that point. To seek answers, to build community, to find a helping hand. If we don’t do those things, well, I suppose stewing is the next option. But what does that do?

I blamed so many people in my life over my struggles, whether my financial situation, the lack of a partner in my life, or not having a grip on my emotions. All those things were in my control, and only I can do something to find the answer to those problems.

Sometimes, that means going on a journey into our minds, to reflect and see what exactly it is that causes us to tick. I did this for almost two years, and I still don’t know anything, but I do know I was the cause of my problems.

I am going to finish that book, even if it means going against my instinct and belief in journalism. And I am going to continue to learn in this tough environment, because I know I will grow from it.

If you think about it, we as people learn from every situation we find ourselves in, and we can even learn form every person we meet in our lives.

It’s all there, we just need to be willing to learn. That guard of knowing everything can halt us, but I feel good about knowing nothing. And I mean that, I know absolutely nothing, and I can say that with confidence after tapping the ol’ noggin.

If we know everything, what is the point of learning?

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