Monthly Archives: September 2014

Small moments outshine major milestone

I applied for graduation yesterday. You know, that major event that caps one’s college career, the newfound prestige evident in ill-fitting commencement garb.

Yet it’s in the minute details of this semester that I’ve found the most joy and fulfillment.

While writing the Arabic alphabet yesterday for an assignment, I felt confident. I knew every letter, finally. Then, I received an at-the-time-unwelcome helping of humility in the form of one realization: I didn’t know how to properly write my own name.

The ego is a peculiar thing. It simultaneously motivates and endangers us.

Every week, I write a brief 100- to 150-word preview of Drake’s and Northern Iowa’s football games. They occupy little retail in the sports section of the Des Moines Register. But they remind me that sports are about more than scores and stats. They’re about building community, and I’m grateful to be a part of that larger goal.

I walked down to the Meredith Hall basement a few days ago and experienced a number of minute but impactful moments. I remembered my initial fear — and eventual comfort — in the realm of video editing and electronic news gathering. I remembered the semester-long dismantling of my journalistic ego, captured in the following mindset: “I’m the queen of print, so why should I learn this digital rubbish?”

And I remembered that about this time a year ago, I learned my No. 1 journalistic mentor and inspiration, Rick Tapscott, was ill. I recall the time (all right — times) I panicked in his office about a source, a lede, my future (or sometimes, all the above). One of Rick’s journalistic catch phrases was, “Get the name of the dog.” Translated, it means the small details and moments matter.

For a long time, I considered him solely a journalistic mentor. When I hit “submit” on my graduation application yesterday, when I completed what’s billed as a major moment and didn’t feel a thing, I realized Rick was more than a journalistic mentor.

What he taught me transcends the 100-150 words I write about football each week. It transcends Drake University and the Des Moines Register newsroom. Before my wannabe-philosopher self launches into some winding explanation of life’s minutiae, I’ll say it the best way I know: “Get the name of the dog.”

Re-learning to appreciate the nuances of language, English and beyond

When I edit, I communicate my irritation verbally, often in a rapid-fire rant: “Ugh, what, no, a semicolon is not used to link an independent clause and dependent clause! Why? Ugh, people!” I’m compelled to voice it for two reasons — one: the improper use of semicolons angers me, and two, I admit I feel the need to publicly assert my control over language.

In a world defined by uncertainty, I crave control, and for a long time, writing provided it. I could manipulate my language; therefore, I owned it. After one week into my final semester at Drake University, though, I’ve realized control over language is an illusion.

I’ve re-adopted the art of diagramming sentences. Yeah, remember that convoluted verb/noun web you hated in fifth grade? By reacquainting myself with terminology like “predicate” and “compound-complex,” I’ve realized I largely take linguistic structure and established conventions for granted.

I’ve been here forming sentences on the page but paying no attention to the underlying framework of my communication. The beauty of language, I naively thought, dwelled in word choice, content and concept.

Now back in the realm of diagrams and word webs, though, I’m consciously evaluating and appreciating the framework of what I do every day: communicate. Even when I include a “Look at me!” word, it lacks impact and meaning without structure. Humbly and quietly, structure often vanishes, blinded by the glow of a flashy word or literary device.

My perceived ‘control’ over language recently faced another wake-up call — the Arabic alphabet. What began with, “Why not learn Arabic? It could be kind of fun, right?” challenged my attitude toward the English language. Many Arabic sounds blend in my untrained ear, their variance unintelligible.

The subtle variations in Arabic revealed yet another thing I take for granted: the nuanced nature of language. Yeah, yeah, I know “said” and “claimed,” both denote the act of speaking but have dramatically different connotations. Yet, I rarely engage those nuances and instead focus on the pursuit of some enlightening concept or idea.

Each sound, noun, verb and punctuation mark determines and guides the content of writing in a way I too often take for granted, assuming I am somehow above such details.

Those details have humbly and quietly tolerated my ‘too-cool-for-you’ attitude for years. I hope it isn’t too late to repair the bond and maybe, improve my writing en route.