This past weekend, Veeka and I were back in DC; our first visit since last October. The second weekend of August had four events in it that I wanted to attend, but some shifts in my life several months ago (more on that in the next post) mandated that I attend the Association in Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) annual conference. This is for people who teach journalism. Being that it was in a city that I knew well, had lots of friends including a family with whom we could stay that included three small girls who wanted to spend time with Veeka, made it logical that this is where we should be. One of the more fascinating sessions I attended was on freelancing. One writer, Nate Thayer, had written a famous essay on his horrific experiences with The Atlantic that wanted him to write for nothing. I loved his in-your-face reply! I’ve so had it with places that want me to write for pennies, so I hurried over to that session. When you get information for free, usually it’s written by people with an agenda or who want ‘exposure’ for less than savory reasons. (Aside: Freelancers are always being asked to write for nothing because of the supposedly great exposure they’ll get by appearing on such-and-such a web site. Musicians are often asked to do the same. I remember hearing fellow harpists complain about being asked to play for nothing at weddings and other gatherings). Anyway, people in the session spent much time trashing Huffingtonpost, the most famous of the sites that won’t pay freelance writers. Another person on the panel commented that the pressure these days to get stuff out on the Web first is so intense that people no longer care whether it’s accurate. Nate got stuck with a plagiarism charge from some troll on the Internet that got repeated everywhere and only the Columbia Journalism Review, he said, bothered to contact him to see if it was true. But that is the Internet for you: Put it online now and check for accuracy later. “Once it’s out there, it can never be taken back,” he said of false stories. “It’s really dangerous. There’s no correction or retraction.”
Other workshops weren’t so inspiring. One man spent his entire session apologizing for being a “middle-aged white guy” until I nearly keeled over from boredom. Another session was on mistakes professors often make, which I really liked. They had some good suggestions for how to figure out the causes of student discontent – justified or not – and deal with it. Could have used that advice this past year with some of the passive-aggressive folks I encountered. There was a bunch of stuff I picked up, as conferences held in Washington always get good speakers in that so many interesting people live close by. I managed to see a few friends in the evenings, mostly in Hyattsville, which is where we were staying. I got to see the old house and the changes therein – the yard is fenced now for the sake of the owners’ new dog – such as the chocolate mimosa I planted, which was flourishing. Drove 30 miles south on I-95 to see one friend and got caught in a nasty back-up. I’ve had none of that sort of traffic in west Tennessee. The Beltway is as nasty as ever. Also got to see my brother Rob and his wife Jan on our way to the airport.
In all, too short a stay but at least we got back briefly and realized how much we missed everyone and how lonely it’s been in Tennessee. Other than the little girl pictured atop this post, Veeka – after a year here – really has no local friends. No one ever calls us to invite her over or relieve me. Play dates are unknown here. It is not personal, really. I have gotten to know one of my neighbors a few houses away who’s a widow. She too complains that she has never connected here and wishes she could go back to the farm community she once knew. It is very insular here. Never thought the Mid-South would be like this.