Reflection by Katherine Speller

katherine spellerI think one of the best bits of writing advice I was ever given was pretty simple: “you have to know when to retract your claws and let the damn thing go.” I’m mid-retract from a lot of things and I’m trying hard to keep those words close. Paired with the only pseudo-wisdom I ever seem to dispense these days, vague as it, I suppose I’ll just have to “do the thing” and take my own advice.

Well, kids, this is it. I never really put much thought into what I would say in this thing. It kind of snuck up on me, but we’re here. This exit is a bit more whimper than bang [1] for my tastes, but I know all things (books, newspapers, marathon production nights) must come to an end. And I’ve made peace with that.

I’ve had the privilege to work with a brilliant parade of writers, photographers and designers who consistently challenged and inspired the way I carried myself a journalist and a human. I’ve stopped my count at 52 different people on and off staff from the time I started to today. That is a deck of cards worth. Also, insane. I could hardly do the crowd of you justice, but I want it to be clear how grateful I am to have occupied the same space you all did..

But, now, I’m at the hard part. This is where I get emotionally volatile, sipping some wine out of an embarrassing mug and trying to put to words all these fuzzy, complex feelings [2] I have about the staffs I’ve served on [3]:

Julie, you were my first journalism teacher at SUNY New Paltz, when Dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a philosophy major. You gave me the kick-start I needed to fall in love with this craft and with this paper. But, aside from that, you’ve become such an important part of my life. I value your words of wisdom, your commitment to being empathetic and attentive and our bizarrely long telephone conversations more than you could ever know. We’ll be grey sisters until our hair is as grey as our hearts.

Ron (Andrew), you’re a troglodyte and I hope you enjoy your encyclopedias and literature. Though, as far as step-fathers go, I do think you really are the best one I could’ve been stuck with. Even if you’re a derp. Carolyn, I will circle you until my bones are no longer capable of orbit. I have yet to meet a person who wields the English language as fiercely as you do. I have yet to meet a person who feels things as fiercely as you do. I will always want to smear your writing all over my body and scream at people on the freeway.

Princess Johnbenet Brand-die, my beloved first nemesis. You were the plague upon my Features kingdom, stealing away my copy editors to the news section.  I’m sure that curse will likely never be broken as you bled on a secret pentagram somewhere under CSB 24. I was honored to be your on-staff Jewish writer, waiting in the wings with your “line!” and will forever be waiting for you to come twerk my macrame off my walls. You’re the most brilliantly hilarious person I know and I really am terribly sorry about that Tetanus article. Maria, if I could create a perfect situation it would be you, me and our cats watching serial killer documentaries, surrounded by glueten-free foods of your choosing. There is never a time when I don’t want to squeeze you. Rachel, your beauty is only matched by your skills as an editor and news writer. I still make goat sacrifices to you when I’m desperately trying to hit a word count. I probably always will. Molly, catch the pearl and ride the dragon’s wings with me. I am grey-tful that of all the gin joints in all the world, you walked into ours.

Zan, you challenged me as a page editor and writer from the beginning. Oddly enough, my first memory of you was you telling me you liked my review but that journalism would ruin me as a writer. You were kind of right, but I try to fight it every day. I want you to come play private concerts for me, Stevie and Lois. Sam, it’s time for me to salute my Schwartz. You were my rock in the gunk through my time in Features and your brilliant mastery of wordplay and dad jokes is one of my ultimate inspirations. See you at the Punderdome.

And, finally, to round off the olden days [4], my long lost copy editors who left before me: Caterina, Tanique, Angela and April, you were all amazing. You made our section a beautiful thing, you beautiful things.

Now, to the hard part, my current staphlings. It’s hard to write this knowing I’ll be looking across the table at your delightful faces as you edit this for the numerous typographical, AP style and logical errors in this piece. So, please, don’t fucking look at me. Especially if I’m already crying [5].

Suzy, I pick you. You are one of the few people I find as funny as I find myself. Your comedic timing, mastery of impressions and shameless pursuit of the lolz is simultaneously inspiring and intimidating. I’m glad that you wormed your perfect curly head and freaky waggly tongue into my heart (and not through the backdoor.) I want a future full of showtune harmonizing, family dinners and boy band cardboard cut-outs. Never forget to seize the day, champ.

Robin, there’s something amazing about the way you see the world through your lens. It almost makes me wish I cared more about sports. You’ve got a brilliant eye that never fails to impress me when I catch a glimpse of your work and I hope that someday, when you’re a success, you’ll let me park my cardboard box in your garage.

John Tappen, you are one of the most bizarrely zen humans I’ve ever spent extended periods of time with. It kind of freaks me out, actually. Although I really do think we should have been enemies this semester, you somehow managed to evade it. I want to be like you when I grow up.

Lil Lief, I’ve enjoyed our extensive emotional heart-to-hearts this semester. You’ve been an almost-worthy adversary and I hope you someday find your cheeseburger in paradise or whatever. I hope you see how far you’ve come since joining staff and that you know how much faith I have in you that you’ll keep this monster of a paper running. Know I’ll always be here to talk about your feelings and to help you out when your head shot is too zoomed in.

Ben, it’s no small feat to take the helm of a section mid-semester. It takes a certain kind of strength to pull off all you did in the last year and you should be proud. I’m grateful you were there to keep that mutated (sort of inbred) Features baby breathing.

Roberto, your evolution from source to mole to emerging psychopath (Alfonso) has been a privilege to witness. I knobolobo you’ll do great things. Anthony, promise me you will never lose your enthusiasm. It gives me so much hope. Max, to this day the Puppet interview remains one of my favorite journalistic experiences at New Paltz. I’m glad you were along for the ride. You’re delightful.

Jen, I admire your ambition intensely. I have no doubts about your future success. It’s inevitable. I hope to watch “Supernatural” with you as soon as you’re caught up. Abbott, when I tell you I am obsessed with you, I want you to know those aren’t empty words. You’re unapologetic and authentic in the best ways, you princess. Maddie, you have one of the most relaxing presences of any person I’ve ever met. You’re too sweet for this world, if I’m going to be honest. Hannah, we lucked out having you on staff. You’re clearly too good for all of us, but I’m glad you slummed for the semester. Dana, you’ve dealt with the stress of your job with an amazing and impressive amount of poise and dignity. You go, girl.

Our support team: Emily, my favorite newsie. I’m so thankful for each and every hours you put in and the delightful manner in which you carry yourself. You’re the king of New York.  Nicole and Maya, you keep me grounded and sane and I am forever in your debt for taking on the maintenance of this baby.

And, finally, Cat. My old friend, this will be a night to remember. I hate so many things about this reflection and that it might even remotely sound like a goodbye to you is one of them. Together, we’ve seen too much and built too much. From our early days in the Julie Bird nest to driving our own horde of kids to soccer practice, you now, and always will, have my axe. It’s been a privilege to do so many of these wonderful things with you. We could’ve (and, really, we did) have it all, you fucking pretty boy.

But,  it’s time for me to wrap this up. This paper has seen me at my manic, my mortifying and my most delightful. It’s brought out the the best and worst in me, as the things that matter often do. And, though I’m really sure of so little right now, I know that I am better, more whole, because of this.

I have to believe in a few things: in the humility of typos in newsprint and hours waiting by the phone; in friendships forged over 3 a.m. copy and 7 a.m. vigils around temperamental computer screens; that empathetic, innovative and earnest reporting will endure and that, most of all, the sun will rise, “Born to Run” will play and The Oracle will come out on Thursday.

I need to know that these things are more powerful, more important, than those jaded enough to say we’re treading on long-dead ground. I need to know these things will endure because, as long as wordsmiths, psychos and storytellers can find one another between these orange walls and as long as journalism remains “literature in a hurry,” nothing here is dead.

A long time ago I wrote “There is merit to what you do.” And, man, do I mean those words more than any others I’ve written. There’s merit in finding the things that make your heart beat faster and I found all of you.

And if I leave behind nothing but these words and a lasting psychological aversion to the words “aspect” and “utilize,” well, that’s enough for me.

Carry on my wayward sons. They can’t stop the signal.

[1] If you thought a Katie Speller reflection would not include pretentious literary references and/or footnotes, you must be new.

[2] To work and play, collaborate and commiserate with a group of people the way one does when they join this publication forges a sort of bond that I’m reluctant to describe. Friendship, family, borderline-criminal-obsession are all close, but still too reductive for my tastes. So, for ye uninitiated folk, know this: our love (particularly in terms of one another) is violent. 

[3] Nothing gave me more anxiety than trying to order this shit, so I gave up. Know that the order is almost entirely arbitrary and I’m a total headcase.

[4]  I’d mention the already-graduated ghosts I was lucky enough to befriend from beyond the post post-secondary grave, but I’m already burning ink as it is. I love y’all too. Don’t make it weird.

[5] If any member of staff participates in an office pool re: when I’m going to start crying, I reserve the right to eviscerate them.