A promise to keep on

11231036_10206439186115425_7479951697701760541_n-2 For so long, I wanted nothing more than to go to grad school for journalism in New York City.

I worked my butt off to perfect my applications so I would get accepted to Columbia, CUNY or NYU. I took my personal essays and rewrote them tons of times, each time filled with even more dread and anxiety.

And then I waited for several months, heart in my throat, for the response. I vacillated between certainty that I would get in and the absolute knowledge that I would be rejected from every single one of my dream schools.

Until the emails started coming in: CUNY, yes; NYU, yes; Columbia, yes.

I cried. My dreams were coming true. Within a few months, I accepted NYU's offer of admission, packed my belongings into a bunch of boxes and drove from South Carolina to New York City.

My dream was coming true.

And now I don't know how to go forward.

Because I don't know if I can do this, after all. I don't know how to be unafraid, how to go after a story like a hound dog and not care who gets in the way.

I'm terrified, every night, of failing. I'm filled with anxiety, wondering if this is really what I'm supposed to do with my life. Perhaps I'm better suited to a simpler life, a life with fewer hardships and less angst.

I got into journalism because I wanted to tell stories. OK, that's not exactly true. I got into journalism because I liked writing and wanted another avenue; and the more I learned about it, the more I got into it, the more I discovered the possibilities. Journalism offers a chance to tell people's stories when they can't do it themselves, to give hope sometimes and yes, to uncover injustice and lies and generally bad things.

The longer I spent studying journalism, the more passionate I became. My first "real-world" work experience was at the Sochi Winter Olympics, when I spent nine days putting together video packages with other students. As hard as that experience was, as many blisters as I got and as many late nights as I lived through, I would have stayed for weeks and weeks longer.

Then I did a summer internship, and that just set my passion into stone. I got to cover events and tell stories of incredible people and that's when I knew, that's when I knew for sure, that I was going to pursue this for the rest of my life.

And now I don't know. Now I'm living my dream and facing the prospect of that all coming to naught. Because what if my fear is going to keep me from doing this job? What if my instinct to believe people when they say what they're doing is good will actually keep me from being great at the job I've dreamed of for so many years?

What if I'm standing in my own way?

Maybe I should have just kept to creative writing. I shouldn't have gotten into such a demanding, high-pressure field.

Maybe this is why The New York Times keeps rejecting my internship applications: they sense, in the way that I can't, that I'm not suited for this career. They've seen through the facade and understand that I'm not going to add anything to their newsroom, because I have nothing to add.

I'm in the midst of an identity crisis. For the past four years, I've been a journalist. Sometimes a student journalist, sometimes an intern and sometimes a freelance journalist, but always a journalist. I don't know who I am if I'm not that anymore.

More importantly, I don't want to give it up. This is what I'm passionate about. I mean, I've dreamed of this for such a long time! I want nothing more than to be a successful journalist living in New York City.

I know the field is hard, and the city is hard, and the person I am today is too weak and untested to survive either.

But I'm not willing to give up my dream just yet. I'm not willing to let a few blows knock me out completely.

I will keep pursuing this career as long as I can, until I'm bloody on the ground and unable to get back up. I will fight to be Karis Rogerson, journalist extraordinaire. Nothing can keep me down.

This is my dream. I'm scared of continuing to pursue it, but for once in my life, I'm not going to let my fears keep me down.

Resolute in 2016

Despite myself, I've fallen into the belief that today marks the beginning of a grand new life, of a great adventure, a brilliant re-imagining of myself. By Dec. 31, 2016, I'll be a new woman, an accomplished woman, an everything-is-right-in-the-world woman. 22940364744_f22f58c216_o

There's this part of me that believes that and this part of me that doesn't. But today, on the first day of the new year, I'm letting the part of me that believes take over. I'm writing resolutions and swearing to follow them through and hoping that in 365 days, I will be everything I am not today.

Most of my resolutions are writing-based, because as great as 2015 was for my journalistic career (getting into grad school, having my first full-time internship, becoming a freelancer at The Mix and blogging for I Am Second), I still have so many unfulfilled writing dreams.

I mean, I want to be a [published] novelist! I want to be a [published] poet! I want to be a [prolific] essayist! And I want an internship in New York City for this summer.

With that in mind, here is a snippet of my 2016 writing resolutions — I'm posting publicly to be held accountable publicly. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a prolific, writing-filled, exciting 2016!

  1. Write one poem every day. So far, I'm batting 100 on this one. That's right, it might only be partway through Jan. 1, but I've already logged one poem for 2016. It can only get better from here!
  2. Write one short essay every week In my Personal Essay class last semester, we did these 20-minute writing exercises that resulted in three fairly well-developed pieces I'm trying to publish. My goal is to do that every week this year: sit down with an idea and a timer set for 20 minutes, and just write. By the end, I should have 52 short essays I can try to publish!
  3. Write one long essay per month Again in said class, we worked on longer, reported essays. They were written in the first person and I got to add my personal flair to them, but they involved research and a whole lot of thought. I want to write one of these essays per month. ***This will most likely be the toughest resolution to stick to, so I'm counting on you to help me! I want to get started within the first three days of every month, so badger me about it!
  4. Finish two novels and do NaNoWriMo This sounds like a handful, but remember, I'm already 100 pages into one of the novels I'm planning on writing — The Langone Five — so I just have to finish it during the semester, write another one during the summer, and then do NaNo in November. Piece of cake, am I right? *laughs wildly, then cries*
  5. GET AN AGENT This is the big one. This is the one that's partially out of my control. THIS IS THE ONE I DESPERATELY, DESPERATELY WANT TO SEE COME TO FRUITION. I've been dreaming of getting a literary agent since July 2014, and I've been querying and writing and revising and querying and waiting and praying and hoping and — you get the picture. I really need an agent to pursue my dream of being a published novelist. 

So there you have it. Five writing goals for 2016. Oh, and meanwhile, I'll finish grad school, work part-time, intern and be involved at church. It's gonna be a crazy year, guys, but it's gonna be great. I'm so excited to see what comes of it!

Here's hoping 2016 is full of nothing but good things and dreams come true. I'm letting myself go wild and fully believe that today can be the beginning of a new phase — the start of something new, if you will.


Exploring 9/11 as a journalist

I honestly didn't think I would make it. No joke.

I got to school on Thursday morning, as a 22-year-old graduate student, and hid in the bathroom crying because I was so petrified that I would fail my first assignment.

You see, the 13 other Reporting the Nation/New York students and I had to make our way down to ground zero on Friday and find a story relating to the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that affected not only America but also the rest of the world in an irreparable way.

And as of Thursday morning, I had no idea what I was going to do.

So I didn't think I would make it. Every possible negative thought and emotion filled me and convinced me that I was going to fail out of grad school in less than a week. Grad school! That thing I've been dreaming of for the past year, that was supposed to send me on my way into a great journalistic career.

Yet by some miracle, I managed to drag myself out of bed yesterday  morning, throw on some clothes, and make my way downtown. I met up with some of my classmates at a Burger King near ground zero and we anxiously stared at the crowds of tourists and NYPD officers filling the sidewalk in front of us. Of all the days to work on our first assignment, I thought...

Sept. 11, 2001 literally changed the face of the earth. It was one of the biggest events in modern history. And 9/11 is not an anniversary I've ever felt compelled to take lightly. I was worried that the people I approached would think I was some sort of callous, opportunistic journalist trying to capitalize on a tragedy in order to publish a story. I had this fear that I would get yelled at in public and accused of being heartless.

What I really wanted to accomplish yesterday was paint a truthful picture of 9/11 today. I wanted to explore how the events from 14 years ago are still affecting modern-day Americans. I wondered, do we still treat the anniversary with the same sense of respect and horror that we did in 2002, or have 14 years been enough to help us forget?

IMG_0017Despite all my misgivings, I eventually left that Burger King and started approaching people. Century 21 had set up a mural on Church Street, just a few blocks from the memorial, where passersby were encouraged to leave messages in honor of lost ones (seen to the right). It provided an excellent way to meet people and talk to them about what 9/11 means to them.

Although I didn't have a story in mind when I started asking people to talk to me, I quickly found some similarities within the interviews. People expressed a sense of pride and patriotism toward their country as well as frustration with how the atmosphere on 9/11 has changed — a feeling that many have forgotten just what those numbers mean and have moved on with their lives to the point that the anniversary of the Twin Towers falling is just another day.

After a quick lunch with classmates, I went back to school and wrote my story. It shares the opinions of three annual visitors of the memorial on what 9/11 means and how the tragedy has made America stronger.

I don't think I'll ever say that yesterday was "fun." As far as stories I've told, it's not one that I enjoyed researching and writing. But, just as my sources believe 9/11 has made America stronger, I believe this experience made me a better writer and a more fearless reporter.

The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what other people think of me or what motives they ascribe to my work. All that matters is that I approach every article as an opportunity to tell someone's story and not an opportunity to advance my own career. I think if I ever reach the day that I care more about selling a story and attracting readers than I do helping someone find their voice, I'll know that I've failed.

I'm officially a graduate student

Well, I had my first class as a grad student this week! On Thursday I woke up bright and early and caught an 8 a.m. train downtown. And because I'm me, I checked my watch approximately 5,000 times on the way, terrified that I was going to be late. When the time came to transfer trains, I elbowed my way through the crowd, oblivious to who I was throwing out of my way, and jumped onto the "6" train just in time.

Taisha Henry took this creeper shot of the class.

To my great pleasure, the class, "First Amendment Law," is comprised entirely of fellow "Reporting the Nation/New York" students. It looks like it's shaping up to be a lively discussion-based class, which of course is super exciting. And don't let the name fool you; apparently, we'll be discussing journalism ethics as much as anything else. And don't let the picture fool you — we won't be having our computers open very often.

And again, because I'm me, when class ended I found myself disappointed that I don't class again until next Tuesday. This has been, by far, the strangest first week of classes I've ever had. It's been positively relaxing, and I'm not entirely sure how to handle that.

After class, a group (12 out of the 14) of us went out to lunch together. That's when I decided that this whole grad school thing is pretty grand. I mean, I get to spend all of my time focusing on the field I'm passionate about, and I get to do so alongside other people who share my interests. What's not to like?

Lunch was also when my happiness in having chosen NYU over CUNY and Columbia was solidified. There's something incredibly awesome about the — buzzword coming — community you get to form when you're a part of a small group of people working together a lot.

Of course I hope to make friends outside of my concentration and even my school. But that doesn't mean I'm mad about the fact that I have an essentially built-in group of people to hang out with and go through this crazy experience with.

And don't let this week fool you — the rest of my time at NYU will be far from relaxing, believe me. Once classes really get rolling, once I start working on my outside-of-class reporting assignments, once I have my first day of work, things will get a little more insane. And I'm anything but mad about that.

For now, though, I guess I can relax in this Labor Day weekend and wait for the madness to truly begin.

A tale of 24 hours in New York City

Holding the keys to my first apartment! We arrived at 10:30, driving through a tree-lined residential neighborhood to the building that is my new home. As I ran up the front steps to gather the keys, my mother prepared herself: it was photo-taking time. Obviously we took one with my new keys. I am so excited to be here.

Then we moved boxes from the car into my small bedroom. When I say small, I mean it's just about the perfect size for me. Just about.

After an hour of that, my parents and I boarded the "J" train from Jamaica Avenue and rode about 45 minutes into Manhattan — yeah, my neighborhood is pretty far from downtown. But the train ride is mostly elevated, and I've got a great view and some fun podcasts/books/news articles to entertain myself with, so I'm not worried.

We stopped by 20 Cooper Square, otherwise known as the home of NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, otherwise known as my home away from home. There, I interviewed with Prof. Mitchell Stephens to see if he would let me help him do research for a biography he's writing — I know, I thought it sounded perfect, too!

The interview lasted an hour, and the whole time I couldn't figure out how it was going. I can usually tell, can usually read people, but this job that I wanted so much was proving itself to be somewhat difficult. In the end, I was given a stack of papers and told to fact-check. I'm pretty excited, not gonna lie. Total nerd alert.

Nerd alert No, 2

And then I picked up my NYU ID card!

We had a delicious lunch at Katz's Delicatessen, which is an experience in itself. We walked into a large room filled with people where a brusque man handed us a pink ticket with the warning that if we lost it, we would be forced to pay a $50 fine. Yikes. Another man, who called my mother "baby," which totally threw me off, showed us to our table. I ordered a reuben sandwich and am planning on eating the second half for lunch today. Cause it was absolutely huge.

Afterwards, we rode home and spent the evening unpacking. We've made a ton or progress. All the boxes are empty and what remains to be done involves personalizing the place — curtains, shelves of knickknacks, and a bookshelf.

I was in bed by 9:15 p.m. I have definitely mastered the NYC party life ;)

I'm not going to lie; when I went to bed last night I was feeling incredibly unsure of myself. During the drive up, I sent this text to a friend:

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And while I knew that the second part was true, I was really feeling the first part. It didn't hit me until we drove into the city that I'm really doing this, this thing that I've dreamed about for three years. I'm moving to New York City. I'm going to grad school for journalism. I'm staking everything on the hope that this will work out and be my future.

The fear that I'm wrong is overwhelming. So going to bed last night, I was filled with unease and worry.

I woke up at peace and contented. I looked around my room and thought, "This is home." I went for a walk around the neighborhood, where I forgot for a second that I'm in New York and I smiled at a stranger.

He did not respond in kind. Lesson learned.

I also got lost, but refused to pull out my GPS and managed to make my way back home. In doing so, I've gained an understanding of the layout of this place, and I feel even more at home.

I honestly can't believe this is my life right now. And as scared as I am, I know that if I hadn't taken this step, I would regret it forever. I would spend every day wishing I were here, wishing I were stepping out into the blind and praying for God to catch me on the way down.

And yet I feel so okay. Because no matter what happens, God will catch me. I might live in this city for the rest of my life — I hope that's what happens. But I might not. Either way, it will be alright.

I've been in the city for 24 hours now. I can't wait for the thousands of hours to come.

*drumroll please* And the future holds...

...a summer internship at the Messenger in Madisonville, Kentucky, and a year and a half studying at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Yep, come Dec. 2016, I will be Karis Rogerson, M.A.

For the first time in months, I know what I will be doing after graduation! And I'm beyond excited about it. Because just a few months ago, on Jan. 1, this is what I journaled:

It's the New Year! The year I graduate...the first New Year's Day in my life when I don't know where I'll be or what I'll be doing come the next New Year's Eve. It's thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I mean...seriously, where will I be? WHO will I be? Literally the only person who knows is God.

I swear I wasn't lying when I said it was thrilling, but obviously the truth leans a little more heavily toward the "terrified" side. Anytime you don't know what the future holds, there's bound to be a whole lot of fear and trauma involved. And I finally can say that I have some idea of what's going to happen. Of course, anything could change and I might wake up one morning and realize that God wants me to do something completely different. But for now, this is the plan, and here's how we got there...

First about the internship. Last November, I began applying to hordes of paid journalism internships. I don't even remember all the different places I applied to, but they ranged from The New York Times to The Baltimore Sun and the Google Journalism Fellowship. One of the organizations through which I applied is the Kentucky Press Association, which facilitates about 20 internships a year. Paid internships. And on Good Friday, I got a call from the Messenger saying they wanted me! After driving three and a half hours to get there for an interview, they offered me the internship and I accepted it a few days later.

I will be living in Madisonville with an older couple (who, apparently, are also hosting two baseball players) and I begin May 26. I am excited.

And now onto the bigger news: grad school!

I applied to four schools: Columbia University, the City University of New York (CUNY), New York University (NYU) and Northwestern University. And somehow, through some miracle or act of God, I got into all four!

As convinced as I originally was that I was going to end up at Columbia, my thoughts started changing in February when I got my acceptance to CUNY. Did I really want to get my degree in just ten months, or would I rather take some time to enjoy my grad school experience? Would I rather be one of 230, or one of 10 or 15?

So, soon after spring break ended, I bought my ticket for a weekend in New York to visit Columbia, CUNY and NYU.

And that trip is what sold it for me. I walked into the NYU journalism building at 20 Cooper Square, met Yvonne Latty, the director of the Reporting the Nation/Reporting New York department, of which I will be a part. She gave me a tour of the building and we had a long chat, which completely won me over.

But my visit with CUNY was also amazing. I went to a brunch with six or seven other potential students, met faculty members and current students, ate bagels and had all sorts of questions answered. And I walked away wondering--CUNY or NYU?

Y'all, I'm gonna be a bobcat. A graduate bobcat :) Photo cred: Becca Patton

NYU. The answer is, and always will be, NYU. Because I want to be a part of Yvonne Latty's program. Because I want to be a member of that excellent network of alumni. Because they tripled my scholarship. Because I know that I am wanted. Because I don't want to hide behind the walls of an Ivy League school or be immersed in touristy New York. Because I want to feel the heartbeat of New York City, and I think NYU can do that for me.

Go Bobcats, y'all :)