The core of success is the support of others

I was just updating my website last night with some of the stories I’ve written in the past year and was reminded by how encouraging this experience has been for me. 

Last year, I worked on about 80 assigned projects from March until December. Compared to the first year of many other freelancers, I’m pretty satisfied with my premiere year as a freelance journalist.

I can say with certainty that the reason I’ve been able to succeed so far isn’t by any means a singular effort. The majority of my assignments came from past editors or colleagues from my years as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union. 

Many of us, including myself, spend so much time focused on the negative. “I’m so tired” and “the weather is awful” are thoughts I see riddled on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Yes, there are times that can be severely frustrating, flat-out exhausting and incredibly ill-timed. But I think it’s always beneficial to stop and think about all the people that care and helped you succeed. I got to do that last night.

So, I want to say I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has had the faith in me in this past year to assign me a story or project. Because you believed in my abilities, I’ve been able to survive this first year. (Cue the R.Kelly song “I Believe I Can Fly.”

These guys thank you, too.

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Speaking of supporters, this photo was taken by my ultimate supporter, my husband, Mark. 

Here’s to a great February.

 

What I’m reading in 2014

I firmly believe the most ardent readers are the best writers.

I’ve been an intense reader since I was in the fifth grade. We moved from East Orlando to Windermere, Fla. – a quiet town that’s main features were its elementary school, the Ready Market and the neighboring library. I would ride my bike from my house to the library at least once a week to check the cart in the children’s section, then stop by the market for an Icee and some Twizzlers.

Our house was always scattered with copies of The Babysitters Club and the latest Fear Street edition from R.L. Stine. Occasionally I would get a copy for Christmas or for my birthday, and the pages were dog-eared and the covers tattered. I think my parents finally threw them out when I went off to college.

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Where the party was at in 1992.

I’m proud to say I’ve remained a persistent reader. I typically read literary fiction for several reasons, but mainly because reading reminds me how to properly propel stories forward and how to play with prose. But mostly, I just really, really enjoy it. I try to read about a book a week.

So, friends, I share with you my reading list for 2014. I usually keep a list on my nightstand of my to-do reading list, but I decided this was the year to make a list and finish it. It’s mixed with classics and modern releases. This year’s theme is, “I am 32 and should have read all of these books by now.”

What I’m reading in 2014

1. “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee- I read this book in high school, but I decided to re-read it. My oldest daughter is the same age as Scout is when the book begins, so I thought it would be fun to revisit.- Finished! I highly recommend anyone who read this in school to re-read it as an adult.

2. “Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt – I’m going to jump on the bandwagon.

3. “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

4.”Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig. Can’t believe I haven’t read this, but it’s been on my list for years.

5. “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

6. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach. I’ve wanted to read this since I would see Carol Brady reading it on “The Brady Bunch” movie. Or show- I can’t remember.

7. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. I will finish this before the movie comes out.

8. “Everything is Illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer

9. “Room” by Emma Donaghue

10. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Should have read this about five years ago.

11. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. I hang my head in shame that I haven’t read this one yet.

12. “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. A recent “Jeopardy” episode reminded me I need to read this.

13. “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut. See note on No. 11.

14. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

15. “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. I am prepared to cry.

16. “Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler

17. “The Way of the Flesh” by Samuel Butler

18. “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck- see No. 11 and No. 13.

19. “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie, see Nos. 11, 13 and 18

20. “House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton

21. “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert

22. “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith

23. “Scoop” by Evelyn Waugh.

24. “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene

25. “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb

26. “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton

Freelancing: The first year

February will mark the one-year anniversary of my decision to leave the Times-Union and become a full-time freelancer. Each day that has passed since has cemented that this was absolutely the best choice I could have made.

I’ve had a great year. I’ve been fortunate enough to volunteer regularly in Ella’s kindergarten class, which would have been impossible last year. It’s been other simple things I’ve enjoyed this year – like the ability to keep Lydia with me last Tuesday for a “just because” day and seeing Declan embrace toddlerhood full-steam.

I’ve also been able to work on some amazing freelance projects. Of course, I continue to work with the Times-Union, where I wrote the profiles for the 10 Who Make a Difference, updated the salaries database, created the most expensive homes slideshows and wrote several features, including:

I’ve also picked up a few more clients throughout the year. I’ve been fortunate enough to write stories for the Jacksonville Business Journal, Jacksonville’s Financial News & Daily Record, The Diocese of St. Augustine, Jacksonville Magazine and many others.

Here I am getting photobombed by a horse at the Catty Shack Ranch on an assignment for the Jacksonville News and Daily Record.

Here I am getting photobombed by a horse at the Catty Shack Ranch on an assignment for the Jacksonville News and Daily Record.

This has been a spectacular year for me, both personally and professionally. I’m incredibly grateful for the support I’ve received from friends and colleagues on this endeavor. My goal for 2013 was to be a more present parent while also trying to write stories that are new to me, and I think I’ve accomplished both this year.

Now it’s on to 2014. I’m going to face some new challenges this year – Declan is turning 2, God help us, Lydia will start kindergarten and Ella will begin first grade. I don’t know where the time has gone this year, but I’ve loved every day of it. Here’s hoping next year goes the same.

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These guys have had a pretty great year (from left Declan, Lydia and Ella).

Why I left the Times-Union – the long answer

I wrote the following the day after I gave my notice at the Florida Times-Union after nearly eight years of working there:

On a recent Saturday, I was at home, trying to squeeze in some work before running errands.

My daughters, who are 5 and 3, were coloring and getting dangerously close to using the crayons on the wall. I looked away from my laptop, and that’s when I saw it.

My 10-month-old son stood up and took three steps. And I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the first time, either.

I’ve just been too busy and preoccupied to celebrate, and sometimes even notice, his achievements. I was forced to finally face something I’ve known was inevitable for the past year. And I felt relieved.

It was time for me to leave my job at the Florida Times-Union as a reporter and be there for my children. It was time for them to be the primary recipient of my attention.

I’ve been working at the Times-Union for nearly eight years. I started when I was 23 and unmarried, and I’ll leave as a married mother of three.

I’ve had many jobs here and covered many things. For the past six months, I’ve been working on stories about the tuberculosis outbreak among Jacksonville’s homeless. I would spend all day and night, and after the kids were fed and bathed and put to sleep, reading reports by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and going through thousands of health department emails.

I was exhausted.

My goal was to try and get through each day, and if I didn’t go outside and scream or pull out my hair, I would consider it a success. I wanted to be a great journalist while being a great mom. I was finding it impossible. I made a decision, and it was time to leave.

This will come with changing some habits. One of my goals now is to be able to look at my 5-year-old daughter in the face instead of at my iPad when she’s telling me a story from school or singing a song.

When my son starts speaking more words, I want to be the first one to hear them. I don’t want to feel like I’m just getting by as a parent.

I’m not devaluing my experiences at the paper. It has been amazing. I’ve interviewed everyone from Gloria Steinem to a Jacksonville stay-at-home mom with 10 kids. I stood out in the rain during American Idol auditions for Jacksonville.com’s online coverage. I was eight months pregnant at UNF working on the Republican presidential debate. I’ve won some awards, made a lot of friends and worked really, really hard.

In a recent article published in the Atlantic, former state department director of policy planning Anne-Marie Slaughter argued in today’s economic and societal climate, it is not possible for women to “have it all.” Women are working longer hours and for less money to compete in the workforce.

Luckily, I have a very supportive husband so I can pursue this new adventure with our children. I’ll be a freelance journalist, so you’ll still see my name in the paper from time to time, but stories will be written when I’m not taking my kids to the doctor or to soccer.

Unlike Slaughter, I still think and badly want to believe women can have it all. I have deep admiration for women who have been able to achieve that balance. But for this woman at this point in my life, I’m choosing to be really stellar at something instead of adequate at two things, which was the only balance I could find.

I also realize many women don’t have the support I do, and I am in awe by their motivation to devote all of their energy simultaneously to their career and children. I have no doubt they are able to be successful in both realms.

For those women who are able to have a successful, full-time office job while raising children- nicely done. I admire your tenacity. But I won’t apologize for a decision that gives me complete peace.

It has been nearly two months since I wrote this, and I stand by my decision. I’m freelancing full time, but I often have a kid with me while I do it. I haven’t been stressed every time one of my children comes down with a cold and needs to go to the doctor. If I have to do something for them that can only be completed during work hours, I don’t have to strategize with my husband on who is going to take the time off to get it done.

I do, however, miss saying I work for the Times-Union. When people used to ask me what I did, I would always say with pride that I worked for the newspaper, in the newsroom. I would often get a look of awe, or a, “that’s so cool!” Now, when I say I’m a freelance writer, I get the polite smile.  That’s something that will take some adjustment.

As much as I miss impressing people with my job, I’ve also learned from it. I’ve learned you can have pride in what you do, and still do what you need to do as a mother. Dare I say, I may be having it all – just probably not with the same parameters most people expect. And I’m grateful.

Since I wrote this, journalist Allison Bird wrote the now famous piece, “Why I left news.” But for me, it was never about staying or leaving news, although I miss it deeply and relate to both sides of the debate. I love and have deep respect for my Times-Union family.

But the rush of a breaking news story or the feeling after a great interview never had a chance of competing with the flexibility I’ve gained by leaving. And who wouldn’t want to see these faces more?

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Jacksonville in gifs part 2

Well, since you guys loved the first set of Jacksonville in gifs from yesterday, I thought I would give you a bit more. I present Jacksonville in gifs: Part 2:

What I imagine the St. Augustine Alligator Farm zipline experience is like:

August:

When trying to avoid the kiosk sales people at the Avenues Mall:

When someone brings in a Biscotti’s dessert: 

When I saw the inside of the new courthouse for the first time: 

When I see someone from Jacksonville doing something stupid on national news:

 

After I eat a candy apple from Kilwins:

 

When I found out Mumford & Sons was coming to St. Augustine: 

When I read on Facebook that someone is at the beach while I’m working: 

The Landing at Night-  Expectations: 

Reality:

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When it rains in San Marco:

How my UNF students see me:

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When a Jacksonville politician replies to me on Twitter:

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When I’m trying to reach the soda fountain at Burrito Gallery: 

Jacksonville in gifs

So, it has been nearly eight months since What Should We Call Jax has been updated, and this makes me incredibly sad. So, in the meantime, I’ve decided to come up with my own gifs that celebrate Jacksonville’s cultural staples:

When Jacksonvillians have to drive in the rain:

When Alvin Brown says he’s taking something to the next level:

When it is cold in April:

When my kids want to go to the Orange Park Chuck E Cheese:

When everyone is out running the Gate River Run:

After I get coffee at Bold Bean: 

The Jaguars fan experience:

 

When I heard about One Spark: 

When I get a good parking spot at the St. Johns Town Center: 

Every time I hear about a shark sighting at a nearby beach: 

Blanding Boulevard:

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Costco on a Saturday: