My parents used to blackmail me to play with other kids. A crisp $2 bill if I would show Natalie my Beanie Babies. Time-outs and stern talkings-to when I refused. Appointments with kiddie shrinks came just in time for my painful, pimple-faced adolescence. But there weren’t enough chapters in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to get me to fit in.
Last week, I stood atop the roof of Spectator, banging out some reading and eating a burrito. I looked down at a crowd of chattering high schoolers gathered outside Pinkberry, a couple walking lovingly, hand-in-ass-pocket, and rugby players who hustled up the stairs to the Heights, no doubt looking to split the house salad. I remembered myself at nine, watching neighbors and scribbling little stories from the top of a tree in our front yard. I often think it is this inclination toward aloneness, this separateness from everyone else that drew me to writing about other people’s lives. It was easier to watch a neighborhood game of capture the flag from afar—to see each move unfold below—than get caught in the fog of war, just like it’s easier to do interviews than it is to have conversations, to have sources instead of friends.
But then came Columbia Daily Spectator. Spec did what my parents, therapists, teachers, and peers never really could: It got me to play with the other kids.
Spec is the first place where I didn’t feel like an outsider. I went from creeping on the fringes of Haitian Students Association meetings to going “home” to a place where everyone knew my name and there was a Blue Moon waiting for me in the fridge.
I don’t want to get schmaltzy in this column, but dammit, how can I not?
I could have so happily continued to be that solitary journo kid at the top of the tree, the same way the Atlantic could’ve just been a monthly magazine forever. But my friends at Spectator wouldn’t let me off that easy, and as the story goes, the Atlantic’s editors forced the tired, old publication to go digital, to interact across new, innovative platforms. So much of journalism today is about surging forward and engaging with communities—not just telling stories, but creating meaningful relationships.
At Spec, I learned to sit on couches and shoot the shit with people I didn’t really know. I learned to hug and fist-bump whenever possible. I learned how to stand up to bullies, be they sources or other Speccies. I climbed down that tree, and thank the lord, there were legions of incredible people there to greet me.
I can only thank a few of them here:
Joy, Betsy, Ben, Thomas, Sam, and Alix, I would’ve been a little lost lamb without the mentoring and encouragement each of you gave me.
To all of the sassy bitches of 135, they really don’t make ’em better than you, do they?
Mikey, my lil’ bro, turns out freedom really ain’t nuthin’ more than missing you.
I learned everything I know about pluck, poise, and passion from you, Hannah.
To all the wonderful newsies, past and present, man, was I lucky to work with such a talented bunch. From scoring the chaplain’s digits to all-nighters with Occupy Wall Street, y’all humble and amaze me.
Sammy and Finn, you boys did everything way better than I ever could. Is it strange that the thing I’m most proud of is having you two take over?
Abby, my friend, chicklet, and now excellent editor, I am so glad we walked into that church last fall.
To my friends, roommates, and family, thank you for being there for me, whether that meant reading my pieces of crappy college journalism, bear-hugging me when I was down, or understanding why I didn’t call enough (sorry again about that, Mom and Dad).
Jacob, you were, without question, the best scoop I ever got around here. Thanks for everything, but most especially for letting me write about your strange courtship rituals.
Sarah, to quote Virginia, how could two people possibly be happier than we have been? Your friendship—from that first mint tea at Hungarian to gin and juice on Plympton to Sauvignon Blanc in the office last week—has meant everything to me.
And to everyone I see from the top of 2875 Broadway—readers, sources, everyone—thanks for getting me (and Spec) outta that damn tree.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in English and human rights. She was a deputy news editor on the 134rd volume, news editor on the 135th managing board, and a training editor on the 136th volume. She is an arts columnist.