“Muscle Shoals”– A hit in my book

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First-time director Greg Camalier’s “Muscle Shoals,” the documentary film about the almost mythical music history of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, was playing in select theaters in September, but I didn’t get a chance to watch it until last weekend. It was definitely worth the wait.

Before I go any further, I need to come clean. This review might be a little biased– I’m a history buff who loves music, and oh yeah, I grew up in Muscle Shoals. So, I guess I probably went into it knowing that I would enjoy the movie. I’ve been busy with school this semester and haven’t had time to make a trip home to that little town on the Tennessee River in a month or two. Seeing those familiar scenes of some of my favorite spots in the Shoals just made me miss it even more, and I realize that tinge of homesickness probably colored my opinion somewhat, too.

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So, yes, you could assume that I would enjoy this film because I am proud of my hometown’s music history. You could also assume that I might not have agreed with some of the choices the director made because, well, “he ain’t from around here.”

Both assumptions would be correct. I loved hearing the stories I grew up hearing, but enjoyed the ones I hadn’t heard even more. Plus, it gave me even more reason to sing along, at the top of my lungs I might add, whenever I hear the Muscle Shoals lyric in Lynard Skynard’s “Sweet Home, Alabama.” As much as I loved the movie, there were a few things I thought Camalier could have done differently, and after reading a few reviews, I found I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

You see, while the Shoals area is very picturesque, Camalier didn’t really show what Muscle Shoals actually looks like today. The film shows scene after scene of cotton fields and dirt roads. Muscle Shoals definitely has its fair share of those and everything else that is seen in the movie, but it’s obvious to anyone that calls it home that it was the director’s intent to skip over most of the city. It’s understandable, and I probably would have made the same choice. I mean, does anyone really want to see a shot of the CVS that sits on the corner next to Fame Studios? No, because that would ruin the aesthetic of the whole thing. It would ruin the small-town feel of it all, you know?

Another complaint that I found in reviews was that the movie never gives an answer to the main question it seems to ask–why was Muscle Shoals, a little town that most have probably never heard of, home to so many hit records in the 60s and 70s? One review summed it up best with the following:

“But the narrative at times gets disjointed and ventures into tangents that take the film off course. An inordinate amount of time, for example, is spent trying to explain what it admits early on is unexplainable: how a small city in rural Alabama became a musical epicenter. The conclusion? It must be something in the water.”

I agree with this to an extent, but at the same time, I felt that it added to the mystery of it all. The film allows you to decide. Is there magic in Muscle Shoals? I’d like to think so.

(Check out this interview with director Greg “Freddy” Camalier to hear what he thinks.)

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ESPN and Alzheimer’s- The perfect combination to raise awareness

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there have been more articles about Alzheimer’s research and awareness in the past few months than ever before. Maybe it’s always been in the headlines or maybe it’s just that I notice any headline that mentions the disease now because I am so focused on my project, which is about Alzheimer’s care. Either way, I’ve read quite a few interesting articles about research and awareness of the disease this year.

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The most recent article that I read about the disease was on ESPN. com, where you might least expect to find it. Entitled “Precious Memories,” the article is an in-depth profile of former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, who held a record number of wins when he retired in 1997. He led an extremely successful career, but today, Smith has Alzheimer’s, and his family fears he doesn’t remember any of it. The man who always seemed to have the sharpest memory in the family might not even know who he is.

The article is beautifully written and very well done. It tugs on your heart as you read the extremely personal story, but it also gives the important facts and statistics of the disease at the same time. With more than 5 million people living with the disease, the Smith family’s experience isn’t uncommon. What makes it such an important story, however, is that it is about a prominent sports figure, which means that it will more than likely reach a much more diverse group of people than most other articles about Alzheimer’s can hope to do. Just as Seth Rogen is trying to raise awareness among young people, this article makes Alzheimer’s a topic of conversation for sports fans. Educating more people about this disease is an important step in raising funding for research.

According to an article in USA Today, the National Institutes of Health spends less money on Alzheimer’s research than it does on HIV/AIDS, even though the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is far greater. It is one of the most underfunded diseases, yet one of the most expensive.

Why do Alzheimer’s research organizations have such a hard time raising awareness and funding for this disease that still doesn’t have a cure? Well, there are a number of reasons, one of them being the idea that it is someone else’s problem until it directly affects you or your family. Another reason is the stigma that follows Alzheimer’s, and it has been very difficult to shake. Dr. Stan Goldberg, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University, says that there is a need for acceptance before awareness will hold any value.

“I would guess that before breast cancer funding dramatically increased, it was proceeded by a changed view society—and men in particular—had of women with breast cancer. I think before research funding for Alzheimer’s can substantially increase, society needs to see the person with Alzheimer’s as someone who lives with a dreadful illness, rather than someone who is the illness, with all of the stereotypes that our culture attaches to it.”

It’s going to take more people like Dean Smith’s family sharing their personal stories for people to begin to understand the affects this disease can have. I hope that reading their story will help others to find confidence in sharing their own. For those that haven’t been personally affected by Alzheimer’s, I believe hearing these stories will help them to truly realize the importance of finding a cure.

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International Women’s Day

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International Women’s Day has come and gone, but that does not mean we can’t celebrate and reflect on what it stands for every day of the year. Gaining equality for women in the workplace, ending human trafficking and sexual abuse, and empowering young girls to become leaders are goals we should always be striving to reach. It’s going to take more than just one day of google doodles and hashtags for real change to happen.

International Women’s Day has been observed by the United Nations on March 8 since 1975, but the concept is much older. Born during the socialist movement in the early 1900’s, the day was created as part of the women’s voting rights movement. Over the years, International Women’s Day has grown to represent even more.

If you didn’t get a chance to read anything about IWD yesterday and wanted to, you’re in luck because I’ve pulled together a short list of articles below. Some call readers to action and others highlight the strides that have been made in gender equality over the years. They all share a common underlying theme, which also happens to be this year’s theme for the day: Inspiring Change.

1. 10 Reasons For Optimism This International Women’s Day– Moira Forbes, Forbes staff writer

Moira Forbes discusses 10 major strides that women have made in the last year, and says IWD can be a day for optimism and pride for women. It’s a day to reflect on the change that has already occurred. For example, there are more women in the technology field and in leadership positions in major corporations than ever before.

“As a nation, we tend to dwell on bleak statistics that highlight the pervasive gender gaps when it comes to leadership positions and salary. While progress remains painstakingly slow, the truth is that women are still achieving a tremendous amount of success and wielding influence across a diverse array of industries and fields. As we celebrate the 106th annual International Women’s Day this Saturday, March 8th, we have an opportunity to applaud some of these staggering accomplishments, successes, and triumphs—all a testament to the incredible progress women are making right now.”

2. 10 Things We Should Be Talking About On This International Women’s Day- Moira Forbes, Forbes writer

In her second article about International Women’s Day, Forbes reminds readers that gender inequality still exists, even if great strides have been made toward eliminating it.

“Instead of making grim generalizations about nebulous and negative disparities between men and women, let’s take advantage of this opportunity to pinpoint the specific places where there’s room for improvement this International Women’s Day.”

3. International Women’s Day 2014: What kind of world do YOU want to build– Tara Kelly and Lauren Said- Moorhouse, CNN

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More like a conversation than an article, this CNN piece asked men and women what they hope the world looks like in the future. What would the world be like if there was no such thing as gender inequality?

“Though much progress has been made on the path to gender equality, more can still be done. So now, we’re asking you: “What kind of world do YOU want to build?” Tell us what you are doing and join the conversation by using #CNNwomen.”

4. Calling All Men: Gender Equality Isn’t Just a Female Cause– Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for Time.com    

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Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General, writes that the fight for women’s equality isn’t just for women. This is a call for unity. 

“These are your sisters, mothers, wives, partners, daughters, nieces, aunts, cousins and friends. They have hopes and beautiful dreams for themselves, their families, communities and the world. If many of their dreams were to come true, the world would be a much better place for all of humanity.”

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Why I Write?

I usually aim to write posts that if ever read, might somehow help the lovely someone that stumbled upon them. I want these words to inspire, and for that reason, and the fact that I call myself a journalist, I write about other people. However, blogging lends itself to a first person point of view, and from time to time this blog becomes a place for me to write about my own random thoughts.

A few days ago, I interviewed a source for a story I’m working on and I asked her why she was so passionate about the topic we were there to discuss. After giving me the profound answer every journalist hopes to get, she turned the question on me.

“Why do you do what you do? Why do you write?”

I had a seemingly prepared response, which was most likely borne from the repetition of answering those three faithful questions every college student expects to hear when meeting someone new. What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your major? Somewhere along the way, we fit our passions into an elevator pitch. Being able to boil down everything you care about into a 30 second speech can be useful, but it’s important to take a few minutes to think about the extended version every once in a while.

George Orwell

George Orwell

George Orwell gave his response to this question in an essay he wrote in 1946 entitled “Why I Write.” He begins by looking back on his life to try and pinpoint when he became a writer, and I recognize many of the characteristics he describes in my own life. He wrote short stories as a child and discovered a “joy for mere words” when he was sixteen, for example. After giving this background, Orwell says there are four great reasons for writing, though they exist in every writer in differing degrees:

1. Sheer egoism- Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity… But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class…

2. Aesthetic enthusiasm- Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

3. Historical impulse- Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

4. Political purpose- Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

As Orwell said, it’s difficult to determine what exactly drives someone to become a writer because it is a combination of so many things. Like many journalists and writers, I joke that I write because I am terrible with numbers, and while it’s true, it’s not the real reason. There are many reasons, and looking back, I see that family is one of the biggest.

Everything that you experience in life–the people you meet, the situations you encounter, the emotions you feel–make you who you are. It’s important to remind yourself of those things so that you will remember why it is that you do what you do.

Seth Rogen on Capitol Hill last week…

I’m sure you heard about actor Seth Rogen‘s hilarious and heartfelt speech about Alzheimer’s that he gave last Wednesday before the Senate. Rogen talked about his family’s personal experience with the disease, hoping to raise awareness and inspire others to speak up about their experiences.

Sprinkled with self-deprecating jokes, Rogen’s speech was both funny and serious at the same time. He said he was there for a few reasons, the first being that he is a huge fan of House of Cards. His second more serious reason was that Alzheimer’s care is expensive, and that caregivers need more financial support.

“Therefore, I can’t begin to imagine how people with more limited incomes are dealing with this,” Rogen said. “As you’ve also heard, studies show that Alzheimer’s and related dementia is the most costly condition in the United States. Yes, it’s more costly than heart disease in a country where, for $1.29, you can get a taco made out of Doritos. They’re delicious but they’re not healthy. While deaths from other major diseases, like heart disease, HIV and strokes continue to decline, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased almost 70 percent in the last 15 years. Over five million Americans have Alzheimer’s and at this rate, in 35 years, as many as 16 million will have the disease.”

Rogen also wanted to use his speech to make those who are affected by this disease feel less alone.

“The third reason I’m here, simply, is to show people that they’re not alone,” Rogen said. “So few people share their personal story, so few people have something to relate to. I know that if me and my wife saw someone like me talking about this, it would probably make us feel a little less alone. Americans whisper the word ‘Alzheimer’s’ because their government whispers the word ‘Alzheimer’s,’ and although a whisper is better than silence that the Alzheimer’s community has been facing for decades, it’s still not enough. It needs to be yelled and screamed to the point that it finally gets the attention and the funding that it deserves and needs.”

I thought his speech was great. Rogen’s foundation ‘Hilarity for Charity‘ is all about getting young people involved, and that is exactly what is needed. We have to become more aware of this disease and its implications in order for anything to change.

Even if you aren’t a Rogen fan or interested in raising awareness for Alzheimer’s, I’m sure you saw this story in your newsfeed or heard about it from a friend. I can’t imagine how anyone could miss the incredible buzz it created on the internet. It’s not uncommon for celebrities to testify in front of the Senate, and Rogen’s status isn’t the reason his speech made headlines. What happened after the speech is what has everyone talking, or should I say, tweeting.

Annoyed that he spoke to a practically empty room, Rogen tweeted the following:

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When Senator Mark Kirk tweeted a thank you to the actor, Rogen fired back, making it known that Kirk wasn’t even present to hear his speech.

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While I doubt this was the buzz Rogen expected to gain, he and others involved with his charity foundation can be proud that they were able to make Alzheimer’s a topic of conversation last week.

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Caring for Alzheimer’s

imagesMost master’s programs require students to write a thesis paper, but the program I am enrolled in, the Community Journalism program at the University of Alabama, is somewhat different. The ComJ program, as we call it, requires us to identify “a fundamental community problem and then conceptualized an innovative online approach to addressing that problem.”

I struggled to choose the community problem I would focus on at first. I wanted it to be something that I cared about, and I wanted it to be something I thought might actually help someone. To complicate matters even more, I wanted it to be something that nobody else had done before, at least not in the ComJ program. (To see some of the past projects, click here, here, or here.)

After much thought and research, I chose to focus my project on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Instead of creating a website that discusses the disease itself, however, I am focusing on those who care for a loved one who has it.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. It is a disease that worsens over time, stealing a person’s memory, identity, and eventually their ability to control movement. However, the person who has the disease is not the only one it will affect. The website also states that 15.4 million family members and friends of patients with Alzheimer’s provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care in 2011. Unpaid caregivers provided eighty percent of Alzheimer’s care. The men and women who act as caregivers are often forgotten when this disease takes its final toll. They are the ones who deal with the daily stresses and worries of caring for the person. They are the ones who feel helpless as they watch their loved one slip into a world they cannot reach. 

I read an article on Forbes.com that reassured me that the focus of my project is important. It included an interesting quote from Meryl Comer, co-founder of Women Against Alzheimer’s and president of the Geoffrey Beene Foundation Alzheimer’s Initiative. Comer said the following about the experience of a caregiver:

 “The caregiver is the keeper of the secret. It’s critically important for women to step forward and be honest about what it takes to care for a loved one with this disease. Caregivers are often too exhausted to be advocates—or concerned with preserving the dignity of their loved ones. It’s time for a ‘coming out’ party just like the HIV/AIDs and Breast Cancer advocates stepped out.”

I don’t know that I would call it a party, but I do think it’s time for caregivers to start speaking out about their experiences. Not only will it help them to connect with other caregivers for support, but it can also raise a new kind of awareness for the disease by showing that it impacts more than just those diagnosed. As with many other diseases, I believe it is an experience that is difficult to relate to until you or a loved one is diagnosed. I say this because I speak from experience. This project is personal to me because my grandmother has Alzheimer’s. It has been painful to see this disease progress, and just as painful to see the affects it has had on my family.

I’m in the process of finding caregivers who are willing to tell their story in short videos that will be featured on the website. If you or someone you know is a caregiver, or if you are just interested in my project, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.

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Inspiration from the IMPACT group

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A friend recently told me that the posts she enjoys reading most on my blog fall under the “current inspirations” category. If I were asked which ones are my favorite to write, I would say the same thing. I love writing about what inspires me, and my hope is that I will be able to tell a story in a way that inspires someone else.

During my time as a writer, I have had the opportunity to meet and write about some pretty fascinating people. I never know what an interview is going to be like until I’m there, and I have definitely interviewed people who weren’t passionate or excited about what they were telling me. As a journalist, you learn to move past those interviews, and you get through them just to get the story done. They aren’t memorable. The interviews that leave you feeling like you have the power to change the world, or that the person you just met is already changing it, are the ones that stay with you forever. They are the ones that remind you what it means to be passionate or to truly care about something, and they are filled with quotes that you couldn’t leave behind if you tried.

I interviewed a group of women for a story last semester, and while it might be a few months old, I consider it a current inspiration. The article was about a support group for breast cancer survivors in Tuscaloosa, and it ended up in the newspaper on Christmas day. It wasn’t my writing that made this such an amazing story. The three women that I interviewed are the reason it was so strong. My only regret was that I couldn’t take my readers to that morning at Chick-fil-a, where I sat down with three women I had never met, and listened as they poured out their hearts about surviving breast cancer, raising children, being young, and growing old. Their words would inspire anyone to keep fighting or just to be thankful for everything they have. All I could do was put them down on paper and hope that someone would read them. 

I’ve listed some of my favorite quotes from the article below, but you can find the complete article here.

1. “I was sitting there preparing to die when this little lady, as white-headed as she could be, came bouncing into my room. The only thing that I remember her saying was, ‘I was where you are now 16 years ago.’ Hearing her say she did this all those years ago was just a glimmer of hope when I didn’t have any.”

2. “I will honestly say from the bottom of my heart because of all the blessings, that even though I would have never wanted breast cancer and it sure wouldn’t have been on my prayer list, I wouldn’t give it back. I actually like the post-cancer me better than I like the pre-cancer me.”

3. “You can just live to get through the day, or you can live each day to the fullest, and I think IMPACT helps you do that. It makes you see each day as a gift, and it changes some of your priorities. I’m a better person because of it.”

4. “There is still somebody out there that needs that hope, and I still feel that pull to help someone else,” she said. “IMPACT has helped me to see that there is a happy, healthy, joyful life after breast cancer. I’m still here and I want to continue that encouragement.”

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Why Grad School?

I get this question all the time, and I don’t blame those who ask it. I walked across the stage to accept my diploma less than 10 months ago, yet here I am a student once again. I’m pursuing a master’s degree in journalism, which some say won’t even really matter in the long run. Others are more optimistic about my decision to further my education, however, and I’m choosing to listen to them.

Before I graduated, I helped out with campus events and blogged for internqueen.com, a website that helps students find and apply for internships. I was flattered a few months ago when Intern Queen founder Lauren Berger asked if I would share my reasons for attending graduate school in a post on her website. I’m not yet to the other side, but I can see the light. Maybe my response to this question will be different this time next year, but for now I feel the same as I did when she first asked me.

As Berger shared in the article, these were my reasons for choosing graduate school:

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1. More time. I have to be honest. One of the main reasons I decided to apply for graduate school was that I wasn’t ready to venture into the real world. I had a great resume, competitive GPA, and had made connections that probably would have been helpful in the job hunt. However, I wanted to take some time to improve those things without taking the mythical “year off.” I found a one year program that will allow me to make more connections and explore my options after school, all while earning a master’s degree.

2. The sooner the better. You know what they say. If you’re thinking you might go back to school after you graduate, it’s much easier to do it right away than it will be later. It’s not impossible. People do it all the time. However, I guarantee that the ones who have would advise you to get your second degree as soon as you can. It won’t be a difficult transition. Plus, you won’t have as many responsibilities- job, family, etc- to worry about if you tackle that next degree right after your receive your first.

3. Another resume builder. It’s true that not all jobs that you apply for will look for a master’s degree on your resume. However, having one is just another way an applicant can stand out from the hundreds of others that apply. I wanted that edge. I wanted to be more than just the average applicant.

4. Expanded knowledge of the field. Undergraduate courses prepare you for the field you hope to enter, but graduate studies are able to expand your knowledge extensively. With smaller classes, students are really able to engage with their classmates and professors. With more intense and in-depth coursework, they learn more about the ins and outs of their field. My program is giving me more tools to add to my toolkit, so to speak.

5. The freedom to study what interests me. Graduate studies often give students some freedom to choose their coursework. Yes, there will be requirements that all students must adhere to, just as there are in undergraduate programs. However, graduate students are urged to study what they find interesting and explore areas in their field that intrigue them. Their thesis is something that is entirely their own. In my community journalism class, for example, I was asked to choose a problem in the community that I cared about. Focusing on this issue will help me to study theories of mass communication and the ways that media can affect a community. It will be the topic of the website I will build in my media production course, and it is something I am passionate about, which makes the coursework more interesting.

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Journalism Was My Valentine

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This year, I spent my Valentine’s Day with journalism, and I know what you are thinking as you read this. You’re thinking that I’m either a loser who doesn’t know it, or that I’m trying to seem as if I am, maybe in hopes of equating myself to someone like Emily Dickinson, who had a stronger, more passionate connection with words than she did people. Maybe you are thinking that by writing this, I will just add to the sea of ranting about the lover’s holiday that already exists on the internet and social media, but this is no rant. It’s just the truth. On February 14, I was at the Alabama Scholastic Press Association State Convention in Tuscaloosa, where I led a session about feature writing with two of my classmates.

When we were asked by one of our professors to lead a session a few months ago, we didn’t think twice before saying yes. If we had to speak about something we didn’t enjoy or know much about, it would be different, but it is easy to stand up in front of a group of young people and talk about something you love. I guess this level of comfort we had with the subject is to blame for the fact that we didn’t complete our presentation plan until a few days before the conference. We were still making changes at the last minute, and it was in those final moments, as the students were finding seats in our session room, that we realized we probably should have been better prepared. We worried that we had made our presentation too elementary, and that the points we had planned to make and the tips we would share would be remedial. What would these high schoolers learn from us that they didn’t already know? We were going to spoon-feed them the basics of writing a pretty feature article, and we realized that they were probably there with the hope of learning so much more.

As my self-doubt began creeping into a room full of writer wannabes who were staring up at us, there was no turning back. Our presentation started with a few awkward pauses, but once we moved through those we were on a roll. The conference theme was ‘Spread the Love,’ and I say with confidence that we did just that. When you’re talking about your love of the written word, well, the words just seem to flow. The students probably already knew that feature writing means longer pieces, colorful quotes, and deep descriptions. They probably knew that feature writing means becoming far more attached to your subject than any other form of journalism requires or allows. Maybe everything we said was just a recap for them, but it was good for me to be reminded, too. Yes, we shared with them the basics, but I realize now that sometimes it’s important to go back to the basics. It reminds you of why you love something so much in the first place. 

When our presentation was complete, we opened the floor for questions, and we were surprised at how many we received. We were even more surprised when a student stayed around to get our email addresses and to ask us for advice. What advice could I give her? I definitely don’t have it all figured out. Then she said something I never expected to hear. “I want to be you guys one day,” she said.

Something we said during the presentation made her want to be like us, but what have I done in my very short, practically nonexistent career as a writer to inspire that? Our main advice to this bright 10th grader was to stick with it, be persistent, and never give up. Yet, part of me felt like we should have told her that this love affair with journalism won’t always be rosy. There will be times when you give it your all and it doesn’t give you anything in return. It will make you doubt yourself, make you question why you choose to pick up the pen and keep writing. As I said before, I definitely don’t have it all figured out. However, I have already experienced the journalism roller coaster ride, and if I take my own advice and stick with it, I know I will experience the ups and downs again and again.

That’s just it, though. I want to be persistent through those low points because experiencing the high points makes it all worth it in the end. I hope that student, who sent an email only moments ago to thank us for inspiring her, finds this post and understands that her enthusiasm and excitement for the craft actually inspired me. Journalism might break my heart a few times along the way, but it will always be my valentine.

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You Can Always Start Again

Last week, I found inspiration in a place I least expected to discover it. Words of wisdom were shared with me in a time I most certainly needed to hear them, and I couldn’t help but feel as if they might help someone else.

I am currently working on a multimedia project focused on caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s for my master’s program. I will write more on the subject later, but to summarize for now, I will be telling the story of the day-to-day life of someone who cares for a family member with the disease. My plan is to follow multiple caregivers so that I can show this experience, while at the same time, create a community for them to feel connected to others who are like them.

I have been visiting Caring Days, an adult day care center in Tuscaloosa, in order to build relationships with the caregivers who bring their loved ones there. Clients participate in activities and exercises that help build and retain their cognitive and motor skills. On Friday, I was invited to sit in on an art therapy session with a group of University of Alabama Honors students who attend the sessions once a week for a class called Art to Life. (If you are interested in Art to Life or Cognitive Dynamics, please watch the video below.)

I watched as 95-year-old Mrs. Sarah, who used to paint before the disease stole her ability to do so, painted again. I listened as she recalled memories that she hadn’t visited in years. I had no idea that something so inspiring could come from something as simple as a cake pan filled with shaving creme and food coloring.

After filling the pan with shaving creme, the art therapist asked Mrs. Sarah to pour drops of food coloring over it. The talkative and outgoing woman asked one of the students to help her with the food coloring, a small sign that she was still hesitant. She repeatedly expressed that she missed being able to create art, and although she was very confident in the art therapist, she wasn’t confident in herself as an artist anymore. She was afraid that the skills she once possessed were gone. She feared she had lost them completely, just like many of the memories she longed to remember.

While one student poured the food coloring over the shaving creme, the others asked Mrs. Sarah to talk about her earliest childhood memories, her wedding day and her family. She was excited to share these experiences with the students, and would recall things she said she hadn’t spoken about in years. With each story she told, however, Mrs. Sarah would come to a point that she couldn’t remember, and would become frustrated with herself when she couldn’t bring the memory back or remember the words to say when it did. I watched as this very intelligent woman, who led a life well lived, began feeling insignificant and “not smart enough” to remember.

Mrs. Sarah was then asked to take a paint brush and drag it across the shaving creme, creating swirls and patterns of different colors. She wasn’t certain of herself, but kept “painting” at the encouragement of the others.

The next step in the process required Mrs. Sarah to take a piece of paper and lightly press it into the shaving creme. “Am I messing up? I hope I didn’t ruin it,” she said. When the paper was pressed to the bottom of the pan, the therapist gently pulled it back and scraped away the shaving creme with the edge of piece of cardboard. When the shaving creme was cleared away, the therapist revealed the finished product and asked the students to describe what they saw.

Happiness

“Happiness”

A dove. A flower. A butterfly. A party. These were the things the students saw in the abstract, and as they described them, tears filled her eyes. You see, there is something else you should know about Mrs. Sarah. Besides losing memories and mobility, Mrs. Sarah is losing her sight. She sees shapes, colors and outlines, but no detail. Yet, here she was crying because she had created something beautiful for others to see. That’s what art is after all, she said.

When the therapist asked her to name the piece, Mrs. Sarah said, “Happiness.” When the therapist asked her to describe how it made her feel, Mrs. Sarah said, “Like there is something there and you can start again.”

You can start again. How beautiful it was to hear those words from a woman who probably believed she would never get the chance to start again. She apologized for being emotional, but what she couldn’t see were the tears in everyone’s eyes. We all needed to hear that, and I’m sure we will need to be reminded of it again someday. At 95, Mrs. Sarah realized that she could start over, despite her age and her sickness. No matter what you are going through or what life throws your way, tomorrow is a new day, and you can always start again. 

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