Storytime: I dropped my first journalism class

Writing about what you love non-stop is fun, but it can be exhausting, which is why I like to change up the routine from time to time and write about different things. Keeps it interesting and when you write about different things it makes you a better writer because it makes you think differently than usual, if that makes sense. Keeps the mind sharp. It’s like exercising different muscles when you work out. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of longreads and those are a feat, a lot to work on, but very satisfying when it’s done and I know that those are very much appreciated by my readers who really want to do a deep dive into various topics and specific things in classic rock. In this blog post, I’ll be doing a little storytime from 2014, definitely a good year compared to recent years. Everything got worse after David Bowie died, I tell you!

Prologue: Secondary School

Life is full of accidents, isn’t it? I can say that’s definitely the case in my life. A lot of life is about chance and luck. Some things you can control, but a lot that you can’t. The unexpected happened a lot in my life. I didn’t expect to meet my husband while on study abroad. I never expected to get married at 22. And the topic of this post: I never expected to become a writer. No, not at all, but I hope that you think I’m good at what I do and I’ve improved over the years, that’s why the longtime readers have stuck around and continue to enjoy what I do.

Let’s start with English class. I didn’t really like English class, especially once I got to secondary school (grades 7-12). The books were getting harder, more boring, and frankly irrelevant. I think I hated the reading more than I hated writing. Writing was alright. I never struggled to meet the page count requirements or word count requirements, but I hadn’t found my voice yet at all. I wrote in a very generic teenage way. In English essays, I was a B student, once in a while getting As.

As someone who pushed themselves to do better and always has a perfectionist attitude in life, I pushed myself a lot in English class to get good marks. I wanted straight A’s. I was successful in that, but it was a lot of work. I think English class does turn a lot of people off of reading because of the tests and marks being so important for getting into university. You’re more focussed on getting an A in the class than on the story itself. Probably doesn’t help that a lot of these books were written in the 1800s and earlier. I honestly find that if you go before the Victorian Era, things just stop being relevant: archaic language, situations are so alien to me, culture is so different. I don’t get it. I like old things, but not centuries old! Old is a relative term, isn’t it?

University life before journalism

I get to university and I still haven’t found my voice in writing yet and I didn’t study journalism because I was shy and didn’t think of myself as a writer at all. I originally wanted to study history, but I ended up switching to communications. In my first two years at university I had to write all sorts of essays for my classes and I wanted to do well, so I always ended up going to the writing centre and asking my dad, who is a good writer, for advice too. No one’s an island, no matter how independent you are, you always get help from someone, always acknowledge those who helped you. I did a bit better on essays, but getting used to the academic writing style was a pain.

Journalism is adjacent to communications and you may end up taking classes in the other major. That happened for me. Communications in my university was very multidisciplinary and you end up coming out a jack of all trades (hopefully), studying theatre and video editing as well, and yes in my case journalism too, but that was an accident. Writing for journalism is a whole different animal from academic writing and what I like about it is that it doesn’t always have to be dry broadsheet newspaper just the facts style. It can be flowery and poetic too with lots of descriptors like in music and other forms of journalism about the arts. Where exactly do I fall? Unconventional, that’s for sure. But also I wanted to write in a way that is approachable, conversational, engaging, humble, fun, and as factual as you can get. When you read what I write, I hope it’s something you imagine me saying to you over some tea and snacks or maybe a pizza or some Chinese food.

I never wanted to be accused of copying other people, which is why in the things I pursued I always tried to do my own thing and stay truly independent and unique. I like to take inspiration from myself and the music I listen to. Music inspires me more than music journalists and DJs do because with what I do, it’s all about the music, not the person writing about it or speaking about it. Instead of drawing inspiration from others, I spent that time learning about the music so I know what I’m talking about. When I was a DJ, I never really listened to other radio shows. I didn’t like podcasts and still don’t. Even as someone who writes about music, I still don’t read very many music publications, unless I am doing research.

No one starts out successful from the start, there’s always some hurdles and challenges in the beginning. It’s a test of character. Life asks you, “Do you really want to pursue this?” It takes some guts to keep going. People like to think artists and creatives are wimpy, but that’s far from the case. In these fields, it takes a lot of guts and moxie. No weenies allowed! Scrutiny and criticism everywhere. No matter how good you are at your craft, someone’s always going to have a problem with it. Don’t let the hate get to you.

The infamous first journalism class

I decided to go on study abroad because I didn’t really like the university I was at and I needed a break from Chicago. There was only one partner school in an English speaking country and that was Ireland. Admittedly, Ireland wasn’t my first choice for study abroad. I wanted to go to England or Australia. Turns out this was a happy accident because if I didn’t go to Ireland, I wouldn’t have met my husband and maybe this blog wouldn’t be here. Who knows what I’d be doing?

The university didn’t have any communications classes per se. The closest thing they had to offer was journalism so I guess that’s what I was going to do. Oh no! You mean I have to get out of my shell and talk to people? That’s my biggest fear.

I don’t know what it’s like for foreign exchange students at the university now, but at the time I was there, registering for classes was a bit disorganised. Being a foreign exchange student, you had to take on a full course load like any other student, for visa reasons. The classes you take here are set in stone if you’re a regular student at the university, but if you’re a foreign exchange student, registering for classes is a free-for-all. I wasn’t prepared for this.

How it worked was you had to show up to the lectures of the classes you wanted to take and if there was room, you could take that class. Naturally, some people ended up stuck. In journalism, the class sizes were small, which was nice for the students, but stressful if you were trying to register for a class. On top of that, there were deadlines for registration and if you didn’t meet them, you’d have to pay a fine. Plus, having a disability I needed accommodations so I had to find out how to get those accommodations too. Half the time when I showed up to classes, I was told there was no room.

There was no room in the first year journalism class and they were desperate to make sure I had a full course load so they threw me into a second year journalism class despite me never taking a journalism class in my life. This was a total disaster and I was scared because the class was called “Interviewing and Reporting” and the whole point of the class is that you were supposed to go out and interview people and write stories. You had to take initiative and do it yourself. I’m an exchange student and I have to figure all this out?

I was stressed out every day after class. I was lucky to have a close friend, who would later be my boyfriend and now husband, Eoin. Every day at the end of the day I’d text him and I’d go over to his flat and watch a movie. Sometimes we’d order pizza or make pasta. We’d always have popcorn. He encouraged me to give the class a try.

I didn’t last long in that class because I didn’t have the necessary knowledge. I only knew how to write essays, not in a journalistic/news format. You can read all the newspapers you want, but how you get good at writing is practice and I didn’t have the time to get it right. Writing requires a lot of trial and error and listening to critiques and feedback. I had an English teacher who described writing as breathing, reading is like inhaling and writing is exhaling. You need to do both.

I lasted two assignments and I really couldn’t take it. The first assignment was something to do with Culture Night and I found out about a Mod subculture event going on in Dublin. At the time I was fascinated with the mod subculture (and I still am tbh) because of The Who, The Small Faces, and Quadrophenia. In America, the mod subculture was almost unheard of, but even though Ireland isn’t England, people knew what that was here. Since Eoin didn’t have the money to go up to Dublin with me and stay the night up there, I had to travel there all by myself. He dropped me off at the bus stop and I travelled there all by myself, with just a notepad and my phone to record interviews. I spoke to a bunch of people there from the owners of a mod shop to members of a ska band. I got to see some live performances and guys were buying me drinks. That night was probably one of the nights that I drank the most in my entire life. By the end of the night it got hectic. I ended up at some nightclub where they were playing rock music and R&B music mods liked and I loved the music, but there was this guy making me feel so bad I ended up crying. Still, I ended up writing something and turning it in. Never knew what the teacher thought of it. If I can find the article I wrote, I’ll share it here for you guys to read and critique (don’t judge too harshly! I wrote it before I started this blog).

The other assignment was court reporting, which was one of the most difficult things I ever did in a journalism class. First off, you can’t record anything because you’re going to a real courtroom to watch real sentencing hearings. You have to be quiet. It can be really hard to understand anything going on, especially if you find Irish accents difficult to understand, plus the sound isn’t so great in the courtroom (no loud speakers and the microphones aren’t great, if there are any). The hearings are fast paced and you have to listen very carefully and balance that with taking notes. For me having Aspergers, this proved to be a very difficult assignment and I was freaking out afterwards and after I realised I wrote the article completely wrong, more like a story than a newspaper article, I knew I was doomed. I had to drop the class. I begged and begged and luckily I got out, but it showed as a withdrawal on my transcript. Still, better than an F.

I knew that if I were to continue I was going to fail. I wasn’t being judged as an absolute beginner, I was being judged as a second year journalism student, which I wasn’t. I was pushed straight into the deep end or kicked out of the bird’s nest a little too early. I’m always determined to improve and learn quickly, but in this case, there was no way I could keep up. There comes a point where sometimes you need to leave a situation. It’s not always possible to change it or adapt. Leaving a situation is a valid choice too. In the end, the school made an exception for me technically being part time, but the schoolwork definitely felt more like full time because the other classes were intense! I took a class on foreign film and sociology that semester as well as a class on graphic design for newspapers.

I always struggled with anxiety and yes, it is possible to overcome, but I wasn’t ready yet. I had no idea if I would ever be ready. If you were to tell me then that 7 years later, I’ve interviewed a lot of people and conducting interviews is like second nature to me, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you were to tell me then that I would have a decent following on my blog, I wouldn’t have believed it. Younger me never would have imagined being a prolific writer.

Imagine that! Going from dropping my first journalism class to successfully conducting so many interviews with musicians. Goes to show that you really can achieve things if you are determined and put in the hard work.

What I didn’t do though was completely give up on writing and I want to thank Eoin for believing in me and making me feel strong enough to continue. If I had never met him, I would have gone back to Chicago after that first semester. What kept me going that next semester was the class where I started The Diversity of Classic Rock, Introduction to Social Media. I started a Twitter for that class too and I didn’t use it much then, but now I’ve made a bunch of friends on there, didn’t imagine that happening either. I guess life really is full of happy accidents and unexpected turns.

After that, I went back to America and finished my final year of university and needed a way of coming back to Ireland to be with Eoin. We looked at a couple of options: I could do a working holiday or do a masters. We didn’t think we were ready for marriage yet, but little did we know after the first semester of my masters, we proposed to each other in a hotel room in London. I picked a journalism masters (which I really regret because that course was so bad for my mental health), but in the end I got married to Eoin and I’ve been here ever since. Now, my husband is at the end of his PhD and we’re both thinking about what the next adventure is. Where will life take us next? My husband said it best, writing is my calling and I can do that anywhere. To quote Willie Nelson, “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again!”

Shoutout to Patrick and Jeffrey from Maryland for supporting the blog!

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