LEAVING THE TIMES
When I think about leaving the Arkansas Times, I think about arriving at the Arkansas Times. I think about the day in early September 2018 when Lindsey sent me an email asking if I could come fill in for Leslie for an undetermined number of weeks. I think about standing in the living room of my parents' house, having just called Lindsey to accept the position approximately 6 minutes after receiving the email, and having one thought on a loop in my brain:
It was worth it.
Up until that point, going to Mizzou and graduating from the Journalism school had felt like a vehicle I’d driven for a few years and dropped back off at the rental place; I’d used my time in Columbia to learn, to meet and fall in love with my friends and with Art, and to figure a few things out. I didn’t think the effort I’d put in at school — effort that, for years, didn’t really seem like much — would pay off for me. I felt beaten down by my job search, in Columbia and then in Little Rock. I felt a great reckoning taking place inside myself, inside my childhood home, as I navigated what it meant to be an adult in a place that felt decidedly adolescent in my mind. I spent hours and hours at public libraries across the city of Little Rock, locking myself in study rooms to find a pseudo sense of purpose, creating mini, transient offices for myself. I hauled my laptop around, hammered out freelance work for a pitiful price, wondering if this was how things would be forever. I cried in the Jason’s Deli parking lot with my mom, lamenting the idea that things would never get better: Art and I would always be struggling, and I would never be able to put myself to use in a way that felt both personally fulfilling and worth my time.
I’d emailed Lindsey persistently; I forced myself to get over my nerves and go to the Times office and make my case as a freelancer. I worked on a research project for ANN, sitting down with Benji to talk about how campaign funding worked and then combed through databases for hours, again from my rotating perch of study rooms in public libraries across the city. At one point, the project stalled, and I had a job interview to work reception at the Arkansas Foodbank. They never called me back.
So when Lindsey sent me that email, that afternoon in September, asking if I could come work out of the office, something shifted inside me. All of a sudden, I could see very clearly that my life in Columbia — the trauma of college; of growing up; of trying and failing to take the sting out of my pervasive, fundamental homesickness; the struggle to value my own work in an academic program that required excellence as a baseline; the dissolving of my identity and the painful, tangible sensation of having to grow my own self from what felt like scratch — had been worth it. I hadn’t done the work for nothing. I’d done the work to prepare myself to do the work again, on a different scale, in a city that felt both like home and a foreign land.
My year working as a reporter for the Arkansas Times has been an endless cycle of doubting myself and rising to the occasion. It turns out my time in journalism school did prepare me to be a journalist, and it turns out, to perhaps no one’s surprise but my own, that I am suited for the work. This year has taught me more than I could possibly describe in any coherent way. I’d have to go back through all of my notebooks, every email, every instant message, every Google document, every to-do list, every meeting, every anxious moment spent pep-talking myself in the car before heading to an assignment, to try and cull together a list of what this job has taught me: about Little Rock — its politics, people, history, culture, shortcomings, failures, spirit and promise — and about the Arkansas Times, an institution that’s been doing the work for decades, knuckles white on the steering wheel of a changing media landscape, managing to keep its head above water, spitting and grinning and still demanding honesty after all this time.
But right now, the truth that presses against the back of my eyelids, the truth I can feel knocking against my ribcage, the truth I can feel in the lump in my throat, is this: working for the Arkansas Times has taught me that I have a gift, and I don’t do myself — or anyone else — any favor by denying this. It’s momentum wasted. It’s potential squandered. And I deserve more. I deserve the only thing I feel is ultimately required of me — as a writer, as a listener, as a thinker, and as a person — and that’s to use my talents. I am only whole, helpful, and effective in the world if I’m putting action to thought. If I’m following intention with deed.
I’m sad, and I’m already nostalgic for this year-and-some-change as a full time reporter for the Times. But I’m happy to be leaving with an emotion that was very difficult for me to find before my year at the Times: pride, in myself and my work. It’s only been through the collective knowledge, work ethic, wisdom, humor, grace, curiosity and talent of the editorial team that I’ve become the writer and person I am now, on the other side of 365+ days of sitting at my desk in the corner by the printer.
I’ll continue to freelance for the Times and travel in the great shadow it casts over Little Rock and Arkansas. And I’ll put more effort into maintaining the relationships I’ve built this year, most importantly with the people I’ve worked with in this small, messy, fascinating room. One of the sentiments I’ve repeated most often about why I’ve loved working at the Times is that it’s made me feel like I’m in on the joke. Being inside the joke this year has made me feel like the very luckiest fly on the wall: of all the places I could have landed, it was here. And I am wildly, incredibly grateful.