Pandemic baby

You do what you got to do in a pandemic

I did not have “start a kids section for my local newspaper” as a bucket list item. Or even on my five year plan.

But here we are.

The first week of March, when I still worked in an office, things seemed to happen very quickly. One day, people were suggesting I was overreacting to the news when I said we should cancel events. The very next day, I sat in the office listening to the exclamations of all the sports that had been canceled. I sit right near sports. And I like to yell things through the doorway, like “WHATS A SPORPS!?” Or mispronounce the name of the Hawkeye’s coach. Do I do it on purpose or because I just can’t say Ferentz? I may never know.

But that week. As sports were canceled, I could hear them every time.



One by one, everything fell.

Sports is a huge driver for our newspaper. We have some of the best sports reporters in Iowa and they are beloved. And now, there is no section. No sports.

I know I joke a lot about not liking sports. But that’s of course, mostly a joke. I run all the time. I participate in sports (willingly? sometimes) and I understand their value and potency and need. But also even if I didn’t this is my paper, this is my community, these are my friends.

We also don’t have our Community pages because there are no community events. We are trying to get creative — cover live streams and video feeds and the people trying to do something new. But it still means less on the page.

And less on the page means fewer ads. Fewer ads mean a loss of revenue. Even huge grocery store chains, who are one of the few making money right now are pulling ads.

We had to come up with something. “Kids page?” I said.

Turns out, our education reporter, Molly Duffy, had already come up with a plan for a kids page in early 2019. But layoffs and shifting priorities put it on the back burner. I called her. We dusted off the plan and had some meetings.

We launched it in less than a week.

I started at the newspaper in August. I’ve been slowly learning this system called Saxo that is both a clunky CMS and a portal for print. I mostly assumed I wouldn’t have to learn the print side. Wow. I WAS WRONG.

I had to learn the print side in two days. I had to do that plus home school my kids. Plus just waking up to the reality of the virus. Oh also I judged a newspaper column contest.

It’s actually not THAT hard to learn print. But I have to learn to think in page space (column inches) and work with an already overloaded design staff, who is amazing, but the last thing they need is me being like “HOW MANY WORDS CAN I FIT ON HERE CAN YOU DRAW ME A CAT?”

No one yelled at me.

I grew up on the internet. I am an internet writer. I think, I understand instinctively about traffic and social sharing and headlines and audience. But to think in terms of space on a page. To limit your world to that area?

There might be a lesson here about the worlds we are now creating in our limited spaces. But you know what, not everything needs to be a lesson or a metaphor. We are just trying to survive.

I hope this kids section is successful. I hope we don’t have to have layoffs. I hope I have a job. I hope you all have jobs. Are you okay? Will you let me know how you are doing?

Did I ever tell you I am writing an Audible book? I am. It’s supposed to be about my days as a homeschooled kid. Which feels weirdly prescient right now. I keep telling my kids stories about what it was like. They love them. We’ve been making fires in my fireplace and then they’ll ask me to tell them stories. They only want “non-fiction.” So I dig deep and tell them how my childhood was divided between the house and the creek behind it and how we made our own world in that creek. But the world of the house was the world of worry and adults. I tell them about my sister Becky’s magical bike. And the angel mom says she saw one time. I tell them about Jessie almost shooting my ear with a BB gun and falling off the roof into the holly bushes. Their favorite is the story of the time, my brother Zach and I snuck out of church by crawling through the Sunday school window.

And as I tell them these stories, it occurs to me, that this oral storytelling is what is so great about the Audible book project. And I’m excited to explore that and make something good.


Here are some things I’ve written. And also a book you should all pre-order.

Yelling in a pandemic

I would prefer not to

Still mad as hell

Last week, I attended the “State of the City Speech” for Cedar Rapids. So, I could, as a local newspaper person, hear what’s happening in my city.

I hate meetings. They are usually a waste of time. Nothing ever gets done. And I have to listen to men. Even worse are speeches. Where you have to listen to men and maybe also eat bad food. This was the latter, dry chicken covered in some weird red sauce that tasted like warm ketchup, at a hotel in our ghost town of a downtown that we are constantly “revitalizing” but never seems to achieve vitality.

But, my boss thought it would be good experience.

So, I went.

Do you know what it’s like to live in a town of 300,000? Oh I’m sorry a city….Let me explain: The first time I met the mayor, I made a joke along the lines of,
I’m not new to town, I am new to writing about this town.”

"It’s a city,” he said.

I laughed.

He looked at me. Serious. “A city.”

“Great talking to you, Brad!” I said.

Any time he is mentioned in an article or column, he writes us to let us know whether he approves or not. Once, I got a snippy email from him, when I referenced Cedar Rapid’s own Fyre Festival. He wanted me to apologize for insinuating that he, as the mayor, a person who played a key role in authorizing millions of city dollars for the project, had anything to do with it. He sends the mean emails from his law firm account instead of his mayor account, to skirt around open records laws. When I reply, I CC the mayor email. Other people do it too.

So, I went to go hear the mayor speak at a hotel in our eternally revitalizing downtown in late February, that time of year, when you always hope the weather will be nice, but it never is.

Do you know what it’s like to live in a city of 300,000? I’ve been here 14 years. At this point, it’s a big small town. I know so many people from so many different contexts. People I’ve dated. People I met on play dates with our infants. People I know from the gym. People I know because our kids were friends at camp. People I know because I used to drink with them after work. Events like these always involve conversations like, Oh I saw you at the store the other day! How is Tinley doing and wow fifth grade already? Good thing we don’t age hahahaaa!

I read How to Make Friends and Influence People at age 10 so I’m pretty adept at this sort of talk.

I was in my zone, when a man introduced himself to me. That was his first mistake. It’s 2020, I’m not gonna get to vote for a woman for president, men NO LONGER HAVE THE RIGHT.

It was the city manager and he seemed nervous.

“I’ve been wanting to meet you for a while,” he said. “But all my friends said, maybe I don’t want to. Should I be scared? Hahaha.”

I stared blankly. “Yes. You should be.”

I turned and walked away.

It’s a weird thing to think someone might be afraid of you. Especially since the entirety of my womanhood was about being softer, smaller, quieter. My first instinct is to try and set people at ease. Offer them drinks, food, a joke. Anything.

But this isn’t the first time someone has said this to me. And I think I’m supposed to laugh and reassure them I’m fine. I’m normal. They want me to be gentle. I’m fierce and smart but not with you. Hahaha #NotAllMen

I won’t do it. Not any more. You should be intimidated. You should be afraid. I will not moderate my tone or my opinions. You cannot apply for a waiver.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that moment this week as the presidential field narrows to two old white men. How this primary season we watched female candidates bend and twist and spin plates and throw batons and make plans and be tough, but also approachable, and and and. And all have it come to this moment.

I think something fundamental broke in me four years ago. And when I think I can’t break any more, more things in me break again.

Yesterday, when Warren dropped out, I refused to talk to anyone in the office and finally just took a walk so I could get out of my head. It probably wasn’t nice or collegial, I don’t know. I won’t apologize.

I needed to walk. Because my head was full of everything. I was thinking about the time a person asked me to take some money and walk away from my life and kids, because, it was clear from my ambitions I never really wanted them in the first place. I was thinking about my inbox and the angry emails that pile up the more my career takes off. The chorus of men following me around saying you don’t belong. You are a slut. You are an idiot. I was thinking about meeting Warren and how wonderful and savvy she was. How I felt like an idiot for actually liking a politician, because at this point I should be dead inside about it all, but I’m not. And I kept thinking like what is the point if you can’t ever get as far as you want to? What is the point if you do all this work and in the end men pat you on the head and offer you a consolation prize. I swear to god if one more person says “She can be VP” I will start shin kicking at an incredible rate.

It’s all connected, isn’t it?

On my walk, March felt raw and the town, dirty from snow melt, looked like a wound.

I texted a lot of friends. And then stared into the Cedar River, which keeps flooding my town. And yet we still live here. I still live here.

Finally, I walked back and got some work done. What other choice do we have?

But going forward, no one gets a waiver.

  • I wrote about all my Warren feelings for Glamour

  • 82-year-old Beverly Young is sick of your bullshit

  • A few thoughts on unity

    Gentle note: My emails are going to have grammar mistakes and errors. I write these for fun and because I love talking to you all. But I write them on Fridays (mostly) in stolen moments from work. This isn’t an apology, it’s an explanation. Please do not offer to fix my commas. My commas are happy being a mess.

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