Memory Stick

liplinerEvery morning for the past 39 years, while going through the mindless routine of putting on my morning makeup, I’m jolted by a memory from my past.

Just when I’m gliding the smooth lip liner over the contour of my lips, I see it.  The memory jars me. I scowl because I think to myself, “After nearly 40 years, why do you still have this reaction?  Why are you haunted by this memory?”

There’s a distinct tear, a split, an unmistakable scar on the surface of my lip.  It represents a very dark day in my life when my incisor tooth sliced through my face and bled non-stop down my brand new suede jacket.

Screen_shot_2012-03-26_at_9I remember I paid a handsome $79 for that jacket in 1978. 

It was a foolish, indulgent purchase that I really couldn’t afford. Now ruined, I’d have to throw it away; get rid of it.

Destroy the evidence.

I had managed to get away from my abusive boyfriend.  Had been accepted to the state university. I was starting a new life.  Even met a new guy.  My life was turning around.

Until that night.

I don’t recall specifically the circumstances of how or why my abuser showed up that evening at my campus dorm.  I just remember the fateful blow.  That white light that explodes behind your eyes when you’re hit with the physics of brute force, and the delayed pain.  The blood begins before the pain.  And thinking, “God damnit, I just bought this jacket!”

Then, the tears.  And then, the shame.

In a single swift blow, a violent man forever corrupted such a mundane experience hundreds of millions of women go through every day.  For the rest of my life, I’m trapped in that memory loop.  And, as you can see, that scar is just one of many.

That one is visible.

“She Thinks Who She Is”

film

I had the pleasure of attending a free session associated with the Florida Film Festival 2017 #FFF2017 taking place this week in Orlando.

Titled, “Indie Women: Grab’em by the Movies,” the panel included Jennifer Brea (Unrest), Dorie Barton (Girl Flu.), Julie Sokolow (Woman on Fire), and Valerie Weiss (The Archer). It was moderated by Anne Russell, Program Director—Film Production MFA from Full Sail University.

It was terrific listening to these filmmakers.  It occurred to me that they all shared one common characteristic regardless of their experience or genre: confidence.*  They all shared the will to pursue creating a film they cared about, regardless of the professional cost.  I’m sure you could say the same for male directors, but after listening to the alarming stats– 5% of Hollywood film directors are female; only 20% of Indie film directors are female– you can see how it’s more laudable that these women pursued their art and are achieving recognition in a heavily male-dominated field.

One quote particularly spoke to me from Jennifer Brea:

Over the past two years, my two male partners and I have had some rocky ups and downs while bringing our film High Point 10-79 to life.  But, in the end, we consistently focused on what we were out to achieve.  When we show people the film preview, we always get the response we were after.  I know that feeling of satisfaction she is talking about in this remark.

There is no other medium like film to stir one’s soul in ways that need to be stirred.  I’m really looking forward to finishing our film.  It will be a powerful piece of storytelling that stands to ignite a movement. Stay tuned.

*This phrase was always meant to be a catty put-down when I was in high school. But, I always liked it.  I’ve always found if a girl has a lot of confidence, that’s about all she needs. 

Truth and Consequences

challenger

Before we were engulfed in the digital age, reporters depended mostly on human to human interactions to get the news. As a professional writer, you had to cultivate sources on the phone and in person.  You needed to be an expert listener and build trust with your sources.  It was a careful balance (as it is today) to get the story while protecting your source at the same time. Once you had the story, you had to cajole and horse trade to get a few sources to confirm the story on the record before you’d consider writing your piece.

I read somewhere recently that journalism is one of the few respected fields where you don’t need credentials to be really good.  It never occurred to me that this is true, although my experience certainly bears this out.  I’ve even heard it described more of a trade than a profession.

In the 90s, I was a columnist and a newsletter editor.  I penned an insidery trade publication that had a lot of clout in my corner of the tech market.  In those days, the trade and business media would rely on niche market newsletter editors to get the inside scoop on what was happening in the field.

One week, I had just gotten off the phone with a couple of sources who were spilling details about a big deal (measured in hundreds of millions) going on behind the scenes in Australia.  They happened to mention one of their company’s leading executives was flying home at that very moment after personally pitching the customer’s executive team.  These guys weren’t part of the leadership team, but they were solid sources. I could always trust them to be reliable, and them me. I checked in with them from time to time to confirm something I was hearing on the whisper circuit.  I had cultivated sources at many levels within the company I was covering by that time and getting confirmations was fairly easy when something big was going down.

The next day, I got a call from the corporate executive they had mentioned.  He wanted to talk to me about something unrelated, but mentioned that he was thinking of me the day before.  When I told him I was flattered he was thinking of me in his corporate jet half-way around the world, he was a little unsettled.  In fact, he really was shocked that I knew he had been flying back from Australia.

Things changed for me after that day.  The executives at the company became a little fearful of the deep sources I had inside the company.  A friend who was involved with someone doing PR for the corporation told him, “When Susan calls Dallas, butts pucker.”

That was a long time ago, and I’m not writing this to show off.  I want to use this example to explain something critical to getting to the truth of a matter.  In short it’s this:  in order for people to tell you the truth, they have to trust you. Earning someone’s trust is an iterative, slow process.  As a writer, you have to repeatedly demonstrate your sincere interest in learning the truth.  You have to carefully transcribe what a source told you into prose that accurately reflects what he or she said. And you have to wrap their testimony in accurate context – every time. No mistakes.  And above all, you can’t have an agenda in seeking out the truth.

Decent people want to tell you the truth.  There’s a powerful tool always working for a good reporter which is the human conscience.  Not surprisingly, unscrupulous people generally want to lie, confuse, and mislead you.

Where am I going with this?

Today’s political climate is filled with paranoia, distrust, and fear. Alternative news sources that are proliferating propaganda and skewed reports are reaching new audiences hungry to trust them as credible outlets. More importantly, serious news outlets being cast as dishonest and inaccurate are struggling adjusting to new business models.

“The media” – the highest profile, most revered publishers and broadcasters in the world – are under siege from factions (foreign and domestic) that benefit from their delegitimization.

While all this is true, I’m feeling optimistic that truth will ultimately prevail over media manipulation and “fake news.” In my experience, decent people operate regularly within a clear set of moral boundaries that define them.  These individuals will always seek reputable writers whom they trust implicitly to tell their truth.

While the media landscape is changing, what I know for certain is decent people share a common characteristic that transcends brands, pedigree, titles, or platforms.  It even transcends politics, race, ethnicity, and gender.

That common characteristic is integrity.

Good writers can sense it instinctively. Bad writers don’t need it. Networks of outlets and audiences strung together with alternative, fake stories will dissolve over time because they have no foundation. There will be too many disappointments and promises broken. A strong network based on mutual respect, trust, and honesty has truth as its bedrock. It grows only stronger and is reinforced with every interaction. At some point, it becomes impenetrable.

So, have faith in humanity as this new chapter in our history is written.  We’re going to survive this era by trusting ethical and moral principles that have stood the test of time.