英文

Coming Up for Air:The Dreams That Make Us

【明報專訊】When I was in law school I started a news blog called the Henry Street Chronicle. I called it that because I was then living in a studio apartment on Henry Street in downtown Brooklyn, a few blocks from where I attended law school. Law school is notoriously competitive, and this was the case when I went there. Stress came in many forms. Stress from assignments. Stress from overwork. Stress from falling behind. Stress from not doing any work but worrying about all the other students who were.

Even so I decided to start the Henry Street Chronicle because I wanted to keep alive a long-time dream I had of becoming a journalist. I can't for the life of me remember the kinds of stories I wrote for the blog; probably a mix of pieces on local news, politics and the arts. I remember only a few people read it; mostly friends and classmates. And it didn't last long; a few months, at most. But none of that mattered. I was able to get my amateur reporter fix while weathering the stresses of law school. The dream lived on.

I did well enough in law school to get a coveted job as a clerk for a federal judge in Brooklyn. It was a once-in-a-lifetime job with a once-in-a-lifetime boss, someone as smart as he was kind. I also got to write to my heart's content even if it wasn't always about things that I wanted to write about; it was a job, after all. But the journalism dream never went away. A few years into the clerkship Hurricane Katrina hit and tore through much of the American Deep South. I flew down to Louisiana to help with the recovery effort.

It was there that I met Marcia Fluer, a veteran television journalist, who came from Minnesota with her husband, also for the recovery effort. I worked with them on the same clean-up crew and we became friends. I told Marcia about my interest in becoming a journalist and she introduced me to a good friend of hers and another veteran reporter who had just then started a new job at the New York Times. His name was David Carr.

After I returned to New York, I met David for coffee near the old New York Times building to talk about reporting. David wasn't the kind of reporter one would imagine working at the New York Times. Gruff and coarse with a preference for all-black attire, he was also kind, generous and sincere in his advice. Among the things he told me was that to be a good reporter one had to read everything under the sun and try to make connections between seemingly unconnected stories, advice that I still follow to this day.

Some time after our meeting I wrote a piece and emailed it to David for his comments. He sent me back an email with some feedback on my writing, the gist of which was 'your reporting skills and prose suck but you can and will do better'. I couldn't write for days after receiving David's email. Not because I was discouraged but because I knew I had a lot more work to do if I wanted to become a better journalist and writer.

It didn't take me long to get back to the written word though, not just for my clerkship but also on the side, for newsy pieces that no one really read. At the end of my clerkship I was still nursing the journalism dream. By then most other clerks in my position would have already had jobs lined up with big law firms or the government. But I didn't. I still wanted to work as a reporter.

I continued to write and apply for any open journalism job I could find, and even once landed an interview in which I had to submit a sample article afterwards. But nothing came of that or anything else I tried. In the end I gave up on the idea of becoming a full-time journalist. Instead, I opened up my own law practice taking cases I wanted to take. I still got to do plenty of interviews, research, and writing. And if I was lucky (or not) I got to ask the occasional 'tough question' as well. If a compromise solution could be described as ideal this was it.

The dream still lives inside me, however, that one day I might become a journalist. I know well it is a dream that won't come true. But that's okay. Because there are many others more resourceful, stronger, and smarter than I am who share that same dream. And to see them succeed where I failed is good enough for me. So here's wishing all the journalists out there—those new to the field and crusty veterans alike—strength and resolve. This too shall pass.

■by Albert Wan

​Albert is the co‑founder and proprietor of Bleak House Books, an English language bookstore in San Po Kong.

(Email: albert@bleakhousebooks.com.hk)

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