Telling a storyteller’s story

Today was a long day at work. This week, though it’s only Wednesday, has been a long week. When I got home around 10 tonight, I crawled straight into bed after a rare 12-hour day. 

I was reading the Humans of New York page on Facebook and getting really excited about my next story series on agriculture. Monday morning I was on a small cattle farm with a man who runs the place himself and knows the cows personally. Though it’s not the point of the story, it’s such a fun part that I wanted to start transcribing while I had the storytelling bug and could remember details — how he wears shorts in waist-high grass, keeps his socks folded just above his boots and puts his hands on his hips when he’s thinking about the next task. 

Out of no where, Claws jumped straight up on my laptop. To be fair, I haven’t used my laptop as much in the last year, but I don’t think he’s pulled this stunt since our time on the Hill. But he decided he’d had enough of this working business and needed some cuddles. 

At that point, while frantically trying to hit command+S through layers of fur and fat, it occurred to me that nobody really tells the stories of the storytellers. I doubt anyone who knows my cat would question his behavior … but even I question why it brought my thoughts here. 

I love telling the stories of the people in our area, and finding a good one here and there makes it so worth the extra hours. I can’t wait to try to convey what it’s like to run a cattle farm to people who’ve never walked in the same field as livestock. But man, some days at work are such struggles.

We need breaking news, we need a human interest piece, we need good art, we need to be in three places at once, we need more space, we need to follow up on a meeting and we need to do it all right now. It’s hard.

We’re a small staff with a large coverage area and the slow days speed up at the drop of a hat. Nothing is expected, but nothing is unexpected. So when I want to find out what it’s like to be a cattle farmer and find a guy who will happily spend his retirement counting cows and looking for calves hidden in the grass, it’s an unexpected happy. 

When someone remembers a story I wrote last year about a bone marrow drive for a toddler who passed away last week from a rare leukemia, it’s unexpected. It was also probably unexpected when I started crying in the middle of the phone call. 

It’s expected that we’ll take pictures of a wreck that happens right outside the office. But taking a phone —  with a freshly busted screen — from a man who is shaking, whose first language is not English, so I can talk to a frantic stranger on the other end of the line? Probably not. 

Today was just so unexpected in so many ways. An ambulance happened to be driving by stoped and the EMTs examined the patients. A woman from our office broke out her old policing skills and directed traffic. Someone scrambled to find umbrellas to provide shade for the EMTs and drivers.

People are amazing. I get so caught up in finding the right way to word things so the important nuances don’t go unnoticed. What pulled me into journalism in the first place was the opportunity to tell other people’s stories. 

But, as Claws reminded me tonight, it’s best to put down the notepad and occasionally write your own.