For the last three months, I was living in New York City for a summer internship at The New York Times. It seems weird to type that using the past tense, because it simultaneously feels like only yesterday and forever ago that I graduated with my bachelor’s in May. Now, after years of following a clear-cut path — brush your teeth, go to school, get good grades, graduate — I’m left wondering, what now? In a lot of ways, this summer helped answer that question for me, but in other ways, I’m left even more confused than before.
I’ve dodged drunken New Yorkers after midnight, gotten ridiculously lost on the subway, strolled through Central Park, shopped in Harlem, and eaten way too much pizza (sorry New York — Detroit-style deep dish is still better). I spent almost three months away from home, living in a strange, loud, chaotic city where you cross paths with thousands of people every day without a single one of them knowing or caring who you are. There’s comfort in that, sometimes — in the knowledge that you can make yourself into someone or something different without being constrained by other people’s expectations.
But on the other hand, how can you ever really embrace your individuality, if at the end of the day you’re just another small cog in the machine? How do you ever get to the point where your choices seem to matter?
“You’re so brave,” my family keeps saying to me. “I’m so proud of you. I could never do what you’re doing.”
It baffles me whenever someone uses “brave” and “Sydnee” in the same sentence. But there was some courage involved, I guess. In order to accept a dream internship in New York City, first you have to apply. And when you’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety for literally half your life, taking that first step is always the hardest. But I can’t help but wonder if that’s enough.
I just finished my internship, where I was copy editing foreign and national news. What I read and edited on those pages were overwhelming in themselves: Standoffs between Ukraine and Russia. A plane exploding over Ukraine after one of three belligerents, yet to be determined, hit it with a missile, killing 300 civilians. A terrorist organization called ISIS, overtaking cities throughout Iraq. America launches airstrikes to quell them. No ground offensive, Obama says, then later changes it to “maybe.” The largest Ebola epidemic in recorded history. Renisha McBride’s killer is convicted. Ferguson, Missouri, devolves into chaos after yet another unarmed black teenager is shot and the police move in to “suppress” the violent “instigators.” Robin Williams dies by suicide. Israel and Hamas trade rockets and hundreds trapped in the crossfire lose their lives. People canoeing down the street after record-breaking floods engulf metro-Detroit.
I was closer to all of this than I’ve ever been, because it was my job to pay attention to the facts and analyze each piece of the developing stories, day by day. But through it all, I was still just a recent college graduate sitting in an air-conditioned office, sipping Dasani while huge swaths of the world burned to the ground.
And that’s always been the case, but never before has it felt so…wrong. And so I can’t help but wonder if a desk job is what I was meant to do. I like to write, and I’m good at editing, but I’ve started to realize that life is about more than doing what you love, at least in the strictest sense.
There’s always been an internal force driving me toward journalism, because the news is important, right? And the journalism industry’s issue with diversity is well known — surely I would just be making things worse by bowing out. Still, there’s been an equal and opposite force driving me away from it. I’ve always wanted to write novels, and if I wasn’t utterly convinced that I’d fail, that’s what I’d pursue full time. But is that what I “should” do?
I suppose that has been this summer’s greatest gift to me — forcing me to analyze the world, and myself, with a magnifying glass. Poking and prodding me, stretching me, sometimes in an attempt to get a square peg to fit into a round hole. It’s about more than money, or career goals — it’s about journalism, an industry that has always presented itself as the watchdog of the government and protector of the little guy, but has often proven itself to be anything but. It’s about personal responsibility, and culpability — wondering if you should do things because you can, because you want to, or because you need to.
Before this summer, I never really understood why so many journalists were so eager to travel to places of conflict and violence to get “the scoop.” (“You’re not going to be one of those journalists dodging missiles in Afghanistan, are you?” “No way, I like my body without holes in it, thank you very much.”) Now, I understand. Sometimes the only thing that keeps you from breaking is charging out to the frontlines yourself.
I still don’t think I’m all that brave. I still have panic attacks over the most ridiculous of things, and I’d much rather lie in bed and daydream than go to a protest. But I love to write, and I know writing can and does change things, even when it’s nestled between two covers with half-naked men on them. So maybe, at least for the moment, that’s enough. Luckily, I have a bit of time to figure it out.
Thanks, NYC. It’s been real.