Tag Archives: Writer

Powered by interns

When you run a small media company like ours, maintaining a steady stream of capable interns is the difference between muddling through and really moving forward. When you can confidently offload some of the routine tasks involved in creating and editing content for publication (for print and web), you finally find time to tackle the big-picture tasks that hover too long on the “when I can get to it” list.

So it was with a sense of excited anticipation that I returned to Phoenix after a five-day trip to Seattle (where I spent some all-too-rare time with my two brothers) to welcome two summer interns to the RAK family.

Robert Balint. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

One is very familiar. Robert Balint, son of RAK multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, is something of a returning veteran. His first stories appeared in Raising Arizona Kids in 2008, when he was still in high school at Brophy College Preparatory.

“Girls on the Mat” was about a female high school wrestler, “When Your Child Doesn’t Make the Cut” was about young athletes facing rejection and “Physicals Keep Athletes in the Game” explained what doctors look for during sports physicals.

That same year, Robert shared insights on his participation in the Phoenix Sister Cities program and many of us followed his blog posts during that trip. (We look forward to reading the next installments in his “Daily Occurences” travel blog when he leaves in July to spend six months studying in Argentina.)

Robert, who just completed his sophomore year at Boston College, will be with us for about six weeks before he heads to South America. During his internship, he will be writing for our collaborative Sports Roundtable blog, to which my husband Dan, who missed his calling as a sports reporter, periodically contributes. Dan and Robert teamed up in the multimedia department during Robert’s internship last summer, when they produced a great video piece about a high school football lineman competition.

I look forward to working with and getting to know our second summer intern, Sadie Smeck. Sadie is a graduate of Arcadia High School and currently is attending Washington University in St. Louis, where she will be a junior this fall, majoring in international studies and Spanish and minoring in writing. Although Washington University does not have a school of journalism, she is a reporter, writer and editor for the university’s independent newspaper, Student Life.

Sadie Smeck. Photo by Daniel Friedman. I have Vicki to thank for Sadie, too. Vicki introduced me by email  to Sadie, whom she described as “a family friend from our neighborhood, a good student and a hard worker.” While she’s with us this summer, Sadie will be covering community news, education and more.

In the “small world” department, it turns out that Account Executive Catherine Griffiths also knows Sadie. When Catherine showed up at work this morning (with her mom, who’s in town for Hunter Griffiths’ eighth-grade graduation), she immediately rushed over to greet Sadie warmly.

Turns out Catherine, whose older son Harlan has Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes, was once offered some very wise advice by Sadie’s mom, who was also navigating that journey because Sadie’s older sister lives with diabetes.

Read Catherine’s story, “What I Wish I’d Known about Managing My Son’s Diabetes.”

A celebration at Phoenix Children’s Hospital

Randy Christensen, M.D., autographs a book.

As we approached the table where pediatrician and newly minted author Randy Christensen, M.D. was autographing copies of his book, we joked about being his “groupies.”

The book-signing event in the airy, natural light-filled lobby at the new patient tower at Phoenix Children’s Hospital was the second event in the past three weeks that multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint and I have attended in support of Christensen, his new book (Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them) and his work with the Crews’n Healthmobile, a collaborative effort between Phoenix Children’s Hospital and UMOM New Day Centers.

Vicki and Randy at a March luncheon where he was the featured speaker.

Groupies? Well, certainly admirers. Vicki, who interviewed Christensen for a story we published in January 2008, has followed his journey with great interest. She even read an advance copy of his book, which is a memoir about his work spearheading medical outreach to homeless teens, and wrote a review that will appear in our upcoming May magazine.

I am looking forward to reading my own copy, which I purchased at the PCH gift shop and which is inscribed, “Thanks so much for your support!” by “Dr. Randy.”

The event, which carried on throughout the day and early evening, was a true celebration. Many of Christensen’s coworkers and medical colleagues from around the community were there. Everyone was beaming. Some were wearing handmade bracelets mimicking the one adorning the book jacket. Teresa Boeger, a child life specialist and director at PCH (with responsibilities encompassing The Emily Center and the gift shop, too),  found a couple of extra bracelets, which she promptly gave to Vicki and me. With the “Ask Me Why I Hurt” message so relevant for the hospital’s young patients, I would expect to see a lot more of these around the hospital in the days and weeks to come. Vicki urged her to market them at the gift shop, with proceeds benefiting the Crews’n Healthmobile.

Michelle Ray, who sought medical help from the Crews'n Healthmobile while living at a UMOM New Day Center, came to offer her support. Michelle, now the mother of a 4-year-old, is studying to be a nurse. Christensen is her child's pediatrician.

Before we left, we took a quick tour of the new Crews’n Healthmobile, a big upgrade over the original vehicle (which Vicki wrote about visiting in her Health Matters blog).

When Vicki first interviewed Randy, he wasn’t necessarily thinking about writing a book. And yet he first talked to Vicki he told her about the young woman who wore a bracelet saying “Ask Me Why I Hurt.” As I listened to the interview again recently, I got chills. The larger purpose behind this man’s life, work — and now, his writing — is plainly clear.

Listen to Vicki’s 2008 podcast.

Randy and Amy Christensen. Amy is also a pediatrician.

The Crews'n Healthmobile and staff. Photo by Vicki Louk Balint.

With Randy at the PCH gift shop. Photo by Vicki Louk Balint.

They always come back

I got an email from Stage Mom blogger and longtime magazine contributor Lynn Trimble today. She asked me a question about something she was working on and then added:

P.S. LIZABETH LEAVES FOR NYC ON THURSDAY!!!!!!!!! (I wonder if she’ll ever come back!!)

I knew she was kidding — kind of. I remember well the competing emotions she will be feeling as her youngest heads out into the big world on her own. Elation, pride and excitement of course. But always that twinge of sadness that comes with knowing that nothing will ever be the same as it was.

Lynn and Lizabeth at a "Say It with Flowers" fundraiser for the ALS Assocation that our staff attended in 2004.

I remember a song we moms used to sing with our kids at preschool: “My mommy comes back/She always comes back/She always comes back to get me…”

It was meant to allay the fears of little ones who often became anxious and clingy when it was time for Mommy to say goodbye.

Now some of these kids are saying goodbye and it’s the moms who are feeling anxious and clingy. As one who has been there, I can vouch for the fact that grown children “always come back,” too. Not for long, sometimes, and not always easily or comfortably. But enough to let you know that you still matter in their lives.

Breaking the block

Our blueline for the February magazine came to the office today. That’s always our last chance to proofread. Our last chance to make changes. Our last chance to catch the mistakes that inevitably slip past the earlier proofs.

When you stare at pages for days on end it’s almost impossible to see where something is still wrong. Your brain sees what it wants to see. So you do your best, take a deep breath and send your publication off to the printer. You know there are mistakes waiting to jump out and mock you — typically once the magazine is printed and delivered to the office. But you do get that one last chance to catch them.

When I looked at the blueline today, the first thing that caught my eye was my own name on the masthead. It was wrong. In two different places! You’d think I could at least get my own name right.

For 21 years I didn’t touch my name on the masthead. It was always “Karen Barr.” And then in December, I changed it. One of my staff members noticed, and asked me about it. “It’s a long story,” I told her, then changed the subject.

So here’s the story.

In early November, I took most of a week away from the office to write “An Ethiopia Adoption Story” for the December magazine. My husband was out of town. The timing was perfect. I was looking forward to spending long, uninterrupted days at my computer, blissfully playing with words. The story would be the framework for a book I hoped would follow. I gave myself a week to luxuriate in the lifestyle of a writer, without the distracting duties of a publisher and editor.

Except that’s not what happened. The first day came and went and everything I wrote sounded terrible. Then the second. And the third. I tried what typically works for me when I’m experiencing writer’s block: I went for a hike in the desert. Even that didn’t help. By the fourth night, I was truly starting to panic. I woke up from a bad dream with the very real and frightening sensation of terrible pressure on my chest.

The next day I spent some time with someone who knows me well. By talking with her, I came to realize why this particular story was so hard for me to write: It was fraught with unresolved emotions about my father, who struggled in his last years to write the book he always dreamed of writing.

My dad did finish a novel before he died. It was never published. And for 21 years I ignored it.

My father always said there were messages in  his book — things he never felt he could tell my brothers or me. I never read it because I was afraid I wouldn’t find them.

But dismissing his effort was now affecting mine.

So how did I break my writer’s block? I allowed my dad into my writing process. I pulled his manuscript out of the closet and put it on the shelf near my computer. I started reading it. And when I turned back to my own story, the first thing I did was insert his name, my maiden name, into it. I silently asked him to let me go — to let me do this. And, as Karen Davis Barr, I got to work.

Wielding the unwelcome power to wound

Empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is feeling — to take a few steps in their shoes. I have a lot of empathy for writers lately.

As I enter Day 6 in the WordPress Post-a-Day Challenge, I am plagued by a gnawing anxiety. It goes way beyond “What should I write about today?” It speaks more to “Who the heck do you think you are? What makes your words so important? Why should anyone care?”

In the verdant field of joyful creativity, such doubts are land mines.

If doubt is a writer’s worst enemy, editors certainly come next. I should know; I play both roles. I despise the power I have as “the decider” when it comes to the dozens of queries and freelance submissions I receive each week. I abhore the license it gives me to bruise egos, albeit unintentionally.

I tend to respond quickly to queries that are fresh and exciting, relevant to our mission and described in full sentences with proper spelling and grammar. Dispatching the others is excruciating. I waffle and delay and wring my hands about how to respond. Sometimes, when I can’t think of anything encouraging to say, or when I am simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of queries, I don’t respond at all.

There is no easy way to let someone down. And no easy way to be the person who does it.

Tomorrow: The definition of a terrible story pitch.