A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Little Bit Like Lois Lane

Before there was Buffy, there was Lois Lane.

Lois first appeared in Action Comics No. 1, which was published in June of 1938, and she wasn’t a push-over even in the late 1930s. She has only appeared in five frames of the story before she slaps a rude and unwelcome suitor across the face, then she stomps out in a huff because Clark Kent hadn’t stood up to the man on her behalf.

“Be reasonable, Lois,” says the undercover superhero, who wishes to avoid a scene. “Dance with the fellow and then we’ll leave right away.”

Hands on her hips, she replies, “You can stay and dance with him if you wish, but I’m leaving NOW!” And then comes the SMACK.

When she’s around Clark, she’s a sassy career girl – but she melts like a Hershey Kiss on a hot summer day as soon as Superman swoops onto the scene. And although I didn’t grow up reading the original comic series, the Lois Lane that I knew was very similar: both a high-minded feminist and secret romantic, a hard-bitten journalist with an idealistic dream of making the world a better place.

I was ten years old in 1993 when Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman was first broadcast on ABC, and my family soon started watching the show every Sunday night. For several years, it was an important tradition – pop a bag of Orville Redenbacher, stretch out on the couch, and enjoy the antics of Dean Cain (Clark), Teri Hatcher (Lois), John Shea (Lex Luthor) and Lane Smith (Perry White, now styled as an Elvis-impersonator).

I already invoked the image of Wonder Woman in a previous entry, but Lois Lane is actually a much more accurate role model for my career path and a much more important idea in the history of my writing career.

When I was in junior high, I wanted so badly to be Lois; she embodied or had so many of the things that I desired for my own life. Here was an independent woman, a career writer campaigning for justice. She had found a way to use her words in powerful ways that had a fairly immediate impact on her community and earned her a certain amount of prestige as well, which she leveraged on behalf of other people. Here was a working woman who was determined to be successful, and although she felt torn by the desire to be involved in a romantic relationship, she refused to compromise her goals or her integrity. She seemed like a superhero in her own right, brandishing the power of the press.

My high school didn’t have a school paper, but when I got to college, I found that my roommate was a journalism major and worked for the university’s newspaper. I signed myself up right away – I was going to be a reporter just like Lois Lane.

Of course, then I discovered that journalism is nothing like creative writing. I had been accustomed to writing lengthy, rambling journal entries and poems with drippy romantic phrases, which I dedicated to the current love of my seventeen-year-old life. Working for a newspaper, though, you have to squeeze most of the who, what, when and where into the lead sentence, then explain the how and why in fairly concise terms. I was disappointed to realize that as a journalist, you haven’t got the ability to pussyfoot around with poetic language and metaphors like a teenage girl alone in her room with her diary. So, after writing exactly two articles for the news section of the Eastern Echo, I decided that maybe I should try my hand at being a theater and arts columnist instead of a feature writer. But as a college freshman, even that seemed like too much work because I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy the performance – I had to be turned on during the whole show. Since at that time, I was mainly concerned with enjoying myself – like most college freshmen – I dropped that gig pretty quickly too.

Of course now, I live much more in the real world.

After four years of undergraduate education and two years of graduate school, I’m a much more serious researcher and writer. I still love poetry, but I understand a lot more about what makes language a powerful tool. A well-written proposal or argument may use a few poetic or unusual images, but mostly relies on clarity and the immediate deployment of those cold, hard facts. I’m back to the who, what, when, where, why and how. I’ve just learned to enjoy the process of relating those things with as much of a creative spin as I can muster.

And now I’ve got the opportunity to be a little bit like my childhood role model Lois Lane: I got to “cover” my first “story” at work yesterday. Of course, this meant walking over to the alternative high school on the campus of our social services organization so that I could watch the reading teachers award their high achievers of the marking period, which doesn’t exactly seem like front page news. Yet in a way, it is – these are kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have struggled a great deal with their academics in the past. To earn the attention of a teacher or a mentor shows great progress in their ability to remain focused and pursue academic goals that are extremely important for their future success. So while I may not yet be uncovering ponzi schemes or assassination attempts like the dogged Ms. Lane, my little blurb in the electronic newsletter might play a role in encouraging these students toward further success.

It’s a little thing, a baby step, but it feels good – like I’m about to embark on something bigger. Once I figure out how to put together the newsletters, pamphlets and other publicity materials for our organization, I think I’ll be helping the campaign to uphold “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” just like Supes and his feisty girlfriend. I’ll be doing essentially what Lois does – telling people’s stories in order to give them a voice, find help and justice for others like them. I have a bigger opportunity to try this out on Friday, when I am covering our organization’s “Legislative Action Day,” a fairly important event for our department and our overall establishment. I’m excited and a little nervous – and I’ll try to calm my nerves by picturing Teri Hatcher with a pen in hand, scribbling down notes at press conference.

It’s funny how at first I thought that my career change would be a tragedy, a jarring disconnect from the previous directions and pursuits of my life – but now it seems like I have always wanted this job, always been preparing for it.

I can finally try my hand at being Lois Lane.

(Of course, this is a very high-minded, idealistic way of thinking about my job... but that's a topic for another post.)

1 comment:

XY said...

It's very nice you're able to connect what you do now with your childhood dream/ambition. It seems you have always identified yourself mainly as a writer trying to use your words to make a difference. I've gone through many more identity changes seems like and now I'm really having trouble answering the "who am I" question:)

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