So, if you’ve been a follower of this blog/email (or just my life lately) you’ve probably gotten some idea of what I’ve been up to. You probably know that I’ve been freelancing for The New York Times and some other publications lately. Maybe you’ve forgotten that I’m also a grad student at Columbia (hey, sometimes I forget, too.)
You may have known that I was winding down the semester with a big (read: 2500 words) story on AIDS education in Central Brooklyn as the grand finale for my RW1 class. I did finish the story, and Prof. Gissler said I ended “on the upswing.” So that’s good. The story ended up diverting slightly from what I had in mind. That is to say that originally it was to look at how AIDS was taught in Central Brooklyn schools, which has one of the highest AIDS rates and where local officials say that the education is abysmal or non-existent. However, given that getting into NYC schools is probably harder than getting into Fort Knox, I gave up on that route and ended up writing about how different organizations are doing after-school presentations so they don’t have to be bound by city rules concerning time format and condom distribution and demonstrations. So that was sorta interesting. (Maria, do you happen to know what the rules are in the East Bay concerning condom distribution in schools?) Here in NYC since the Board of Education passed a rule in 1995, you can’t give out or demonstrate condoms in a classroom. If a student wants a condom, they have to go to a “health resource room” (read: nurse’s office or some equivalent thereof) and get explained how to use it there. (Anyone looking for a public health thesis? Go find out how often this is happening.)
I ended up meeting this one pretty articulate kid who is a peer educator for the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force, who closed out my piece:
Other peer educators, like Derrick Braxton, say that they have had similar experiences with their friends as well.
“Some of the dudes that I know that are desperate [to have sex], they’re just going to ride it naked, without a hat,” says Braxton. “They say that the condom takes all the fun away. I say to them that you have to use protection. I tell ’em: ‘Yo man, strap up. You don’t want to get anybody pregnant or you don’t want to catch nothin’.”
But Braxton even goes so far to ensure that his buddies listen that he has become a de facto condom distributor — supplied by the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force.
“I say that whenever you need protection, just come to my house,” he says. “I’m always protected for myself and my friends. I give ’em out to people. ‘Take this, you might need it.'”
I wish there were more kids like him.
So now the big school assignment that I have over my head is my thesis. Which is due in almost exactly three months. That’s 5,000 words. Originally I was going to write on new Senegalese immigrants, but my scouting trips into Little Senegal in Harlem didn’t really produce anything. Then I was going to expand the AIDS piece — but my advisor didn’t go for that. So now, I’m going to write about what it’s like to be gay in high school in NYC in 2004. I just need to find some kids. Shouldn’t be too hard, just need to do it.
You might be wondering — “If Cyrus is the Wanderlust Geek, why isn’t he writing about tech?” — and the answer is, I’d love to. But, I can’t come up with something that can be reported on here in New York for 5,000 words. I probably could come up with some other things back in the Bay Area — but not here. If anyone can come up with anything — tell me now.
We finished the semester a week ago. We had a take-home final for our law class and an in-class 15 minute final for our Critical Issues class (man that class was useless). So I’m on break until January 24 (!!!). Of course, I have to use those last two weeks to really bear down on my thesis. I return from California on January 9.
So what’s the sched for next semester? In spring, you take four basic classes. Thesis (doesn’t meet as a class), Seminar, Workshop, and Elective.
Monday 9 – 5 pm : Book Writing (seminar)
This seminar teaches students to prepare a book proposal, including an overview essay and a sample chapter, both at least 4,000 words long. Each student must enter the class with either sufficient material from elsewhere or an idea that can be researched in the New York area. Students will not be permitted to use their Master’s Project for this seminar. Coursework ranges from intensive study of literary non-fiction and journalistic fiction, with related writing assignments on a weekly basis, to instruction in the techniques of reporting and writing extended narrative, and of producing a book proposal. Guest speakers from the publishing industry appear frequently. Enrollment limited, with approval of instructor.
Tuesday : No class, but probably will be used for thesis time
Wednesday 5 – 8 pm : Radio Documentary (elective)
This course teaches the art and techniques of documentary journalism. Students explore documentary storytelling through the use of strong writing, compelling voices, sound, scene and narrative. Radio is the ideal medium for the documentary; at its best, radio combines the power and immediacy of great documentary films with the intimacy and poetry of a New Yorker-style magazine piece. This course combines instruction in advanced writing, sound-gathering and multi-layered audio mixes. Guest lectures and discussions will focus on various stylistic and ethical issues related to documentary work.
Thursday 5 – 7 pm : Radio (workshop)
Students will employ advance radio writing and production techniques in a variety of radio formats. The course will emphasize fully reported, radio news and magazine reports such as those featured most commonly on NPR programs. In addition to reporting, the class will function as a program production team whose fundamental task is to produce a weekly radio news magazine, broadcast on the internet. Students will learn the full range of techniques of radio reporting, writing and on-air production, including newscasts, spot news, reports in the 3-4 minute range, and longer descriptive and narrative pieces using documentary methods. The course is intended to provide mastery of the most important skills needed in the news department of a good quality local radio station or national news organization.
Friday 9 am – 6:30 pm : Radio, continued
So I’ll be busy. On top of all that, I plan on maintaining my freelancing gigs (NYT, Wired, Macworld, with a little Wired News). And maybe doing some stuff on the side Morning Stories at WGBH.
Speaking of gigs, this brings me to my “big news” that I hinted at from yesterday.
I’m going to be a book editor! On a book about Iranian Blogs!
Yesterday morning I got an email from an Iranian-British woman who lives in London.
A few hours later, I got a call from London, and we talked a little bit and even though I don’t have any book editing experience (or any experience beyond editing the Sci-Tech page at the Daily Cal), she still wanted me to do it. I think my two big qualifications are that I’m Iranian (well, half, anyway) and that I like blogs. So she sent me the 200-page manuscript and I printed it out last night. I’ll have a look at it this weekend — so far, it looks fascinating.
So yeah. Holy crap. I’m editing a book. A book. On Iranian blogs! Huzzah!
(One more thing: if there’s anything in particular that people in CA want from NYC — email me before midnight eastern time on Sunday.)