J-School Numbed My Soul: A response to Michael Lewis’ “J-School Ate My Brain”
“S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’I’odo il vero
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo”
-(Epigraph from Dante’s Inferno that appears at the beginning of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock)
If I believed that my answer would be
To someone who would ever return to Earth
This flame would move no more
But because no one from this pit
Has ever returned alive, if what I hear is true,
I can reply with no fear of infamy
In 1993 Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, wrote an article called “J-School Ate My Brain” about his experience at the Colombia University journalism school. It’s 2012, and I go to the S (period) I (period) Newhouse (one word) School of Public Communications (plural). (Did I follow AP Style?!) In 2011, NewsPro had Newhouse ranked at the top journalism school in the nation.
Things have certainly evolved since 1993. In fact, one might argue that journalism is less relevant and more obsolete as a major than ever. But, in their defense, a lot of journalism schools today have fantastic career-development centers that help place their little worker-bees in internships that they never shut up about next semester. But truthfully, the curriculum remains as insipid as ever, and it’s driving me insane.
Michael Lewis said j-school ate his brain. My corollary to that is j-school numbed my soul. I have never felt more unfulfilled by my education. Lewis cites a quote from Joseph Nocera on his two years at Boston University saying, “two years that could have been spent actually learning something were instead spent at a glorified trade school…”
A glorified trade school!
Nocera vocalized exactly what I was struggling to come to terms with. I’m at a glorified trade school and pursuing education as only a means to an end. Well, I don’t want my education to be a means to an end. I want to explore my mind and expand my interests. Studying the history, establishment, and theory of journalism is absolutely insufferable.
I’m not a journalist. I’m a delusional creative writer that can do journalism. Journalists report. I write. Journalism school was the worst place I could have gone to try and pursue my passion. If anything, it has diminished my passion, and that’s not OK.
If I should invoke anyone to help articulate my existential crisis, it’s T.S. Eliot since “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock” is the portrait of a breakdown. I’m going to paraphrase a few stanzas/adapt it to my situation.
“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo”
This couplet is recurrent throughout the entire poem and can be interpreted as how out-of-place Eliot feels. These women are talking about this concept that he doesn’t necessarily understand, and they’re speaking a different language. Similarly, when I’m walking around in the journalism school, all these kids are speaking this language I don’t really understand.
(At the same time, you might be able to argue that Michelangelo liberated his sculpture David from the stone and is a paradigm of aesthetics, but still).
Eliot goes on
“There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to met the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create
And time for all the works of days and hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea”
Similarly, there will be time for me to put up with this bull s**t, and a time to put on a conscious effort with other people’s opinions in mind. There will be time to recreate myself. But this is the time for all of these indecisions and revisions, and I am going to act on my instincts.
“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?”
Do I dare jump off this linear trajectory to journalistic glory in pursuit of intellectual fulfillment? Do I dare disturb the status quo, and, to quote another fantastic American poet, “take the [road] less traveled by?”
“And I have already known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume”
The way I see it, this school is fixing me into this formulated journalist. They’re making me into something I’m not and interfering with what made me stand out in the first place. I too feel like I’m pinned and wriggling on the wall, and so now I’m finding it harder than ever to write and to try to make sense of everything I’m experiencing.
This excerpt might be the most relevant:
“Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid”
Do I have the strength to face what I’m feeling? This metamorphosis has been emotionally turbulent because I no longer know what I want (but at least I know what I don’t want, and that’s a good start). I feel like I was more successful when I was in high school and when I was pursuing this on my own than by this “eternal footman” of journalism that is oppressing my spirit.
As I said before, I’m not a journalist. Every writer has his or her muse and mine is baseball. “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” Billy Beane asks in Moneyball. Of course I can’t study journalism! You can’t exactly be romantic about journalism, and I’m a romantic. I love romantic poetry and the Romantic movement in general. (To be clear, when I say “romantic” I mean romanticism, not, like… Nicholas Sparks novels). I’ve never been much of a “news” writer anyway. I can do it, but I’ve always taken a more analytical approach. I try to make it into something beautiful.
I’m not going to study this pedantic way of writing anymore. No, I’m not going to stay on this linear trajectory to journalistic glory. If you have read my blog before or know anything about it, you know I have always done things my way. I have been doing exactly what I have wanted to be doing since I was 17: writing feature stories on and interviewing prospects. There are times when I have had media credentials (through SoxProspects.com) and truthfully, more times than others, I haven’t. So I don’t see a need for me to waste four years of my life learning something that I already know how to do. I have never used the name “Newhouse” as a way in, and I never will. My parents had no baseball connections besides my father’s adoration for it. I have made every single connection myself, and that is something that I will always be proud of. I don’t need journalism school. I want to approach journalism from a literary angle, from my angle. Robert Frost is quoted way too much, but it’s still relevant. I’m going to “take the [road] less traveled by,” and I’m convinced that it’s going to make all the difference.
“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown”