Friday, June 29, 2012

A Summer Love Story

Four years ago, standing in the kitchen of my childhood home, I leaned against the countertop toward my mother and anxiously explained why I wanted to be a features writer. I wanted to write about culture, science, human rights issues, history, international health, archaeological discoveries, global climate. "Things that matter," I said, brows furrowed as I spoke through a mouthful of Oreos. Mom and I always could polish off a sleeve of cookies when we got to chatting.

Back then, landing a job at a magazine seemed so very, very far away. A castle in the air.

Yet here I am. Three weeks into my internship for Smithsonian magazine and living my life (loving my life) in the heart of Washington, D.C., just a few blocks from the White House. To be fair, I think "City of Interns," or perhaps "City of Sweaty Interns," would be a more accurate name during these summer months. Today's heat index is supposed to reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Within the last week, I’ve attended two press previews for museum exhibit openings, pulling out the most interesting angles of the exhibitions and authoring blog posts for One of these posts covered the opening of an Amelia Earhart exhibit, timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of her disappearance. This is something I’m proud of. (“This matters!” said my inner monologue.)

I also conducted a tongue-in-cheek interview with a curator from the Smithsonian Museum of American History, asking how past U.S. presidents might have hypothetically battled zombies, vampires and Sasquatch. It was an incredibly fun way to write about historical figures and I’m spoiled to be so young yet in a position where I can write such a story.

In addition, I’ve been doing fact checking and research, coordinating communications with our writers’ agents and publicists, writing captions for the print magazine and the iPad edition, writing profiles on Olympic athletes and authoring a 200-word piece for a special issue of the print magazine. It never fails to amaze me how much more difficult it is to write a short piece than a long piece. Adjectives become pawns that I eagerly sacrifice to satisfy the allotted word count, and each “the” and “that” is scrutinized while my finger twitches over the DELETE key.
Evenings and weekends I spend weaving myself into the cloth of this city. Living in D.C. is surprisingly becoming what feels like a perfect fit, an exciting development for a girl who has always felt slightly out of place in Manhattan and placidly content in Boston.

My first weekend here, I attended a rooftop dinner party in Chinatown.  I was momentarily confused as to why the dinner table was covered in brown packing paper, but then the party hosts overturned massive bins of bright red, baked Maryland crabs. With lemony juices running down to my elbows, I cracked and slurped my way through my first Maryland crab, washing back the salty taste of sea water and Old Bay Seasoning with a cold beer. In the background, the city skyline was book-ended by the Washington Monument and the Capitol building, illuminated bright white and austere at each end of the National Mall.

A few weeks have passed and already I am feeling very much at home here. It’s a young city, filled with motivated 20-somethings who are easy to strike up conversation with. There is a tangible buzz in the air, strengthened by the influx of eager interns and the political backdrop set by the upcoming election. I relish the independence that comes from being able to get anywhere I want to go with my own two feet and a metro card. I tend to leave the tourist destinations to the tourists – my explorations and adventures seek out the local hot spots, where I try to keep the giddy, love-struck smile off my face just long enough to perhaps look like a Washingtonian.

— Kat J. McAlpine, Editorial Intern, Smithsonian magazine

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