Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Learning to Hit the Curve

At this level, everyone knows how to hit a fastball.

We've spent three years in the minors perfecting our craft. We can see a fastball when it leaves the editor's hand, whether it's fact-checking, organizing or writing a short blog post. Our swings are mindless and effective.

The curveballs are the problem.

I grew up with peanuts, cracker jacks and cups of coffee. Not the kind of coffee I guzzle down in the morning before I hop the 4 train to midtown, but white-pant-wearing, home-team-cheering, twenty-two-year-old cups of coffee. A "cup of coffee" in the majors is a player who was in the big leagues only long enough to have a cup of coffee before being shipped back down to the minors.

Like everyone else in this program, I am a home run hitter in the minor leagues. We all work for regional publications and school papers, and some people have been up to the big leagues before.

This summer is an opportunity. I can stay in the minors and contently return to the heart of Texas, or I can learn to hit the curve.

Every summer game I spent sweating with my father in the Ranger's baseball field we call "The Temple," he would point out the cups of coffee. They didn't play much or make themselves irreplaceable. They could hit long fly-balls in batting practice with graceful swings that looked and sounded effortless, but in a game they flopped.

So far, the fastballs have been easy to spot. I can sort incoming books, organize file cabinets and even write blurbs for slideshows. Honestly, everyone in this program can.

At Reader's Digest, the curve balls come in meetings. At the end of the table in a slick high pony tail and a killer pair of heels is Liz Vaccariello, our editor-in-chief. She takes notes, asks questions and reads every pitch for the magazine and the website. In a nutshell, she manages every piece of content that has the Reader's Digest name on it.

She leans over the table, her eyes on mine.

"What do you think about all this?" she asks.

And there it is: the curve.

"Breathe through your eyelids," I hear my father say. It means nothing; it means don't over-think, just react. I try and respond eloquently and calmly. I try not to let her hear my heart beat coming through my pink blazer.

Honesty is a highly valued currency at Reader's Digest, so I don't sugarcoat my answer. I tell her my thoughts, and I hope for the best.

I have a lot of goals for this summer. I want to get bylines, to be helpful and to make connections. But ultimately, I just want to learn to hit the curves because this summer I am a coffee cup whether I like it or not. In August, I will go back to Austin, Texas, to play in the minors.

But if I can learn to hit the curves, I won't have to stay there for long.

By Kelsey McKinney, The University of Texas at Austin, Reader's Digest
Edited by Colleen Connolly, DePaul University, Smithsonian

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