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Research is My Happy Place

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I have always been curious about things, and that can get me into trouble. Like back in first grade, we were sitting on the rug as the teacher wrapped up a very dull lesson about the importance of brushing our teeth. She asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand and asked if we had to keep talking about brushing our teeth. I was dispatched post haste to sit in my seat, alone.

Being a precocious child is something that teachers either embrace or really dislike. My first grade teacher was not finished with me yet. A few days later, we were learning to read new words. I entered kindergarten being able to read, having taught myself with The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. So I was bored again as other children were called on to read various words like “red” and “green.” When it was my turn, an unfamiliar word came up. As I didn’t know the answer, I was instructed to sound it out. Tell me, what six-year-old can sound out the word O-R-A-N-G-E? I felt stupid, and it certainly put the kibosh on my love of school.

What did continue to grow inside was a love of learning. And that is still how I get my “happy” on. After a life-long search for the one thing that I was meant to do on this earth, I discovered, to my amazement, that I was meant to write. This statement would make my high school senior English teacher, or her spirit, roll her eyes and snort “Hah!”

What I did not learn about myself until I was in grad school was that I loved, I mean adored, research. In the days before home computers, I would spend endless hours in the basement of the college library searching through indices that had not yet been torn out for some lazy jerk’s convenience, scanning for the bit of gold that a relevant article from another era might hold. As I collected the bounty of the day’s hunt, I would sort and file the tidbits for later use in a research paper. It was incredibly satisfying.

Many years later, in law school, research and writing were quite the opposite, and I found the process to be frustrating and terribly unproductive. I never could twist my mind into the legal paradigm, it was too arbitrary and, to be honest, irrelevant. I learned a lot in law school, primarily to deeply dislike the law and the way it is practiced. I also learned that I did not belong in the legal field. It was a revelation—considering that I was in my late forties.

Having returned to journalism, I still am happiest when my next task is to dive into the research for my next article. Maybe the topic is a historical disaster wherein the lesson for the future has been forgotten or ignored. Maybe it is about an injustice that continues to fly under the radar. Maybe it is a politician who has been cheating in plain sight for years, but no one else has ever bothered to examine the public records. 

When serendipity leads me to an accidental discovery of something important, I practically levitate in joy. When I put the pieces of a story together and they explain the inexplicable, I could sing all night. It is not about getting the dirt or trying to trap someone into saying something that makes them look bad. It is about real information, shedding light in a new way on an old problem. As they say about collecting antiques, it is the hunt.

I did not find my true calling until I reached my fifties when I swapped out a decent pay scale in television news for the poverty and independence of print. 
As for my first grade experiences, I would never ask a child to publicly sound out a word that breaks all the rules of phonetics. It is a pointless way to teach reading English, a language that has more exceptions than it has rules. That small experience in the unfairness of power taught me to never trust authority. It has served me well, especially when I uncover some skullduggery by those who would abuse power. Yippee! That makes me ecstatically happy.


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