Part Four: Laura
Laura was melting. The sun shone so hot and for so long that she wasn't sure that the night would ever come. Was Columbia always this hot, she wondered as she walked over and hit the side of an old metal fan that had ceased to work. It was propped up on a chair beside one of the only windows in the tiny building. Sputtering and churning, it started up again with a low buzz. Beyond, she could see the line-up of people who had been waiting all day, winding around the side and seeming to grow longer and longer as the day went on. Everyone was waiting to be fitted with glasses and some would be seeing clearly for the very first time. That truly amazed her.
It was summer break and Laura would be going into grade twelve the following September. There was a group of four girls on this trip that the school had organized, all of them in grade twelve. Laura was fluent in Spanish and in English and she wanted to get her volunteer hours under her belt.
An older woman entered the room. Seeming to have trouble getting through the door way, Laura walked over and guided her to the back of the building. There Noreen Flanagan and her husband opened up envelopes and fit the glasses on all of the people.
Laura helped sit the woman down on the chair and stepped back to watch. She would never forget her face as the old woman's prescription was quite significant. She watched as Noreen placed the glasses on her face and the woman’s pupils went wide. For the first time in her life she could see! Suddenly, she threw the glasses down and Laura thought they must be the wrong prescription, perhaps too strong, but then the older woman started to cry. She put the glasses back on and started laughing and crying and just taking in her world.
This makes everything worthwhile, she thought to herself. The first day as a volunteer was rewarding beyond her expectations!
After the next woman was fitted, she noticed that Noreen was speaking to her in broken Spanish. Laura listened and watched as the woman spoke to Noreen who nodded and smiled. She felt at this point that Noreen seemed to have lost the thread of the conversation with what the woman in the chair was really trying to relate. Noreen was just smiling saying, yeah, yeah, yeah. Just then Noreen turned around and called Laura over.
"I think she is telling me something sad. Can you just ask her what she was talking about," she asked, thinking that she might have offended her.
Laura spoke to the woman in Spanish and then related what she said back to Noreen.
"Well, uh, she was telling you that she had just had a miscarriage."
"Oh, that is terrible, she must think I'm insensitive. Please tell her that my Spanish sucks, and I just didn't know what she was saying and I am very, very sorry." Noreen felt perfectly awful.
Later on that day, while everyone was taking a quick break for lunch, Noreen walked over to where Laura was sitting.
"I don't think we have been formally introduced, I'm Noreen Flanagan."
"Hi, I'm Laura." She took Noreen's hand and shook it.
"Can I sit with you?"
"You really saved me today," Noreen said as she sat down beside Laura.
"Anytime," Laura laughed.
"Learning a second language is a humbling experience. I can have a very animated, conversation about bifocals, but I don't find a lot of people outside of that very niche conversation who wants to chat with me about those things." Noreen took a bite of her salad.
"Every once in a while you think, oh yeah, I am really getting this language, and then you would have a moment like that and you think no, no I'm not."
"That's okay," Laura laughed, then she leaned over towards Noreen.
"I don't mean to be forward, but are you the Noreen Flanagan, Editor-in-Chief of Elle Canada?" Laura asked, her heart pounding.
"Yes, I am. You like the magazine?"
"Oh, my gosh, I love it! I actually want to work for a magazine like Elle someday!" Laura wore an ear to ear grin.
"I'm so glad."
"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"Not at all," Noreen answered, a little nervous.
"You must see so much as an editor, would you have any stories about press trips on which you have gone?"
"Oh yes, you go on lots of press trips and some of them are just ok and some are in the spectacular category. I did a sailing regatta with Louis Vuitton."
Lauren's eyes were wide. "Wow!"
"I would say that trip would be one of the experiences that you would say, as you’re pinching yourself, I can’t believe this moment! What was neat about it is that my husband and I were taking sailing lessons just prior to that, so it was quite a thrill to suddenly be around these racing machines and the whole scene, all the glamour of it."
"Who else went on the trip?"
"Mostly the journalists from around the world," Noreen smiled, remembering all the exciting details.
Laura and Noreen talked for what seemed like hours. By the end of it, when it was finally time to go back to work, Laura thought to herself, yeah, I think that's it. I want to be a journalist.
Advice from Noreen
I think that education, your connections and luck is a lot of it. Curiosity and being open is the way to success in this industry. People now must be much more proactive, organized and strategic about their careers. I’m of the tumbleweed generation, there was the luxury to do this and a little of that, and then you kind of found your way. I don't know that that exists for kids today, and I feel for kids because it's very stressful. When I speak to journalism students, I would say to them, my career path isn't one that your parents would want you to emulate. It was not strategic, it was not proactive, it was not planned out. What I hope they take away from my story is, to be curious and to ask lots of questions and to be open for chance encounters that can change your life. If you listen and you’re looking and you’re open to them, that can happen regardless of your education or your connections. That can just happen in life.
Tips on how to become a Journalist:
Write, get a blog, start tweeting, read carefully the magazines and the writers in particular that inspire you. Don't just read it to be entertained but actually read it, with a much more analytical eye. Well, how did they tell that story, how did they open and how did they move that story through? What was the structure behind it? How did they end the story? What was the overall focus, the theme? Do an analysis of it and that in turn will help you approach your own writing with the same structure and place in mind, so read, read, read as much as you can write. And the wonderful thing about this line of work is yes, it helps if you have training, I would encourage if someone wants to be in journalism you do learn some fundamental, philosophical and structural sorts of things, very immensely helpful, but it is also one of those industries if you are a good story teller and there is a curiosity and energy about you, you don't need permission, you don't need a degree, to say I would like to pitch Noreen Flanagan a story about X. You just have to find my email and send me a pitch, and if it's a great story and it catches my imagination, you'll be off to the races! You don't have to ask for permission and it is one of the few industries where you don't. We are always looking for great ideas and creativity. Have a little courage and see where it takes you. And don't be discouraged, it's a lot harder now. Five years ago I wouldn't get half the emails I get now, so it’s much harder to get noticed, but don't give up, keep finding creative ways of getting hold of people. And write something personal. Good ideas are always noticed.
xoxo Entrepreneur Girl