Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

How the media can do a better job recognizing the complexity of Cassidy Stay’s loss

I’ve been struck this week by the media’s coverage of Cassidy Stay, the 15-year-old girl who lost her parents and four siblings in a tragic shooting last week.

Cassidy, the lone survivor, was shot in the skull but pretended to be dead until the shooter — her ex-uncle — left the scene. She suffered a fractured skull but was soon released from the hospital.

It’s understandable that the media would be drawn to Cassidy’s story; it’s a story about survival, about a young woman who is doing seemingly well in the wake of a life-changing tragedy. But I worry that the coverage has prematurely assumed Cassidy is on “the road to recovery.”

News organizations have used the “road to recovery” cliche because Cassidy used it herself.

“I am feeling a lot better and am on a very straightforward path to a full recovery,” she said during her family’s memorial.

She put a positive spin on her family’s death, saying: “I know that my Mom, Dad, Brian, Emily, Becca and Zach are in a much better place, and that I will be able to see them again one day.” Quoting Harry Potter, she said: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” She ended her talk by smiling, raising her arm in the air and saying, “Stay strong!

Though Cassidy cried at the memorial, the media tended to focus on her “Stay strong” pose and on her positive demeanor. Her talk, and the media’s coverage of it, made it seem like she was dealing well with the tragedy and moving on.

I didn’t see any coverage that recognized how tremendously difficult loss can be for children — let alone a child who has lost six family members all at once. And I didn’t see any coverage about the challenges that children in this type of situation face — survivor’s guilt, depression, denial, etc. Instead, I’ve seen one-dimensional coverage that has relied on cliches: “road to recovery,” “stay strong,” “beacon of hope,” “Harry Potter loving hero.

I’m moved by Cassidy’s story not because of the hopeful spin the media has put on it but because she reminds me of my younger self. I will never know what it’s like to lose both of my parents and four siblings in a shooting, but I know what it’s like to lose a mom at a young age. Cassidy’s talk at her family’s memorial reminded me of the eulogy I gave at my mom’s funeral.

When I was 11, my mom died of breast cancer. I wrote her eulogy a day after she died and read it at her funeral without shedding a tear. The eulogy read like a Hallmark card:

Robin, my mother, was a pure angel who was sent to us by the Lord Almighty. Her everlasting wings brought her here on Earth to us and brought her back up to Paradise. My mother, why she was a wonderful, loving, and sincere person. She was a person who was put on Earth to take away our deepest sorrows, worries and hurts. And truthfully that is exactly what she did.

My mother was a mighty strong fighter. She was a brave soldier in a battle. She was a hiker climbing a steep mountain, a mountain with rough, rigid rocks. And she climbed those rocks with a strong wind blowing against her. She climbed those rocks often with difficulty, and sometimes with no difficulty whatsoever. Yet the wind was just too hard to take, and it thrust her to the bottom of the mountain. 

We all have to realize that even though Robin can not be seen physically be the human eye, she can be seen and heard with our hearts. Whenever you feel that you would like to speak with my mother or just tell her how much you love her, all you have to do is find the doors to your hearts and open them, and she will be right there. In fact, she is watching each and every one of us right now, at this very minute. Her spirit fills this room that we are in.

We all know that this is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives and that life goes on. For some of us right now, our courage is scattered around here and there in various places. Yet it is our responsibility, for our own good, and for Robin’s sake, that we take our hands and gather all of those pieces, big and small, to form our courage. For I know that this is what my mother would want us to do, this is what she would do. 

Everything happens for a reason. Although, that reason is often hard to find. But believe me, sooner or later in life you will find that reason. Now we should all still cry, and we should always keep Robin in our hearts, but we cannot let it bother us for the rest of our lives. We can’t keep going back to that old chapter, but look forward to the new chapter in our lives, and just hope that it brings us the best of luck and much happiness. This is hard to do, I know, to find that new chapter, but we can all do it if we try. Just think, my mother, Robin Jo Tenore, is walking along the streets of gold, she’s having the time of her life. She no longer suffers from pain. She is now in the hands of God, she is now in Heaven. A place where she truly belongs. 

At the time, I thought I was strong.  I didn’t realize that true strength comes from being vulnerable, from expressing sadness and anger and confusion. Hiding these feelings only delays the grieving process and can lead to more problems later on. No one ever told me that grieving is good, even life-saving.

As journalists tell follow-up stories about Cassidy, they should be conscious of complexity — the complexity of death, loss, and grief at such a young age. You can do this by adding some context — such as a quote from a child psychologist who specializes in grieving, or highlights from research that’s been done in this area. (There’s lots of research on children and loss.) You don’t want to assume that the child is going to face challenges; at this early stage, you just want to point to evidence acknowledging that this type of situation is extremely difficult, even if the child’s words and actions suggest otherwise.

I hope that as time goes on, Cassidy’s story will lend itself to being an authentic Restorative Narrative — a story about a person or community that has demonstrated resilience in a tragedy’s aftermath. Right now, though, it’s too soon for her story to be restorative. Too raw. Too cliche.

Recovery is a journey and a process of discovery. It’s filled with twists and turns, speed-bumps and ditches. Good journalism recognizes this.

 

Posting new work on MallaryTenore.org

Hi readers!

I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to blog lately, but I’m keeping up with my writing as part of my role with Images & Voices of Hope (ivoh). The best way to follow my current work is on my website, mallarytenore.org. I still hope to publish personal essays on my blog as time allows.

Until next time,

~Mallary

7 things I’ve learned about wedding planning

It’s hard to believe that Troy and I are getting married in just 10 days. As the planning comes to a close, I wanted to take time to reflect on what I’ve learned about planning for a wedding:

1. The planning doesn’t really end until the day of the wedding. A lot of people have recently asked me, “So, are you all done planning?” Far from it. I still have a lot of little things to do — trying ribbons on wedding programs, printing place cards, wrapping bridesmaids gifts, etc. These things will get done, though. And if they don’t, the wedding will still go on.

2. Wedding magazines are fun to read, but they can be overwhelming. They’re filled with lists of do’s and don’ts, and they make it seem like you “have” to do a lot of things and follow a lot of traditions. As it turns out, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to! Your wedding is your day, and it’s an opportunity to create your own new traditions. If you don’t want to have favors, don’t. Consider making a donation to a special organization or cause in the guests’ name instead. If you don’t want to have a traditional wedding cake, then serve cupcakes, or cookies, or tiramisu. The more you personalize your wedding, the less caught up you get in thinking that certain aspects of a wedding are “mandatory.” The book (and related blog) “A Practical Wedding” is a great read for brides who want to take a practical approach to wedding planning.

Counting down the days to Oct. 19!

Counting down the days to Oct. 19!

3. Figure out what matters to you most and then splurge on that and save on the rest. The cost of a wedding can climb quickly if you’re not smart about choosing your vendors. Rather than spend a lot of money on “the best” vendors for everything, figure out what you are willing to spend more money on. Maybe you want to splurge on a more expensive photographer because good wedding photos are especially important to you. Maybe you want a killer dress, so you decide to spend a little extra on one. On the flip side, maybe flowers aren’t as important to you, so you decide to buy them at the farmers’ market instead of hiring a florist. Or maybe you could care less about seat covers and pretty linens, so you choose to forgo them. Prioritize!

4. Delegate the planning. Most married guys I know were not very involved in planning their wedding. Since I’m not one to conform to gender roles, I asked Troy to help out. I gave him a couple of tasks, such as booking a block of hotel rooms for out-of-town guests and booking our limo service. I also asked for his advice along the way. I wanted him to feel included, but more importantly, I wanted the planning to be a shared experience. Troy may not have had an opinion on whether I should have rust-colored asiatic lilies or peach hypericum berries in my bouquet (!) but he did care about our first dance song and helped me choose one. Sometimes it helps to think about what your fiance is most interested in. Is he really into music? Ask him to book the DJ and help pick out songs. Is he a foodie? Ask for his help finding a caterer. It also helps to have a fiance who’s calm. Troy has kept me from freaking out too much during the final planning stages.

5. If you can afford it, hire a day-of wedding planner. Troy and I hired one, and it’s one of the better decisions we’ve made in the planning process. Even though she’s a “day-of” planner, she has helped a lot along the way — by giving me her opinion when I’ve asked for it, sharing advice and suggesting vendors. The day of the wedding, she will be at the reception hall to make sure all the vendors arrive on time and are where they’re supposed to be. (We had to hire vendors for catering, liquor, linens and more, so there’s a lot to keep track of!) She’ll also clean up the reception hall after we leave and will bring the floral arrangements, gifts, etc. back to our house the night of the wedding so we don’t have to worry about it. It has given me peace of mind to know that someone will be at the reception hall to make sure everything comes together; it’s one less thing I have to worry about the day of the wedding!

6. Go for a trial hair and makeup appointment. I didn’t want to look like an overly bronzed clown on the Big Day, so I scheduled trial appointments a few weeks before the wedding to test out different styles. It was reassuring to meet with my hairdresser and makeup artist ahead of time to explain what I wanted. The hair stylist learned that she’ll need more time to do my hair the day of the wedding, so I adjusted my day-of appointment accordingly. And when the makeup artist started to get too adventurous, I asked her to tone it down a bit. Now when I get my hair and makeup done the day of the wedding, I’ll know exactly what I want and so will the stylists.

7. Take time to think about what a special time this is in your life. It’s easy to get caught up in planning, especially at the beginning and right before the wedding. Remember that no wedding is perfect. Sometimes the imperfections make it more memorable. What’s important is that you and your fiance are making a lifelong commitment to be with each other. Think about the significance of that event and remember that this is one of the most special days of your life. Embrace it.

Taking on a new job as managing director of Images & Voices of Hope

After six years at The Poynter Institute, I’m leaving to take a job as managing director of Images & Voices of Hope (IVOH) — a nonprofit dedicated to highlighting how the media can be a force for good.

The job presents a lot of exciting opportunities, and it will help me reach some of my longer-term goals. As managing director, I’ll be responsible for growing IVOH’s digital audience and social media presence. I’ll also get experience in three key areas: partnership-building, event planning and fundraising. I’ll work closely with IVOH founder Judy Rodgers and the organization’s board of directors, which is made up of a talented group of media thinkers, including Roberta Baskin, Jon Funabiki, Connie Schultz and Michael Skoler.

The position enables me to continue doing the editorial work I love, while developing business skills that are necessary to run an organization. I’ve often thought about running my own media-related organization, or starting an editing/publishing company, so this job moves me closer to those aspirations. IVOH has been in need of a full-time managing director who can grow it and take it to the next level, and I’m eager to be that person.

Came across this quote the other day and it seemed fitting. (Via zenpencils.com)

Came across this quote the other day and it seemed fitting. (Via zenpencils.com)

While overseeing IVOH’s website, I’ll have creative freedom to write and publish stories that show how the media can connect communities during times of tragedy, restore hope in what’s been lost, and have a positive impact on society. Given the growth of sites like Upworthy, along with studies that say people tend to share “less mean” news, I think there’s a real opportunity for IVOH to play a role in this space. I also think there’s value in IVOH and other organizations that focus on what’s working in the media, rather than dwelling on what’s broken.

On a deeper level, IVOH’s mission really resonates with me. I’m drawn to the idea of showing how the media can have a positive impact on society. Recently, IVOH began exploring “restorative narratives.” It’s a genre of storytelling that shows how stories, film, art and even advertising “expresses empowerment, possibilities and revitalization.” As I’ve given more thought to the restorative narrative genre in recent weeks, I’ve realized that the memoir I’m writing — about losing my mom at age 11 and struggling in the aftermath — is very much a restorative narrative.

My new position will give me a little more free time than I’ve had — to finish my memoir, start taking yoga classes, run, and spend more time doing other things I enjoy outside of work. I equate this new job with happiness, good health and professional growth.

I’ll be working from home, which will be an adjustment. Troy and I aren’t in a position to move right now, though, so the ability to work remotely was appealing. My fiance Troy has graciously agreed to let me turn his man-cave into a home office (!) so I’ll have a designated work space, a room of my own. The room, which is above our garage, has a full bathroom attached to it. It’s both spacious and cozy, and it lets in a lot of natural light.

I’ll be traveling a decent amount in this new position, which I think will help combat the loneliness I may initially feel when working from home. My first trip will be to Santa Cruz, Calif., where I’ll be attending a retreat put on by the Whitman Institute, one of the organizations that has long supported IVOH.

Deciding my next steps wasn’t easy: I had a choice between staying on and becoming editor of Poynter.org, or leaving to try something new. I’m grateful for mentors who listened to me and gave me thoughtful advice when I needed it most. I’m also fortunate to have a fiance who has supported me throughout this whole process.

As I grappled with my decision, I reflected on how many amazing opportunities I’ve been given at Poynter: I started my career at the institute and have moved up the ladder at Poynter.org. I’m currently managing editor of the website and have acted as interim editor for the past six months, since my former boss left. I’ve taught social media sessions in Poynter seminars, developed my writing and editing skills, and learned what it takes to be a manager/leader. And I’ve been lucky to work alongside gifted colleagues who care deeply about journalism.

I initially thought I’d stay at Poynter because it seemed easier than having to deal with the fear of disappointing my colleagues. But I had to listen to what I wanted and recognize my tendency to hold onto what’s familiar.

As my dad told me earlier this week, sometimes we have to let go in order to grow. “Being brave is not being without fear,” he said. “It is simply being able to manage your fears and not let them manage you.” To excel professionally and personally, we have to be brave enough to take risks that will enable us to take on new challenges, meet new people, and find fulfillment.

More and more, I’ve realized I’m ready for a new kind of fulfillment.

I’ll stay at Poynter through the second week of October, and then I’ll take a break to do some final preparations for a very special day — my wedding! Troy and I are getting married on Oct. 19 and then taking a two-week honeymoon in mid-November. After that, I’ll be starting my new job. I’ll also become an adjunct faculty member at Poynter, which means I’ll teach at the institute a couple of times a year and occasionally write for Poynter.org.

I’m excited for my next steps, as a bride-to-be and a journalist. It’s a new beginning.

Making progress on my memoir

photoSome good news: I’ve finished a rough draft of my memoir.

For the past few years, I’ve written several personal essays in hopes of eventually writing a memoir. Since getting some in-person inspiration from one of my favorite writers, Anna Quindlen, I’ve spent the past year researching, reporting and writing my book. One of my former editors is now reading and editing it. Once I get feedback from her, I’ll make some changes and then send it to an agent.

It feels liberating to have finished a rough draft and to have made so much progress on a goal that I’ve wanted to accomplish for more than a decade. The memoir is about the difficulties I experienced after losing my mom at a young age, and the lasting effect they’ve had on me. It centers on three key themes that intersect in a lot of ways: food, loss and love.

Between writing my memoir and working long hours, I haven’t had as much time to keep up with my blog lately. I’ll be posting memoir updates more regularly, though, when I have new information to share.

If you want to get a better sense of what my memoir’s about, read these personal essays:

How losing my mom led me to neglect a hungry heart

Why I’ve struggled with eating for so long and how I’m learning to let go

Why we turn to food when we’re stressed and what we can do instead

My not-so-easy response to the question: ‘So, why did you become a vegetarian?’

Spotting signs from loved ones who have died

Learning to heal from the loss of my mom, struggles with food

Mother-daughter song stirs memories of happier times with mom

Last night, my boyfriend slipped a ring on my finger …

Planning a wedding without your mom

Planning a wedding without your mom

Every day, I think about my mom. Sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and see a resemblance — the same high cheekbones, the same thin lips. Or I’ll hear a song she liked and start singing along to it.Love shack, baby love shack!

Other times I’ll see material things that remind me of her — her old eyelash curler, which I admittedly still keep in my makeup bag. The crosstitch she made that’s now hanging in my home office. The small sterling silver bracelet she once wore that I now wear every day.

Mom died of breast cancer 16 years ago this Saturday. I was 11 when she died — old enough to tell her about my first crush in the third grade, and old enough to go dress shopping with her just before my first middle school dance. I never got to ask her for dating advice, though, or tell her about the night in October 2012 when my fiance Troy proposed.

I’ve gotten used to Mom not being here for the big moments. But a wedding without a mom is different. You can’t help but feel the loss. You can’t go wedding dress shopping with her or ask for her opinion while planning for the big day. (“What do you think about this venue? … “Should our floral centerpieces be short or tall? … How do you think I should address the ‘we-can’t-invite-everyone-even though-we-wish-we-could’ situation?”) It’s not to say I’d even ask my mom all of these questions if she were alive, but I’d like to know I could.

Weddings aren’t just about brides and grooms; they’re about mothers and daughters. Mother-daughter traditions make way for assumptions that pop up in wedding magazines and in conversations with acquaintances; it’s in our nature to assume (and hope) that if you’re a young bride-to-be, you must have a mom.

On more than one occasion, people who don’t know me well have said something to the effect of:

“Your mom must be so excited for you! Are you going to go wedding dress shopping with her?”

“Actually, my mom passed away when I was younger,” I kindly tell them.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Then, they switch to the bridal party — something seemingly more fun.

“Who’s going to be in your bridal party? Your sisters?”

“Actually, I’m an only child.”

“Oh…”

Cue the awkwardness.

These conversations are a reminder of what I don’t have. But they’re also an opportunity to think about how I can incorporate what I do have into the wedding: memories.

I’m going to put one of the costume jewelry pins my mom bought me on my bouquet, and see if the priest who’s marrying us will say a prayer for her during our ceremony. I’m also going to ask our DJ to play “Love Shack” during the reception. “Everybody’s movin,’ everybody’s groovin’ baby!” (As for the lack of sisters? My cousin and close friends make up for that.)

My dad and I can’t help but think of Mom when we talk about the wedding. Recently, he found Mom’s wedding dress in the attic of my grandma’s house. It had been there, wrapped neatly in a box, for nearly 30 years.

“It still looks brand new,” Dad said. “It’s yours if you want it.” I contemplated wearing it, but decided I want to shop for my own dress. It’s possible I could take a piece from her dress — some lace or ribbon — and add it to my own.

The last time I was home in Massachusetts, my dad showed me their wedding album. As I flipped through the yellow-tinted pages, I held my camera up to the pictures. Snap, smile. Snap, smile.

“Wow, look how beautiful Mom was — and how skinny you were!”

“Yep,” my dad said, a look of nostalgia in his eyes. “Mom really was a beautiful bride. You will be, too.”

Ever the sentimentalist, Dad got an emotional look on his face. He went on to tell me about his special day with Mom and how right it felt. Then he reached for a wedding CD he had made me. He stuck it in his CD player and skipped to no. 2 — Paul Simon’s “Father and Daughter.” “I thought this would be a good father-daughter song for us,” he said. As we listened to it, he started to cry.

I’m gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign
So you’ll always know
As long as one and one is two wooo
There could never be a father who loved
His daughter more than I love you

I wish Mom could have been there with me to hug my dad — and poke a little fun at him. I wish she could be here to help me do all the stuff that moms are “supposed to do” for weddings. But she can’t, so I have to find other ways to fill the void. I know that on the big day — October 19, 2013 — Troy and I will be surrounded by people we care about; family members, friends and coworkers have all offered to help us plan and celebrate our wedding. I feel lucky, and loved.

For as much as I think about the past, I get more excited when I think about my future. Troy and I have a lot to look forward to as a married couple. We’ll carry on some of the pastimes we’ve shared with our families and start our own traditions. We’ll share new experiences — and we’ll create new memories, together.

Here are some photos from my mom and dad’s wedding album. (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Pretty mom.

Mom, the beautiful bride. I love how elegant her dress looks.

Mom and dad.

Mom and dad.

gazing.

Love.

Dancing

First dance. (No, they didn’t dance to “Love Shack.”)

Howl

Mom and her bridesmaids. (That’s my aunt, second from the left.)

Howlands

Mom and Dad with my maternal grandparents.

With family.

Mom and Dad with my paternal grandparents.

Grandparents

Gramz and my late grandpa (or Pop-Pop, as I used to call him). The height difference is striking. I know my Gramz would like to be at the wedding, but her health has declined. (She’s going to be 90 in March!) I’m keeping my fingers crossed she can make it.

Howlands

Grandma and Grandpa. Gramps died about 10 years ago. Gram is alive and well. Just this week, I talked with her by phone about the wedding. “What kind of dress are you thinking of getting, Mal? A topless one?” she asked. “Well, I’m sure Troy would like that,” I said, jokingly. “But I think you meant to say a ‘strapless one’!” Whoops. We couldn’t stop laughing.

Planning a wedding — and a life together

When I started wedding planning the first week of November, I thought it would be easy to find affordable venues that we both liked.

It turns out, planning a wedding is more complicated than I thought it would be. My fiance Troy and I looked at several different venues that we both liked. We were pretty sure we were going to get married and have the reception at a hotel in St. Pete; we had asked the hotel’s wedding coordinator to hold a date for us, and told her we were ready for a contract. I was so happy with how things had progressed that I (prematurely) announced on Facebook that we had found our ceremony and reception venue.

When we got the contract, Troy and I cringed. We hadn’t factored in the service fees and tax, so the total amount was far more than we had anticipated. We agreed it was too much for us to pay.

And so the search for venues continued.

For two months, we visited and considered a variety of venues. Then, we decided to look into the church that I go to — St. Paul’s Catholic Church in St. Petersburg. I’ve always envisioned getting married in the Catholic Church. Troy’s not Catholic, though, so we hadn’t seriously considered it as an option. We assumed the Church would make him convert or go through several pre-marital classes. But the requirements aren’t nearly as rigorous as we thought they would be. Troy assured me that he would be OK with getting married in the Church, so we booked a date: October 19, 2013. (It just so happens, that’s “Sweetest Day.”)

The St. Petersburg Women's Club, where we're having our reception.

The St. Petersburg Women’s Club, where we’re having our reception.

We then thought we were going to have our reception at my workplace, but just a few days ago we realized that the space isn’t big enough. I had made wedding dress appointments last week but ended up canceling them so I could start searching for reception venues again. Just about every place I visited was already booked on Oct. 19th — except for the last place I visited — the St. Petersburg Women’s Club. It turns out, that was my favorite venue of them all.

Oct. 19th was the one date that was still open in October and November 2013, so we booked it. The Club is a historic landmark, and it’s right on the water. It’s old-fashioned inside, but I like that aspect of it.

It’s a relief to have a ceremony and reception spot. Now, planning seems more fun. I just created our wedding website and have started booking vendors — a d.j., photographer, caterer, etc. I’m trying to take everything one day at a time so that it doesn’t get too overwhelming. It helps that I’ve been on vacation and have had more free time than usual.

Troy’s been my voice of reason through it all. He’s calmed my nerves when I’ve started to get worried, and he’s been so good at listening to my ideas for the wedding and offering his input. He’s also agreed to help out with certain aspects of the planning.

I’ve quickly learned that wedding planning can become all-consuming if you let it. So, I’ve been trying to be level-headed about it. I’ve created a budget and have been researching vendors that are both reliable and affordable. I have no desire to spend lavish amounts of money on one day; I would much rather spend money on our life together.

I’ve been heeding advice from Meg Keene’s of “A Practical Wedding,” which has great ideas about how to plan a meaningful and affordable celebration. She offers creative ideas for how to approach the big day, and explains that it’s not necessary to follow every.single.tradition. (There are so many!) Keene writes:

“You should focus your planning on things that make you feel delighted and alive. Because if what you are able to give your guests is yourself in your purest form, if you are able to lead them by joyful and relaxed example, then you are giving them the greatest give you can give. Your wedding will be one for the history books — not because it was the prettiest party anyone has ever seen, not because you played by all the rules and hit every single mark, but because it was so real, so true, so indescribably full of joy. Remember what your wedding is: a celebration. It’s a reason to rejoice. And it’s as simple and as complicated as that.”

If you focus on the joy, rather than getting caught up in a million little details, your happiness will be contagious. A wedding day should be one of the best days of your life; but it’s really just that — a special day. The more important part is the life that you and your partner will share together afterward. I can’t wait for that part.

Related: How Troy and I got engaged

Getting more opportunities to teach (& learn)

December has been a busy month of writing, editing — and teaching. My priority at work is Poynter.org, but I try to teach on the side when I can. I find that my reporting informs my teaching and vice versa.

After I teach a session, I often write a related article. Similarly, I refer to articles I’ve previously reported/written when I’m teaching. This is especially helpful when I teach social media sessions; rather than just talk about different social networking tools, I can draw on my reporting to show how other journalists are using these tools and then share related tips.

Just before my talk at Providence College. (That's my college's "Veritas" -- aka "Truth" -- seal; it's all around campus.)

Just before my talk at Providence College. That’s my college’s “Veritas” seal that’s all around campus. Seeing as it stands for “Truth,” it seems like a fitting seal for a journalist.

In the past week, I’ve had a few different teaching opportunities: I gave a talk at Providence College (my alma mater) about how young journalists can make themselves marketable; I taught a social media session in a Poynter seminar for newsroom editors; and I coached a group of Tampa high school students on how to improve their school newspaper.

Whenever I teach at Poynter, I read the seminar participants’ evaluations to see what they thought about my presentation. A lot of times, participants will say, “This was great! I didn’t know about X social media tool. I learned SO much.” Other times, they’ll say, “It was good … but I already knew how to use all these tools.”

That’s one of the challenges of teaching social media — trying to reach people who have really different levels of familiarity with social networking sites. I’ve taught groups that include people who don’t know how to tweet and people who tweet every day on top of using Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. How do you accommodate everyone? I try to keep the sessions pretty advanced so that even the participants who are already well-versed in social media can learn something. And I always try to introduce the group to one new tool (like RebelMouse) that they might not be as familiar with.

One other piece of feedback I got from the Poynter session I taught last week: “She was too quiet.” That line stuck with me because it speaks to a deeper issue involving my self-confidence. When I’m confident and at ease, it’s easier for me to project my voice. But if I’m nervous or doubting myself, I tend to mumble and get quiet. I realize this about myself, but I don’t always know how evident it is to others.

Hearing this feedback reminded me that I need to stand up straight (enough with the slouching!), speak up and trust that I know my stuff. I’ll practice later today; at 4 p.m. ET, I’m leading a Webinar for GateHouse Media. Should be fun!

Finishing my fourth women’s half marathon

Running just as fast as I can…..

A couple of months ago, I told myself I wanted to accomplish a goal outside of work. I had been talking for weeks about signing up for the women’s half marathon in St. Pete.

“You should sign up for it,” my fiance Troy kept saying.

I procrastinated and then, with four weeks to go before the race, I signed up for what would be my fourth half marathon. As I trained, there were mornings when I just wanted to stay in bed and skip my workouts, but I kept the finish line in mind and persisted.

It paid off. On Sunday, I ran the race and got the time I had been hoping for: 1 hour, 50 minutes. It’s five minutes slower than my fastest time but five minutes faster than my last half marathon. I felt strong for most of the race and was motivated by Troy’s cheers. He typically rides his bike along the half-marathon courses and stops at various points to cheer me on.

“Go Mal, go!”

The cheers carried me through to the finish line.

I’m glad I ran the race; I set a goal and accomplished it in the company of thousands of other women (and a few men) who had also signed up for it. Setting goals for myself — professionally and personally — helps keep me grounded and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. My goals for the next couple of months involve memoir writing (I’m aiming for two pages per week) and wedding planning! I don’t know if you can really count wedding planning as a “goal,” but I like the idea of setting goals for myself instead of setting “deadlines”; it makes everything seem more manageable, and fun.

I’ll keep you posted as I (hopefully) accomplish them.

Last night, my boyfriend slipped a ring on my finger …

As I walked in the door Tuesday night, I spotted a homemade pizza sitting on the counter next to a bottle of Pinot Noir.

“Oooo, a pizza!” I said, giving my boyfriend Troy a hug. “And wine!”

“I thought we could have a nice dinner together,” he said, giving me a hug and a kiss.

I love when I come home from work to find dinner already prepared. I told him as much, and then went upstairs to change into my pajamas. When I came back downstairs, I went into the living room and noticed a ladder leaning against the wall.

“Why’s the ladder out?”

“I wanted to hang up a sign that I made you.”

“A sign?”

“I made you a sign to show you how much I love you ….”

(Insert “awww” here.)

Troy took the sign out of the closet and placed it on the table. He had hand-engraved and painted the phrase “All because two people fell in love,” on it. There was a sign with the same saying hanging above the door of my old apartment. The sign was so recognizable that when I mentioned it to people who were familiar with the neighborhood, they knew which house I was talking about. I always liked the sign, and so did Troy.

“Thank you! That is so sweet. I love it!” I couldn’t get over how thoughtful the gift was.

“Go get your camera so I can take a picture of you standing in front of it,” Troy said.

I got it, then picked up the sign and saw that the other side had some words engraved on it, too: “WILL YOU MARRY ME?”

Ahhh! It all felt so surreal.

“Oh my God! … Babe! … Of course!”

He took a video of me reacting to the news, then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

“YES!”

He slipped the ring on my finger and made me the happiest girl. I was shaking and couldn’t stop smiling. I may have even flailed my arms a bit at one point. (OK, I definitely flailed my arms at one point…) The ring was the same one I told him I liked and had originally seen on Pinterest.

I knew the engagement would be coming sometime soon. A few months ago, I found out Troy was starting to look at engagement rings. Every week, I wondered when he was going to propose and inevitably set myself up for temporary disappointment. Whenever we went on a dinner date, I would think: “Maybe tonight’s the night!”

I tried to be patient.

When the engagement topic would come up, Troy would jokingly chant, “Two more years! Two more years!”

“I’ll be long gone if you wait two more years to propose!” I’d (half) jokingly respond.

Shortly after Troy asked me to marry him, we talked about how we would spread the news on social networks. He knows me too well. (I had been thinking about how I would break the news on Facebook and Twitter for months!) He suggested that we post a picture of me holding the “All because two people fell in love” part of the sign, then a picture of me holding the other side of it, followed by a picture of the ring. We did, and the photos quickly generated comments from friends.

For about two hours after Troy proposed, we read all of the congratulatory notes on Facebook and Twitter, responded to text messages, and called friends and family. My friends started sharing ideas about what the wedding would be like.

The ring!

A good college friend said something to the effect of: “I’ve always pictured you wearing a bright pink dress and flying into your wedding in a bubble, like Glenda the good witch from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”

When I relayed this to one of my other college friends to hear her reaction, she laughed and said: “I’ve thought about that, too! Except I picture you looking like Cinderella. I think of it as a fairy-tale wedding. With some glitter.”

I don’t believe in fairy tales, but I do believe in pink dresses and sparkles.

My college roommate shared this good advice: “When people start asking about the wedding (and they will), you’re allowed to say, ‘This is our time to enjoy the engagement.’ You don’t have to start everything all at once.”

My best friend from childhood, who got married last year, said: “When you do start to plan, make it fun!”

My grandmas, who I called just before they went to bed, both let out little shrieks. I think they would have jumped up and down if they physically could have.

My dad reminded me: “You two are so lucky to have one another. Troy’s a good man.” I could tell that Dad was happy for me, his only child, his perpetual little girl. Troy had asked him for my hand in marriage when we were in Massachusetts last August. (At the time, my friends were betting that he had.) He also called my dad about a half-hour before I got home from work to say he was going to propose. Not surprisingly, my dad kept the information to himself for nearly four months; he’s always been a good secret keeper.

My dad and stepmother are flying in to visit me and Troy later this week, so I’ll be able to talk with them in person about the engagement. I want to be able to share my excitement with my dad, considering I only get to see him once or twice a year.

I wish I could also share it with my mom, who passed away from breast cancer when I was 11. Though she’s been gone for 16 years, I’ve been able to keep her memory alive through writing, and through signs that she sends me. Often, when I’m thinking of her, I’ll look at the clock and will see her “special time” — 7:24. It’s symbolic of her July 24th birthday.

Me and Troy.

I wish I could show Mom my ring, go wedding dress shopping with her, and see her reaction when I become a mom someday. I wish she could meet Troy, who has taught me what it means to let go of the fear of loss and let love in.

He’s the guy I met on Match.com two-and-a-half years ago and decided to go on a date with — partly because he wrote well when messaging me on the site. He’s the flirt who loves holding hands, the boyfriend who brags about me because I’m too humble, the fiance who won’t let a day go by without telling me that I’m beautiful and that he loves me.

I’m lucky.

I know Mom would have approved of Troy and loved him. A couple minutes after he proposed, just before we started to eat our pizza, I picked up my phone. I looked at the time and felt especially loved. It was 7:24.

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