Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Life in Dallas

Persepolis: A Graphic Memoir Worth Reading

I haven’t seen the movie version of the book, but I’ve heard it’s pretty good.

Tonight I had a virtual book club meeting with friends in Virginia, Pennsylvania and here in Dallas to discuss Persepolis. Our book club, which my friend and I started last year as a way to keep in touch with each other, has expanded, so we decided to try using Skype rather than talking on the phone. It worked out pretty well. Our hands were free to flip through the pages of the book, and we didn’t have to worry about bad service or setting up a four-way phone conversation.

We had a lively discussion about Persepolis, a graphic memoir about a young woman growing up during Iran’s Islamic Revolution. The book’s author, Marjane Satrapi, tells her story through childlike drawings that help simplify complicated issues. Rather than dumb down the book’s plot, the drawings relay meaning about what is going on and what each character is facing. About halfway through the book, I started to really sympathize with Marjane. Her story speaks to universal themes that we can all relate to at some point or another — the fight to find our voice and let it be heard, the desire for companionship, the search for a place we can call home.

Being able to see Marjane’s expressions on every page — her bulging eyes, her furrowed brow — make it easier to appreciate her rebellious nature. I love how headstrong she is when speaking out against the many rules imposed upon Iranian women — rules that diminished their esteem and reduced them to voiceless conformists. Marjane defends herself and other women, and though she doesn’t always make healthy decisions, she ultimately sparks change for the better.

At times the changes in her life seem to move too quickly. In a mere two pages, she goes from being a depressed woman who doesn’t care about her appearance to a fashionable, smiling aerobics instructor. The transformation is jarring, especially when considering how long it takes Marjane to get to the point where she feels so low in life. Maybe, though, these quick transformations reflect her search for identity and the idea that changes in appearance don’t yield changes on the inside.

I like the fact that some problems remain unsolved by the book’s end. We’re left with a woman who has found a sense of peace after a life of war but who still knows she has a difficult road ahead of her — a woman who was brave enough to share a remarkable story that may have otherwise remained untold.

Persepolis is the seventh book my friends and I have read for our book club. We’ve also read Atonement by Ian McEwan; Life of Pi by Yann Martel; The Road by Cormac McCarthy; My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult; Love in a Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (doesn’t it seem as though every girl has read this book?!) Next on our list is The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, written by New York Times journalist Jennifer 8. Lee.

What are some of your favorite book-club reads?

Interviewing Giada De Laurentiis about Cooking, Motherhood

My family and friends know that I’m not one to cook. I have an envelope full of recipes my grandma hand-wrote sitting in my desk drawer, and I have plenty of cookbooks that once belonged to my mom, but I hardly ever open them.

Given my extensive background in cooking, one of my editors asked if I would write a story about Giada De Laurentiis. The Food Network star just came out with her fourth cookbook, Giada’s Kitchen, which features Italian dishes and desserts. Though I don’t cook, I was happy to have the opportunity to interview De Laurentiis, who is signing copies of her book this weekend in Dallas.

During the interview, De Laurentiis talked a lot about her six-month-old baby, Jade, and the communal nature of cooking. She encourages moms to cook with their kids and even has a “(Not) Just for Kids” section in her new cookbook.

I often associate cooking with motherhood, but I’ve been starting to think about it more in terms of friendship. Since moving to Texas, I’ve started to cook a little bit more with friends. (I say “a little bit” because I’ve probably cooked a total of three meals while in Texas, unless you count throwing together a salad or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.)

It can be tough to cook when you live by yourself, especially after a long day of work. Some people say cooking relaxes them at night, but I’ve never found that to be true. One of my goals when I return to Florida, though, is to start cooking for myself more. I’ve said I’m going to start cooking for myself for years, but I figure it might actually happen if I commit my goal to writing. Maybe it’s a matter of making a couple of meals on a Sunday and then storing them up for the week, or maybe I’ll find that cooking at night actually is relaxing, especially if I can do it with friends.

I flipped through De Laurentiis’s cookbook tonight and came across some meals I think I’ll try. The whole wheat linguine with green beans, ricotta and lemon; eggplant timbale; orzo stuffed peppers; fusilli alla caprese; and the hazelnut crunch cake with mascarpone and chocolate look especially good. Maybe if I keep looking at her cookbook, I’ll feel more motivated to follow the recipes and find my place in the kitchen. Here’s to hoping!

How do you motivate yourself to cook?

Adding Bob Schieffer to My Role Model List

I had to wait a couple of weeks for a friend to send me this pic. Hence the late blog post.

I had to wait a couple of weeks for a friend to send me this photo, hence the late blog post.

Like a little kid in a candy shop, my eyes widened when I saw Bob Schieffer. He was at a Barnes & Noble in Dallas a couple of weeks ago to promote his new book, Bob Schieffer’s America.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some amazing journalists throughout the years: Tom Brokaw, Gwen Ifill, Anne Hull, Tom French, Lane DeGregory, the late David Halberstam, and more. These journalists, and several others who haven’t reached the same level of recognition, have given me hope that quality journalism is still around, even if it’s getting harder to find. In giving me this hope, they’ve served as role models who I can look up to and try to emulate.

I’d say Bob Schieffer is a pretty good role model. The longtime journalist, who grew up in Austin, Texas, and worked as a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has won six Emmy awards, is in the Broadcasting/Cable Hall of Fame and in 2002 was named Broadcaster of the Year by the National Press Foundation. For all his accomplishments, he struck me as incredibly humble and fun-loving when he spoke at Barnes & Noble.

He kept his talk short, focusing mostly on politics and his experiences as a journalist. He told the mostly white-haired crowd that of all the elections he has covered, the 2008 election is the most dynamic of them all. Because the race is so close, he predicted that this year’s debates will hold significantly more weight than those in years past.

    Just for fun, I'm posting this photo of me and Tom Brokaw. It was taken three years ago when Brokaw gave the commencement speech at my alma mater, Providence College.

I posted this photo of me and Tom Brokaw just for fun. It was taken when Brokaw gave the 2005 commencement address at my alma mater, Providence College.

After Schieffer shared his stories, I waited in line for an hour to take a photo and talk with him. I mentioned my experiences at The Dallas Morning News and at The Poynter Institute, which he visits about once a year as a member of the institute’s national advisory board. When my friend asked him about the future of journalism, he succinctly said that no matter what happens, there will always be a need for news.

I smiled a lot when talking with Schieffer and didn’t bother hiding my kid-in-a-candy-shop excitement. These days, journalists need to hold onto every ounce of motivation they can get.

Who are your role models?

Facing Fears, Indulging at the Texas State Fair

Me and my college roommate eating at the state fair.

Julia and I look a little fearful of the fried food.

Chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls. S’mores. Chocolate truffles. Jelly Belly beans. Peanut butter and jelly. Grilled cheese. A banana split.

All deep fried.

Either the thought of this makes you want to indulge in the gooey goodness of it all, or it makes you want to hurl. I fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

I hardly ever eat fried food, except for an occasional order of French fries. But as I learned this weekend, there’s no excuse for not eating greasy treats at the Texas State Fair. Practically everywhere you look, there are fried food stands tempting passerby to indulge.

While my roommate from college, Julia, munched on a corny dog (they’re called “corny dogs” in Texas, not corn dogs), I waited in line at a stand that was selling fried snowballs, fried Snickers and fried Oreos. I went for the Oreos — three greasy, gooey, chocolaty Oreos nestled in a ball of batter, to be exact. They were gross, but at the same time so good.

Since I had eaten fried Oreos, I figured I might as well do something else I normally don’t do – ride a ferris wheel. I hadn’t been on a ferris wheel for about 10 years, mainly because I’m afraid of heights. But as I watched little kids waiting in line wearing smiles, I told myself it couldn’t be all that bad. Why not face my fear by riding the largest ferris wheel in North America?

I conquered my fear of heights by riding the largest ferris wheel in North America.

I faced my fear of heights by riding the largest ferris wheel in North America.

I stepped inside the little cage that would take us to the top and grabbed onto Julia’s hand, keeping my eyes closed like a child. When I was younger, I’d scream “Stop the ride!” whenever I got scared. But there was no screaming on this ride.

As we approached the top, I opened my eyes and admired the view. I actually liked being 212 feet above ground and seeing the state fair from a different perspective. It wasn’t nearly as frightening as I thought it’d be. Now all I need to do is go on my first roller coaster!

While at the fair I also got my handwriting analyzed. According to a handwriting analysis machine, my signature suggests that:

–I like to daydream and I have a vivid imagination.

–I tend to procrastinate on routine projects.

–I have a retentive memory for things that are important but am forgetful of minor details.

— I have good taste and dislike anything that is cheap and gaudy.

–I have definite goals.

–I worry too much about things I can’t change.

–I am strong-willed and have very definite ideas regarding most things in life.

–I sometimes enjoy being a nonconformist.

–I have the ability to negotiate or talk people into my way of thinking.

I’d say that’s a pretty good assessment, actually.

For a girl who was born and raised in Massachusetts and who had never been to a state fair before, the Texas State Fair lived up to the hype. I’d go back a second time, but probably not a third or fourth. The fair is expensive and not all that good for the arteries. It’s worth at least one trip, though, for the fried Oreos. I wonder what those fried s’mores and chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls taste like …

What do you like to do/see at the Texas state fair, or at state fairs in general?

Walking Barefoot with Hanson

Fans walking barefoot

Fans walking barefoot at Southern Methodist University.

I’ll admit — I was a huge Hanson fan back in the day (when I was 13 or 14), but the group fell off my radar years ago.

In just the last week, though, I’ve interviewed the eldest brother, Isaac, written stories and blog posts about the brothers, walked barefoot with them, and gone to their concert. Let me explain the barefoot part: The Hanson brothers are walking barefoot in every city they tour in to help raise awareness about poverty and AIDS in Africa. They’re encouraging fans to join them and to register their own walks online.

I joined them on their walk in Dallas, which you can see from the photos I posted. It’s funny because I was running alongside screaming young girls as I tried to get toward the front of the pack to take better photos. I was amazed by how many girls still ooo and aww over the boys. The bros may have matured into young men, but they sure as heck still have lots of teenie-bopper fans. Here are my Hanson articles/blog entries:

Taylor talking to fans after the walk

Taylor talking to fans after the walk.

“Hanson Asks Fans to Join Walk for Aid to Africa”

“Hanson Frames Catchy Songs in Sibling Harmony”

“Hundreds of Fans Walk with Hanson Brothers”

“Hanson Brothers Still Have Rhythm, Energy and Harmony”


Isaac after taking the walk

Isaac after taking the walk.

An unflattering photo of me standing next to Isaac.

An unflattering close-up of me next to a smiling Isaac.

Moms Finding Time For Friends, Themselves

I just finished writing a story about two moms who found time last week to go to the movies and step away from their responsibilities as mothers and wives. The moms saw “The Women” as part of a premiere event that a local moms group, Moms Out Loud, was sponsoring.

Originally, my article was going to be about the parallels between the mother’s lives and those of the movie’s characters. Because of space constraints, however, I found it was too difficult to delve into each of the mom’s lives and do them justice. The story, in its first draft, fell flat.

After talking with my editor about the story, though, we thought of a different angle: Why not turn it into a mini narrative — a slice of life piece? Once I had a clearer focus, the words flowed from me with ease. The story wasn’t pegged to any particular news event. It was just a story about two moms finding time to bond together, a story that celebrates motherhood and friendship.

Click here to read the short story:

In between bites of chicken nachos and coconut shrimp, friends Julie Bearden and Monique Swinson giggled while watching The Women at the Studio Movie Grill in Plano.

“That’s so you,” Ms. Swinson whispered to Ms. Bearden as they watched Debra Messing’s character taking care of a house full of children. “Yeah, no kidding,” Ms. Bearden said, sipping on iced tea.

Critics of the movie, which is a remake of George Cukor’s 1939 film, say it does little more than skim the surface level of complicated issues concerning relationships.

But this outing wasn’t about movie criticism. It was about Ms. Bearden and Ms. Swinson finding time to put aside their responsibilities as moms and wives and to relax together as friends.


Homesick? Create a New Comfort Circle

I didn’t like Dallas when I first moved here. I remember walking around downtown near The Dallas Morning News building and thinking, “There’s nothing to do here!” But that was before I realized how sprawling Dallas is. That was before I really gave the city a chance.

Everything in Florida had been going well, so when I arrived in Dallas at the end of July for an internship at The Dallas Morning News I felt uprooted, scattered, and lost. I arrived in the newsroom the day buyouts were announced, I didn’t know my way around the city, and every face I saw looked unfamiliar. Dallas is a big city for a girl who lived most of her life in a small Massachusetts suburb. I’ve found, though, that the old cliche about time is true: it really does heal. It took me about a month, but I now feel more comfortable here and have actually started to like it.

Part of what has helped me make the transition is knowing that I’m going back to Florida. Leaving a place that feels like home makes you realize how much you took for granted while you were there — the lifestyle, the familiarity, the relationships. But it also makes you realize how much more there is to see outside your circles of comfort. These circles keep us focused, shape our lives and help us survive. (I often think of Sara Crewe, the main character in my favorite childhood book, A Little Princess. After Sara’s boarding school director made her a servant and forced her to live in an attic, Sara drew a circle on the attic floor. Within that circle, she felt safe.)

But these circles can also engulf us, making our lives so cyclical that we trap ourselves in the same routine day after day, week after week, month after month. Going to Dallas has helped me create new comfort circles in unfamiliar territory. I’ve taken on new hobbies, tried new foods, and explored new places. To keep track of my explorations, I started a list of all the fun places I’ve visited. Here are some of the places I’ve been throughout the past week:

Kalachandji’s — A Hare Krishna temple with a gift shop and Indian restaurant attached to it. The temple is open to anyone who wants to worship there, or just catch a glimpse of the ornate decorations. And I’d highly recommend the restaurant. I normally don’t like Indian food, but it’s all vegetarian, and it’s not loaded with curry. The restaurant is cafeteria style and reasonably priced. And the dessert is delicious, too.

Central Market — This grocery store is like Whole Foods on steroids. It’s full of organic food, fresh produce, gelato, and salad bars. It’s also a haven for fruit mix fanatics. There are bins upon bins of different kinds of fruit mixes that customers can scoop into plastic bags. Same goes for coffee beans and candy. Oh, and I can’t forget my favorite part: Free samples! I left feeling full.

Southside on Lamar’s Jeanette Kennedy Gallery — I took a free yoga class here Sunday night. I had only done yoga once before and wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I found it to be incredibly relaxing. I listened as the instructor guided the class through the motions. “Inhale. Exhale. Oooowwwwwm,” he said. “Breathe, smile. 🙂 Breathe, smile. 🙂 Pretend as though your brain is falling to the back of your head. Relax.” At times I felt funny, my head hanging between my knees, my arms and hands folded in a knot. But by the end of it, my body felt like jello, and my mind felt at rest.

The Buffalo Exchange — Lately, I’ve become more interested in fashion. Maybe it’s all the talk at work about the paper’s coverage of New York’s fashion week. Or maybe it’s the fashionable girls and guys I see walking around the city streets. I like to look, but I don’t buy. I found both fashion and frugality at the Buffalo Exchange, though. There are lots of stylish clothes here with price tags that didn’t make me cringe. I ended up buying three cute dresses and a pair of yellow hoop earrings for $50. Not a bad deal.

NorthPark Center — This mall is huge, and it’s a great place to people watch. For a while, I was walking behind a little old man, who seemed as though he was doing his speed walking workout for the day. At another point, I walked behind a group of five ladies who were all wearing over-sized T-shirts and hats that had pink and purple strands of hair attached to them. Then there were the women in Barneys New York who were buying $600 dresses. I walked inside the store, just so I could say I’d been there. Naturally, I gravitated toward the sales rack. Wow, a T-shirt for “only” $199! This store, and many of the other stores in the mall, are a little too pricey.

Snider Plaza — This outdoor shopping center near Southern Methodist University has cute little boutiques, nail salons and restaurants. It’s three blocks long and great if you’re looking for a shopping area that isn’t dominated by designer stores. I like the names of some of the stores here: “The Blues Jean Bar,” “Goo Goo Eyes,” “Peek in the Attic” and “Peggy Sue BBQ,” (which I’ve heard is pretty good). Heck, there’s even a snoring center. (What?!)

The Crow Collection of Asian Art — Located in downtown Dallas, this collection is worth a look. The museum currently has an impressive display of Chinese art from private collectors in Texas. There are photographs, paintings, sculptures and more. The museum is free of charge, making for a cheap and cultural experience.

Nasher Sculpture Center — This outdoor museum features sculptures from artists such as Edgar Degas and Picasso. I expected there to be more sculptures, but I still enjoyed what I saw. Sculptures, I found, seem more beautiful in the outdoors. Sunshine and shadows fall on them, creating an interesting balance of light and darkness depending on the time of day. My favorite sculpture in the center is called “Walking to the Sky.” Sculpted by Jonathan Borofsky in 2004, the piece features seven life-size figures walking up a 100-foot stainless steel post. It looks as though they’re walking on clouds, determined to reach the sun.

In the month-and-a-half that I’ve been in Dallas, I’ve seen a lot. But there’s still so much more to see …

Weigh in: What recommendations do you have for things to do/places to see in Dallas?

Writing Concert Reviews on the Entertainment Beat

Rex C. Curry, special contributor, The Dallas Morning News

Photo of the Counting Crows' lead singer, Adam Duritz, taken by Rex C. Curry, special contributor, The Dallas Morning News

When I wrote about Steely Dan for my first concert review last month, I had difficulty speaking with authority on the band, seeing as I didn’t know its music well. Sure, I had researched the group, read reviews about its members and familiarized myself with its music on YouTube, but it was difficult to critique and review a band I knew little about. It was much easier to do this when reviewing the Counting Crows, Maroon 5, Enrique Iglesias and Aventura earlier this week because I know all of these groups’ music.

Concert reviews are good practice for writing on deadline and for writing succinctly. (We have to keep reviews to 10 inches, or about 350 words.) And they’re good for learning how to think about music on a deeper level. Some of the questions I’ve been asking myself when reviewing concerts are: How well does the band perform together? How does the band engage fans? What are the fans’ reactions? Does the music sound the same as it does on the band’s CDs? What’s unusual about the band’s performance? Does the band have energy, or is it lackluster?

I still have a long way to go before I make it to the level of seasoned critics, but I’m learning, and I’m enjoying the opportunity to explore a new genre of writing. Oh, and getting to see concerts for free is pretty sweet, too.

Here are links to my:

Counting Crows/Maroon 5 review and related blog post.

Enrique Iglesias review and related blog post.

Latest Texas Ballet Theater story.

More to Cowboys Than Hats and Horses

This cowboy doesn't look too happy about being in a photo with me!

This cowboy doesn't look too happy to be in a photo with me!

One of the first questions my friends and family from the Northeast ask me now that I’m in Dallas is: “Have you seen a lot of cowboys??”

“Not really,” I tell them. Sure, some girls and guys walk around wearing cowboy boots or hats, but I have yet to see a full-fledge cowboy or cowgirl roaming the streets of Dallas.

I saw plenty of them, though, while in Fort Worth. When my family came to town last week, we took the 45-minute ride to the Forth Worth stockyards and caught a more traditional, (or shall I say stereotypical?) glimpse of Texas life. Cowboys and cowgirls are a staple of everyday life in the stockyards — not an exception. They ride around on horses and drink beers at bars. They take pictures with tourists and help guide cattle along the main road that runs near the stockyards.

It was a bit of a culture shock seeing them at first, and I couldn’t tell how much of what I saw was authentic, or just for show. It felt a little like walking through Texas’ version of Massachusetts’ Plimouth Plantation. I took a photo with one of the cowboys, and I’ll admit: I looked at him differently than I would have two months ago before stepping foot in Texas. Cowboys and cowgirls, I’ve learned, are not just southern people who wear funny hats and ride big horses. They’re not just buckaroos, cowpokes, cowhands or cowpunchers. They’re men and women who come from a longstanding tradition of hard work, dating as far back as the medieval times in Spain.

Recently, I read a Texas Monthly cover story that helped explain the history of cowboys and the struggles they face in the present day. In the story, Elmer Kelton, the son of a Texas ranger, writes that a cowboy is “a common man in an uncommon profession, giving more than he receives, living by a code of conduct his detractors will never understand.” Since George Bush became president, however, Americans have increasingly referred to cowboys in a derogatory manner, targeting them as lazy loners. The word cowboy, Kelton writes, has become a political epithet that’s “thrown around as a pejorative, hijacked by pundits and politicians to refer to arrogant, reckless types who go it alone.”

I came to Texas with my own preconceived notions of what cowboys and cowgirls were like, without ever really knowing who they are, what they do, or how their way of life originated. Being willing to learn more about them and see them for myself, even if it was in a touristy setting, helped me assess my biases. I might not see cowboys and cowgirls in my everyday life in Dallas, but I now have a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, who they are and how they live their lives.

Listening to Children’s Stories

Photo of Bryce Cass taken by Mike Stone, special contributor, The Dallas Morning News

Photo of Bryce Cass taken by Mike Stone, special contributor, The Dallas Morning News

I’ve always enjoyed interviewing children, mostly because they get excited about talking to reporters. No cold shoulders. No “off the records.” No shameless plugs. In the past when I’ve covered school events, all the teacher had to do was introduce me as “the lady from the paper” and children would swarm me. “What are you writing about?”, “Do you work for the newspaper?”, and the most frequently asked question: “Is my name going to be in the paper?!”

“Maybe!” I’d usually say, not knowing how many of the quotes I’d use.

While children are often enthusiastic to talk, they challenge journalists’ ability to ask good questions. If you ask a child a yes or no, close-ended question, they often reply with a one-word answer. So, I try to ask open-ended questions. Instead of “Did you have fun at the show?” I rephrase this question and ask: “What did you like best about the show?” or “Tell me about the show.” Sometimes, all you get is, “It was really fun,” but keep prodding. “What was really fun?”

This week, I interviewed a rising star, Bryce Cass. The 10-year-old from Rockwall, Texas, is one of the five children on this season’s Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? When I met him and his mother, Terry, I was struck by how close they seemed. At one point during the interview, Terry began to cry when I asked her how proud she is of her son. Bryce ran over to her and threw his arms around her neck, pressing his face against hers. “It’s OK, Mom,” he told her. It was a beautiful moment that I wanted to include in the narrative. When interviewing Bryce and Terry, I didn’t want to record what they told me so much as I wanted to relay what the mother-son pair said to each other.

Stories about kids can make for wonderful narratives, in part because kids have so much energy and interesting things to say. If you’re not getting anywhere with your interview, sit back and listen. Watch children interact with each other or with their families. What are they saying to each other when they’re not talking to “the lady from the paper”? Capture these conversations.

Click here to read the story I wrote about Bryce.

Last week, I wrote a story about young filmmakers who competed in Samsung Mobile’s Fresh Films competition.

And here is the latest story from the ballet beat.

Weigh in: Do you find that kids are open to sharing their stories, or have I just been lucky?