alycewilson (alycewilson) wrote,
alycewilson
alycewilson

LJI 11 Week 17: Devil in Tie-Dye

This is my entry for Week 17 of LJ Idol (therealljidol). This week's topic is "Negative Reversal."

In this story, I'm the villain. If you'd seen me at the time, you wouldn't have guessed so, unless you picture trouble with wild, curly blonde hair, a crooked smile, and impish blue-gray eyes; a devil in a tie-dye and a silver peace-sign necklace.



Alyce-1988

Me in my freshman year, grinning wildly



When I first arrived at Penn State, I immediately joined about a half dozen clubs, only a few of which would retain my membership by the end of the year. In addition to joining the radio station, WPSU, I also tried out for the campus newspaper, "The Daily Collegian."

Yes, I said try out. According to them, so many people wanted to participate in the paper that the editors needed to be selective. No problem, I thought. I took three years of high-school journalism and was the feature-page editor for the school newspaper. I showed up for the writing test, which was a breeze. Confident, I turned it in and then bounced into the basement of Carnegie Building in a couple days to read the results. No way would they turn me down.

Except that they did. And when I was 18, I wasn't used to failure. I'd been a straight-A student, first-chair clarinet in the band, yearbook co-editor, graduated third in my class. Practically anything I'd ever considered trying had worked out for me. And the things that didn't? They weren't really my jam anyway.

I groused about the rejection to one of my friends at the radio station, which was rapidly becoming my favorite place on campus. Even when I wasn't working on a show, I'd hang out in the oversized lobby, chatting with people, doing homework and previewing albums on the turntable with giant, noise-cancelling headphones.

"Did you tell them you worked at WPSU?" the friend asked me. He was a year older, a bespectacled guy with a babyface and the made-for-radio name of Pat Urban. After graduating, he'd become a fixture on a State College radio station. But even then, as a relative neophyte, he spoke with authority.

I nodded.

"There's your problem," he said. "They don't like it when you're involved in anything else that takes a time commitment. Blue Band, radio station, you name it. That's the short route to the rejection pile."

Hearing that, I bristled with righteous teenager fury. Those cads! Those scoundrels! (And yes, I probably thought something very much like that, being besotted in those days with archaic insults, the more British-sounding the better.) How dare they make a snap judgement about me?

You did not turn the 18-year-old Alyce down.

Fired with new purpose, I reviewed the red ink in the margins of my tryout story. "Who? What? Where? When?" I saw scribbled next to my lede. OK, I mused. I guess I made the mistake of trying to draw the reader in with a more creative sentence. Clearly, these fools didn't recognize feature writing when they saw it.

I pored over editions of the newspaper, analyzed the style. Cookie-cutter journalism, I assessed it. Start with a dry lede containing at least three of the five "W's" -- who, what, where, why, when -- and follow it up with an attribution to a source, i.e., "campus police said." Yawn. I could write that in my sleep.

Thus prepared, I showed up again the next time they held tryouts. On the sheet of personal information, I admitted to no other extracurricular activities. Given the data for a sample story, I hammered out cookie-cutter prose so dry it could make your eyeballs wither. Every other sentence, an attribution: "said the fire department," "said so-and-so." Said your mamma.

This time, waiting for the results, I felt smugly complacent. Sure enough, checking the list in Carnegie Hades, I spotted my name where it belonged: in the list of accepted reporters. Ha! Take that, "Daily Collegian"!

Except I didn't really want the job. So now came the uncomfortable part. I requested a meeting with the faculty advisor, whose name I forget. But I remember her dark, curly shoulder-length hair, and the look of consternation on her face when I told her I was going to give up my spot.

"You realize that your dropping out means that somebody else doesn't get in," she scolded.

I nodded contritely, leaving the office with my head bowed, all the while thinking, "Well, it serves you right." Seriously, not my problem they couldn't just call in a runner-up.

For years, that became my party story, about how "The Daily Collegian" rejected me, so I took the test again and, when they told me I was accepted, I turned them down. My friends would laugh uncomfortably and change the subject. Eventually, I dropped it from my repertoire.

I'd like to say I learned my lesson, that I've been haunted for years by the way I squandered someone else's chances. Except that I wasn't. Not right away, not for decades. When I think about it now, I hope that maybe someone on that rejection list became similarly fired up. Not for comeuppance, but for success. Maybe it made them a better writer, perhaps even, eventually, a prize-winning journalist.

And maybe, if I'm completely honest with myself, I didn't belong at "The Daily Collegian" after all. Not in the straight news department, anyway. The freewheeling radio station, where I got to spread my wings, explore ideas, dabble in broadcast news, as well as in script writing and comedy, was destined to become my college home.

But deep down, I secretly feel like, with their rigid policies, "The Collegian" had it coming.

I told you, I'm the villain of this story.

Alyce-crossed-eyes1988

Me with crossed eyes in my freshman year

Tags: lj idol, lji, memories
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