Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Experiment (02/16/12)
TITLE: The Great Misadventure
By Cheryl von Drehle
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“You must think I’m an idiot.”
“In my line of work, that would cover a lot of ground.” His smile, meant to relax her, drove Emily into instant depression. She closed her eyes. She marveled at the fallout of her excellent plan and considered the possibility that she lacked humility, not to mention common sense. What was she thinking?
Having recently graduated from the University of Chicago’s School of Journalism, Emily was convinced the world needed her. She covered Chicago’s version of Occupy Wall Street, only to be crushed when her many articles were rejected by every publication she approached. Editors were even less impressed with her insights garnered from various campaign trails.
Her Lakeshore Drive parents pressured her to apply for business school. She would not. She wanted to be a writer, not a bean counter. In desperation, she conceived a full proof plan. She would go undercover.
It took her a few weeks to determine under what cover. Inspiration was continually defeated by history. Cursory research on every idea sealed the ubiquitous “been there done that” syndrome…all her good ideas: taken. She finally decided. So what if she could not come up with something that had never been done? Didn’t Ecclesiastes declare that “there is nothing new under the sun?” Her fresh take and youthful perspective on the subject was the key to success. She would be homeless.
She knew homeless people: had eaten with them at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations; served them at her church’s soup kitchen; given them dollar bills and tracts on her way into The Gap. That would be her story: undercover homeless teenager. Maybe she would even attend the local high school and report on adolescent attitudes toward her when fellow students found out she was living in a box.
After several weeks of careful planning – scouting street corners, shopping for her new wardrobe, rehearsing in front of the mirror, devising riveting journalistic questions – she was ready for the streets.
She lasted two hours.
Her first hour challenged her stereotypes. After reciting her concocted back-story to a homeless mother with three children, she felt guilty. But that is what undercover is all about, right? developing a persona to pursue the story. She was also chagrined by the generosity of her fellow homeless addicts, who shared their meager food supplies, and the paternal kindness of an elderly drunk who shared his story. But she was exhilarated by the experience and shockingly proud of her ability to pull off the disguise.
At which point, the situation took a nasty turn. She was later vague on the details, but she remembered a disturbance, shouting, gunfire, and her stubborn refusal to move out of harms’ way – she had a story to get after all. The gentleman who growled at her to run lacked the finesse of persuasive speech. When she wouldn’t budge he picked her up and tossed her to safety under a stairway, unintentionally breaking her patrician nose and spilling her blue blood down the front of her shirt. And that is where this hunky first responder found her.
Once she was cleaned up the emergency room staff was unimpressed with her injuries, and left her to her own devises. She grabbed a taxi and headed back to her apartment to nurse her wounded pride and reflect on her experiment gone awry.
A month later Emily’s story was written, after further reflection on Ecclesiastes 11:9: Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.” (NIV) After much reflection on the wisdom of learning over experimentation, instead of shopping her narrative in misadventure for publication, she submitted it with her application to a journalism internship.
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