For my 22nd birthday, my friend April gave me a mug with a New Yorker cartoon on it. The cartoon man is sitting behind his desk, on the phone, a calendar laid out in front of him. The caption reads, “No, Thursday's out. How about never—is never good for you?”
The mug, of course, was a gentle jab alluding to the exasperating experience of being friends with someone who has been consumed by Spectator for the last four years. This semester, though, I've had enough time to drink coffee from a real mug some mornings and find out exactly how many times “Bizarre Foods” airs on the Travel Channel on Monday nights. But when acquaintances in the East Campus elevator ask about my “semester of freedom” after a year of being editor in chief, and a year as city news editor before that, and a year as a deputy news editor, reporter, and copy editor before that, there isn't enough room in those few seconds to explain.
Because while they see my time at Spectator as three and a half years without freedom, I'm not so sure.
My schedule was never stricter than it was over the last two years, when “work” began on Sunday mornings with planning managing board meetings, ended on Friday afternoons with stumbling down Low Steps after interviewing an administrator, and rarely left Saturdays alone, either. But there is a different kind of freedom that comes with a sense of purpose—the feeling that you're doing exactly what you need to be doing at that moment.
That feeling came with a job I had wanted for a long time. No matter what I may have told anyone in the interim, I walked into my first Spectator training session, sat at the top of Lehman Auditorium as the editor in chief introduced herself, and thought, “I want to be there someday.”
That was ambition for ambition's sake, something that propelled some of us to Columbia in the first place. But as I shifted from the copy desk to the news desk to the panopticon, I found so many real reasons to stick around, ones that became the only reasons.
The exhilaration that radiated though Maggie Astor, simultaneously ranting and typing when the use of eminent domain in Manhattanville was halted by a judge in December 2009, which led to the first banner headline of my four years here. The lessons learned when I got my own big stories, from Operation Ivy League to Michele Moody-Adams' surprise resignation.
The news desk around which I made a home with Leah Greenbaum, where we did battle together against en-dashes and vindictive PR personnel. From there we sent reporters running to flooded dorms and stuffed backpacks with snacks and ponchos for reporters headed to Occupy Wall Street like it was their first day of school. Leah herself was another reason, the friend-wife crazy enough to spring break with me in a summer town in the winter weather, devouring Indian food in an abandoned hotel because there is really, truly nothing to do in Falmouth, Mass, other than plan news meeting activities and promise to be the godmothers to each others' children.
Once I was editor in chief, I tried to live by the mantra Ben Cotton taught me: Make sure you're doing the best job you can at every moment, because a new staffer is always looking for an example. I certainly tried to set that example, working to cross items off of Spectator's long to-do list, maneuvering to put myself out front to absorb the hardest blows from the angriest readers, trying to breathe deeply enough to resolve the conflicts that no one else wanted to touch. In return I was inspired again and again by the Speccies working unspeakably hard around me every day and night (none harder than managing editor extraordinaire Maggie Alden), figuring out their own reasons for sticking around.
We also had some damn good midnight dance parties.
I hope all of that has inspired some others to want to stay with this crazy, exhilarating, all-encompassing thing. There are certainly a lot of projects left on that to-do list. If you want to check them off, Spectator will take from you—time, sleep, a normal set of dating opportunities. (Since I convinced my high school boyfriend to join for a bit after he transferred to Columbia, only 100 percent of my boyfriends have been affiliated with Spectator. Normal is probably not the correct term for this.)
So yes, Spectator takes a lot. After four years, though, I'm pretty sure I gained everything Columbia had to give.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in English. She was a deputy news editor for the 134th deputy board, city news editor for the 135th managing board, and editor in chief for the 136th corporate board.
Read the rest of this year's senior columns here.