Journalism, Ohio University, Photography

The lesson learned from listening

A page from my notebook

I walked home at 4:30 yesterday morning after spending the previous 14-or-so hours staring at a computer screen. Yet something told me that I should sit down and stare some more, that I should set aside my necessity for sleep another hour or so and condense the feeling I had on that walk home into words.

But my practical side roped me back in, told me to get in the shower, eat dinner/breakfast and head off to bed. It also told me to set my alarm back another hour, so at least it was doing something right.

Today was no different, other than I got home at 3:00 p.m. because I had a lot of busywork to plow through. But I’m sure if I were to go take a look in the mirror, my eyes would be just as bloodshot as they were the night before. As evidence, my online playlist has gone through 65 songs since dinner. I’ve been writing or reading since then. Tonight I’m not giving in to my practical self. Music is a reprieve that I sprinkle into my daily routine to brighten up the bland. Waking up, rolling out of bed and popping some good ‘ol country music into the earbuds does wonders for the morale. For the walk between classes, I listen to anything that will motivate me to actually go where I’m supposed to for the next hour. While I’m writing, it’s back to Pandora and my recently renamed “Bro Chillaxin”* playlist that reads my mind, I swear.

*Who suggested/convinced me to name it that, again?

Walking home yesterday, I flipped on some Blink-182, cranked it up and headed for Read Hall, Room 217. But the first song (fittingly, “After Midnight”) ended and I paused for a second while selecting the jam for the rest of my short walk home. I picked another song, but it didn’t seem right. I had already found what I was looking for.

The silence gave me the chills.

My world opened up as soon as I pulled my trusty, slightly uncomfortable white earbuds from my ears. It was like someone pulled back the zoom on my hypothetical camera lens. I could hear the birds chirping, telling the ultra-motivated Athens crowd that it was time to rise for the morning. I could feel the cold air against my skin.


It’s so easy to get caught up in the routine — country in the morning, sensory-guide-to-class throughout the day, Bro Chillaxin at my desk and rock on the way home — that it’s easy to forget what you hear when you press pause for a second.

As I type, my playlist has grown to 72 songs. My practical self tells me that I shouldn’t let it eclipse 75 tunes, if only because my first class of the morning will beckon a lot earlier than I prefer.

A friend made a great point to me this weekend. Actually, let me justify my previous statement. He told me a totally bland complaint about his life that I spun into a “Whoa, that’s a super deep thought” kind of thought.

He mentioned work that he had to do, work he volunteered for, that he was getting nothing out of.  He said that it was a good idea, but a waste of time for him. I agreed and told him that if I were in his shoes, I would stop doing that work.

The conversation was as simple as that for the time being. But, naturally, I spun it into something else during a conversation later in the weekend and voila(!), I have a story to tell.

What good are we getting out of the daily routine, other than learning how to cope with a daily routine, in all honestly? We learn how to deal headaches and butterflies, triumphs and sorrows, and, in summary, the good and bad. All those things are great and essential to a happy life, but the moments where we pull the headphones from our ears and look around are the times that the extraordinary happens.

It wasn’t much of a moment for me yesterday night. Nobody was around to see it. And by “it” I mean, me looking around like some kind of crazed goon, smiling from ear-to-ear, shoving my earbuds in my pocket and trying to evoke enough common sense to go to sleep. But it was darn cool — at least to me.

My playlist is up to 78 songs, but I can’t help but spill out a couple more thoughts. Even though I had this realization only a couple days ago, I have been living a much more holistic life outside of the daily routine over the past couple months, in retrospect.

When I first got to college, I thought that I had to be “turned on” at all times. Before you get totally weirded out by my phrasing, let me explain myself.

Last summer I formulated some vision of a journalist in my brain. Looking back, it resembled a picture of a robot.

I wanted an iPhone so I could be connected to the Internet at all times. I couldn’t leave the house without my laptop in case something were to happen on my 15 minutes off the (hypothetical) clock. I had to look like a professional all the time. I also expected myself to act like one.

Eight months into this new adventure that I call life, I can assure you that those things are a bunch of crap. I love my iPhone, but mostly because it takes really good pictures. My laptop stays at home when I don’t need it for class because there’s, like, a buzzillion computers on campus. And let’s just say I can count the times I’ve used my new iron on one hand.

The biggest misconception I’ve come across, though, is that there is no description of acting like a professional. The more I learn, the more I realize that acting like a professional is a myth made up by parents and movies, parents in movies or a combination of the three. Who is this professional that we model ourselves after? I surely haven’t met him or her. Some of the people I respect the most act the least like the professional our high school teachers told us we should grow up to be.

And to throw an asterisk on all of that, it’s not like I’ve decided to run rampant on the world and throw all popular conceptions of how to live a respectable life out the window. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for everything.

And I’ll continue to backtrack by using an example just to assure myself that I’m not crazy. For whatever reason, spring is business casual season. Apparently that’s a big deal. Not to throw anyone under the bus here, but many of my friends fret about what is business casual or not.

I can’t help but laugh at (with) them about their biz-cash (is that how you spell it out?) blunders. If whomever they’re meeting with judged their worth based on the width of their shoulder strap, shame on him or her. Maybe I’m naive to the business world — no, I’m definitely naive to the business world — but I can’t see any serious business professional taking a cab back to his or her hotel mumbling with the cabbie about how scandalous your semi-out-of-bounds apparel was.

If your last thought as you walk out the door is wondering if your socks don’t match your pocket square, you’ve gone too far. Unplug the headphones.

Ohio University is switching from quarters to semesters this fall, so we are likely in the midst of the last 10-week term that Athens will ever host. I don’t know exactly why the new system was implemented (I’ll add that to my list of Ohio things to learn), but I can imagine at least one of them is to give students better opportunities.

Though that is probably the case for most kids, freshman language majors were kind of thrown for a loop. As part of their degree requirements, language majors are required to study abroad. Normally this is done during their sophomore year — at least that’s what I’ve heard. However, now that the programs are being shuffled around, one thing led to another and three of my friends left for Europe last month. They’re all really smart kids, so I know they’re totally blowing away expectation over there. But how scary/awesome/heartbreaking/insane/tremendous/exhilarating is it to live your dream at 19 years old?

One of my friends got off the plane in Madrid and was told to find her way in the city for the night before moving in with her host family. At least I think that’s what happened. Her Skype connection wasn’t all that clear.

Need I list off my 57-character adjective again?

Welcome to the real world.

I have respect out the wazoo — yes, the wazoo — for those three kids because they’re unplugged from all the crap. They’re out searching for their dreams, learning through doing and generally kicking total ass. Sure, I’m sure they’ve fallen down a couple times, but every time I get on my computer — which is a lot, remember — there’s a new photo gallery of something I can’t pronounce uploaded to Facebook.

There’s something to be said about going after that rush and following your heart. Ninety five songs later, I’ve strewn mine out using these keys. Not one of them was typed while wearing headphones.



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My name is Jim Ryan, and I'm a breaking news reporter for The Oregonian and OregonLive in Portland. I'm an Ohio University graduate from Gaylord, Michigan.

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