When I was a kid, six or seven, I was convinced that there were cities on top of the clouds.
I told all the other kids in the neighborhood, as if I had discovered this rather than made it up.
“You guys know there’s whole downtowns up there, right?” I told them, looking up on an overcast day.
“They’re clustered in Washington, DC. If you go there, sometimes you can see them from below.”
I was the only kid in our neighborhood who had actually been to DC, and so considered an authority.
The other kids believed me, told me they could see a skyscraper or a radio tower as they craned upwards. I nodded solemnly.
I like to think that I have outgrown this, the ability to lie without realizing that I am. But I’m not sure I have.
Two weeks ago, I quit my job in human rights to become a journalist.
Or to re-become one, I guess.
Last time I was worked in journalism it was 2003
and I was a copy editor for msn.com.
I came in every morning and I looked for spelling errors in stories about Paris Hilton’s nighttimes and broken links in weight loss listicles.
On the really exciting days, I got to write a headline.
I left after a year,
moved to Denmark to do a silly, useless master’s degree,
got an internship at a human rights NGO,
then a real job,
then another job, at another NGO, in another city.
Before I knew it, human rights was something my European friends were referring to as my “background.”
I took these photos in Ethiopia last year.
I was there for a conference, some UN thing.
To get in, you have to show your passport, get a little visitors badge.
Waiting in line, a former colleague asked me why I moved to Denmark.
I told her I was interested in the political system, I wanted to see how the happiest country in the world got that way.
I have been telling other people, myself, that for years. And maybe it’s true. Or maybe it’s me lying without knowing it.
Before I moved to Denmark I was living in my hometown, in my parents’ basement, hunting for typos in a cubicle all day.
Maybe I moved to Denmark because anything—cold weather, high rent, rampant socialism—would have been an improvement.
When people ask me why I got into human rights, I tell them it’s because I wanted to do something meaningful with my life,
And I tell myself that it’s to make up for the insane luck that got me born where, when, to whom I did.
But it’s also because I was living in a college town in Jutland and I wanted to move to Copenhagen for the summer. The internship paid, it would look good on my resumé.
Today I am starting my new job in journalism because it is what I want to do, all I have ever wanted to do, and the jobs I have had where I do not learn anything or write anything during my days make me feel like I am wasting them.
That is, for the first time in awhile, a “because” that feels true, that does not change depending on who I tell it to,
That, finally, does not make me feel like I am describing cities on top of clouds.
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