The Op. Ed Project: Part 2


A little back-tracking

Let me be up front by saying that I was not trying to downplay my own voice or the places that I earned my degrees. I have many friends and acquaintenances who graduated from state schools and now teach at state schools and many others who have gone on to contribute significantly to the world at-large. I just needed to use it as a reference point for the company that I was keeping. In the end, my story is my own as I see it and to me, it is without a lot bells and whistles.

Read part one here.

The teacher

Katherine Lanpher, fearless leader who isn’t afraid to share her own fears, made us laugh, cry, sweat, shake our heads, and sit up straighter all at the same time. Her bio states that she is a former MPR talk show host, creator of the “Talking Volumes”series on MPR, host of the flagship Barnes and Noble “Upstairs at Union Square” author series, contributing editor to More magazine, and author of the collection of stories about her move to New York City called Leap Days. She is an award winning journalist and teacher of The Op. Ed. Project which is dedicated to promoting women and minority voices in mainstream media. In short, this woman has been around the block.

In my eyes she is a task master with a racaus laugh and pure heart. She cares within an inch of her life about getting women to see that their voices matter and has little patience for the self-deprecation that midwestern women seem to wear as easily as their winter parkas. She is not afraid to laugh at herself, but she owns what she knows with a steely security which fits her well. She is up front about the fact that is was also hard-won.

All around the country she is trying to get others to own it as well. But trying on this ownership of voice for size is probably worse than fitting yourself with a custom-made bra in a room full of mirrors. Grossly uncomfortable and unforgiving, especially with eight other people in the room watching.

The process

It seemed simple enough. We all had a message that we wanted to get out so what do you want people to know or do, why, and why should anyone listen to you?

Um, well, because, because, because…..

Yes ladies, we are going to have to be quite a bit more specific.

Show, don’t tell.

Make us care. Shock us, make us laugh, cry, or make us mad. Anything that gets our attention but get our attention and prove that this matters because your essential experience tells us so.

In the course of a week we wrote three to five drafts of the the same piece. Each morning we would go to class and begin the process of reading each one, discussing what worked and where improvements needed to be made. This seems simple enough, but with 10 sets of ridiculously smart and thoughtful eyes going over them, it took a long time.

What astounded me is that everyone gave themselves over to the process every single time. Everyone was sincere and compassionate all the time. I had my own moments. I admit after my third draft I lost it because it was hard, so hard to take in all of these great ideas and stay true to the course of your intentions before it started to feel like we should all sign off on my piece. I chose to write about Michele Bachmann so there were new things to consider every day I was there. I would read news in the morning and at night and I felt pelted and overwhelmed by what I could and should say. There were so many directions to take. Katherine finally just had to stop me.

“What is it? What has you so fired up about her? What is the one thing you are trying to say?”

Discrimination and homophobia are not frivolous and side matters. She has been evading questions about these topics and it has been killing me. Anyone running for president knows discrimination is a very serious issue.

“Ok. Who are you? Why should we listen to you?”

Because I am married, I am at home with kids. I am the picture of happy married life in Michele Bachmann’s world.


But I know discrimination and homophobia are not side matters.


And finally, after three sleepless nights and countless hours of analysis, I gravitated toward home, my own voice.

The Grand Finale