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  • Spencer Norris

A Long Road to a Daily Paper

Some people wind up in this profession because they’re part of the always-wanted-to-be-a-reporter pedigree. Others, like yours truly, wash out elsewhere and wind up exactly where they’re supposed to be.


Two years ago, I was sitting at my desk somewhere in Upstate New York, spitballing ideas for composing statistical analyses with semantic workflows in a modular computing environment given resource constraints. Yeah.


That didn’t really work out. I burnt out and left my computer science Ph.D. program after one semester. Boxes were packed, heads were hung, and old bedrooms back home were occupied.


I pinged an old boss from an internship for part-time work, which she graciously helped me secure so that I could pay my student loans and write… something? I floundered on my journalistic ambitions, pitching dribble like, uh, a photo essay on abandoned locations in Pennsylvania. My news sense was a bit out of tune, to put it mildly (for some reason, a magazine picked up nearly the same pitch from someone else earlier this year; god help that editor). The learning process is all very well, but when you’ve staked your future on a career Hail Mary, it tends to play on your nerves, especially when the rejection letters start rolling in.


2018. January, February, March… August. Nothing. Flat nothing. No progress. An online course in journalism from Berkeley, a middling piece posted to Medium, some bad photography, but other than that, forward progress had stalled.


I bought a one-way ticket to the other side of the planet and decided to ride out the storm, mostly because I wasn't sure what else to do. I miss those days. I miss the way a bowl of ramen goes down when you skipped breakfast, because Tokyo is too damn expensive. I miss the relief of leaving Hong Kong, because it’s too damn expensive. I miss the relief of hitting the ground in Cambodia, because your last $100 will get you far enough to last the week (ah yeah, forgot about the $30 visa—$70 for the week it is). I miss the locals in Fes calling me Ali Baba and by the way do I need a magic carpet (have to admit it, they have a sense of humor).


I love you Tokyo. I just wish my pocket book did too.

You start to seriously consider your ambitions when you’re on the other side of the planet living off of pocket change. I could have gone on that way forever, and probably lost myself somewhere along the way—a hostel with a pool and bar in Cambodia is $4 a day. I left a little piece of my heart out in the current, but there’s no future when you’re cut adrift like that—it’s just the next hostel, the next meal, the next 24-hour friend, and etc.


If the price tags I’m throwing around here are any indication, it wasn’t just a pleasure cruise. I was working the whole way, and thankfully, my employers at the time didn’t really need to know where I was. I worked hard, not just to eat, but to get back home. I knew the clock was ticking for those days. I loved it, but another year of it wouldn’t do. I submitted my Mizzou application while I was in Berlin shortly before New Years, I think.



A scene from Siem Reap in October. A window into how I killed four months.

I wasn't exactly jazzed about the prospect of moving to the Midwest, pausing my travels and reestablishing myself about 1,000 miles from my friends and family. But gratitude is important to finding satisfaction in your work, so I'm putting in some extra effort to cultivate that garden.


When I think back, I miss the hustle; it's a demand to do-do-do just so you can eat that week. Actually, that doesn't sound so different from reporting. Or grad school. Better yet, both. At the same time.


I caught some whiplash getting here. But I worked for it. I went about it in a very roundabout way, but it worked, and I earned it. I think that helps me find some gratitude, out here on some chunk of rock in the Midwest.


A window into the quiet life, with the occasional spat of guitar.

I’m doing this so I have the opportunity to go back abroad someday, this time with a little more purpose to my travel. I'm trying to maintain some perspective on where this career will take me, and I'm hoping it's back across an ocean.


Well, anyways, we’ll see if I’m singing a different tune in a couple months.


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© 2019 by Spencer Norris