A Letter to My Graduate Students

I’ve read this letter out as part of the @letterslive project. It was a letter I wrote to my graduate students this morning as part of our weekly check-in. It reflects this moment in time, and the particular challenges of teaching about media. The parameters of the request from Letters Live, outlined by Benedict Cumberbatch in this YouTube video, ask that we read our letters out loud on video. Readers are not required to use their faces, hence, my voiceover with my favorite fabric background.

The text of the letter, which is read out loud and posted on Twitter, is here:

Good morning from Minnesota!

As someone who works hard to manage chronic clinical depression, I’m finding this week’s material, which focuses on health communication, doubly challenging to talk about within the framework of COVID-19. Some of your posts and reflections have struck deep chords with me, and I’m struggling to contextualize what I know about media as a social institution with what I’m seeing across our news and other media platforms.

We in journalism often are careful to make a distinction between news and “other media.” It’s a necessary line we draw in order to help us focus on what society needs from news sources and what society wants from media. However, it’s clear to me that the average media consumer makes no such distinction. The image of a woman’s screaming face protesting a state lock down by shouting the “Media is the cancer!” hurts my heart. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that without media, more people would be dead at this point of the pandemic. And yet. And yet.

So, I’m personally balancing my rage and hurt with, ironically, some entertainment media. I’ve been watching John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” program on YouTube, and it’s made me cry every week. I watched the Disney Sing-Along last week with my little girls, and cried some more. I managed to watch two back-to-back episodes of Dr Who  in a worldwide simulcast on Sunday, and followed several of the original cast as they tweeted along. It helped, a lot, to feel connected to people who want to share something happy.

As we look ahead to our last week of classes, next week, I’m trudging through what needs to be done. I do want you all to know how much I appreciate your discussions and contributions to class. You all have made this experience incredibly rewarding.

Think, next, about how you would put your newly acquired understanding of media theory and practice to work in teaching an intro class. I know that some of you have already had this experience; others are looking forward to trying it for the first time. Every classroom is different, and will face interesting challenges. The key to making it work, I’ve always thought, is flexibility. Provide the framework and the materials to learn the material, but be flexible in how that it shaped. Take advantage of teachable moments. Media examples, past and present, will be your friends as you strive to help your students understand and evaluate materials.

Please know that I am thinking about all of you as we finish out the term. Stay well.

Dr L

Thoughts on the New Year

I hadn’t intended to do a year-end wrap up this year, and I’m still thinking that it’s not quite the right thing to do.

For all that I accomplished in 2019, it was a very difficult year for me personally.

I wrote more than 100,000 words across multiple formats and platform, including 90,000 words of fiction that may or may not become something.

I got a grant and traveled to England for two weeks, where I conducted research and gained a much-needed change in perspective and respite from the everyday.

I returned to school, took up my seat as chair and helped lead the charge to forming our new School of Communication.

But nearly every day was a struggle. My own battles with depression and anxiety sort of overshadowed many of my achievements. Weekly therapy is now a thing, and it’s a helpful thing.

I think we don’t spend enough time as a society focusing on our mental health. I know that I grew up thinking that any problems “in my head” demonstrated weakness, and I simply had to get over it, whatever “it” was. I developed numerous techniques to hold the darkness at bay, including secluding myself with a book.

(Former classmates might recall that I spent every lunch during ninth grade with my nose in a book, tuning out the world around me. That marked the start of the worst of my teenage depression.)

I also got involved in multiple activities. Keeping busy, I thought, would help keep those shadows away. I wasn’t completely wrong. Anything that could get me out of bed, out of the house, and moving in a positive direction was a good thing.

Back then, I could not have accepted help from a mental health professional, even if it was offered. But now, I know better. Accepting help–seeking help–is the only logical, and most important, action one can take when facing problems with mental health. Depression and anxiety at this point are old adversaries, but therapy has helped me open some new doors to acceptance, healing, and management that I’d never before considered.

As we move into 2020, I plan to continue to set goals for myself professionally and personally. I plan to keep my writing pace this year, and to seek out opportunities to publish my work. I plan spend more time with my family, and to see new places.

And I plan to continue to focus on my mental health, because I’m important.

You are, too.