Two weeks down

… I’m writing this post from somewhere over Missouri, at an altitude of 37,000 feet, on a flight to Milwaukee. In about another hour, I’ll be seeing my beloved Kates for ths first time since we started this separation thing almost two weeks ago. I’ll be seeing Phoebe for the first time since we left her sleeping at the family farm almost three weeks ago … I’ve been trying to imagine all day what it’ll be like to see her face light up at the sight of me walking off that plane. At least, I hope her face will light up -- Kates’ face, too.

And yet, I have this strange feeling that I’m leaving something valuable behind. I’ve been in my new role for two weeks now. I’m living two lives … And I’m loving my new one.

I wasn’t so sure those first couple days. The emotional havoc of leaving Kates and Phoebe was excruciating. A couple of emotional phone calls during our first couple days apart hardly eased that … And I was feeling so overwhelmed -- with my new responsibilities, the amount of work to do, the change of pace, the reputation of the institution, the pressure to do well -- that I had serious doubts of whether I’d hack it. There were multiple moments of me thinking, What the heck am I doing here!?

It also didn’t help that I moved into a winter not seen in the region in decades. I didn’t have cable or Internet access in my apartment. Outside of my office, I couldn’t check e-mail. I couldn’t update my Facebook statuses. I couldn’t come home to watch the nightly news. I couldn’t browse newspapers online. I felt as though I had no connection to the outside world I was used to, and I hated it. I missed "home" terribly.

* * *

Two days into my job -- I know, just two? you say -- something clicked (Not that I ever had serious doubts about whether it would, but the questions were there). That morning, we had our opening meeting -- 500-some staff inside the arena to listen to presentations and build excitement for the spring session. I was immediately caught by the energy -- the same energy I remembered feeling in my previous life here.

I was introduced in front of the staff, listened to the presentations from some of my new colleagues and watched our president engage the crowd with his own excitement and wonderful communication skills.

The real boost came when the president encouraged us to wander the arena and greet people. As I strolled from one side of the court to the other, I was boosted by faces I was seeing for the first time in my life and others I was seeing for the first time since I left eight years ago. My landlord, who I’d yet to meet, searched me out to introduce himself and make sure I had settled into my apartment. Others extended hands and warm welcomes that made me feel an immediate sense of belonging.

The best moment played out when I spotted an old friend across the room. Don had been a Methodist worship leader when I was in school and was among the people who helped me find my ground those first few months away from home -- man, could he play guitar and lead a spiritual gathering. I reconnected with him a couple years ago through the wonders of Facebook and learned he was still at the school. But seeing him again seemed to erase all the doubt I was having … I walked up to him, I caught his eye and he exclaimed …

“Man, when I heard you were coming back, I said, ‘Wow! This is awesome!” he said after embracing me in a hug. We caught up briefly on each other’s lives as others continued to greet me while they passed.

It felt as though I was home … even though that word has taken on so many meanings the last 10 years that it’s hard for me to say where home is sometimes ... Somewhat shamelessly, when I refer to K-Town, I've been trying to refrain from calling it “home” to give the impression that I'm glad to be in my new home and not missing the old one.

* * *

Midway through my first week, without realizing it, I got a handle on my new responsibilities and grew more comfortable with my surroundings … By Thursday, I was distributing my first stories and releases. And on Monday, the most nagging hurdle: I conquered uploading releases to our Web site on my own.

The more I got settled, the more I realized that my friend Chris was right. After he left for academia a few months ago, he told me about the refreshing change of pace from the intensity-laden, blood-pressure pounding atmosphere of the newsroom. When Emily -- another former colleague who left for academia a couple years ago -- made the same observation to Chris, he said didn’t believe her until he discovered it himself …

My new realm is so much calmer and positive than what I've been accustomed to. I don’t have an editor looking over my shoulder and asking every hour for updates on the progress of my latest story. I don't have angry subscribers calling me first thing in the morning and tearing me a apart because I wrote about their daughter getting drunk and crashing her car into a tree. I'm no longer dealing with the burden of feeling as though I'm picking on people for their wrong-doings; instead I'm helping to spread stories about an exciting environment and the accomplishments of those who are a part of it.

My new colleagues have been exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Not that my previous colleagues weren't friendly -- many of them, I'm sure, will be friends for life -- but so many of them had been numbed by years of hardened reporting in a sinking industry. In my new office and throughout the campus, there’s an energy I haven’t experienced -- well, since my college days. It's so refreshing ...

My new staff is a cohesive one that feeds on collaboration and empowerment. We're not bound by a stack of paper that restricts us from doing certain tasks. I'm allowed to develop projects on my own with little oversight. It's understood that social networking is part of the game now and we must use those methods to get our stories out. There’s an urgency to solve problems when they arise, and things get done without a series of meetings that only weigh down our progress ...

I can come and go when I want. I can work as late as I want. I don’t have to fill out a time card every day and worry about a supervisor cursing at me because I worked some overtime. True story ...

Breaks are considered refueling, not disturbances … When we had the national championship trophy in our office this week, we took advantage and posed for pictures with it. And today we went out for lunch to celebrate a colleague’s birthday.

I have my own office, which I can decorate and personalize … For the last seven years, I’d worked in a 5x5-foot cubicle where posting any personal artifacts was discouraged and all phone conversations could be heard. I have a laptop that allows me to take work with me at night, and I have a Blackberry to enhance my communication and connectivity. Best of all, I'm allowed to listen to music -- a method I rely heavily on to keep me inspired, focused and grounded.

(... About the music, one of the things Kates and I are finding solace in with this new adventure is connectivity and mobility of our world today. Technology rocks! ... One of the things I was intent on doing was keeping a connection to our Chicago radio station, which is arguably one of the best in the country. Every morning, after I've booted up my computer, I log on to WTMX and start my day -- as I have every weekday morning for years -- with our old pals Eric & Kathy. Only now I'm not doing it while I drive to the police station or to a house fire ... Pop songs like "Someday," "Party in the USA," "Hey Soul Sister," "Haven't Met You Yet" and "Fireflies" have been super pick-me-ups amid my busy days. And dare I say, I'm also warming up to Lady Gaga [... I may have just thrown up a little.] I never thought I'd say it, but "Bad Romance" is sort of a catchy song. Ra ra-ah-ah-ah roma roma-ma gaga oh la-la!)

I have the honor of working in a towering historical landmark every day. My windows look onto the center of campus and the natural light is so bright I hardly have to turn on the fluorescent lights. I love gazing at the towers on my approach every morning. I love the way the floors creek when I walk across them. I love walking down the grand staircase and seeing the lobby hopping with students. And I love the way the Memorial Bell Tower's signature chimes filter into my office every evening.

The only thing I don’t like is the long walk to the restroom. It was like 25 yards down the hall at the News; it’s got to be like 100 yards here. My boss suggested wearing rubber pants.

The adventure continues.

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