Fame and fortune — well, at least fame

Midlife Bat Mitzvah makes the headlines!

Well, that’s an overstatement if I ever heard one. But the J, the weekly Jewish newspaper of the Bay Area, ran a story about this blog and about yours truly several days ago.

You can read it here.

I always find it somewhat unnerving to be on the other side of the interviewer/interviewee line.  When I was a newspaper reporter, the subjects of my stories generally gave me high marks for accuracy. But still, being a journalist gives you a ringside view of how many things can be gotten wrong in a story — through carelessness, misunderstanding, the need to condense long comments into short spaces, or reporting that begins with a preconceived conclusion.

There are also situations where the reporting isn’t  wrong — just different from how the subject views the world. It’s like when our mental images of ourselves don’t  correspond with what we look like in a photo, so we tear up the photo.

When I was a reporter, I was always surprised by how few people were leery of being interviewed. Maybe most folks didn’t know enough to be nervous.

I was nervous. When I sat down with J reporter Stacey Palevsky, I found myself deliberately trying to find places to connect with her. I’m a journalist, you’re a journalist. You taught in Oakland Midrasha, my daughter goes to Oakland Midrasha.  It was the mirror image of what I used to do when I was the reporter writing the profile: Find little things in common with the subject. Put them at ease. Win them over so they open up to you.

It’s a somewhat strange dance step — reach out, build trust out of mistrust, so your dancing partner tells you their full story. Or listens, with a friendly ear, to your story.

In any case, Stacey Palevsky did a very good and professional job. Caught the essence of what I’m trying to do. No significant factual errors. Chose a good anecdote to open the story, and a good, related final quote to end it. Didn’t leave me hiding under the bed with embarrassment or feeling like I wanted to (figuratively) tear up any photos.

Plus… on the literal level… she got a great photo of our new kitten on my lap at the computer!

Photo credit: Stacey Palevsky/The J Weekly

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2 Responses to “Fame and fortune — well, at least fame”

  1. George Raine Says:

    Dear Ilana,

    I value you as a friend and former coworker for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact you always have something interesting to say. This story succeeds because it captures not only your passion for your Midlife Bat Mitzvah — a story in itself — but your sense of humor and the ability to cast a light on what is relevant for your interviewer and her audience. I can see your hand in guiding the reporter toward what makes a story work.

    I wish I had had as much success in two recent post-Chronicle job interviews: A fellow asked, “Do you like people?” Another asked, “What deficiencies have you discovered about yourself in the job-hunting process?” It was enough to send me to confession at my church.

    Best, George Raine

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      George, those interview questions are a hoot!

      You could start a web site or blog compiling stupid job-interview questions. Although it’s likely, given the Web, that someone has done so already. :-)

      Meanwhile, my theory about “always having something interesting to say” is that there are two paths to this:

      (1) Be really brilliant. E.g. Anna Quindlen, Maureen Dowd, Anne Lamott, Ellen Goodman, David Brooks, or Jon Carroll (if you are outside the Bay Area and don’t know Jon Carroll, he is a funny, insightful SF Chronicle columnist whose work can be found at http://www.sfgate.com or here).

      (2) Only write when you have something interesting to say. This is where I fit in. So, I post about once a week… couldn’t imagine posting daily!

      On a somewhat related note, Anne Lamott has an interesting counter-cultural perspective on blogging in a new Q&A in Salon.com, where she is asked if she were a young mother today, whether she would write a Mommy Blog:

      “I don’t think I would have ever blogged. I am not even sure how you find someone’s blog. What I loved were all those years of doing shaped, crafted essays about my life and spiritual or political pursuits — but those 1,200 or whatever words took a full week to get just right. They were the length and the topics I love to read….

      “I don’t think I’m a blogging type — I’m-too much of a perfectionist. I keep trying to capture moments and passages just right, so other people might find a little light to see by in my work. And that takes forever.”

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