I sometimes tell people that I was dragged into journalism by my hair, full of trepidation and self-doubt. And it’s true — you can check with my professors and mentors in the English department at the University of Maine. They’ll tell you I was sublimely happy back in the late 1990s, traipsing around the Orono campus at midlife, indulging my lifelong love of literature and challenging myself as a creative and analytic writer. I’m sure they thought they were stuck with me for life.
I aced my long-overdue B.A. in English and was ready to roll on into the master’s program, unsure of what I would do when I returned, eventually, to the workforce. I was putting off thinking about it, but I imagined that teaching high school English would be satisfying, or maybe working in publishing. Although I was an avid reader of the news, I never even considered entering journalism myself. So when that call came, in the form of a surprising job offer from the venerable and now-defunct weekly paper Maine Times, I was panicked.
I’ll spare my readers the Freudian analysis. Lets just say that the idea of writing for a public audience terrified me to my core. I am forever indebted to my academic advisors and mentors in the musty, third-floor offices of Neville Hall, who strongly encouraged me to Get Over It and accept the job.
I was 45 years old, married, raising two teenage sons and transitioning away from a 15-year career in health care. It made sense to leave the ivory tower of the university and put my freshly honed writing skills to work, building on the knowledge, insights and tools I had developed as a practicing nurse. So, after some deep thinking and a few sleepless nights, I left school and started working as a reporter with Maine Times. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
Journalism provides me with a powerful, real-time education in how the world works. It brings me in contact with an astonishing variety of people and situations, challenges my preconceptions and confirms, over and over, my belief in the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. It forces me to confront my own prejudices and introduces me to new ideas. And every day in the newsroom, I encounter great personalities — the smart, skeptical, irreverent and deeply idealistic professionals who do this important work.
And, I have really had to Get Over It — that old fear of being in the public eye. I learned in my early days at Maine Times to take a big breath, hitch up my big girl pants and wade right into situations and conversations that made me nervous or uncomfortable. Fortunately, it’s gotten easier with time and experience. I know now that feeling a little anxious just comes with the journalism territory, and that it can often pay off with surprising interactions and insights.
So, a few weeks ago, when the Bangor Daily News asked if I would moderate an upcoming public forum featuring Sen. Susan Collins, it was easy to say yes, and thank you, and mean it.
Collins, a native of Caribou, has served in the U.S. Senate since 1996 and was re-elected to her fourth term in 2014, easily defeating Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows.
Now in her mid-60s, Collins is a bonafide baby boomer. She heads up the U.S. Special Senate Committee on Aging, which concerns itself with the overall wellbeing of older Americans. Under her leadership, the committee has focused on issues such as prescription drug pricing, elder fraud and abuse, funding for Alzheimer’s disease research and the status of family caregivers.
Collins will discuss these topics and take related questions from the audience next Tuesday evening, Oct. 11, from 5:30 to 7:30 in the Gracie Theater at Husson University in Bangor. The event is sponsored by the Bangor Daily News and AARP and is one of several conversations related to aging in a statewide series called Dirigo Speaks. Other speakers in the series include Sen. Angus King, former Secretary of State George Mitchell, “Aging Adventurer” Emily Kimball and the BDN’s own political cartoonist, George Danby.
I hope a lot of Next readers will show up at the Gracie Theater next Tuesday evening to talk with Susan Collins about the age-related issues that matter to them. If you can come, kindly help us plan for food and other logistics with an RSVP to 207-776-6302 or aarp.cvent.com/DirigoSpeaksBangor.
If you can’t make it, please send me a question or two for Sen. Collins to help keep the conversation moving and the ideas flowing. I’ll ask as many of your questions as I have time for and pose a few of my own as well. You can phone me in the newsroom at 207-990-8066 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being up on stage with Maine’s senior senator in front of an engaged audience of my peers is bound to make me a little angsty. But that will easily be overridden by my interest in the topic, the liveliness of the conversation and the pleasure I take in doing my work. I look forward to the evening and to seeing you there.