Earlier this week, I had a bit of a reckoning about a deeply-held opinion I had in college. As I found myself struggling to spear some fresh green beans with a spork, I was forced to consider that I may have been wrong when I declared, 11 years ago, that the runcible spoon was the superior utensil.
This wasn’t, as one Twitter user feared, an attempt to argue that we all do stupid things when we’re younger by sharing my spork conversion in the wake of the news that Harvard rescinded a student’s acceptance when he was found to have used racial slurs in high school. It was just some good old-fashioned reminiscing and reflection.
I’ve found myself thinking about college a lot lately — and I know I’m a little young to be waxing nostalgic. But the thing about this new opinion editor job is that it takes me right back to where I started as a college freshman in 2008. I’d applied to work as a news reporter at the college paper, the Iowa State Daily, and I didn’t hear back. When I followed up, it turned out they’d lost my application, and they didn’t have any reporter positions open. But they needed opinion columnists.
The traditional path for a journalist who wants to be a columnist is to start as a reporter first, learn the basics and earn your way toward a column. Oh well. All at once, from a sharp team of instructors and advisers, I learned what good reporting was and what good opinion writing was — and that you can’t have the latter without the former.
That’s not to say that what I did was good opinion writing. After the whole spork fiasco, I started wondering what other opinions of mine have failed to hold up over the last decade.
Sept. 9, 2008: My very first column. “Juno” was a new movie, and Jamie Lynn Spears, at 16, had just had a baby. Oh, and Bristol Palin was pregnant at 17. At the front of my mind? A concern that society was glamorizing teen pregnancy. Not unfounded, given this was the era of MTV’s “16 and Pregnant,” but why I, at the tender age of barely 18, thought I had any moral authority on this issue escapes me now.
Sept. 16, 2008: Apple had just revamped its iPod Nano. “More and more” artists were starting to release their albums on vinyl. I tested a few albums — Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Led Zeppelin II” and My Morning Jacket’s “Evil Urges” — and I argued that, “for the true music fan, there is nothing more rewarding than listening to a favorite album on vinyl.” I’ll stand by this one, in all its pretentiousness.
Sept. 30, 2008: I surveyed 30 students about their attitudes on chivalry. Surprisingly, this one holds up. Most men were confused about how to behave when it came to opening doors, and most women liked it when men held doors for them, as long as it was done as a sign of respect. “I’m not asking for men to throw their coats on the ground for me to walk on,” I declared. As a feminist who was also raised to expect a guy to open my car door and walk between me and the street, I still find the whole thing about as confusing as I did then.
Oct. 21, 2008: The headline? “Campus perfect place to enjoy fall.” Seriously. That was it.
Oct. 27, 2008: Here’s where I share a shameful truth: I supported Dennis Kucinich in the 2008 Democratic primary, in which I was mercifully too young to vote. I barely recognize that kid anymore, but I do recognize the one who was optimistic about a candidate named Barack Obama who I believed could really deliver on that whole “hope and change” thing.
Feb. 25, 2009: I’ll just leave it at this: “I’ve started Tweeting. If you haven’t jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, you might be wondering what a ‘tweet’ is. Tweets are updates that users make to their Twitter profiles, answering one simple question: ‘What are you doing?’”
March 31, 2009: This column, in which I professed my love for ironing, taught me an important lesson about journalism: the things you spend the most time researching and writing — the things into which you pour your heart and soul — will never get as many clicks or responses as the ones you fire off without much thought.
April 7, 2009: The Iowa Supreme Court had just overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban — the fourth state to legalize marriage equality: “It looks like Iowa has a shot at maintaining a standard of equality. And even if the state becomes (U.S. Rep. Steve) King’s nightmare — a ‘gay marriage Mecca’ — I’m willing to bet the impact on society will be far from detrimental.” I am delighted to report that four years after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality throughout the country, society has not collapsed — or at least, not because of that decision.
So, I was wrong about the spork. I was wrong about plenty of other things, too, some of which didn’t make it into this column — some reflection is best kept to oneself. At the risk of getting a little maudlin, I’ll say this: I’m not embarrassed that I got some things wrong. I am embarrassed about the opinions I held in which I attempted to claim a moral high ground without making an effort to understand the opposing perspective. I’ve gotten better at that, and I hope that when I look back 10 years from now on the columns I’ll be writing in my new role, I won’t be able to make that particular observation.
I also hope to continue to derive joy from ironing, to have figured out the whole “chivalry” thing and to find a formidable spork that will deliver both vindication and convenience.
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