Monday, April 29, 2013

Lullaby Trio


            Her lips part and the melody blossoms.
            A love song, a ballad, a lullaby.
            The whirring softness of her small voice lilts into the air, swirling in legato hums, tipping out the windows and soaking into the damp earth.
            Spring sings back as a lone skylark spits out the prim, prim, prim of its serenade.
            She taps her finger on her belly, counting to the beat of her tune.
            One, two, three, four, and-a-one.
            Humming, humming, humming, soft and sweet and fragrant.
            Sunshine seeps through the sheer drapes; pins of light highlight her cheekbones. She smiles in the teal room, feeling the warmth of the sun and the duet of the skylark.
            Taps her belly.
            Hums her tune.
            Taps her belly.
            Hums her tune.
            One, two, three, four and-a-one, two, three—
            She jerks up straight, her hand flat on her belly.
            Knocking.
            Wisps of loose hair untwine from her braid as she leans forward. Her humming stops, the skylark takes a breath, her hand is firm.
            Knocking.
            Her swimming eyes dance as she cups both hands around her growing stomach.
            Tap, tap, tap.
            Knocking.
            Humming, humming, humming.
            Knocking.
            A skylark singing.
            Knocking.
            She leans back in her chair, closing her eyes.
            Her lips close, and she hums her precious lullaby.
            A lullaby trio.

Inside the World of Journalism: Tips from Lisa Kernek


Lisa Kernek, past reporter and current assistant professor of Journalism at Western Illinois University is dressed in professional purples and grays as she stands in front of the classroom. Her brown, shoulder length hair frames her high-cheekbones as she admits that she has brought an embarrassing PowerPoint presentation that she shows her college students.
She flicks to the first slide. A small girl holds up her middle finger in an old newspaper. “This is me when I was 4, holding up my middle finger to the world,” she laughs.
            She caught her middle finger in her scooter’s handlebars, the handle was cut off by a hacksaw. The picture was taken on the porch steps of her home in England.
            Kernek was born in Australia, moving to England at the age of 2, and moving to the United States at the age of 5. “My father, [a history professor], had two job offers,” she says, “either Macomb or Lafayette, IN.” Her mom made the decision for them, choosing the Midwest.
            At a young age, Kernek thought she might pursue a career in art. “I thought about being an artist until a teacher told me I had no artistic talent.”
Kernek decided when she was 16 that she would be a reporter. She wrote for the school newspaper and took journalism classes in high school. However, the news room is the reason she decided to be a reporter. “This is gonna sound like a dumb reason to choose a career, but I thought the news room was such a fun place to work in.”
As a reporter for several newspapers from 1989-2006, Kernek has witnessed the evolution of technology. She explains the process of writing in her earlier years. “We had to type all our stories twice and then type [four spaces] to justify it—like how many spaces to finish the column. Then you have to go back, and it was very tedious.”
Even the idea of editing on a computer seemed other-worldy to Kernek. “I remember taking a photojournalism class in college and my teacher said, ‘Someday everything will be edited on a computer.’ It seemed so futuristic to me.”
Kernek stands at the front of the classroom as she answers questions from a set of Lincoln Land Community College students in a Journalism 101 class.
She gives advice on the beginning of a news article, called the lead. “I suggest that you start with an anecdotal lead or a descriptive scene setter lead showing the person in their work environment.”
When asked about how to successfully use quotes, she advises, “Quotes are most powerful when you use them really sparingly. Just use your best ones.”
In interest to brevity, narrow paragraphs down to one or two sentences.
The most common mistake Kernek sees in the classroom is the transition from term paper to news story. Students are often accustomed to ending a paper with a summarizing paragraph. In journalism, there is to be no summary—it is seen as wasted space.
Other mistakes that she deems as “pet peeves” are grammar slip-ups. She hates it when the words “definitely” and “defiantly” are mixed up, when “comprise” and “compose” are misused and when “lying” and “laying” are not in proper form.
However, she focuses on the concept of just getting what one can on the paper. “The first draft is going to be pretty mediocre. The writing is in the rewriting.”
Kernek says the best way to end a news story is by closing with a quote, an image, or the subject’s plan for the future.
She tucks her hair behind her ear and looks into the eyes of a dozen aspiring journalists. She looks strikingly similar to the young brunette holding up her middle finger to the camera. Bluntly, she says, “Give yourself permission to be terrible.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grace St. John Berger: Ordinary Woman, High Profile Model


It’s the day of the photo shoot. You wake up in plenty of time to drag yourself out of bed, making sure to leave your hair and makeup entirely natural as you arrive at the call time of 6 a.m. You sit around and sip coffee while treating yourself to the nice, catered breakfast. It’s time for hair and makeup. You make light conversation with your stylist as she gets slightly annoyed with you for talking while she attempts to cake on your makeup. This lasts three to five hours. Then, somewhere in there you try on all your looks. Finally, you put on your first look and pose away until dinnertime.
You just lived a day in the life of fashion model Grace St. John Berger. Previously modeling for Elite Chicago, The Rock Agency, and Wilhelmina, Berger now models for Muse, traveling all across the globe striking poses for Glamour, Italian Gioia, Nike, Liz Claiborne, Rinaldi, Allure Prom, and many more. How did this Springfield, IL native make it big? It all started with a bet.
“When I was younger, I always said I wanted to be famous, but my sister got so annoyed with hearing me say that, so she made a bet with me that I wouldn’t audition for AMTC [Actors Models and Talent for Christ], and I don’t like losing so I accepted that bet and it all spiraled from there.”
Berger explains why she recently switched from Wilhelmina to Muse. “Wilhelmina has a really good name which is a pride thing for me to let go of, but they wanted me to sign for another four years, and I just couldn’t commit that long to one person. I switched to a smaller agency, so there’s only like 20 people on the board. I figured I’d get more attention and more work, because I wouldn’t just fade into the background. And I’m the only redhead even though it’s not real.”
            Berger has found that the switch has proven to be a smart move, because her new agent is brutally honest with her. “When I was with Wilhelmina, I went and saw Ralph Lauren and they told me I was on hold for this job and they loved me. When I switched, I gave Muse a list of all my contacts and [my agent] called them and [then she told me], ‘They hated you… I don’t know why they told you that they liked you.’”
The agencies that hire Berger appreciate her front-to-back knowledge on the art of posing, which Grace explains as clockwork. “It’s more facial training. More than anything, you just have to be comfortable moving in front of the camera. Every time you hear the click of the camera, you move your face one way or reposition your arms or walk.”
And when she runs out of faces to make and poses to strike? She thinks to herself, “I’m running out of things to do over here and [am trying not to] look like a crazy weirdo. There’s the awkwardness of ‘what do you want from me now?’ Sometimes they pause and wait for you to move, and I’m just like, ‘Push the button, I’m thinking about it!’”
At a healthy size 4/6, Berger is not emaciated or towering. The lack of these qualities makes it challenging for her to land jobs in the modeling world. “I’m not really that thin, but I’m not really that big. My market is very small. I get a lot of hair and makeup. I pretty much never do runway, because I’m only 5’8 and you have to be 5’10. Any job I can get is a godsend.”
            Berger has a quality that sets her apart from her competition. “Something my agent always tells me is, ‘There are lots of pretty people out there, but your personality is what sells you and sets you apart.’”
In discussing the behind-the-scenes details that most magazine readers don’t know, Berger says, “Makeup—they cake it on. Even when they say it’s natural.”
Berger did a photo shoot for Fitness magazine on how to look good when leaving the gym. “Little did anyone know I was in hair and makeup for three hours just getting my hair braided and curled. Then they did my makeup perfectly and said, ‘Okay, you’re leaving the gym.’”
Despite the hypocrisy of photo shoots like that one, Berger says it’s not the Glamour or Fitness magazine shoots that pay well. “Editorial pays nothing. Well, I mean it pays something. Glamour was two 16-hour days, and it’s just $250. When I went over to Italy for the Persona Max Mara Campaign, they flew me there and paid for my hotel and food and everything. That was $2,500… Sephora was $3,000. If you’re selling a product, it’s thousands. If you’re taking a pretty picture, it’s maybe a few hundred.”
There are definitely perks that come along with being a model, but what about the not-so-bright side of the industry? Berger remembers a Glamour shoot that she did with five other models. One catty blonde in particular fires her up. “I was the biggest one in the bunch and was [also] the shortest. One of the blonde girls made little comments to me like, ‘What agency are you with? How did you get signed? Do you work a lot?’ I’m like, really?”
According to Berger, snide comments from other models are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dark side of the modeling world. “70 percent of models are naturally the way they are, but that 30 percent darkens the whole grid, because they don’t eat and they will just drink and smoke and do cocaine. They give everyone that bad name, so that’s the dark side, I suppose.”
Berger separates herself from that dark 30 percent by following her Christian-based morals. “I live in New York and I still go out a lot, but I never drink. I’ve never had a sip. I’ve never smoked. I’m like a walking oxymoron.”
Being in such a cut-throat world might push Berger farther away from her religion, right? She shakes her head and says she sticks to her roots. “I’m still very Christian. I go to church two times a week. Even if I went out the night before, I will get myself to the church service. I’m not pushy about my faith at all, but it’s definitely something I’m willing to talk about. Every job I go to, I’ll say something about how I’m blessed to be here and people pick up on that.”
Starting in the early years of middle school and continuing her modeling through high school, Berger always felt too shy and humble to admit she is a model. “I think people have this picturesque idea of a model in their mind which is a very tall, slender, stunning person, and I was just the soccer player/swimmer from Springfield High. Every time I'd have a job, I told my teachers and friends that I had an out of town appointment. This girl brought in this magazine and said, ‘She looks just like you,’ and I said, ‘you're right, she does!’ She'd ask, ‘Is it you?’ I'd say, ‘Umm, no.’”

Berger balances modeling with her college career at Hunter College. “I am kind of killing myself a little bit. I’m taking 18 credits every semester, so I go to school from eight in the morning until 9:45 at night two days a week, which is ridiculous. I leave those other three days open to work. I expressed to all my professors that this is how I’m paying for school so I have to work if I have to miss, but I have to keep my grades pretty high, otherwise I can’t miss.”
Living in New York has caused Berger to have ties with celebrities such as the Jonas brothers, Leonardo di Caprio, and Emma Stone. The Jonas brothers are Berger’s friends. “We hang out. I watched the super bowl over at Nick’s and we go ice skating. They’re just cool, down to earth people.”
Berger met di Caprio in a club, and as for Stone—well, Berger hasn’t met her, but she gets mistaken for her constantly. “People tell me I look and sound like Emma Stone. There was this one family in Times Square that was very persistent that I was her and they told me I was rude for not taking a picture with them.”
This Emma Stone-like red hair has advantages in the modeling world. “Any color care ad usually uses a redhead, because red is the hardest color to keep.”
Berger addresses celebrities as ordinary people, which makes it easy for them to relate to her like a normal person rather than an avid fan. However, Berger admits that there are a select three that she would jump up and down in excitement for. She half giggles, half whispers, “Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, and BeyoncĂ©.”
Berger looks forward to her future. “Eventually I want to try acting. Just to say I can. I don’t want to have any regrets. As soon as modeling becomes who I am, and that’s all that I do, I’m gonna quit.”
She smiles and gives her best piece of experienced advice—the advice she lives by day after day of photo shoot after catered photo shoot. “Never be ordinary.”


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ten Minutes


   10:51. Gonna be late for work and I still need gas, ____ thinks.
               She sips her coffee. And my coffee is cold.
               One mile faster. Two miles faster. Let’s push the limit. 75 miles per hour.
               An orange flash in her left eye. The gas light is on.
               10:52. Gonna be late for work, cold coffee, out of gas, she thinks.
               A white flash in her right eye. Her phone.
CNN: Woman Rams SUV in Drive-Thru for “Slow Ordering”
               10:53. Gonna be late for work, cold coffee, out of gas, stupid news story.
               HONK.
               Swerving, squealing, apologizing to the windshield. The red minivan flashes down the interstate.
               One mile slower. Two miles slower. I’ll be late anyways. 72 miles per hour.
               10: 55. Turning off at the exit. Gas light seems brighter.
               Station in the distance. $3.59. You’re kidding me.
               Sighing, ____ pulls in and parks at pump seven.
               10: 57. Wallet open, orange credit card. Swipe, caching caching, she thinks.
               The numbers go up together. One gallon, three. Two gallons, zooming past seven. Money comes, money goes.
               Black in her left eye. A woman walking closer. She’s speaking.
               “Miss,” she says, “Miss.”
               ____ turns her head to the woman. Medium height, stringy brown hair. Gray, sagging clothes. Her eyes. They’re full of gray and crawling towards the anticipating pool of anxious wetness that ____ can’t take her eyes off of.  
               “No thanks, I’m busy,” the words crawl up the back of her throat, but she swallows them. Those eyes.
    Okay, I’ll let her talk.
               “Yes?”
               “Ma’am I just move here from Chicago and I don’t have a car and I been tryin’ to provide for my kids I have six of ‘em and I went to try and get some financial help—“
               Here we go. She probably wants drugs. Or alcohol.
 “—and they said they’d give me a little money for groceries even though they don’t normally do that for people but they said they’d make an exception and all I been tryin’ to do is get enough money to buy a bus ticket and I done started over this is a new life for me and I do anything to just get a bus ticket and—“
“Ma’am,” ____ stops her.
“Yes ma’am,” the woman takes a breath, rolling back on the balls of her feet.
“I don’t have any cash with me. All I have is my debit card,” ____ says, “and I’m gonna be late for work.”
10: 59. Gonna be late for work, no gas, cold coffee, stupid news story, homeless woman.
The words seem salty and bitter. They swish around in her brain, puddling up into clumps of mud, drying into clay that falls apart.
The woman starts to frown, breaking eye contact. “I understand ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you for too long.”
Gonna be late for work, no gas, cold coffee, stupid news story, homeless woman.
Homeless woman.
Homeless woman.
Two arms, two legs. We’re all humans on this Earth. Two arms, two legs. All in this together.
“I just want you to know that I’ll be praying that things get better for you and your children. God bless you, okay?”
The words choke out of ____’s mouth before she thinks twice.
The woman looks back into her eyes. Eyes locked. Tears pooling. Both crying. A moment.
An unmoving moment.
The numbers on the gas pump stop moving, the coffee disappears, the impatience of this world is gone.
Slow. Patient. Stopped.
“God bless you too, ma’am,” she whimpers, “That’s the nicest thing anybody said to me today. God’s truth.”
You reach out your arms to hug her, her swishing jacket rubbing against yours, her body pressing into yours like a cushion.
               11:01.   

               But everyone knows that’s not how the story goes.

               10:58.
                   “I can’t help you,” and in that one, unforgiving moment, you turn your back.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Talking Pets: Dr. Evan Kirk


Fielding questions from a class of news writers at Lincoln Land Community College, Dr. Evan Kirk is asked about a cat of many mood swings.
Kirk lights up and goes into doc-mode, “Does he lay his ears back, does his hair stand up, do his eyes dilate? Does he growl or scream?”  When he receives a resounding “no,” he says, “Some of that may just be him being a kitten. He’ll settle down if that’s what he’s doing. If that’s just wild kitten behavior, he’ll probably outgrow it.”  
Working as one of the three DVM’s of Brewer Animal Hospital in Springfield, IL since 1990, Kirk has had many ornery experiences with customers, the most irritating being money complaints. “When you’re dealing with the public, anything can happen. People will be exceedingly rude to the staff and when the doctor comes into the room, it’s a totally different story. They may complain about money every time.  When they’re seeing a doctor and we ask them ‘do you want to do this and this and this with your pet?’ they want to do everything, but then they complain about the charges to the receptionist.”  
One of those charges could possibly be pet food available only at the clinic. Kirk explains the difference between their pet food and the brands at the store. “The prescription food would be different from the store. They’re only available through the vet. We got out of trying to sell dog food to people because we can’t compete with PetSmart and places like that. That’s not what we’re there for—we’re there to practice medicine, not sell food.”
Kirk never recommends specific brands to his clients. He says, “Just stay away from store brands and generic brands. Stick with a pet food that’s from a company that’s in the business of making pet food and that’s it—something that’s been around for a while and has a track record.”
The hardest thing Kirk deals with in the office is putting animals to sleep.
“The death of a pet is always really difficult. It’s part of the job. It’s just like anything else in life. You have a certain number of girlfriends when you’re younger and they break up with you and you get used to it, you know,” he laughs.  Kirk notes the toughest part of putting animals to sleep—the people. For him, widows are the most emotionally challenging to deal with. “This is all she’s got left of her husband or this is all she has. It breaks your heart.”
After the pet is put to sleep, the body is most often cremated. “We have a contract with Kirlin-Egan & Butler here in Springfield and they’ll cremate them.”
Other times, the family will request the animal and then bury them in their yards.
Kirk talks about the wonders of dogs and their olfactory sixth sense. “So much of a dog’s world is made up of what they smell. Everything they see is in terms of what it smells like.” He says they can even detect certain kinds of cancer.
Cats on the other hand, have a sixth sense with smelling pheromones.  “If a female cat comes in heat and goes outside—I don’t care where you live—the conception rate is pretty much 100 percent.”
Kirk lives a busy lifestyle working 50+ hours a week and also balances hobbies like reading, gardening, boating and riding his Harley.
As he stands up to enjoy his precious day off, he reminds us all that through the hard and sometimes annoying moments of working as a vet, he loves his job. He looks up as if reflecting on a precious memory and says, “I had that dream as a kid.” That dream has come true.