KAPALKO: Farewell to The Villanovan and personal outlet

Jamie Kapalko

Two years ago, I walked into the office of one of my advisers for one of those painful figure-out-my-future meetings.

“What are your career plans?” she asked. Oh, no. Not that question.

“I want to write,” I said.

“Well then,” she replied, “you have to write now.”

And with that I found myself gently pushed away from the fence on which I was leaning onto a rapidly spinning ride. I found myself writing for The Villanovan’s sports section. After a couple weeks of articles about volleyball and women’s basketball, the editor asked if I wanted to try writing a column. I agreed; I liked the idea of having the freedom to choose my topic and the prospect of a regular spot in the paper each week.

But I had no idea what I was doing.

I had never written a column before; I had only made my foray into journalism a few weeks earlier. More importantly, I was terrified of my own opinions – or, to be more specific, sharing them with the entire Villanova community.

I’ve always been that person who sits in class and never raises her hand. It isn’t that I don’t have anything to say. It’s that somewhere between my brain and my mouth, the words I want to say get stuck or trip over each other or run away scared because they’re afraid of being wrong.

I remember a meeting with one professor sophomore year.

“I know you’re smart. So why don’t you talk in class?” he asked.

I couldn’t explain it. So – and maybe I shouldn’t admit this – I started crying instead.

Unsurprisingly, then, the anxiety I felt about my first column gave me a terrible stomachache. I knew I wasn’t the biggest sports expert around. I couldn’t list stats or rank point guards or offer any wisdom about draft picks. I was more interested in sports culture. Would people want to read about that? What if everyone disagreed with me? What if I said something stupid? My column, my opinion, would be a little piece of myself in the form of black ink in the shape of words. People could talk about it, judge it, or tear it into pieces. What was I getting myself into?

I had no idea what I was doing, so I faked it. I pretended, for the hours that I labored over that first column, that no one else was going to read it. I found, somewhere, a voice that was confident and authoritative. It was the voice of someone who knew that she knew what she was talking about, who didn’t care what other people would think. It certainly didn’t feel like my voice – at least not any voice I’d ever used before.

But it was my voice. When I walked through Connelly Center or got to class a few minutes early and saw people reading the paper, I felt a familiar twinge of nervousness. But I also felt something else when I saw people reading what I had written; I felt good. Excited, thrilled, liberated. I felt like someone had just opened a window in a stifling room. I loved it.

Over time it became easier to write my weekly columns, and the anxiety of writing subsided. That’s not to say that I never had trouble. When you criticize something that many people don’t want changed – like the relationship between big-time college sports and academics, or the sexist trash-fest known as the Wing Bowl – they often respond with personal attacks. It’s been a year and a half since I went undercover to Wing Bowl, and Mendel Doug still yells “Traitor!” whenever he sees me. I’ve been deemed bitter and no fun. I’ve been told that I have no idea what I’m talking about and that I secretly hate sports because I have to write about them instead of play them.

And I’m OK with the criticism and various remarks, because I truly believe in what I’ve written. Sure, people have responded negatively and sometimes even viciously. But even more people have told me that they agree with what I’ve written, that they didn’t know anyone else felt that way or that I made them think about something differently. Those responses make everything, the vulnerability of putting myself out there and even the trash-talking, worthwhile.

To anyone who hasn’t yet found his or her voice: I never figured out how to become talkative in class. Maybe you will. But I did find an outlet for my thoughts and opinions, and I urge you to do the same. The feminist poet Audre Lord once said, “Your silence will not protect you.” It won’t protect you from your own anger and frustration, and maybe even from fear and pain. You’ll feel these things whether or not you speak, and speaking is the only way you can make things different. So find a way to put yourself out there. It feels good.


Jamie Kapalko is a senior English major from Belmar, N.J. She can be reached at [email protected].