That's a nickname I created for myself long ago, in recognition of what I tend to think of as my specialty - the 60-inch double-truck on the death of one talented athlete, or the struggle of another to overcome a life-threatening disease. It stuck, if nothing else, because of the sheer number of those stories I've produced throughout my career.
It's self-deprecating, a term to soften the blow of that inch count to an unsuspecting editor - "Well, you know, I am the death and disease girl" - and a joking response to compliments from co-workers that made me squirmy - "It is my specialty, you know." It in no way is meant to make light of the subject matter or to denigrate the wonderful people who let me mercilessly pry into their most private affairs, and usually smile while answering my intrusive questions.
This story is the latest - and shortest - example, just something I threw together after noticing the young man who is the story's subject at a high school volleyball game. And yes, I was feeling a good bit snurly (snarly plus surly) about covering a high school volleyball game to start with. Just goes to show you. If you strangle the self-pity in time, grace can find a door.
I wanted to celebrate a few things, I suppose - my byline, which has always given me a jolt of narcissistic joy, on a story that didn't contain a box score at the end; and those aforementioned people.
I bitch a lot about people. (Driving in South Florida on a regular basis has not, I regret to say, improved this characteristic). Many days I find people petty, or small-minded, or irritating in a zillion other ways - none of which apply to me, of course.
The truth of the matter often is, when push comes to shove, people can surprise you, and many times in a good way. There's no easy way to walk up to an adoptive mother at her son's funeral and hand her your business card, no magic script to avoid sounding like an asshole, no barometer for predicting the reaction you'll get. And there's no concrete explanation for why she calls three days later, for the expansive access she grants you to her life and his, for the countless blessings, big and small, you gain in writing the story, for the fact that she becomes someone you're quite proud to consider a friend.
There may be a trick to it. I damn sure don't think trained monkeys, "citizen journalists" or computer-generated algorithms could do it. But I don't think there's anything overly amazing about "death and disease" girl, per say. It's the people I talk to who are amazing.
This business, the one whose periphery I'm clinging to like a stubborn barnacle, is not a great one for validation. There's no time, no space, no tradition of hearty shoulder slaps and "Good job!"s (unless you're lucky enough to have editors who understand.) There are daily hassles and hacked-off parents and nitpicking complaints. Validation has to come from within, or from the email I got yesterday: "Thanks - you have made Iain one happy young man!!!"
And that's more than good enough for me.