Wednesday, December 14, 2005
When I first saw the Jackson Free Press, something sparked. I had given up hope for local weeklies, but the cover—a grid-like spread of a variety of Jackson folks—called to me. Someone had dropped off about 100 copies outside of the Millsaps cafeteria, and I—the eternal journalism snoop—scooped up two. I devoured the whole preview issue and then Googled "Jackson Free Press," hoping to find some Internet connection to this new paper.
The Web site was archaic then—just a simple Courier New banner and a few features. Even without the amped-up blogs and expansive cover stories, though, I knew right then that the JFP was my future. I sent Donna Ladd a resume and writing samples. She wrote back and told me that 24 really was too many clips to send. Could I just send three instead?
Dejected and embarassed, I gave up for a while and started making homemade 'zines with my friends at Millsaps. I mailed one to Donna on a whim.
Months later, eager to make some mark in Jackson, I started The Collective with three other young adults. We held a town meeting of sorts at the then-Flashback Video Café. Donna Ladd showed up; she had walked over from her duplex in Belhaven to support young creatives. I got a little nervous, but I shuffled over toward her in my red Chuck Taylors.
"Hey, I'm Casey Parks," I said, feigning some smart-girl confidence.
"Donna Ladd," she said, extending her hand. "I like your 'zine."
I thought my world was made right then, but later, she called to ask if I wanted to intern at the JFP—that was the real highlight of my life. Over the last two years, we've worked together, grown together. We've supported each other and made decisions together.
Eventually, I got over my stargaze and started seeing Donna as a person rather than a superstar journalist (though, I will maintain she is very much both). When interns come in, glancing over toward her office with a whispered, "Is that the Donna Ladd?" I giggle, remembering the hope that I felt when I read her first editor's note. She was going to change Jackson, I knew it. I didn't know she'd change me, too.
She changed the way I saw the city, the way I wrote about it, the way I interviewed people. She taught me how to manage and create by throwing me headfirst into the city. Sometimes she'd send me on a story assignment, and I'd come back whining. How could I find sources or research? She'd give me a few clues, then say, "You're a smart girl—figure it out."
Tough love, but I needed it. Eventually I learned that the phone book actually carries the phone numbers of real, live people. The Internet is useful for things beyond music review Web sites, and absolutely anything is possible. If you want to throw an event that 300 people will attend that weekend, make it happen. If you want to interview Howard Dean or Nikki Giovanni in two hours, make it happen. If you want to write an off-the-wall story, and you have no idea where to start, make it happen.
Through all of this making-it-happen, the JFP taught me to fall absolutely in love with this city. Every interview introduced me to some new person with a singular history and laundry list of talents and ideas. Every event re-ignited my fire for Jackson.
And now I'm leaving. I won't lie—I feel really strange about leaving.
Famous snob and alt-country rocker Ryan Adams has a song on his last album called "The End" about his hometown, Jacksonville, S.C. It's all of these things he remembers—leaves burning like effigies of his kin, his father's voice playing like a jukebox in a bar till it's mushy—then the chorus goes:
Oh Jacksonville, how you burn in my soul
How you hold all my dreams captive
Jacksonville, how you play with my mind
Oh my heart goes back, suffocating on the pines
A month ago, days after I really decided to leave Mississippi to get my master's at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I fell back on to my floor and listened to Adams sing and thought of the town that has captured me in much the same way.
After growing up with young parents more willing to amble on to a new town (or state) each year than settle down and buy a house, Jackson has been my first home. What limbs and memories do I get to take with me, when so much of me will be sprawled across this town? I've left my heart on cobblestone streets in Georgia, in the desks of teachers in Louisiana, on the molded carpet of library floors across the nation, but leaving Mississippi is leaving so much more.
Leaving Mississippi is leaving Ellen Langford and Denise Krause—the two women who have let me live in their attic for free for the last eight months, who have bought accessories for my bicycle and given me advice about even the strangest problems. Leaving Mississippi is leaving the guys at the Firestone downtown, who after fixing my car no less than a dozen times, have started calling me Little C.
Leaving Mississippi is leaving the absolutely perfect vegetarian panini at Basils, the spicy dinners at Ruchi and Thai House, the seaside cakes at HighNoon Café and the soup at Saigon Noodle. It's leaving the endless selection of movies at Video Library and the edgy artwork of the Fondren Corner kids.
It's leaving the funny e-mails that come attached to Ali Greggs' columns, the late-night oddball science comments from Copy Editor Brian Johnson, the coffee trips with Sales Coordinator Renee Reedy, the music talks with Reporter Adam Lynch and the incessant animal noises Designer Jakob Clark makes while designing pages. It's leaving the uber-excitement Advertising Director Stephen Barnette conjures up over geeky technical things—an excitement so contagious I've found myself grinning, too.
Leaving Jackson is leaving photographer Pat Butler, who calls me C-to-the-P and has perfected the art of delegation. It's leaving Korey Harrion, our Web intern whose quiet giggles make every Wednesday better, and Montroe Headd, who's always making me laugh with her wide-eyed way of telling stories.
It's leaving the low grumbles and constant wit of Dr. S, whose e-mails always rhyme.
It's leaving the all-encompassing computer knowledge of iTodd Stauffer. Leaving Mississippi is leaving my Lynettey—who is probably the absolute coolest woman I've ever met. It's leaving Donna Ladd, who in between running a paper and hyper-active blog, saves kittens and encourages young kids to make a difference in their own lives and in their community.
It's leaving my friends from Millsaps, some of whom miraculously still love me even after some terrible behavior. It's leaving the professors at Millsaps who critiqued my papers and sent me encouraging e-mails.
It's leaving my friends Sherry and Alex—who have boosted my music collection beyond what my iBook can handle.
It's leaving hip-hop masters like Kamikaze and Skipp Coon, rockers Colour Revolt and Living Better Electrically, and country gun-lovers goodmanCOUNTY.
Leaving Mississippi isn't just leaving a part of my heart; it's leaving my lungs.
But don't think I won't have my eye on Jackson. I'm expecting Knol Aust and his crew to make Mississippi the state for LGBT folks in October. I'll be watching as Rebekah Potter turns the art world of Mississippi right on its head. I'll be looking for Collective 2.0, which will be kicking off in January. I'll be watching as my interns develop into powerful narrative journalists, as Skyla Dawn Luckey becomes the best deejay on Clear Channel. And I'll certainly be cheering as downtown continues to grow into a powerful, creative hub.
And if nothing else, as Donna reminds me, my girlfriend still lives here. I'll probably be back every other week to collect hugs and check up on my city—my home.
I take it you'll be back after your sabbatical? YOu sure want me to stay here. Love Ellen L. for sure. And Donna is one of the best in the whole USA. Come back soon and often and then stay.
Good luck to you! My cousin lives in Columbia. She got her masters in criminal justice at Mizzou.
- golden eagle
What a lovely article.
Casey is such a treasure. And brilliant. I still remember our chats back when she was working at Video Library, where she always had an opinion on the philosophical issues brought up by the movies she'd seen. Good luck, Casey--but you won't need it. I have a feeling you'll be successful at whatever you end up doing. Cheers, TH
- Tom Head