In This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz writes, "As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it's the end."
I can't help but think about how it all started. Seeing the position. Applying, interviewing. Picturing myself walking with purpose (and a perfect silk press, purr) through hallowed halls. A seat at the table just for me. Creating opportunities for others. Doing well, while doing good.
My dream came true. I was doing the work! People wiser than me warned me not to get too wrapped up in any job or title, that politics devours normal people. I took the advice to heart. Still, I never tired of saying, "Hi! I'm Risikat Adesaogun, Press Secretary and Deputy Communications Director for Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon." It was a mouthful. A perfect, clout-laden mouthful. I called, people answered. Ideas became action. I couldn't wait to wake up and do meaningful work. As this chapter comes to a close, my world feels quiet.
How can I begin to make sense of these chaotic, rewarding, grueling years? I'm certain my thoughts will materialize into something more coherent later on. All I have now is gratitude.
Next for me is heading up the Communications department at the City of Brooklyn Park, which happens to be my hometown. My mind is somewhere in the space between excitement and terror. The same mix of emotions I had almost exactly two years ago. I want to do well. I want to do good.
One of my ballet teachers recently described an elegant way of spurring us dancers to action before going on stage. The chant we whisper-scream, an urgent prayer for excellence: Don't fuck up! Don't fuck up! Don't fuck up!
The pandemic rages on, the country feels upside down, and I am antsier than ever for things to be different. What's the remedy to this nervous energy? Books, of course! Here are some of my recent faves:
You answer the phone with your best not-sleepy voice: "Hi, this is Risikat!" Bleary-eyed, you sit up. You're on the record and a reporter is peppering you with a stream of questions. Thinking on your feet, you scroll through Twitter to see what's happened in the past six hours, promising to get back to the reporter as soon as you can.
With that, your day has begun.
7:45 a.m. Now that you're fully awake, you run through your morning routine: First, you check your Google Alerts for any sign of you, your boss, or the Office being mentioned in the media. Next, you skim the front pages of several print and digital news outlets. Finally, you turn your attention to social media, scrolling through your social listening tools to see what the ~hot goss~ is. Or something. On ambitious mornings, you turn on the local TV news stations and stream political talk radio. But mostly you enjoy the quiet.
8:30 a.m. Ahh! The reporters are ramping up. Your phone buzzes with calls and texts, and you even spot a message or two on your Twitter account. You quickly triage them. Who needs an answer right this moment? Who can wait? Has anyone yelled at you yet?
9:00 a.m. Time for the morning check-in call with your Communications Director! You discuss the news of the day and the dilemma of the hour, ensuring you're both on the same page. Something Big may be happening this week but we don't know what, so we need to be ready.
9:30 a.m. Draft messaging for your boss, outlining three possible scenarios. If X, consider saying this. If Y, consider saying that. If Z, say this, then that, then another thing to drive the point home.
10:00 a.m. Oh, shoot! Forgot to eat breakfast. Need food. Practice delivering talking points for the different scenarios while your oatmeal cooks. First, in your normal voice. Then, in what you imagine your boss' voice might sound like, complete with the deliberate crisp pauses and hand gestures that only seasoned lawyers seem to employ. Then, because you're crazy, you practice rap lyrics in your boss' voice, too. You laugh hysterically, scaring your pug. Ope! Oatmeal's done!
10:30 a.m. You shop the key messaging draft around to your colleagues. You lay out the scenarios, frantically taking notes as senior staff members duke it out. "I think we should tone down this part," says one person. "I actually think we need to punch it up!" says another. "Hmm, I think we need to be prepared to amp things up in case of Scenario 1, but dial back in case of Scenario 2", says another. Your notes are a mess of diagrams, keywords, and if/then musings. You send IMs to your team's subject matter experts to make sure you have the facts straight.
11:30 a.m. While you were talking with your team, you missed several more calls from reporters - two of whom work for national outlets. You still have to get back to a few people from earlier. You DM the Gen Z reporter on Twitter, text the millennial reporters, call the boomers, and forget to return calls from the Gen X journos until the end of the day. (Kidding!)
1:00 p.m. It is now much later. How?! Some New Big Thing has happened and Twitter is exploding. Your boss' Executive Aide rallies the team and everyone is in problem-solving mode. "Oh no, hungry again!" You mute your line while you make a sandwich, trying to make sense of the conversation happening on speakerphone. Mid-bite, you hear your name. Rushing to unmute, you chirp, "Yes, I'm here!" A press release must go out. You have 15 minutes.
1:01 p.m. Your friends' group chat has been heating up - your phone pings every few seconds as your seven besties swap memes in rapid succession. You can't think! Disoriented, you feel the urge to scream. You take a deep breath, silence your phone, and begin typing. Five minutes later, you call your Communications Director. "How does this sound?" You both make tweaks to the messaging before running it to the next layer of people. More edits. And more, still. Finally, a stamp of approval from your boss. "Nice work, Risikat!" Win!
1:30 p.m. You send out the press release. Like clockwork, a reporter screenshots the release and tweets it out 10 seconds later. You field press calls while simultaneously updating the website and consulting with your boss about the ongoing Twitter discourse. All the while, your sandwich is staring you down, daring you to take another bite.
2:00 p.m. Your boss' Executive Aide calls you. The five interviews you'd lined up all need to shift by 15 minutes. Why?! You immediately begin texting producers, negotiating time. The TV stations are chill, the live radio producers are stressed, and the print reporters fall somewhere in the middle.
2:10 p.m. You consult with your boss, reviewing the brief you've drafted and offering up facts and figures to help contextualize the talking points.
3:00 p.m. You've sat in on most of the interviews, noting the questions that came up and promising to provide additional information requested by reporters. "In the next 30 minutes? Sure thing!" You check Twitter again before beginning to track down information. Upon hearing a yes or no question, your favorite colleague takes you through the past 150 years of the democratic process. You're intrigued but in a hurry. Delicately, you pull out the nuggets you need.
4:00 p.m. Somehow you've missed even more reporter calls. Thankfully, most have asked variations of the same question so you make quick work of developing one robust response and getting it to everyone.
4:30 p.m. The first of the digital stories has hit the internet. Oh no! There's an error. Anxious, you call the reporter. They have to connect with their editor to approve the necessary adjustments, then the web team has to execute. You peek at the story's comment section and worry that readers are already forming incorrect conclusions. It's tense. Thankfully, Maya is snoring loudly enough that the reporter can hear her through the phone. You both laugh and you feel your heart rate return to normal.
5:00 p.m. Damn - do people really need to eat this frequently?! Hungry again! You dump some veggies on a plate and take a quick walk around the block with your pug. She's been a trooper, napping next to you all day. More e-mails - this time, from internal folks on the team. "How should we answer this constituent question?" You draft a quick plain-language explanation for their use.
6:00 p.m. Twitter finally seems to be dying down - just in time for the evening news! You tune in, listening to the interviews of the day. You e-mail producers asking for links to share. Graciously, they oblige. You text your boss a link to the best interview - "This would be great to tweet out!" You turn your attention back to the original Big Thing you were preparing for earlier in the day. Maybe it'll happen tomorrow or the next day. Depends on the news cycle. You type.
7:00 p.m. You have approximately 30 browser tabs open - bookmarked statutes, random web content, news stories, a picture of a pug in a burrito costume. You then look to your desktop - a mess! Several open Word docs with meeting notes, a half-finished PowerPoint, and spreadsheets dying to be updated. Grimacing, you look to your Real desktop. Bon Sang! Post-it notes as far as the eye can see! You stack them up for later review. Whew. All clean. Sort of.
7:30 p.m. Another reporter is calling. Instinctively, you reach for the phone, but fall short. You watch it as it buzzes. That's a call for tomorrow. You praise your ironclad boundaries.
7:35 p.m. Right before you shut down your laptop, an e-mail comes through. "We need to check in on that long-term project you've been working on - is tomorrow morning good for you?" You reply: "That works just fine!" You open the spreadsheets and get typing.
11:30 p.m. You've eaten, exercised, showered, spent quality time with your pug, video chatted with friends, started a list of puns you'd like to incorporate into a future speech, and checked Twitter one last time before drifting to sleep, eager for tomorrow's call buzzing you into action once more.
It is grueling, frenetic, extraordinary.
And you love it.
Reading for pleasure during a high-stakes election year is nearly impossible! However, despite work weeks that sometimes claimed nearly 100 percent of my waking hours, I happily worked my way through 18 books. Here are my top 8 picks for the year:
Which books topped your reading list in 2020?
TV, books, podcasts - I'll take it in any form! I just love media. I enjoy being plugged in because most of my personal time is spent in solitude. I don't dwell in a basement furiously penning unhinged manifestos or anything like that, but when I think about the amount of time I spend in the physical company of others, I come up dreadfully short. The nice thing is that media really connects people. Here are a few things I've taken in over the past few months. Check 'em out: