What I Learned from Watching Jen Psaki Press Briefings


At the beginning of the Biden Administration, right after seeing Amanda Gorman read her poem at the swearing in ceremony, I became fascinated with politics. It’s not something I had thought about, apart from what we can’t avoid in our lives. During other administrations, I just assumed everything would be taken care of, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. I just assumed everything would always be something I could take for granted. I was just some crazy artist, I thought, and the rest would be up to very smart people in a very different, separate world. All that was an illusion, and as I now know almost everything changes day by day. So what’s constant? Staying steady in a storm, as so much happens around us, only poetry and zen guided my way. Buddhism had always been my foundation, going back into the earliest memories I had. Star Wars, the hero story of my youth, had so much of a foundation in this, so much so that I won’t repeat here. And it’s not that important for what I’m writing about right now, but if you’ve ever read any of my other writing you might find that it is actually something that’s very dear to me.

The swearing in ceremony was full of speeches, and I followed all of it, from its earliest hours to the fireworks at the end. The night ended, and somehow I went to sleep and then I was able to wake up and get on with my day. We were still living in an old artist loft before we had really gotten our act together after school. Everything in the previous seven years, during a series of guided academic pathways, during which I thought about nothing else but the assignments and tasks that were placed in front of me, were like a blur. But sometime during the following week I happened to come across a press briefing, and for the first time I saw a team of reporters from all segments of society, asking Jen Psaki questions about the administration. That’s how I started to understand what was going on.

I can’t remember when I first saw this, but C-Span’s coverage is not like many other networks, who only focus on the Press Secretary, in an unwavering constant camera lens. It focused on everyone asking questions, and that’s when I realized I couldn’t let go. I saw and listened deeply to this incredible group of reporters, and to me that was the America I needed. It’s a slight shift in camera angles at a press briefing, but in that multiplicity, I found something familiar, and even though I don’t know any of the journalists personally, I felt like I was joining in. The same way I had questions, so did they, and I watched it all

I read a lot of journalism. I have around 26 sites I go to various points of the day, staying updated on all of the various headlines in order to get a more cohesive view of language and perspectives. I stay and read articles on a few sites, but I also try and stay meta, and try to make connections. But nothing was like the press briefings. Honestly, it’s both the most difficult and best part of my day when I can catch it. There’s such a camaraderie of very smart people just trying their best to understand, and get clarity. It doesn’t stop there for me. I also try and keep up with the reporters in a twitter list that I look at now on my 10 minute breaks from work at the coffee shop, and I’ve even gone so far as to purchase in bulk, a reporters notebook so that I can take notes on the coffee drinks when we get a difficult order. I try to read our guests at Peets just as carefully as when the press pool tries to read the reality around them at any of the official meetings. Seeing things this way gives me a way to remind myself that I am at service, the same way all of the press briefing does for our country. I read journalism as if it’s the most important thing for me to read at anytime, and for six hours a day at the coffee shop, I consider my practice to be that of a reporter, except for the difference that I am reporting to the baristas how our guests would like their coffee to be. It gets me through the day, and I go right from work back to the apartment, sit down, and for the first hour I’m home check in with the other reporters who are gathering information that is just as important as the dryness of a cappuccino. They’re gathering information on what’s happening at the highest levels of government. But I’ll bet a lot of them had coffee at some part of their day before work.

Jen Psaki is answering questions at most of the briefings. She’s tough and kind, direct when she needs to be, and does an amazing job making sure all voices are heard. I don’t know quite what she goes through. She always reads as completely honest, and in a lot of ways, seeing her speak and respond on the spot to so many questions is something I’ve never had to deal with. At the coffeeshop, where I have my reporters notebook, I’ve only really been asked a question maybe a few times. Most of the time, I’m just taking orders. It’s my zen practice in full blossoming, just focused on one moment after the other, not even as separate orders, but in each action, clear and without elaboration.

But today someone very sincerely, seeing how I was in a moment that might break my practice, just said “How’s your day going.” It caught me off guard, but it actually came very simply when I just replied, very sincerely, “You know, it’s kind of a stressful day.” And as I said it, I saw the cadence of how I answered the question. I was honest, clear and with a joy that was part joy, part sadness, understanding, and something else I can’t quite put into words, because it’s a feeling beyond actual writing, it almost came from a voice i didn’t know I had. I thought about it a bit tonight. I think I learned that from Jen. What was I looking for when I started to go to the press briefings. What was I looking for when I checked in every day at work to see what the press pool was up to? A lot, more than I can ever put into a blog or writing. There’s probably an avalanche of new stories being written every second that just goes into this, but that’s what I was looking for, just the ability to take all the information that can be thrown out at you, and for the ability to just find something of peace in between, and not to take yourself too seriously.

That’s what joy is, when you can forget yourself, go meta, and just see things for what they are, beyond appearances, and on Jen Psaki’s best days, that’s what she’s taught me. Is there a simple way to describe this? Probably not, but there are probably at least 100 hours of the press pool asking her questions on C-Span right now if you ever want to check them out. I’ve seen them all. I always thought I needed to go to another school to pick up what I had missed in my art education, but it turns out, that was exactly what I was doing over the last year. I didn’t get another degree or honour, but I’ll be taking more orders at Peets tomorrow, right before I start a climate seminar, and I’ll be listening with all the intent of a focused reporter, taking notes in my notebook so that just in case I get asked m\any questions, I can listen with total attention to what’s in my heart and soul, so I can give any answers to any questions that come our way. I can hear my manager right now, as she said before. “We’re not trying to save the world, we’re just making coffee.” And that’s zen. It’s all zen.

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