Ladder to the bottom

Advice about writing well is everywhere if you want it.

Henry Miller can tell you how to work, and Mark Twain can tell you how to get paid.

Gay Talese will prod you to get outdoors and hang around and tell you he is an “occupational time waster.”

But before anyone can begin assembling a story, he or she must report and research. I say “assemble” because I don’t always write. Sometimes it’s video or audio, or in this case, the project was a photo essay.

I have tried for a year now to make my way onto the roof of Jesse Hall to photograph the changing of the lights. Campus facilities personnel convert the white floodlights to yellow for Homecoming and green for Engineers Week.

Jesse Hall is a landmark in Columbia, one with staggeringly little written about it. “Secret” is tied to the few stories published because of the strict access.

This story idea was not about fulfilling some pre-graduation checklist or gaining entrance to a place off-limits to most.

I wanted to show people The Dome, that thing you can see in the city for miles around. I hoped to illuminate the unsecretness of it: there are lightbulbs.

Yet my requests have been continually denied. Last Homecoming, it was a simple no. Then Engineers Week — chance of rain. Too much liability.

Homecoming this fall? Apologies, we changed the lights early. How about when they go back to white? Weather issues again.

And now, finally, I was granted admission. I signed a liability waiver. I promised to obey the site electrician and not wander to the edge. With my camera ready, I received an email hours before the planned escapade.

“There is too much risk involved as it involves climbing a ladder on the side of Jesse Hall and you have not been trained in fall protection.”

Could I obtain said training before the switch back in another week? No.

This has been the most frustrating non-story I’ve ever worked on. My simple idea has been met with a string of demurs, delays and rejections with little basis in reality.

Fall protection? C’mon. Hold the rungs. Don’t look down.

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