Month: May 2011
The memory of my first day as a reporter is tinged with my own envy.
Someone is paying me to write, I thought with an awe only rookies possess. I shuffled through papers and tweaked ledes and made phone calls with elation. I might have done it for free.
I continued with that youthful vigor for years, approaching public information officers with ferocity that bordered on peskiness. Sneaking in time for in-depth features between daily space fillers. Staying late to cover meetings.
I made mistakes and learned from them. I wrestled to find my place. Somewhere along the line, I got good at it. Maybe not excellent or Pulitzer-Prize winning, but good. If passion and dedication equates to ability, maybe even better than average.
There were bouts of boredom, but for the most part, I thought I found my niche.
When did it change? Over the seven years I churned out copy, when was the turning point? When did burnout and cynicism eclipse that drive?
I thought changing jobs and scenery would wet my appetite again, and for awhile, it did. But eventually my energy dried out again, like the cracked surface of an empty pothole. I tossed and turned in my effort not to let it show. I marveled at those who have made a life of it, when I always thought I would become them.
Then I found it. Something else that awakened whatever was lying dormant. I thought about it at night before bed. I plotted and planned. I held the coals of the idea in my hands and blew them into a flame. I prayed and prayed, asking God if this was right. Then I made the move.
Today is the final step. The final clip that will sever the ties to that former me, at least temporarily.
Suddenly, I feel panicked. Suddenly I remember everything I love about being a career writer. The pace. The constant chatter of the scanner. The people. The incessant click of keyboard keys. The questions. Knowing first. The jargon. The games of wit we play with sources. The dry sense of humor that prevails. That inquisitive spirit we share. The art of taking confusion and crafting it into something sensical and interesting and relevant.
I look around the newsroom, the characters hemming me in like building blocks of an industry. To the right is the clever veteran who paints words like art, even in common conversation. Straight ahead is the wine writer who can get away with cursing his sources out while still remaining endearing. On my left, page designers tug at imaginary lines to build layers of virtual color into something eye appealing. Elsewhere there’s the political reporter who is perplexingly private. The new ones who are already leaving, never having found a home here. And the web editors engaged in their real-time clash with day-delayed news.
I feel as if a part of me was already fading into a sunset of names they now struggle to remember.
Then it dawns on me. What if my new calling goes the same way, the zeal I feel for it snuffing out amid the barrage of daily tedium? What if in a few years, I am back where I am now with writing?
It is a fleeting thought, one of “cross that bridge later” caliber.
For now, I stay focused on what I am leaving. Tomorrow, I will dedicate my energy fully to a new goal. In between, I pack up my desk and say goodbye.
As I walk out, the door slams shut with a finality that makes me jump. It’s too late to turn back inside; I’ve already turned in my key. For a moment, I don’t know who I am.
It’s time to piece together new building blocks.
The waffles and ribs place finally opened. They finally wiggled past the protestors and built the Lowe’s. There’s a new Thai restaurant downtown.
But other than that, it’s exactly the same.
I think that’s part of what makes going back so disconcerting for me.
Staying exactly the same, in my new line of work and new lifestyle, is no longer an option. If you’re not growing, you’re dead, they say. I’ve done nothing else since I moved, to the point I have growing pains.
Maybe that’s not it though. I think I’m in the mourning stage — that period when you realize how much damage you did. And nothing makes mourning return more sharply than seeing a ghost. That’s what this town is, a ghost of my past.
I drive by the trailhead where I used to run. There’s the hill I was once carried up over someone’s shoulder to see if it was possible. There’s the dive bar that advertises that it allows smoking just by keeping its doors open. There’s the house I couldn’t drive by without peeking to see if a certain car was there. And on the corner, with its maroon awnings flapping in tribute to its 150-year presence, is the newspaper I worked at for five years. Here I argued with editors and typed and planned camping trips and gossiped and angled through politics and fell in love and cried and cranked out story after story on deadline. No one should do that all in one place.
In my new town, I’m somewhat sheltered from remembering. I have a new house. A new name. A new job. A new life. I’m always looking forward, so I rarely have time to look back.
When I drive into this town, I run into all the people who helped me make my past what it was. I see one who made a sliver of a contribution while ducking through an athletic store on my way to a coffee shop.
He looks different, but in a good way. He’s filled out, but not because he gained weight. He’s just lost the gauntness and angles of youth.
“I didn’t know you worked here,” I say, but realize just as the words slip out that I did.
“What? I’ve worked here for years,” he says, with the same lift on the edges of his words that he always spoke with.
We catch up.
“Nothing’s changed,” he says. “I’m still doing the same things I’ve always done. Same old thing.”
I think of the whirlwind reshaping my own life and feel sad that he won’t get it. It’s too much and too big to explain, so I gloss over the highlights. We part by saying, “see you later,” and I think it’s very possible that we never will.
I leave this town with a sense of relief, driving past cows and covered wagons and other hokey tourist polishings that have rusted and cracked. I weave through the tangled roads. I coast down hill after hill covered in brown grass. I ease out of the foothills and onto the valley floor, past orchards and corn fields and shacks where strawberries are for sale.
I breathe easier as I return to my new home, yet still feel the heaviness of that place, lingering like a sour stomach. Someday I won’t feel this way.
But mourning is a process.
I didn’t write a post the New Years everything changed. I didn’t write about my trip to the Dominican Republic, which proved to be life-altering, and not in the cliche, unmeasurable way. I didn’t write when I started a new career and pushed journalism aside to a part-time role.
But I am writing today: the day before I am about to work my last day as a reporter.
It’s been about two years since my last post on my old blog. For all you know, the past two years didn’t even happen. My old blog has slunk silently into oblivion. I would have been OK with it. You probably would have too.
I thought about picking it up from time to time, then got caught up in other things. Busyness is really just a cop out though, because you make time for your priorities. I guess this wasn’t just one of them. Then too much time passed for me to resuscitate it. I worried it would become a false start even if I could.
If I began again, I wanted it to be different. It had turned into mundane accounts of monthly milestones in my life. Really, the only people who care about that is family members and a few close friends, who I talk to regularly anyway. In short, I was boring myself.
I decided I had to start new, with a new format and new template and new colors. Starting fresh, like I did when I moved.
I still don’t know how I want it to be different, or what it will be. But I figured that now that I am not going to be writing for a living, I better keep it up somehow. I wonder if writing is a skill that can grow dull if unused, or if it’s more like bicycle riding.
Maybe now that I’m not writing for a living I will be more inclined to write for fun. We’ll see.
Either way, I’m back for now, restarting fresh.