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.