Friday, January 30, 2009

Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home

Ever since Barack Obama defeated John McCain for the presidential election in November, much has been made - and rightly so - of what Obama’s election represents in the African-American Community.
It is perfectly right and proper that all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, acknowledge this milestone. But in the innocent telling of the story, there have been some omissions that warrant some attention.
The primary misconception, at least among the current generation, is that only African slaves picked cotton in the Deep South.
This would have been news to a lot of folks of an earlier generation. My folks, Fred and Mattie Jewel, would have been greatly surprised to know this, in fact.
Both grew up in the cotton fields of Tippah County, Mississippi. My mother, in particular, remembered those days - and not with affection.
“People talk about the good old days,’’ she once told me. “Well, they weren’t good old days to me. We worked like dogs We had to.’’
My maternal grandmother died in 1929, leaving my grandfather to raise six daughters and a cotton crop even as The Great Depression descended to knock the bottom out of the cotton market.
Decades later, my mother marveled at how they managed to survive.
Among her earliest memories was the day she went with her father to the cotton gin. My mother was 5 years old at the time, and when their mule-drawn wagon arrived with its crop, my mother proudly informed the cotton gin manager, “I picked 50 whole pounds of cotton, all by myself.’’
The manager brought her into his little office, pretended to study her small, wiry frame and pronounced, ‘’I reckon you don't weigh no more than 50 pounds yourself,’’ he said. “Well, we have a rule here that any child who picks her weight in cotton gets this.’’
He held out his hand and opened his palm to reveal a small gold bracelet.
It was the first piece of jewelry my mother ever owned.
“I couldn’t wear it from taking it off and looking at it,’’ my mother recalled more than 70 years later. “I’d hold it up to the light and just look at it and look at it.’’
Granted, the hardships my mother endured pall in comparison to the plight of the African-American slaves. But the hardships of people like my mother - poor white cotton farmers - should not be forgotten.
During the past 15 years of living first in northern California and now in Arizona, the picture of the Antebellum South I often encounter is the notion that there were just two kinds of people there - wealthy, pampered white plantation owners who devoted themselves to the pursuit of pleasure and poor Black slaves, who did all the work.
But the truth reveals that the vast majority of Southern whites were poor farmers. In fact, the slave economy of the South effectively prevented the emergence of a meaningful white middle class.
The “slave-ocracy’’ of the South oppressed the slave and poor white farmer alike, if not to the same degree.
One of the many tragedies of the Civil War was that it was those poor white farmers who paid most dearly in the wrong and failed cause of the Confederacy. Duped and incited by the small, elite and politically powerful Southern leaders, it was these poor white men who fought and died for a cause that only served to confine them to poverty.
So it is worth noting, I think, to acknowledge that the grim realities of the cotton field was not limited to the slave. Just one full generation removed from the cotton fields, I have a far more direct and personal connection to that part of American history than our 44th president.
With all due respect, the heritage of the cotton field is not reserved exclusively for African-Americans.
It is my heritage, too, and I see no good reason to give it up.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Party

By Saturday afternoon, I still wasn’t sure of my plans for later that evening.
I figured I had two options: I could do what I always do - hang around the ranch here, watch some TV, read, rummage through the fridge for dinner. Or I could go to a party at the home of Craig and Tara Morgan.
Scott Bordow, the sports columnist at the EV Tribune, had offered to give me a ride and I was waiting for him to call and confirm when he would pick me up. I was also trying to decide if I was going to beg off going to the party.
Nothing against the Morgans. I love their company and their parties are always a pleasure. They have a natural gift for entertaining and always assemble a group of lively, intelligent, fun guests - present company somewhat excluded.
No doubt, it would be a wonderful party. The Morgans’ parties always are.
Why, then, my ambivalence? Well, it’s a personal thing. I’ve seen the Morgans probably a half-dozen times since I headed off to prison in disgrace on March 2, 2007. When I got out of prison 18 months ago, I was certain that, by now, I would be well on the way toward rebuilding my life. I naturally assumed that I’d find a writing position at a newspaper or magazine, that I’d be well on my way to rebuilding my life.
But it hasn’t turned out that way at all. I am still in pretty much the same situation I found myself in when I walked through the gates at Florence West prison on July 2, 2007. And I feel a sense of shame, a pervasive sense of failure, when I encounter old friends who are eager to know how I am doing.
My attitude was similar to that held by people who chose not to attend a class reunion. It’s not that they don’t want to see their old classmates; it’s more a matter of assuming that those classmates have gone on to achieve some manner of success while they themselves have not done much of anything worthwhile.
Scott called at 2 p.m.
“I’ll pick you up around 6:15,’’ he said.
“I’ll be ready,’’ I said.
The previous Morgan parties I have attended have usually been small, intimate affairs - eight to 10 guests - so I was surprised to see the street out front of their home near Queen Creek lined with cars.
There must have been 50 or more guests, and as many of half of them were my former colleagues at the Tribune. Some I had seen from time to time- Scott, Craig, Bob Romantic, all who worked directly with me when I was the sports editor at the Tribune.
Many others, I had not seen since my abrupt, awkward exit in 2007, people like Michael Grady, the gifted features writer; Jerry Brown, whose clever writing and dour personality I have always found endearing; Carrie White, another feature writer who escaped the Tribune well before the onset of the Tribune’s decline; and Amanda Young, the sweet, idealistic features writer who I viewed as sort of a surrogate daughter.
It was an delight to see them and my previous preoccupation with my sorry state seemed not to matter so very much.
After all, most of my old colleagues are in the same boat, I‘m just a little farther from the shore.
The Tribune is dying, there is little question about it. Earlier this month, the paper became a free publication. It now has limited home delivery and publishes a print edition just four days a week. It’s a disaster and it gives me no pleasure to say it.
Many of the Trib people at the party were let go when the paper converted to its truncated semi-daily product. When I left as sports editor, I had 18 full-time employees in my department. Now, there are five - Bob, who succeeded me as sports editor, Scott and three high school writers. That’s it.
Amanda Young is the features department.
As the evening progressed, I told someone it seemed as though everyone at the party had stepped into a Time Machine and had been transported back to the 1930s. The first words out of every guest’s mouth seemed to be, “Are you working?’’ or “What are you going to do?’’
Even the handful of Tribune people who are still employed find themselves uneasy about the future.
“I’ve discovered two things,’’ Amanda said. “I hate my job and I’m not good at it.’’
But Amanda is only half right. I have no doubt she hates her job. And, to me, that is tragic. I had never seen a young reporter who loved working at a newspaper more than Amanda. And now, she hates it and the experience has robbed her of both her passion and her self-confidence. That’s a shame.
Grady, whose talent I esteem above all others, was part of that group of recently fired employees. He’s trying to finish up his novel about the civil war while he looks around for work.
“The novel is longer than the actual war,’’ he said. “I’m using this time to try get some control over it and get it finished.’’
I suggested that he have the South win the war in his novel; it would be an unexpected twist on an old story. As a Southerner, I’d read it, for sure.
Craig is staying at home with his two young daughters, while Tara goes off to work each day. He is also trying to pursue a career as a free-lance writer. “It’s hard getting a business off the ground,’’ he confessed.
Most of the writers who have been displaced are hopeful that they can survive, maybe even flourish, as free-lance writers. If any succeed, it will be Craig, I suspect. He had the right make-up for it.
Another of my former sports employees (I’ll refrain from using his name so as not to appear insensitive), stood stoically in the center of the room, had little to say and disappeared without goodbyes.
“Where did he go?’’ someone asked.
“I don’t know,’’ another said. “He was here and then he wasn’t.’’
“How is he doing?’’ I asked Jerry.
“Not good,’’ he said. “You know, all of us have talked about how we loved what we did at the Tribune, that it was our passion. But for him, it really was everything. He worked his way up the ranks to the job that was all he ever wanted. And then, he was out the door. Of all the people who lost their jobs, he has taken it the hardest, I think.’’
Of all the people there, those who had lost their jobs and those who were certain they faced a similar plight in the not-too-distant future, no one seemed to have a firm footing.
That didn’t make me feel any better about my situation. But it didn’t make me feel any worse, either. And I found that I didn’t really have to put up a brave, confident front. I am worried. And these old colleagues understood. Many can sympathize; they can empathize. I can tell them how frustrated and fearful I am. They get it.
Among the group, there were no bold assertions of future success, only a stubborn sense of hope, buoyed by a unquenchable sense of humor.
It was after 11 p.m. when I left the party to go home. As we said our goodbyes, the hugs were longer, a little tighter, perhaps to convey feelings of support and sympathy that words seemed hard to capture, even for a bunch of people who made their careers out of words.
Tara locked her arm in mine as I stood in the driveway of her home and I think we both had trouble finding the words to say. I’ll see the Morgans again, of course, but somehow this was different.
The future is clouded. Prospects are uncertain. Desperate thoughts encroach on hope.
We wished each other well and encouraged each other. We laughed. We said goodbye and promised to do a better job of staying in touch.
It was a great party.
I’m glad I went.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lessons from a Shabby Man

Wednesday morning, as I was taking the light-rail train back from Phoenix to Tempe, a man stood up and began walking down the aisles, yelling “stop, stop!’’
He was a shabby fellow, dressed in a stained white T-shirt, soiled and wrinkled work pants and worn sneakers. I judged him to be in his 60s, although his sallow cheeks and hollow eyes may have been more a testament to a self-destructive lifestyle that can make a man appear much older than he is.
Light-rail has only been up and running for about a month now, so my first impression upon hearing the man pleading for the train to stop was that he must have thought the light-rail operates on the same principle as a city bus. On a bus, you can summon the bus to stop at any intersection.
Of course, I don’t know if this was what “Shabby Man’’was thinking. All I know is that he was quite sincere in his desire for the train to stop and real quick, at that.
“Look!’’ he told one of the passengers, who had made the mistake of making eye contact with him.
In his right hand, he held one of those lottery “scratcher’’ tickets. “I just won $250! Didn’t I? Look!’’ The man thrust the ticket in the face of the poor passenger, pointing to the winning combination.
The passenger did not respond, but the man seemed satisfied that he had, indeed, won $250. And I gathered it was no small sum for him, given his appearance and the reaction it provoked in him.
“Stop!’’ he said again, as the train began to slow as it approached its next stop.
“I wonder where I can get my money?’’ he said to no one in particular. “I gotta get my money.’’
The train stopped a moment later and the man stepped off. “I just won $250,’’ I heard him say again as left the train.
Now, for most people, this incident would simply pass as a rather odd happenstance. Most folks would attach no greater significance to it.
Well, you know me better than that. I have a hard time with the concept of randomness, which is one of the reasons why I’d be a terrible atheist.
So I have been thinking about this incident ever since, wondering what it could mean. And the more I thought about it, the more I began to connect it with a couple of other things that have been on my mind.
How I came to be on the train in the first place seems to fit in there somehow.
For my monthly column in the Times, I had decided to take up the topic of the woeful state of journalism by taking an impromptu tour of Arizona State’s opulent new journalism school in downtown Phoenix. For someone who doesn’t drive, the light-rail was the ideal mode of transportation.
When I arrived, I ran into an old acquaintance, Steve Elliott. He was the Associated Press bureau chief in Phoenix back when I was at the Tribune. Steve now runs the school’s new service, which gives students hands-on experience by producing stories for the area media. The money-strapped media love it because it’s free content.
I asked Steve if his students were having second thoughts about pursuing a career that, from all appearances, seems to be mortally wounded.
He said most recognized that there probably won’t be conventional jobs in the newspaper, TV or radio fields waiting for them when they graduate. The competition for those jobs is already thick with thousands of talented, experienced journalists who have lost their jobs over the past couple of years.
“There will always be a need for journalists,’’ Steve said. “But what I tell the students is that, more than likely, you’re going to have to invent your own job.’’
That stuck with me. In fact, that is what I was thinking about on the train when Shabby Man began to insist, rather loudly, that the train be stopped.
Now, these two things may seem hopelessly unrelated. At least they appeared that way to me until I sat down for coffee and began reading a book I bought about a month ago. The book - “Outliers, The Story of Success’’ by Malcolm Gladwell - examines the topic of why some people succeed more than others. It points out that the secret of success may not be as simple as we have been led to believe. Since I’ve only read a few chapters, I am not prepared to render a verdict on his ultimate conclusion.
But there was one thing in the book that did capture my attention and led me to make a connection between the two seemingly disparate incidents from Wednesday. The book begins by examining some of the long-held ingredients for success, one of them being intelligence.
On that subject, he pointed out two very different types of questions that are used on I.Q. tests. One is called Raven’s Progressive Matrices. You are probably familiar with it. The question is presented as a series of images, each one different from the previous, which suggest a pattern. You observe several images and then are asked to pick the image that should follow in the sequence.
In other words, you are being tested for your conclusive abilities. Given a number of possible choices, you are asked to select the one right answer, based largely on facts that you have been exposed to.
I think this is a good test for those fields where precision is a great priority - science, medicine, engineering, etc.
The other test rates another kind of intelligence. You are given a fact and asked to arrive at as many possibilities as you can. For example, a question might be to come up with as many uses as you can think of for the following objects: 1. A brick; 2. A blanket.
This kind of test is rates intelligence on a different perspective: creativity. Those who come up with the most diverse group of answers are generally graded the highest. There is a value in that sort of intelligence.
When I read this, I put the book down and began to think again about Wednesday’s experiences. Slowly I began to see the connection, the “big picture’’ that these events brought together.
If you have read this far, I commend you for your patience and realize that I must soon begin to connect all the dots or risk losing you altogether.
This is really a story about our struggling economy - and a possible solution for it.
I do not pretend to be an economist - and one look at my bank account would confirm why I make no such claim. But I do think that I am a reasonably bright person, one whose own economic crisis over the past couple of years has prompted me to give this subject long and careful thought.
Here is how I see it.
The newspaper industry is certainly not the only field that is facing a bleak and uncertain future. Aside from health care, I don’t know any field that isn’t suffering these days.
What might surprise you to know is that newspapers did not suddenly become unprofitable. In fact, most papers - even those who are employing the most draconian measures to cut costs - remain profitable. I think that may well be true of other industries, too, although the auto industry appears to be an exception.
So what is the problem?
It’s the Shabby Man, otherwise known as the stock-holder.
Not long ago, newspapers did not have much contact with Shabby Man. Most were privately held companies and, as such, newspaper owners often plowed money back into their product and, as a consequence, were able to sacrifice short-term profit for greater long-term stability.
When most newspapers were privately held, you could generally expect slow, but reliable growth.
But that began to change over the past 30 years when more and more newspapers were bought by big publicly-held chains. You can scarcely find a privately-held newspaper these days.
The arrival of Shabby Man, and his huge infusion of cash, meant some papers could become far more ambitious in their plans.
But there was a trade-off. In some cases, they grew more than was prudent. And there was also the matter of expectations. Shabby Man expected to see a regular return on his investment, and he expected it sooner rather than later and he expected it no matter what. He further expected that his return would grow each quarter or heads were going to roll.
Every quarter, like clockwork, Shabby Man stands up and insists that the train be stopped. “I gotta get my money,’’ he demands.
As a result, there is no re-investment. Long-term security is sacrificed on the alter of short-term dividends. Vision begins and ends with each quarter.
And there is another grave aspect of the dominant presence of Shabby Man: It created an atmosphere that greatly stifled creativity and diversity.
When Abraham Lincoln left Springfield, Ill., the town’s population was about 10,000. Yet there were seven newspapers in Springfield.
Today, 150 years later, Chicago has a population of 9.7 million and may very soon be down to one newspaper.
That’s true in many other industries as well. Somehow, getting bigger has made us smaller. It has also made us more vulnerable, less creative and less compassionate.
To a family-owned drug store one good employee is a precious asset. The owner will exhaust almost every option to keep him. To a mega-chain drug store, one employee is simply a cost unit or “FTE’’ (full-time equivalent), something that can be disposed of quite easily and without any pangs of conscience.
The ubiquitous Shabby Man is bad for consumers, too.
If you have a dozen small, family-owned deli shops, you’ll get a dozen unique and varied options. At Subway, you get one basic idea.
Shabby Man ultimately forces everyone to reach a single, “right’’ answer. But in these dark days, we all need to think the other way: We need to think about possibilities, the more the better.
Main Street has always been about that sort of thinking. Wall Street is not set up that way. It constricts, confines and consumes to appease the insatiable appetite of Shabby Man.
There is no question that Wall Street is important for our economy. But in my mind, it is Main Street that holds the key.
Wall Street looks a person like me and slams the door. Main Street says give it a shot and see what you come up with. “Invent your own job,’’ is the way Steve Elliott put it to those J-School students.
Each of us, no matter his circumstance, has some say in his future on Main Street. On Wall Street, we are at the mercy of entities who see us merely as consumers. To a small store, you are a person. I like that and I wonder what would happen if we began to invest in each other.
There will always been a place in our economy for Shabby Man, maybe even a large place. But I don’t want him on my train.
If I am going to make it, I’m going to make it on Main Street.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"This was meant to be a happy occasion!''

The Great Oath of Office debate rages on.
In response to my latest post, several alert readers seemed to take issue with the way I characterized the flubbed Oath of Office administered by Chief Justice Roberts to President Obama.
The general tenor was that it was Roberts who messed up first, which caused Obama to mess up.
Well, I know how my mama would have responded: "Well, if Judge Roberts jumped off the roof, would you jump off, too, Barack?'' I never had a good answer for that. It was right up there with the "well, I'm not everybody else's mama'' response when I wanted to do something all the other kids were doing.
Beyond that, the whole debate reminds me of a scene from one of my very favorite movies, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’’
You probably remember the scene in question: Lancelot receives a message from a “damsel in distress’’ being held in a nearby castle who is being forced to marry against her will. Of course it turns out that the message is really from an effeminate young prince who really just wants to sing.
Of course, Lancelot doesn’t know that. So he plunges into the castle, hacks to death any number of the wedding party - including the groom - before the king of the castle (who is also the father of the bride) intervenes. Upon learning that Lancelot is an eligible bachelor, one who has at his disposal several castles that do not “burn down, fall over, then sink into the swamp,’’ the king is more charitably inclined toward the murderous impulses of Lancelot.
And this prompts the king to deliver this classic line: “This was meant to be a happy occasion! Let’s not bicker about who killed who!’’
That’s sort of how I feel about Tuesday’s Oath of Office flub.
As I mentioned in the previous blog, the biggest point of error was where the word “faithfully’’ was supposed to reside in the Oath. It was supposed to go, “I will faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States.’’ Instead, after much confusion, the word found a home at the end of the phrase - “I will execute the office of the president of the United States faithfully.’’
But it's really irrelevant where the word goes. Whether I say “I will promptly prepare my tax return’’ or “I will prepare my tax return promptly,’’ it matters little to the IRS. They’re going to audit me anyway!
But there is one point in this debate that I feel is worthy of scrutiny. Like many old documents, the Oath could use a little editing. Back in the old days, the language was often adorned with superfluous words and odd turns of phrases.
And the same is true of the Oath. In particular, the presence of the word “faithfully’’ serves no purpose, as far as I can tell.
Think about it for a moment. If the person vows that he/she “will execute the office of the president, etc., etc.’’ it can be rightly assumed that he/she will execute it faithfully. After all, if you have “unfaithfully’’ executed the office then you haven’t executed the office at all.
To “unfaithfully’’ execute the office of president suggests that you intend to execute the fun or easy parts while procrastinating over the unpleasant parts - say, meeting with Nancy Pelosi on a regular basis.
There is also the matter of the Oath’s pledge to “protect, preserve and defend’’ the Constitution of the United States. This falls under the category of “when any number of words will work, use the best single word.’’ In my view, the oath could be shortened to “preserve the Constitution of the United States’’ and that would cover it nicely.
I also don’t know if it matters much if you “solemnly’’ swear or “happily’’ swear or “grudgingly’’ swear. The point is, you made the promise and your emotional state is your own business.
My edited version would be: “I (name) swear that I will execute the office of the president of the United States and will preserve the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.’’
I know there are some people who woud object to the "so help me God'' part. In my mind, that's one of the best reasons to retain it, just to watch all the atheists reach a state of apoplexy. Simple pleasures are, indeed, the best.
Let me know what you think of my condensed version of the Oath. In my view, the fewer words, the better.
Somehow, I think President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts would agree.
But, please, let's not bicker about who flubbed what.
It was meant to be a happy occasion!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Been there, flubbed that

Like most people, except Jose’ who was busy using the leaf blower here on the ranch to rearrange the dust, I watched the presidential inauguration on TV.
At least, I watched until the announcer told the crowd that it was time for a woman named Elizabeth to recite a poem written for this occasion, which apparently was code for “hey, let’s see if we can beat some of this traffic.’
It has been my experience that when you plan to have a poet as part of the program, it is best to have an indoor venue, preferably one with doors that can be locked.
In the spirit of unity and bi-partisanship - this is something that the media has been urging now that the Democrats have control of the House, Senate and White House - I tried to give Elizabeth a chance, even though I’m from the old school of poetry which prefers meter and rhyme. I haven’t hear a good poem since Frost - that’s Robert not David.
Frost is one of just four poets to ever be a part of an inauguration, by the way. Interestingly, all have waxed poetic over the arrival of a Democratic president, not that the Party is pretentious, of course. When Republicans are inaugurated, a singer in a cowboy hat is substituted for the poet.
So I admit that I didn't watch all 847 hours of inaugural coverage, but I'm assuming it all came off like clock-work.
Those minor criticisms aside, I enjoyed watching the inauguration ceremonies, which even though they are carefully scripted are nonetheless interesting.
About the only unexpected moment came, oddly enough, during the swearing in ceremony itself. President Obama absolutely mangled the 35-word oath of office.
Now, this was not a major gaffe, we were assured by the media - it wasn’t Bush doing the mangling, after all. (Can you just imagine if "W'' had mangled the oath? Chris Matthews would have a tingle down his leg, I bet. Keither Olbermann would blather on about it for a couple of decades).
No, it wasn't a big mistake. Still, it was a shock. Obama is nothing if not an elegant, poised confident public speaker. So the fact that he messed up the lines was startling in the same manner as say, when Shaquille O’Neal makes a free throw or Pamela Anderson shows up somewhere without cleavage.
Me? I can certainly empathize with President Obama. In fact, I view his slip as sort of a means of establishing common ground with the 44th President.
Certainly, I am in no position to criticize him for his misstep, mainly because I remember too well what happened on the historic day of April 11, 1986.
It was on that date that I stood out in front of the fountain at the Wyndham Rose Hall Hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica and faced a short little minister who bore an uncanny resemblance to Desmond Tutu to exchange vows with Miss Susan Eileen Kennedy - or at least I tried to.
For, when the Jamaican minister asked me to repeat after him, “With this ring, I thee wed,’’ I instead uttered, “With this wing, I thee red.’’
And then a lady poet came out and recited a poem entitled “Praise Song for the Idiot.’’
I knew, of course, that there was no reference to wings or the color red in the traditional wedding vows, but unlike the inauguration, NBC was not on hand to make excuses for me by saying it was really the minister’s fault.
Oddly enough, Susan, who hours earlier had threatened to call off the ceremony on the grounds that her “hair wouldn’t do right,’’ sailed through the vows without a hitch. As you might suspect, she teased me unmercifully after the ceremony was all over.
So, yes, it was a mistake, but, no, it wasn’t a big deal.
The marriage was still legally binding - at least it was until 2002 - and I’m pretty sure Obama is officially the president and will - in his words - “execute faithfully the office faithfully of the President of the faithfully United States faithfully.''
If I ever have occasion to talk with the President - I’m guessing my best chance is to be one of those victims who loses his house trailer in a tornado and he shows up to survey the destruction - I am going to mention our common bond.
I feel your pain, Prez.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

You asked for it!

Well, it’s been a couple of months since I’ve written a blog entry, long enough that some folks have noticed and complained - mildly, of course.
Good-natured and well intentioned though those kinds of prompting may be, it has evoked in me a sense of guilt. I really should write something, I would tell myself, only to find myself staring at the keyboard and realizing I have absolutely nothing to say. Whenever an ember of inspiration emerged it quickly faded away. And so, here I am: A writer who doesn’t write.
A close friend has suggested that my lack of creative energy is most likely a sign of depression. I strongly suspect she is right. Without health insurance, anti-depressants run about $500 for a month’s supply. So, since I cannot afford to be depressed, I’ll settle for being despondent, an ailment that doesn’t require a prescription.
As I am writing this, I realize that this must sound pretty pitiful. At this point, if you were among those who encouraged me to write something you are beginning to regret it.
This week I realized that another writing gig fell through. Phoenix Magazine was looking for an associate editor, sort of an entry level position, best I could figure. I had hoped, at the very least, to get an interview for the job. But it didn’t work out. In fact, I didn’t even get a “sorry, but we’re going another direction’’ e-mail.
No knock on Phoenix Magazine, though. Heck, There are thousands of magazines, newspapers and other publishing interests who won’t give me a shot, so why single out Phoenix Magazine?
It’s sorta funny, really. I couldn’t even get an interview with U-Haul, which was looking for a copy writer a while back. That's frustrating because I am confident I could make renting a trailer hitch quite poetic. Their loss, right?
You know, I’ve probably applied for 100 jobs since getting out of prison. I was called in for an interview only once. How I would love to be able to simply be able to make my case in person. But I can’t even get a half-hour of an employer’s time.
So, yeah, I’m despondent.
I guess it’s time to move on, to forget about a career in writing and get a real job, but the truth is I have no appetite for anything else.
Somehow, I’ve got to get an appetite. How do you do that, anyway?
I love to write, have some aptitude for writing and a fair amount of experience at it. Most people seem to like my writing. Unfortunately, none of those people have writing jobs to offer.
But I have to do something. I’m almost 50 with no home, no car, no real security and sometimes it seems to me that I’m a lot closer to ruin than redemption.
I am tired, really, emotionally exhausted, bone-weary. Like the hired man in Robert Frost’s poem, I’m inclined, in my darker moments, to concede that I have nothing to look back on with pride, nothing to look forward to with hope. Some people just get smaller and smaller until one day that simply disappear. Sometimes, I wonder if that's what will happen to me.
That’s probably a lie, I tell myself. It is also an affront to all of you who have been so very kind and supportive and encouraging. I do not mean to be ungrateful.
I guess I’m just despondent.
But it does feel good getting another post out, even if it’s dripping with self-pity.
Maybe the next one will be a little brighter.
Tomorrow is another day, right Scarlett?