Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another decade, another challenge

My January column for the Times Publications....

A new year and a new decade has commenced since my last column and because that doesn’t happen every day, I feel compelled to note this development in this space, even though I’ve long since lost confidence in the possibility that a man’s fortunes can be altered by the simple turn of a calendar.
It wasn’t always that way, though. When I was younger, much younger, I looked forward to the arrival of each new year with great excitement and the approach of a new decade was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
By a quirk, the ‘10s will be the seventh decade I witnessed, having arrived on this mortal coil at the tail-end of the ‘50s.
I recall that in early December of 1979, I sat in the little closet that passed as the “editor’s office’’ for The Chieftain, the student newspaper at Itawamba Junior College in Fulton, Miss., and pondered the momentous arrival of the ‘80s. As editor of the paper, I wrote the editorial for each monthly edition. Of course, I also wrote the news, sports and just about everything else that got into print, having mastered neither the art of delegation nor recruitment. It seemed only fitting that the last editorial of 1979 note the encroachment of the new decade.
That editorial is long lost to posterity, of course, so I do not recall precisely what I concluded about the impending arrival of the 80s. I’m sure it was a very optimistic treatment of the subject matter. My audience consisted of college freshmen and sophomores, which meant we were all young enough to steadfastly believe that we would change the world, leave or mark, go down in history, that sort of thing.
I fancied that that someday I would be invited back to Itawamba to talk about my journey from editor of The Chieftain to editor of The New York Times. - this was back when being the editor of the New York Times meant something, of course.
Well, if any of the 2,000 or so students who attended IJC (or “Harvard On The Tombigbee’’ as we liked to call it) managed to change the world, they did so without my being aware of it. If you were a student at IJC in 1979 and went on the change the world, drop me a line and I’ll be sure to acknowledge it.
As for me, I obviously fell considerably short of the mark. I never did manage to become the editor of The New York Times, of course, although I did figure out a way to earn a paycheck in the newspaper business for more than 25 years. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but try doing that now.
While I do not recall the particulars of that editorial welcoming the arrival of the new decade, I do remember writing that the ‘80s would be the most formative decade in our lives, reasoning that it would be the decade where we would find a profession, find a mate and even start a family.
And that is precisely what happened to me. I found all three. I began my career in 1982 at the Columbus (Miss.) Commercial Dispatch. I was married in 1986 and welcomed my first child, Corey, into the world in 1987.
A career, a mate and a child: That’s a pretty eventful decade, you have to admit, especially when you take into account how the decade began. I entered the ‘80s broke, uncertain of the future and alone.
Which is pretty much the way I enter the ‘10s.
So much for progress.
Maybe because of those unsettling similarities, I find that the sense of anticipation that young people associate with a new decade is beginning to stir within me now.
Leaving behind the grand schemes of youth, I nevertheless embrace the notion that the new decade will again represent a defining time in my life.
If I am going to have a career as a writer, it will come in the decade. If I am to remain alone, this is the decade in which I will have come to accept it as my lot in life. If I am going to secure my future, it will begin now.
Most importantly, perhaps, is that by the end of the ‘10s, I’ll have made peace with the past; surely by then the wounds – mostly self-inflicted – will be nothing more than scars.
I no longer have dreams of changing the world – even though the world is in no less need of improvement. To tell you the truth, the very idea of changing the world is more than a little unnerving. Who needs that sort of pressure? I guess that’s why it’s a young man’s dream.
All I do know is that it doesn’t take a great degree of optimism for me to believe that the ’10s will be better that the ‘00s. A few of my personal highlights from the decade that has just slipped away: Divorced after a 16-year marriage (2002), lost mama (2004), lost dad (2005), fired from my job as a newspaper columnist (2007), sent to prison for DUI (2007).
A more succinct description: the ‘00s kicked my butt. I will remember it as the decade that I became a Human Timex (“Takes a lickin’, but keeps on tickin’!)
So I enter the decade with the always dangerous point of view that things can’t get any worse, even though I’m looking for love, purpose and fulfillment at an age where most people have had those blessings so long they are almost inclined to take them for granted.
I’m 50 years old, a convicted felon and, for better or worse, a newspaper guy.
Neither prospective mates nor employers rate those qualities very high, I realize.
But I retain just enough Southern-bred stubbornness to believe that the arc of my life can, indeed, swing upward, even though the leading indicators suggest a less agreeable trajectory.
My New Year’s resolution is knock the dust off my britches, stick out my chin and keep dreaming.
So Happy New Year and bring on the ‘10s.
I ain’t done yet.


Daniel said...
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Judy said...

I am really enjoying reading these stories. I can relate to so much, not the jail/prison thing but wanting to change the world etc. What you said about sticking out your chin....my mom would tell me when things got tough to hold my chin up. I lost her in 89, my dad in 94, and my husband in 2003. I also lost my only brother in 78. I am still holding my chin up and I hope you are too! I know this is an older post, but I think I'm hooked. I bookmarked you.