Friday, September 13, 2013

At Loose Ends


Settling in, trying to see where I fit in, what I'm supposed to do ... some days I'm at a complete loss. Some days I lay around and watch home improvement shows on TV. And try to improve my Candy Crush Saga score. Some days I have maniacal energy, trying to do everything at once because that's how I always got things done in the 37 years I've been working.

At 15 I tried selling Avon door-to-door. (I think that lasted about 10 minutes.)

Then I was slapping frozen "cheezeboigers" on the grill at the Markham Burger & Dairy Bar, where the scowling Greek owner named George, who sounded exactly like John Belushi on Saturday Night Live, was always telling me, "Coffy make coffee, two Peepsis, hamboiger, hamboiger."

I was a waitress. Once. For part of a summer. Until I was picking up plates one day and accidentally dropped a butter knife covered in yellow mustard all over a snooty man's white golf shirt. He had no sense of humour, and then I had no job.

I did these things – badly – knowing that I would go to college and become what I really wanted to be when I grew up.

A reporter.

(Imagine a glowing light surrounding that word, and angels singing from heaven.)

I studied community journalism but left school early to get a job because this was in the early 1980s and a recession was making jobs incredibly difficult to come by (thanks to my cousins Debi and John for putting me up and tipping me off about the job in the first place). I figured it was more important to get my foot in the door than finish up the last month of college and, as it turned out, I was right. Only a few of my classmates wound up pursuing newspapers as a career.

The job paid crap. By the time I paid my rent, car payment and bought gas, I was broke.

The hours were long. I had meetings just about every night (council, school board, community groups) and every weekend was full with events like fall fairs, regattas, hockey games, curling bonspiels and bowling banquets.

I spent every Monday morning in the darkroom, processing a week's worth of film and making prints. I'd be there for six or seven hours at a stretch, inhaling noxious chemicals and developing the eyesight of a mole. When I emerged, I had to finish writing any stories I had left to the last minute, then help out in the production room where the paper was laid out with the help of an x-acto knife and melted wax. It was a badge of honour to cut yourself but bleeding on the unfinished galleys meant starting over from scratch. By the time the paper was "put to bed," it was late. At one of my first jobs, the Milton Tribune, our crew didn't finish the paper until the next morning. Things were more coordinated at the Port Perry Star and we usually finished by 10 o'clock, which gave us time to have a drink at the local watering hole. (It's where I met my first husband – he was the bartender and he used to make fun of the "rag" I worked for.)

Sometimes I took the paper to the printer's and waited for them to fill the van with a whole town's worth of papers. If that was the case I was up at the crack of dawn. Usually though I wandered into the office around 8 a.m. to help stuff flyers into the paper and prepare issues for mailing. When that backbreaking work was done, I had my own delivery route: I took papers to post offices and stores in the northwest corner of our township. Like the mailman, I delivered papers in all kinds of weather, including one time during a wicked snowstorm when I put the van in the ditch.

Delivery took all day. If I was lucky, I'd get to go home and go to bed. Often I had to go home, grab a shower, and head out to cover a meeting.

By Wednesday morning I felt like had been run over. But I dragged myself into the office for our weekly "story meeting" in which we discussed news and events that needed coverage in the coming week. The rest of the week was a blur of covering stories, phone interviews, photo ops and writing, writing, writing. Newspapers were big empty vessels in those days, not crammed to the top with advertising as they are today. It took a lot of words to fill those pages and I became adept at writing long feature stories to take up space.

I remember, back in high school, freaking out about having to write a 1,000 word essay. We were given a month to write something that long! At the newspaper, it was nothing to crank out 5,000 to 10,000 words in a week. There was no time for agonizing over every word – it was a matter of typing your fingers to the bone and moving on to the next story.

There was no overtime. No lieu time. The job consumed all of my waking hours and I loved it and I hated it and I couldn't imagine myself ever doing anything else.

I left my last newspaper job in May and I doubt if I will ever work for another one. The internet truly has killed newspapers. People don't need to wait for the weekly newspaper to arrive in their mailbox – they see it on Facebook, or Twitter. They hear it on the car radio, or on the 6 o'clock news. Everywhere, all across the world, newspapers are dying. Even the biggest, most successful of the once mighty media giants are going out of business.

Some day I'm going to write more about my newspaper life.

For now, I'm just trying to figure out what to do with all this free time I suddenly have, now that I don't have to fit laundry, dishes, cooking and rest-of-my-life in the short time not spent at the office. I'm like a bird that has been encased in a gilded cage, suddenly freed, and not sure what to make of the wide world that is waiting for it to fly.

I think I'll take a lesson from my cat, who spends every morning in his chair, his ancient arthritic bones soaking up warm sunshine. He doesn't worry about the why, or the wherefore or the how-to.

He just does.

I think I want to be him when I grow up.


43 comments:

  1. Yes ma'am. Slowing down can be a truly painful process, like decompressing. But you'll have the chance to know things, deeper. Be the cat. You've earned it.

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    1. "Be the cat." Didn't Woody Allen say that once while dressed as an ant?

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  2. Cathy, I think you just said it - what to do with your free time. Write a book about working for the newspaper and how it's changed over the years.
    Either that or just go nap with your cat!

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    1. I've thought about using newspapers as a basis for a book for a long time but, like film cameras and the x-acto knives we used to use, it's just not relevant any more. Besides, one of the best books about newspapers has already been written ... The Shipping News.

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    2. .....ah, but if you set a fictionalised story in the timeframe you worked in, you'd have a real touch of authenticity with all the details you could add. Go for it!

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  3. I love the way you write. I have to say I've never been that dedicated to any job I've ever worked. I want and insisted upon my time off. I never wanted to stay a minute past my quitting time and at that, I wanted to leave early when my work was done, not find more shit to do till it was time to leave. I turned down all OT at my television jobs. I wanted my time to myself. That's probably why I'm flailing around and unemployed at this point in my life....

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    1. And I love the way you comment!

      Oh. and look who else is flailing around and unemployed! Fat lot of good all my dedication did me!!!!

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  4. Yeah. Mr. Chewey (our cat) he's got it made. Nap. Stalk the moth that got in last night. Nap. Eat, drink a bit of water. Nap. Leave fur all over everything I own. Nap.

    Yeah. Mr. chewey's got it good.

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    1. Don't forget puking on the carpet. Or the bed. Or the couch. It's our cat's special talent.

      (Mr. Chewey - what an awesome name. Heheheheh....)

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    2. :) Mr. Chewey seems to be doing better with that. Hasn't puked since we put him on the baby food (literally). Course, he hasn't pooped either....

      (If this makes no sense you may want to read my latest post...)

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  5. For too long I defined myself by what I did. Redefinition is still a work in progress.
    Sending hugs.

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    1. It's especially hard not to define yourself by what you do when what you do is all-consuming. So, I hear ya on that one. Thanks for the hugs, EC! Much appreciated and sent right back atcha!

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  6. You need to do NaNoWriMo this year, you know. Joinnnn usssss.... Joinnnnnn ussssssss.... C'mon! It'll be fun!

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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    1. LOL!!!!! Marian you're scaring me! But honestly, I have been considering it. I certainly don't have a time excuse this year.

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  7. As much as I hate it that your job situation didn't turn out the way it should have, I must say I looooooove your new banner! I remember seeing a series of those pinups, but can't remember the name of the character. I'd sail with you two any day! ;-)

    What do you do now? Maybe write a non-fic about how newspapers have become irrelevant and why? Or pound out that magnum opus? Or just keep looking for something that brings in income… as opposed to the wages supporting your car instead of you. Things will come up roses sooner or later!

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    1. That's Hilda! And yessirree, she's a real looker!

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  8. I would love to have the responsibilities and privileges of a cat. They can pout around constantly and just get rewarded for it. They're pretty much what authors are taught not to be and get exactly what authors desire!

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    1. Yep. All we need is Friskies, a tickle under the chin and someone to clean up our poo.

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  9. Slowing down feels contrary to many folks' natures, including mine. And it can feel almost painful, like reverse g-force. But my sabbatical has likely saved my sanity these last 2 months because it made me slow down. I am just now finding a new rhythm to my suddenly less full days. So give yourself time to settle in. Think of this time as a sabbatical--and enjoy. Knowing you, before too long you will wish for some breathing space! Peace...

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    1. You're absolutely right, Linda. On the weekend I talked to a woman who took THREE YEARS to settle into retirement.

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  10. After the initial joy of giving up work, I must confess I wondered what to do with all the new-found free time that filled my days. Then life's calamities took over and quickly filled up every spare minute.
    Now the dust is settling I, like you, am bemused about how best to fill the days. I don't think I have the stamina (or the lifespan!) to go down the route of getting stuff published, but who knows - the creative juices are starting to crank back up into action.....

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    1. Best of luck to you, Sue. You have great writing talent and you should pursue it!

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  11. Go back to school - for the love of it.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. School? I dunno... my brain isn't what it used to be. I can barely remember what day it is.

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  12. Wow, you were busy.
    My daughter is in journalism this year and that class puts out a section of the local paper.
    I think it's sad the way the papers are dying. I still enjoy looking through them.

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    1. It almost makes me nervous that your daughter is pursuing a career in journalism... I'm not sure it would be something that I would do if I was her age. Hopefully she'll work in broadcast journalism where there is still a future.

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  13. Cathy, I LOVE your work! Looking forward to more.

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  14. It doesn't surprise me that even the small town papers- what's left of them- take up a great deal of work.

    You'll get it sorted. And being like the cat is a high plateau to strive for!

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    1. Things are much easier now thanks to computers - isn't it ironic, though, that the thing that makes the job easier is also the thing that is killing it? These days most graphic work for local papers is done in India and the Philippines in a desperate bid to save money. There are even computer programs that collect basic information (stuff like the police report and sports scores) without using a reporter. Pretty soon all of us will be redundant.

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  15. Having work to do at a job to go to keeps you in the ring. Don't lose your stride. Find some physical thing to do that involves people, and go do it every day. If I had the strength, I would drive a SCAT bus, picking up old people and taking them places. Then I would listen to their stories all day long. And probably write them down every night.

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    1. Geez, Joanne - I don't know anyone busier than you. No wonder you don't have the strength!

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  16. A fine tribute to what is, sadly, a dying industry. I think one could do a lot worse than aspiring to be a cat, too.

    Cathy, I hope you will consider joining my bloggers' book club. Details are here: http://armchairsquid.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-cephalopod-coffeehouse-september.html

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    1. I shall check your club out - thanks for the invite!

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  17. For years I wanted to be a journalist. And then, when I was 10, I found novels. I mean, really found them. My grandmother hoarded books much the same way Scrooge McDuck hoarded gold. Books were coasters, table-leg stabilizers, end tables, fans, etc. And they were everywhere. On summers, when I would visit, I would eat them up, every single word--gulp them down like sweet milk still in the bowl after the cereal's been eaten. I took home stacks of books with yellowing pages that smelled sickeningly sweet, the way only trashy romance novels do. And I was lost. I wanted to be a writer, to build words, to string together sentences like little glass beads until I'd created something so beautiful, people would remember it for days.

    I still want that now, but with a different kind of hunger--a desperation that is not just borne of ache but also a sense of time running out.

    You're trying to fill your days and I'm trying to save mine...to hoard the way my grandmother did those romance novels so many years ago.

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    1. That should say "build worlds" (had words on the brain!)

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    2. Hey Kemari - hope you're ok... am going to send you an e-mail.

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  18. Hello Cathy. I came by to say hello again (twice in one month!) and found quite a dissertation on the newspaper industry. Thanks for sharing that. I can't believe you had to do ALL those jobs! For low pay too! I wanted to be a journo when I left school, but ended up going teaching. Think I chose the easy option now! However, now that I finished u with teaching, I'm still tutoring one on one and I love it! All that stress has disappeared! And I still make money to travel!

    Enjoy lazing around like a contented cat meanwhile, as surely as night follows day, before you know it you'll be busy again!

    Waving across the ocean!

    Denise

    PS Armchair's monthly bloghop is fun. So is mine if you'd ever give it a look. Mine's like #FridayFlash without all the dead bodies, lol! I currently have a prompt, MOVING ON, which sounds quite apt for you--I welcome non fiction too!

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    1. I think teaching was the wise choice! Teachers are still needed - so far nobody's found a satisfying way of using the internet to replace them!

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  19. You've had quite a work life that is rich in experiences. At least a book in that. I always loved newspapers. In some ways they have spelled their own demise.

    Lee
    Wrote By Rote

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  20. The cat has it sussed. Listen to the cat. :-)

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