Friday, October 22, 2004

 

The Underdog (Being A Series of Random Anecdotes)

I've known many underdogs in my time. Lots of them have stayed that way, and it's sad to see. But watching the ones who rise, witnessing their triumph, man, there's nothing better. It's more satisfying than getting a splinter out, or finally making it to the bathroom after an hour of traffic and the surety of incontinence seemed ordained.

For boys especially, I think many of the defining underdog moments of our lives come out of personal trials and contests against other (often bigger, meaner, but not necessarily smarter) boys. I know dozens of guys who exacted revenge, quiet and not so, on their persecutors. With perhaps one memorable exception (in which my opponent suffered a sudden, almost catastrophic asthma attack just as he was about to pound me to gel, and I was put in the very Marvel Comicslike dilemma of either taking my revenge while he was helpless--the guy was way bigger than me, a bane on the school, and deserved whatever he got, on this you must trust me--or trying to help him), I always managed to talk my way out of fights, which I suppose is not an example of the underdog rising, but it kept me healthy.

It did not, however, always prevent me from getting into trouble. For a time in 4th grade, I was part of a group of kids who were regularly preyed on by a pack of no-neck, left-back 8th graders (some of whom were old enough to quit school and join the Army, I'm sure). It became their practice to catch us in the locker room, just after gym class, and shake us down for whatever change we had in our pockets, or to rough us up if we were thoughtless enough to come to class with no money. I was very rarely the direct target of this gang of thugs (at this point it's worth mentioning my older brother who, despite the fact that we barely ever acknowledged each other's existence at school, could be counted on to put in the occasional last-minute Fonzie-saves-Richie-style appearance and rescue my skinny ass. At the beginning of the school year I'm talking about, he laid hold of a Neanderthal 7th grader who was intent on vexing me, and deposited the miscreant, partially folded, into a nearby trashcan, from which he could not be extricated, not even by our gym teacher, and she could bench-press more than anyone in town. It gave my brother instantaneous street cred, so much so that some of that cred rubbed off on me, where it remained like a protective aura…until my brother went off to the high school).

This day, we had no guardian angel watching us, and the older, bigger boys were sporting a particularly mean streak. They brought the bulk of that meanness to bear on poor Jimmy. Jimmy was close to being the class cootie. He had almost no friends (we didn't even like him; my friends and I were just too nice to tell him to bug off) and was the shortest, goofiest kid in school. Honestly, I think we let him pal around with us because, well, if you had seen my gawky crew, you might have understood. We were no chick magnets ourselves. Truth be told, if Jimmy weren't around, one of us would have been the class cootie, so I guess in a bassackwards sort of way we were all grateful he was there. I had no idea.

So there we are. It's late in the year, but Indian summer reigns. The windows are open and a warm air blows in, turning our sweat cold and giving us goosebumps (having a gang of ogres cornering you for pocket change also adds to the effect). In the hazy half-light, the ogres surround poor Jimmy, who has no money, never has money, they know it, but it's not really about money is it, so he's the target.

My friends and I are just helpless. All three of us beanpoles wouldn't be enough to fill one pantleg of the biggest of them, a real farm-boy bruiser named Bruce who this day incites his crew to violence beyond mere pushing around. He nods to one of his thugs, and the kid jabs Jimmy in the gut.

Watching and hearing someone else get the wind knocked out of them and knowing there's just nothing you can do about it is as bad if not worse than being the one who gets the wind knocked out of them. At least when it happens to you, you're so focused on the fact that you can't breathe and the dawning realization that you're seconds from death by asphyxiation that there's really no room for fear or panic.

Jimmy didn't get the wind knocked out of him, though.

What I realized later, and his presence of mind amazes me to this day, is that he merely let them think that. They did hurt him. In fact, they hit a very sensitive nerve cluster that was causing an involuntary action at that very moment. We just didn't know it. Neither did his attackers.

Up til the punch, Jimmy had been backing away from his assailants. But our first hint that something was up happened when he stopped moving away, and started towards the boys. In fact, he was heading straight for Bruce.

Bruce had this big smirk on his face and was about to say something. But Jimmy opened his mouth first.

Up until that moment, I had never conceived that vomit could be used as an offensive weapon. I mean really, who would?

Well Jimmy did. In that moment, he was like a samurai. He was going down, his body in the grip of a force beyond his control, but he managed to stare the darkness down for the precious seconds necessary to make it to his target and launch his final, terrible counterattack.

What happened next was a bit of a blur, but I do remember us squealing in triumph (everyone in school heard it), and I remember this awful species of horror across Bruce's spattered face, as even his own cohorts abandoned him in disgust and loathing.

It was a moment beyond anyone's experience (and this was a solid decade before the film Stand By Me, where Wil Wheaton's character spins the tale of the fat kid who revenges himself on the cruel townfolk by deliberately throwing--and I do mean throwing--a pie-eating contest. That's as close as I've come to seeing this moment being re-enacted, and it still doesn't come all that close. Still, love the movie, Wil. Love WWDN.) Bruce's mind simply was incapable of forming a tactical response. He had tried "fight", and look what it got him. All he had left was "flight", so flee he did. Right out the door and into the arms of our gym teacher, who was coming to see what all the racket was about.

It was a transcendent moment for Jimmy. He went from cootie to cool in the time it took the story to spread throughout the school. In the eyes of every boy of a certain age, nothing is more fantastic than the body's ejecta and effluvium. We couldn't have been more impressed with Jimmy if he had somehow transformed his nose into a high-speed booger machine gun, or killed Bruce with his flatulence. Any man reading this who can remember what 10 was like will understand what I mean.

The moment passed, as they all do, and at least for the few more years that I lived in that town, Jimmy still had a reputation as a goofy kid. But no one ever laid a hand on him again (and I'm not clear what became of Bruce, or where he ended up. "In Leavenworth, I suppose," Garrison Keillor says of his bullies, and so I say of mine). It wasn't just that Jimmy had barfed on the biggest, meanest kid in school. It was that he meant to do it. Looking back, I realize now that we all were impressed--and just a wee bit intimidated--by the resolve implicit in that act.

I haven't thought of Jimmy in over 25 years--no, that's not true. I thought about him and his incredible act of will one other time: about 3 or 4 years after the incident, in another school, 2,000 miles away, as I watched Patrick Reilly turn blue on the white tiles of the boys' room floor. A second earlier, he had been so excited about finally cornering me and smashing me in the face, his lungs went into spasm and down he went. This kid was every bit as bad as Bruce, and were our positions reversed, I'd be left to gasp my last on the filthy floor of an empty toilet. I wanted to leave him there, I did. But for a fleeting second, I'm sure I thought of Jimmy, and committed my own act of will. I grabbed Patrick by his grubby uniform sweater and dragged him down the hall to the nurse's office. As it turned out, it was the best thing that I could have done. Word got out that I had saved the bully's life, and for the next five years of grammar and high school, no one ever let him forget it. It wasn't as good a puking on him, but it was close.

Thanks, Jimmy. You weren't just any underdog. You were my hero.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

 

In Which I Bear Witness To Miracles (and my trouser cuffs reveal a flash of red)...

After a long period of getting over the flu, the world appears to have gotten tired of me dragging my ass around from place to place, yawning and grousing about how tired I am. "Let's see how tired he is when we change the setting..." a demonic voice rasps, and suddenly the hum of the engines beneath my life ramp up and things begin to move quite a lot faster. I'm not one to fall on my face easily, so it's time to quicken my pace.

The hum of those engines was deafening Monday morning, when I was handed the task of writing yet another story--1500 words this time--on obscenely short notice. "Can I get it to you by day's end?" I ask, when I'm handed the pinless grenade in the staff meeting. "Um, sooner?" was the response. "Right," I said, looking at the clock. "By the end of lunch?"

There was much laughter then (oh the wit of that boy editor!) but I thought, If I could just be let out of this interminable morning meeting, I might just do it. Of course, I wasn't. By the time I made it back to my desk, I had 55 minutes before noon, and one interview to make to screw the lid on this thing. I made the call, got the info, wrote like a mad bastard, and had the story to my top-editor at 12:43.

But then, this is a week of miracles. Ever since I caught the early flu, everyone (except my bosses) have been begging me to take a couple days off and just take it easy, just get away. I actually did take a week's vacation this summer--my first since I got married, I think--and went to New England, land of my birth, home to my people (I take great pride in seeing my last name on the roadmaps of the state where I was born. My people cleared huge tracts of land for farming, built mills, fought the British, the whole Colonial bit. So having a body of water and some roads and a few towns named after you seems like a fair compromise in the eyes of history). I spent every summer of my youth by a rustic cabin on a great lake, free to roam the woods and explore the old stone foundations of forgotten farmsteads and hunting camps, responsible for nothing save being back in time for supper. It was positivelt idyllic, and my memories of the place and the time have become fixed in my mind as my personal notion of what Peace will be like. Of course, when I actually went back, it rained the entire time, and that pretty much told me what Fate thought of my designs on getting away from the office and trying to recover my slice of Peace.

But then, not long ago, I got an invitation to take a few days at a quiet little college somewhere north, in a climate very much like the one I grew up in, and talk to a bunch of undergrads about my career. Like most places of higher learning, they have nothing like the travel budget we have here at the RBM, so after they sent me my plane ticket, I was asked rather timidly if, instead of a hotel, would I mind very much if they put me up in a place owned by one of the administrators of the school...his lakeside cabin.

Hmm: Three days of sitting around, talking about myself to a bunch of young men and women (mostly women), and then repairing each night to a little cabin on a great lake. Like I said, it's a time of miracles.

Of course, I have to do some prep work before I leave next week, and I've made additional arrangements to lecture to a couple of classes and in general make sure these fine folks get their money's worth. But really, it's they who are doing me the favor.

I just hope there's a TV in the place, or at least a radio, because I am blood-bound to keep a close watch on the final miracle of the week: The Red Sox in the World Series. I am not a sports-oriented guy, not in the least. But if you grew up somewhere between Maine and Connecticut and still have a pulse, I don't see how you can NOT stand up and be counted when the Sox make yet another attempt. I followed the team to their doom in the 86 run, and was so crushed by their defeat it actually ruined my grades. I turned my back on them after that, swore NEVER AGAIN. But God loves to make a man breaks his vows, they say, and anyone who has ever held out hope across several generations for a team like this (I bet Chicago Cubs fans know what I'm talking about), knows that such promises really aren't. They're just steps in the ritual dance we take, the one we take through every dry spell, hoping against hope that this will be the year the great rain comes, hoping this will be the year of big miracle.

Next time, maybe I'll post some of the stuff I'm preparing to talk about to the Leaders of Tomorrow. It won't be ALL about me, I promise. Yeah, now who's asking for a miracle?

Yours,
From Somewhere On The Masthead

Thursday, October 14, 2004

 

In Which I Miss My Friends...

Like a lot of writers, I was a very early reader (for me, it was a Spider-Man comic that my Uncle Frank bought for me and my brother. I still read comics today -- hey, they're magazines too!). And while my family influenced me as a reader, it was my friends who always made me believe I was a good writer.

The very first piece of writing I can remember putting any effort into was a 2nd grade exercise, in which our teacher asked us to write one page about Easter (it was a Catholic school, obviously). It was one of the very earliest pieces of real homework I remember getting: we had to take it home, work on it, bring it back the next day.

While my classmates scribbled monosyllablic sentences about Easter and what it means, I felt something...odd...click into gear in my head. I had always known about the Easter bunny, of course, and because of my recent schooling, I was only just beginning to understand the religious implications of the holiday. What I couldn't figure out was, how did this anthropomorphic rabbit (carrying a basket of eggs, no less) fit in which the Death and Resurrection of Jesus?

Thinking back, there was only one instance I knew for sure where Jesus interacted with animals at all, and that was in the stable at Christmas (religious scholars, resist the urge to correct me, if there's some Parable of the Goat or something that I'm unaware of. I was 6 or 7, okay?), so I started there. I wrote and wrote and wrote. My teacher even let me stay in the room during recess. She saw what I was doing and just left me alone. I took the story home and worked on it til bed time, then took my pen light and pad under the covers and kept writing.

By first bell the next morning, I had it: "The Secret Origin of The Easter Bunny" (comic book readers know words like "secret origin" from the age of 4, okay?). It was six densely printed pages and in it I had reconciled the two stories, at least as well as a 6 year old can, but 30 years have not dimmed my admiration for the effort I made. Hey, I never said I was modest.

See, here was the story: the Easter Bunny's mom couldn't have kids, but when she hopped into the stable and had a look at Baby Jesus, a miracle happened and she suddenly found herself having a baby. But not a normal bunny: instead, she laid a colored egg, and out of it hatched the Easter Bunny. According to legend, all the animals in the stable gained the power of speech on Christmas, but because the EB was conceived in the stable, he had the power of speech for life.

Eventually, he grew up and started hiding colored eggs around people's houses in memory of his own miraculous birth, and in memory of Jesus, of course, who made him the man, er, bunny, he is today.

I didn't write it like I just did above, but you get the gist.

We all had to read our stories, which was usually a quick thing -- 15 kids each reading a page -- so when we got to my six-page opus, there was a built-in pause and when I finished reading, and I got a reaction I didn't expect: my classmates were all abuzz, asking where I heard that story, did I really make it up, I DIDN'T, did I, murmuring and nodding as though I had explained a lot of things for them. They didn't burst into spontaneous applause or anything, but our teacher did hold a little contest to vote for best story. Mine was the unanimous choice, so I won a massive chocolate egg. My first writing award.

Not too much later, my parents gave me a book of blank pages for Christmas, and I started writing stories regularly. I was probably in 5th or 6th grade by then, and I carried the book with me everywhere, always working on short mystery or adventure stories in which I and my friends starred. When I finished a new story, the book would get passed around the class and my friends would take turns reading the stories, mostly to see what crazy thing I had them do (we were always doing grown-up stuff, like driving cars or landing airplanes, so it was very exciting for them. Even then, I was pandering to the reader.

By freshman year of high school, I was a practicing journalist, not just for the school paper, but also for the local papers. I also got about as serious as I think I'll ever get about fiction, writing a series of unpublished books that, although still starring all my friends and are quite unreadable today, was nevertheless an honest effort that made a distinct impression on those around me. Again, it was my friends who made enough of a fuss about my work that, by the time it was time to start thinking about college and the proverbial Rest of My Life, there was really now choice for me. I was going to write.

By some accident of lax school regs in the states where I grew up, I ended up starting school VERY early, and never stayed back a year or two to make up the difference. As a result, I spent most of my college career as a teenager, a pretty arrogant one about my writing, I have to say. So it was lucky that I should go to the college I did, which was absolutely packed with self-centered, TRULY arrogant, opinionated, willful, stubborn, snooty, crazy people, some of whom became my very best friends, and did me the great service of putting me squarely in my place, often on an hourly basis. I gave up fiction pretty much for good (except for a brief and wonderful foray writing a comic strip, which remains for me--even nearly two decades on--one of the lasting lights of my days) and finally began to get serious about writing magazine-style journalism, thanks in large part to the notice of my own personal example of the One Great Teacher, whose wisdom and guidance in making me the man I am today is second only to that provided by my parents. And my friends.

After school, I got really single-minded about my ambition in magazines (despite a complete failure to succeed at same for the first year and change out of school), so single-minded that the lines of contact I had always taken great care to maintain with my friends--from college, high school and even grammar school--began slowly, silently to slip from my grasp. The addition of a wife and family these past 10 years only furthered the drift, and it's the one great regret of my life.

So today's lesson is, the making of friends is really a continuous process, even with friends you made years ago, and you need to keep them, especially if you're a remotely creative person. Real creativity is a function of perspective and experience and your friends are unmatched resources in this regard, because they have a way of helping you tap that perspective and experience in ways that will positively astound you, if you let it. We think that because we choose these people to be in our lives (unlike our family), that somehow that choice remains in effect and doesn't need to be renewed. Well, it ain't true. Family sticks, and every once in a great while you make a friend or two who become so much a part of your life that they transcend the bounds of friendship and BECOME your family. But as for the rest of your friends, you better work to keep em. For my part, I forgot an important thing about my friends. They were my first readers and I wouldn't be anywhere on any masthead without them.

This month, as the world turns toward closure and the endings of things, I've made a conscious decision towards spring and the rebirth of some things in my life I thought were done gone. Remaking friends I thought I'd lost (and discovering in the process, at least in one case so far, that there are some friends you never lose; they're just better than you and can wait until you finally get your head out of your ass) is just part of it, but a big part. So I suppose, even 30 years later, I'm still in an Easter frame of mind, trying like crazy to reconcile my notions of Resurrection and Redemption with the hope that I can still recover the great and colorful people who I so enjoyed finding, like Easter eggs, hidden throughout my life.

Okay, that's enough out of me. I have some calls to make, some letters to write. See you next week, after you've called some friends too.

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

 

In Which Blood Will Tell...

There was a time when sitting around in doctors' office waiting rooms was my best approximation of what purgatory would be like. Most of my life I've been a jumpy lil cuss, so being forced to sit somewhere with no control over when I could leave was just hellish, and, I always felt, some kind of weird propaganda exercise on the part of doctors in the interest of making the general public feel that somehow their time is not as important as the ones with the white coats and the superior attitude.

Well, I'm over it. Waiting rooms are great. You know why? You get the best story ideas sitting in waiting rooms.

First, there's the people-watching. Most of the folks in this clinic are in my readership, so it's like doing a passive, sniffling focus group. You get to watch a lot of different parenting styles in an almost completely unguarded situation, which by itself is just too good to miss. I mean, come on, pretty much any other place--playgrounds, parties, wherever--most parents are On, demonstrating their Parenting Philosophy in the most pristine format they can muster, which is just another way of saying they're putting on a show for the other parents. It generally doesn't matter in that context, because all the other parents are doing it too, so you end up having these surreal exchanges where everyone is a Parent Avatar, instead of a falliable human who has made a kid just as flawed as they are (with the extra features of more energy and less impulse control).

You don't see many Avatars in waiting rooms. You see tired, worried, blessedly human parents doing the best they can with a kid or two, plus the added baggage of one of them not feeling so hot, usually the kid, but sometimes the parent too. This is the trenches, baby. No time for philosophy. It's all gut reaction.

It's sometimes hard to watch (as with the child begging hysterically to go home, and the mom was torn between using a placating but ultimately dishonest mantra ("We're going soon, We're going soon, We're going soon"), and telling him the truth, which was that they had to go in for a series of shots) and sometimes achingly funny (as with the young archaeologist who was conducting serious research on the presence and consistency of assorted dried boogers under the waiting room chairs. Mine was clean, I'm happy to report. He came with what had to be a veteran mom. First-timers don't let their kids go in much for booger research, not even their own. You usually have to have three kids and get to the "it's good for their immune system" viewpoint before you issue that kind of license).

I'm always looking for anecdotes, so when I see this stuff happening, I find myself asking what sort of story this anecdote would end up in (we start with obvious stuff, like "What Veteran Moms Know" or maybe "The Ultimate Waiting Room Survival Guide" and can quickly get crazy, as in the case of "Why Boogers Are Best" which I've decided to pitch at the next PMS meeting, just to see the look of shock on my editors' faces).

Waiting rooms are also a great, cheap way to check out other magazines. Sure, I can check the competition on the newsstand, but what I really look for in waiting rooms are the weird specialty magazines that the clinic staff sometimes throw into the mix. This time around I found a fascinating magazine for medical students, a souped-up book-club-for-kids-catalog which mixed actual articles with their solicitations, and The New Scientist, which is the magazine I would choose to edit, if I was remotely science minded (or a booger researcher).

By the way, after a briefing bloodletting, and a two-hour wait, it was determined that the cause of my marathon fever was...some form of virus. Likely the flu. Duh. No mention of my exotic spider-anti-venin-laced blood or anything else interesting. So I left with six story possibilities to flesh out and was feeling pretty happy about the whole...til I went into work and learned one of my department editors is sick now, and it's probably my fault. Ya can't win for losing, some days.

Yours,
From Somewhere On The Masthead

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

 

In Which I Move At Fever Pitch...

This is probably going to be a short one, because I have been feeling mighty sick this past week. I have the strangest immune system. Ever since I was a little kid, I would pick up the oddest stuff. At 5, I had Scarlet Fever, for Pete's sake (right at the same time that Mary, from Little House on the Prairie, went blind from the same disease. My mom banned the show in our house for a month). When I was a boy and we moved to the Midwest for a time, I was coming down with raging fevers every three months, including a memorable stay in bed for an entire month, while I burned my way to the very edge of the thermometer (the hospital confirmed 108, during what must have been one awful night for my parents, who drove me back home literally packed in ice and proceeded to carry me to the bathtub every hour for the next week for cold baths until the fever finally broke. The doctors warned there might be brain damage, but aside from losing most of my memory of that awful month, most observers would say I turned out fairly high-functioning).

Now I have two kids of my own, and I pick up absolutely everything they bring home, so winter is pretty much a state of congestion and looking like hell for me. This year, it's starting early: last Monday, I came to work running a low-grade fever. Only 99, that's okay to go to work and infect your unwary colleagues, right? Except, as my mom pointed out--when her ESP kicked in and she realized I was sick and called me at the office to insist I go home and drink a hot lemon, or whatever--my "normal" is around 97, not the standard 98.6 the medical profession foists on us, so for me (if you can follow my mom's logic for just one painful second) 99 is more like 100.

I resisted, because last week (well, most any week) was pretty crazy, but on Thursday, my body finally gave out, and I was slumped in my chair, head on my desk, ears buzzing. I went home and learned that sneaky fever had climbed to 102. So I skipped Friday too.

Now here it is the next week and I'm feeling mostly okay, but this fever just won't quit. Even with copious amounts of Tylenol, it's still barely staying at 99, so I'm off to the medical center for a white-blood cell count.

They always find such interesting things in my blood. About 13 years ago, after a magazine story brought me back to the very midwestern town where I had the 108 fever, I came home to find large welts forming on my legs. I was 23 and indestructible, and so ignored the welts, and the odd red lines that began running from my knees to my crotch. I only went to the doctor when the woman I was seeing at the time refused to share a bed with me, my lower section was beginning to look so hideous. So off I went to the doctor, who referred me to a toxicologist, who diagnosed me as suffering from multiple poison spider bites, with a raging infection (those red lines, you know) from letting it go for a week. "People have died from just two or three of these kinds of bites," he tells me, probing the 22 welts with more than a bit of wonder. "I can't believe you're still upright." I felt great. You know, not like Peter Parker or anything, but certainly not at death's door. An antibiotic shot in the ass solved those red lines and even the welts, putting my love life to rights within the week. Eventually, I learned that I must have been bitten by the same type of spider as a child (in children, the symptoms can be flu-like, but can result in "uncontrollable fever, seizure and coma." But did those swell Kansas doctors ever do a tox screen? Of course not! Granted, I had no large welts, just one tiny one on my lip, which was dismissed as a fever blister. Just a flu. Give him cold baths every hour and make him drink a hot lemon til he slips into a coma and dies), and not only survived the experience, but ended up the better for it because when my blood tests came back, it was determined that I had an extremely high resistance to the venom of this particular spider. In short, the raging mystery illness that almost killed me at 10 would ultimately save my life at 23. No kidding. They sent a dizzying amount of my blood to lots of places and I apparently got a write-up in some obscure toxicology journal (so you see, aspiring writers, sometimes it's possible to get published without even trying!). But what I was left with was the indelible impression that sometimes, being really sick can be an awfully good thing, even if it doesn't feel that way at the time.

That's what I'll be thinking about today, anyway, as they drain my blood yet again to see why I'm moving at this fever pitch.

Yours,
From Somewhere On The Masthead

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

 

In which the blather continues unabated...

So I was having a slow day today at the RBM (Really Big Magazine, for those of you keeping score at home), and I'm also way wigged out now that actual persons are reading this. Once I know I have an audience, be it 10 of millions of magazine readers or one or two blogophiles, it's awful hard for me to shut my mouth.

Today was a bit of an easy-breather, at least until my 4 o'clock meeting with the Chief (who I admire just about as much as I've admired anyone in this business, but who is there still a wee intimidating to me. She wanted me to write something--but fast--for the issue that we're milliseconds from closing, and already in my time here I have gained a not-as-yet-quite-earned reputation for nailing copy together, queek like de bunny. It's my own fault for banging out a 1500 word story in one afternoon my second week on the job. I was a smoldering husk when it was over, but still...). I think I know what she wanted, so I used spare moments here and there to slap together a rough outline and check with a few reliable experts on the topic. If they all call me back tomorrow (and remember, when you work for the RBM, everyone calls you back), I might be able to get all my reporting done by lunch and possibly (here's where I jinx myself) have a first draft to the chief by the end of business tomorrow.

I take no pride in that kind of hackwork (okay, I take a little pride. It's cool when your boss gives you that struck-with-a-board look when you hand him a story he assigned to you as a formless concept a mere 24 hours earlier). It's something my brethren in the newspaper trade would accept as part of the job. That's why I got out of newspapers fast. Magazine deadlines are tough enough (no, they don't happen only once a month. Here, we have a rolling set of weekly and daily deadlines that I would explain in more detail, but I actually would rather you READ this blog, not nod off in its glow).

PMS last week was actually not too insane. I was first at bat and had 5 story ideas to pitch. Three were green-lighted immediately, one was deemed interesting, but requiring more work in a specific direction and will be re-presented next month, and one was flat out rejected.

Of course, the one that was flat-out rejected was my favorite. Perfect for us, I thought. But the Chief is above all things the Last Word on the Vision of the Magazine, and the spirit medium of What the Reader Wants, so it's her call.

I'm not being sarcastic here. A great editor in chief has to be the living avatar of what the reader wants. She's got to know it better than anyone--better than the readers, even--otherwise, those readers abandon you, newsstand sales slump, subscriber bases plummet, and suddenly your sales staff is offering 2-for-1 ad deals.

And yet...it's hard to let a good story idea go. Next month, if I get any other ideas swatted, perhaps I could suggest that, instead of the Christmas gifts that are typically bestowed to staff, she might instead issue editors some Automatic Idea Acceptance coupons, redeemable whenever we have a story we can't let go of.

Instead, I'll probably just get a fruit basket.

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead

 

In Which I Find A Reader (and Feel As One Who Is Without Pants)

Oh my!

Well, first, I must give the big shout-out to Jack Feerick, well-regarded Barbelith alum, beloved curmudgeon of the ether, and wise blogger (http://jackfear.blogspot.com) on all matters great and small, even as small as this little 1-month old blog.

I'm both humbled by the big man's attention and, now, just feeling a little exposed. I haven't really made any effort to get this thing noticed. Truth be told, it started as a kind of half-baked stress therapy, a release valve for my pent-up annoyances and thoughts, week to week. But hell, now people might actually click over here and read it.

And by the way, the reason there are no reciprocal links to Jack's blog (or anything else online) is because I'm so stupid/new at this, I haven't figured out how to embed links in my copy.

That will change, I swear. And when I go back to add links and such, I'll have to wrestle with the eternal question: Should I also go back and correct all my stupid little typos and word repetitions? I mean, I'm an editor at a fricking magazine, for crissakes. Surely I should be professional enough to fix my errors, lest I injure my credibility with my readership (all 1 of him).

Except...I have to remember this is for me first and foremost. And for this exercise to be valuable for me, I've got to give myself permission to write off the top of my head and post before I can change my mind. Even if it mens mking situpid nistakes.

More about surviving PMS soon.

Yours,
From Somewhere On The Masthead

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