On life as a series of journeys and destinations
I once wrote the letter from the editor for a guide to local music, arts and theater offerings. It was an annual publication put out by a highly-regarded magazine that catered to those who, for lack of a better descriptor, had the time and money to engage in such things. I was a college student, an intern and trying to get my feet wet in the publishing industry by doing scores of menial jobs and a scant handful of exciting, fulfilling ones.
That summer was hot in the way that makes the pavement shimmer. I didn’t have a car, so my father dropped me off in the little industrial park where the magazine’s editorial offices were located and I’d stare out the venetian blinds all day as the pavement glimmered at me and I daydreamed about the smell of grass and hose water. I wore a lot of ill-fitting business clothes, that summer. I had lost a lot of weight quite suddenly and gained it back and them some with equal speed, leading to an awkward combination of too-small trousers, too-large jackets and no real understanding of what size my body was. In retrospect, that lack of self-awareness fit my position as well, because I was still pretending I knew what I was doing, I knew what I wanted and in reality, I didn’t know much of anything at all.
My days consisted of verifying contact information and season information for the locla theaters, performing arts companies and the like. I interviewed countless directors, including one who had been my chorus teacher in high school.
“Oh, you’re working for Spree now?” he said, surprise in his voice. “Still singing?”
“No, not lately,” I answered. “I’m doing this, now.”
And when it came time to write the letter, a task my editor handed down to me like a reward for not screwing up anything obvious, so far. Here, finally, was my opportunity to shine, my chance to show the world that there was a reason I wanted to be a writer and it wasn’t to fact-check phone numbers and addresses, although I couldn’t deny the importance of that task, either.
But as I sat down to write it, all I could think about was the way the venetian blinds made strips of gold across my face like I was in a prison, and the way the drudgery of the task made me think that I was slowly wasting away in the profession of my choosing, even before I began.
I thought about the insecurity of working a handful of jobs in a variety of newsrooms and how none of them felt quite right, but maybe that was because I was just an intern and therefore being given the most lowly of tasks but maybe it was really an indicator of how I felt about the profession as a whole, but there really wasn’t any reliable way to tell. Not until it was too late and in this day and age, when celebrities are getting younger every day, it almost always is.
“What a long, strange trip it’s been,” my letter began. I wrote about the experience of putting together the book, of talking to so many artistic types, a clan with which I, a theater minor and lifelong performer, felt a particular kinship. I wrote about the excitement of the upcoming arts season but I didn’t write about the fact that I, a poor college kid, almost certainly wouldn’t be able to afford all the shows I wanted to see and that it embittered me a bit, in that jealous place none of us want to admit we have, that the readers who would buy the guide took them all so much for granted.
“I don’t know if we want to start it that way,” my editor told me. “It’s a little young, isn’t it?”
“It’s the grateful dead,” I answered. “They were popular before I was born.”
The letter ran the way I wrote it.
A number of years and even more newsroom stints later, I still struggle with sumation. This website began almost a year ago, and in the midst of production for one book and final revisions of another, I all but forgot about my little corner of the internet these past few months. I decided to read through the entries again, to see what I’d said and learned and discovered along the way.
I think about life that way, and have since before I can remember. We’re all stumbling along toward a destination, even if most of us don’t know what that is. I’m thankful for those who have decided to wander with me, although some have come and gone and taken their own detours along the way. It’s a long, strange trip indeed. I can’t wait to see where the next year takes us.