Tuesday is pagination day at the paper. The day on which I construct the words and pages and pictures puzzle that becomes a newspaper. Each week, a tiny miracle, when the paper is done and I can breathe again. Around about 4 p.m. each Tuesday, my brain is fried into a puddle of what resembles mashed potatoes without milk, clumpy and gray. This week, I’m training a new staff reporter I’ll call A, which added another dimension, an element of the teaching I love.
This past Tuesday, A woke me up. It was a simple thing, like a bolt of lightning is simple, like a human organism is, because it’s all just a bunch of cells really, and what’s the big deal?
He came into my office with a face-wide smile.
“That was fun,” he said.
And I’ve been thinking about it, ever since. Because it is supposed to be fun, this work. And it is, when I stop to really think about it, when I take a second to feel the pearls that slip between the rocks that are angry phone calls, administration difficulties, the myriad of issues that arise in a paper, in a life.
A’s comment made me sit up and think about why I’m doing this journalism thing, why I’m clinging to the driftwood of a dying industry. Because you know what?
It is fun.
Or it is, when I let it be.
Fourteen years old. Early 2000’s, era of butterfly clips and tracphones. I saw my name in print for the first time, in The Buffalo News, as a teen correspondent. The butterflies in my hair marched down my spine, as I saw me in crinkly, unwieldy paper. My name, in ink. For years, that feeling persisted, every time I opened the weekly teen section in which I wrote features, music and movie reviews. Every time I put together the school paper which became my brainchild.
But somewhere between journalism school, my first internships at newspapers, magazines and news websites, jobs in PR and as a reporter, and finally, taking the helm at my hometown paper, I lost that tingle. Somehow, as my clip file and my resume grew, my curiosity fell away, replaced by a soul-deep cynicism I hardly noticed.
“I’m a naturally curious person who likes telling stories,” A told me over lunch, his first day.
Long-latent butterflies tickled my esophagus, and I smiled.
“Me too,” I said.
My boyfriend had a post-it note stuck to his computer monitor that said “Make something.” I made a painting for the wall next to it, saying the same thing. The letters are made out of newsprint and glitter. Newsprint because I make a newspaper for a living, glitter because I believe creativity should sparkle. But A reminded me of the days when I made newspapers for fun, before rent, before student loans, before angry readers who called me names over a mistake in the paper. He reminded me that, before I became so mired in the politics, budget worries, stomach-twisting stress that accompanies my position, I started doing this for fun.
Shortly after that conversation, I read a quote on the Internet (where I read most things, I’m half ashamed to say) that read, “Every day, have a little fun.”
You know what? Today, I’m going to have fun at work. Tomorrow, too. I’m going to make it a conscious effort, until it doesn’t have to be anymore. When I started on this journalism road, my spirit glittered with the zeal to create. I wanted to change lives, mostly my own. It was an adventure. It still is, but I’d stopped seeing it. I lost the forest for the rotting trees that fell on my enthusiasm, drowning out the joy with grumbling leaves.
That’s an overwrought metaphor, but this isn’t an inverted pyramid kind of essay. It’s just a proclamation that A reminded me why I started, and why I’m keeping on steering this boat until it becomes a dingy, then a piece of wood, then a life vest. It’s not a promise, or a vow. Just an observation, a little squeak in the wilderness.
You know. For fun.