When anyone talks about their work, they inevitably talk about themselves. So for you, someone kind enough to give my words your time, I make a promise: I will tell you about my work, and only about my work over the past nine years I’ve spent at City Weekly.
But, of course, the moment you hit the keypad, that promise is already broken. That promise is even harder to keep when you deal in words. Because, unless we’re talking about terrific sex, words, writing, and reading all involve one central process by which we become human. I’ve had the privilege of working with words for a long time. I’m here to tell you in all seriousness that I don’t deserve it—probably never will. But I am damned lucky.
I remember too well my father’s words when he first learned that I took a job at this crazy, struggling, urban newsweekly. “You have no health insurance?” he asked incredulously. “You mean, you really have no health insurance?”
He didn’t want to hear about this great job I landed. His mind changed shortly afterward, when our page numbers started growing, followed by job benefits.
It’s almost part of American lore and tradition to talk about the early days of a business, and how everyone struggled. But in my case, that’s painfully true. Not because I didn’t make a lot of money. After all, time is spent faster than money. So you’d better make damned sure that you enjoy what you do with your time. No, it’s because a lot of people had the patience to deal with my stupid questions and fumbling ways until I got the hang of the job, the nuances of this “profession.” (Thank you, Tom Walsh.)
I’d like to believe my work has improved with time. Anyone who works media in this town has their share of SPJ awards. So what? What never ceases to amaze is the sheer mass of stuff you learn on the job. Don’t ever let some media hack tell you they do this for some amorphous entity called “the community.” Here’s a little secret: Every writer writes for him or herself. That’s because we’re selfish bastards. We like to figure things out for ourselves. We like learning about what makes people tick.
Here’s another little secret: Media objectivity is admirable, but ultimately impossible. We make up our own minds. People by nature have opinions. Always have, always will. No wonder you hate us so much. It’s the threats, insults, phlegm and blood-oaths that I live, breathe and die for. My all-time favorite was a call from someone vowing he’d roast my head over a spit. Those touching episodes aside, moments of true discovery are the best. There is nothing more exhilarating than interviewing someone who changes your mind and outlook for the better, for purposes of a more just, loving and interesting world. Now that’s what I call living life.
The most memorable compliment I recall actually had nothing to do with my own work. Rather, it was a compliment in favor of the entire City Weekly operation. “I wasn’t so sure about moving to Salt Lake City from Wisconsin,” someone at a party told me. “But when I picked up a copy of the Weekly, I knew I could probably live here.”
Days off are hen’s-tooth rare. Chest pain is almost guaranteed. You’ll kick a dent in your desk every other week. It’s certainly not the job for anyone who cares about a relationship or family. But, deep in the center of whatever we call the heart, it’s the only job I’d ever want, the only job that makes me feel like reciting Henry V’s Saint Crispin’s Day Speech during weekday mornings. There are jobs that allow us the honor of putting our personal indentation on people, places and issues. Then there are jobs, let’s say, where people perform tasks that would more or less be the same no matter who performed them. In all honesty, I hope God above never curses me with the latter. And that’s why I should end this column and start work on another story.