Go Vote on Tuesday

Tuesday just can’t come fast enough.

For Tuesday is Presidential Election Day in the United States.

A day we’ll go behind closed doors and vote our preferences, then wait to learn who are the winners and who are the losers.

Regardless of your political affiliations, if you’re at all like me, you’ll be glad to see this whole mess end.

Far too long, we’ve been inundated with ads. With finger-pointing and name-calling.

“He said…”

“No, she said…”

“Well, he meant…”

And so it goes.

While some people have genuinely followed the whole process — listening in on candidates’ forums, watching debates, researching the issues — others made up their minds early and now turn a deaf ear to anything that might be contradictory.

In this country, that’s their right.

I hate to sound like a curmudgeon (and perhaps things have always gotten ugly in election years), but it seems to me that this one has been nastier than others from the past.

More rumors. More lies. More money frittered away when people are hurting.

And fewer places to turn for unbiased, factual reporting.

Most of you know I was trained as a journalist. “Fair” and “impartial” were our bywords long before FOX News adopted them and ran with them.

Sad to say, I wouldn’t fit in with the profession any more, so it’s a good thing I got out when I did.

Journalists used to be proud of being told, “You call ’em like you see ’em.”

Now it’s all about money. Ad revenues. Staying on the good side of those in power.

But I digress.

What’s important is that we still have the privilege of voting. Of being a small part of the electoral process. Of feeling like we matter.

For we do, you know.

Every vote counts. If you doubt that, ask the person who stayed home, only to learn his candidate lost by one vote.

So GO VOTE. Our forefathers fought and lost their lives that we might have that right. Surely they deserve not only our gratitude but also our exercising of the rights they sought to preserve.

Possible End of an Era

It nearly breaks my heart what’s happening to my former profession of journalism.

Once upon a time, newspapers were a training ground for wanna-be writers. Often-crusty editors whipped into line whole generations of young reporters, fresh from J-school with stars in their eyes and hopes of uncovering corruption. Another Watergate, perhaps.

And maybe even winning a Pulitzer in the bargain.

When I recall how naive we all were, how patient our editors were in teaching us the things we didn’t know, I have to smile.

My first “real” job out of college was as a reporter for an evening daily newspaper in Texas, covering what was deemed the “dinner circuit.” Every day, I’d be treated to lunch or dinner with one or another service club (Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.), and I’d gather information about their members for inclusion in a twice-weekly column I wrote. Birthdays, anniversaries, funny stories, all were fodder for my columns. Evenings, I attended meetings — area city councils, transportation boards, etc. — then wrote up a news story for publication in the next day’s paper.

My bosses lived on Maalox and cigarettes, chugging the former like water and puffing until clouds of smoke hung overhead (some even lit a new one before finishing the old).

The tapping of keyboards, the rushing around of reporters, the clanging of telephones — a newsroom wasn’t a quiet oasis! But the sharing of ideas and stories and humor, the excitement of hearing something new before anybody else heard it, the camaraderie, made it a fascinating and fabulous place to work.

Every once in a while, we’d hear of a colleague who was penning “the great American novel” in his or her free time. Or one who had aspirations of swapping newspaper reporting for magazines. Or public relations. Or for some politician’s press corps.

Our digital age has changed lots of that.

Maybe the saddest change is an announcement by The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. They plan to cut back publication this fall to just three days a week. After 175 years of service.

If that happens, NOLA will be the largest city in the U.S. without a daily paper.

Sure, printing revenues are down. But cutting the newsroom staff by a whopping 50 percent in favor of an online version? In a city where many residents don’t even have Internet connections?

The marketing department will be slashed to one person. Special section employees, library, and human resources — all cut. Pressroom severed by nearly 40 percent.

I never worked for the T-P, but having worked on other newspapers for about two decades, I can easily put faces to these statistics. They could have been my friends, my colleagues. We could have laughed together and shared successes.

Now I’m crying for them, their families, New Orleans, and my old profession.

Something special is dying.

An “ah-ha” moment!

I spent much of today with a writer friend of mine, and right before I was to leave, I had a stunning revelation!

The reason I’m struggling so hard to express my creativity lies in years and years of daily journalism.

Ah-ha!

Yesterday, I was an editor’s dream. My grammar was spot on, my punctuation perfect, my facts checked and re-checked, my copy was readable, tight, and in perfect inverted pyramid format. I didn’t need to be creative, or think about word count, or wonder if someone was going to buy or read my story — I had a ready-made audience, and I became so practiced at what I did that it wasn’t much of a challenge any more.

Time to tackle a new objective, writing a novel.

Now, you might think that since I’ve written practically my entire life, a novel would be a cake-walk.

You’d be wrong.

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever undertaken.

Besides handling the basics — grammar, punctuation, spelling, research — I’ve learned I have to worry about plot, structure, dialog, point of view, first lines that “hook,” resolving all brought-up issues, characterization, timeline, setting, tension, denouement, final chapters that resonate with readers, and a gazillion other things while I’m writing.

Suddenly, there’s no magic formula other than “show, don’t tell.”

So I’m tackling this project the same way I usually tackle something new — researching the daylights out of it, soaking up as much information as possible from others more experienced than I, and practicing, practicing, practicing!

This struggle to free myself from the constraints of “formulaic” prose is frustrating. Why can’t I slap words on a page like my writing friend and have them mean something, tell a story, invoke feelings? What happened to the creativity I exhibited as a child? What can I do to get it back?