Six Minutes Is Not A Story

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Before I lost my job amid the corporate shuffle of a 21st Century newsroom, I spent 15 years working to become the writer my philosophy professor declared I would never be.

Since then I’ve learned that some nights are sleepless, filled with thoughts of undeveloped stories; colors are more willing to reveal their secrets; conversations are fodder for unwritten fiction; and people are often characters who may or may not make it to a page. Most importantly, I’ve learned that time passes too quickly.

I like to think of myself as an observer of “la belle vie,” the beautiful life. Sometimes it’s why I’m so critical of the everyday world and its sloppy abuses of nature. I see the hourglass unapologetically draining its sand while so many people never see those millions of unique specks glistening in the sun.

Even as a writer-in-progress (I like to think I’m still progressing) I didn’t truly value my own surroundings until I began to meet the people who lived the stories I wanted to tell.

From the centenarian who remembered riding in her first car—one with tasseled window curtains and a rumble seat—to the nonagenarian with flowing silver hair, her mind locked away while her voice echoed Bible verses and the Songs of God laid upon her heart during a bygone Sunday Service, I learned most everyone has a story that wants to be told.

In today’s technological hustle and flow, articles and even works of fiction are churned out by the hundreds every hour. Most of them, despite their value in Likes or Upvotes, carry nothing more than a superficial, glittering half-life filled with typos and generalities gathered from other likeminded resources around the Web.

Last week, having clicked one I couldn’t help notice below the headline, even before the author’s name, the article’s “Average Read Time.”

“Six minutes,” it stated in bold type. Because life’s so busy we have to microwave our knowledge like a Hot Pocket?

Maybe a six-minute read makes for good time management, but considering that the general public’s ability to retain only 10 percent of what it reads, I thought less of the story, its relevance and ultimately the person who wrote it.

Unfortunately, one of our most valuable tools for free speech, the Blogosphere, has introduced the world to uninformed citizen journalism. Despite authors who use it to weave the fabric of their stories, many self-proclaimed writers are only in it for the Five Steps to Online Success:

Step 1: Grab a topic; Step 2: Google some details; Step 3: Make them readable; Step 4: Click “Publish;” Step 5: Get followers to obtain “Guru” status and win a Pulitzer on “How to Knit Socks For Cats.”

Meanwhile, most of them think George Washington was the first King of England and the Cold War was about life below 40 degrees.

Six minutes isn’t a story. That’s time to become involved in content and want to learn more. Not journalism. Sadly, that seems to be the approach that works for Pop culture.

Real stories are seldom found in fashion tips and trending hashtags. They’re in the careworn faces and calloused hands of the everyday woman and man. It takes longer than six minutes to read about their songs and listen to their tall tales, hear a tremble in their vocal cords, eager to tell their stories. And it’s up to us to get it right.

 

 

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Carport Caddyshack Moment

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So, I’m sitting in my vehicle under the carport, texting, with my door open when I hear an animal trotting quickly around the house.

I don’t have any animals.
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I look to my left and here comes this big ol’ groundhog waddle-running, and its about to jump in my car!

I held out my hand like I thought a Supremes dance move would stop it or something. He halted, looked, sniffed, and jumped onto the stoop next to the car.

That stoop, by the way, is half a hop away from the inside of my car.

He looked me in the eyes, wiggled his nose, and at this point I was waiting on, “Good day, sir. Fancy weather we’re having isn’t it?”

So, I slammed to car door, hissed (like crazy person noises would really spook him after my killer dance moves meant nothing), and he ran on down the driveway like he was late for a business meeting.

“Have you found a job yet?”

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“Have you found a job yet?”

It’s the single-most annoyingly answered question I’ve been presented with since “My Professional Hindenburg,” better known as April 7, 2017 or the day I was laid off work.

So, to answer some of those burning questions about my ongoing job search that keep filtering into my texts and inbox, here’s a mini-presser:

1) No, I haven’t found one.

2) Because I’m not desperate enough to take the night shift turning fries at McD’s…at least not yet.

3) Yes, I’m still looking. Every. Single. Day.

4) No, there’s absolutely nothing local except turning fries at McD’s.

5) No, I don’t want to go back, ever. Evaaar.

Thank you all for coming. I’m available for interviews.

My Professional Hindenburg: The day I lost my job

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It was 9 a.m. on a typical Friday. All six members of our skeleton crew knew someone from corporate was headed over.

Our company was under new ownership by the Wizard of Oz—a big head with no name—and big changes were constantly being made around the Emerald City, but we shrugged off the visit with uncertainty.

“Maybe it’s some health insurance thing.”

“Maybe it’s one of us.”

“Maybe it’s all of us.”

[Silence.]

As I edited material for the coming week, my phone rang. It was 9:30.

“That was fast,” I said to myself, answering.

“Hey, can you come up to my office for a minute,” the boss asked.

I placed the receiver on the handset and turned to look at the only other full-time newsroom employee. We sort of grinned, stunned maybe, and stared at each other.

“Well,” I said.

“You…,” he questioned.

“We’ll see,” I said, but I could feel certainty wash over me.

It was a long walk up that hallway. Passing the water cooler, with its dusty blue faucets that leaked a little, I thought briefly as I did every morning about how I was the only one who really drank any water from there anymore. Through the worn Dutch door with ink stains on the knob and a sign exclaiming “Employees Only” I walked, knowing that sign would harbor a different meaning when I passed it again.

There was nothing I could do, and I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be.

A decade of mental sweat equity had put me in the editor’s chair six years ago.

The role had been a lengthy construction project that included a foundation in public relations, walls built of writing and graphic design, budget and payroll, and numerous hats worn from Historian to Preservationist for one of the state’s oldest newspapers.

Toward the end it also included daily doses of debasement with constant angst in my spirit. Nevertheless, that Friday wasn’t the way it was supposed to end, at least not now and not on someone else’s terms.

Ten years ago, as a staff writer I wondered if five years was too long to stay in one place, but I took an immense amount of pride in my position. It landed me a promotion to Features Editor.

As I climbed the corporate ladder to second-in-command, Managing Editor, I hung blue ribbons on each rung having won several honors for my work. I even earned props from the legislature, and it felt good. Not power trip good, but good to know I was making a difference and my peers appreciated it, even when my superiors didn’t.

It was my life’s station to pen feel-good, fluffy features about Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Jane Q. Public—many of whom were octogenarians, even centenarians, who had barely left our rural region—who held treasured stories of bygone days that would’ve otherwise been untold, save a solitary name in an obituary headline. It was my responsibility to make them feel good and preserve a small piece of their hometown legacy for everyone to remember.

The pay was always measly. I won’t lie and say it was ever good. It wasn’t even on par with the regional scale, but the sense of personal responsibility to the public was all mine. I earned it through attending many a late-night meeting, driving many a mile to get there, and learning many a lesson about every…single…terribly exciting, and tearfully boring, facet of the publishing industry.

Making my way down the hall that Friday morning, all that work—those years of mental preparation, looking forward to a future emblazoned with my own logo and letterhead—seemed very far away and out of reach.

The boss’ door, closed when I arrived, was difficult to maneuver. I first saw a long, cold conference table waiting at the other end of the room. The execution chamber was flanked by two henchmen. My boss sat quietly, head bowed, eyes staring into the table’s faux wood grain. HR shuffled a few papers in-hand and smiled blankly as if to follow some Stepford protocol.

“Get you a seat,” one said. I can’t remember who.

I sat and immediately exhaled, realizing I’d held my breath for the better part of a minute. Grinning in their general direction, I wondered what the breeze outside would feel like against my flushed face.

The conversation didn’t last long, standard and scripted.

“As you know [ABC Corporation] has been making some cuts, and as much as I hate to say it your position is one of those,” said one.

“We want you to know this is not a reflection on you or your abilities,” said the other. “It’s companywide….” The rest of their spiel blended with the swooshing in my head.

“When does this start,” I interjected.

“Unfortunately, it’s today,” HR replied, “Effective immediately.”

In the eggshell-colored blankness on the wall behind them, my brain projected a home movie of the corporate ladder I’d been climbing. I watched it catch fire as I prepared to free fall.

In reality, the scene was very anti-climactic though it was my professional Hindenburg.

I started building my helium dirigible 20 years ago, when my college philosophy professor told me I would never even amount to a mediocre writer. So, I became an award-winning editor, but that’s another story for another day.

“Pack up and go” is all I heard, despite the empathetic smiles, vacuous niceties and empty promises of a Going Away lunch the following week.

I’m still waiting for that pro bono pizza, or at least some published acknowledgement that the community’s feel-good guy was set out on the ice flow to save the tribe.

Yes, I’m a little bitter.

I’m bitter because I had no choice; because it was sudden and in the moment; because I had to leave without a goodbye; because I didn’t get the farewell column I had planned out in my head years ago, on days when I was so frustrated with the job I loved that I wanted to scream.

I’m sad because I had to leave behind the carefully planned history of those who came before me in the hands of a corporation instead of a community.

Yet, I’m grateful for being released, sans classical allusions of wild horses yearning to roam freely.

Being laid off isn’t easy. It’s jarring.

I might not have always been satisfied. Who is? But I was comfortable; overstuffed, brown leather, reading chair in the corner of a library filled with antique books, a sleeping cat, and a glass of red wine on your side table “comfy.”

I feel like somebody stole my wine and burned my library.

Keeping my head above water is an everyday challenge and there have been days when I’ve worked harder tying up post-employment loose ends than I actually worked when I had the job.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve spent several weeks regrouping and decompressing. Now I’m rebranding, rediscovering, refreshing, and beginning to reapply.

Being laid off continues to be a push for rediscovery, and I’m still catching my breath.

It’s a little like Daddy throwing you in the ocean and saying, “Okay, son. Swim!” I’m still in a doggie paddle, but my head’s above water and my feet are kicking. We’ll see what happens when I spot some land.

International Mommas: The Women I Know

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While a surge of females are hashtagging themselves into the history books for A Day Without A Woman (#ADayWithoutAWoman) on International Women’s Day (#InternationalWomensDay) I celebrate those who stand strong in the shadows.

Everyday, I’m thankful for my momma and all of the strong, Appalachian women who came before her or stand beside her; the women who guided me and, together with my dad and grandfather, helped me become the man I am today.

I’ve never known the women of the wage gap, those who feel unequal or unheard, the bra burners, the disenfranchised, the devalued, the Middle Eastern and Third World voices who are never heard behind the veil; who can’t vote, drive, dance, or be a woman.

The only women I’ve known were stronger than most men, and they don’t or never would have put up with misogyny.

The women I know have a gentle spirit with hands that know how to hold on and love with all their heart, or smack and grab to make you mind.

The women I know? They know how to mend your cuts, tend your bruises, till the soil, lead the people and win their run for office, love their God, respect their family, shoot a pistol, ride a horse, instruct a classroom, mend a shirt, cook a mean pot of chicken and dumplings, and do most any job a man can do. … And they know it.

The women I know have always known it.

Knowing the women I know fills me with pride. It also makes me sad for women marching today; those who live lives so devalued, who feel so degraded either among themselves or their peers, that they believe it takes more than one voice to be heard and more than one body to be seen.

Trust me, if you see my momma coming at you with purpose, you don’t need a mob to tell the world we need strong women.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always known the women of the world are the glue that holds us all together.

Not only did my momma show me so, but The Bible does a fine job telling me, too. From my point of view, you could argue its finer points depending on your religion or lack thereof, but Proverbs says, “Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

That’s where I stand and this is my honor, to my momma and the women like her—the real feminists—whom I choose to praise today and always, because it’s difficult to show the world how valuable you are by taking a day off.