Work Too Much

newspaper pileYou work too much, she says.

She is twelve years old, but she still addresses me in one plaintive syllable: Mom. She doesn’t have that drawl yet, the one so heavy with annoyance and angst that the word stretches out and hangs there: Mo-om.

She still wants me around.

***

You work too much, he says.

His voice is sweet at age 9. A half hour of speech therapy per week has not hardened him. The word rolls off his preoccupied tongue without the “r” so it sounds like wuk. Hearing it sometimes triggers a feeling that he’s still young, that I haven’t missed so much, that there’s plenty of time.

He still needs me.

***

You work too much, he says.

He is angry because he has to do it all, on top of his own full-time job: the driving and the coaching and the shopping and the heating of two DiGiorno pizzas at 425 degrees for 22 minutes. The scheduling and the RSVPs. The will you be home tonight texts that are too often met with nope. He is bitter because I am stressed all the time. Even when I’m not working, I can’t get it out of my head.

He’s not sure why he still cares.

***

I am a journalist. That looks good on paper, but you don’t have to read too far below the fold to find out I work for a small weekly newspaper that’s unrecognizable outside its coverage area. The paper has no internet presence to speak of, which means articles disappear within the boundaries of my two small towns almost as soon as they’re printed. I write about budgets, new businesses and high school musicals. Sometimes I catch officials in lies or explosive arguments. I cover cops and courts.

Having worked for a daily publication, I realize my current reporting gig is as close to family-friendly as I’m going to get in this field. My editor and publisher are supportive. I have three days off. My deadline is once a week instead of once a day. Sometimes I can wait that extra 24 or 48 hours for new information to emerge – or to uncover it.

Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, was once asked if he thought there were a lot of undiscovered government conspiracies out there. He responded by saying the central dilemma of journalism is that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” It’s a simple truth that puts in context my professional and personal predicament, which is that I’ve never been satisfied with not knowing. Cluelessness just makes me dig deeper across a wider expanse.

There is no proportion to what I do: I am as committed to covering my towns (combined population: 22,000) as I would be if I were working in a major city or covering the White House.

My daughter, son and husband find this unnecessary. They may have a point.

They don’t care about councils or selectmen or zoning regulations in towns fifteen miles away.  Municipal water issues, with literal and metaphorical implications lurking below the surface, don’t interest them. It doesn’t matter one way or the other if the abandoned psychiatric facility near the river stays vacant another ten years. The “Come On Over” sign at the end of the bridge isn’t for them.

They just want me home more.

***

I work too much, I know.

I could probably find something in public relations with a more traditional schedule and more money. Or I could stop trying so hard: I could write faster, ask fewer questions and then leave it all in the newsroom at the end of the day. But neither of those options involve the work I truly enjoy doing, and enjoy doing well.

I still love my job.

 

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Catching Up

Introspection for me exists in the space between my fingers and the keyboard; it’s in the junction of my thumb and forefinger, where the pen sits comfortably as it bleeds blue on the page.

I feel so much older than I was last time I blogged. I have more wrinkles; I have less time.

It’s only been six years but, looking back, it strikes me as a harder half-dozen than I realized.

I took up journalism in that time. I woke up one morning as a stay-at-home mom and went to bed that night as a reporter. Apropos of nothing, I designed my own little local news website and started covering small-town New England staples like board of selectmen meetings and package store fires.

All I had to do was show up as a state trooper killed a questionably-armed man, and it turned out I had myself a portfolio.

It wasn’t long before I landed a job at a daily newspaper. I lasted about a year, then moved over to the state capitol to cover a legislative session. I took a step back from the daily grind several years ago into the world of weekly reporting for a free newspaper that covers a bunch of towns the larger papers no longer care about. It’s not glamorous, but it’s important.

There’s more than that, of course. I could write about it, but the story is more meandering than I want to be in my inaugural post. I’m going for pithy here. See, I’m a reporter now. My cadence has changed; it’s more staccato. I pick a theme and I stick to it. I can delve deeper in the next story.

On the cusp of my 40th year, some things remains the same. I still want words that flow into each other so prettily they make my ideas look better than they are.

Introspection for me exists in the space between my fingers and the keyboard; it’s in the junction of my thumb and forefinger, where the pen sits comfortably as it bleeds blue on the page. I don’t know myself as well when I’m not writing about my life.

A friend of mine reminded me of this as she redoubled her own blogging efforts recently. It came back to me suddenly: the sense of self, of community and of permanence that I found among so many others when I was a new mom blogging about things like endless car rides through rural Connecticut with a sleeping infant in the back seat.

The difference is, I had time back then. I must make time now.