Monday, May 18, 2009

Missing the mother of all reunions

I missed out on a once in a lifetime reunion this past Saturday. It was a family reunion of sorts. My journalistic family, culled from decades of those who worked at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey.

I’m sure it was one hell of a good time. Journalists—real journalists—are uniquely smart. The job requires the ability to think on a dime, absorb foreign, often complex, information at lightning speed and translate it into prose a 6th grader can understand.

My body may have been 1,200 miles south but my spirit definitely made the trip. So I can’t help reflecting on those 10 years, the most interesting work I’ve even done with some of the best people I’ve ever been privileged to know. It remains the only place I’ve worked where I felt I truly belonged.

I was late to the party at 40 years old, but fortunate enough to catch the wave at its crest and ride it in. It was a perfect journalistic storm. The paper, the people and the times melded together. As is the case, none of us knew how special—and fragile—it was.

(I was reminded of this watching The Soloist. Behind Robert Downey Jr., as he writes at his desk at the Los Angeles Times, there are continuing shots of people walking behind him pushing all their “belongings” in carts—like the homeless he is writing about—nameless journalistic victims of yet another layoff.)

The Asbury Park Press was at its zenith, among the top independent newspapers in the country, racking up awards for content and design, and about to have a Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist. (Steve Breen, who just won his second such award.)

Its Sunday circulation hovered around 200,000, ranking it second in New Jersey behind the Star-Ledger. The synergism in the newsroom was palpable. It gave me the impetus to step forward.

When an opening to write a Sunday column came about, I was a personal finance writer on the Business Desk. With my heart in feature writing, I took every opportunity to produce Sunday cover stories. Instead of submitting one of those to the editor as my audition piece, I wrote a “first column,” introducing myself and laying out the tenor of the columns to follow. It ran exactly as written.

When it ran, my world cracked open. It had only taken 20 minutes for the words to pop up on the computer screen. But in truth, it had taken three decades to write.

I was never one to keep a diary. It just seemed to me too "square" an activity past adolescence. I never did get it. What was the purpose of committing yourself to the page then squirreling it away like an emotional time capsule?

Little did I realize that in fact, I was keeping a public journal. Interspersed with commentary on current events, I shared my some of my deepest secrets. I wrote about my depression and my brother’s suicide. I admitted being raped, that the unexpected death of my father tore me apart, and how bereft my mother’s death left me. I confessed, too, that I resented the unending demands of grown children, as much as I loved them, and so on.

Strung together, they amounted to a mid-life memoir that became my second book and gave this site its name. All this before “blog” was a common four-letter word.

But I digress—as my buro chief used to say.

This is my tribute to my former colleagues, where ever you are. I lift a virtual glass to you—to US.

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