The long goodbye, part 2By Wade Kwon
The second of a two-part tale of how I lost my company and gained the world. (part 1)
– – –
After a few hours sleep, I head into the office earlier than usual, just to lend a hand before deadline.
I’ve run the newsroom before, so morning duty isn’t that big a deal. You get a first and last look at the breaking news on A1 (what we call the front page) and Metro.
Even with all the planning, all the advance work, sometimes you gotta hustle on deadline, and today, Sept. 23, was no exception. Let’s go out on a high note.
And, like that, we were in.
A few passed around their copies, asking people to sign them. Life really is like high school.
A couple of colleagues confessed to crying on the way in, listening to the local public radio station’s report on the end. I’ve told kids considering newspaper journalism to think hard about the decision: You won’t get rich, and you’re going into a dying industry. Sometimes, you call it right.
At this point, we just needed to get packed up before they kicked us out at 5 p.m. But the morning had a bright spot. My part-time assistant, Katie, is graduating from college next year. Smart as a whip, she has a bright future. I teased her off and on because she was in the running to be on college “Jeopardy!” (further than I made it when I tried out many years ago), though the producers never called her back.
That morning, she was interviewing to become a Rhodes Scholar. She told us she blew it, stressed out from the paper’s shutdown. But she got the call: She would be her university’s Rhodes Scholar finalist, advancing to the next round. If she’s one of four selected from the area, she’ll be a Rhodes Scholar — and I wouldn’t bet against her.
We finally got our lunch together, the three of us. No war stories, just a last wistful meal in Southside, minus one colleague.
Walking back to the car, I stopped in at a bar to let a friend in on the news. When I told her I was cleaning out my desk, she thought it was because I had landed a job at the New York Times. She hadn’t heard about the paper closing.
Even if I were to deny it, a dying industry.
• • •
Sometimes, you grow weary of a place, fighting the same battles day in and out. Or you grow tired of one or two people — that’s really all it takes to turn work from a place to focus your passion to a pleasant distraction to a dreaded 9-to-5 yoke. These last few months, I couldn’t wait to get out. I know there’s a place for me out there, but it would take time and energy to draw it out.
Even in the wake of newspaper to no newspaper, I would give anything to see that my colleagues find their dream jobs. I won’t lose sleep over my own employment, but I will lose sleep over them. I’d hate for them to jump at the first job that comes along, only to regret it three months later.
For some, they need that paycheck sooner rather than later. If I can assist them, then my time is well spent. I can’t not help, it’s not even a question.
I’ve been blessed with some skills and connections that can help others out. It would be selfish to keep that to myself. It would be wrong.
• • •
I’m no martyr. I’ll happily take the right job when I find it. I just don’t have to find it right now, and frankly, I’m not sure I’d recognize it if it slapped me in the face.
But the future is wide open for me. I have many ideas, many directions, and a chance to do some great things: write, volunteer, travel, network, cook, decorate, learn, teach.
And I recognize some things that need doing. Let’s face it: My life was a considerable mess long before the newspaper closed its doors. I didn’t always take the best care of myself. My house is a disaster area, one that will require many hours of cleaning and painting and you name it. I was trouble fulfilling my commitments in the community. I need exercise, self-discipline, a schedule and organization.
I’ve never liked being judged on how I spend my time, my money, my resources — who does? Yet I feel the scrutiny more intensely than ever. Just let me be. I’ll handle it. I’ll take care of it. I’ll never show up on your doorstep looking for a handout.
But just please let me be.
• • •
After lunch that last Friday, the office is even more nuts. Remember those indignities? We no longer have access to the computers, which meant 20-year veterans couldn’t save their stories and photos crucial to landing the next job.
A few more old hands show up for the wake, such that it is. It’s reassuring that at least one is ready to hire.
Job notices have been pouring in, and it’s all we can do to get them passed along to staff right away. No excuses: These folks are good and need work.
Little is left to do, except clean up, tie up odds and ends, wish each other well. I had slapped together a quick mailing list for we could network online, a crucial step in finding those perfect next jobs, or at least, cheering each other on. I already had plans for the weekend, to go to the annual film festival and see my friends’ hard work up on screen. The rest could wait.
I left the office late in the day, knowing I’d still have to come back the following week for more cleanup work. Getting out would be harder than expected.
• • •
The film festival was fun, though I was worn out going in. Couple that with the well-meaning barrage of pity hellos, and even relaxation was turning into impromptu networking and PR. Naturally, I couldn’t even get a pity lay out of it. Pity.
Before that was a round of drinks or three at The Garage. We talked about what was next, how to keep in touch, the joy and the sorrow. And like any good office get-together, we had cake.
At the rounds of parties at the film fest, I heard from longtime readers. I feel better knowing that at least for some, we made a difference. Democracy needs many voices, and the silencing of one is a threat to our freedom. We had but a tiny voice, but someone heard us.
• • •
We weren’t wiped out by a hurricane, we just lost our jobs. I realize that the pressure is greater for those who must support loved ones, and that I’m very fortunate to have some flexibility in my plans.
And I have mad perspective. Life goes on. My friend Kenn won his first screenwriting award at the festival, one long overdue for his considerable talents. And my friend Joe, who went to school with me for six years, who lived in New Orleans for more than 10 years, e-mailed me to let me know if I needed anything, to call him.
Let me tell you something: He told me some horrific stories of his post-Katrina life. Two of his coworkers are presumed dead. His entire city’s future is uncertain, but he wants to go back and help his company, his friends, his neighbors, his community rebuild.
And he still reached out to me. God bless him.
Losing a job ain’t nothing, my friends, compared to what the world can throw at you. Don’t you dare believe otherwise.
So this past week, I went to career counseling. I went to the office and tossed more files in the trash. I asked people about their plans, then sent out e-mails on their behalf. I went to the dentist and the eye doctor to max out benefits.
And I put off writing this closing note.
It was triage in a busy week. Network, investigate, bounce ideas off people, critique resumes and let people know we can help.
The coming days are filling up. I need to work on my career plan, on reaching out to everyone in shouting distance to network, to revise my resume, to focus my energies on things I want, things I love.
This note is an indulgence, a way to close out the previous chapter and move on to the next one. I thank you for staying with me this far.
When I came to the Post-Herald on Aug. 1, 1996, I was a kid hungry to learn the business. The newspaper became an afternoon paper on Aug. 5. I started out as a copy editor/page designer who quickly made friends in the newsroom and became closer to the friends I already had there.
On Jan. 20, 1998, I became features editor, much to my surprise. I wasn’t nearly ready for the role, and made many mistakes in learning how to be an editor, a follower, and a leader. A few months later, I began writing a weekly column, as I had done at previous publications.
Like that, I had achieved my biggest goals.
Over time, I settled nicely into my role, while still looking for ways to grow while improving the newspaper. Part of my readiness to move on was outgrowing the position. I needed new aspirations, new challenges.
Looks like I’ve got those by the fistful now.
If I’m the last among us to land a job, I can think of worse things. But in the meantime, I’ll be drawing upon your good wishes, your contacts, your job leads, your help in many forms.
You’ll be hearing from quite a bit in the coming weeks, tapping you for whatever. You’ll know exactly what I’m looking for, either for myself or a trusted colleague.
I’m calm, simply because I’d rather choose my destiny rather than worry and waver.
Naturally, I want to hear what you’ve been up to lately. I just learned recently that my new dear friends Christina and Chris are expecting.
It’s funny how that matters more to me than these other mundane tasks.
Again, thanks for your indulgence. Write me when you can, though I’ll be keeping you posted as we go along.
And, take care.