Once upon a time — it’s been so long it almost seems like a fairy tale at this point — I had a little newspaper column.
It was typically buried inside the features section called Home + Life, which a reader once joked to me was always stuck to his classifieds. It — the column — and the whole section, actually, was the kind of thing hardcore, grizzled newspaper types considered cotton candy, cute and sugary but no substance.
To have a column is kind of a big deal. You have to have a name, a following, sometimes focus groups weigh in. You don’t just start one up. But, that’s what I did. What we did. It was totally rogue and under the radar and glorious. Here’s how it went down: There was yet another round of layoffs, and our once robust, fully stocked features department shrank. Again. When I started working at the paper, probably 25-30 people put out a daily features section, a separate food section, a once-weekly entertainment magazine along with two, fat Sunday pull-outs for features and homes. Over the almost 20 years I was in features, people were let go, sections cut and we ended up a rag-tag team of five. Our editor was relocated, which meant we were a small band of journalists left without adult editorial supervision. That’s when it happened.
“You should write a column,” my coworker Kathy urged.
I blew her off. “No one wants to read that.”
But, she was the little devil with a pen and notebook sitting on my left shoulder who kept egging me on. So one day, I had some time to kill and I wrote a column — mostly for Kathy’s amusement — and sent it to her.
She sprang into action.
“This is great! We’re running it Sunday. I’m going to ask Fitz to do a cartoon. What should we call it? You should come up with a title.”
Hard to believe this woman doesn’t drink coffee. And boom, like that Minivan Momologues — the best I could come up with on such short notice — was born.
Kathy pushed me to write every week. I was still ambivalent about the whole thing. We settled on every other week, alternating with the much beloved longtime columnist I had grown up reading. It was an honor to share space with her.
I don’t know that management realized what we’d even done. No one said anything, and the column did fill space and come with art, always a bonus in the newspaper world. It felt pretty liberating — like I was off-leash. I got to goof around in a way I couldn’t in a regular story.
Sometimes I was on autopilot and the words just flowed. Other times, it was painful trying to eke out each and every darn letter to string together just one sentence. One day, though, I realized that even when I didn’t have a plan, I never enjoyed writing as much as I did when putting together that column. I didn’t get into politics or anything deep and divisive, it was just supposed to be good, clean family fun — at the expense of my own family. It felt like I found my purpose — to make people laugh a little and maybe forget about the nastiness on the front page for a minute or two. And, here’s the selfish truth: It was therapeutic. The little things that drove me insane at home, I could poke fun at in the column and all of a sudden, they weren’t as I’m-just-going-to-run-away-from-home annoying.
Then one day, most of the department — which had been whittled down to four people, really 3.5 because I worked part time — was called in for a meeting. Pages were cut, so was my column.
And I thought it sucked to try on jeans after Thanksgiving.
I always knew it would end at some point, but I was hoping it would be on my terms, when I was done. Still, it did take a lot of pressure off because when you care about something that much, you always worry about screwing it up.
Turned out, I missed the column. Terribly. So I decided to keep on writing it. Of course, then I decided to ruin things by trying to get these columns published in a book. Shopping a manuscript to publishers is every bit as fun as post-Thanksgiving jeans shopping AND swimsuit shopping together, all rolled into one glorious, ego-deflating exercise.
I’ve racked up quite a few rejections, including one from the editor who dismissed the columns as too short and about nothing* when I even specifically said they’re supposed to be light and breezy for today’s 21st century attention spans and about life’s seemingly little moments that really aren’t that little. She’s probably 25 and can fit into her jeans and wear a bikini and — not to be dismissive — she can’t possibly know anything about life.
What is the whole point of this post? Well, I guess I’m trying to explain why this blog has seemed kinda haphazard lately. I feel like I need to find my purpose again, figure out what makes me feel accomplished and fulfilled — that is, aside from driving my kids everywhere and letting the dogs in and out every 5 minutes, which are currently my main purposes in life. I need to get my groove back and I’m not quite sure how to do that since Taye Diggs** already follows me on Twitter and yet I’m still not feeling any better. Or sexier.
Maybe some really good, flattering stretchy pants would help my mood….
*Obviously she is too young to have watched “Seinfeld.”
**Yes, I know he apparently follows everyone on Twitter. And, please don’t make me have to explain that that was an old movie reference to the 1998 flick “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” which I think may have been the last movie Taye Diggs made.
3 thoughts on “The Little Column That Could… For a Little While, Anyway”
Loved this. Do share a few pieces from your column, too. I am all for such sharing; there’s enough of politics and other serious/ saddening news. What we need is something that lightens us, gives us the I’m-not-alone feeling needed to sail through life.
Totally agree, Jaya! For old columns, you can click on “Minivan Momologues” on the menu bar. That has a selection of my faves. Thanks for reading!
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