Springfield is a town where big city notions about professionalism in communication often clash with the pancake-flat provincialism of central Illinoise . . . . and lose darn near every time. It’s not the fault of anyone that this is so; that’s just the way it is. Example if “big-city-ideals boy” truly believed in the communications fastidiousness and respect for deadlines, I expect of my friends and peers, would I be heaving sighs of relief that the article I was assigned last Sunday, which I could have completed last Monday, would be completed eight days later, just one day past deadline?
The story here began the Sunday before last when I was asked to write an article which seemed so simple, I knew I could get to it in about a week and still have a week of wiggle room before the June 20 deadline. “Blue lines” for the summer issue of the American Aviation Historical Society Journal had begun to arrive from Santa Ana, California, and I wanted to clear my “plate” from that quarterly volunteer proofreading and factual error catching before I turned to Springfield Business Journal. The AAHS work was more challenging than usual, including several articles of more than 10 pages and one of 18, including bibliography. What should have been a few days’ attention to AAHS extended to more than a week, thanks to a disarming gurgitation of prose which showed excellent (“A-minus”) scholarship but would have rated what I imagine would have been a “D” for organization, source citations and style. There is room in serious history for style, but the author, a Springfield native son I used to know, wrote as stylishly as a Certificate of Death. And what I saw reached me after at least two members of the AAHS Editorial Board had taken a crack at fixing it! I went out on a limb, understanding that by the time an article reaches me, the length and content are pretty much “frozen.” The 18 pages will remain 18 pages, so whatever changes are made must result in final product that’s 18 pages. I suggested the deletion of about five long paragraphs that made a mountain out of a molehill of a minor point and the exorcising of almost two pages that had zilch to do with the subject as stated in the article title. To the editor’s credit, the two pages were kept, but reformatted as a separate sidebar article, and the five irrelevant paragraphs were shortened to just a few. The space left vacant by the major revision was filled very nicely by a reworked bibliography, a masterstroke and GOLDEN effort by Journal editor Hayden Hamilton. The rest of the issue was a breeze to proof and correct. And 90 percent of my effort was done during slow time at my employer. I found I could NOT devote the attention required for my two SBJ articles while working for dollars because I needed a place where I could concentrate without distractions. That’s why I took Thursday and Friday, the 18th & 19th, off to concentrate.
By that time, I had received (last Sunday) another SBJ article assignment. At first glance, I had more faith in Article 2 (A2) than A1, but I didn’t know how right I was about A1 until I made my first phone call re what was becoming less and less appealing to me about 10:30 Thursday morning.
A premise on which A1 was to be based — explained to me in an email from SBJ’s excellent editor — was factually flawed. I can’t be more specific without ruffling feathers that should be smooth. Since the premise was incorrect, the thematic backbone became spineless and the article crumbled like a Saltine. I beat myself up one side and down the other because I hated to back out of an article assignment. I”ve probably written 100 articles for SBJ and of those assigned, failed to complete three; well four now. I felt like a kid who set fire to the family garage while playing with matches. I was crushed. Even when the editor allowed me OFF the project, I felt rotten. That should have set me up for A2 say starting after lunch Thursday; right?
Wrong. My life is about more than writing; it’s about relationships to people dear to me and people I regard with the same respect Barack Obama might feel when invited to celebrate George Lincoln Rockwell’s birthday party. This week in particular, with the deadline hovering over me like a vulture watching the final momemts of a mortally wounded Bambi, the AAHS Journal proofing and having to take two freaking days off from work, too much of my week between brief outbursts of responsible action, was spent in ear catatonia hating myself for my procrastination and sorry circumstance. So I took the rest of Thursday and worked constructively catching up around the house with some rearranging the place for the “post-Lenore-life.” I didn’t return to SBJ writing until Friday morning.
Things happened faster. I made contact with one of three essential persons before lunch and was incredibly lucky to engage the other two before quitting for the day about 5:00 Friday afternoon.
Getting people interviewed and on tape is part of what I call “making the cake,” producing the base over which the icing — the aricle WRITING — is applied. Friday it meant interviewing people and starting to transcribe relevant parts of the interviews into notes and quotable quotes.
Saturday was such a bummer during the half day at work, I didn’t touch the article after returning home. I was hot, depressed and tired. And it didn’t let up. If someone had offered me a Hemlock cocktail, I might have accepted it.
In my current circumstance, I can be as hermetic and self-loathing as I care to be, and that’s okay. Nobody gets hurt, and eventually I come out of it. There was no wine in the house, so I didn’t drink myself to sleep or a short coma. But thanks in part to a short nap after arriving home, I didn’t go to bed until a little after 4 a Sunday morning, and was up at 10 sharp for This Week With George Stephanopoulos, which was excellent.
THEN I installed my window air conditioner in the office, hit Facebook declaring my intention to finish the transcribing of notes ‘n’ quotes and write the article and not stopping except to pee and drink coffee. Which is exactly what happened. I sent the article to editor about 2:45 pm.
Aspiring journalists take note: there are better ways to engage your life’s professional passion than the example just described. If I didn’t think a human being could learn something from the saga just shared, I would not have posted it. I just hope that one of the people who learns something will be your humble blogmeister.
Live long . . . . . . . . . . and proper.