Back in the day, I wrote for a local Jackson newspaper. Well, The Clarion–Ledger may actually be the Jackson newspaper, and from March to August of 1999, I was a contributing writer.
I wrote mainly for the Style section of the paper, and my beat was a short piece called “In the Spotlight” that profiled Mississippi artists. Now that I think about it, it was a cool gig. I talked to men and women all over the state–writers, performance poets, sculptors, painters, even a unicyclist.
As a recent college graduate, I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote that first piece. I was an English major who’d never darkened the door of a Journalism classroom. I remember, vividly, the feeling of picking up the phone and dialing the number the editor had given me. Crazy nervous.
Crazier than my fearful anticipation, he didn’t hang up on me. He talked to me. For half an hour. The craziest part of all, the newspaper printed it. My story. My writing. I had done it! I had made the call, conducted the interview, written and submitted the article. I was a journalist.
I’ve come a long way since that first interview, and my personal story hasn’t taken me further into the world of journalism, of tough beats or big scoops or private sources. Still, I can say with truth and integrity that I once wrote for a newspaper. I’m glad I kept all those newsprint pages–they’re a satisfying reminder. I was scared to make that first call, but I did it, and I have the articles to prove it.
The world has come a long way, too, since 1999. These days, we connect on social media and through text and instant messaging. It seems rare to communicate voice–to–voice. Rare and maybe a bit frightening.
It’s just so immediate. So personal. I think that may be the most crazy, mysterious, and beguiling aspect of these clips from my ancient history.
People really opened up to me. They answered my calls, in the first place, and they talked to me. About their lives, their artistry, the process of it and the things or people or experiences that sparked and shaped it. They opened the doors wide for me to walk in and look around and then write about them, represent them, to others. What a privilege.
I’ve been wondering recently where these people are now. It’s been nearly two decades. Are they still writing? Still painting? Still out riding that unicycle? I’m still writing.
I don’t recall that the assignment paid much at all, but it was solid writing experience. It may be that these early attempts paved the way for my work now. My name appeared in the newspaper, week after week, and my mother and her friends were wild with excitement. In truth, I admit that there’s nothing quite like seeing your name in the author byline.
Come walk a bit down my memory lane. There are some interesting people and stories along the path.