The Price of Anything

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
– Henry David Thoreau

I have now been officially unemployed for four weeks, which is the first vacation I’ve had since July of 2002.

I did some of the things that I’ve been longing to do for a long time, like toss our old newspaper paste-up equipment. That included our faithful waxer (I can almost still hear the whirring sound the rollers made, and I miss the pleasant smell of the heated wax). Just another piece of newspaper equipment that’s become totally obsolete in this age of direct-to-plate.

Also said goodbye to our Okidata dot-matrix printer (and the two I kept on hand for spare parts) that faithfully churned out 500 mailing labels for us every week of the year. Let’s just say our storage closet looks a whole lot better than it used to.

No tears there.

But I still can’t look at the 25 years of bound morgue books. Sixteen of those books have my work in them. The community may have shrugged its collective shoulder when the paper went under, but I haven’t been able to blow it off.

Were I to look inside those books, I know I’d be slapped by what’s between the lines and the anguish pressed into the pages. I’d see the guilt and late nights and pain, and how selfishly I behaved as a wife and mother many times because I was so overwhelmed and such a perfectionist about my work. I’d see the boys’ concerts and performances I missed because I stayed home to stick mailing labels on 500 newspapers because the newspaper was, always and of course, the priority.

Someone called me at home last week with a question about an ad that ran two years ago, and I remembered right away what page of the issue it was on–astounding the client, of course, with my incredible mental powers. But that’s what kind of intensity I kept up week after week, 52 weeks a year. No breaks when one of the boys had to go to the hospital or I had surgery or for something pleasant like a family vacation.

No mercy. Just deadlines.

It’s not admirable, that kind of intensity, that degree of focus. Yes, there is incredible value in hard work and perseverance and pulling yourself up by your bra straps. That’s what was hammered into me growing up.  It’s only now that I’m starting to understand what you give up when your life becomes your job.

The newspaper going under wasn’t a surprise, of course. So what if a little newspaper vanishes into thin air after printing every Wednesday for 25 years? It’s happening everywhere else in the country. You can get more news on Facebook these days…and for free, too. The local businesses don’t have enough money to advertise because they’re competing with Wal-Mart 30 miles away, and there’s always been something kind of sad and old-fashioned about a hometown newspaper with its scruffy printing and typos. Really, it’s just a weekly reminder that the community is small and scruffy, too.

The transition back to being a regular person has been quite bizarre for me, and it’s not over yet. I’ve gone from having to care about everything that happened in town to having to care about nothing. When I was running the paper, if I heard a siren, I had to run for the scanner and jump into the car with a camera to go to the accident scene or the fire. If I saw someone doing something unexpected downtown that I didn’t know about (like planting trees, for example) I had to stop and talk to someone about it and/or possibly cover it on the spot for the paper. We spent hours at high school sporting events and pretended like we cared when the team lost, when inside we were rejoicing because it meant we didn’t have to go to the playoffs. If someone died, I’d hound friends, family, and funeral homes–whatever it took–until I knew when the service was (because it was my job to know that stuff).  If the school district decided on a new science curriculum, I had to have an opinion on it even if I didn’t have any kids in that grade. If the fire department won a grant for a new four-wheeler, I had to set up a time when all the volunteers were there to take a picture of them standing around it. If I found out a wacky 64-year-old teacher had been charged with exposing  himself in a public campground in another state, I had to jolly well call the man on the phone to discuss the incident with him. (I so wish I could say that wasn’t a true story.)

And we won’t count the sacrifices we made when I wrote about unpleasant things; things that exposed liars, ignorance, greed…basically the ugly underbelly of our community. Yes, what I wrote about was the truth, but it was truth that angered everyone from our neighbors to our sons’ teachers to local pastors.

Was it worth it? Did it help anything? Will assure me a good spot in heaven? Nope, not most of the time, and not bloody likely. (The pastors in question would heartily agree, I’m afraid.)

Yes, I was doing my job. Although I did a good job, the really funny thing ends up being that nobody really cared all that much. Which raises the question about who I was really running the paper for, doesn’t it?

The past four weeks I’ve headed to the post office after dark so I don’t have to talk to anyone while I’m getting my mail. I’ve been driving thirty miles away to get a gallon of milk.  The vampire act is all so I don’t have to talk to people about the paper, which of course is all anyone thinks of whenever they see me. After working as  a reporter in a small town for sixteen years, you can hardly blame them.

But people don’t have any idea that I’ve lost more than my livelihood–I’ve lost my damn life. Forgive me, please, but I just want to buy my oranges and go the hell home and figure out how to live without standing watch 24 hours a day. I know most folks here are thinking something like: Good riddance…we never liked the stinkin’ paper anyway. But since I’m thinking basically the same thing about them: (This town don’t deserve a stinkin’ newspaper!) I suppose that makes us about even.

What it comes down to is this: I gave up the last eight years of my life in order to keep the paper running. Clearly, that was not a good trade.

I won’t be making that mistake again. So yes, I’m looking for work, but I’m also looking for life. It’s still here waiting for me–in the shedding horses and the tulips and the sleeping cats on the bed. It’s also in my sons and husband, who all somehow manage to be exasperating and lovable at the same time.

I guess you could say I’ve been away on a four-week-long life-changing trip without ever leaving the house and barn. That flat-out blows me away.

Me shooting damage during a windstorm a few years ago

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Price of Anything

  1. My job is very definitely not my life, but I work with several people who eat, breathe, and sleep their jobs every day. One guy I work with gets about four hours of sleep every night, and spends the rest of the time working. It’s funny, I was just thinking today about what would happen to him if he lost his job.

    PS, I remember the smell of the waxer too. Wow.

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