Budding Writer, 1979: Tsk-tsk!

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About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

Yes, Monday, May 28, 1979 was Memorial Day under the new Monday holiday law that had been in place almost 10 years.

No, it was not a holiday for the Journal Opinion. Even weeklies are on a news cycle. If we were going to come out as scheduled on Wednesday, we’d have to go to press Tuesday, which meant working on Monday.

At that time, I was still quite naïve about Memorial Day. With the Vietnam War still in recent memory, most civilians didn’t want to think much about it. There were no public ceremonies, speeches, or parades to speak of, at least in the towns I knew.

While walking around downtown either this holiday or on Veterans Day, I did notice a small knot of veterans gathering at a war memorial. I probably left them alone to do their thing. If it was a memorial service, I figured they wouldn’t want some photographer from the paper snooping around.

Somehow, though, the mail did go through — probably from Saturday. We discussed a letter from the attorney for the foundation I reported on. I no longer have those clips and have not been able to check the records. It’s best not to tell that story until I do. Still, that didn’t prevent me from giving my legal opinion based on my one year of law school.

Instead, let’s jump to Tuesday, May 29:

Tsk-tsk! I don’t even have a good reason for not writing today. I worked at the paper for a little while, grinding out 2 stories and debating whether to call Montpelier for information on the rest. I couldn’t bring myself to do it; Water Resources, I reasoned, would not tell me much I didn’t know, and I needed more info from Pat before I started asking about Low-Pritchard. Especially in light of their letter yesterday.

I did, however, make myself useful in production of the paper, proofreading and writing a head. ([An editor] would have had me paste the head on, but they were already crowding around p. 1, so I didn’t do so for lack of room.)

When I came home I went through files again. Pretty soon I’ll be ready to do some serious writing. …

Journal, Volume II
29 May 1979

Tsk-tsk indeed. I can understand not wanting to do more pounding at the keyboard after doing that all day at the office. That gives “pretty soon I’ll be ready to do some serious writing” a pass this time.

But not contacting the state offices in Montpelier, Vermont, on two stories was foolish and cowardly. You always need to get the official word, even if that word is “no comment.” At worst, it tells you nothing. At best, it might be juicy background — or tell you that you’re barking up the wrong tree.

I had much to learn. Phone calls continued to plague me throughout my career. Even today, I hate to make them.

The American flag flies at the Town Hall in Southbury, Connecticut, on Memorial Day, May 29, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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