Budding Writer, 1979: I’ll survive the summer

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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!

Of the three essentials for survival — food, clothing, and shelter — which is the most important?

During my first summer as a struggling writer, it was no contest. Food I could find (although I worried about neglecting my diet). Clothing? No problem! I wouldn’t cover my beat without covering my body.

Clearly, on the top of my mind was shelter.

… I visited with people at Phi Tau, discovered that Frank Batten probably does have the Lyme place …

Journal, Volume II
26 June 1979

Worked today, returned to Shed for talk and house meeting. Elections went as I had hoped. All seemed well with the world. Except that Frank Batten did not get the lease on the house, which means I’ll be left without an option over the Shed. Well, I’ll survive the summer — but it’s beginning to look like I won’t be able to afford living up here after the end of August. Maybe that’s just as well. Maybe the old internal clock is ticking …

27 June 1979

Mixed weather, but there is reason to believe that the old internal clock is ticking. Not only does it seem that I will have plenty of arts to play with this summer, but I also got a tipoff from Dana Grossman that her job at the Hop publicity office will be opening up (she’ll be going to the Lummag). This is a tipoff, like that for the JO job; it’s a job for which I’m incredibly well-suited, and it will become available just at the time my funds will be running out and I’ll need full-time work to afford a place to live, for I’ll be moving out of the Shed. Good signs falling together. But I mustn’t count chickens before hatching. …

28 June 1979

Phi Tau, aka the Shed (as in “Tool Shed,” a disparaging nickname we turned around and wore proudly) was my co-ed fraternity. I had lived there three of my four years as an undergraduate and had many friends there. But group housing for 15 or so undergraduates, with beer on tap downstairs, was not going to be conducive to meeting news deadlines or quiet, contemplative, uninterrupted writing.

Nevertheless, the rent was radically lower than anything else I could find in the area. The discount was probably because students were scarce during the summer term.

My last chance at independence would be to find a real apartment after Labor Day. But that would require me to find a full-time job or enough piece work to pay real rent.

Fortunately, I had a network of people who were passing along tips. One of them was Dana Cook Grossman, assistant director for public relations at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Her position was opening up because she was taking a job at the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. Yes, the one I told the interviewer I thought would be a dead-end job.

It wasn’t. She was there for more than six years before moving to the Dartmouth Medical School, where she was director of publications for 37 years.

Heliopsis, also known as oxeye or false sunflower, makes an early appearance in a garden in North Hero, Vermont, June 18, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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