Budding Writer, 1979: At the Hop Part I

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Yellow day lilies bloom at a welcome center in Guilford, Vermont, July 13, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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!

My opportunity had finally arrived! Applications were open for the vacant position of assistant director for public relations at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts. I threw my hat in the ring:

… The big news, I suppose, is that I had an interview with Mark Woodward at the Hopkins Center publicity office. He was friendly, straightforward, but also showed me, subconsciously, some discouragement. It may have been something in what I said or how I said it — or it could simply have been that he was busy. But something in that stack of applications told me I may not be getting the job. Call it telepathy, foreshadowing, or whatever. I went back to the Shed somewhat discomforted.

Journal, Volume II
17 July 1979 (Retrospective)

Now, why would the director of the Hop’s publicity office be discouraging about my application? They all knew me from my work as arts editor of the The Dartmouth and, more recently, the Journal Opinion. I was versatile, honest, and diplomatic. What could go wrong?

For one thing, the college personnel office knew me too well. I was a frequent flyer there. In the previous six months I had applied for two assistant deanships, then withdrawn myself from consideration. Most recently, this cocky young alumnus had told the editor of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine that I was concerned that being his assistant was a dead-end job.

But I was not just any cocky young alumnus. I was also a member of the regional press corps — the very people this job was designed to suck up to assist and impress. This would require delicacy and diplomacy — not exactly my strong point at the time.

They put me to the test by inviting me to a press dinner rolling out some of the summer arts programs:

Another largely wasted day; again warm + muggy to the point of rain showers. The dinner to which the press was invited was hence held indoors. This did not put a damper on the occasion, and indeed the table at which I sat was a choice one: one other small weekly and the New Hampshire Profiles — and Dana. She was apparently assigned to me, more or less, for the evening, as we both went on our own. Not that I wished to be ungentlemanly and not escort her, but she did put it that we were “sitting next to” each other, so I took it as nothing more than that, and split off by myself or with others during intermission and the party. I saw and chatted with the Willards, who were both very nice, as usual, and glad to see me.

Oh, yes — talking later to Marion Bratesman, she indicated that although the competition for the job is fierce, I have a good chance for being called back because a) I’m a writer , and b) I know the Hop and arts. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether she is being condescendingly encouraging. Especially when Dana was quite reluctant to talk about it …

Journal, Volume II
18 July 1979 (Retrospective)

Of course Dana would be reluctant to talk about it. She wasn’t supposed to. Meanwhile, I certainly wasn’t doing my part to make an impression. I abandoned her during intermission and the party. Instead I went off to talk with the Willards, long-time friends of my high school teacher who now lived in Hanover.

I wasn’t exactly modeling the behavior of a job applicant or a member of the press. No wonder the director of publicity seemed “condescendingly encouraging.”

3 thoughts on “Budding Writer, 1979: At the Hop Part I

  1. You’re a better man than I am Gunga Howard. I’d never be able to publish such a vulnerable post about my own shortcomings, of which I have so many. Very insightful.

    1. Thanks, Celeste. Remember, this isn’t so much a post about my own shortcomings as it is about my own shortcomings nearly a half-century ago!  I was young, naive, and yes, cocky. I’m none of those today: If anything, far less self-confident. If this series is going to be of any use to young writers, it has to be about the mistakes — and successes — I made as a young writer.

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