This is my last column for The Watch for a while. Maybe forever.
When we were out in California last month, my parents, who are 88 and just shy of 90, talked more than usual about the end. Dad is very matter-of-fact about it. He’s got a binder on the shelf above his desk with all the details worked out, up to and including his paid membership in the Neptune Society. He says he’s “ready,” has “no regrets,” and is “curious” about what comes next. Though he did admit to me on this trip that he regrets not having achieved real competence on the ukulele.
Mom has felt like a teenager up until a few years ago. She used to dodge any end-of-life discussions. Or she’d deflect them with silly statements like, “I’m just going to live forever.” But now she falls down pretty frequently. She fell at least twice at the family cabin in the Sierras and then again in an empty parking lot on the trip home to Laguna Beach.
The extended time to see them – and our kids and grandkids – was possible only because I’d decided earlier in the summer to end my daily commitment to The Watch. When I interviewed for the job, Publisher Seth Cagin said candidly, “I’m not sure somebody your age can handle the grind.” He was just being frank. But in the end, after proving to myself and, I hope, to Seth that I could in fact handle the grind, three years of grinding was starting to grind me down. I was repeating myself. The weeks had started to seem like déjà vu all over again.
A small regional newspaper has cycles, like the sun. The festivals come around at the same time every year. The same local cranks speak out at meetings. The same economic and environmental issues, more or less, swing around with the same desperate urgency for each wave of new people who have discovered western Colorado and made it their home, and their cause.
Some people have more “civic stamina” than others; mine was running low. (That’s Ellen’s term, and it’s a perfect descriptor for the kind of energy – and the thick skin – newspaper reporting demands.)
Now I’ve decided to stop View to the West, too. This is much scarier than quitting the reporter/editor gig. I began writing a regular column, called An Uncompahgre Muse, for Jim Davidson’s San Miguel Journal in 1986. It survived moves, and name changes and new editors, at the Telluride Mountain Journal, the Telluride Times-Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, and The Watch. It has been an extraordinary personal outlet for me, a way to share life and family (and heresy and satire) with a much wider audience than just a small circle of friends. I’m most grateful for the opportunity, and the support.
But a little bird keeps chirping, it’s time to move on, time to get going.
Change is happening. Signs are pointing in new directions. I’m 64. Maybe I’m having a late-in-life mid-life crisis. (My mother always said I was slow to develop.) I have some writing projects I want to tackle, at least one book, maybe more. And I don’t have the energy, the focus, to do two things at once. That may seem ridiculous: how could whipping out one 750-word column a week seriously hamper whatever else one is writing? But it does. I’m seriously slow. I can think about a column for days. Then it takes the better part of a day to write, sometimes more. My brain is like a ship with a small rudder; it doesn’t change direction easily.
Maybe dropping VTTW will prove a mistake. The column is a kind of security blanket. It comes around every week without fail. It’s a struggle sometimes, but it always gets done. And when it’s done and in the paper there’s the immediate reward. It’s a completion and a connection, however ethereal, with a larger community.
So, yeah. Maybe I’ll find out that column writing, short essay writing, is my essential work, and I’ll come back to it.
Meanwhile, thank you, dear readers, for your attention. Your kind words over the years have buoyed me.