The past ten years have been a wild ride.
Ten years and one month ago, I walked into the Gabber offices for the first time. After perusing my portfolio, publisher Ken Reichart offered me a freelance gig reporting on local happenings. As I’d been living on a dwindling savings account, I accepted eagerly.
“You’re going to lose your anonymity,” he said, and I nodded my head, although inside I was chortling. “Whatever,” I thought to myself, “a weekly paper probably no one reads. Man, this guy thinks highly of this little paper.”
I think we can all agree I was a naive jerk about both the Gabber and Gulfport. Thankfully, Gulfprtians are a patient lot, and over the next decade, you all showed me what it means to write for a local weekly paper. Writing for a living constitutes, mostly, my dream job, something I forget from time to time.
Writing for an independent press allows me latitude I wouldn’t have with larger corporate machine type papers, and I like to think that we do matters – we’re not just jokes about talking bears and gardening tips, as one daily reporter suggested many years ago. When I get it wrong, you all tell me, and in return I do try to live up to what you expect.
Many folks don’t realize this, but I write for other places as well. Visit Florida, USA Today’s Travel Tips, and Southwinds Sailing all have a place in my portfolio. I’ve never made it a secret that I love Florida, love writing about Florida, and in between city council meetings, barnyard animal scandals, and festivals I tend to wander through the state and write about what I see.
After a decade of doing what I should have done at 21– writing– something wonderful happened: University Press of Florida offered me a contract to write a travel narrative about those wanderings.
This is the sort of thing that’s danced through my mind for – well, pretty much forever. Someone – a whole press – wants me to write a book that they will print and sell. My picture may even be on the back cover. I will have, as my colleague Anne said, my own ISBN number, which pretty much tops the literary geek scale of coolness.
And, thusfar, I’ve bungled the whole thing quite spectacularly. I haven’t finished, and I thought I would – and, in fact, promised my editor I would – by Halloween. It turns out, writing a book is NOT something you can do in your spare time. In Stephen King’s book, “On Writing,” he suggests that a true writer will find the time. He is wrong. Perhaps he can write after work – not that he has to anymore – but I cannot. After a day of local politics and covering the happenings in our fair cities, I have nothing left. Which is OK if I’m not under contract to write a book.
Thankfully, my editor at UPF apparently knows my ilk and didn’t fully expect me to meet the deadline. It seems we writers are a fairly predictable bunch. I can, it turns out, have another month, and I am committed to finishing my book, but I can’t do it and still cover city council and write this column and be all the things you need from a Gabber reporter. Fortunately, my editor at the Gabber saw this coming and doesn’t begrudge me the month to finish the book.
With his blessing I will take November off from the paper. I didn’t really want to do this, because even when we’re in the thick of a duck scandal or election season, I really do love my job, but I want this, too, so it’s time to stop screwing around and get this done. It’s only fair to you all, because for the last two months I have split my focus, and you’re not getting the best from me, either.
You will see me around – T and Me is an excellent place to write, I’m finding, as is our library – I just won’t be dealing with any Gabber-related business.
Please be kind to my interim replacement, Shelly Wilson, and anyone else who steps in to help out around town. I’ll be back in December and I hope that in my month off, I’ll have recharged my Gabber batteries to give you another ten years of city hall antics, Geckofest photos, and snarky columns.
As I’ve said, it’s been a wild ride, and it ain’t over yet. Thank you all for creating a community that encourages a creative atmosphere, and for making me a part of it. I couldn’t do this anywhere else, and – more importantly – I don’t want to. I’ll see you in December, Gulfport.