Latest challenge presents new dilemma
September 01, 2010
It's Monday night and I can't get to sleep because as usual I'm thinking about scrapping the column I dashed off earlier after walking into the office for the first time in a week.
I had to write it quick because that section of the paper is put together late Monday afternoon and I hadn't written a word in some nine days and had to come up with something. Had to flesh out an editorial, too. Cold, so to speak, as I'd been out of the loop for a week and wasn't sure what to "editorialize" about.
Anyhow, I think all these things as I'm trying to get to sleep and it's no wonder some shuteye seems like a fading and distant dream and I'm in the midst of a nightmare.
I want to scrap last week's column because I'm just getting so sick of myself. I can't seem to come up with a decent thing to say, especially when it comes to the political climate. So I swear off writing another word about it and here I am.
Anyhow, I try to quickly think of what I can write to substitute last week's column in a switcheroo even though it's already on the page. The challenge would be to come up with some sort of drivel that had the same word count and took up the same amount of space.
I realize this would be somewhat tough, what with given the fact that writing has become a little like eating spinach for me. Still, I've always been up for a challenge and figure there's got to be some way I can accomplish my goal: Scrap the inane column with something less self-centered but probably even more inane. This I can do. Well, the inane part.
Throughout the pages I write from other's perspectives. I tell their stories. Report what happen. Quote their words. Here I often write about myself because... well...I'm not sure why. Because I've always been taught that you would "write what you know" and that boils it down for me quite a bit. The older I get, the less I know. My family. My pets. My self. There are other things but over the years they've become off limits.
So I think about all the experiences I've had on the job. I think about all the times I worked with the big boys, the grownups from the dailies and broadcast media. Over the years there have been plenty.
The first is the Christopher Stone thing, which in hindsight is almost incomprehensible and requires an entire volume to interpret and dissect when it comes to popular culture. In the nine years of our current wars I've yet to see anything even remotely like whatever you want to call what happened in Capac in 1999. But it did, indeed, happen. Six solid weeks of other-worldliness. For those who aren't familiar with the story, on March 31, 1999 Army Sgt. Christopher Stone and two fellow soldiers were captured on the Macedonian-Serbian border during our country's brief participation in NATO's war against Serbia over Kosovo. Stone had lived in Capac for a couple of his high school years. Upon his capture he becomes the town's very own native homegrown hero—a myth repeated over and over and over and over across the globe.
While he's being held as a POW, the streets looks like News Central USA. Satellite trucks from CNN, NBC, ABC, and all of those plus reporters from the BBC, Newsweek, Time, etc. and foreign newspapers and magazines whose names I can't recall swarm around town. I have to elbow my way up to the front during the press conferences outside of the high school and continue to battle for the scraps of non-new information. I wear overalls to the candlelight vigil.
After he's released, I choose a white shirt and black tie for the press conference at the National Guard Armory in Port Huron. The familiar gaggle of reporters are all there, too. Stone picks three print media to share his story with: The Detroit papers, the Port Huron paper and the Tri-City Times. The chosen few trail in his wake as we enter the armory—the others left disappointed in the blazing afternoon sun. Gee. Working with the big boy is fun.
We sit around a cheap lunchroom type table, pads out, pens at the ready. I hope I don't ask a stupid question. I soon realize that's not a worry. The big boys, half-bored, pop them off quicker than Orville Redenbacher and all I have to do is write, write, write. By the time the story's published I feel a huge relief. During the six weeks of much ado about nothing, I try to bring something new to the table. Something with meaning. I actually snag an interview with Terry Anderson, who at the time was teaching at a university in Ohio. Anderson was a POW from 1985 to 1991, captured by Shiite Hezbollah militants who wanted U.S. military forces out of Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War. I get the idea from Terry Gross's Fresh Air program. She interviews him and I figure why not give it a try. He returns my phone call. I write up the interview in classic interview format. The story sits for a while, but I don't really mind. Getting the chance to talk to Terry Anderson resets my perspective and for a while there does seem to be some meaning in all of this somewhere.
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Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.