Careers

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

I’ve been remiss in my blogging for the past several months, and am overdue for a “major change in my life” post. And until I do that, I can’t really feel as though I’ve closed one chapter and begun another.

It’s perhaps the only obsessive-compulsive aspect of my life.

About three weeks ago I ended my career in journalism (or did I?) to begin a career at the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Prior to leaving the Georgetown News-Graphic, I had a conversation with good friend Byron Brewer, former News-Graphic managing editor. Byron also made the transition from journalist to state worker, and I asked him if I needed to pace myself in my new position. “No,” he said. “You need to slow yourself.”

Still, three weeks into the new gig, I can’t help but miss the old profession. I miss the people I worked with and the folks I talked with each week. I don’t miss going out to wrecks in the worst of weather, risking my ass on an icy road in order to illustrate to other fools why they shouldn’t risk their respective asses on that same road. I don’t miss politicos behind the curtain calling with tips and then telling me that what they told me is off-the-record. I don’t miss my butt going numb in the peanut gallery at court enduring two hours of “I didn’t do it,” in order to get an update on the case I really care about. I’m not going to miss the crazed Birther who took away 12 minutes of my life trying to convince me that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and that he was, in fact, born to Sarek of Vulcan and Elizabeth Taylor. Who knew? Anyhow, that’s a dozen minutes I’m never going to get back, so thanks a lot.

Off-the-record has always bothered me anyway. Here’s Tom’s little piece of trivia for today (whatever day you read this): There’s no such thing as off-the-record. One day I’m going to write a book about all the things told to me off-the-record, and there’s not a shyster in the world that can do anything about it.

But before I do that, I’m going to do an open records request for all text messages sent by Georgetown City Council members during city council meetings. I’m no lawyer, but I think even most strict interpretation of the Commonwealth’s open meetings laws will stand behind me.

My one regret in 15 years as a journalist, though, is that I never rose to prominence enough to merit being put on a mafia payroll.

Although I write all this out of conceit, I don’t want to be missed. Some reporters suffer from the delusion that they are irreplaceable or that their voice is unique. In my case, not only was I replaceable, but I was replaced by a better, more experienced version of me. That’s a win for the paper.

If you do miss me, thank you. If not, I’m not going to beg you. The work, and not the accolades, was the reward, every day.

Coming soon: Less than a month into his tenure as a state employee, how is Tom taking the transition? Has his head come close to exploding as he tries to reconcile the idea of ending his work day at 4:30? How many inches does his butt rise out of his office chair whenever he hears a siren outside? And the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln!

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Tased and confused

I never had 50,000 volts pass through my body.

Here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice. If, for whatever reason, you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the law and a cop draws a taser and levels it at you, go ahead and surrender.

Earlier in the year, I wrote a story about Georgetown Police Department’s reactivation of the Citizen Police Academy. There are a lot of benefits to participating in a class like that, and I encourage anyone who has the time to commit to the Georgetown class (it’s free) to do so. For those of my readers who don’t live in Georgetown, check with your local police department or sheriff’s office to see if they have something similar.

Anyhow, when I interviewed Sgt. Todd Stone, the academy’s commandant, so to speak, he hooked me with a single line.

“And you can find out what it’s like to get tased.”

I’m not a masochist, but I am a journalist, and there’s a certain intrepid spirit that we kindle in ourselves and when we aren’t actively pursuing trouble, we’re trying to make it ourselves.

So I signed up for the citizen police academy to learn about the relationship our officers in Georgetown have with the community, but what I really wanted to do was ride that taser eight seconds and dare it to toss me off.

On Tuesday, I got that wish. About eight of my classmates and I linked arms, forming a human chain. One of the cops serving as our instructor hooked one of the probes from the taser to a person at one end and the other probe he hooked up to me, at the opposite end. We all kneeled, putting ourselves closer to the floor. The classmates of ours who elected not to get zapped knelt in front of us in case we buckled forward.

At first I questioned whether eight of us linked together could possibly experience the full taser effect. I resolved to ask for another round of tasering if I didn’t feel the first round was adequate.

It turns out I am a dumbass.

With little warning (and no foreplay), the officer pulled the trigger on the taser sending 50,000 volts through me and my classmates. The pain defies description, but I will attempt to do so for you.

As I listened to the rat-tat-tat-tat of electricity arcing through the taser unit, I thought of drums. It was as if Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa were playing dueling drumsets and my skin was a snare drum head. And then someone gave those two bastards matching sets of electrified drumsticks. Gene, everybody knows Buddy’s a prick, but you?!

It turns out that having us kneeling to the floor was a really good idea, since that’s where we all ended up. Swear words are so great, because in the right combination they can create quite a tapestry. And I wanted to use them. All of them, in rapid succession in multiple octaves.

Unfortunately, all I could manage was “Oh! Oh! Oh!” Which is great if you’re having really great sex, but not so much if you’re riding a 50,000 volt tidal wave of pain.

Two-and-a-half seconds after the trigger pull, the arcing noise and the electricity stopped. We were still on the floor, recovering. I’m afraid I can’t adequately describe the aftereffects. The only think I can say, for a fact, is that I will never, ever voluntarily get tased again. No way. No how. Not for anything.

I would be happy, however, to pull the trigger.

Back in the game

The man who inspired me to become a reporter: <br>Jane Doe (aka Irwin M. Fletcher).

The man who inspired me to become a reporter: Jane Doe (aka Irwin M. Fletcher).

This week I emerged from a ten-month exile to Unemploymentland and rejoined the ranks of the Working Stiffs as a general assignment reporter for the Georgetown News-Graphic. It’s been ten years since I last worked a real news beat as a writer. In the intervening decade I’ve held a variety of editing positions, jobs which required me to fact-check and polish the work of other writers. The work had its rewards (I’ve lost count of the number of major gaffes I’ve prevented from going to press), but it’s just not as sexy as being “the writer.” Screaming girls don’t hang outside the auditorium waiting to see the guy who runs the sound board; they’re waiting to pounce on the band. And God bless them for it!

I won’t dwell on my unemployment, not in this post anyway. I’ve been mulling it over and I’m much more excited about being employed again, and not so full of bile and vitriol about being out of work. In the past four days, I’ve interviewed more people and written more copy than I have in a similar period of time in a long while. I’m not the goofball that walked into a newsroom 12 years ago, fresh out of college. Now, I’m the old man in the newsroom—literally. But there’s still much to learn. Adobe finally got it right and wrote a desktop publishing program that doesn’t suck…an application that apparently works and plays well with Photoshop and Illustrator. I’m looking forward to learning that. I’m also looking forward to covering municipal meetings again, better prepared for that daunting task now than I was a dozen years ago.

So, that’s how it is. I’m not great, but I’m better than I was. I’m going to try to use this space to provide more of an informal commentary on the news in Scott County, Kentucky. It might up the readership from two to three.

He’s back, and he came to play!

Welcome back! I’ve taken an extended hiatus from the blog due to a chronic condition (unemployment) that I developed back in January. Not to jinx myself, but things might be looking up for me in that department, and I thought I’d celebrate by engaging in an activity that I thoroughly enjoy: spouting off to you, loyal readers.

This three-and-a-half-month period has not just been about me frantically looking for a job. It’s been a soul-searching journey as well. I have a wonderful opportunity to remake myself professionally. In some cases, I’ve taken some chances. The best job I’ve applied for thus far would have taken me to the Middle East for eighteen months covering front line military units for Stars and Stripes newspaper. My wife was surprisingly supportive. As long as I sent the checks home, I could do it. Unfortunately, it did not come to that. They gave the job to someone else. But I feel I grew somewhat as I redefined what I could do professionally. It would have been a tremendous opportunity, but I think there’s a victory in just putting one’s name on the line for a position like that. It’s something I never would have done before.

I continue to apply for mainstream journalism jobs, but I have come to the somewhat painful conclusion that I must, at least for the time being, divorce myself from the idea of working in a conventional newsroom. Most of the jobs I’ve applied for have been public affairs or communications specialist positions with state and federal governments and colleges and universities. What I lack in a public relations background I make up for in twelve years of being a spin recipient. I feel pretty confident I can write press release or broadcast copy that’s not going to end up in the circular file because I’ve spent twelve years of my professional life making that determination myself, from the standpoint of a news writer and editor. And I do admit, the prospect of being on the inside and looking out is quite enticing. I’ve never wanted to be Governor or Mayor of anything. I’ve always been the kind of guy who just wants to serve at someone’s pleasure, whether that person is the President of the United States or the Utah Railroad Commissioner. To paraphrase a line from one of my favorite movies, I’m comfortable being the guy behind the guy behind the guy.

David and Cyndi, another good friend and a helluva performer. This photo was taken on the Beach Trip of 2002 (near Charleston, South Carolina). Good times.

David and Cyndi, another good friend and a helluva performer. This photo was taken on the Beach Trip of 2002 (near Charleston, South Carolina). Good times.

In any time of crisis, there are often more tragic events that help you put your own life into perspective. In late March we lost a dear friend, David. I say “we” because his was the kind of spirit the world needs so much, and because I honestly think that the world is diminished by the loss of such a powerful force of generosity and humor. It was impossible to be in a bad mood when you were around David. Where some people might be accused of sucking the life out of a room, David was the kind of person who radiated positive feelings. I had known David since high school and had the pleasure of getting reacquainted with him years later in Lexington Singers. He was blessed to have a loving partner, Jeff, and scads of friends who will miss the energy he always carried with him wherever he went. My thoughts continue to go out to Jeff and to David’s mom, dad, and sister.

Friends have been an important support system in the last few months, and I’ve been lucky enough to reconnect with several, one of whom I have been out of contact for far too long (I’m not going to tell. I’m mysterious. Live with it). Reuniting as we all have, whether in person or via the magic of the Internets, has been enough to stimulate my creativity and force me to unload some of the things that have burdened me and perhaps held me back from the human race. In spite of my unemployment situation, I feel such a burst of personal power. I think I know where it comes from, and I’ll be damned if I let go of it again.

Wailin' on my horn at MSU homecoming 2008.

Wailin' on my horn at MSU homecoming 2008.

There are other elements (the “little things”) that have helped me cope during this personal crisis. Music has always been a big part of my life, and although I have never achieved any great level of talent at it (other than being featured in a duet on the Lexington Singers Pops Concert Greatest Hits CD…if you were me, you’d probably brag about it too), it is as necessary to my existence as water. And I do love my water. I can’t pin down anything in particular I’ve been listening to in order to pass the time during my exile, otherwise I might have written a “Listener’s Guide for the Unemployed.” Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad idea. Alas, what I find enjoyable is good for me, not for everybody. I will say that there are two pieces of music I’ve listened to in the last three months that never fail to put me in a good mood. The first is “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin. The other is a 1976 live recording of “Four Brothers” by Woody Herman and His New Thundering Herd. Listening to that one makes me wish I’d been a more diligent study on the saxophone. I wasn’t bad for being self-taught, but no one is ever going to throw undergarments on the stage if I start playing again. Not female undergarments anyway.

I also have been reading more books. I’ve read some real crap and I’ve read some decent stuff. It’s a blessing just to be able to make the distinction. Ordinarily, I’m not much of a reader, but I’m trying to follow the admonition that “writers read,” and it’s helped me immensely. I’m no closer today to finishing the next bestseller than I was three months ago, but I think I’m putting together a great bag of tricks concerning what works and what doesn’t. In my writing exercises, I’ve taken some chances, developed some bravery, “written naked” in a manner of speaking  (try to erase that mental image quickly, would you?) and come up with some surprising results. Will those exercises ever see the light of day? No. They’re only the result of a game of solitaire “Truth or Dare” designed to answer the question “Can I?”.

So, that’s my exile in a rather large nutshell. I hope this heralds a new chapter in my life and that I’m able to put the bad stuff behind me. There’s a song that poses the question: “Is the way to get over someone just to get under someone else?”

In the context of my job, I hope that it is.

News that doesn’t really suck

Like press secretary-turned presidential chief of staff C.J. Cregg on my favorite political drama “The West Wing,” I am the wrong Democrat to talk to about affirmative action.

I have come to the conclusion in recent years that I am too Caucasian and too male to write for my beloved hometown newspaper, the Lexington Herald-Leader. From the time I graduated up to now, I’ve applied there about six times. Three times they were kind enough to send me a rejection letter. The other three, they didn’t even bother with that. Waste of paper, I suppose.

So I’ve quit applying to the Herald-Leader, even if I see a job opening that I like, that I’m just perfectly suited to. For that matter, I avoid any media companies who make grandiose pronouncements in their employment ads about how important diversity is in their workplace. The louder they are about it, the smaller my chances are at even getting in the door.

Of course, I could just be bad journalist.

But the headline of this piece is “News that doesn’t really suck,” so I suppose I should dismount the soapbox and cut to the chase.

Today a colleague of mine—one of our contributing editors here at Thoroughbred Times—asked me if I was interested in contributing to a magazine she’s doing some work for. Turns out they need to pad their quota of male contributors. Can ya beat that?

I certainly hope my masculine editorial presence helps fill the void.

I won’t say what this publication’s per word scale is; just that it’s more than my own personal freelance rate. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 15 cents a word for written pieces, $20 an hour for editing. Thank you; drive through.

Nothing is solid yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Flippin’ sweet.

Career counseling, or “That is why you fail”

I’ve recently come to a rather grave conclusion about myself.

I’d be a horrible Jedi.

The power of the Force would be a waste on me. Blessed with the ability to command an invisible energy field to bend to my will, I’d most likely use it to summon the television remote control or open a can of beer (not a bottle, of course, because being a Jedi is all about sacrifice).

The lure of the Sith would be too much to resist. I’d turn to the dark side in a second. Of course, even then I’d be as horrible a Sith lord as I would a Jedi. Oh, sure. I’d engage in Sith hijniks: convincing store clerks that they still owed me five bucks in change, using my telekinesis to cause spontaneous wardrobe malfunctions, choking my enemies with nothing but a gesture of my black-gloved hand.

Which has gotten me thinking about the balance sheet between the Jedi and the Sith. What do you really get for your “membership” in the Order of the Jedi? A life of servitude, poverty, and (dare I say it) chastity. As for upward mobility, forget it. It’s about as hard to move up in the Jedi Order as it is to get to graduate from the folding card table to the solid oak table at Thanksgiving.

And when you do, then what? Yoda’s been a master for 800 years or so. Did he ever get a vacation? Is he racking up funds in his 401(k)? Is there even a retirement plan?

Apparently not. We never did see the retirement wing of the Jedi Temple. They probably take your lightsaber away from you and give you a job putting books away in the library.

Now, the Sith on the other hand…

They keep the overhead down by recruiting candidates that are already trained….by the competition no less. Upward mobility is simple: if you want a promotion, you have to kill your boss. Compensation is pretty much whatever you want to take. Let’s face it, a guy who can conjure lightning from his fingers is probably not going to have to wait for a table, much less pay the bill, at Ruth’s Chris. Retirement? You keep your eye on some poor schmuck at the Jedi Temple who seems to be spending a lot of time in the waiting room outside the Council Chambers with the other misfits. Put the balance sheet in front of him and make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Of course, there’s that unavoidable bit about what to do when he gets overly ambitious, but you’re a Sith Lord. You’ll figure something out.

“What’s that humming noise? Ouch! Hey! Why are my arms on the floor?”