A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lunch With Vernon Hill

For almost two and a half years now, I've been writing a weekly column in Springfield's The Republican newspaper. It's published in the Wednesday pull-out section, which has several other regular features besides. Mine's about the YMCA. I don't work for the newspaper; I'm 100% freelance.

The "Plus" section of the paper contains articles and columns which are local in nature. It varies somewhat in content from edition to edition. If I profile a person who lives in Chicopee, that column might appear on the front page of the Chicopee edition, but be buried in the middle of other editions. Or not even appear at all in, say, the Metro West edition.

I've got a new editor for this column, and I like him very much. Vernon Hill is experienced and he's professional, having worked in different areas at The Republican for years. Best of all, he has a willingness to communicate. That's the elusive quality I'm always looking for in an editor. You turn something in; he shoots back a "Thanks--looks good!" You ask a question; he immediately emails an answer. You query him with an idea; he promptly lets you know if he's interested or not.

My colleagues at the Y invited Vernon Hill to lunch today, and asked me to join them. The Republican's offices and the Y are only two blocks apart, but I don't think Vernon had ever been inside our facility. He got a tour, a nice lunch, and an opportunity to brainstorm a bit with us. We learned something about the issues and constraints he has to deal with in producing the weekly editions, and he heard our concerns as well.

I'm pretty happy these days because I have a picture, a byline, and photo credit. My articles are never cut, and the paper has stopped treating them like news items and editing them rigorously according to AP style. (My pet peeve was seeing all my verbs changed to past tense, when I had purposely used the present tense to lend immediacy to a conversation. Tom Shea gets away with it! Now I do, too. Thanks, Vernon!) I didn't bother to mention that they had massacred the title I was asked to design for the column. That was before Vernon's tenure, and I didn't want to appear greedy.

For the past year I've been profiling people associated with the Y, which everybody seems to think is a good idea. People like to read about other people, even though it's the same message buried in there about the mission of the YMCA. Apparently, though, that tactic is somewhat limiting our coverage. So we've decided to focus in the future more on issues, like, say, prevention of gang violence, which may be seen by those in charge of laying out the editions as equally relevant to all neighborhoods.

A while back, one of my resolutions was to be syndicated. At that point, I didn't even have anything to syndicate! This column, while too locally focused to be a candidate for syndication, has been reprinted with fair frequency (mostly without permission). So it's a step in the right direction. It's been a small but steady source of income, good practice in meeting deadlines for a person whose middle name is "procrastination," and an excuse to ask shameless questions of loads of people I would not otherwise have license to badger. Of course, I can't shoot my mouth off exactly the way I'd sometimes like. But for that, there's always the blog.

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