Copyright 2005 Ben S. Pollock
Friday, January 7, 2005. It’s important to be efficient. To not reinvent the wheel is my oft-repeated goal, likely annoying others.
Definition: Coming to know what works and what doesn’t, what is tolerable and what drives you batty. It’s a process of elimination, where over the years you gain knowledge of yourself — wishing it was wisdom but it may just be laziness — so as to make better choices. Learning from others is even more efficient.
This wheel should give me a wider range of movement, to avoid failures as long as possible, and avoid the tendency of turning the briefcase of likes and dislikes into a bag of complaints.
Lazy, not wisdom? There’s work and time in considering new ideas: research, analysis, talking it out, writing it up. Avoiding that is lazy. Then again, it’s using accumulating knowledge, which may be wisdom — or just wise.
What I hated about being a full-time reporter is simply waiting for people to return your phone calls. There are gaps of time in a workday. One could say, whoa, begin a new story, a new project, dig through an old one and find something to expand into a follow-up. Well, that is sound, but at some point too many projects distract a reporter from what’s already fairly well developed. Also you have to leave room for, say, preparing for tomorrow’s council meeting or the spot assignment some editor throws at you because you looked up at the wrong time.
Reporters enjoy such time restraints and excesses. I always feel guilty about goofing off. Oh, I do wander, but for me it’s not casual conversation or lingering away from the office. I read articles on the Internet.
My first job was news producer at a North Dakota public radio station, far from Arkansas and far from Stanford. I reported and loved it, but I also did newscasts and supervised student journalists. My only full-time reporting job was the next one, police reporter for the Irving Daily News. It is where I perceived that stir-craziness. After only a few months I was promoted to replace the assistant editor (there were only two editors). I still was the police reporter but now also edited copy and designed pages.
The multitasking surprised me in feeling like that of being a radio producer. I learned what general work habits worked for me, even though a wide variety of tasks could be overwhelming.
A lesson from music reinforced acknowledging my need to know what works for me.
My parents had all three of us kids in band. My sister got out as high school junior, while my brother stayed through graduation, even being a drum major as a senior and making All-State repeatedly. But he left music performance at that point. Neither encouraged their kids to pursue music.
I wasn’t as talented as my brother and maybe sister either, but I continued to play in college and even now, almost a quarter-century later, at least a few times a year.
Occasionally, though ending about 15 years ago, I would play in the orchestra of a community or college musical. A few weeks of rehearsals then two weekends of performances: What a delightful change of routine. Even if it might be an Andrew Lloyd Webber show, the camaraderie and simply the joy and challenge of blowing in that hammy environment would carry for weeks.
One time while in the Dallas area I got to play in the pit for a college production of “The Music Man.” Now, there is a strong score, and not just for trombones. Meredith Willson used a limited set of melodies but mixed them up with genius. I’ll attend any amateur production of it even now, and see the movie if I chance upon it on television.
This production continued for four weekends.
My joy of a half-dozen performances became in 12 or 16 evenings and matinees, work.
Race across a couple of suburbs from the newsroom, having grabbed a burger somewhere. Play the same repeated rhythms night after night. Pit bands comprise only rhythmic harmony, the actors obviously always have the melody, except for an occasional joyous breakout of eight or 16 measures. Playing softly, even under amplified singers, takes concentration. The players and the conductor must remain alert for actors to change tempos or skip lines if not verses then silently, unanimously and instantly guess the soloist’s next choice.
The repetition came to closely resemble the assembly line work I did for a couple of summers. Boredom. Boredom compounded by being effort I otherwise relished, a contradiction.
I’ve done other plays. At clubs I admire musicians for making their art sound fresh every time and appear to enjoy doing so. My wheel includes that I am not of that number.
Reporting one or two articles a day is not in my personality, either.
Yet, how do I explain my never-fading intent to write full time?
Because it’s different, and I’ve done enough columns to know. Both essay columns and metro-column reporting don’t have every drawback of being a beat reporter, mainly due to the autonomy columnists earn and use.
Columning as sole livelihood would have a learning curve, being so different from the multiple deadlines and varied tasks of editing. No learning curve ever is boring. Good columnists, good writers in general, always are learning. Ergo: stimulating, not boring, not rote, not routine. –30–