“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou
My birthday on May 20th marked the end of two eras for me: my first half century on this planet and my seven-year employment with The Standard Newspaper. I had been preparing for the former for 50 years; the latter came as a bit of a shock.
The Standard had been gradually weaning me since my move to Toronto in July 2011. The feature articles were the first to go. Then my weekly columns started appearing just once a month. The Standard is proudly local, with staff living in and around North Durham. I was out of jurisdiction and it was only a matter of time before a resident, with his finger on the pulse of the community, would replace me. The writing was on the wall – or, rather, page 9 – but still, I wasn’t prepared for the cutting of the umbilicus.
I suppose the end is always abrupt, even when one suspects it might be coming. For me, the end came when I opened the letter informing me that my services were no longer required by The Standard Newspaper. Before I read the letter I was a columnist. By the time I had finished, I was not. The end.
I laid JustWrite to rest. I stopped regarding every encounter, conversation or screw-up as possible column fodder to be explored and exploited in 800 words. I ditched firstname.lastname@example.org and created a new email account: email@example.com. I got an iPhone, downloaded the Hipstamatic app and turned my attention to photography. I hastily secured the domain name hipstagirl.com as I began to chronicle the world around me in pictures instead of sentences. I became obsessed with the shutter, taking hundreds of snaps a day. I drove my family crazy. Short walks to the dog park became epic journeys, stop-and-go affairs with infinite photo opportunities. I would shoot the same the same subject 20 times, using a different combination of lenses, films and lighting, repositioning the camera to capture every possible angle of interest. Like my columns, my photographs were intimate portraits, close-ups in sepia tones or garish colour, the edges of each image blurred with the heart of the matter in sharp focus.
I never lost my creative energy; just my direction. I knew I was sad about the loss of my column; sad that I hadn’t had the chance to say good-bye to all the people who had taken time out of their busy lives each week to read about mine. What I didn’t realize was that I had become depressed.
I am a writer. I have always been a writer. I started writing when I was five years old and I will never stop. I have always known this. But until I came to The Standard, I had no idea that my passion – perhaps my highest calling as a writer – is as a columnist. Once I started penning JustWrite, I couldn’t stop. It fed my soul. And it seemed to feed others, as well. I was blessed to have so many people stop me in the street or in the grocery store to tell my how much they enjoyed my column; how they picked up the paper each week eager to read about my family’s most recent (mis)adventure. I have never felt so certain about my chosen profession; so validated in my vocation. And recently – when, on two separate occasions, people from Port Perry recognized me in Toronto, introduced themselves and thanked me for my column – I realized that a part of me, a very good part of me, had died when I read that severance letter.
In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a bird that is reborn time and again, arising splendidly from the ashes of the one that came before. I always liked Greek mythology. And so, I am resurrecting my column. While I search for another publisher, I will blog here weekly at Just.Plain.Life. As well, in homage to brevity and my new Hipstamatic friend, I will (attempt to) tweet daily: 140 characters or less of hard-won wisdom or whimsy, with a link to an original photo.
In this digital age, when the sun rises and sets on social media, we don’t need to live in the same town to share a connection. The human condition – the human experience – is universal. And so I offer up my thanks to The Standard Newspaper and its readers for the phoenix that emerged in 2006, and to World Wide Web in July 2013 for giving this old bird a new place to roost.