When I arrived at the Chatham Record as a new reporter in 2003 I was 25-years-old and seeing my name in print those first few times was astounding to me. Looking back on the early articles, I'm not exactly¬sure I knew what I was doing, but naturally, I learned. Having worked at a radio station answering phones and scheduling commercials right after college¬and then¬at the animal shelter organizing summer camps for children and teaching volunteers how to walk the dogs, I finally felt like I was on a career path of sorts because, as I'd always explained to everyone, I wanted "to do something with writing."
Thus I began covering the town board meetings and health board meetings and popping in at the sheriff's department every now and then to gather the reports or snap a shot of a particularly large quantity of confiscated marijuana. I patronized the businesses of this small town. I drove by a great many hay bales and heard some racial slurs I didn't think were allowed anymore, as well as made acquaintances with individuals who inspired me to try and write¬great stories because they were just so interesting.
I became, as I never believed I would, part of a small-town, semi-rural community just over 20 miles from where I lived in Chapel Hill. I spent more time at work than I did in that college-town and after a while I started wondering just what my next step would be.
I didn't think I'd work here for three years but that's exactly what it's been. I thought I'd be one of the four reporters at the Chatham News and Record for a year before moving on to something else, either more news writing or perhaps contributing to a magazine. Maybe I'd get involved in some other kind of writing job altogether. Something¬big, like a book.
Whatever happened though I knew I'd always fondly remember the time I spent working at a small-town weekly newspaper - getting to know the mayor and touring local farms; waving at the guys in the barbershop on my way to pick up lunch and attending AARP meetings at the senior center.
So a few months ago, when my best friend Jennifer, a recent American Film Institute graduate, said that we should take a month this summer, take a roadtrip and write a screenplay, I thought, "That's a good idea. Maybe I won't be working at the newspaper anymore by summer, after all, it's been three years."
While I'm completely inexperienced at any sort of screenplay writing, Jennifer and I had always planned to do something noteworthy together. We were going to drive cross country. We were going to live in an apartment in New York City after college. None of these things happened and so this became it.
The vague¬plan, months before the reality hit home, was to spend our¬time in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where my parents own a house and where my brother and his¬band would be practicing for the summer before they began¬an east coast tour¬in August. Jennifer would have time off after graduating,¬she said, and as I mentioned before, I thought maybe I'd be on to¬something¬else, maybe some¬sort of unimaginable job that allowed me a month off. When you're¬discussing these things over email and quick phone¬calls they appear¬so bright and shining - and so do-able. ¬¬
Also important, extremely so (which Jennifer reminded me of from time to time, although she very¬wisely remarked that she, of course, had a somewhat biased interest in the matter) was that I complained - and often - about the fact that I still worked where I worked. While I couldn't say enough good things about my experience I found I also got depressed at times when headed into work in the morning, down that long, beautiful country road. This...three years here, hadn't been my plan.
I'm not disillusioned about the working world. At least not as much as I used to be. I know you don't always get to do what you want, that, in fact, most of the time you don't get to do what you want and that it's normal to get tired of a job and even normal to think about leaving that job¬and then to want to leave with all your heart. I know that the protocol is to find another job before you leave your current one.
What I'm trying to say is that I don't think I was dealing with any extreme circumstances. Nearly everyone (except some people,¬for instance¬top Microsoft Executives and, like, the New York Yankees) can say "I don't make enough money" and nearly everyone can say "I'm so sick of my job I can't take it anymore." But believe me, there is always someone making less money who is more miserable.
I know this especially because I chose to get a job in the newspaper business. I sent my resume to all the publications in the area until one would hire me and when one did, as I said, I was happy because I felt I was on¬a path to doing¬something I wanted to do.¬In fact, I was¬doing something I wanted to do, at least for the meantime, in writing for a newspaper. I was writing.¬And I'd always wanted to do something¬with writing. Even better, because of the particular paper's setup, I was writing columns and feature stories and personality pieces, much more than I'd be doing at a bigger, daily paper.
So I was lucky. Luckier than a lot of people. But I wasn't really happy that I was still working at the Chatham News after three years. I wasn't enjoying the small town or working in a small office anymore with only a 70-year-old for company most days,¬and I started to wonder where all the great experience was getting me if I wasn't sure I wanted to continue on in newspaper journalism. I started thinking about things like doing another Christmas edition and my reaction to that thought was - well - less than excited.
It wasn't that I thought I'd become better than this, either. The people I've worked with are some of the best at what they do that I've ever met. I still have a lot to learn, even though I've learned a lot since those first articles in 2003.
I just wanted to move on. I wanted to move on so incredibly badly and it took a lot of talking to people about the¬situation¬and a few vodka cocktails to realize that was totally ok.
Jennifer and our friend Max came to visit in mid-May. We spent our time exploring¬the best of North Carolina,¬including¬eating delicious food and discussing the world and our lives over drinks.
One night, as we waited for a table at one of my favorite restaurants, Jennifer and I sat together in the bar and talked about Maine while¬I¬finished a very good Absolut Mandarin and soda. It had never seemed like a very reasonable idea, but it started to seem like an absolutely great idea. An unbelievably great idea.
Of course in the morning light, and after Jennifer and Max had left, both of whom claimed they were "in," no question, I was faced with a kind of scary prospect: Leaving my job to do some crazy thing and then have nothing to come home to.
While I've done a little freelance and part time work on the side, could that really go anywhere? Wouldn't it be best to just stick it out until that time, probably in the next year or so,¬when we move somewhere else anyway, as planned?
It was the most centered one of all, my husband, a successful grad school student on a track to have a lab of his own someday, who convinced me that, yes, I should leave my job and go to Maine for a few weeks. And I should do it because you only live once and I wasn't happy and nothing bad would happen. Other people I trust had similar thoughts,¬including my brother who sent me many¬inspiring emails on the matter.¬So what? If I couldn't find a job when I got back I'd find something. Doing something slightly unpractical wouldn't kill me.
I realized, then, that J, and Jennifer and Max and Vinnie, and everyone else who commented positively on the idea, were right. I've always urged people to take a chance, whether in the romance department (using my own story as an example) or in their careers. Obviously things like people's feelings and finances are concerns in both categories, but you do what you need to do to stay afloat, emotionally and money-wise, and you move forward.
J also promised he'd visit us, which was of utmost importance because, as I told Max over beers one afternoon on our porch, my number one concern, even more than what people would say about my up and leaving my job, was that I'd be away from Justin for a few weeks, and I'd miss him so much.
Thus, after weeks of discussion and weighing options and formulating plans and talking dates I gathered my courage and told my boss, a good month and a half in advance, that I'd be leaving the newspaper. I explained my reasons why as best I could and he was totally supportive and encouraging. I had turned my totally impractical move into something that I'd thought about for what seemed like forever. It almost appeared strategic. It almost started to make sense.¬I guess in all fairness I had been thinking about leaving "someday" for about two years - two years more than I thought I'd spend working here.
Since then I've realized how much I'll miss it, when people are sad upon hearing the news or when we're having a particularly good time at work, of which there are many.
I haven't, however, regretted it even for the most fleeting of moments.
I could go on and on forever, like people tend to do when they are rationalizing something they're unsure of. Or I could just say, with self-acceptance (something I'm gaining more of every year of my life), that I am leaving my job to go write a screenplay in Maine with my best friend. I don't know what will happen after that, but I have every sincerest hope that it will work out for the best.
My last day is Tuesday, July 18 and I'll be on the road Wednesday morning, almost exactly three years after coming to Chatham County, NC, a new reporter at the weekly paper, ready to start that new, exciting stage of my life.