Do you want a job?

Do you want a job?

That’s what she asked me on that languid night so many years ago when we met for drinks at the late, lamented Rosa restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H. But it doesn’t really matter.

The question is what was important. It wasn’t an offer, but a challenge. I was jobless, but with some money in the bank. I had been fired from a job, and probably a career, I hated, and I was biding my time, and slowing the pace of sapping my savings, laboring part-time on the copy desk of a local newspaper.

I parlayed the gig into a weekly column for pay, and managed to secure a somewhat remunerative assignment writing copy for one of those lackluster tourist magazines that litters newsstands and convenience stores. And I was writing feature stories for something like $35 a pop. I was establishing myself as an underemployed, under-compensated freelance writer, but paying more than I could afford to maintain my health insurance from my previous job.

And, of course, there was the meager unemployment check to round things out. I was (barely) keeping the wolf from the door, having reunited with a great roommate and drinking much of what I earned. Same old story, I guess.

I believed I needed a full-time job, back in the newspaper business, perhaps. We talked and drank, eventually kissed, but that eventually led nowhere. Then she asked: Do you want a job?

I began writing a novel in earnest, and then landed a job, owing to the largess of a former competitor and current friend, who put in a good word for me with the copy chief of a Pulitzer-winning daily paper. I had no idea what was afoot, but when the call came, I answered, tried out, and landed on the payroll, which led to a different, though related, and better payroll. And the novel began to die.

It was revived, briefly, but then neglected again. It remains in the 200-or-so-page rough draft stage, where it has languished for well over a dozen years. That is, it is buried.

But a layoff led to another somewhat lucrative contract, then a tidy salary in a field I’d never imagined entering, and where I’ve labored comfortably for six years, now.

Novel is still dead. Dream or fantasy on life-support, at best. The prognosis is not good. But the money is.

Do you want a job?

Not what we’re looking for


Got to face facts: This is the worst excuse for a blog ever. I missed all of “meteorological summer” and, frankly, am only blogging in actual summer by dint of this anemic aside. I might rectify this sloth, but I know better than to make promises. Even my own 15-minute Commitment was too much for me to stick to.

Less talk, more rock, as I used to say from the night editor’s desk. Let’s see if I’ll ever practice what I preach.


A purposeless-driven life

What are you meant to do? What is your purpose? Do you ask yourself these questions?

I do, probably too often.

You can have a terrific job, make more money than ever and believe the work is important, yet still feel at sea. (Of course, if you’re a merchant mariner, at sea is where you need to be, but I’m not one of those.)

Who is your authentic self? That is, who is my authentic self? When you’re nearly 50, you should know, right?

What if you don’t?

Anemic encomium

It’s wonderful to be reminded of someone you haven’t thought about in years, unless that reminder comes via some terrible news.

The old Portland Press Herald building

This thing’s a hotel now, I think. I don’t know. The paper’s no longer there but, then again, neither am I.

Bill Nemitz gave me my first daily newspaper job back in the early 1990s. I think he’d only been sports editor of the Portland Press Herald for a couple months at that point, perhaps explaining that rare lapse in judgment.

My job title was sports assistant. My duties at that time mainly consisted of quickly and more-or-less accurately writing up two- to three-paragraph summaries of high school and small college sports contests based on phone calls from the winning coaches. Basketball season was when the calls came in rapid fire, and the challenge was trying to write up each of them a bit differently, as they’d be stacked on the sports pages next to the “agate,” or scores, standings, transactions and other athletics arcana. I remember often trying and failing to get “thwarted” past the raptor-like and crusty copy editor Paul “The Commissioner” Abramowitz on the “rim,” and trying to keep pace with the demands of the witty and irascible “slot man,” Jeff “Snake” Hannon, who constantly joshed with copy editors Hal Madsen and Bob “Blackie” Smythe, a stoic and solid catcher in an over-40 hardball league.

Today I’m remembering not just the quiet and enigmatic Nemitz, who I believe soon left the sports department and became the paper’s chief editorial columnist, but the other impressive characters in the Press Herald building.

Editorial Page Editor George Neavoll personified grace and rectitude, as well as helpfulness. Having struggled to get my resume and clips from weeklies past the personnel office, I approached him for advice. He responded by giving me Nemitz’s number and alerting me that the sports department was hiring.

The talented and generous self-professed former party girl Martha Englert (who I believe is an Episcopalian priest or UCC minister now) paved the way for my first daily reporting job, at the Dover, N.H.-based Foster’s Daily Democrat, where she had been a star and about which she told me the truth: It will be an extremely tough job for no money, but in a year you’ll have more than enough clips to go somewhere else.

The elegant and kind Tess Nacelewicz, who lavished quiet words of encouragement and provided an uncommon example of serenity in the newsroom.

Alan Clandenning, a scrappy and game reporter straight out of central casting, who showed me the way the work should be done.

Metro Editor Dave McNabb, who took me on as a news assistant when the regular guy, the universally beloved Ed Perrotta, was recovering from a heart attack. “Cut the shit” was a typical example of his coaching and writing advice to me. My favorite, though, was City Editor Joe Michaud, one of the true gentlemen of the newspaper business, or any business, whose only prejudice was against inserting “What a long, strange trip it’s been” into any story about the Grateful Dead. He’d be known as a “good clubhouse man” if newspapers were sports teams.

I could point to other Press Herald editors, as well as reporters whose stories I contributed to (occasionally with an “endline”) and who contributed to my developing love for and competence in the craft of journalism, but I’ve already larded this post with sluggish extranaeity.

My year at the Portland Press Herald was insignificant to the organization, but it was crucial to me. The place provided numerous examples of journalistic professionalism and excellence in personal comportment that I have too often failed to attain, but which I continue to cherish. And Bill Nemitz was the exemplar of what a professional journalist and great man could be.

Now the cancer I never knew he had has come back with a vengeance. I’ll be praying for him every day. I hope you can spare one, too.

Back to work

End of winter break is here. Didn’t write or read as much as I wanted, and one long-overdue get-together was thwarted at the last minute. But, in general, solidly in the win column.

Got to visit with a friend’s new family, embarked on a volunteer gig, caught up to two excellent movies long after their first run (“American Hustle” and “Wonderland”), the weather cooperated and I was able to hunker down with my girlfriend for plenty of needed relaxation. Plus, a fun and ridiculously bountiful Xmas, with minimal Sturm und Drang.

Ready to face an incredibly busy season at work, with the opening of a new arts center and four-day “creativity forum” to publicize, commencement to prepare for, faculty experts guide to launch and all sorts of day-to-day blocking and tackling ahead.

Like 2014, I expect 2015 to teem with challenges, opportunity and joy — and maybe a beer or two in Boston. Cheers, prayers and best wishes to you all!

The enemy inside me

An enemy lives inside me. At least I think he’s the enemy.

He thwarts my ambition. He leads me into temptation. He criticizes my efforts, but then quickly salves my ego, telling me everything’s all right. Not everyone is meant to create, to participate. The world needs readers and observers, an audience for the actors.

That’s what the enemy says. At least I think he’s the enemy. spy_vs_spy

Maybe that guy’s the champion of my true nature, and the enemy is the one occasionally shaking me from my slumber. The enemy grabs my lapels and shakes me out of sweet complacency. Don’t smoke so much, he says. Cut out the sweets and crap food for just one month and see how you feel. Get your ass in the chair and write, numskull!

I’ve written it down for you, he says. Just give it 15 minutes a day, for crying out loud! Remember what I said a couple years ago about an overarching resolution for the new year? What the hell happened? I had such high hopes for you!

One thing is clear: The prospect of peace at my internal borders is grim.


The nearest exit might be behind you

I’m not going to lie. I’ve drowned my talent in a sea of whiskey. I’ve set fire to my ambition and watched it float away in sprials and clouds of cigar smoke.

That’s the truth. Not all of it, but enough of it.

Unlike a visit from an old friend, or a long, lost cousin, my relationship to the blank page is like the final month of an affair. There might have been something there, once. But now we have nothing to say to one another. Just holding on in a tension-filled silence.

Every day I immerse myself in someone else’s genius is a day I’m losing touch with whatever passes for my own.

I need to find a way out.

On airplanes, stewardesses pantomime the means of egress. Years ago, they actually talked you through the emergency procedures, though now those life-saving instructions are transmitted in too-easy-to-ignore videos.

“Be aware the nearest exit might be behind you.”

We’ll see.

There was a time in my life when I was always on a bicycle, breathing the restorative air of open ocean. All my writing, what little of it there was, was all my own. Now it belongs to someone else.

That’s not a complaint. I’m paid well for what I do. I enjoy a sumptuous complement of health-care benefits I fear I will need more and more. I have a comfortable office I still haven’t hung anything in (including myself), even after a year.

My way out is behind me. While I still have time. I need to get back to that place, philosophically, where I saw nothing but the years ahead.

Not that those days were perfect. I wasn’t with the person I would be with the rest of my life. I had a shortage of money and an abundance of unpaid bills. I didn’t always think I had a future, but I did.

That future is now. At times, I live the life I always dreamed of. At other times, I’m merely a cautionary tale. To myself, anyway.

The key is to look back, find the ingredients that worked, and avoid the sins of the past.

And the sins of the future. Man. There are so many.

But there’s also faith, hope and love. And, as someone once said, the most important of these is love.

Time to show some love to myself. While there’s still time.

In the spirit of Janus

Last year, I rolled the dice with a New Year’s resolution blog. So how did the 2013 of my behavioral fantasy measure up to reality?

Buddy sun

Buddy on one of his last walks along the Merrimack River, Andover, Mass.

In the piece I talked vaguely about losing weight (I’m actually up a couple pounds, owing to overindulgence in yuletide sweets and too many lunches out), exercising less (my dog, Holly, is ailing a bit, and my other one had to be put down in late April, so my main form of activity — brisk walking along the banks of the mighty Merrimack River with my canine companions — has screwed the pooch) and my ridiculous novel remains unfinished.

Still, I consider 2013 a success. How?

Over the course of the year, I picked up a sweet summer freelance gig, which has turned into a surprising and serious full-time job. I’ve made a couple of new friends. And I feel like I’ve found my way (at least in part) to becoming (or returning to) the kind of person I want to be.

What’s more, I’ve generally stayed true to the “no complaints, no excuses” vow that constituted my true New Year’s resolution. In spite of a couple of personal setbacks, I can truly put 2013 in the “win” column. If nothing else, I’m still on the right side of the dirt.

So, this year’s resolution will be a repeat of last year’s, with one important addition: “Try a little harder.”

Like the Roman god Janus, from whom the first month of the year derives its name, I look simultaneously behind me and straight ahead.

And, on the whole, I like what I see.


To Mister, with love

When I was still editor-in-chief of the Live Free or Die Alliance, an undertaking I only recently had to back away from in favor of an irresistible opportunity at Lesley University, a friend asked me something over beers on a Portsmouth, N.H., deck.

Why did those of us involved in New Hampshire’s premier citizen-engagement website — all of us seasoned professionals of one sort or another — refer to the organization’s driving force as Mister Montrone, rather than by his given name, Paul? At the time, I believe I said something flippant like, “That’s the name on the bottom of our paychecks.”

Here’s the truth, or at least my truth, however: His genius, character and example demanded it (though he never asked for the honorific).

It’s no hyperbole to say Mister Montrone single-handedly revived my career, after I’d been laid off from a job and industry I loved and excelled in. He also stood by me through a couple of personal trials, even though they were inconvienient to the work of his organization. But there’s more to it than that.

Paul Montrone as a client (though I considered him my boss) was brilliant and mercurial, always appreciative though never satisfied. More important, in any room he’s in, Mister Montrone is the smartest, best prepared and most energetic person there. He showed me a way to be, a way I’ll certainly never achieve, but a way I’ll continually strive for. Calling him “Mister” was a sign of respect, not only for his myriad business accomplishments and financial successes, but for the man he is.

He’ll never see this, of course. He reads pretty much every crucial newspaper or important book published. He’s too busy and sensible to trifle with ridiculous blogs like this one. But this needed to be said.

If you ever have the chance to work for him, either as part of the LFDA or in one of the eight or more companies he owns, I urge you to take it. It will not be easy, but even if you only work for Mister Montrone for one day, you won’t forget it.

Or him.

Losers make excuses

“Losers make excuses. Winners make commitments.”

That was the sign, handwritten in permanent marker on butcher’s paper, hanging in the weight room of the Portland Expo, where the Portland High School phs bulldogs football team, the Bulldogs, built the foundation of brawn to carry them through each season. The sign set a tone of one-day-at-a-time, eyes-on-the-prize rigor and motivated young student-athletes in Maine’s largest city.

I first saw that sign a quarter-century ago, my work then as a teacher’s assistant having given me and a colleague after-school access to the room housing the football team’s Universal Gym and free weights when they weren’t otherwise pressed into service.

“Losers make excuses. Winners make commitments.” That legend was rendered by an inner-city high-school coach to steel teenage boys against the cross-town, more affluent Deering Rams and for the annual “Battle of the Bridge” against the vaunted Red Riots of South Portland. But, like the picturesque and lifesaving lighthouses that dot Maine’s coastline, its message has penetrated the fog of 25 years of false starts, missed opportunities and alcohol-assisted wasted time.

Over the last fortnight I’ve missed a few days of my own 15-minute Commitment. I could try to explain it but, at a minimum, that would be antithetical to my new year’s resolution and, anyway, I’m back on track.

Besides, any explanation would simply be an excuse and, well …