After the newspaper sails out for the last time, what then?

boat sails out

By Maureen (Mo) Conlan

I have been on a journey for the past few years, cut loose from the moorings of my life in newspapers.

The heart-pounding deadlines. The story chase. The daily newspaper where I worked for 30 years closed after telling the story of my city for 126 years.

On a cold day in January, it sailed one final time -- we who'd produced it every day staring mournfully after.

My boat sank and I retired. No more power to shine light where it needs to be shone. No more seeing my story in print, my byline. No more little thrill at coming up with a haiku-worthy headline two minutes to deadline.

I miss the wonderfully quirky people. Idealists -- though people no longer seem to believe this about the Fourth Estate. We remained idealists -- perfectionists -- even as we were sold out. With fewer and fewer people, we tried to produce that great front page, that prize-winning photo, that perfectly error-free obituary. By the end, those of us left wore many hats.

Now, I have my art, my cats, the backyard birds, squirrels, rabbits, lizards and occasionally, deer, as companions.

I love the peacefulness of my house and my backyard, the playfulness of hours painting at my easel – without thought of making it “pay” or doing it to please anybody else. But I have been resistant to writing. This resistance feels like the comment the 5-year-old boy made after being asked to help his sister clean up her room, littered wall to wall with dolls: “I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

I am reluctant to impose on myself the discipline of writing. But I also know my mind and heart need it. Inside me, the writer waits, knows I will and must return.

Discipline – I have always hated this word; reminds me of cheerless, black-clothed nuns. Producing a daily newspaper didn't feel like discipline -- though the intricacies are astounding. It felt more like a wild ride.

At times I lose any sense of purpose. I feel less important. Then I tell myself that both making art and writing are important. These arts have warmed me and all my human ancestors – though we be small, spinning in space and teetering on “darkling plains.”

Without the grinding effort of helping to put out a daily newspaper, I must make my own purpose. I have a few things worked out: two writing groups with some wonderful writers who have, what I read as, Fourth Estate souls. I've begun taking Tai Chi classes. I beat up my body all those crazy years of stress and deadlines -- now I can make some repairs.

And, I can write.

Take little steps. I revise my poems. Easy. I can write new poems -- a little harder. I can proceed with my novel-in-the-drawer. Maybe. I am stuck on the “what happens” of my novel.

I give myself permission to spend time just thinking about possible story lines. What do I want to happen to my characters? I have the authority and power to make anything I want happen.

It's like I am The Editor. Corner office. Final say. Hmmm. I can do this.

Now I need to figure out the story line of my novel and the story line of the next part of my life.

P.S. If my old newspaper editor pals -- Mike Kaiser or Jack Schicht -- got their hands on this piece of prose, it would be better. We believe in editing -- in the right words put together the best way to tell the most compelling story. No errors. This is hard to get in a world of Tweets. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Computer art by Mo using Paint program.

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