Friday, October 27, 2006

Rethinking My Identity

It's been weird and a little depressing re-thinking my professional identity since I quit being a journalist and started being a whatever-I-am-now: an itinerant writer/editor/researcher/fact-checker/media consultant/PR whore. I may as well describe myself as a "professional juggler," but then people might get the wrong idea (especially when I'm wearing my red clown nose). The PR whore thing is a new gig that might be coming down the line. Basically, someone said, "We'll pay you triple what you're making now!" and I said, "Sweet, that should bump me right above minimum wage, count me in!"

Trained to be inscrutable and completely objective during J-school, in my younger and more idealistic days I was convinced PR people were hacks at best, liars at worst, but above all useless. A few years out of school, having brushed shoulders and gotten pitched stories or sources by PR people who knew what they were doing, I realized that PR professionals did have a useful place in media. Sure, there are still stinkers. But there ARE good ones, and some of the best ones have a background in journalism. I don't think the PR that I am contemplating doing will really interfere in any harmful way with where my writing is going, so I think it's ok.

But anyway, the point is, in order to justify possibly taking a position doing a little bit of corporate PR on the side, I had to admit to myself that my days as a professional journalist -- which I was for eight years or so -- are effectively over. I'm running my own small business, and if someone offers to dump a wheelbarrow-full of money into my lap in exchange for a little work, it's in my best interest to take them up on it. After all, someday I aspire to owning more than a laptop and a violin, which are pretty much my only wordly posessions worth more than fifty bucks. Plus, I've found that I've been OK at most of the jobs that have come my way in the two years I've been freelancing, and it's been interesting to try out different facets in the wide world of media. I admire newspaper people more than I can say, but I just didn't have enough patience to stick around making crap wages and working horrible hours for peanuts for 10 years until I could move my way up the ladder to a job I really loved.

SO ANYWAY, this is I was thinking about it the other night when I went out to dinner with my friend whom from now on we shall call Roger.

Roger hates his job and has been batting around the idea of writing a book for pretty much forever. It's getting to the point where I'm ready to offer to write the first friggin' chapter FOR him just to get him started so I can quit hearing him moan about how he'd be such a great author but isn't quite sure what he wants his characters to DO. But actually, I'd never do that because as long as Roger has something to crab about, it means he'll take me out for nice dinners during which he'll bemoan the emptiness of his life.

Wednesday Roger took me to Otto* and I think we actually had something of a "book breakthrough" moment. I suggested a certain plot device on which he could hang his story, and it seemed to light a fire under his butt to actually get crackin'. Of course, we'll see if that happens -- if you hear me talking again in a month about how Roger took me out for oysters, that means he's probably still lollygagging.

"I better be at the top of the list in the acknowledgments page!" I said as he stared off into space, plotting out the next moves for his book's main character.

"Oh, dont' worry, I'll put you right at the top," he promised.

Which is when it occurred to me how I should mollify my ego now that I am no longer a "professional journalist." If you look me up on Amazon's A9 search, I already turn up in a few acknowledgment pages (and in several dry financial bibliographies, but let's not think about that right now).

And that is why, from now on, I am going to think of my identity as: "Muse."

*The olive-oil gelato with sea salt really IS life-changing. Seriously. I didn't believe it either. Neither did Roger. But despite his horrendous intolerance to lactose, he scarfed down nearly a whole bowl anyway. There were consequences to pay. But he doesn't regret it.


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