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Tuesday, 15 August 2017 20:23

This must be the place: ‘Life being what it is…’

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I could see the back axle of the truck bowing.

It was five years ago today (Aug. 10) when I moved from Upstate New York to start a new life at The Smoky Mountain News in Waynesville. Whatever didn’t fit into the back of my small, old pickup truck didn’t go with me to Western North Carolina. Boxes of books, clothes, vinyl records, and my mountain bike. That was it, with the back of the truck lower than the front end due to the excess weight.

I didn’t have an apartment yet, so I slept underneath my desk in the newsroom. I didn’t even have enough money left in the bank to eat well until I got my first paycheck from the newspaper, so it was eggs, toast and slim ham and cheese sandwiches. I didn’t even know if changing my scenery, trading in the North for the South, would ultimately provide me with answer to questions I’d been asking since I graduated from college — the biggest of which, “Can I actually make a living being a writer?”

A lot of things earlier in that year (2012) led up to my acceptance of the position of arts and entertainment editor. I still, vividly, remember the phone call in late January with my friend who informed me, through screaming and tears, that our mutual friend has committed suicide the previous evening.

Our friend circle in that frozen town of Plattsburgh, New York, was never the same again. We scattered, many of us, even to this day, without a word to say to each other, in hopes of closure, because we really didn’t know what to say or do once that person disappeared from this earth.

Looking back, his passing lit a fire in the souls of all who knew and loved him, where we all found ourselves questioning the paths we each were currently on. Were we living the life we wanted and had hoped for? That circle shattered, with pieces finding themselves in San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, New York City, Buffalo, Lake Placid, and Waynesville. By all accounts, everyone has tapped into their destiny in the last five years, forever linked by that one cozy winter of potlucks, snowflakes and midnight shenanigans that ended so abruptly, so tragically.

Not long after that, I found myself in a relationship, seemingly out of nowhere, with this friend of a friend. I’d always known her, but not well enough, at least at the time, to ever consider her a possibility as a girlfriend. It was a rollicking few months, where we found ourselves at numerous intersections of “Is this going to work?” and “Are we actually good for each other?” She still wasn’t over her ex. I still was scraping by freelancing, trying to find footing in journalism in the midst of a battered and bruised economy, the only one I’d known since I graduated from college some five years before that (2007).

By the time early summer had rolled around, my back was against the wall. Do I bite the bullet and go back to graduate school, in hopes of finally getting my teaching degree? Or do I stick it out and give writing another shot? I chose writing, applying for dozens of jobs all through June 2012. I lost count of the number of resumes I mailed out during that month at around 75.

I was desperate for work. I was entertaining taking positions in the oil fields of Western North Dakota, education reporting in Omaha, cops and courts in Florida. Whatever, wherever. I just needed full-time employment. And I still stick to my story when I say there were two big reasons for my arriving in Haywood County.

One, being offered a gig where my focus was (and remains) to track down characters and culture in Southern Appalachia. Two, and this being the kicker, was that my publisher, Scott McLeod, was the only newspaper person I interviewed with that was optimistic about the future of our industry. He remains optimistic, as do I, as we push ahead in pursuit of connecting the dots of our communities, all while trying to make sense of everyday reality.

A lot has changed since 2012, for myself and also for many of you out there reading this. Politically, socially, professionally, and personally, the dynamics and organized chaos shifts constantly, where you try to keep from falling off the ride that is life.

It’s like that Kaki King melody, “Life Being What It Is,” which has been part of the underlying soundtrack of my thoughts since I first came across it in the winter of 2007/2008, some 10 years ago, when I was starting my first writing job in the desolation and isolation of Eastern Idaho, wandering aimlessly in search for something, anything that would point me in the right direction of my ultimate intent, “And if you turn it on you’d find I’ve written you a thousand times / You would do anything, you’d give up everything for God knows why / I just can’t stay till you’re gone, I won’t wish you well / I won’t see you off, I won’t try to call if I see you in my mind / I’ll say to you it’s not your fault…”

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

 

Hot picks

1 The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Haywood County will have a corn hole tournament fundraiser starting at noon Saturday, Aug. 19, at BearWaters Brewing in Canton.

2 The Summer Arts & Crafts Market will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, in downtown Dillsboro.

3 Popular Western North Carolina rock/funk act Porch 40 will perform during Concerts on the Creek at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, in downtown Sylva.

4 The 13th Annual Franklin Area Folk Festival, “A Celebration of Appalachian Heritage,” will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug.19, at Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center.

5 The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill (Waynesville) will host The Blacktop Laurels (Americana/bluegrass) at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18.

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