Jun 7, 2005

My 25th College Reunion and How I'm Blowing It Off

It's this coming weekend but I backed out about three weeks ago. My college is a couple hours away, and John was going to stay home with the kids. Very nice of him, eh? But then I thought, hmmm . . . is this really how I want to spend a weekend without the kids and husband? So I decided to go to the Philadelphia Writers' Conference instead this Friday and Saturday. In 1990 I went to a college reunion to see if any good men were single (two, but then I wasn't sure how to follow up) and in 2000 I went to show off John and baby Jack, who could be transported adorably in a backpack carried by John, but this time? Without a clear, self-interested motive, what is the point of a reunion? It's so often not quite the right people who show up, anyway.

Yeah, I'm really supposed to be writing, but I've been procrastinating for a few months. I suddenly got motivated a couple of weeks ago, and I've sent a query letter out. I'd like to write an article about the future of this estate in Rose Valley. Mike, who wrote this plea to save the estate, doesn't know much about what's happening, but the pictures are very good. It's private property, and you can't see a thing from the street, so I don't know how he got them.

It's funny how I got into journalism. I taught at a small college in Virginia for a few years and one of the first classes I had to teach was "Newswriting." Ha! I was a literature professor, but at a college like that you have to teach many subjects that are almost completely foreign to you. Newswriting, Beowulf, whatever. I expanded the course to "News and Feature Writing" and after a couple of semesters I had thought of so many interesting features myself that I started proposing ideas to the editor of the local alternative newspsaper. She took me up on almost every idea I had. I wrote about community-supported agriculture, urban renewal in my town, modern-day jousting in the "hollers" of Virginia, life on a rural bookmobile, and more.

My most amazing experience was writing the article about urban renewal. Several blocks of black businesses, churches, and homes in my small city had been razed in the early sixties as a "slum clearance" project. Most of it had been blacktopped over, with one white-owned store reopened and a few other stores constructed. Mostly it was a pretty nondescript zone by the time I lived there. Most people who had sold their property to the city couldn't afford to buy anything, so they had to move to a newly constucted housing project, and no one had enough money to reopen their businesses. (This story could be told, unfortunately, for many cities and towns in the US at that time.)

Due to the growth of a large university in the town and a number of demographic and cultural changes, the history of this clearance was only kept alive by a handful of people who lived in the historically black neighborhood, most of whom were quite elderly. But when I worked as a census taker in 2000 I met a woman who knew all these people, and through her I met them and talked to them. I found pictures of the old houses and shops in a file at the housing authority and used some of the woman's family pictures. The story was on the cover of the paper with all these incredible photos. It created quite a wave of interest, I was asked to speak at the college and for a local activist group, it spurred some college students to embark on their own related history projects, and people were constantly asking the paper for reprints. Finally they even reprinted the whole thing in 2004. Working on that was about a thousand times more gratifying than writing an academic journal article, and I knew I could never go back. (Remind me to tell you a story about a blind date and a journal article I wrote.)

So anyway, here I am up here north of the Mason-Dixon line trying to start this up again. Oh, I'm working with a journal editor on publishing one of my blog entries. So stay tuned, and don't let me stop writing.


Scrivener said...

Very cool pictures of the estate. I've been thinking of doing an inverse series on my blog--pictures of the pretensious, overdone, massively expensive new construction in my neighborhood--but one issue is how to get good pictures of them given that they're all private property and fenced off.

I'm working with a journal editor on publishing one of my blog entries. How excellent! You've got to let us in on the details when you can--especially as certain of your readers have been debating the prospects of blog writing versus "real publishing."

So stay tuned, and don't let me stop writing. Do you mean don't let you stop blog-writing? Or am I supposed to nag you about your other writing too? Do you want me to nag you more about blogging too? I need more directions here, if you want me to be a good pesterer.

Scrivener said...

And, hey, how was the conference?

jo(e) said...

Really, think carefully before you give Scrivener encouragement to nag you. He can be a real pest.

I am one of the readers who has been thinking about the distinction between "real" writing and blog writing. It gets blurrier all the time.

I too used to write for (and later, edit) an alternative newspaper. Writing a blog feels a whole lot like that. Similar audiences, I think.

Yesterday, I actually printed out the first five months of my blog, which is about 150 posts. I am planning to read through them to see if I've got anything I want to expand and maybe send off to a different venue. But I've stopped thinking about the blog as "practice writing." If over 200 people are reading it everyday, don't I get to call it "real writing"?

Scrivener said...

So, what's the deal? First you tell me to stay tuned and make sure you keep writing, and then you don't post anything for a few days. I mean, really. Are you just toying with us, your loyal readers?

Just in case you weren't clear on this point: you write some fabulous blog posts, and the only reasons you don't get much more traffic here are that you don't write terribly frequently and you don't have a blogroll with links to others or (I think) leave many comments on other peoples' blogs, so not many people have found you. I mean that as a compliment--if more people knew about your blog and you had new stuff here to keep pulling them in, you would totally have a blog-following.

jo(e) said...

Scrivener is right -- if you sometimes left comments on other people's blogs, they would come over here and then they would be hooked.

Because your writing is really terrific.

Amanda M said...

Your writing really is terrific - I read very few other blogs, but if I have a rare moment to blog surf, yours is one of the first that I go to. Looking forward to more!