Wednesday, November 28, 2012


This is November.

Brown and orange. Cool and brisk. Gray skies -- really gray skies that can produce no rain but are simply the norm -- are reintroduced in November. Yes, this month has its share of sunny days that are actually quite pleasant (despite being cool and brisk), but those days are just a tease for colder and bleaker days to come.

November gets dark so early. You hit that time change, and too quickly, that sun is below the horizon too soon every late afternoon. And it only gets worse as winter approaches.

Between the day after Halloween and Thanksgiving's aftermath, November is filling. And sugary. Yet, this is the worst time to work out. The weather isn't always agreeable to exercise outside, and there never seems to be enough time to work out inside. November is indecisive in so many ways.

This month is personal for me because my birthday lands here. I get through it, and the remaining weeks are a blur through Thanksgiving. Maybe I'm not giving the rest of November enough of a chance.

But basketball season returns this month. And football is in full swing. November is Walter Payton running in slow motion while "Nobody Does It Better" provides a musical complement to his excellence. And it's preseason college basketball tournaments, watched eagerly after months since March Madness. And of course, it's throwing a football around in the cool and brisk air and on the last leaves that didn't get quite raked.

November is "Heartache Tonight" by The Eagles, "Alive and Kicking" by Simple Minds and New Order's "True Faith." It's a month without reruns. It's a time to vote. It's Asteroids on the Atari 2600.

But more than anything, November is the first realization that the year is coming to an end. Spring came and went, as did summer, and fall is dwindling quickly. Winter is going to set in, as will the new year. Too much of December is focused toward the holiday that we don't quite contemplate January and February. Without November, the new year would take us completely by surprise. November, a little cruel and sometimes uneventful, reminds us of what's to come, even if we forget it until after Dec. 25.

This is November.

My first newspaper job

Before my side goal in November, I had been blogging about some fall memories. I had written this and intended to post it around my birthday, but never got around to it. Before December, here's one more fall memory from way back when.

I've been in the newspaper industry for almost 22 years (and that's not counting my first couple years working for my college's newspaper). Yet my first newspaper job wasn't writing or editing or clerking. Eight years before I set foot in a big-city newsroom, I was a paperboy for a neighborhood weekly.

I had wanted to deliver newspapers, following the lead of some of my friends who did. My parents didn't want me (and them -- on cold days, who's driving?) to take on the commitment of waking up early every morning to deliver a daily newspaper. But in the fall of 1982, they did let me take a job delivering the Harlem-Foster Times. Published once a week, the Harlem-Foster Times was one of a string of neighborhood weekly papers in Chicago and its suburbs. The day after Election Day, three days before my 12th birthday, three bundles of newspapers showed up on my doorstep.

I still remember the first edition of the Harlem-Foster Times I ever delivered. The election for Illinois' governor was the day before, and the ribbon headline declared that Adlai Stevenson Jr. had defeated the incumbent Jim Thompson. There was one little problem: Thompson had actually won in a close race (by about 5,000 votes). In true Dewey-beats-Truman form, the collection of papers in this chain (I'm sure this was the lead story in every one) must have went to press when it still looked like Stevenson would win. Essentially, and ironically, the first newspaper I, a professional copy editor and award-winning headline writer, delivered was inaccurate.

Mom helped me deliver all my papers that gray November day. Eventually I settled into a routine every Wednesday for the next three years in which I could get all the papers rubberbanded and delivered rather quickly. Amazingly, I did the paper route for a fall while running cross country my freshman year in high school. I didn't mind the delivering. I'd take a radio or a Walkman along and do it in two trips just walking it (I didn't have the right bag to deliver these on my bike) in the immediate neighborhood around my block. The first year, and the music I listened to all that winter, was the most memorable.By the third year, it was all routine.

What sucked about the route was collecting. Thirty years ago, it fell on the delivery boys to collect the subscription fees from customers. I'd try to get as many as I could over the course of a few days, then mail in or drop off half of what I collected. I got the rest and whatever tips were given. I liked the money, of course, but collecting was such a pain. It took more time than delivering, and I'd always have to follow up at houses when someone wasn't home. At first it was just once a month, but in the last year, it was once every two weeks. That was too much, and by the beginning of sophomore year, I quit.

I doubt many kids have paper routes anymore, even for weeklies. Adults with cars are more efficient at delivering newspapers. Hey, three years at one job for a 11- to 14-year-old is an accomplishment. The collecting I hated so much probably was good experience for future jobs -- sometimes, you just have to put your head down and barrel through the work you have to do, no matter how much you don't want to.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Where I've been, where I'm going

It's been awhile, hasn't it?

I haven't posted in more than month. I've been busy.

For the fourth November, I attempted NaNoWriMo. Three years ago, I finished, achieving a 50,000 word novel. The last two years, I didn't make it so far. But I was optimistic this year. I had an idea that I had been thinking about for months, and in October, I even started writing things down -- characters, plot, logistics. I was looking forward to finishing Novel No. 2 in November. After midnight on Halloween, I started writing and knocked out 700 words before the month was even an hour old.

Then, November happened. November happened in a big way.

November really started in October -- the last two weeks of that month completely throttling my schedule. I wasn't able to manage any more prep work for the novel, and though I was still confident in my imminent creation, I should have recognized the signs that November would be nutty.

On top of the extra meetings, the extra co-op shifts, the extra shifts I took at the newspaper, the conclusion of soccer season, the beginning of basketball season and a major house project, I accepted a big contract editing job that took up a fair amount of my time the first couple weeks of the month. I got through it and was still somewhat optimistic with the novel. The words were coming easily when I did sit time, and I was thinking about the story often.

However, all the other stuff kept getting in the way. I'm not begrudging the other stuff, but it was either taking up time or sapping my energy. The last two Novembers have been like this -- it's such a busy month to begin with, then I take on extra work (which I can't turn down), and I feel buried. The kicker was the week before Thanksgiving. After working two of three days over the weekend, I was ready for a big session on Monday night. Then I was asked if I could do a rush contract writing job. Again, this is work I can't turn down, and though it only took a couple hours, it was still a thousand words I didn't write for the novel.

Finally, last week, I looked at how many words I had left, how much time I had left, and how many words I would have to write every day, and realized finishing in November wasn't going to happen. After finishing NaNoWriMo once, the desperate energy isn't quite there, even with a story that I was happy with. I gave it a shot again, and unlike the past two years, this is a story I want to finish and is in a framework that sitting down and writing 500 words if I feel so inspired will be easy. I'm disappointed that I didn't finish in November, but not so much that I'm discouraged.

So what did suffer this crazy November? This blog, and all the other writing projects I want to undertake. The immediacy of my other writing that I put on the backburner for NaNoWriMo will return. This post is the first step back.