I work as a journalist for a small town weekly newspaper, the Calistoga Tribune. I am a staff writer, by title, but my job extends far beyond that, since there are only four of us in the office. We all have our hands full doing page layout, answering phones, dealing with subscribers, taking photos, and orchestrating the myriad mundanities that make up the world of community journalism.
One of my jobs is to gather all of the components for our two editorial pages, Perspectives. There are columnists to send reminders to, letters to the editor to proofread, Mystery Photo identifiers to list. A fun little feature on the Perspectives page is our “Quote of Note,” just a short quote I select each week depending on my mood, sometimes humorous, sometimes inspirational, sometimes political. Last week, scanning my favorite quote site, Brainy Quote, I ran across this one by the Dalai Lama: Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Perfect! I rapidly typed it into the appropriate spot on the page, and turned to my next task.
It was a Wednesday. Wednesdays are our press deadline; they are always insane. I start work at 10 a.m., and frequently don’t leave the office until midnight or later. I am trying to compile calendar entries, put together puzzle pages, make last minute interview phone calls, and write my own news stories, as well as a movie review and a column. I am on overdrive all day, racing from one thing to the next. And, for some reason, Wednesday is also the day the phones seem to ring off the hook. It is the day people stop by just to chat, to see what’s going to be in the paper this week. It is a constant stream of interruptions.
In the middle of the afternoon, one of our contributors stopped by to talk about his idea for a new feature. I saw him enter the office out of the corner of my eye, and groaned to myself. Oh, not another interruption! Without even taking my gaze away from the computer screen, I curtly said, “What do you need?” He wanted to talk to my boss; she wasn’t in. He said he’d wait. I continued working. A few moments later, he asked me if anybody needed the Press Democrat he’d found lying on my boss’s desk; it had an article he was interested in reading. Again, without making eye contact, I shot out my answer: “It’s not mine. I have no idea.” I felt him shrink from my sharp words. Instead of eliciting my compassion, his discomfort made me even more annoyed. What, now I had to worry about his feelings, too? I didn’t have time for this! Finally, my boss showed up, and I was no longer responsible for him. I shut him out of my thoughts and continued with my work.
About an hour later, my attention was again on the Perspectives page, as I added in one more missing element. And then I saw it – the quote from the Dalai Lama himself. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Reading it the second time, I knew I hadn’t selected it for our subscribers. It was a message to myself.
When I got home from work late that night, I found a piece of butcher block paper and wrote out the quote in black marker. Then I thumbtacked it up on the wall above my desk.
This Wednesday, I can try again.