Keep Calm. Deadlines Rarely Mean Death. Carry On.
Eating crow is the hardest part of journalism for me. The pressure to always be right and truthful almost made me quit my journey in this profession. But I'm back at it, and it'll be harder to shake me off this time. Warrior Writers in Boston will not be releasing a zine on June 26th during the reading at Longfellow’s House. It will come out (hopefully) in September instead. The false start is my fault, but the facts of how it happened don't matter as much as why.
Public behavior ought to be regarded seriously. Joking is a plush profession too, but too often jokes are disguised talk therapy (dead serious). It's funny because if I'd said certain stressful things to my barber instead of a psychiatrist, I would probably be a police officer in short order. Instead I feel like a pariah, and I believe I am suspected of racism to boot. That's fine. I've been known to play Snowflake.
Here is a non-story that will never appear in your newspaper: a rich kid OD’ed in (I think) February in a condo his parents bought. His story is irrelevant, except to illustrate the defining finality of precious moments between us. The value of a five minute conversation can be life or death, believe it or not. Had someone observed and reported bad behavior, the fifteen minute delay that now guilts a CPR trained concierge would never have happened. A concierge might blame his drug dealer (in this case his doctor), or his parents for coddling him while projecting a morality they did not actually live by, or the kid for being depressed while living in a plush apartment he never worked to achieve.
The line between the truth and a fiction is quite subtle. A fiction appears true in your mind, while the truth lingers in the past. You cannot know what happened exactly, and evidence can also lie. This is why talking to cops can be dangerous. If an investigator latches onto the wrong side of a stray thought, if you talk too much you might spend a lifetime in a prison cell subverting justice.
Deadlines are not fiction. Often missing a deadline (just finishing is not always enough) means no response. Now I've been lucky many times in my life to have worked with lenient editors. But every communication (for me) is like a dance. I don't care about stories. Emotions are great manipulators and whatnot, but you might be surprised by how cold of a fish I can be when faced with a disturbing narrative.
Suicide is just weakness leaving a body. It's not interesting or profound. So to what lengths aught we go to prevent it? Consider the case of an (alleged) sexual predator seeking custody of his kids. If this predator is also a war hero, how should we treat his offspring? Do we believe in brain damage? How far are we willing to take this disability talk? Will you believe me if I say that info can kill? What if I tell you that stress is damaging?
Here's a commoner story: a young soldier returns home after surviving an IED. He can't think clearly. His wife hardly recognizes him. He lands an easy overnight security gig. The lead concierge at the building were he works five quiet nights a week just went through a divorce. She’s 28, says she’s old and she wants to have kids. She starts sleeping in the guest suit, walking around late nights in silk PJs, calling the desk for help with the lights, texting him during her day shift when he's trying to sleep. His wife reads the texts, threatens divorce. He tells his manager working overnights about the “sexual harassment” he is experiencing from the lead concierge (female). His manager ignores the problem. The ex-G.I. (discharged after suffering an IED explosion) has a brain hemorrhage (or at least when his manager calls his cell when he’s 30 minutes late to work, his wife says he's in the hospital bleeding from his ear).
Now since this wounded G.I. Veteran’s ex-overnight-concierge-manager has to cover his shift for a few weeks until someone new gets hired, he catches the true story first hand. The lead concierge, one morning, asks him to zip up her dress. Within a week she texts on off hours, shows up at the desk at midnight in silk pajamas, chats engagingly, touches his elbows. About a week later the lead concierge has been changing in the package room for 30 minutes. A resident asks for a package. The overnight manager calls into the package room, “Can you grab me the package for 1107 [or whatever].” The lead concierge says, “I can’t. Come take a look.” … now this story begins to sound like a sick man’s fantasy. Is this true? I’d call it a fiction now, since it’s written down for your amusement.
The line between life and death (or just steady employment) sometimes means acting on true and clear info. Agatha Christie wrote Murder Is Easy. I believe her. The timeline between certain info and it's deadline can mean a body count. That said, “Complacency Kills” is just a tagline. Whatever relevance you add is in your own mind. It's not real, and acting on a fiction that you have conjured is almost worse than missing a deadline.
Thanks for following my public efforts. This URL will go dormant (at the very least) for a cooling off period after the reading by Warrior Writers in Boston on June 26th.