October 29th, 2007

Schmuckery is Not the End of the World

And a lucky thing it’s night, because this month I have been exhibiting more schmuckiness than usual.


Example the first:

It didn’t feel like I was procrastinating on one of my regular gigs. But evidently I was. Because this weekend—the weekend the publication closes out, basically, and the layout guy should have just about everything in hand—I discovered I had completed… well, virtually nothing, to be frank.


But that’s not as bad as this: early last week, I had a Breaking News Brainstorm (which is not like me at all as I take my feature-writing proclivities very, very seriously, by which I mean I rarely—and almost never by choice—even hinge a feature on a current event. It’s just not in my makeup). Unfortunately, the Brainstorm was not a big hit on my mental Richter scale, and I promptly forgot about it. Until I went to the Editorial Council meeting Friday, and the councilmembers eagerly asked me exactly how I was intending to cover the local wildfires. I suppressed the hysterical laughter until I got to my car.


But today I made about a dozen phone calls to sites that were likely to have been impacted by the fires, and at just about every one, someone was willing to tell me about the horrible stench, the ash like snowfall, the glow of fire in the canyons. And this afternoon was the best of all: on condition of anonymity (he didn’t want his superior to feel wounded that I’d spoken to him, and not the superior), a guy told me all about the evacuation, and the guys who didn’t evacuate, and packing the van before they left, and the morning they could actually see the fire creeping down the road towards them.


So despite my unwillingness and my last-minuteness, this is going to be a pretty dang informative little piece. And done on time. So there.


Example the second:

This is way, way worse.


I turned in a story to an editor at one of my favorite mags—an editor I’ve only worked with a couple times before, so I’m still trying to impress her. (Sorry—I was still trying to impress her positively. But those days are over now.)


This story was an elaboration of a special sort of list—let’s say, the seven dwarves. So here’s how I got to work: I found the list of dwarves on a reliable website. Then I pulled up my library’s virtual catalogue, and began making a list of call numbers. Then I pedaled over to the library and very, very carefully pedaled back home with a basket far, far, far too full of books. And I read, and Post-Ited, and photocopied, and wrote. And everything was going just fine.


My editor and I had an hour-long call last week, hammering out the details of the piece, which I finessed over the next couple days. I felt really, really good about it—except for one niggling fact I couldn’t pin down. So I went to that reliable website again, and that’s when I discovered my Egregious and Horrifying Error.


I’d researched six of the dwarves just fine. But somehow, number seven ended up Rumpelstiltschen instead of Dopey. Sure, I’d found fun trivia about R. But the fact remains, he wasn’t even on the list.


How great that I caught my error, you’re no doubt thinking. But wouldn’t it have been ever so much greater if I hadn’t turned in a draft with the wrong dwarf in it first?  


We all drop a ball or two now and then. That’s not an unfamiliar feeling for me. But this—falling off the unicycle when I didn’t even know I was riding it in the first place—this is totally not cool. 

On the other hand: at the rate I’m going, I have a definite shot at Patron Saint of All Schmucks Everywhere when, after 20 or 30 decades, I finally pop off.



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