Saturday, April 20, 2013

Be there and be square

Sometimes I feel like I'm riding the crest of a wave -- even when West Michigan isn't in the middle of a 100-year flood. I'm referring to the rising tide of would-be authors.
         "Celebrate the Mitten," Kent District Library's second annual writers' conference, was a sell-out today, with 200 people gathering at the Cascade Library to hear Michigan authors such as Mardi Link and D.E. Johnson talk about their craft, and publishing representatives from Arbutus Press and StoryLook Design offer advice for improving their work. I was pleased to be included on the panel with such talented, and successful writers.
        But I was also impressed by the writers who filled the audience: humorist Myron Kukla,  former Press food writer Kathy Carrier,  animal advocate Janet Vormitag, writing coach Tricia MacDonald. There was a poet trying to sort out how panels on copyediting and covers applied to her. A Pakistani filmmaker passed out DVDs of his latest work. A scientist said he needs an editor to help with words; a suited businessman easily won best dressed; a woman with a PhD in English bemoaned the lack of editing. They brought folders stuffed with their stories and drawings. One woman said she had written a musical, complete with script and songs, and just needed a theater to try it out. Another was trying to promote her beautiful hardcover book about the history of a lighthouse.
         I like to think the speakers provided some encouragement and answers for these hopeful scribes.  But none of us could offer the secret handshake for getting their creative treasures published and into the hands of the readers they so desperately desire.
        At the end of the day, the panelists gathered to sign and sell their books. Three people in a row asked if I could take credit cards. I don't. But Mardi Link plugged a quarter-size white plastic square into the top of her phone and in an instant she was doing business. So I learned something too. If I'm going to stay ahead of this flood of talent, I gotta be square.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bye, bye 155

On a snowy February day more than 23 years ago I walked into the Press building at 155 Michigan St. for the first time. Today, on a sometimes sunny, sometimes snowy April day I walked those familiar halls for the last time.
     Like the mixed weather, I have mixed feelings about the end of an era. Of course, my era at The Press officially ended almost four years ago when I retired, but I continue to freelance. Now the building has been sold, the remaining newsroom employees -- copy desk and high school sports desk -- will move to new offices in Walker next week. The reporters have been operating out of the downtown hub for more than a year. 
   Today about 100 of us gathered for one last potluck. Oh, they always had the best potlucks. A few of the people who came today still work at the new M-Live media group that has replaced The Press. But most were folks like me who no longer work there but  have way too many memories in that building. '
   I remember coming down that elevator the night we bombed Iraq the first time, back during Desert Storm, and I remember thinking, "Is this it? Is this the beginning of another World War?" Then one morning 10 years later when I boarded that elevator, another passenger said he had just heard on his car radio that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I went up to the newsroom and watched in disbelief as the towers crumbled. I've shared so much more than potlucks with those people.
    We gathered one New Year's Eve for Y2K, not sure if our computers would work through the night. Year after year we watched Santa parades line up by our parking lot, Festivals unfold on our doorstep and Celebration on the Grand fireworks explode overhead.
     For some of those there today like Pete Demaagd and Ann Wells, this is not the first building they have outlived. They said goodbye to the former buildings of The Press and The Herald. And I know that Publisher Dan Gaydou is right. The Press and M-Live Media Group are moving into an exciting new era.
     But that doesn't keep me from mourning the place where I spent so many hours for the past 20 years. Or from thinking that the flag flying at half mast in front of the building is symbolic of the loss I feel.
     Nevertheless, getting together with those friends is always a celebration. Who would have thought that one day the Honeytones, a local band composed of former Press writers Charley Honey and John Sinkevics and copyeditor Jerry Seim, would set up in the middle of the newsroom and play while we danced?