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Welcome To The Jungle
by Ian Birnbaum
Please welcome our newest writer, Ian. He'll be here every other Tuesday unless we can bribe/coerce/blackmail him to write weekly.
"Are you all caught up?" My editor calls over from two cubicles down.
"Um, no, not really," I say, still typing a story on a local high school that just won the district volleyball championship.
"Comin' your way!" he says happily, the gleeful sadist.
"Sports, this is Ian," I answer the phone and open a new Word document. "Score?...ok. Who was home?" It's one of the area basketball coaches, and she wants more news coverage of her team.
"FUCK!" the editor yells. Startled, I look up.
"Goddamn Edmonton just scored on the Stars again. You fucking SUCK, Turco!" The other sports writers, seated at desks all around me, laugh quietly.
"And hurry up with that, the Morning-News is crawling up my ass asking about when they're gonna to get it," he says, turning back to his computer. Shit. I start typing again, my part-time job on it's usual nightly course.
See, they say we're all special, but the reality is ... we're not. At least, 99% of us can't possibly be: we have to make way for the 1% who are. And so, all of us who didn't have lightening strike or didn't have rich and powerful parents set about creating the best life for ourselves that we know how. We pick a profession of service, power or money, then focus our academic might on the major that will give us the know-how and training to throw ourselves into that profession.
And, well, that's how I became a word whore. With one stop at Barnes & Nobles, I walked out with the 2006 edition of The Writers Market and the self-applied title of Professional Freelance Journalist; it's telling of my profession that the only requirement for entry is $26.99 plus tax, but there you have it. It's a big clubhouse - just hand the doorman your cash and you can come inside. We're a little like pyramid schemes that way.
So I had the book. I had the grammar skills and vocabulary. I had the wit. I had all the tools to write, but then I slammed nose-first into a solid steel wall: I had no credentials, no previous work, no proven track record - I didn't have anything I needed to get published. Published?! Where the fuck did this come from? I had been assured that if I could write well, the words would get out to the world. What the hell is this publishing game, and how do I play it?
It was with all of these thoughts in my head that I found myself behind a desk in the sports section of my local paper, cutting my teeth on AP Style, being a reporter, deadlines and the special brand of chaos that is only found in newsrooms. And sure, I am happy with my part time job, earning money and still going to college. I don't get paid much, but I'm getting paid to write, and that's a fantasy I've had since I was 12 or so. In fact, the "getting a paycheck for writing" fantasy actually used to mentally fight it out with the "Elizabeth Hurley in a vat of Jell-O" fantasy during my high school years. Yeah, I was a complicated teenager.
But, true story, Word Whores can't be choosers. If you have a by-line for a writer, I want to be that writer. Need an article about the reproductive cycle of a Harp Seal? I. Don't. Give a shit. I'll learn all about it and then write it for you, just give me the damn by-line. No, come on, give me the by-line, man, don't bogart that shit. It's been so long since my last check. I can write a book like I say I will, I can write that book, like, any time I want to, I just need one more column to get me going!
Seriously though, it is my hope that this space will document my journey from nameless journalism major to published writer, successful columnist, best-selling novelist, award-winning screenwriter, or whatever else life has in store for me. Hell, I'd be happy if it was just Has-Proud-Parents-And-A-Paycheck Guy.
And I know I'm not alone - wannnabe writer is one of the most common job descriptions in America today. So many people want to be published but aren't, but can't find time to write, but can't get their work noticed. I don't have the answers; I wish I did. But, I promise, this column will be an honest, accurate portrayal of my attempts, successful or not.
I also have the habit of talking about politics, sports, theology, people, and the meaning of life (42). So, be warned, if you're going to walk around in here, you're gonna to get some of that stuff on your shoes. Sorry about that.
Ian once killed a man in Reno in a fight over a box score.