By Mandi Donohue
One of the great charms of the Methow Valley is the idea that no matter your education or career track, you are always qualified for almost every job. It is in this spirit of “serendipity” (one might also call it the sad economics of our labor supply and demand) that I got this gig as a columnist, writing the weekly Mazama Valley Life column.
While I have a communications degree, I definitely did not study journalism. Not to mention the last “news article” I wrote was almost 20 years ago in college, in a class that was less about writing for the student newspaper and more about checking a box off of my professor’s curriculum. As they say in the valley, however, “the odds are good but the goods are odd,” and thankfully, I resembled that remark!
With this being my second-to-last column (sniff, sniff), it has many of you wondering who the next columnist will be for Mazama. I get this question a lot so I thought I’d spend some time on what I’ve gotten out of this crazy adventure of a writing process. And hopefully, it may strike a spark in you. (Yes, you! This column ain’t gonna write itself!)
First — I’m not gonna lie — it’s the ice cream money. “Nickels, nickels, nickels!” Oh, how we love to dream and create for the sake of expression, but when we can hear that “shake and clank” in our cold little cans, our hearts warm with greed and relief. It’s not much, but writing the column is a paid position and that ice cream money adds up (especially if you’re willing to write articles for the seasonals, etc). Not to mention, ice cream is delicious.
Second, a work-life balance. Working for the paper has a allowed me to work a day less at the bakery thanks to this supplemental income, and whether it is the time off of my feet, or the joy of a more creative income on the side, that reality has truly changed my life. I don’t think I’ve ever taken that part for granted.
Third, where else in the world would you get the chance to be a paid weekly columnist? Literally anywhere else you would need a degree and an extensive resume. As we begin our move to California, this resonates deeply. I now wish I had cut out and kept all of my columns. I still have them all on my computer, of course, but I have a feeling, 10 years from now, that I’ll wish I could see them as they were printed — recalling all of our adventures from Mazama to our children, for the millionth time, as they roll their eyes in despair.
Fourth, it’s been an aid in developing a thick skin which, for a sensitive gal, is a good thing. It’s an incredibly vulnerable feeling to put yourself out there every week for people to either enjoy or judge the job you’re doing. Everyone wants to read the stories; no one wants to be the story. No one wants the job but they always have suggestions as to how you should do your job.
Not to mention, everyone thinks you’re a legitimate reporter. (I leave the real, hard-hitting reporting to the remarkable full-timers at the News). And then there are the folks that see you and scurry away. They’re afraid you’ll put their name in the paper and you will. Because it’s Mazama — 12 of us live here and this columnist has seen moments of desperation. But I digress
Fifth, is the personal challenge of it. Can I do this? Will I succeed or fail? Can I legitimately and physically put 500 words to paper once a week? Can I make time for this? Will I enjoy this creative outlet?
And finally, the community aspect of it has been extremely rewarding. Working with the folks at the paper has been a truly lovely experience and living in the Methow has shown me what true community is on a regular basis. I love to tell stories, and while they’re not all Hemingway, to be the scribe that writes them down is a really special thing. What say you, friends?