But, I remain optimistic. Shit, what’s the alternative? Freak out and bail on the universe? Nah, not my cup o’tea. As an older millennial, this the second economic recession since I entered the workforce 12 years ago. And through all of that, I’m still (happily and proudly) a writer and journalist.
I vividly remember the winter of 2007-2008. Fresh out of college, I got my first newspaper gig with the tiny Teton Valley News in Driggs, Idaho. Uprooted my entire life in Upstate New York and headed west.
Whatever didn’t fit in the back of my 2001 GMC Sonoma didn’t come with me. The inventory was pretty much this: three garbage bags of clothes, two boxes of vinyl records, three boxes of books and miscellaneous items (cooking gear, lamp, stereo).
For the better part of 2008, I roamed around Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming, writing stories about cattle ranchers, pro skiers, brewers, dog sled champions, blacksmiths, etc. Oh, and an infamous cover story about breakfast toast that caused a community uproar.
Living in my most favorite place in the entire world (Grand Teton Mountains), I was scraping by as a writer: just barely enough of a paycheck for rent, groceries, gas and a bar tab at the nearby Knotty Pine Supper Club.
By the end of the summer of 2008, my head was hitting the ceiling with the small newspaper. I wanted to venture out more, write bigger and more intricate features, and expand my knowledge of the cosmic magic that is everyday life in happenstance situations.
Labor Day 2008. I put in my two-week notice and headed to the Burning Man festival. I returned to Idaho from the Black Rock Desert with a whole new perspective on life — I was not “going” to be a writer, I was a writer. The light switch in my mind flicked on. I never questioned my place in the cosmos again.
Back in Idaho, it was just about mid-September 2008 when I packed up my things and said goodbye: to my apartment, friends, co-workers and the Knotty Pine. With the truck aimed for Plattsburgh, New York, I headed east.
That first night (Sept. 15, 2008), I made it as far as Miles City, Montana. I got a cheap hotel room and a six-pack of beer. I was 23 and anything was possible now. Cracking that first Miller High Life, I turned on the TV. The news across the screen was frantic: Lehman Brothers had collapsed and Wall Street was in a freefall.
The United States economy was headed towards a meltdown and there I was, day one into my “new life” with high hopes of another newspaper gig in New York. Suddenly, all of society seemed like it was cracking before my eyes.
I continued my drive across America, radio on with news reports of more financial institutions collapsing. Somewhere in rural Iowa, I paid $4.47 a gallon for gas. When I got back to the North Country, Wall Street was on fire and the entire country had changed since I left Idaho earlier in the week.
And for the next four years, I struggled and fought to stay in the journalism industry. Newspapers and magazines were disappearing every day. Once promising opportunities had now vanishing. But, I didn’t care. I would figure it out, somehow.
I slept in a guest room in my parent’s house, slept on couches, slept in the back of my truck, slept in rest areas and in truck stops, all while writing freelance articles for $40 a pop. I even did substitute teaching at my old high school to make ends meet. It was terrible, but I never questioned that journalism was what I wanted to do with my time on this planet.
Then, in June 2012, I got a phone call from Scott McLeod, publisher of The Smoky Mountain News in Waynesville. He liked my work and offered me a dream gig: arts and entertainment editor, which oversaw all of the company’s travel magazines, too. I jumped on it.
Packed up the truck with my garbage bags of clothes, vinyl records and books and drove 1,100 miles to Haywood County. That first week on the job for SMN, I slept underneath my desk in the newsroom. I went broke moving to Carolina and had to wait for my first paycheck to use as a deposit for an apartment.
Thus, here we are, some eight years later. Another economic recession, but for an entirely different and surreal reason. Yes, our newspaper has had to make drastic cuts to stay afloat and navigate correctly through these uncertain times and choppy waters.
But, we remain. And I still have my job, even if it’s going to be extremely tight financially for the foreseeable future. And that’s OK. It is. Those memories of struggle from 2008 through 2012 are never too far from my thoughts.
I didn’t give up then and I won’t give up now. Nor shall any of you out there either that are currently reading this. Keep your head up. Appreciate the small, precious things in life. Remember what you’re made of and use that as fuel for inspiration and determination moving forward.
We’ll get through this. Don’t forget: this ain’t our first rodeo.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.