Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Quiet Nervous Breakdown

I can't sleep. I have to be up in six hours to go finish off this week's paper, then help finish a special section (i.e., advertorial) and get next week's issue moving. But I can't sleep and so I've decided to stay awake and have a tiny nervous breakdown.

I have to decide what I'm doing.

Through random dumb luck, a statistical bit of insanity, my husband won a few million dollars in the lottery. It was exactly four weeks ago yesterday. I was at the Salinas City Council meeting, where I didn't have to be because I was actually on vacation starting that evening, but I just can't stand to miss a good council meeting. I was tweeting away about dumb things—the mayor "confessing" to have eaten at McDonalds—when a friend text messaged me: Stop tweeting about the stupid mayor and McDonald's. Someone won the lotto off a ticket at Star Market. $2.7 million.

"Ha ha," I responded. "Hope it's my husband."

About 15 minutes later, I walked through the door of the house and Chuck met me in the hallway with a strange look on his face. "Good news or bad news?" he asked. Bad news, I said; I'm a glass is half-empty, dirty and cracked kind of girl. "The bad news is we didn't win $227 million off the lottery. The good news is we did win $2.7 million and you never have to go back to that place again."

That place is my job as a newspaper editor at arguably the best newspaper in Monterey County. I run it. I'm the top dog and I'm probably the highest paid print journalist in the county, although that no longer counts for much in this dying industry. That place has defined who I am, every waking moment and many sleeping ones, for the past five years. I remember when I first started, I would come home almost every night and mutter about that place. That place. People who behave badly in that place. A reporter who, upon hearing her story pitch criticized (and it was beyond fucking lame), said to me in the edit meeting, "Are we done here, because I don't care." Horrible human being. Horrible writer too. I was glad to see her go when she quit a few weeks later. "That place," I would say, as my husband made me a drink. "Who behaves that way?"

This place, and the job, has brought me moments of bliss, of pure adrenalin rush. When a union organizer told my publisher he found me "unusually aggressive," I told my publisher, "You didn't hire me because of my shy demeanor. You're paying me all this money because I'm a killer." And I am. Standing between me and a story I want is a bad place to be standing.

But what if it's time to do something else? Because being a killer means 50-60 hour weeks. It means managing a group of people, most of whom I adore, who all bring different skill sets and abilities and motivations and issues with them. It means getting up and finishing the special advertorial sections. It means being irate when deadlines are missed.

I made a promise to myself, when the money happened, that I would never write another word about something I don't care about. The list of what I don't care about is long: the political problems of Carmel by the Sea. The Pacific Grove sewer tax. Cal Am's desalination plant. The list of what I care about is longer: Monterey's unconstitutional sit-lie law. The dozens of homeless people who are living in their own society in Laguna Grande Park. The state of the police state we're living in. Failing schools, overwhelmed parents. Third-world poverty in East Salinas. The winners of the lucky-sperm lottery, the children and grandchildren of the landed gentry, who control everything and have consolidated their power.

I'm trying to imagine a different life, one where there aren't 50 hour work weeks and people who miss deadlines. I'm trying to imagine a slower pace, where I write stories that I care about and I don't have to care about getting paid. I'm trying to hold on for six months, because promises were made and a wise man told me I shouldn't make any big decisions for six months.

It's going to be my youngest son's last year of high school. I've missed vast portions of his past five years because I'm a killer. I spent little time with my dying mother, even though she desperately wanted me there, because I'm a killer. And now we take care of my differently abled elderly sister, and I think she's sad because she's often alone because I'm a killer. My health has suffered for it; I was supposed to have surgery to repair my esophagus three weeks ago and they couldn't operate because I was too anemic to undergo surgery. I thought the level of exhaustion I'd been operating at was normal. Now that I know it's not, it's opened up all of these exciting possibilities. I can live and be healthy and, thanks to a statistical fluke, the literal luck of the draw, I can stop worrying about money.

I have decisions to make. And thinking to do.