Friday, January 11, 2008

like I really need this stress

Argggh! Since mid-November, I've been working on an article that has been one of my most challenging and frustrating experiences in my 15 years of doing journalism. It's supposed to be a profile on the founder and former CEO of a big company known for his ethical business practices, his philanthropy, his sense of integrity. And, apparently, his extreme privacy. He won't talk to me. The people at his company who handle his calls have consistently told me his schedule is too busy, that he gets so many media requests that he turns many of them down. (There is much more to this story, which I originally relayed here in detail, but I've cut it because I don't feel comfortable having it on this blog.) At any rate, I have to try to do this article in the best way I can, culling information from public sources, which basically means things I can find online and in previously published materials, and getting comments and anecdotes from people who know this man. What was supposed to be a straightforward little profile has morphed into something that feels overwhelming. And I don't have a lot of time to devote to it, since my main work time is at night and on weekends.

So today, in my latest phone conversation with the company's communications director, Daniel was squawking and running around and upsetting papers, and I kept having to say, "Excuse me" to her while I calmed him down. At one point she told me something that really made me bristle. (Again, I've cut the specifics.) And when I got off the phone, I called Steve, and when I got off the phone with Steve, I walked into the living room, and Daniel had scrawled several square feet's worth of lines and circles all over the wall with a blue crayon. I lost it then and there, sat down on the floor and started crying. I hate crying in front of him. He doesn't understand, and he doesn't know what to do. But I felt totally overcome by frustration, probably helped along considerably by hormones. I don't think he's scarred for life, at any rate. He seems to have gotten over it, and he enjoyed watching Steve clean the wall. And now it's Friday night, and I'm OK too, except I have a whole weekend to stew over this and try to figure out how to shape the story.

It gives me a lot to think about as I work my way into the freelancing world. At this stage, I may agree to do jobs that don't necessarily excite me; it's a good way to get a variety of clips and develop some experience and connections with different publications. Besides, I often learn something from those articles and end up being more engaged than I thought I would. But my hope is that somewhere down the line, I will hold the reins a bit more and decide what I want to write about and what types of jobs to pass on — and that I'll be able to do this work with more of a sense of direction. Plus, I'd like to learn how to better evaluate ahead of time how much time and energy a job is going to take, and to decide: How much stress am I willing to allow myself? At what point do I say, "This is enough?"


Missy said...

Wow - that sounds really frustrating! And hormones certainly do not help in situations like those! I've heard Magic Erasers take crayon off walls easily (for future reference). I hope you are able to wrap up this article soon and move onto something more engaging and attainable!

Ellen said...

For this story, if I were doing it, I would actually use his privacy as the angle for the story! Start out your lead graphs with a narrative account that points out to the reader how he is a privte person (in a positive, yet mysterious kind of way) and why, and then transition into the rest of the story and dot it with the other "anecdotal evidence" you have collected.

Anonymous said...

I remember how when you first started freelancing, it seemed like a logical way to do things given you had a new baby (Daniel). Now you're learning that freelancing, too, can be very stressful, much more than probably originally thought.

Trust me, I know the feeling. Something will seem to be so logical and simple, then turns out to be a headache in ways you didn't imagine.

Hang in there! You're not alone. All in all, if seems like freelancing is still a really good thing for you. Like you said, this is an opportunity to gauge what type of stories to take on.

- Susanne