BY STEVE BATES
After giving the matter very little thought over a short period of time, I have decided to retire.
[Pause to allow cheering to die down.]
I admit that this is somewhat anticlimactic for a freelance writer. Many people don’t consider the gig economy to be part of the “real” employment market. I don’t feel that way.
In June 2013, when I left my last full-time job at the Society for Human Resource Management and began accepting freelance assignments, I was pleased to find that I was working about 40 hours per week almost immediately. However, the party didn’t last forever. In the past two years, I have dealt with family crises, surgeries, all sorts of prescription drugs and a disturbing increase in orphan socks. All of these issues have left me with less bandwidth and focus than I would like.
Anyone who follows baseball is familiar with the veteran pitcher who keeps hanging on long after he is effective, hoping for a last shot at glory and few measly million bucks. But he has lost the hop on his fastball, and he is a shadow of his former self. That’s probably not the way he wants to be remembered. Same for me.
I retire happy with what I have done professionally since I started contributing articles to the Richmond-News Leader while I was a college student in the 1970s. I got five backs per article. (It seemed like a lot at the time.) My last journalism class was in the tenth grade, so I guess you can say I overachieved.
One of my favorite memories is from my stint as a copy editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Faced with a narrow column in which to fit a headline about a man arrested for a sex crime, I wrote:
It seemed innocuous enough. But the next morning, the newspaper’s switchboard was inundated with readers asking where they could get theirs charged.
Several years later, I was sitting in a Washington Post news conference when an editor mentioned that one of his female reporters, who happened to be quite attractive and talented, was rumored to be a candidate for a TV network job. With impeccable timing, Executive Editor Ben Bradlee responded: “Arrange for a scar.”
My favorite article was written while I was at the Post. It was about two children with failing livers at a pediatric hospital in Philadelphia. One donor liver became available. To whom should the surgeon give it? The kid from rural Pennsylvania, or the one from Bolivia? In a somewhat Solomon-like action, the surgeon gambled and sliced the liver in half and transplanted a piece into each child.
What made the story really special for me was that, while the parents were waiting anxiously for the surgeon to finish work, the families bonded strongly. None of them spoke more than a word or two of the other couple’s language, but that didn’t stop them. The last I heard, the two kids had reached adulthood in good health.
I had hoped to continue my career for a few more years, but I got reality check during a recent visit to my doctor. I started hearing voices. They said the same word over and over: “Battery…. Battery….” I thought it was my subconscious mind beating me up for that awful headline back in the 1980s. It turns out that it was just my hearing aids trying to tell me they needed more juice. But I took it as a sign.
Now, some of you have reacted very strongly to my suggestion that I might abandon this blog as well. Despite your fervent pleadings, I have decided to continue it anyway. At least for a while.
In addition, I will write science fiction short stories as long as editors keep buying them. The great thing about sci-fi is that you don’t have to worry about accuracy. You can invent universes in which anything is possible. Well, almost anything. In all the possible universes, there is none in which Congress actually gets anything accomplished.
Some things never change.