When I was eight, I entered a contest at the local library. The short story I submitted, encased in a plastic folder, the cover illustrated using smelly markers, was about a scuba diver who stands in for an injured Olympic torch bearer. It won first place, and that afternoon I decided — blissfully unaware of how tough it can be to get published — to be a writer when I grew up.
I'm not sure why I thought to do the math, but I just realized I've been gainfully employed by this newspaper group for 20 years. (Yes, I was super young when I started working, like Doogie Howser. Look him up.)
My newspaper career began when the then-editor of the Broomfield Enterprise, whose kid I was babysitting in my dorm room on Tuesdays and Thursdays, asked if I'd be interested in doing a little freelance work, writing up calendar entries and obituaries. Because I was still a good 5 years from having my first car, I took the bus from Boulder to Broomfield, walked across the railroad tracks and into work every Sunday. Virtually nobody was in the building, so I was free to sit quietly, reformatting the thoughtfully-penned stories folks wrote about people they loved who were gone. My friends thought it was a rather gloomy way to spend a Sunday, but the obits were filled with love, and pride, and adventure, and I found the task weirdly uplifting.
After a year or so, I went to work in the layout department of the Daily Camera while finishing my English and Film Literature degrees, and then one day, an editor decided to take a chance and let me write for him.
Since then, I've been luckier than my 8-year-old self could have imagined, eventually publishing everything from outdoor columns to a feature piece on a Burmese princess. I had a five-year stint as a film critic, interviewing people I worshipped, watching movies in empty theaters on Tuesday mornings, and collecting "Christmas Vacation" moose mugs and Clint Eastwood pictures all along the way. I traveled to Norway and sent columns back about rotten fish and death metal, hockey and hot dogs wrapped in pancakes.
And for some reason this afternoon, it popped into my head that I haven't gone a month in 20 years without getting a paycheck from a newspaper, and how absolutely fortunate I've been. The people at the newspapers here have taught me everything from how to drive to how to hit a deadline. (Both involve hitting the gas and slamming on the brakes.) Maybe it's popped into my head because I just took my goddaughter and her best friend to see the new "Godzilla." Maybe it's because their unbridled enthusiasm for writing and obsession with film reminded me of my younger self. Either way, I felt compelled to encourage them to learn all they could and push their student newspapers next year to let them cover films.
It's not easy to write. I have serious misgivings about everything I turn in. And it's not easy to be read, wondering which faceless person out there reading this will cringe. But when I look back at all I've learned, the people I've crossed paths with, the help I hope to be to my goddaughter and any other kid out there wanting to write — well I guess I wouldn't change a thing. And I wanted to say thank you.
Jeanine Fritz writes for the Colorado Daily every Monday.