catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 11 :: 2008.05.30 — 2008.06.13


A self in comparison

I See Famous People

On occasion the television will be on and I will mention to my children that “I went to school with her.” Really? Did you know her? “Well, she wouldn’t know me, but we had friends in common.”

Saturday Night Live. CSI. Spin City. Seinfeld. Then there’s my dorm mate who writes best-selling mysteries that my mom loves to read. In fact, she’ll take any opportunity to wax on about Laura Lippmann’s talent. This, a woman I used to spill drinks with so many decades ago. Makes me shake my head a bit.

Then there are the times—as on last Saturday morning—when I shriek in recognition. That’s when you know it’s actually someone I could call up, had I his or her phone number. “OH MY GOD, IT’S MICHAEL BYRNE!” My best college pal’s boyfriend was playing a football dad on a Disney Channel movie called Little Giants. Last time I’d seen him, he was an Amish father on Grey’s Anatomy. The kids were able to meet one of my other close personal acquaintances last summer, a California actor who had a couple of lines in The Princess Diaries—the tea on the terrace scene when Mia learns she’s a princess.  

I went to a moderately prestigious private university in a suburb of a sizeable lakeside Midwestern city. I was a scholarship student—and a work study and student loan one, too, which is not to say I felt at any cultural or intellectual disadvantage when I was there. But in the ensuing years, as the alumni news swells with the ego of youth, abates in the family years (for some) and swells again with midlife accomplishments, I’ve often wondered if I will ever garner the kinds of accomplishments, and seek out attention for them, as some of my fellow alumni.

So, yeah, there have been times that I have felt like an underachiever, at least as far as my fellow alumni are concerned, in spite of my White House internship (which my illustrious journalism school saw not fit to give credit for) and other very nice professional accomplishments.


Just a Little Recognition

I’ve been enjoying having a byline again. It’s been a few decades since my college internship at the Lafayette Journal and Courier granted me that consistent pleasure. I’ve had a credit on the occasional corporate annual report, but it’s not the same as your name leading the way to hundreds of words of salient insight or reportage (though better paid).

Now, maybe a nationally syndicated column is in the cards for me, or an incisive exposé like the one my daughter’s reading: Pledged, about undercover experiences in Brown University’s sorority system. I could write about…nursing homes! Of course, my daughter is already famous. She started with a personal web page on Xanga when she was… ten? And now she has her own special “page” online. Yourspace? TubingYou? No, that’s not right. Well, you know what I mean. It doesn’t take much these days to be famous.

But I don’t want to be famous for a few minutes of harridan hysterics regarding a failed relationship, or from entries of my video diary—of a sad and lonely but beguiling widow that turns out to be a faux exposé by a talented but perfectly sane and healthy actress.

Now, I did once dance with Bruce Springsteen… Had drinks with Aidan Quinn… Met Mike Royko (with Laura)… Shook the hand of someone who worked with Nelson Mandela… And my brother worked with John Kennedy, Jr., on the design for his magazine George

But that’s all derivative. I want to be famous for something I’ve created. How likely is this? Not. And why do I want it? Hmmm…not sure.

I broke new ground last year, writing personal essays for the first time. It’s a little… revealing. I found out this year someone had been Googling me, and had read everything I’d written, without my knowledge. Of course I know that my legion of readers are people I don’t know, reading without my knowledge. But let’s just say one can be blindsided when you put your own life out on the internet. (Google Emily Gould and The New York Times Magazine, for a jaw dropping rollercoaster of fleeting internet fame.)

On the other side of the coin, someone I wrote about, who wouldn’t have seen my piece had I not shown it to her—my mother—was not, not, not, happy with how I portrayed her. I couldn’t apologize for the content, but I was remorseful, and wished I’d settled on “no” after my weeks-long internal dialogue on whether to show it to her. I learned that even though you don’t want to hurt people, your experiences are yours to express, but you may have no clue as to what happens after you send them off.


Woodward and Bernstein 

I’ve never had any fire in the belly around my career, no driving determination toward a particular goal. Is it that I just don’t have a type-A personality? And where does that come from? My stolid bull sun sign? The cautious nature cultivated by a critical father and nurtured by my witchy inner critic? A feeling that my non-work life is just as, if not more important? So I look back on my circuitous career path, and rather nice resumé, and I really wouldn’t change a thing. It is true that for years my work has given (and still does give) me a much surer sense of confidence than does parenting. Yet, as a single mother of two kids who’ll forever carry around the albatross of their dad’s suicide, what could be more important than seeing them get where they’re going?

I was in part inspired by the Watergate spotlight on the newspaper industry when I applied to journalism school. Yet, upon graduation, and with a turn at newspaper work under my belt, I determined—and have claimed ever since—not to have the thick skin required of a reporter. You had to be aggressive, and willing to travel up the market tier, starting with small or suburban papers and movin’ on up, if you want to succeed in the newspaper business. 

So I took a job in typesetting and prepress production work, something at which I had five years experience. “I’ll do this for a year until I figure out what I want to do with my career.” Eight fun and well-paying years later, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. Yet, without really trying, my true career started itself when I returned to my home state of Michigan to live with my fiancé. An ad agency, the first place I interviewed after a summer hiatus, hired me as a writer/producer, a job I was tapped for because of my years of production experience. My writing career finally began, and that job launched others in advertising, and a range of consulting work in marketing, public relations, writing and editing, from a nourishing variety of clients—a variegated ride of 17 years, with no complaints from me.

What I really wanted to study in college was theatre, but I didn’t have the cojones. And yet, performing on the community theatre stage has been part of my life for the last eight years. Once I was even approached and complimented at the local market! But they didn’t seem to want an autograph, and the paparazzi were nowhere in sight.


Pageant Queens and Sweet Sixteens

My daughter and I are fascinated by a certain kind of trash television that seems popular in the dead of winter. Crowned: The Mother of All Pageants, was a deliciously tacky mansion-themed mother/daughter pageant, complete with hissy fits and blonde bimbos, which kept us entertained in December and January. And we are chortling in anticipation of the return of MTV’s Sweet 16, an ongoing “documentary” about rich girls and their parties. I think some of them might be able to afford my alma mater.

That’s where my daughter wants to go, to study theatre—this, in spite of three years of free tuition to any Michigan university because we moved to a special place called Kalamazoo. So, who knows what crowns or fifteen minutes of fame await either one of us. Maybe I’ll just be famous as Nora’s mom.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus