Monday, September 14, 2009

Legal pad ambitions

“If a man constantly aspires, is he not elevated?”
-Henry David Thoreau

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

Like patience, time-management skills have always eluded me, as my BFF Candy remembers well. She had the misfortune of living with me during the most crammed time of my life – sophomore year of college when I was dealing with an 18-credit class load and leading the school newspaper as editor.

Now, while my classmates toted sophisticated planners, I had a veritable cornucopia of yellow legal pads for basically the same purpose. The lists would get updated as the hours wore on, with seemingly more “things” added to than crossed off. But by the end of that first semester, I had attained the dean’s list and managed not to burn the newspaper office down and/or alienate too many people during my tenure as neurotic, disorganized editor.

Failure was not an option. If I didn’t get the paper to the South Side by early Thursday morning, all the friends who helped put it to bed or design its pages wouldn’t get their due. If I didn’t get at least a 3.0, my Presidential Scholarship would be gone like the wind. If I didn’t get the story, it didn’t get told that day and worse, you might get beat. That is a travesty perhaps only another newspaper geek could understand (or really want to).

But there has been a peak and then a plateau on the motivation front during these past few post-layoff weeks. Yes, I have an occasional meeting to cover, and a few feature stories here and there to write. And my work with the Innocence Institute is the most challenging in my career. Even so, gumption is difficult to gather when you don’t have eight hours of your day automatically cordoned off for work.

Deny as you might, but I doubt I am the only person wallowing in an unemployment-induced lack of focus. For as much as I always argued that making people dress in crisp button-down shirts and khakis didn’t influence professionalism, I was dead wrong. It is far more difficult to center your writing chi in that getup, than say, a tank top, Capri sweats and fluffy slippers. Unlike coworkers, my cats don’t mind when I work sans mascara.

And as it turns out, “telecommuting” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. An inviting front porch, a case full of still unread books and a beautiful day complete with “Simpson’s” clouds each offer too many distractions for me. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no slouch. I apply for jobs and write for a local newspaper and volunteer for a nonprofit. I blog for two of my friends and colleagues and am The Most Awesome Aunt in the Universe.

But none of it is at the same intensity. When every day is an unpaid vacation, I have a tendency to relax too much. And I haven’t felt the same rush of adrenaline when you know you have the scoop of the day. I haven’t felt my heart pound when I submitted a story to an editor with a risky lead and waited for it to move through the gauntlet of editors. I guess the deadlines don’t feel quite so real or looming when you aren’t in a newsroom to observe them.

The point here isn’t to be nostalgic.

I suppose I’m just trying to remind myself and all the other bread liners out there that we have all the time in the world (OK, about 59 weeks) to improve ourselves and our crafts and get a new jobby job. For me, it is time again to focus on getting my awesome on.
Because I have noticed there is a tendency to sleep in a little later and drink a few more beers at night (because, perhaps, of said ability to sleep in). There is too much Internet surfing completed and too much football analysis consumed.

Well, for me anyway. And realizing the only corner of the universe I can change is my own, I’ve made a decision to revert to some of my pre-furlough, Type A tendencies.
But I won’t bore you with the details of my plan to again take over the journalism world. They are mine to mull and edit and perfect. And I figure even if I don’t get that plum job as a columnist for Maxim, at least I’m again competing.


Because aspiring to be more is key. Almost as important as the legal pads.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa. She can be reached by e-mail at


  1. Hang in there. That was a good piece of writing.


  2. Thanks gentleman. And E.J. -- it is so good to hear from you. And thank you so much for your kind words!