As often happens, I found the answer to my problem in a book. I’d recently moved to the Comox Valley and couldn’t find a job. The heroine in the novel I was reading faced similar circumstances and solved her dilemma by taking in laundry.
Domestic chores rank near the one million mark on my list of fun things to do. But, in the pre-computer days of 1989, there was a surprising need – and lucrative payoff – for people who knew their way around a keyboard.
So I decided to take in typing.
The first step in my self-employment plan was to call the Comox Valley Record to place an ad. But instead of reaching classifieds, my call was misdirected to the editor’s desk. I’d freelanced for Bruce Winfield when he was editor at the North Island Gazette in Port Hardy. We struck up a conversation and he invited me to cover arts and entertainment for the paper.
I had no idea the freelance gig would last more than a quarter century and involve writing more than 720,000 words in approximately 1,200 articles – the equivalent of 10 books.
It wasn’t always easy. The first obstacle was to overcome my sometimes painful shyness. But I’m now able to ask anyone anything and am always surprised at what they’re willing to tell me. If I had $1 for every time I heard, “Don’t put this in the paper…,” I could have retired long ago.
Older interviewees were surprised I was so young and young interviewees were surprised I was so old. I spoke to people who were sick, dying or riding high on their first glimmer of success. I learned to ask questions and really listen, how to take notes in a dark theatre and to always have three pens in my purse just in case.
Tony Martin, former curator of the Comox Valley Art Gallery, taught me to sniff paintings when it’s difficult to determine if they’re oil or acrylic, Ruth Masters fed me Gut-Buster Cookies and I discovered that a surprisingly high percentage of comedians are cranky offstage.
There were some dodgy moments.
Most interviews took place in the person’s home or studio and more than once I doubted the wisdom of being alone with them.
For a month I was stalked by a mentally unstable artist and twice a man followed me out of the Sid Williams Theatre late at night muttering obscenities and hinting what we could do if alone.
But most of the time covering arts for the Record was so much fun I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do it. My appreciation for the creative process and the people who practise it increased immensely and I continue to be amazed at the artistic diversity and richness of the Comox Valley.
At last count, I’ve worked under eight arts editors.
Most were passionate about the arts, a few indifferent and one impossible. My sincere thanks to Pippa Ingram, Deb Renz, Kymme Patrick, Courtenay Little Theatre and others who were willing to step forward at that difficult time.
One of the most important things I learned from my stint at the Record was how to write a certain amount of words by a certain time even if it was midnight and I was tired.
Newspaper deadlines wait for no man, woman or child.
But in the end it comes down to the people. The editors who took the time to encourage me and point out ways my work could improve, the camaraderie of Record staff and, in particular, the artists who shared their hopes, dreams and talent and who sometimes became close friends.
Covering arts and entertainment for the Record has allowed me to form a unique connection to my community and enriched my life in ways that words can never fully express. I feel blessed to live in an area that is so rich in culture and creative expression.
But after 25 years and eight months, it’s time to retire from the Record.
I’ll miss hearing all the behind the scenes tidbits but will continue to enjoy the vast creative energy of the Comox Valley. And will fondly remember the stories and experiences I experienced as arts correspondent for the Record.