Breaking news, everyone: After about 10 months as a general-assignment reporter at The Newberg Graphic, I’ve decided to part ways with the paper.
Why, you ask? One word: portmanteau. Yes, portmanteau, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a large suitcase” or “a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms.” For my purposes, I’m going to be referring to the second definition.
Last week, I wrote an article on a dinner that Newberg’s Painted Lady Restaurant is preparing for an event at the prestigious James Beard House in Greenwich Village. The theme of the dinner is “Newburgundian,” which is a portmanteau of Newberg and the Burgundy region of France, and that’s how I described it in the write-up. I thought the word fit well, because the theme meant taking certain resources of the Newberg area (local wines, produce and game) and preparing it in the style and spirit of Burgundian fine dining.
My editor, however, would have none of it. He had never heard of the word “portmanteau,” and he presumed most of our readers wouldn’t have either. Hence, he refused to let me use it. He offered a couple alternatives (“blend” and “mash”); I cringed and suggested “combination,” which is what he ultimately went with. (On second thought, “blend” might have been the better choice.)
I should clarify something here: I had already elected to leave the Graphic before this little tiff, so it didn’t actually factor into the decision at all. But, on reflection, I think the incident sums up pretty neatly my reasons for leaving.
Because, in the end, it doesn’t matter if “combination” technically means the same thing as portmanteau (or close enough). It’s not the word I wanted to use, or the one I thought would best convey what I was trying to convey.
I’m sure some of you are saying, “What’s the big deal? It’s just one word. It doesn’t matter.” And I have to argue that yes, it does matter, on two levels.
First, as a writer, words matter. You wouldn’t try to tell an auto mechanic, “It’s just one nut — don’t worry about it,” would you? If you did, you might not enjoy your drive home. And similarly, I doubt you’d feel very comforted if you heard your doctor say, “Eh, it’s just one dose. Who cares?”
For writers, words are our nuts and bolts. They are our doses. We want them to be precise, in exactly the right amounts and in exactly the right places.
But the words also matter to me as a man of faith. As a Christian, I try to follow the example of 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” And so, that’s an exhortation not just for writers but for any possible endeavor. “Halfhearted” is not to be an appropriate description of any of our efforts. “Good enough” is not good enough.
I picked the portmanteau story because it’s illustrative, but there has been more than a few occasions during my time in the newspaper business that I have felt like my creative spirit has been pruned back. And most every time it happened, I would begin to regulate myself a little bit more — to, in essence, pre-squelch my own creativity and save my editors the trouble.
Now, here’s the really crazy part: At least in the case of the portmanteau, my editor was completely right. He was 100-percent justified in doing what he did. In journalism school, we were taught to write for a broad audience — specifically, sixth-graders. That’s not because J-school professors think people are stupid, but rather because journalists are to make every effort to remove any possible barrier to the reader’s comprehension of the material in the article.
Newswriting, after all, is not about showing off how big your vocabulary is. It’s about telling people information you believe they need to know.
So, yes, my editor was right (I wonder what he would think if he heard me say that!). But I’m still leaving. Because, maybe, I just don’t want to write for sixth-graders anymore.
No, I feel drawn elsewhere. I want to write things that inspire people, that change things for the better — even the tiniest bit. I want to write things that share — in simple, authentic ways — the joy I’ve found in following Jesus. But at the same time, I want to more deeply explore this faith I have, to cut through the prefab, one-size-fits-all answers that plague the evangelical church, and find what, if anything, we have to offer the world that will make it a nicer place. Yes, I know: “We have Jesus!” But surely, if our Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (as I believe he is), his church must be capable of being more than the source of trendy Bible covers, Chik-fil-A (as amazing as it undeniably is) and The Ungame.
In short, I want to write books (or more accurately, publish books — which appears to be considerably harder). I have no real guarantee that I’ll succeed, but I strongly suspect that if I didn’t give it my very best shot, I’d regret it. And at 25, I’d rather fail than have regrets.
Hence, the main aims of this blog are shifting along with the redesigned layout (which I hope you like, by the way). I plan to soon begin sharing in much greater detail the different projects I’m working on, probably well before August, which is my current end-date at the paper.
If you get curious before then or would like to share any other thoughts, please feel free to email me. Thanks for your support.