I stumbled into journalism more or less by accident, in what was supposed to be a brief diversion from writing the Great American Novel.
Twenty-five years went by.
I won’t say some good stuff didn’t happen, but I sure hadn’t realized that quarters of centuries could move so fast.
I knew it was time to get out of journalism during one particular night shift at the last newspaper where I worked, when one of my fellow editors queried me thus:
“Did you Google bling-bling?”
The epiphany exploded in my face. It was time to bail, parachute or no parachute, for two reasons:
1.) I understood the question, and
2.) I had Googled bling-bling.
I’ve never quite believed in fate, and most journalists see their craft as noble and utterly essential to democracy. Thomas Jefferson agreed, by the way, (“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”) and you know what a flake he was. He was also an organic gardener, among other things.
But my ma and pa hadn’t raised me to Google bling-bling.
A convergence of preposterous coincidences followed, which shook to its core my prior view of the universe as a fascinating but meaningless rat’s nest of random chaos. Out of this chaos emerged a part-time job helping Chelsea Green Publishing ratchet its nascent blog up to speed.
Reality check and dark little secret: The two dirtiest words in journalism are “public relations.” Public relations is (are?) the elephant’s graveyard of burned-out scribes. When you’ve had all you can stand of monitoring the apocalypse for a living, and you’re tired of working for slave wages that buy you, among other things, a level of public esteem slightly lower than that of used-car salespersons and cat burglars, you flee to the warm, comforting bosom of public relations.
You become what journalists call a “flack.” (They can’t say the word without sneering, no matter how hard they try.) You may not have sold your soul to the devil, buster, but you’ve definitely given the old boy a lease with an option to buy.
Blogging for a publisher is public relations (or is it?). So I’m a flack. You’ll find the nails, cross, and crown of thorns in that closet over there. Help yourself.
Which brings us to two rhetorical questions: What is Chelsea Green Publishing, and why am I doing this?
Chelsea Green is an entity whose mission is, not to put too fine a point on it, saving the world.
Oh, you can call it “the politics & practice of sustainable living” (the company motto) if you like. But consider the implications of unsustainable living for a moment. That should put things in perspective.
So I’m being paid to wave the flag and yell, “Hey! Books for sale here! Important books! If it bothers you that civilization is hurtling toward the abyss of ecological and economic catastrophe — and is in deep denial about it, though the signs are everywhere and the math is unassailable — you really ought to check out our stuff.”
I’m way ahead of you: Wow, you think. What a depressing bunch of books that must be.
They would be, if apocalypse-mongering were Chelsea Green’s agenda. But visit the company’s offices in White River Junction, Vt., and you won’t find a trace of sackcloth or ashes. You’ll find a bustling hive of smart, upbeat people — excited about their work, and working hard.
It’s not about the apocalypse, folks; it’s about preventing it. And no matter what you may think, it’s not too late. There are tools. There are methods. There are things one person can do that will make a difference.
There are books that can show you how. We’ve got a lot of them.
Think about that for a while. Think about Eldridge Cleaver, who said, “You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.”
While you’re at it, check out Chelsea Green’s catalog. If you’re even slightly embarrassed the next time you throw away an aluminum can, I can cash my paycheck and sleep like a baby.
As for bling-bling, you’ll just have to Google for yourself.