Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Time to retire (Helen Thomas, not me)

By now, even the most casual of news readers has no doubt heard about Helen Thomas’ unfortunate comment about Jews “get[ting] the hell out of Palestine” and heading back to Germany or Poland.

Well, you don’t have to be a member of AIPAC to find yourself having a wee bit of a problem with that comment.

Come on, Helen, if you’d said “maybe we’d all be better off if Israel had re-lo’d somewhere else” -  as in Michael Chabon’s wonderful novel, “The Yiddish Police Force,” which is set in the Jewish protectorate of Sitka Alaska – that would have been one thing.

But the suggestion that Israeli Jews head on back to Germany and Poland.

Distasteful doesn’t begin to describe this tainted remark.

Especially from someone who was a news reporter during WW II. Although as a “news gal” of that era, she no doubt covered as much fluff as substance, she was certainly in a better position than most to learn early rather than later exactly what being a Jew in Germany or Poland meant. You don’t have to have sonar for anti-Semitic remarks to extend the ellipsis on hers to “and don’t let the door of the gas chamber hit your ass on the way in.”

Anyway, in the wake of her remark, Helen was dumped by her speakers’ bureau (a.m.), and decided to resign from her position as a reporter for Hearst News (p.m.). And from the front-row perch she’s sat in for years at presidential news conferences. She’s been covering those press conferences since Kennedy was elected – nearly 50 years.

I’m actually not here to vilify Helen Thomas, or to heap any more opprobrium on her weary and ancient shoulders.

In fact, I’d rather focus on the good long run she had as a working journalist since the early 1940’s.  She’ll be 90 in a couple of months, and, while I’m quite sure she’d prefer to have died with her pumps on, and her notebook and pen in hand, she certainly enjoyed a lengthier tenure than most of us.

But when is enough enough?

It’s conceivable that I’ll live to be 90. And I hope to be, like Helen, still going strong and, even, shooting my mouth off (although not so outrageously).

But do I want to be working?

And at what?

I suppose if you love, love, LOVE, what you do, you might as well keep on keepin’ on.

I don’t exactly love, love, LOVE my work. Rather, I like, like, LIKE it. Or even love, love, LIKE it. Or some combo of love-like that varies over time, depending on the mix of clients and projects.

Still, I like-love it well enough to keep at it for the foreseeable future. And, if and when my career earth turns out to be flat, and I sail over the edge – or, better yet, when I win big bucks in Powerball – I will find something else to do.

I will pay more attention to rewriting Pink Slip (the book).  I’ll pay more attention to growing Pink Slip (the blog). I’ll work on one of the novels that’s been rattling around in my head for the last couple of years. I’ll restart the writers group I ran a while back at St. Francis House (New England’s largest day shelter for the poor and homeless).

I’ll figure something out.

Because, I’m guessing that I’ve got a bit of Helen Thomas in me, in that while I may not always be enamored of the work I do, I actually like to work. 

Even when I was waiting tables and working in a boot factory, my work has always provided challenge, interest, companionship, and, of course, income (oh, that).

I probably need it more than it needs me.

As for Helen Thomas, I wouldn’t want to be her when she wakes up tomorrow morning with no place to go for the first time in nearly 70 years.  Which may be a counter-argument to making work so central to your life.

Still, it got me thinking about whether I’d want to be working at the age of 90.

My immediate response is, “of course not.”

But come to think about it, that response kinda-sorta turns into “why not?”

Sure, there’ll be days when I look out the ice-encrusted window, feel an ache in my hip and a crick in my neck, and decide to get back into bed and pull the covers up over my head. (Come to think of it, I’ve been having days like that for years.)

And, sure, there’s the need for us oldsters to get out of the way so the young folk can have our jobs. (Not that there’ll be all that many of them clamoring for mine. The marketing folks will want to focus on more hip and happenin’ work than market research  - other than via Tweet-examination – and product positioning. The writers will want to be doing the creative, feed-the-soul writing that got them into their MFA program, not the not-so-creative, feed-the-body writing that us MBA-types do.)

Anyway, so long, Helen Thomas. It really was time for you to go.

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