Why I Love Double Stuf and Dave Barry

Sometimes I feel like I am getting this unemployment thing all wrong.
For three weeks now (or is it two? Or maybe four?), I have been all charged up (aside from just a few intermittent bouts of crying and that was early on) and excited about the adventure of exploring all the new and wonderful possibilities for the future.
In fact, I have filled up almost an entire spiral notebook with all of these new and wonderful possibilities. And I have spoken with scores of people to gets ideas on even more new and wonderful possibilities.
Up until now, I have not, as I thought I might, retreated to the Double Stuf Oreos (one “f,” I checked, as this was important to me both as a reporter and consumer) or any number of TLC marathons (“Little People, Small World” and  “Half Man, Half Tree,” being particular favorites).
But then yesterday, it hit me. Somewhere between being rejected as a ghostwriter; told I needed to “inform, impart ideals and move minds” if I wanted to be a successful speaker; and finding out that an eight-year-old would soon be covering hockey for the major daily for whom I used to work, I became, well, a little down.

This morning, I got frantic phone calls from my sister and my mother-in-law asking if I was OK. No blog entry for more than 24 hours and I must be dead. This actually brought back warm memories of my father calling and checking if I was dead when I missed a day in the paper shortly after I began working for the Tribune.

I’m not sure he would have always noticed, except that my Uncle Dan would call him first thing in the morning telling him my byline was missing and asking what happened to me, causing my father to immediately call me and ask if I had been fired or any number of other catastrophes had occurred.

This was not unusual in my family. My mother rarely began a phone conversation without the words, “Hi honey, it’s mom. There’s nothing wrong. Are you OK?”

But I digress.

I didn’t know they still used the word “ghostwriter,” but apparently they do and I was referred to a large, out-of-town corporation that wanted me to “ghostwrite” a white paper for one of their executives. This all sounded very exciting, even though I did not know what a white paper was and still really don’t, which may provide some clue as to why I was rejected.

The speaker thing was another slight setback. For years, I have spoken to virtually whomever has asked. When we’d get to the part where they asked for my fee, I’d go into my standard negotiator mode and immediately stutter, maybe laugh and say I didn’t really have one. This typically resulted in many speaking engagements for which I would receive a thank-you, a pen and once in a while, a Starbuck’s certificate.

Not that I didn’t appreciate all of the above. But without a paycheck, Starbuck’s is going to have to come up with more options if I’m going to do my future food shopping there.

And so I decided to get some advice (and perhaps some high-paying jobs) from the highly respected head of a highly respected speakers bureau, who first yelled at me for taking free gigs.

“You need to tell people, ‘I’m a journalist, so I believe in free speech but not in free speeches,’ ”  he told me.

I told him this sounded a bit off-putting to me. But clearly I have been setting a bad precedent in the speaking world, running around and taking pens as payment, so I told him I would try to do better.

But then he told me that in today’s climate, people hire speakers “to help them achieve their business objectives.” I took that to mean that my story about B.J. Armstrong and Ron Harper and I simulating birth in the Bulls’ lockerroom wasn’t going to do that.

I asked him if entertaining was good enough, and wasn’t Dave Barry a highly successful speaker, and wasn’t he entertaining? And he said, essentially, “You’re no Dave Barry.”

I would have been really depressed at this point, except that I actually know Dave Barry, have been friends with his wife Michelle, a sportswriter, forever. So, borrowing a scene from “Annie Hall,” with Dave playing Marshall McLuhan, I called and asked him about the art of speaking.

“I have no message,” Dave said. “Nothing useful, whatsoever.”

Which is why I love Dave Barry.

Still, short of stealing his speeches, I understood the speaking guy’s point. So maybe I’ll stick to writing. I was a respected sportswriter for many years, wasn’t I? I’m confident in my craft, aren’t I?

Then a friend e-mailed and asked if I heard about the eight-year-old from Batavia who was going to write hockey in the paper.

I said I hadn’t.

And then I headed for the Oreos.

One Response to “Why I Love Double Stuf and Dave Barry”

  1. Frank

    Melissa, Keep writing your too good to give it up. I could see you as a motivational speaker in relating sports to everyday life. You could add a little humor to some of it, but I know you would do well. You would be great at some of the colleges where future sports journalists would love to hear from someone who is there.

    Don’t rule out more books. How about a book on Stan Mikita, from his era to the present. People love to look back on the great ones.
    Ghostwriter. No. You’re too good,keep your name going.

    Don’t think about the eight year old. It’s nice, good for him, but the paper is just trying to sell more papers. Good way to get attention. He will have his day if he grows in to it.

    Everytime I hear how your parents were so concerned and very much involved in your career, I just think how great they are. I know so many whose parents never cared about them or whatever they were invloved in. You have been surrounded by very good people.



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