Thursday, November 05, 2009


There was another point to things when I was rambling on and on about memory yesterday...which was that I can no longer really remember with accuracy what I've written about on this blog. I vague ideas, but I've resigned myself to the fact I'm going to repeat myself from time to time. I've written a lot on this blog and, frankly, I'm not that creative and my life is a little dull at times. So there is going to be some repetition when you've produced 1,500 blog posts.

Yeah, 1,500. Officially. It only took me more than four years, but I finally manage to churn out 1,500 of these suckers. Never thought I would make it, but here I am. So by around 2013 I should have 3,000 blog posts.

Oh God, kill me now.

So in honour of reaching 1,500 posts here's something I'm not sure I've done on the blog before. I can't find it, so I'm assuming I didn't. I'm going to post the prologue to the book, Paper Trails. It's short enough that I think it will fit. The first four chapters are going in the mail come hell or high water tomorrow and being sent to several Newfoundland publishers. And then we shall see.

At least if it doesn't get picked up I might do something like what Warren Ellis is doing right now. He just put out a collection of his online writings, called Shivering Sands using Lulu, which is an online Print On Demand service.

Now, I'm nowhere near his level of popularity, but I find it interesting he's giving it a try. I'll be buying a copy, but probably not until the new year. It makes no sense to buy a book now and just have to move it in a few weeks.

Anyway, here is the prologue.

Prologue - 1995

When I went to journalism school there was this total bastard of a professor whose class was mandatory. He taught Ethics in Journalism, which was a class that nobody wanted to take and he knew it. And because of that he hated all of us. That’s why classes frequently veered from “what should you do as a reporter if put into this situation” to “why all of you miserable, ungrateful little fuckers are doomed.”

Or worse, doomed to become public relations flacks. Death was a better option in his brain.

So the old bastard would sit there, pitched on the edge of his desk in a sunless concrete bunker in the basement of the administration building. It was not unusual for him to have gone several days without shaving and he was normally twitching from a nicotine fit. It still infuriated him that “those stupid sons of bitches in administration got all PC and took away my God given right to kill myself with tobacco wherever I want.” From that lofty perch he would tell us there was no chance in hell any of us were going to be the next great reporter.

“Every one of you thinks you’re going to leave this place and become the next great investigative reporter. You will go and work with a great metropolitan newspaper and bring down devious politicians on a regular basis with your cunning and writing flair.

“But you won’t!” he said, pointing at someone, normally a particularly shy female. The old bastard considered the year a failure if he couldn’t get at least one student to drop out. “And do you know why? Because they are all cleverer than you are. And how do I know they are smarter than you lot?”

When no one answered, he dropped his voice and notch and sneered at all of us. “Because they did not become fucking journalists, that’s how I know they’re smarter than you.”

He would then take a big gulp from his coffee mug, which often smelled of things stronger than coffee, and then slammed it back down on his desk and glared, defying us to prove him logic anything other than completely, infallibly sound.

I have to admit, as much as I hated the old bastard there were two inescapable truths about him. One, he was vastly entertaining. I swear he would have leapt from his desk and strangled me if I had said that to him. He wasn’t there for the amusement of “little fuckers not smart enough to go and do something else.” He was there to bring some sense into our skulls.

But how could you not be entertained by the man. The fact that he looked a good 15 years older than his reported 50. The thin scraps of hair that still clung to his head. The ragged suit with the poorly knotted tie. It was like watching a wax dummy from a journalism museum come to life every day.

How could you not have some affection for something like that? I spotted him in a pub in downtown Halifax once, sitting by himself and tried to buy him a beer. He told me to piss off. There was no ever getting to know the man. I often wondered if there was one specific event that so badly damaged him and what it might have been. But obviously there was never going to be a chance to ask him about it.

The other truth about him? He was the most useful professor at the school. He might have been vile and terrible, but he never lied to you. He never gave you anything less than the truth as he saw it. No sugar coating about your chances of success after school or your abilities. Just brutal honesty.

Oh sure, other might give you more practical knowledge. The best way to frame an interview. How to ask questions. Editing techniques or photography skills.
But those professors all tried to be encouraging and supportive. Yes, it was going to be hard once you graduated from school, but with hard work and perseverance, you can make it was the line most of them said.

“There’s no reason why you can’t work at the Globe and Mail one day, Derek,” one of them told me. “You’re good enough. And people will forget what happened before.”
I have no earthly idea how it got back to the old bastard, but the next day I was singled out for special attention in his class.

“You, Mr. Prescott, will never work for the Globe and Mail, no matter what some of my misguided and delusional colleagues might like you to believe. None of you will,” he said, addressing the rest of the class. “The absolute best most of you are going to be able to do, when you leave this place is go work at some shitty community newspaper in the middle of buttfuck nowhere. You will cover county fairs, and municipal council meetings. You will do stories on how little Suzy’s pet rabbit had a litter of 12 and take photos of her and the cute bunny.

“And you will do this for years. Because this is your punishment for not being smart enough to do something other than fucking journalism. For those lucky few who do not go mad, or kill yourself, or succumb to the siren call of public relations whoredom, you might get a job as a reporter in a daily in some God forsaken place like Saskatchewan. And it is there that you will live out the rest of your days, writing stories about crop yields and interviewing people who don’t think evolution should be taught in school because the Good Lord did not make us out of monkeys.

“None of you will work for the Globe, or the Star or any of the other important papers you dream about working for. You are not Woodword and fucking Bernstein.”

Then he zeroed back in on me. “But you’re especially fucked, aren’t you? I honestly don’t know why you even bothered to come to journalism school, let alone my class on journalism ethics, of all God damned things. Most of these poor doomed bastards didn’t know they were fucked before paying the ridiculous tuition this places charges. I can almost forgive that level of ignorance. But you knew for months before you ever came here that you were doomed. My colleagues are trying to be supportive but they’re lying to you. You are smart enough to realize that, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. I managed to put some strength into my voice, even though he was slowly killing me with every word he said. Killing me with the truth.

“So why bother when you know that you will likely never get a real journalism job or that the best you can aspire to is writing about the tides for the month and what boats are coming into port in some rural backwater in Newfoundland. Why put yourself through this expensive waste of time?”

My whole class was watching now. Months of rumours and stories about me had been swirling at this point. The head of the department had practically begged some weekly in New Brunswick that owed him a favour to take me for a month long internship. Everyone in the class wanted to know pretty much the same thing the old bastard was asking. Why I had bothered coming to journalism school in the first place given my history.

So I gave them the truth.

“I don’t know how to do anything else,” I said.

In the previous months I had seen the old bastard be enraged, disgusted, impatient and bored. But this is the first time I had ever seen him look sad. He stood up, walked down to where I was sitting and leaned over and whispered in my ear. His breath smelled of cheap coffee and cheaper rum.

“And that’s why you’re as completely fucked as me, son.” Then he walked out of the classroom, the lesson over for the day, apparently.

Most of my classmates, upon realizing he wasn’t coming back, gathered up their stuff and left without looking at me.

I sat there alone in the bunker, gathering my thoughts. I didn’t hate the old bastard. How could you hate someone who was at least honest with you?

Still, it didn’t bring me much comfort. I had the sneaking suspicion I might have just seen my future walk out of the room moments ago. And it was fairly ugly.

Last Five
1. Shut your eyes - Snow Patrol
2. Hey Jude - The Beatles
3. Fated - Matthew Good Band
4. Help! - The Beatles
5. Flying down juniper - Lindsay Buckingham


The Rambler said...

I found your prologue to be great reading and would like to read more. I can recall similar experiences in my University Days.

Anonymous said...

"defying us to prove him logic anything other than completely, infallibly sound."

Needs proof reading?

Interesting read. I look fwd to the book.

BayGirl said...

Interesting, Townie. I picked up on the same thing as "Anonymous" though...might want to fix that ;)

Anonymous said...

well done -- I thought it was real at first, and wondered who Derick was! Certainly it's extremely readable -- any agent would read this. You could write for the Globe and Mail...

Anonymous said...

A great read. There might not be a future in journalism, but the old prof never said anything about a journalist writing a book.
It is a gift when a story can draw you in. Margaret Laurence had that way about her writing, she could walk the very fine line and make the most unlovable, destructive character somehow endearing yet never saccharine. Your story delivered that, I am looking forward to more.