As I considered writing something about Mom or Mimi for Mother’s Day, I initially dismissed the idea as not right for my blog.
I generally blog about digital journalism and innovation in the media, and though I occasionally veer into personal topics, I usually try to relate them to journalism in some way. As I considered the moms in my life, I noticed quickly how much my career owes to both of them. So here are five reasons (I could have picked more, but five is a good number):
- Mom always had newspapers around the house and she always read them. She always talked about the news and often about the journalists reporting the news.
- Mom encouraged me to read and write and set me up with a great first teacher (Mrs. E.R. Shaw) when I was too ill to start school as a young boy when we lived in England.
- Mom encouraged and critiqued my writing, supporting me as well as pushing me to be a better writer.
- Mom spotted the notice in the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel that Chuck Offenburger was seeking to hire a sports writer (I was on a canoe trip when the notice ran) and suggested that I apply, and I launched my career. And when the time and focus that I spent on that job distracted me from classes my senior year of high school, with a negative effect on my grades, Mom was (sort of) understanding.
- Mom played countless games of Scrabble with me through the decades, expanding my vocabulary and helping me learn to love our language. Even though Alzheimer’s has taken away much of her memory, Mom still plays a pretty good game of Scrabble.
As important as Mom was in fostering my interest in writing, Mimi has been more important in shaping my career. I first encountered her through a story I wrote less than two months into my professional journalism career, so my career and our relationship have spanned the same 40-plus years. None of the editors or reporters I have worked with has had a more profound influence on my career.
Here are just five of the many ways Mimi has helped me be a better journalist:
- My career has not been a straight upward path. When I have faced detours and disappointments, Mimi has provided comfort, encouragement and inspiration that kept me going. She did that publicly a couple years ago with a blog post that received a lot of attention. She has been similarly eloquent and uplifting privately more times than I can count.
- Good writing inspires writers, and Mimi’s columns, reviews and features inspired me back when she wrote for newspapers. I read all the drafts of her novel, Gathering String, partial drafts of other novels still in progress, plus poems, short stories and blog posts. For many years, she paid more attention to our three sons than to her writing. The boys had a wonderful mother and we’re excited to spend Mother’s Day with two of our grown sons and a daughter-in-law today. Mimi probably sacrificed some writing success in the time and energy she devoted to our sons. But I always remember that she is the best writer in our family. Her writing makes my writing better.
- Mimi understands my passion for my work. She has endured more late nights, early mornings, lost weekends and moves than a spouse should have to endure. She hasn’t always shared my passion. But she respects it and understands it.
- Mimi tempers me. Sometimes my first draft is too strident, too verbose. She talks me down, tells me when I’m full of shit (more gently than that usually) and tells me when I’ve obscured my point with excessive emotion or verbiage.
- Mimi is my best editor. Beyond the tempering mentioned above, she helps me get to the point and make my points better. Sometimes I blog early in the morning before Mimi wakes up and post to my blog without getting her feedback first. Sometimes I post from the road and we talk about other things when we talk on the phone. But when I read a story or blog post to Mimi first (or ask her to read it), it’s always better. This post might have improved if she’d read it.
As I’m saluting mothers who’ve shaped my career, I should also mention my grandmother, Francena H. Arnold, whom we lost 40 years ago this fall.
Grandma was a successful novelist. How successful? Forty years after she died and 65 years after she wrote her first novel, Not My Will, it’s available in a Kindle edition (with a 5-star rating). I am sure Grandma deserves full credit for any role genetics plays in my writing achievements. She was a wonderful storyteller who fed my love of narrative and a masterful Scrabble player who fed my love of words.
The other mom in my life, Susie Burke, mother of my two granddaughters, came along after my career was well established, and it would be stretching the point to say she’s helped me as a journalist. But, since I’m praising moms, I’ll say that every time we visit, I admire how thoughtfully she nurtures Julia and Madeline and stimulates their minds and imaginations. Someday her daughters will credit her for the success in their lives.