So this week’s cover began in November when an E-mail arrived from Rabbi Annie Tucker of the Jewish Center of Princeton. It was one of a series that — I imagine — she sends to those of us in the media as well as to members of her congregation and other interested souls.
I had received other E-mail messages from the rabbi, on subjects ranging from the disruptions of Hurricane Irene to the serendipitous moments of summer travel to the struggle for human rights. The November message was interesting, but it was a New Year’s sermon — for Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish New Year of 5772. But to me the new year was 2012, and it was coming January 1. In the meantime I had other things on my mind.
But that was then. A few weeks ago was now, and we needed a cover theme for this New Year issue. I re-read Tucker’s sermon and — to put it in three words instead of six — I was hooked. Pretty soon I was fitting the sermon into the space beginning on page 31 of this issue, and working on my own six-word memoir, finally coming up with something I hoped would speak to my faithful readers — that’s you — as well as to myself:
“Chronicling your stories; still creating mine.”
As Rabbi Tucker says, the whole point of this six-word memoir is to try to get to the essence of who you are. So I will elaborate. My own story is evolving, as a father, a friend, a partner, and I am happy that I am still creating it.
The other part of my memoir — the role of reporting other people’s stories — is more established. While I hope that role will continue for a long time, I can also look back at a great ride. The U.S. 1 part of that began more than 27 years ago with me starting the newspaper as an outlet for my own stories. After years facing the rejection slips that all freelance writers deal with, I saw a way out: Create my own paper, and dare the editor to reject anything I submitted.
The reality turned out to be something different. I was soon printing far more stories by other people than by myself. And I soon found great satisfaction in helping other people take the kernel of an idea and turn it into their own full-blown story. As I look back on the cover images of the past year I take some extra satisfaction from several of them:
A January cover story on the trials and tribulations of caregivers began as an advertising feature, the kind of story that most working journalists look down on. Maybe because everyone my age (and me included) was dealing with an elderly parent, I was struck by the subject, and helped expand it into cover-length presentation.
The idea for assigning a story on the Rutgers students presenting a plan for the Dinky train through the Princeton University campus came when I stumbled across some drawings while I was delivering U.S. 1 to an architect’s office on Nassau Street. Sweet.
And enlisting former Princeton University computer guru Ira Fuchs to write about his working relationship with Steve Jobs was inspired by reading Pam Hersh’s column in the Princeton Packet — one long-time journalist informing another. Thanks, Pam.
Some of the rewarding stories have been for our “op ed” page. I answered the phone one day and heard Suzanne Newman ask for publicity for her campaign to find a winter home for a homeless woman living at a Route 1 strip mall. With a little encouragement, Newman wrote a column detailing her efforts and ultimately raising the money necessary to move “Miss H” from the sidewalk to a motel.
My most satisfying moment as a chronicler involved not a story but an image. The moment came as we were preparing our Summer Fiction issue in July. Five days before the deadline we realized that we had no cover image for the issue. We had a lead story — actually three stories, written by members of a writers’ group who had all started with an identical premise, about a haunted house in Cape May. We also had, by complete coincidence, a poem by a man who had been on an artists’ expedition to Cape May.
I re-read the poem, noted the name of the artist who led the expedition, and figured if anyone might have a painting that captured the Cape May atmosphere it would be her. Barbara Cox not only had paintings of Cape May houses, she had several of houses that were alleged to be haunted. The chronicler of your stories now got to be an exhibiter of your art.
The icing came just last week, when I received a hand-made Christmas card from Barbara Cox, a watercolor print of a winter scene (see below) and a cheerful note about the “happy mystery” of how her painting ended up on the cover of U.S. 1:
“I love teaching adults and it seems something wonderful happens along the way — enough to keep me on this road of art. Never know who I will meet in the teaching process or who will buy the completed painting.
“Being able to write the story is as vibrant as the colors in the paintings. Thank you again for the joy and U.S. 1. Everyone reads it, needs it. Happy New Year, too.”
In six words, I’ll echo that.