When I started as the community editor of a small New England newspaper, basic survival was honestly what I had in mind. I had student loans to pay and an arts degree to my name, and while living at home for a few months after college got me some stability, it didn't get me health care. (Nor did it do much for my ego).
The gig seemed like a reasonable idea, at least until I became a movie star or married rich or invented an underwire that didn't massacre entire wardrobes in one foul spin-cycle swoop. Yep, community editor it was. It was a living. And it turns out, being the community editor meant I was in charge of the obituaries. It was a living via people dying.
This was coastal New England, and I was essentially dealing with a retirement community. So my morning routine as a budding 22-year-old journalist? Wake up, grab energy drink, schlep to work, and try to look half alive while sorting through dead people. Seeing people's postmortem resumes does not do much to quell a brewing quarter-life crisis in what's supposedly the prime of my life.
On my first day of work, my co-workers gave me "Duchess of Death" business cards as a gag. (I got my real business cards later; the D of D darlings still raise brows during consultations when I accidentally grab from the wrong stack.)
Actually, there are a lot of funny things about working the obits -- just not "ha ha" funny, despite all the stand-up efforts of the editor who trained me.
"You want to adjust the sentences at the beginning of the second, third and fourth paragraphs. Right now, it's just 'He did this. He did that. He, he, he, he, he,' -- and death is not a laughing matter," this editor said my on first day, and then he looked at me with the same expression that clowns get when they've just squirted someone in the face with their plastic boutonnière.
At that moment, I remembered a billboard I had seen near my college dorm: "Johnson Memorial Chapel. We put in the 'fun' in funeral." Seriously.
The editor aborted that pregnant pause with his own laughter since I remained silent, and then he sighed a contented sigh. "You'll learn to laugh at this," he said.
At first, I thought he meant his lame humor. And since there was a strict no-alcohol policy, I couldn't imagine laughing at his jokes any time soon.
But he was right. From that point forward, there was a lot I would have to learn to laugh at.