I didn't always like the Phoenix. But I did always love it.
Like any long-term relationship, there weren't good days and bad days. There were good years and bad years.
I dated one guy for five years, from age 16 to age 21. We managed to get through high school and most of college together before he dumped me and moved out of our apartment. He left while I was midway through a year-long internship at the Phoenix, which took up most of my free time and mental energy during my last year of college.
I felt so depressed after that break-up that I plunged myself into work. I came in more days than they had asked and sat at my crappy intern computer. I wrote, without having been assigned anything. I learned how to write better, over time. I asked if they needed help with any website work every hour or so. Often times, they did. I think I was the only intern that year who got published in the actual print newspaper (and paid for it, to boot!) -- for a video game review.
They had given me a free copy of the game: Pokemon Battle Revolution. I didn't have time to play it that weekend, but I lied and said that I did. I had to go to Georgia to visit my grandmother. I spent the entire weekend in the hotel conference room playing that game because my console wouldn't work on the hotel room's television set. I'm not sure if my parents paid for that conference room reservation; they might have. They understood, and so did my Grandma. I told them this was my big chance. (In some ways, it was; I got hired full-time at the Phoenix on the same day as my last final exam for college.)
The review came out terrible, but Ryan Stewart and Nina Mclaughlin (two of the web editors, back then) helped me rewrite it and rewrite it until it passed muster. I had never felt prouder of anything I'd ever done before in my life, by the end. Of course, I find that review unreadable now, and the lengths that I went to in order to play the game in spite of my weekend plans with my Grandma ... laughable, adorable even. I still go to absurd lengths now, to play games for a review. I haven't changed so much.
Grandma died last December. I don't think she read a single piece I wrote for the Phoenix; she didn't much understand what a video game was. I also managed the Phoenix's websites, and she only barely understood what that entailed. But she understood that I was happy. She knew I worked a lot of hours, but she knew that it was important to me to do it.
She was a feminist in her day, and she only grew more radical with age. In our final visit, we watched Fox News together and she made me repeat everything the newscasters said (her hearing was going) so that she could properly scoff in response. Legitimate rape? Nonsense, she would say. She may not have read the Phoenix, but she would have, should have, could have in her younger days. She understood me. She understood us.
I've thought about her many times since December. I spent all of Christmas Day stranded and delayed in an airport while my parents planned her memorial service, which I missed, because I had to go back to the Phoenix. Somebody has to update that website, I told myself. Nobody else can do it. I managed to get on a plane and get back to my apartment around midnight, that night, and I went to work early the next day and plugged away at my tasks all day long. Alone in the office, late that night.
On some level, I wanted to go back to work. I didn't want to think about my Grandma. I had work to do. I knew that she would understand. I knew that she was proud of me.
I called it "procrastinating worry." Someone else might call it "denial."
Like I said, I didn't always like the Phoenix. I even wrote a song about how much the ups and downs of working there frustrated me (it's called "500 Hour Day," and you can listen to it here). I wanted to change the world and to do work that mattered. I wanted to write a book, compose and stage a musical, make a piece of art that changed minds. I didn't want to do data entry all the time, and in my early Phoenix days ... even in my late Phoenix days ... I got stuck with piles of it.
It took me a while to figure out how to negotiate ways to both do content management work and also find time to write, and even then, changing the world often had to go on the back burner in favor of website-related emergencies. My time management struggles never ended. I managed to write a few world-changers when I wasn't laying out a slideshow or a surprise supplement page. I skipped the office's belated Christmas party in January to write this story; it eventually made it onto a Phoenix cover, so no regrets there.
Sometimes I resented our website for other reasons, though. Our content management systems weren't user-friendly, most of our hardware needed an update (our server - sigh), and I hated that no one I talked to seemed willing to agree to invest any more money in making anything about the website better. The back end, the front end, the advertising structure -- you name it, and I got push-back for making a suggestion about it.
Speaking of money, or lack thereof, my new job search has taught me that I will make double, if not triple, doing the same work anywhere else. I never cared; I still don't. The Phoenix couldn't afford any of us. We were all just hoping for more time and more chances.
The only battle I fought and won was for Ariel Shearer, who we couldn't afford to hire, but who we hired anyway because we needed someone to save our social media presence ... well, that, and I was tired of working packed 10-hour days that didn't include any time for writing.
But the real battle: my fight for a redesign ... I lost that one. I understand why I lost it. By the time I started fighting it, we had already begun to scramble for resources. And so had every other publication.
The transition from print to online has been a sordid one for most. Many online-only publications barely pay their writers, either, so it's not like they've figured it out. As far as I can tell, no one has figured out how to make a media website profitable for its employees and writers in the same way that, say, the printed version of the New York Times (or even the Boston Phoenix!) was in its glory days. I sure hope someone figures it out. I'd like to be paid to do the work I love. And, heck, I'll even manage your website.
Even though I resented the Phoenix's website, I also loved it. It felt consistent, and it kept me busy when I needed something to keep me busy. When inspiration had run dry, when depression hit, I had a purpose. I could always tell myself that even if I couldn't change the world this week, one of my coworkers would ... and I was helping them get the word out.
It was a habit, a pattern, a routine. I didn't take vacations -- I don't even like vacations. I spent hours of my last (and only) vacation with a now-ex-boyfriend moderating comments on the Phoenix's website ... which I didn't have to do, but wanted to do. In my defense, he spent his vacation with Guild Wars. (We were doomed already, by then.)
I loved my work. I never wanted to leave, and even when I physically left, I never stopped reading work emails on my phone and fixing typos from my home computer. I joked to my friends that I was a website surgeon, always on-call. Always online.
I often compare my relationship to the Phoenix to my real-life relationships with family, with significant others. The end of the Phoenix feels like a marriage ending due to the death of a spouse. For now, it feels like the Phoenix is on life support, and I'm convincing myself to pull the plug.
I went to the office and put up some more stories on the website today. You can read our last issue here. It's not our last print issue, which we put out last Friday; it's yet another issue that we did this week, a web-only issue. I put up all of those stories by myself, this week, in a nigh-empty office. The stories had been paid for and filed. Carly Carioli stuck around to edit them. We're still on the payroll, for now, although very few other people are, and that won't last.
This morning I walked in on John Nunziato watering the plants in our empty newsroom. He turned to me and admitted, "I don't know why I'm still doing this." Then, he said, "I don't even know what day it is anymore."
But we keep watering the plants. And I keep updating the website.
It has to end sometime. In fact, it has -- it did. I've applied to some jobs. I've even got an interview tomorrow, and more than a couple of promising emails from folks who'd like me to write freelance about video games for their publications. I'm going to be all right. I'm going to find someplace new to devote my hours, perhaps more than one someplace.
That place will be lucky to have me, if I should fall in love with it ... and I do think I will love again, if I find the right publication. But I also feel like I'm coming off of a long relationship.
I've done my best to sink my unhappiness and panic into my job search. It's worked well enough. But I can't "procrastinate worry" forever. Today, the panic started to settle into chest pains and depression instead of manic energy. I haven't eaten lunch or dinner today; I forced myself through a piece of chocolate and a cup of applesauce. They tasted like paste. I feel like a zombie.
The worry that the Phoenix is really, truly gone ... that nothing will ever feel like it felt again, that nothing will ever mean as much? That worry has been creeping up behind me, these past few months. We were struggling. We were clinging.
Because it won't be the same, nothing will be the same. I already know that, on an intellectual level. But on an emotional level, I haven't absorbed the whole truth. It comes in stabs, sometimes. I'll remember a project we did, a piece I still had planned, or ... today, I came home from work and lay in my bed staring at my ceiling and I thought, there is no better title for a blog than Laser Orgy. And now? Now, even that will go into an eternal stasis.
The stabs of pain will keep coming. They might never stop.
My parents have planned another memorial service for my Grandma this summer. I'm going to it, this time around.
The Phoenix has planned a funeral, too.
By the time those events happen, hopefully I'll be ready to feel present at them. Not be present -- feel present.
I wish I could promise the Phoenix would rise again. But first, we have to let it die. We have to stop watering the plants, as it were. The ashes must get swept. We will put them in an urn and look on them with fondness.
The future is uncertain.
The need for places like the Phoenix has not died, even though the Phoenix has. That need will never disappear, so long as beings that communicate with one another exist. We will find ways to do that, to value that work, to change each others' minds and, in so doing, change the world.
We haven't figured all of that out yet.
But we will.
I'll do it myself, if I have to.