In one of my favorite scenes from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, news writer Murray Slaughter bets assistant producer Mary Richards that she can’t write a news story. Mary says she can.
Just then, a story comes in, something big, a scoop. It must be written up and rushed to anchorman Ted Baxter, who in just a matter of seconds will utter his sign-off: “Good night, and good news.”
Murray, smiling, bows to Mary.
Mary rolls a sheet of paper into her typewriter. She types about half a sentence. Then she stops. She spaces down and starts another sentence. She stops. She spaces down and starts over again. She stops. She spaces down… Everyone in the newsroom is standing around her desk, watching…She spaces down…
Finally, at the last minute, Murray loads his typewriter, and, fingers flying, types the story, rips the paper from the machine, and hands it to producer Lou Grant, who runs for the anchor desk.
And that’s why I’m not a journalist. I’m not Murray. I’m Mary.
That, and because I knew that if I took a journalism course, I would have to talk to people: call them on the phone, request interviews, ask them questions. I had no intention of talking to people I didn’t know.
And then someone would expect me to write a lot and faster than I was capable of, or thought I was capable of.
I look back and wonder how I got to that point. Not the distaste for talking to people I didn’t know–I’ve always had that–but the difficulty with writing.
I grew up loving to write. By the time I was seven, I was writing long letters to great-aunts and aunts and cousins. Once when I was home from school, enjoying ill health, my mother let me use my father’s fountain pen. Once I used a pencil with a point so dull I doubt the recipients could read the for smears on the pages.
The summer I was eight, I spent the month of June in Central Texas with an aunt and uncle while my mother stayed in Dallas with my grandmother, who was ill. My father, who remained in Del Rio working, visited one weekend and brought me a present: a ream of legal-sized paper.
On a scale of one to ten, most children would have rated a ream of paper at minus 3. I gave it a twelve. I wrote my own newspaper. Most articles covered weddings between various cats and dogs of my acquaintance. I had a talent for describing bridesmaids’ dresses worn by Blackie and Bootsie and Kitty and Pat Boone (my fox terrier). It was a devastating little parody of a small-town newspaper.
And then somewhere along the line, I did what my thesis adviser told me, twenty years later, not to do: I got tangled up in words. Writing was no longer fun. Confidentially, I think it had something to do with school and outlines.
It was years before someone said, “You can’t write an outline until you know what you’re going to say, and you can’t know what you’re going to say until you’ve written something.”
Write it and then fix it. And lighten up.
Sometimes I do lighten up. When I write the blog, I lighten up. I’m fluent. Words pour out. Unless I’m trying to be serious and sincere and profound. I cannot try to matter. I’m not a profound writer. I think profound, but I write shallow, and there’s nothing I can do about that.
And I would never put myself into the little journalism box. That’s pressure. And I still don’t want to talk to people I don’t know. I’d rather make up the facts myself.
I don’t like talking to reporters, either. I always tell them to be sure to make me sound intelligent. One young lady told me she didn’t have to fix anything because I talk in complete sentences. I told her that was an accident.
Now. It’s past my midnight deadline. I think I’ll still be okay for NaBloPoMo because it runs on Pacific Daylight Time (for another forty-eight hours).
But that is not, at this moment, of paramount concern. My dedication to adhering to rigid contest guidelines has lessened.
I’m lightening up.
- Mary Tyler Moore to guest on Betty White sitcom (cbc.ca)
- Remembering ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ on Its 40th Birthday (popeater.com)
- ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ Cast: Where Are They Now? (tvsquad.com)
- U.S. Census Bureau Daily Feature for September 19 (prnewswire.com)
- ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ First Aired 40 Years Ago Today (tvbythenumbers.com)