I could almost taste my Pulitzer prize -- leaving aside the minor details of (1) whether a Pulitzer is given for alternative newspaper column writing, and (2) the questionable edibility of whatever the Pulitzer folks give out as awards.
Regardless, I came so close to becoming a columnist for Salem Weekly, which actually is published bi-weekly, but alternative publications shouldn't be held to obsessive-compulsive journalistic standards.
That's part of what attracted me to the notion of writing for Salem Weekly when publisher A.P. Walther phoned me early in 2011 and said he wanted us to chat. Soon we had a pleasant get-together at the downtown Beanery coffee house. A.P. had been reading my blogs. He liked my "out of the box" thinking.
Music to my literary ears. I told him that blogging was satisfying, but it'd be interesting to dive into the alternative newspaper waters.
There's something about seeing your words in print, on paper. I've had three books published; it's an exciting moment when the first copy arrives in the mail, much more so than is clicking "publish" on a blog post and sensing electrons fly into cyberspace.
After that first meeting with A.P. I pondered what I'd want to write about during some dog walks, when I often come up with my best ponders. It didn't take long for an idea to pop into my mind.
It was weird. In fact, it was strange. I liked it a lot.
I wanted to Strange Up Salem.
I've lived here for 34 years -- over three freaking decades of listening to people (one of whom was me) bitch and complain about how boring Oregon's capital city is, how there's nothing to do here, how downtown is so yawn-inducing, how we suck compared to Portland and Eugene.
All largely true. But lighting a candle is different from cursing the darkness. I got more and more passionate about a Strange Up Salem campaign, which I came to think of as a happening, that would focus on changing Salem from the inside out.
Channeling Obama's 2008 message, I wanted to proclaim: "We are the strange that we've been waiting for."
And that's what I'm going to do. But not in the pages of Salem Weekly.
A.P. Walther, the publisher, resonated with three sample columns that I wrote along with several memos outlining how Strange Up Salem could bring new energy (and readers) to his publication, help make Salem a better place, and be a satisfyingly fun activity for me.
However, the Salem Weekly editor, who would go nameless if he didn't go by the name of Shawn Estes, wasn't nearly as enamored with my proposal.
After I met with Shawn for the first time, late in the column-planning process, I could tell that we weren't on the same wavelength -- a writer's nightmare, because an editor who isn't attuned to a writer's train of thought is going to de-rail the creative engine.
I suggested further meetings where A.P., Shawn, and I could discuss the Strange Up Salem notion. I wrote out my concerns in detail, hoping that it'd still be possible for both Salem Weekly and me to feel comfortable with each other, an obvious pre-requisite if I was going to write a regular column.
I realized that the silence I was hearing from Salem Weekly was a response, a conclusion eventually confirmed by A.P.. Not wanting to set aside the work I'd done on Strange Up Salem, I decided to be my own alternative to our city's alternative newspaper. (With the World Wide Web, everybody can be a publisher these days.)
This means I can't fail, because I have few specific expectations of success. I don't even know what "success" means in this context. That's how strange I want Strange Up Salem to be -- unpredictable, uncertain, uncontrollable, undefinable.
You can be a part of whatever the heck this is, no matter where you live.
Visit my Strange Up Salem blog, which functions as a landing place for www.strangeupsalem.com (naturally one of my first thoughts was: "got to reserve a domain name").
Give me a Facebook "like" via the blog. Or head to the Strange Up Salem Facebook page and like strangeness from there.
Follow the Strange Up Salem Twitter feed. Tweets are in short supply at the moment, but I'll get around to tweetifying strangeness before too long.
If you don't understand what Strange Up Salem is all about, join the club. I don't either. Not really. Strange is an idea that sends out tendrils in all directions. Why, I've come to see this concept as a philosophical Theory of Everything. It explains the whole freaking cosmos!
Well, Salem at least.
Friday I'll share the first column that I wrote for Salem Weekly, duly revised for the now-independent nature of Strange Up Salem. With this happening I'm the writer; I'm the editor; I'm the publisher.
More: I'm the goddamn self-appointed Philosopher King of Strange Up Salem.
I wish Courthouse Square was completely torn down and a public park was in its place; then I could get on a soapbox and rant about how strangeness will save Salem from the sins of boredom, lethargy, ordinariness, and lack of creativity.
But who needs a physical soapbox? I've got Facebook, Twitter, and my blogs! Cool.
(I want to end by saying that I like Salem Weekly and admire the dedication A.P. Walther, Shawn Estes, and the other staffers put into this publication. It's a terrific asset for our city. That said, A.P. repeatedly told me "I welcome suggestions for making Salem Weekly better." I'm going to take him up on that offer in a forthcoming blog post, after I get some Strange Up Salem writings percolating in cyberspace.)