Yesterday, as I did my quarterly whine**, I tried to think of actual actions I regret, careerwise. There are a few lost opportunities, stories that could have used more work, dumb moves, that kind of thing. But I only got a true pang of regret when I remembered the guy I interviewed about 20 years ago.
Back then, I worked for local magazines and newspapers (one of which still exists wowee). I wrote free-lance until I got a job as an editor.
I wrote dozens? hundreds? of articles during my feature article years. I interviewed all sorts of people--bee-keepers, collectors, athletes, politicians, movers-and-shakers, bankers, acrobats, a real cowboy, Billy Ripken, artists, actors, writers, chicken farmers, crooks, Other Women, home-schoolers, police officers, judges, lawyers....
When I think about all those interviews, two stand out: one with a woman lived in Frederick in the 1940s and another with a man who'd stormed Normandy during D-Day. I was supposed to write a series of articles about life in the US and in Europe for Frederick people during WW2.
The woman told me about her life. She lived in a nursing home and what else did she have to do with her time? She talked about life in World War 2 and World War 1. She was a nurse through both wars.
She described recovering from the flu of 1918, climbing out of bed to discover that her husband and infant lay dead in the next room. And she talked about what it was like to be a woman raising a child on her own and then what it was like to outlive everyone she loved. She apparently hadn't talked about some of these things--the stories didn't come out fluently. Perhaps it had only been a long time since she talked? But I remember her hesitancy and I sensed she didn't often talk about the past. Even then I felt as if I'd been given a gift.
I think I used two sentences about her in the article.
The last of the WW2 series got shortened? canned? I can't remember. Maybe I quit before I finished? All this regret feels personal so it must have been something I did. . . Anyway, in the end, the man who described landing on the beach didn't get to see his words in the magazine.
His descriptions would be familiar to anyone who's seen a WW2 movie. The ping of bullets hitting the sides of the landers sounded like mad typists at work. (The guy, whose name I've forgotten, liked to talk). He didn't get seasick, like most of the guys who were jammed onto the boat, but the smell of vomit and fear eventually got to him so he puked too.
I listened to him talk and tried to imagine this guy, overweight and kind of goofy looking, in a war. He talked and talked and began to cry. I got embarrassed for him (and thinking about it, now I'm embarrassed for me to even worry about trivial shit like that). I think I ended the interview by pretending to have an appointment. I can't remember what he said nearly as clearly as I can my own dumb actions. Typical.
I'd taped the interview and I took notes. The tape broke. I think I made a half-assed attempt to fix it. That article didn't happen. I lost the notes from the interview--to give me a tiny bit of credit, I did cart them around for years.
I don't remember their names. She seemed elegant and put together for someone who lived in a nursing home. He worked in a funeral home.
My greatest writerly regret of my career so far -- not keeping their words or their names.
**every few months whether I'm up for it or not, the whine pours out.