When I was writing this post a year ago today, I couldn’t have imagined how it would change my life. I wrote it out of frustration, forgetting for a moment — or not caring — that as a CBC radio host, I am not allowed to publish my opinion. Also, my employer would very much prefer that I not drop f-bombs wherever I go. My bosses didn’t care much for the angry tone, either, to be honest. At the time, I was super happy in my role as a CBC radio host.
But after I pressed publish, after the post was shared hundreds of times, and viewed tens of thousands of times, after I was reprimanded and disciplined for breaking the journalistic standards and practises, after I confronted the strange and discomfiting feelings of having broken the rules, and the equally strange and opposite feeling of having done nothing wrong, I had to think deeply about where I was, and where I wanted to be.
Being a public radio host is a dream job. But it’s not my dream job. I am and always have been a writer. Writing is my dream job. And more and more over the past year I have chafed against the strictures that prevent me from sharing my opinion. Less and less I have been happy — let alone super happy — in my role as a CBC radio host.
This day last year I said what I saw needed saying. I said what was on my mind and in my heart to say. I thought of myself only as human, not as human-with-public-job. Thanks to everyone who read what I wrote and responded. Thanks for the wind in my sails that also helped blow away the fog that surrounded me.
This day last year I did something I have never once regretted, though I got in trouble, though I lost my sense of myself for months afterward, though it led to me making a plan to leave a job I loved. This day last year I put my foot along a path that has now opened widely before me. I will not be looking back.
The first time I heard Old Man Luedecke‘s song I Quit My Job, I felt uncomfortable. Everything he sang resonated with me, about not letting them take the joy that you make. The assertion you could always live on rice and potatoes. The encouragement to take your heart’s candle and relight it. The pride in a community made of friends who work their dreams with their hands. By then I’d been working at CBC Radio for four years, happily. So happily. I’d found a place at Mainstreet, behind the scenes as producer and on air as a fill-in host. I loved the work I was doing all day. I couldn’t believe they were paying me to ask interesting people nosy questions about their lives.
But every time I heard that song, a little voice nagged at the back of my mind. My heart’s candle was only dimly lit. I’d been a writer for thirty years at that point, but I was most decidedly not engaged in working my dreams with my hands. Working on a radio show had never been my dream. It was a sideline to my true work of writing — and it turned out to be a pretty demanding sideline. Even more so when I became the permanent host in 2008. Who even knew that I was a writer? I didn’t exactly do a tonne of it. And working at the CBC meant I couldn’t share my opinion much — which I’d previously been very accustomed to as a newspaper columnist. I managed to write two novels, mostly against the odds, mainly by spending weekends, evenings, and early mornings hunched over my keyboard. A small grant from the province of Nova Scotia gave me two months to be a full-time writer of fiction and it was intoxicating. A glimpse of what my life could be.
But then, always, reality. We have a mortgage. And my spouse is a folk singer. They are not known for making a lot of dough. Though they do write songs that oughta be worth a million bucks. And anyway I loved my work, and I was pretty good at it, too. Maybe someday I’d get a chance to host a national show. I loved covering elections. And political scandals of all kinds. And I got to interview people like Mary Gauthier. And Phil Keoghan. And Burton Cummings. For some reason those are the three that come to mind at the moment. And who walks away from a job like that? Surely the best job in Halifax. Eventually they even made me staff, and I started paying into the pension program. Who walks away from a CBC pension, for god’s sake.
But that song. That exhortation to take your heart’s candle and relight it.
I am writing another novel. Slowly, so slowly. I need to go faster. I need to write more. I need to be free to be my whole self. It’s time to get back to my regularly scheduled life as an artist. To express opinions. To dance in the kitchen to Old Man Luedecke. To make rice and potatoes for supper. To work my dreams with my hands.
And so I’m stepping off this comfortable ledge and into the abyss. I don’t know what will be next, honestly, besides writing. I once again have a small but mighty grant from the province, so I’ll have at least a few months of writing fiction. And after that, I’ll be hustling, working when I need to at whatever I can.
It’s been an honour to be the host of Mainstreet. I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ll be revelling in the moments to come between now and mid-December when I’ll turn off my mic for the final time. And then I’ll just be here, relighting my heart’s candle.