Thomas: Last week today
My friend Abby was the first person who came to see me after my unexpected move back to the Vail Valley. We were the two survivors of the Summit Daily News’ copy desk implosion in 2002-03, and then worked together twice again: in the Aspen Times’ newsroom and later as ski and snowboard instructors (and just missed each other at the Aspen Daily News).
Before we met, though, Abby and I both worked in Vail — she was a copy editor at the Daily when I was a sportswriter at the Trail. When we were walking out through the newsroom on our way to go eat and see what businesses remained 20 years after leaving Vail, she reminded me, “I used to sit right there!”
As I’m no longer in regular contact with my friend NashPhil, a heavily tattooed bartender who studied English, history and math at Vanderbilt, Abby stands as the most quotable person I actually know in person. And so she remains a presence at the Daily because, while I forget some of the details surrounding them, I remember many of her aphorisms that have become essentially best practices and rules of thumb that I have followed — and they have followed me — from desk to desk.
One I always manage to forget but need to remember went something like, “I never know what day it is because by the time I get to work, ‘today’ is ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’ is ‘today.’” My own adaptation came out of the Associated Press stylebook, which recognizes only the day of publication and stipulates writing the day of the week and date otherwise: “There is no ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow’ — there is only today.”
My five-year absence from journalism — building cable networks in Russia, tending bar in a national park in Virginia, driving limousines in Denver — might have put me in time out of mind, but being back on the desk brought me back in. And about 90 days after going back to copy editing, I starting writing columns again.
My second commentary piece for the Daily, which ran last week, referenced the next most recent column I had written for an opinion or commentary section, but it wasn’t the full, original reference to the occasion that compelled me to write — the day a college student killed 32 others and himself in my hometown (coincidentally, as NashPhil and I were packing to pass through there on our way from Aspen to Ocean City, Maryland, to surf).
Even though I’m not really the one who makes the final edits to my own opinions for publication — though I well might be the one who does it to yours — I cut that section Friday or Saturday night because I thought it affected the tone of what was supposed to be a casual column largely about writing and the nature of news. Because I don’t work Sundays and try not to write columns on deadline, that edit already happened before the two mass shootings, in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, that would dominate the next news cycle.
Without cutting that clause from my first paragraph last week, my column might have appeared prescient, but I think the tone might have been even further off had it made it in after the shootings. But with the march of time, trying to anticipate mass shootings has become less like predicting natural disasters than lunar cycles.
The context escapes me, but for some reason, we were repurposing the old Yakov Smirnoff joke for current times: “In capitalist America, the 24-hour news cycle rides you!”
There was another cut from that column that struck me as interesting in retrospect: I made a crack about editing the columnist whose vacated space I took — my column was sort of about politics but the joke was about punctuation. My managing editor excised it. And then that writer’s columns came to light as an important part of a news story on Tuesday. (My boss and I also had talked about another aspect of the news story the previous week.)
There have been some pretty significant changes to the Vail Daily copy desk over the approximately 100 days since I got here, so I might be overestimating the impression that these ideas I’ve picked up from other places have made here. Probably I talk about philosophy and mythology in terms of practice more than a normal copy editor.
One of the ideas that recurs is the Cassandra complex, a psychological term that follows the prophetess in the “Iliad” whose predictions of doom the Trojans ignored. It’s 3:03 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 11, my day off. But “today” is Monday, and there is no telling what the news cycle has brought.
Dan Thomas is the copy desk chief at the Vail Daily, a former sportswriter for the Vail Trail and a master’s degree candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Denver. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.