These are boom times -- it can be lowered on anyone at any time.
Still, I'm an optimist. When the paper's executive editor called me into his office, I thought maybe, just maybe, he was going to tell me I'd won a Pulitzer!
His crestfallen manner dashed that dream in a jiffy. He was so down, I felt like I ought to cheer him up.
I couldn't quite muster that.
In that instant, I became a statistic -- one of the millions of Americans let go from their jobs, another piece of collateral damage in the massive meltdown that is making the newspaper industry look like a popsicle at high noon.
Even statistics have feelings -- waves of emotion that, as Fitzgerald suggested, bear us ceaselessly back into the past. Anger, self-pity, relief and hope rise up, sometimes by themselves, sometimes in impossible combinations, as the mind replays what was and wonders what if.
Maybe it didn't have to turn out this way.
But it did. And there you have it.
I remind myself of that plain truth as often as I can. Still, there's a psychic itch that demands to be scratched. I hear myself repeat the same explanations, speculations and rationalizations -- over and over and over again -- sometimes to other people, often just to myself.
I'm human. That's what we do -- we create stories, versions of the past, that layer meaning over experience, so the world will, just maybe, seem to make sense.
If we're lucky, we get some help. I am very lucky.
I've heard from friends who couldn't be more supportive. They've said all the right things. Sometimes it takes the medicine a long time to work.
My wife has been an incredible source of strength. So much so that I've had to remind myself that this has happened to her as much as to me. This is our life.
Here's what happened when I told our children I was leaving the paper. Our 8-year-old was mildly surprised, and my 10-year-old was stunned. Our 12-year-old started to cry. Then she got on the computer and started looking at jobs -- not for herself, alas, but for me. She said, "Dad, I'll move to any city, any state, any country, except a third-world country."
I gave her the biggest hug I could.
As you've probably guessed, this is my last column for The N&O. To say it has been an honor and a privilege to write for you these dozen years is a profound understatement.
I've always believed the deepest truths contain a paradox, so it is with the essence of writing: It is a solitary act propelled by the hope for communion. We write to know our minds and to share the best part of ourselves with others. Without readers there would be no writing -- just thinking.
Truth be told, you haven't made this easy. And I thank you for that. Having such a sharp, sophisticated audience pushed me each week to do my best, to never just fill the space but try to find something to say that might be worth your time.
I remember the first time the great Tar Heel writer Fred Chappell told me he read my column. Before I could catch myself, I asked, "The whole thing?"
Sometimes, you told me I fell short. Trust me, I can recall most every critical note. But even more memorable are the notes I've received through the years that simply said "attaboy." I don't mention this to toot my own horn, but to recognize your generosity. Before I took this job, it never occurred to me to write a columnist to express thanks rather than anger. I will carry that lesson with me.
Through the years, I've been helped by a series of talented editors -- including Felicia Gressette, Suzanne Brown, Craig Jarvis, Nell Joslin and Eileen Heyes. They've saved me more times than I choose to remember.
I could go on -- but I can't, here.
So long, farewell, out Peder Zane.
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