The first three hours or so of each day of my week involves writing and editing stories, headlines, photo captions and deciding the layout and placement of articles on my political news web site.
That’s been the routine for more than 22 years now, even while traveling for business or pleasure. I’ve performed the task in hotel rooms, airport lounges, coffee shops and seats of commercial, company or government planes.
Most days now, the task takes place in my den and studio at home with several cups of coffee and glasses of juice.
The site is often updated throughout the day by me or an editor in Washington. Updates come quickly in times of national crisis, changes of power in the White House and Congress and the unpredictability of political news.
This morning, as the wind howled outside, I had to stop more than once to take a break because my hands cramp more often as I approach age 70 and rheumatoid arthritis along with long-ago broken and healed bones increasingly put stop and pauses to even the most routine of tasks.
Which raises the question: How much longer can one do what he or she normally does in a life?
I’ve been pounding out stories on a keyboard — first on an ancient Underwood typewriter, then an IBM selectric before technology brought inputting text on computer keys and a video screen — for more than half a century. I began taking news photos with a used Yashica Mat twin-lens reflex and a 4×5 Crown Graflex “press camera” in the late 1950s and early 1960s before graduating to a Nikon F single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera body and interchangeable lenses in 1966.
For many years, a large heavy camera bag with three bodies, a half-dozen lenses and many rolls of 35-mm film became a constant companion on assignments around the country and the world.
Nowadays, I use one or two digital Canons with zoom lenses to serve the same purpose and even with the smaller and lighter load, my shoulders and arms ache after photographing a sporting event.
Have an appointment this morning with Dr. Joseph Baum at Carilion Clinic in Floyd for a routine checkup and can expect a lecture about not getting enough sleep and for pushing too hard for too long. More than a few of his sentences will end with “for your age.”
Early in my professional life as a newspaperman and news photographer, many comments would discuss my youth. “You seem so young to be doing what you do,” was a familiar refrain.
No more. Now the discussions center on “isn’t it time to slow down” or “why don’t you take it easy. You’re not a youngster any more.”
I’m not a kid now. I accept that. I went to work full time — at the Floyd Press — at 15, became the youngest reporter for The Roanoke Times at 17 and have had a long, enjoyable life doing mostly what I wanted to do as newsman.
I love to work. Cannot imagine getting up in the morning and not having stories to write or edit or shooting photos of news or sporting events. I know the day will come when I can’t trek up or down the sidelines of a football game or the hills of FloydFest or Chantilly Farms.
My typing is not anywhere near as fast as it once was. I have to stop and take more breaks now in covering physically-demanding assignments. The metal in my legs and other parts of my body brings discomfort on cold and wet days.
But I can still move — albeit at a more relaxed pace — I can still compose an image through a viewfinder, I can still type articles or use a computer to prepare cropped and color-balanced photos and videos.
That’s not only what I do, it is really the only thing I can do.
Let the day begin.