The grind begins before dawn.

I pop open my laptop to check emails before the kids got out of bed, before the coffee finishes brewing, before my first cigarette. I check my calendar — I still rock the old-school, spiral-bound variety — and flip open my notebook to start the day’s list, which as always begins with anything from yesterday’s list that did not get done, and it never really ends.

Cigarettes. Coffee. I can feel the tension building inside my body, inside my head, like the cabin of an airplane pressurizing before takeoff. I don’t mind it. I like it. Without it I’d never survive the day’s tasks.

There’s publisher stuff: place some digital ads, track down artwork for the print edition, compile a list of ZIP codes, put together a marketing plan for a prospective customer.

And then there’s editor stuff, like the list of stories I need to write and the queue of everyone else’s work that I insist must pass across my desk before going to print.

After I drop the kids at school I start barking texts into my phone while I wheel down South Elm-Eugene Street to the office, where I click through more emails, hustle more copy, inhale as many of the day’s news stories as I can before the editorial meeting, because I need the information just as badly as I need the nicotine and caffeine. Maybe even more so. It’s my junk.

When I was a freelancer, I worked a good four or five hours a day. Most days, anyway. Eventually it wasn’t enough.

When I was a staffer, I chafed against arbitrary restraints and capricious leadership. That, too, wasn’t enough. I didn’t know until the end that this is what I wanted.

This is what I wanted.

In the afternoon I write and edit — I smash one staffer’s copy into pieces and reassemble it like a mosaic; I tear another one’s up so viciously I feel a little bad about it. A little. But someone’s got to hold the line. Someone’s got to say, “Not good enough.” Someone’s got to care, even if no one else does. It took me 20 years to be that someone.

This is what I wanted.

There’s never enough time in the day, never enough days in the week, never enough resources to accomplish my goals. And yet, somehow, it happens.

Now it’s almost tomorrow, so the unchecked items on the list will carry over while I allow myself to slowly deflate back into something resembling a normal human, which I sometimes wish I was, but not very often.

This is what I wanted.

This is what I want.

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