Tag Archive | writing conference

A Voice from the Past

Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower). The 63rd floor is where I worked from 1975 - 1986.

“Good night, Vince.”

“Night, Mare.” Then Vince would burst out laughing.

That was our end-of-the-workday ritual every day for about a year in the mid-1970’s. Nobody called me “Mare” except Vince. And he called me that only at the end of the day, just so he could say “nightmare” to me as a goodnight “blessing” when we left our adjacent cubicles on the 63rd floor of the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Vince and I were an unlikely pair to become friends.

Vince was a 50-year-old accountant who had just returned to the office after a slow recovery from a major heart attack. He had grown up and still lived in an old Italian neighborhood in Chicago. He shared his apartment with his mother. He went to mass every morning before coming to work. After his recovery from his heart attack, he had been placed in the new position of “staff accountant” – he was assigned to special projects in any area of the corporate office, wherever he was needed at the time. He was guaranteed a low stress job for the rest of his working life. That was in the days when corporations appreciated their employees and cared about their personal well-being. Vince liked to laugh, and he was always a pleasant person to be around.

I was a 27-year-old former English teacher who had grown up on a farm in Wisconsin. I was starting out in my first job in business. I knew nothing about accounting or financial systems, but I had been hired to learn how the custom-developed computerized financial systems worked, to write user manuals, and to train bookkeepers, accountants and managers to use these computerized systems.

Vince would not be so presumptuous as to consider himself a mentor to me, but he was more than happy to be a friendly soul next door, or rather, over the cubicle partition.

I haven’t seen Vince in 25 years. I heard that he died more than 20 years ago. But I thought about him a couple weeks ago. I remembered him giving me advice when I went to my first business conference. “You’ll hear all kinds of great ideas at the conference. That’s great. But, if you can bring back just one idea that’s really important – an idea that will change what you do, or how you think about just one thing – then the conference will have been worthwhile.”

A couple weeks ago I remembered Vince’s advice as I was driving to UW-Madison’s 23rd Annual Writers’ Institute.  The 3-day conference brought together a couple hundred writers, agents, publishers, and a few academics. This was my first time to attend the Writers’ Institute.  I didn’t know what to expect. I hoped to get some ideas about how to share some of the things I’m writing – this blog, my “book” on hospitality, other ideas floating around in my mind.

Well, Vince was right. I heard a lot of great ideas at the conference. Technology is drastically changing the structure of the publishing industry. The fundamental concept of a book is even changing with the emergence of e-books. The same is true of magazines with e-zines and blogs. I heard a lot of ideas. I talked with a lot of people who are working with those ideas. But, did I come away with one really great idea that will change what I do or how I think about just one thing that’s important to me?

Well, sort of… My mind is still swirling from all the new ideas I was exposed to. But I am putting together a strategy for completing my book on hospitality. That’s a start.

“Thanks, Vince.”