Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's Still Not Easy Being John

(Sorry to have missed out on yesterday -- final exams!)

So, we were talking about John.  And here's a story for you.  In 2004 I took a job as an associate editor at America Magazine.  I had never worked in publishing. In fact, when I took the job I had never even really met the editors. I lived at America one summer during my theology studies, but I had absolutely nothing to do with the working of the magazine -- I was actually a production assistant for a company that did children's television shows and commercials.

Still, when I arrived on some level I thought I was pretty hot stuff.  I've always done well at school (in fact I have often thought, if you could make the world better through standardized tests, I would be your man).  I was an English major and MA, I like to write. Come on.

Plus, I was young. Now, young as defined in the Jesuit handbook is not exactly the same as defined by Webster's. Young in the Society means younger than everybody else.  I was 34 when I went to America; it's not old, but there are younger ages, you know? But at America House where I lived the average age was probably in the 70s.  I was definitely young.

So I start at the magazine, and it's great.  A profoundly positive experience -- if you live in New York and you're ever feeling down, just stop by America.  It doesn't matter if you don't know anyone, the people there will raise your spirits.  Really.  The work of being an editor was challenging in a satisfying way, my boss was fun and also encouraging, the staff was great, the community liked having me there.  A really positive experience.  In retrospect I can't believe how lucky I was to get that job and to move to that community.

Why am I telling you this? Well, there was one weird wrinkle in the whole thing.  There was, and is, on staff at America, another Jesuit named Jim, also pretty young, and hyper accomplished.  Jim Martin -- perhaps you've heard of him. In fact, if you've ever seen a Catholic priest quoted in the papers, or looked up from the dinner table or down to the paper to see a guy with a collar holding his own against Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck, or watched the Colbert Report and heard him interview a funny priest, or heard a priest on NPR, or read something by a Jesuit on the Huffington Post -- 9 times out of 10, that's Jim Martin.  Jim's  an incredibly articulate spokesperson for Catholic stuff; he's funny, down to earth and smart as a whip.

He's also extremely prolific.  While I was at America he published this book, My Life with the Saints, a first person narrative of his own life and his take on different saints.   A huge, huge success -- sold over 100,000 copies, which for a Catholic spiritual book, is Godzilla proportions.  He's followed up recently with The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, which is nice how-to book on spirituality.  He's got a great following and also a nice, conversational style.  If you're looking for Christmas gifts for self or others, this is the guy.

Do you see where this is going?  Pretty much my entire run at America -- definitely the first 2 or 3 years -- whenever I would meet people and introduce myself as Jim McDermott, an editor at America Magazine, almost every time this is what I'd hear: "Oh my gosh. I love your stuff."  And I'd be very pleased, because it turns out writing for a magazine is a lot like writing a blog. You put this stuff out there into the ether, and then you really don't know where it goes.  Did they like it? Did they read it? Most of the time you don't know.   And so feedback is always a great thing. (Even, God I hate your stuff.  I actually love when people would write that.  It doesn't matter that they've just slammed you, you still have a connection.)

The conversation would continue. Me: "Wow. Thank you so much." Them: "Oh yeah. I've got all your books." Or, variation: "That article you did on Mother Teresa -- wow." Or even, for the terribly nearsighted: "You were great on Colbert."

And there I was again, still without a verifiable reader, and ego totally popped.  You try to get used to it -- it really has nothing to do with you, after all. But it's tough to live in someone's shadow -- especially someone with the same first name and last initial.  (Somewhere God laughed over that little twist.)  And yet, really, there you are.  Deal with it.

And me, well, I tried my best, tried to keep my head on what I was there for, which was not to compete with any of the other editors or to be a media rock star, but just to contribute.  But that doesn't mean it was always easy.

 We've all got stories like this. And then there's John and Jesus.  I mean, talk about a competition you cannot win.  Oy vey, the complexes that one could give you.  And unlike me, John had lots of groupies of his own when Jesus showed up on the scene.  He had a "fan base".  And yet he sent them all to Jesus.

I don't know what you came up with for how he did it.  All that I can think is, he really didn't have his eyes on himself or maybe even on his cousin per se.  Rather, he kept his attention on God.  And as a result, a lot of things like ego or self-esteem had no power to distract him.

It's sort of like, have you ever gone to the ocean or a sunset and been caught up just in looking out on it?   Living in Los Angeles now I have the luxury of wandering down to the ocean from time to time, and for me its great blessing is the way it captivates. The play of colors on the water near sunset, its infinite expanse -- I go to it with many worries or troubles, and yet the longer I stand there looking out, the more all that seeps away.   John keeping his eyes on God, maybe it was sort of like that.  All the darkness fades away, and the right path, the right choices quite clear.


kmbrco said...

I'm sure I've seen/heard/red Jim Martin, but, I have to say, I do like the way YOU write. Your point of view, the way you express it, is relatable, contemplative, and, often, fun.

I don't know how John did it. Anyone who has lived in the shadow of another must wonder. But, then, you get over it and on with the business at hand. Not everyone is meant to be a rock star, right?

I'll be reading...

kmbrco said...

read, that is...

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

Thanks for the compliment; you should check out Jim's stuff, too. He's a great writer, too. Very conversational and with a lot of good ideas! May Santa grace your stocking! :)

Anonymous said...

thanks for your blog!