When I was 25 years old, I had what I call my “quarterlife crisis.”
I was a military veteran, attending college and it felt like I was surrounded by kids, while there was no end in sight to “the end.”
I had been a history major then switched to English. I didn’t feel like that was my calling and started dabbling at journalism, first writing for the student newspaper at Pellissippi State and then later at UT.
I had transferred from Pellissippi to UT and it was a disaster. I took nothing but English classes. I found myself having to read five books a week and unable to do it all. I had miscalculated and had no clue.
I was failing.
I dropped out midway through the semester and ended up failing all five classes. I was depressed. I found a job working at Denso in Maryville and for 10 hours a night I would put a sticker on a car part, while those around me had nothing to do with me and called me “college boy.”
I had to find a way out. I did.
In desperation, I found a site called journalismjobs.com and hoped my limited newspaper experience would land me a job somewhere. I saw a weekly paper in North Dakota and applied. Yes. North freaking Dakota. That’s how desperate I was. The editor was surprised and called me and asked why I wanted to move there. I think I said something about I loved the snow. She asked for references.
I called the sports editor at the Daily Beacon, the UT student newspaper and asked if he would be a reference. He asked me why the heck I wanted to go to North Dakota and told me why not apply to the Monroe County paper. So, I did.
It changed my life.
I went there, became the cops reporter and found ink was in my blood. I found it easy. I got paid to write. Who wouldn’t love that?
I spent a year in Monroe County, re-energized and came back to school with new passion. My path led me to becoming editor of The Daily Beacon and later working at the Knoxville News Sentinel.
So, why go through this story?
I admit. I just created journalism blasphemy. I buried the lead.
I’m telling you all today that I am leaving Hard Knox Wire.
Because like that 25-old-kid who thought he was so adult, I took too many English classes. I lost track of myself and who I am. I currently work full-time as the assistant editor for the paper in Morristown where I would work on journalism every day. Then I would get off work and work on more journalism at night.
From the time I woke up to the time I went to bed, for the past month it has been nothing but journalism. I found myself drowning. Several times over the last month I became physically sick.
I became mentally sick.
My health is more important than that.
I also found out what is really important to me.
I first started writing when I was 13 years old. A reading teacher in middle school asked us to write a Choose-Your-Own Adventure book. The assignment called on five pages and I wrote 50 because I couldn’t stop writing. I found myself trapped in a creative side I had never imagined before where the world was mine to put it on a page.
My first love is fiction.
I never dreamed of being a journalist. I dreamed of being a writer. The story above shows how I stumbled into journalism. I’m going to be honest. It’s a job. I started writing for newspapers because it was easy for me. It still is. I get paid to do what I love, which is write.
Even as I leave here, I still get paid to do what I love.
But, I need to pursue my true love. The dream of one day being a full-time fiction writer.
I have written two novels. One is self-published and the other is gathering dust. I plan to dust of the dusty old manuscript and try to find a literary agent. I plan on marketing my self-published book using the tools I learned over the last month marketing Hard Knox Wire. I plan to start writing my third book.
It’s time to re-energize. It’s time to be born anew.
I am thankful for the opportunity to work with J.J. on this project that has been like watching a newborn baby come from the womb. J.J. will have a chance to lead this site in his direction and I’m excited to watch him continue to water it.
You’re in good hands. Just weeks ago, I told J.J. he was a great writer. He is. We have different writing styles and different thoughts on writing. And that is OK. I write like a bulldozer and he writes like a ballerina. There’s room in the world for all these styles.
As I leave here, I thank everyone of you for the support you’ve shown this last month. It’s been amazing and shows me how much Knoxville cares and wants good, outstanding journalism.
I’m not saying goodbye. Look me up on my personal writing page, “Cliff Hightower, Writer.” I plan to spend more time on that page.
It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later.
I shall take my bow and leave this to J.J.