A blog by Lori Lyons

Friday, May 31, 2024

May Days

I don't know why, but it seems there is something about May days in my life.

 "Mayday" is, of course, the widely recognized word for distress. Pilots, ship captains, and fishermen all use it to say "Help me!" or "I'm going down!" or "Oh shit!"

To my knowledge, "mayday" is not commonly used among journalists or teachers. Mostly, teachers just count down the days until the next vacation or the end of the school year.  Journalists, on the other hand, just say "oh shit" a lot. 

But as a former full-time journalist and, now, former full-time teacher, I've come to realize that there have been several May days in my life that have been "Maydays." (See what I did there?)

It was a balmy night in May of 2012 when I first learned that my employer of then-26 years, The Times-Picayune, which was owned by Advance Publications, was about to be sacrificed on the altar of digital technology and profit margins. The night Phillip Phillips was crowned the winner of that year's American Idol, I logged into what was then known as Twitter (now known as X, but I'll never call it that) to see the overall reaction. 

Some loved him, some didn't. But buried in between the comments was a blurb by the New York Times, reporting that Advance Publications was about to give up its print editions of several papers, including ours, to go all-digital. It would revolutionize the industry, they said. It would save them money -- at the cost of hundreds of hard-working newspaper people.

A few weeks later, I was one of the 200 employees who was handed a white envelope with my severance package. My services as a prep writer turned perp writer/news clerk in the River Parishes Bureau, would no longer be needed after September 30. It was a devastating blow. A punch in the gut that left me a crumpled heap in my pool with a bottle of Boone's Farm Blue Hawaiian. 

Now, every May, my Facebook memories are flooded with the hundreds of "-30-"s posted by each of us as we got our packets. 


Some of my colleagues recovered quickly, finding new jobs at new papers, launching their own enterprises or changing careers completely. Not all of us, though. Some of us -- I -- landed one toe at a time and had to hang on for dear life. In distress.

A few weeks after my last day, my mother-in-law, Jane, had to leave her assisted living apartment and moved into my spare bedroom. I became a full-time caretaker for the next 18 months. There are a whole bunch of blog posts in my archives about that if you care to read them. Search for "vodka."

I became a freelance writer for several publications and websites. I wrote features and covered high school games, sometimes writing four versions of one game for different outlets. 

Once Jane passed away in February of 2014, I could begin looking for a "real" job. I found one -- temporarily -- at my alma mater, Loyola University. I was hired to work in the Office of Public Affairs to fill in for a woman who was going out on maternity leave. 

I'm not going to lie. The money was fantastic but it was boring. Public relations people don't write the stories. They write the pitches to try to get other people to write the stories. My first assignment was to write a pitch about a rooftop greenhouse on campus. I was all ready to go take pictures and interview the people working on it when they stopped me. "You don't need to do all that," I was told. "Someone else will." Oh. And I had to week to not write it. Well OK then.

I did enjoy being back on campus, though, and seeing all the joggers Uptown in the springtime. And I got to earn my Master's degree in parallel parking. 

But one day in May, at a big staff meeting, I was praised for my skills and my contributions to the office but then I was told my services would no longer be needed. 


From there I got a nice little job at the local library, which I really enjoyed. But I was only there a few months when I got a call from the local bi-weekly paper offering me the job as the sports editor. It wasn't May, it was November of 2015. And I lasted until August of 2017 when too many promises were broken, too many hours weren't counted in my paycheck and my mama started fading. She was next to move into my spare bedroom, but only for a few months.

Unincumbered and in need of a real job, I turned to teaching. It was a Plan B, but one I had always wanted to pursue. In August of 2018 I was hired as a middle school English teacher. It was new and very different. I had a difficult time keeping up with the paperwork. I killed lots and lots of trees. I wasn't great at it but I sure tried my butt off and I got better as I went along. I loved (most of) the kids in my classes. 

But in May, when they told me they were not renewing my contract for the next year, I was punched in the gut again. I felt like a failure.


I went back to freelancing for food, but then circumstances sent me to a small private school that I had been covering on my beat for decades. They needed an English teacher and a multimedia teacher, a couple of things I knew a little bit about. I was learning on the fly trying to get a handle on what the students and my principal expected. Six weeks later, Covid hit and shut down everything and I was trying to reinvent the wheel I hadn't yet invented.

When that May brought the end of school, it was a relief -- but not yet the end of the journey.

Over the next few years, I figured it out. I taught creative writing to a bunch of eighth graders who would rather kill things on their computer screens than create a character. I started a school news website and found a couple of students who were proud to produce it. I taught multimedia and web design to some creative students (and a couple who should be ashamed of themselves for not getting an A in the easy A class). 

But then May came again. 

The Coach struggled with his baseball team and with a bad back but notched his 500th career win and a trip to the playoffs. Late, but better than never, they found a rhythm and made it to the third round. But the day after his team lost in the quarterfinals, he was told he was no longer to be the baseball coach. Too old. Not young enough. They wanted a "young face" on the program.

It was a sucker punch right out of left field. It hurt. Like hell. And it left both of us reeling and fretting over what our futures looked like. 


Ultimately, we both decided that this was no longer the place for us. I spent a few weeks packing up all my teal desk accessories and my various props that made the kids laugh and roll their eyes at me -- my skeleton hand pointer, my various stress squeezes, all of my beach-themed decor. And I tore down the paper palm tree I'd been sitting under for more than four years. Not one grown-up came to ask me why.

And on the last day of school, The Coach and I walked out together into yet another unknown future with our fingers crossed and our heads high. 

The origin of the word "mayday" is believed to have come from the French phrase "m'aidez," which means "help me." We could use a little of that right about now -- thoughts, prayers, good wishes, good mojo, a winning lottery ticket -- because I don't know exactly what comes next for either of us. We have hopes and dreams, some of which involve the beach. We have some plans. We hope to make the best of whatever time we have left, however many Mays there may be.

May days or Maydays. It seems they're all the same.