Sean Beckwith: The Lit Life goes dark
I think I’ve finally figured out what makes a local a local. Of course it took taking a new job — not a new second or third job but a new job — to finally figure that out.
What makes a local a local is that you care so immensely for a place that you feel obligated to give back to it. I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about tangible things that people notice.
Whether it’s hauling out someone else’s empty beer cans from a disc golf course, throwing a rock off the middle of a run and into the woods or writing a column, I always wanted to care for and tend to Aspen and its locals because this place gave me so much.
I moved here for an internship a little over a decade ago and then spent my first ski season at Aspen Skiing Co., wearing a Helly Hansen so tight that it choked off the circulation to my brain and caused me to get short with managers while trying to toast turkey sandwiches at Two Creeks.
From there, I moved to the loading dock at The Little Nell until I got into and subsequently dropped out of grad school. I knew I wanted to write, but I also knew I wasn’t guaranteed that opportunity even with another diploma. When I got back to town, I was just looking for any work that would get me out of my parents’ house. That turned out to be at the Stonebridge Condominiums in Snowmass as a front desk clerk.
So for any of you wondering what property I always referred to and what guests (or owners) I always complained about, that’s the one. While working there, I found an opening for a proofreader at The Aspen Times. It was only a part-time position, so I worked both jobs and recreated tirelessly around and in between a seven-day work schedule. (There was a third job at one point, but this is a newspaper, there are word limits.)
When I got the call that a full-time copy editor position opened up — I still remember it like it was my big break — I switched from full time at the condos to part time and vice versa at the Times. (If you can curry favor with the ladies of Stonebridge for those weekend morning shifts and a ski pass, I highly recommend you do so. Pizza on Fridays is a good place to start.)
I wrote a guest column and then another and another and another until a regular spot in the rotation opened up. If you remember Su Lum, it was her passing that provided that opportunity.
At the time, I was more excited for the chance than aware that a lot of my takes were similar to hers. She was an Aspen Times lifer who also didn’t let developers or Skico or politicians get away with shit. So I spent the past five or so years writing this column every week (and then every other week when I started Writing Switch with Ben) because I knew I wanted to write and be creative.
Along the way I slowly ran out of topics to opine about, taking gimmicks as far as I could before finally delving into more serious pieces.
The first of those was about my grandma passing; it was cathartic putting those feelings to print, but I was still guarded. And then, piece by piece, I let you know me more and more. From mental health to substance use to social issues to what I hate about tourists, most of you probably know me pretty well by now. (And some even well enough to not only recognize me at the weed shop but to ask me out to dinner. Thank you, but I’ll have to decline. I would’ve said no in the email but now you know why I skirted the invite.)
During the past decade, I’ve gotten physically healthier, learned to snowboard really f—ing well, met a girl, improved as a writer and person and worked a massive amount. What’s really brutal isn’t all the hours I’ve logged answering phones, correcting commas, laying out photo spreads, writing columns, throwing boxes or mopping docks but rather that there’s no payoff.
Sure, I could win the housing lottery, but that’s the only lottery I know of that costs you money. I could grind my temper to dust and snort It, hoping that gives me the patience to deal with guests until I can retire because two jobs is a requirement to live here when you opt for a career in journalism.
I’m 35 and just got put on salary for the first time in my life. You know how much it sucks when your check is mostly allocated before it hits you bank account? Or how about how shitty it is when you eye the offseason with a mix of joy/dread because you want to travel but that second source of income isn’t paying off your credit card? And it’s the same credit card you had to live off of last offseason?
All of these things pile up like windblown snow in Sneaky’s trees, but they don’t melt away at the end of ski season. I wish I could remain in Aspen for the rest of my life, but I’m also talking about the Aspen that greeted me when I drove over the pass that October when I was 25.
That’s the Aspen I’ve been trying to fight for on these pages, pointing out hypocrisies and hardships, and attempting to preserve all the characteristics — bars, restaurants, people, places — that made this place so special.
Aspen has given me so much that it would take 20 lifetimes to repay it all, but unfortunately I don’t have that kind of time. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop caring for this place because — with the way I feel about it — I’m a local for life.
Sean Beckwith is no longer a copy editor at The Aspen Times. If you want to read his sports takes, you can find those at Deadspin.com. Reach him at email@example.com.