Janine's Journal: Bring on the Butterflies

The only constant in life may be change, but managing editor Janine Pumilia reflects on the positive advancements surrounding the community.

Change. It’s the only constant in life. How often have we heard that?
Sometimes we hate change for good reason. I’ve lost three close family members in 14 months, for example. Loss is the kind of thing that gives “change” a really bad name.
Then again, I’ve seen five precious babies born into our family in the past six years, including our first grandchild – joyous change that causes me to marvel at the constant tension between darkness and light, death and life.
There are also matter-of-fact types of change. It’s a fact that we recently changed our office location to 222 Seventh St. in Rockford. Coincidentally, my mother-in-law, June, and her sister, Virginia Carlson, ages 94 and 99, lived in this same building as girls, when Seventh Street was a bustling Scandinavian enclave. Just think of the change they’ve seen during the past century!
We staffers like this new space and our Seventh Street neighborhood. Our move is one little piece in a big shifting puzzle of transformation in Rockford. Every little step we take to reclaim neglected people and places in our community is true progress. Cornfields churned into new strip malls may look like progress, but taking care of what we already have really is progress.
There’s a growing sense in our city that we’re all in this together. I like that, because we are. We always have been. When one person suffers, we all suffer. When one part of town crumbles, we all pay for it in some way. I think we forgot that, during the rapid geographic expansion of Rockford. Doubling the city’s geographic footprint (and therefore the corresponding costly city services), at a time when the population was stagnant and our employment base was shrinking, didn’t make much sense. Younger generations are paying a high price for this folly, but they’re also stepping up to change the city’s course. That’s good change.
Here’s another kind of change: the so-gradual-you-don’t-see-it kind, like grass blades rising in the sunhine. This is the one that sneaks up on parents. It’s the “I blinked and my babies were grown” syndrome. It feels like too much change too fast and yet it stretches over two decades. How can that be?
People far wiser than me have made clever observations about change, but I’ll share with you the advice I am giving to myself: Change is happening, constantly, so don’t waste energy fighting it. To the extent we can influence its course for the better, let’s do it. Life is short and seems to fly by even faster when we’re running full speed. So just maybe it’s OK to slow down and relish each day a little more – to choose to be less overwhelmed by an onslaught of frantic details and more aware of the magic inside every ordinary day. The birdsong. The laughter. The slant of afternoon light through sprawling oak trees.
Slow down. Slow down? It’s so counterintuitive. Since we were tots, we’ve been running to the next thing, jumping through the next hoop, searching for the next ladder to climb. It’s what we do. But now I choose to slow down. Just a little.
Gradually. Almost imperceptibly, like that grass growing in the sun.
And to that end, you may notice some changes to our staff box. I am demoting myself. A little. Chris Linden and I are swapping titles. He will be our company’s executive editor; I will serve as managing editor. Weird, I know. But it’s not the first time I’ve taken a road less traveled. And the magazines are in great hands.
Chris found a soft spot in my heart eight years ago, when he was a college student, after he staked out a chair in our reception room, patiently waiting for a chance to convince me he would make an excellent summer intern. I liked his persistence.
He explained he was teaching swim lessons to children for the park district but could devote his afternoons to anything I threw at him. Long story short, we’ve been throwing things at him ever since – ever bigger things, which he catches without fail. He returned to us on and off while earning his degree from Millikin University and then his master’s from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. He came aboard full-time in 2010 and quickly became my “right-hand man,” as the number of publications we produced each year grew from four to eight to 12 and then, after the launch of Smart Living Weekly late in 2012, to 62.
Chris brought with him not only a youthful perspective, but a wide skill set and a no-fuss, can-do attitude. In time, we handed him the reins to our Chicagoland Northwest Quarterly. For me, that was akin to leaving my child with a babysitter for the first time, but Chris handled it skillfully, as we knew he would.
Not everyone is cut out to be a good editor. Good editors spend a lot of time making other peoples’ work shine and, well, herding cats. A good editor is conscious both of details and the big picture, can operate from the left brain and right, and is eager to please you, the reader, more than anyone else. Chris is that editor and will do a great job of holding “the buck stops here” position in this office and keeping the workflow flowing.
Helping Chris to do that are two very bright young women we’ve just welcomed into our NWQ family. Lindsey Gapen, our new assistant editor, graduated in May from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in journalism and anthropology. She has worked at The Madison Times and Souvenirs Magazine, a lovely travel publication. She’s a Dean’s List student and, for fun, a dancer and choreographer. Lindsey has a sparkly personality that immediately won us over.
Sarah Soenke, our new deputy editor, graduated in May from University of Illinois-Champaign, where she held several positions at the Daily Illini, most recently as features editor. Last summer she interned with InStyle Magazine in New York. Also a Dean’s List student, Sarah loves music and plays guitar.
Just by chance, both of these young professionals are natives of Naperville and each has relocated to Rockford. How’s that for a twist on things? Sarah, a runner, is already enjoying our beautiful riverfront and bike path.
Chris and I will be throwing lots of things to Lindsey and Sarah. This is their time in life to “play catch,” and we know they’ll bring fresh ideas to our team, while learning from seasoned professionals, like senior staff writer Paul Anthony Arco.
Good as slowing down sounds, I don’t want to miss all the fun here, so I’ll still be working full-time to produce five regular issues per year of Northwest Quarterly Magazine for the 13-county Rockford region. I’ll also continue to oversee Smart Living each week. Chris will continue to oversee the six Chicagoland issues and our annual NWQ Smart Living Guide, as well as website, social media and day-to-day operations.
You and I will keep meeting up on these pages. But you won’t find me around the office quite as much. I’ll be roving our region, looking for more great things to write about, with my Better Half in tow, some of the time, I hope. He, too, needs to stop and smell the roses more often (or, in his case, the horse poo on the trail.) He’s the one who makes my heart smile and I look forward to being with him just a little more often.
All of us at NWQ want to thank former associate editor Karla Nagy for her years of dedication to our publications. A teacher at heart and by trade, Karla has moved on to new a new chapter. She remains one of the very best writers we know. Thank you, Karla.
I’d also like to thank Bill and Lisa for allowing me to spend so much time working from my mother’s home this spring, while caring for her in the final months of her life. “Family first” is the Hughes’ motto, and it’s not just lip service. This isn’t a convenient courtesy to extend, especially in a small business where every team member wears many hats. It is deeply appreciated. Loyal employers reap loyal employees.
Ah, change. Sudden or slow, asked for or not, heartbreaking or joyous, it’s inevitable. Without it, there’d be no butterflies, the saying goes. Sometimes we can make change work for us. Sometimes we just have to endure it. Is it within our power to slow down and live more like human beings than human doings? I’d like to find out.
Each of us knows, in our hearts, whether we are moving too fast for the season of life we are in. Perhaps you’ll want to join me in my quest to slow down just a bit, and to mindfully experience a little more of the joy embedded in every single day, right here, right now, right in our region.
Helping you to discover the beauty of your own backyard has always been the purpose of this magazine. And that’s one thing that will never change.