So I’m back in Huntsville. Long story short, the Atlanta move just didn’t work out. Short story long, I still can’t decide what I want to be when I grow up.
The problem is that I’ve already been what I wanted to be when I grew up, and that career barely exists anymore.
I had known I wanted to work at a newspaper since I was 10 years old.
When I was in the fifth-grade gifted program, our teacher was determined to expand our little minds beyond the standardized tests that had, presumably, placed us in her class. (I want to think that her name was Mrs. Wilkinson, but let me assure you that if you think you’ll ALWAYS remember the name of everyone in your life who has been important to you at one time or another, you are WRONG. Write it down. Let’s just call her Mrs. W.)
Mrs. W. wanted us to understand practical things, like how banks and the stock market worked. She also allowed us to conduct a deeper exploration of subjects like geology – I spent hours wearing safety goggles and breaking up rocks from the driveway with a hammer to look at the patterns inside. (And still never received my coveted rock tumbler.)
She also tried to inject a little cultural cachet into our group by accompanying us to the opera in New Orleans for a matinee performance. Now, I didn’t exactly take to opera (nine years later, in fact, one of my fellow gifted students would find himself elbowing me awake repeatedly during a production of The Marriage of Figaro at the University of Southern Mississippi), but I remember falling in love with the IDEA of opera, and live performances in general.
Mrs. W.’s greatest contribution to my future, however, was definitely our field trip to the Sun Herald in Gulfport, Miss. Don’t get me wrong: I come from at least two generations of daily newspaper readers, so the concept of print journalism was not foreign to me at all. I grew up understanding that no breakfast table was complete without a newspaper.
The Sun Herald folks gave us a tour of the entire operation, including the pressroom. They gave us copies of the preprinted sections, hot off the press. The moment one of the press guys handed me my section, I realized that it took A LOT of people to get the newspaper out the door every morning, and I was certain that I wanted to be one of those people.
Fast-forward past college: I was a copy editor and staff reporter at the Mobile Press-Register for nearly 10 years. It was the most awesome job ever, and now it’s gone. I got out of the business a few years before it really hit bottom, but last summer, the position I had literally disappeared from the newsroom, along with dozens of others.
The newspaper business is a treacherous place right now. There’s no going back, but I’m still trying to figure out what to do going forward.
I ran into an Internet friend at Earth Fare today – Joe Martin of Huntsville Adventure Boot Camp for Women fame. (It’s always weird to meet Internet friends in real life, but it’s also kind of awesome, especially when said Internet friend is somewhat of a fitness guru and you’re feeling reasonably fit that day and are carrying only bananas and spring-mix lettuce in your basket.)
While explaining my recent return to the Rocket City, I mentioned that my post-newspaper career had been pretty flighty. His response? Something along the lines of, “Imagine how flighty it would be if you had stayed in newspapers.”
What a duh moment for me. I mean, I know that I’m better off having gotten out of the newspaper business before the implosion, but I don’t know that I’ve ever understood that other people, people outside of the industry, understand that, too. And I think I carry a little guilt for not staying until the absolute end, although, as Joe suggested, that would have been a terrible idea.
So here I am. Former newspaper copy editor turned technical writer turned research analyst turned proposal coordinator. Wife, freelance writer, decent weightlifter, mediocre runner, culinary adventurer, cat owner, amateur photographer, blogger.
A little flighty, maybe, but also gifted with the experience that can only come from a multi-pronged career path and the curiosity to wonder what comes next.
Let’s do this.