Career change

How do you reinvent yourself?

I keep thinking of a career change as a moment where you’re riding in a car and the car door opens and you have to lean out of the door and keep rolling as you fall. If you roll just right, you will have minimal injuries and you might just be able to stand up and walk it off.

A few months ago, the career I had been building in visual journalism ended. It was a weird, anticlimactic ending. Some people leave journalism through an ejection seat — SPROING, you’re out! — but my departure was more like my sidecar pin was removed and I just had to spend the last bit of the ride anticipating the separation. It was instigated by the company I worked for and engineered to take a couple of months. My whole department got the boot but we were all encouraged to reapply for some remaining jobs in other divisions of the company.

I had just celebrated my fifth anniversary at the studio, and was about to close out my third year as creative director. A lot was good but a lot was bad, too. I can’t and won’t get into it all here. I’m sad that it had to end — that we couldn’t keep trying to improve on what we were doing — but if I’m being totally honest, I’m glad to be out of the media grind. It’s such a fickle, demanding, cruel master. It took a lot and gave back very little.

I chose not to reapply for a job. I guess I wanted to take a chance on a change of pace and direction in my professional life, even though I had no clue what that might look like at the time. I was fortunate enough to land a new gig that let me roll out of the car and begin walking again with some semblance of grace. I’m grateful for that.

But who am I now that I am no longer doing, no, living the thing I always assumed was central to my identity?

Turns out I’m free.

I’ve realized that the thing I thought I was passionate about was siphoning time and energy from my own creativity, leaving me feeling a bit empty and resentful.

There are lots of upsides to the change.

Now I can be a news junkie without having to log in or haul ass to the office anytime major news breaks. The holidays feel much less frantic and it is expected that I will take some time off. I can speak freely about political issues and participate in activism.

The big thing I’m confronted with here at this crossroads is what do I want to do, long-term, with myself? With my time?

The other day Holden asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t hesitate. “A writer and an artist.”

In some ways, saying that feels like a kind of revelation. A career coming out. It’s something I’ve always flirted with, always loved, but never actually believed could be a career. That’s in part because I’ve never given it serious time and attention. And in part because I’m terrified of failing.

So, this year I am writing. Here, but also not here. Part of the key to writing for a living is not giving away every little morsel for free on your own website, apparently! This year I am going to submit my work in earnest. I plan to start small — magazines, journals — and work my way up from there.

I’ve got ideas kicking around for picture books and YA/NA series mostly. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about writing and publishing. I’ve got to reach out and get critique groups and beta readers. Attend workshops and conferences. Put the time in. Rewrite and revise. Rethink and reframe everything I’ve experienced in my life and use it.

It’s exciting and scary. But the thought of going for it feels more comfortable and exciting than any other grand ideas I’ve had about who I am and what I’m meant to do.

Old news

When my friends Brandon and Amanda moved into their new apartment, they came upon an April 4, 1950, issue of The Commercial Appeal, and they were kind enough to let me get my grubby paws on it. The thing is quite yellowed and brittle, and has a tendency to shed bits of itself as you flip carefully from page to page. It’s fascinating stuff; the pages are absolutely chock full of tiny briefs and stories mixed with ads and cartoons and testimonials and photos of beauty queens.

Check out this masthead (fun fact: “masthead” means the staff credits/info box and NOT the nameplate/flag on the front page and I will remove your kneecaps with my teeth if you argue with me about that):

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Look at those cheap mail subscription rates! A month for a dollar! Crazy!

Look at those phone numbers! So devoid of digits! Crazy!

Look at all those bureau offices! So numerous! Crazy!

Look at this crazy cigarette ad!

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Does your throat feel smooth as a baby’s ass? That’s because you’ve been sucking on a Camel!

Check out this crazy mix of news! A snuff factory! Chilly nights that require topcoats! Topcoats, can you believe it!?? (Also, was “cloudly” a word in 1950 or did I just copy edit this paper FROM THE FUTURE?!)

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Do you think Miss Sanidas was scandalized at being placed so near an ad for a cream that relieves pimple itching?

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It’s all a pretty odd mix, and certainly puts into perspective the idea of some golden bygone era of quality, untouchable, objective journalism.

I mean, try this little story on for size:

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First of all, mad props for a badass and ballsy headline.

But on to the meat of the story: Yes, folks, those poor white motorists who had every right to arrive at their destination unmolested were undone — UNDONE, I SAY! — by those pesky negroes. It is such a foreign thing to see that sort of language used, and so cavalierly because it was just how things were said and done. It just was. What a world. What an awful fucking world. This, more or less, is why I don’t believe in The Good Old Days. Next time some old timer tries to lament the past and how America has gotten away from its true and noble values, remind that old timer that The Good Old Days were shit for a lot of people.

I’m glad I have a little tangible piece as proof.

(More photos of the paper are here. I will probably add more down the line before the thing disintegrates.)

Words matter to other people, too!

Aunt B brought this to my attention just now: Philadelphia-based writer Tara Murtha pleads for some sense in the “rape” vs. “had sex with” debate.

Here’s what I said on the same topic a little while back. Pay attention and I promise you will see this unfortunate semantic switcheroo a lot. It needs to stop.

True Crime part five: Cherry’s Choice

Completely forgot to post these back in December. Oops.

Cherry's Choice A1 Cherry's Choice

Cherry's Choice 2 Cherry's Choice 3

Cherry's Choice 4 Cherry's Choice 5

Cherry's Choice 6 Cherry's Choice 7

Cherry's Choice 8 Cherry's Choice 9

It’s a pretty remarkable story, especially when you consider it’s about a young lesbian of color. How often does a story like that make it into the paper?

And check out this little explainer video about the series, which was featured today at the annual H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America in New York:

The CA has nominated the series for a Pulitzer.