Sunday, April 10, 2011
Good news on the job front
I know it’s lame to start a post with an apology and/or excuse for going so long without posting, but here goes: Sorry I’ve gone so long without posting. I’ve been busy.
The good news is that I’ve been busy … with work!
Those of you who saw my essay “Regrets of a stay-at-home mom” on Salon or one of the other places it appeared or was discussed will know what a welcome turn of events this is. As I wrote in that essay, which is about the financial risks parents take when they give up work to care for children, I mentioned that since 2008, when I got divorced and moved back to Mineapolis, I had sent out countless resumes resulting in but a tiny handful of interviews, that I’d been passed over for jobs I wouldn’t have considered in my 20s, that I’d tried but failed to land jobs that would have paid $20,000 lower my last full-time salary, 15 years ago.
How things can change in a few months—a few months in which, not coincidentally, a Salon essay about your miserable job prospects and pathetic finances goes slightly viral, gets passed around by friends, so it gets noticed by editors at your local paper as well as reprinted on its Sunday op-ed section, the local paper being the workplace out of all local workplaces for which your job skills happen to be most ideally suited.
That’s how I came to be hired as a writer for the niche products department of the Star Tribune, my local paper in Minneapolis, where I started work last week.
What are niche products, you’re probably wondering. They’re the special sections the paper puts out now and then throughout the year, on subjects such as aging, health and wellness, autos, back-to-school preparations. These sections were created, originally, as vehicles for advertising. At one time they contained nothing but advertising. Gradually they evolved, first acquiring bland filler and then better freelance-written pieces. A few months ago, the newspaper made them part of the editorial department, with an editor and now, a writer. Me.
It’s a wonderful job in so many ways. The work, I think, is going to be fun—we’re inventing from the ground up a product for which the bar, historically, has been set low. That lends the enterprise a giddily freeing sort of creativity. How good can we make these things? It’s entirely up to us!
Frankly, as someone who has foot-tall stacks of unread magazines in at least three rooms of my house, 60 books in my Amazon shopping cart (that’s not even counting the ones I’ve already purchased, but not yet read), 23 tabs currently open on my computer screen (which is less than usual, actually), a dining room table covered with newspapers and other assorted pieces of paper with words on them, I have no interest in foisting additional writing on the world unless I can make it as worth reading as possible. That’s the fun challenge of the job.
Also, the job is part time, a great way to segue back into the workforce. I can schedule my 25 hours a week just about whenever I’d like (“The only thing I can tell you for sure is that you can’t do them all in one day,” said my easygoing editor), which makes my work-family balance relatively easy to maintain (and by “easy” I mean “impossible,” though by "relatively," I mean "slightly less impossible than if I worked a rigid full-time schedule"). And I can fill my so-called “free time” with freelance assignments and personal projects like essays, a memoir and, er, blogging.
Put it this way: If this job had been available 15 years ago, I might never have given up a steady paycheck for freelancing in the first place.
Oh, there are a few downsides. Salaries in the niche products area are capped about midway up the guild scale—to keep the products competitive with similar publications—so although my hourly wage is actually a bit higher than it was 15 years ago (and much higher than the wage offered by literally all of would-be employers who ultimately rejected me), my paycheck will still be smaller than if I worked, as I used to, as a regular newspaper reporter. Because I’m part time, I don’t get health insurance, so for now I’m stuck continuing to throw away $200 a month for a private policy with a deductible so high that the only way I’ll ever receive benefits is if something terrible happens to me. And although writing for sections designed to be profitable seems to me a perfectly valid strategy for practicing journalism in the face of the industry’s current business-model crisis, you can probably guess that mine is not the highest status job in the newsroom. I may not win a Pulitzer anytime soon, and don’t look for my picture on the side of a bus.
But so what? It’s a better job than all of the jobs I interviewed for, better than most of the jobs I sent resumes to, better than most of the jobs in the entire world, for that matter. In fact, for me right now—and, as I say this, I’m knocking furiously on the laminated particleboard or whatever it is my desk is made of—this job feels ludicrously perfect.