Once upon a time I had a job. It was actually a sequence of jobs – as a women’s magazine editorial assistant, then as a writer/researcher for an arts impresario, then an editorial director for a not-for-profit that advanced women’s careers. I was in my 20s. Working as the assistant to the health and horoscopes editor at Family Circle was pretty entertaining.
When I left the editorial life to become an author, though, I felt elated.
Years later, when I decided to take a hiatus from writing books, I hooked up with a career coach at my alma mater. What can I do? I asked her. I needed to work. I used to go into Manhattan once in a while to meet with her, and she would tell me that I hadn’t failed at my chosen metier, that I simply had to switch from one field to a related one using my fine-turned authorial skills. When she said switch, she would hold her hands in front of her and raise and move them to the side as though she were lifting something light to a place it better belonged .
How does someone who has written books for 25 years switch from one field to a related one? Reenter a work force where everyone is a teenager and has the computer skills of a genie and the moxie of a shark? I subscribed to adverts on Indeed.com. I sleuthed around cultural nonprofits to find a fit. Try and try, I couldn’t shake the fact that I was essentially a book author. I had speaking skills though, and I liked being outdoors, so I applied to work the sea lion exhibit at the Central Park Zoo. No deal.
The thing my career coach advocated most vehemently was that I get involved with LinkedIn, a site that I’d always regarded with bafflement. What was it for, anyway? Why did everyone want to connect with me all the time? Now I prettied up a resume to sound cheerful and proficient and started cold calling LinkedIn contacts. I felt like I was plastered with one of those dorky tags people wear at conventions.
I got some interviews. During one, after swallowing a cold pill, I got such bad cotton mouth that I had to excuse myself to go find a water fountain. Didn’t get the job. I didn’t get the job as writing center director, writing teacher, social media content writer. Everyone knows that sending c.v.’s is not how you get a job. So I returned again to LinkedIn. Would the director of the Intrepid Museum, the contact of a contact, have any ideas about how I could find work? No? So sorry.
Then it dawned on me. I didn’t want a deskbound, social media-obsessed editorial 9-5 any more than companies wanted a silver-haired overqualified author who spent a lot of time inside her head. I contacted the owner of a small company that had something to do with trees.
Trees. That was novel. Those leafy giants that swayed along the highway? When I was a kid, I remembered, I used to build houses out of acorn tops and pebbles in the hollow of a tree in my yard. Trees, it occurred to me, were magic. I would move from one end of the supply chain to another, from bound paper books, which ate up trees, to the living air-cleansing shade-providing originators themselves. The raw material of all literature. All I had to do was take a test, and then I would be sprung from my writing coop, out in the air, in Brooklyn, saving trees and watching the trucks go by.