by Regan McMahon
The day I left the newspaper where I’d worked for almost 25 years, I was so busy I didn’t have time to fall apart. As book editor, I was still dealing with assignments I’d made for the daily paper, the production of Sunday’s Books section, which would close at 5 p.m., and the daily avalanche of emails from publishers, publicists, writers and editors of other sections at the paper asking, “When is this story coming in?’ “How much do we pay this freelancer?” “Have you got everything lined up for the holiday issue”?
In between, I was training my replacement. He had been named only Monday, and this was Friday. We hadn’t gotten much time together during the week because he was busy doing his other job, and I was busy doing mine. That’s the way it is in a newsroom. There is very little downtime, if any. And since the downsizing of recent years, I’d say there is none.
My friends had planned a goodbye party for me: Margaritas and appetizers at a local Mexican restaurant, to begin at 5 o’clock. At 5:20 I was still writing my farewell letter to the staff (a tradition that accompanies departures of folks who’ve been there a while), as a colleague stood over me telling me to hurry up and get to my party. I sent it off and rushed to the restaurant, where at outdoor tables off the bar I was presented with a mock front page featuring stories about me (another newspaper tradition), I made a teary speech and friends toasted my tenure and my future. It was a very happy event, and when people asked me what I’d be doing next, I told them about the two hot jobs I’d applied for. “Of course you’ll get one of them — probably both!” the well-wishers said.
Then I didn’t. Somewhere between the festive tequila toasts and the harsh email rejection letters a couple of weeks later, I had gone from “a person who took the buyout,” the envy of those left behind to slave away overworked and underpaid, to “unemployed,” an unattractive status in the best of times, but a subject of horror and pity in the middle of a financial crisis of historic proportions. The day of my farewell party, the stock market plunged to its lowest point in decades.
Yes, the buyout package would tide me over for a while, but I needed to find a job soon so I could use the buyout money to help pay debts and my kids’ tuition costs, not for living expenses. My perfect plan was in tatters. My identity as a journalist was in jeopardy. And I hadn’t been in the job market since 1983.