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.
At least I already had my resume in shape and had gone on a few interviews (including four for one of the jobs I didn’t get!). But I realized one day, as I was about to upload my resume and send out yet another electronic job application, that I had to update it. I was no longer “Book Editor 2003 – present,” with my assigning and writing duties described in present tense. I had to change it to “assigned” and “wrote,” editing my own words for accuracy, as I had done to others’ my whole career. My experience was suddenly past tense. And my employment at the San Francisco Chronicle, which I had presumed would stretch to infinity, where “present” would always be true, was a finite period, starting in 1984 and ending in 2008. It was over. I had left voluntarily with no solid position lined up. In my darkest moments, in the middle of the night, I wondered: “What have I done?”
To be continued … 
Read Part One 
Regan McMahon is the author of Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy over Youth Sports .