So, the other day I imagined myself at a dinner party months from now and someone asks me what I do for a living.
For more than six years, I’ve been able to say I am a professional newspaper reporter. Sometimes I add that I am also a waitress. I want to emphasize that I am not dissing my role as a waitress in this post. I love waiting tables and will probably do it long after I quit calling myself a journalist.
But being a journalist has become such a deeply-rooted part of my identity. I started a newspaper in the fifth grade (though it only printed two and a half times) and went on to edit both my high school and college papers. I’ve been a journalist a lot longer than I’ve been a waitress, a lot longer than I’ve been anything – including a “woman.”
Even in school, my role at the newspaper often trumped my role as student or even my role as a teenager or young adult. In high school, my newspaper friends and I trolled the empty building until after midnight when the paper was getting ready for press. In college, I frequently dropped the prints off or sent the final pages by e-mail at 6 a.m. before going to my 8 a.m. Buddhism class, where I reached a new level enlightenment by learning to sleep with my eyes open and pen moving.
Journalism is something that gets under your skin and infects you forever. Many of my closest friends from college worked with me at the newspaper. Even though they no longer work in journalism, their e-mails still adhere to AP style.
I know there are a lot of journalists our there right now trying to figure out who they are without their jobs. It’s going to be hard for me and I planned it this way. I can’t imagine how hard it is for those who were surprised by that loss of identity.
I saw a friend this weekend who gave up her life, including a job as a counselor, to start something new in a new place. She’s waitressing while she looks for other work. It’s tough. It’s super tough in this economy. It took her a long time to find the waitressing gig. I went to drinks tonight with another friend who gave up her teaching career to pursue her passions in the restaurant industry and build something with the man she loves. Then I came home to an e-mail from another friend who just landed a new job she’s excited about after months of looking. But she left her journalism career and is struggling with the idea that she might not ever be a writer again.
I am leaving for an adventure, which makes me feel amazing and I’ll be proud to tell people what I’m doing. But I admit that I am nervous about what I will be when I come back. What will I tell the stranger who asks me what I do for a living? I can’t say, “I’m a waitress ... but I used to be a journalist.” It’s as lame as saying “I’m an accountant ... but I used to be the quarterback on my high school football team.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with being an accountant).
My worry isn’t that I will have to tell people I am a waitress. It’s that I won’t be able to tell them I am a reporter.
I guess I will say to myself what I said to my friend who e-mailed. Once a writer, always a writer.