Wednesday, April 17, 2013

From the Higher Ed Beat to inside the Academy


When I pulled into the parking lot of The San Diego Union Tribune in Mission Valley in May of 2002, I burst into tears because I knew what I had to do. My life was a good one in those days. I earned a generous salary.

As a higher education reporter I regularly flew from San Diego to San Francisco to cover the University of California Board of Regents. I owned property in Southern California during a time when the market was spiraling upward. I had a high profile beat, often landing me on the front page. But deep down inside, my intuition was telling me to leave it all.

It had started in January of that 2002 when I began to have a deep and abiding sense that not only I needed to leave my job but the newspaper industry. The terrorist attacks had changed everything on my beat. Some of the terrorists had gotten their pilot licenses through San Diego State University, an institution I covered. Every story I wrote for a while was about terrorism.

It was time to go. I wanted to write essays and do more with my life.

My hand trembled as I gave the senior editor for news my resignation letter. He smiled at me, shook my hand and told me the secret to making the transition was to write every day. He told me the names of other people who had left the business and that if he could afford to take the hit in salary, he’d do the same thing.

As I packed up my desk and left newspapers, a career that had nurtured me for thirteen years, a feeling of well being swept over me like I had never known. I began to feel free.

Within days of announcing that I would leave, a former colleague with whom I had worked with as a reporter at The Salt Lake Tribune in the early 1990s, called me at The San Diego Union Tribune.

“You quit?” she said through the phone. “What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know. I’ll figure something out.”
“We have a thing out here where we bring journalists to campus. Would you consider coming?” “Sure,” I said.

She told me worked at a university called DePauw and advised a newspaper called The DePauw. I had never heard of either, but hey it was a free trip. I could drive to St. Louis to see my mother. That was in May of 2002.

By October of that year, I hopped on a plane and landed in Plainfield, Indiana. I drove 30 miles west and pulled into Greencastle. I looked around. I saw plenty green and no castle. I thought to myself, “Is this where she lives?" I couldn’t believe it? She was a hot swinging single woman back in the day. I couldn’t believe she was in this small college town. Yet, something about the place and university struck a chord. It felt open, safe and right.

That same green light that led me out of newspapers was bringing me to Greencastle. There was no job, no promise, nothing but a two-week gig to work with college students.
Academic quad at DePauw University
Academic quad at DePauw University

Prior to arriving at DePauw, I traveled a bit, sat in coffee shop, wrote and chased projects that went nowhere. While I was in Indiana a book project I was working on collapsed. Within months I had landed a part time job teaching at DePauw.

The faculty spurred me on to go to graduate school and pursue an MFA in creative writing, which I eventually did in New York City in the subsequent years. I also interned part time at a literary agency and later at a medium sized publisher in Manhattan. The literary agent is now my agent for my book project, Sanctified: A Memoir. Thank goodness for intuition.

Some say it’s reserved for women. Hogwash. It’s reserved for whoever will get quiet enough, turns off the music, television or Internet and is open. Intuition serves me in writing, teaching and in everything I do when I listen. I’ve developed a ritual of entering the silence and listening where I make connections that aren’t obvious to me in day-to-day living.

As a result of that decision to leave newspapers, I missed the entire meltdown of an industry that I loved. All of my previous employers, Tulsa World, The Salt Lake Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and what’s now called the UT-San Diego sent dozens and dozens of working journalists out the door in layoffs or buyouts. I would have been in that number. Colleagues who had thought I was nuts for leaving when I did marveled at the timing of my departure.

Sometimes the best thing to do isn’t always the most logical.