A journalist’s rite of passage: The layoff

I had meant to update this space with little morsels like “Lessons learned at the bar” or maybe something about the Royals being in the World Series. But I felt like I was constantly working, and in my downtime, I was moving to a new apartment or attending a wedding in Kansas or I just didn’t feel like firing up my laptop on my day off. But it looks like I’ll have more time to write in the coming weeks, because I’ve been laid off.

My last day at the Press-Citizen is Oct. 31. After a reorganization of the staffs in Iowa City and Des Moines that required all employees to re-interview for new positions, it turns out there’s just no place for me in Gannett’s “newsroom of the future.”

I feel like a loser and a failure. But I also feel free.

The truth is, Iowa wasn’t working out anyway. My husband, who thrived as a social studies teacher and football coach in Kansas, has spent the last year making pizza at Casey’s. Our cars are falling apart. We struggle to make rent. We have few friends and no family for hundreds of miles. And the only reason we were even living in Iowa was this job. Now we’re free to leave.

So we’ve hatched a plan. George (that’s my husband) couldn’t bear the thought of spending another Thanksgiving at Casey’s, so we aim to vacate the state within four weeks. We’re subleasing our apartment (the one we moved into Oct. 1), packing our things, and setting up camp in my mother-in-law’s basement near Wichita.

From there, we enjoy the holidays with our family for the first time in a while, and we look for new jobs in new places. So uh, hop on over to my LinkedIn.

A young journalist’s New Year’s resolutions

Most New Year’s resolutions fail, but I make them anyway. I can’t resist a fresh start. My slate is as blank as ever in 2011: For the first time since 1993, I’m not a student. Life is changing whether I like it or not. With that in mind, I present my New Year’s resolutions.

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Learn something new. Until now, school ensured that I was constantly learning new things. I doubt I would have learned Latin or classical political theory without a nudge from my teachers, so I worry that post-grad life will make me lazy about learning. But my Christmas gifts will start me off on the right foot. I’m excited to read “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook,” especially the chapters about Web design and data visualization. And, in the rare event that I get sick of staring at a screen, my Real Simple cookbook will teach me something new. Bonus: Real Simple’s awesome photography and design will keep me thinking about journalism while I’m mixing, measuring and marinating.
Get back into fighting shape. Journalists aren’t exactly known for their healthy habits, and I’ve written before about the struggle to make health a priority. While I resolve to get back into the gym a few days a week, I propose a resolution for all journalists: Stop thinking of your bad health habits as a point of pride. Secretly, we all think our fast-food lunches and all-nighters show that we’re busy and important. But couldn’t it just be poor time management? Go for a run already.

Perk up my portfolio. My online portfolio is woefully out of date, and the hard copy has been sitting in my back seat since October. It’s time to settle in with Photoshop for a few hours and hammer out a real portfolio.

This quick snap on my iPhone is the only photo I took of the changing leaves near KU's campus. I guess there's always next year.

Take more pictures. I promised myself I’d take pictures of the leaves changing on KU’s campus this fall, but I never got around to it. Now the trees are bare and the campus won’t be photogenic until spring. Over the holidays, I took a week-long trip and returned with only 19 pictures. Later, I realized I could have written a fun little post about all the great Dallas restaurants we visited, but I didn’t think to take any photos. No more missed opportunities. 2011 will be the year of the camera. From now on, everything fun in my life will be documented with excruciating detail.

Write more. Specifically, write a blog post once a week. I have a few ideas that could finally give my blog a real topic, and they could even lead to a domain name. Without school, I have time to explore my ideas.

Upgrade my laptop. I got an iPad for graduation, but I can’t sync it to my laptop because my operating system is too old to run the latest version of iTunes. I could just buy the upgrade, but my disc drive is broken. So far, attempts to install the update using  flash drive have failed — but I’m determined.

The post-grad funk

On Dec. 12, I did something no one in my family has done before: I graduated from college. In fact, I graduated from a good school — the University of Kansas — with a decent GPA and a respectable load of activities.

Me with my dad and four-year-old sister at KU's j-school graduation.

Before graduation, I had something to do for work or school every day. I spent countless 12-hour days on campus. I composed editor’s notes on the treadmill and ate lunch and dinner at my desk.

Now I’ve joined the 15 percent of workers age 18-24 who are unemployed. I’ve applied for jobs and I still have hope that I’ll find something before it’s time to pay back my student loans.

But I’m already in a rut. My calendar is empty and my brain is foggy. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the post-grad funk. It’s the hangover that comes from a four-year bender of working hard and being busy. It’s the same restlessness I always feel during breaks from school, but this break doesn’t have a predetermined end.

I could clean my room, write thank-you cards to everyone who sent a check for my graduation, or finish my Christmas shopping. But I’m learning that everything is harder without a schedule.

So I’m imposing a little structure. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be up at 8 a.m. each day. I’ll get my work out in, look for jobs, and get started on all the projects I’ve put off: scrapbooking, decorating my room, organizing my closet, putting the rest of my clips on the website. I’ll be a beacon of productivity, and my life will have meaning once again.

Or I’ll stay in my funk and you’ll see a very similar list appear as New Year’s resolutions next month.

(Don’t worry, I have a warm and fuzzy Christmas post in the works to counter this bummer.)