"I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them... thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment." -- Maurice De Bracy, IvanhoeI just started a new job. Again.
This is not a rare occurrence. In fact, the last time I held the same job two years in a row, Bill Clinton had not yet met Monica Lewinsky. My eldest -- who is now heading off to college -- was one year old. The longest job I've had since then lasted 11 months. My friends and extended family have given up trying to navigate my cascading resume.
(Note: I also didn't think you had to exercise to stay in shape.)
Very cocky, but I didn't really know what I was doing. I temped and worked as an editorial assistant and got a few freelance assignments. By the time I finally landed a real job it took almost long as law school would have taken.
I recently had a Proustian revisit of that first job. In one of those freak YouTube occurrences, someone posted a video tour of the Rolling Stone offices in 1988 on the occasion of the final day of my coworker Brant Mewborn. It was clearly a time before people were accustomed to video cameras.
If you're curious, my embarrassing segment begins at 4:15 mark. The Atex terminals we used to put out the magazine is only one step ahead of the people who calligraphed bibles for Gutenberg.
For me the real revelation was how I'd decorated my office walls, which I'd totally forgotten. I lived in that office for more than four years. Then I had an office at Vogue for another four years. Since then I have occupied many offices, desks, carrells, but the most I do is bring in photos of my kids and partner. I know not to get too settled.
When Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing in 2003, I was the only writer of 11 who immediately cleared out my office. I didn't want to have to go back to fetch things later if I was let go. As it turned out, eight of us weren't asked back.
The experience -- and, I'm sure, my then-recent divorce -- taught me it's better to assume a job isn't going to last, and be pleasantly surprised when it does, than presuming the opposite and being caught without a parachute.
As I look around me, more people of my generation seem to be in the same boat. Whether it's editors who pinball from one job to another, college professors who are forever "adjunct" instead of tenured, newspeople who jump from network to network, it feels like there's little security. I just happen to be one of the more extreme versions.
From the outside, my career looks dynamic and exciting. I have worked for Jann Wenner, Anna Wintour, Aaron Sorkin, Jane Pauley, Aaron Brown and Eliot Spitzer. I interviewed the Beastie Boys, Madonna, Puff Daddy, Motley Crue. I have jetted back and forth between the coasts.
Just this past week in the hallways at my summer job writing for Good Afternoon America -- which couldn't be more oppositeland, content-wise, from my previous gig writing for Sorkin's Newsroom -- I passed Michelle Pfeiffer, Barbara Walters, Blake Lively, Rielle Hunter, LMFAO, and the surviving Jacksons. All those folks have name brands. Even Rielle Hunter. Me, I'm still "freelance."
This kind of career is nothing new, really. As the opening quote from Ivanhoe attests, it's been around for centuries, and will endure as long as there are "bustling times." (Perhaps "May you live in bustling times" should be the freelancer's creed.)
How has it affected my personality?
Some days I marvel at my own resilience. I honestly enjoy every new experience and the amount of smart, talent, diverse people I get to interact with. I think it has made me much less of a snob and appreciative of a wide range of styles.
But other times, I feel a kinship with jittery Alvy Singer in Annie Hall, living in a house under the Cyclone roller coaster. It's a colorful life, but it's tricky to keep the cereal in your spoon.