• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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You’re Gonna Make It After All

I saw a post today on FB about an assistant editor who got a job as a full editor at one of the big five publishers. She was ecstatic.  I knew her because she was the assistant on The Bridge Ladies and she was amazing. Calm, efficient, encouraging, and always in a good mood. I could count on her to take care of any detail no matter how small. And to indulge any insecurity of mine, no matter how huge. I am so happy for her. But I am also so nostalgic for that moment in my life. My Ann Taylor suit and off white shell. My little loafers and Coach Classic Duffle. It was the most expensive thing I owned and took six months to pay off on my credit card. I acquired the first books that would put me on the map editorially and I’m still exceedingly proud of them and honored to have worked on them: Thinking in Picture by Temple Grandin, Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, Train Go Sorry by Leah Cohen and Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel. I had my first office with a window!! I bought coffee and a bagel with a million anonymous New Yorkers in the deli below the office that once had been the great Max’s Kansas City.

What was your first job you really cared about?

10 Responses

  1. “What was your first job you really cared about?”

    There’s care and there’s care. There’s the care based on fear of unemployment, hunger, and homelessness, and there’s the care based on liking what you’re doing for a living and wanting to do it well.

    For me, working a paying job was what I had to do to support myself while I wrote what I wanted to write and photographed what I wanted to photograph. It was my compromise with the market while deflecting myself and my creativity from the marketplace to obtain an amount of freedom, a space in which to play, that was essential to my being.

    For every job I’ve ever had, it’s been, “I will do this and I will write.” My motives have always been mixed at that fundamental level. I’ve never cared about any job more than enough to try to keep from getting fired. I’ve been fired from several, anyway.

    But my writing, my photography (which is writing with light, just ask Susan Sontag; well, you can’t, she’s dead, but she left her writings behind and you can find it there) — there is no amount of care I have put into securing my livelihood that comes close to what I put into crafting a story or poem or an image. I’ve sometimes wished I could lose myself in a job, but I think that was a wish to run away and hide, from the world and myself. Anyway, I’m an old man now — there is no running, not anymore, there is no hiding, there’s no place to hide, there’s only hanging on and doing it and doing it, because this is the life I chose to be chosen by, a life where job fulfillment and self-fulfillment have always been two distinct things.

  2. I was an IT “cubicle rat” for 35 years. I only cared about the paycheck and the people, not the work I did.

    Writing is what I truly care about. That, and helping to pay the bills. They do not go hand in hand.

  3. Back when I was blond and stupid (I’m not blond anymore) I was a twenty-five year old owner of a small manufacturing company. I had my briefcase and a plan that played out like a mouse on block of Havarti. (Hey, who moved my cheese?)
    I felt successful and was successful until illness collapsed my efforts. Of well. So goes the ever-changing path.

  4. wow, what an impressive list of writers you worked with, Betsy. Lucy Greely! i imagine you’ve got STORIES but like hotel managers of high end properties, you can’t share them.

    the first job i cared about was as a writer and there’s no $$ in it, but that’s okay. i’ve never expected it.


  5. Way way way back I was an editorial assistant at Redbook, back when the editor-in-chief of a women’s mag was still male. I worked on special projects, and my projects editor was a consummate professional, gracious and elegant. I learned the world from her. I’d put on a little Cacharel blouse and gaberdine pants each morning and hop on the Riverdale express to work. I’d ride up the elevator in the Helmsley Building, eager, willing to please, naive as all hell. I loved the young art director, too, as she ooo-d and ah-d over fonts each day, and wish I could find her now. I still have the 1971 Redbook Cookbook they gave me, yellow and fraying.

  6. Waitress at the Gaviota Store, pouring coffee for truck drivers and oil roustabouts. I was 14 and making money!

  7. From what I understood, only three NYC book publishers had Developmental Editors on staff. I had been a production editor and copy editor for one (Basic Books) and loved the meticulous care that went into each book and the smart and funny people who worked there. I was given the difficult manuscripts to shepherd through production after the Developmental Editor had ravaged them with red pencil and hundreds of query flags. She retired in 1990.

    When I replaced her, it was like being given permission to spread out and fill all the space. My job was to identify and fix problems to make an unacceptable manuscript publishable. This I did with long editorial letters and collaborations with authors on cutting, rewriting, reorganizing, new titles. They even let me work from home a couple of days a week. I was the only person I knew who actually loved her job.

    I walked into Hides in Shape, a little leather shop nearby on Madison Ave., and purchased a soft cognac satchel with buckled straps like a schoolbag and a long shoulder strap. It was just the right shape and width for manuscripts and was lined in green and burgundy fabric. Little I have owned since has made me as happy as that bag.

    I had the job for seven years, when most of us were laid off and walked out of the building together near tears.

  8. thank you for sharing that soft cognac satchel.

  9. In my early teens, I landed a summer job as the nanny for the son of a highly dysfunctional couple. The husband was a rising star in the local symphony who was often out of town, if not overseas; the wife was a waif-like creature, bored with motherhood, suburbia and her lack of focus. I spent almost everyday of the summer with this young boy. We played games, he enjoyed his wading pool and toys, we took walks in the nearby park; I read him bedtime stories and convinced him to eat his meals. The mother would just disappear for the entire day, returning late at night and only concerned that the boy was asleep.

    One day towards the end of August, however, she returned home in the afternoon. The boy cried when I explained that I had to leave before he went to bed. He clung to me, crying “no, mommy, don’t go!” By the time summer was over, the couple was in the middle of divorce proceedings and the mother and child moved away. I saw the child a year later, staring listlessly through the open back window of a worn, red pick-up truck. More than fifty years have passed, yet I still treasure the memory of that child and hope that he kept a good memory or two of that summer with his other “mommy”.

  10. Reading your post reinforces how dedicated and passionate you are about your work.

    There’re two jobs so close together I can’t remember which came first. I think it was at Miller Block Company in Evansville, IN. I was a junior in college and not happy with the education I was receiving. I was restless, uneasy and in an up and down relationship, The repetitive, hard labor of stacking blocks and cleaning out cement mixers was somehow appealing to me. I rode my ten speed from one end of town to the other, tearing through the streets like a van driving soccer mom on coke. I took morning and evening classes, worked in the afternoon and I slept well.
    The other job was working as a counselor in a psychiatric children’s hospital in the same town. I learned about not just opening up but listening as well. Some people get a really shit deal from life and when it’s a child suffering through the pain, I tried to do everything I could to help ease their agony. I learned that the system is fucked; a father who sexually abused his 7 year old daughter was still allowed unsupervised home visitation rights. I was reprimanded when I took the side of a 12 year old boy who stole a car and crashed it. He missed his grandma and wanted to visit her in Louisville. I was told not to question my superiors and my punishment was to be placed on the night shift with the old women who crocheted all night and told the kids to go back to sleep if they woke up and needed to talk. I could not see how this was therapeutic.
    I probably should have stuck it out and put up with the bullshit — the woman who hired me was sympathetic and tried to get me reassigned — but my relationship ended, so I quit and hit the open road again.

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