Back to school, and …?

Today is Becca’s first day of 11th grade. Yes, I know that schools seem to start earlier every year, what happened to waiting until after Labor Day, etc.  But carping aside, off she went. She wrote out index cards over the weekend listing every outfit she would wear for the next two weeks. She put pencils in her new hot-dog-shaped pencil case and labels on her looseleaf binders and she was ready.

Here’s what I don’t like about starting the school year:

  1. Getting her up at 5:45 every day. Which means I’m up at 5:30. Every morning feels like an early flight to the East Coast out of SFO. Jet lag on a daily basis!
  2. Returning to Nag Mom mode. It was nice over the summer not to be constantly asking if her homework were done. During the school year, I sometimes feel that half my communication with her is telling her to go to bed, and the other half is telling her to get out of bed.
  3. The reminder that time is passing. Only one more season of back-to-school pencil cases and binders after this one, and then — college! Aak.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to like about starting the school year. I like having a routine. I get much more writing done when she’s not hanging around the house. I can go to the gym after dropping her off at BART at 7 a.m. and get a workout in before I’m even awake enough to notice. (Funny thing how there’s a lot more time to be productive when your day starts at 5:30.)

But here’s the complicating factor. The new school year signals a new year for me too — and a new stage of my work life. 

I’ve now been gone from the San Francisco Chronicle for almost two years, the window of time I gave myself to work on fiction. So I need to look for a job. More than that, I need to look for a whole new career. Not newspapers, not magazines, not freelance writing. This means figuring out how to take my 20+ years of newspaper writing and my 10+ years of non-profit work with the Julia Morgan School and bundle it all into some employable package. It means thinking about what I want to do, trying to distinguish fantasy from reality, and then calling upon various friends and acquaintances to help me find opportunities.

Over the past few months, I’ve felt alternately excited and trepidatious about reentering the job market. It feels a little bit like graduating from college all over again. There’s a good side to that — Hey, I can do anything, anywhere!  There’s also a bad side — Hey, I’m an English major! I have no skills!

It’s not a bad time to make this transition. Last week I sent queries to a half-dozen literary agents about the latest revision of my novel The Mothers’ Group, so there’s not much I can do with it until I start hearing back from them.

Meanwhile, I have another novel, a first draft, that needs significant revision. I’ll start grappling with that. But my main focus will have to be on finding that new career/job.

In my mind, I’d set Labor Day as the demarcation point for settling down and starting the job search. But now, suddenly, Becca is off at school — pencil case and all. Labor Day is barely a wisp of summer fog away.

Back to school for her. And for me, back to….?


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8 Responses to “Back to school, and …?”

  1. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Says:

    My head nodding the whole time. Good to hear I’m not the only one. Best wishes…

  2. Carol Emert Says:

    Not back to anything, but forward! The whole world is reinventing itself, so you are swimming in the stream of the collective — exciting!

    My college friend Laurie G. who I connected you with awhile back about her book does ideation and career coaching, so if you are looking for help, she might be a good person to reach out to.


  3. Ellie Shaw Says:

    First, keep writing. It may not being paying the bills but it’s always going to be what you do best (except for mothering, of course) and what you’re passionate about it. Publishing is so fickle but I believe that talent usually wins out. Good luck.
    Secondly, I’m slowly gaining traction as an entrepreneur and if I can do it, anyone can. So if you want to hear what I’ve experienced, call me. I’d love to talk to you even if it’s not about careers.

    P.S. I promise not to ideate.

  4. Judy Levin Says:

    Hi Ilana,
    Yes, I remember those early mornings! I totally agree with how much more productive I was as a reuslt of those extra 1-2 hours.

    As far as career, I think many of us are envious of all your skills and smarts! I know I am!!!! Your writing abilities are such a job asset. The And your non-profit managment exprience from JMSG is also invaluable. I think the trick for you will be thinking about what you really want to do because I think there are plenty of workplaces out there that would love to have you. I am excited for you!

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Judy, you are a role model for making a dramatic midlife career change! I wonder if you have lessons or thoughts to share from your own leap. Want to write a guest blog post?

  5. Jody Knowlton Says:

    Hi Ilana….its all a journey and this is the next chapter. You are such an inspiration…I can’t wait to see where you end up! Eunice will be a great sounding board and will have lots of ideas, I’m sure.

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