You know those dreams where you’re back in high school or college, but as your adult self, with an assortment of people who seem not to have noticed you’ve been gone for 30 years? Maybe your dream is helping you work through something unresolved or, more likely in my case, simply an occasion to revisit a painful experience and find out that the stove is still hot.
Returning to work at J. is not really like that.
In fact, it feels strangely real. Seventeen years ago I said goodbye to the Jewish Bulletin, on my way to bigger and better things. I walked out with editor Marc Klein hot on my heels (that’s how I remember it) telling me that I would regret leaving, that I’d never work somewhere so fun again, and that he knew he’d see me back again one day.
I was 34, craving novelty, ready to take some risks, and too well-mannered to say, “Think what you want, but I’m outta here. Forever.”
And I really was. Until now.
Unless … maybe I’m actually in one of those dreams I described! Because now that I think about it, there is an odd assortment of people in the J. office where I’m sitting. Some are familiar, some are new. They seem to know me. And though they’ve acknowledged my absence, there’s something oddly familiar about the routine here. I’m copyediting stories about national Jewish conferences, local teenagers doing good, the intractable situation in the Middle East, Jewish diversity, people dying, being born and getting married (not in that order).
Just like before, it always feels like a deadline around here. There’s way too much work to do and not enough staff to do it. People talk over each other, and they yell when they’re not really angry. Everyone is very kind. The coffee is still terrible. (That last one is unforgivable. I’m sure there have been major advances in the coffee-bean industry.)
It could be a dream, but it’s not. As you’ve probably surmised, I am operating in a reality-based world. I really have returned to work at J.
Over the years when J. tried to lure me back, I was always happy to say no. I was content with my life and my work (for the record, copyediting at the S.F. Chronicle, freelance editing and raising two children, not in that order).
But there was another reason: I was sure that returning to my old, comfy job would be like a college graduate who comes back home to live with her parents and bunk in her childhood bedroom — a failed adult. (I should note that this was before college students actually were doing such a thing.)
I’ve since discovered that my imagination and ego are not accurate predictors of anything. I don’t feel like an unsuccessful adult. I feel like a responsible one. When I left the Jewish Bulletin, it was because I was supposed to. I was at an age where discovery and risk-taking are important for growth.
Now I’ve come back because I was supposed to. I’m at an age where providing health care and a little steady income for my family is the most important thing. Gee, I think I grew up somewhere in there.
To be honest, when I look back on the seven years I worked at the Bulletin, I have to admit there were some pretty important milestones, lots of growth and adventure. I met my husband through the former editorial assistant. I went to Israel in January 1991, just when the first Gulf War broke out, and reported from a “sealed room” in Tel Aviv. Two years later, I traveled to Tunisia with other Jewish journalists and we snagged an interview with Yasser Arafat, who was in exile in Tunis. And I got to work with some hilarious and wonderful people who are still my friends today.
So that does it. I’m back. I’ve resolved some of the issues that kept me away, and I’ve acknowledged that this can be a fun place to work.
The worst part? Marc Klein was right.