I'm an arts-and-crafts-fair junkie. But at the most recent fair I attended, I got something much more valuable than a piece of pottery or turquoise jewelry.
Early on a recent Saturday, I remembered that St. Philip's Plaza was hosting an arts and crafts show in the courtyard. I quickly threw myself together, the desire to check out the good stuff trumping any concerns about appearance. Plopping on a hat and adding sunglasses, I hoped to blend into the crowd.
While I was trying on a fleur de lys pendant on a chunky pearl necklace, a woman standing next to me said I looked familiar.
"Are you a writer?" she asked. Wow! Concerns about my appearance forgotten, I suddenly went from ground zero to over the moon. Even after four years writing for the Star, I still had to pinch myself: me, the French teacher … a writer.
It was early April 2006, my ninth year teaching eighth-grade French and seventh-grade Arizona social studies in a public middle school. Over the years, some first-person pieces I'd written had been published, and even a few letters to the editor. But when you're a full-time teacher, great gobs of time are not available for extracurricular activities.
The school year was wrapping up; the time I did have centered around getting my eighth-graders ready for second-year French and my seventh-graders to 1912 (the year Arizona entered the Union).
Most of the French students loved learning. I looked forward to that class every day. But some of the seventh-graders' shenanigans were becoming less and less amusing. After much reflection, I decided it was time. I knew I could count on my retirement income, and I had no dependents to worry about.
After the school year ended, I came home, took a look in the mirror and asked myself what I was going to do professionally for the rest of my life. When the mirror didn't answer, I thought, "Uh oh. Now what?"
I decided to do some soul searching on my interests outside of teaching: What did I really enjoy doing? The first answer, which practically shouted at me, was writing - in particular the first-person human interest story. But writing professionally is like engaging in any artistic endeavor. One needs a Plan B just in case. I decided to try for Plan B first, hoping success would give me the confidence to go for the golden ring.
Working as a concierge in a hotel sounded like fun. Easier said than done. The economy was starting to tank; even the big hotels were cutting back on personnel. I stayed at the only concierge job I ever landed exactly one day. It was freezing in the lobby and management vetoed a space heater. I left at 4 p.m. on training day with a slightly scratchy throat and never went back.
They say volunteer work can often lead to a job. Mine didn't.
An employment agency gave me a few nibbles that didn't float my boat.
My Plan B backups had fizzled. There were tears and feelings of discouragement. A few phrases I repeated to myself helped keep my spirits up, including, as they say in France, "Sept fois tombé, huit fois debout" (you fall seven times, you stand up eight).
As for the elusive golden ring, it was now or never. I screwed up my courage and started calling print media publications asking if editors would take a look at a few samples of my recent work. Those cold calls paid off. I was accepted to write for two newspapers, including the one you are reading right now.
A few years later the manager of a boutique where I frequently shopped asked me if I'd like to write a monthly online newsletter showcasing their inventory and special events. She didn't have to ask twice.
Writing that newsletter gave me an idea: to write online newsletters for several other local retailers. A side business was born.
I still love the French language and culture and still attend a weekly conversation group at our local Alliance Française.
But writing is my latest, greatest passion. Making this change didn't happen overnight. But after finally giving birth to a new, rewarding vocation, I've almost forgotten the labor pains involved in getting to this point.
Email Barbara Russek at Babette2@comcast.net