March 7, 2006
Lying down on the job not a vertical move
Special to The Seattle Times
David G. Bradley, the owner of the Atlantic Monthly, recently named James Bennet, 39, to be the new editor of the august magazine. Bradley said he chose Bennet because he had "lived life near the headlines" in his job as a reporter, had excelled at long-form narrative and had a "selfless nature."
As a stay-at-home mom, I, too, exhibit all the qualities that made Mr. Bennet such an obvious choice to edit one of the country's most venerable journals, and so I can only assume that I was narrowly passed over for the job due to some last-minute politicking.
I lost it, I think, because I came up short on the last reason Mr. Bradley gave for choosing Mr. Bennet: that Mr. Bennet was "in his vertical hour," meaning that his career was still on the rise.
I am sure this was the tie-breaker. I spent my "vertical hour" lying down, exhausted from having fulfilled the previous requirements.
Take the fact that I have "lived life near the headlines," for example. Just about every day there is a 48-point screaming banner on some matter of life and death. "Soccer Cleats — Need by 3 p.m." was recent late-breaking news. Sometimes there is a headline: "Bake Sale Tomorrow" with a subhead below — "Jodi's mom was supposed to make three dozen brownies but she was too busy so I said you could do it."
The headline writers are generally very concise, as they must be in this business: "No Milk" or "Need Car." Sometimes they economize even further, to fit on the smallest size sticky note: "Pets 8" means the pets have been fed. Sometimes their notes never leave the top line of the keyboard: "$" means "where's my allowance?"
Then there's the business of the long-form narrative. Granted, Bennet has been Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times and was slated to become their Beijing correspondent when he stole my job at the Atlantic. Granted, he covered the auto industry in Detroit and also did a stint at the White House. These are matters of public record and it would be churlish of me to attempt to discredit him.
But until a man has spent hours a day with my mother on the phone, he can hardly claim to understand the long-form narrative. Does Bennet have to field calls like this at the Jerusalem bureau: "Hi, it's me. I have something to tell you. I was driving down the street the other day and I saw Janet. You remember Janet? Her mother was so nice. She died in 1974. No, 1975. I know it was 1975 because that's the year we had the black Mustang. Maybe it was Janet's father who died. Anyway, it doesn't matter. It could have been the white Cougar and not the black Mustang. It was some kind of car we had in the late '70s, before we got the Capri ... "
Or this: "I called to tell you the dog is sick. She hurt her leg again. It's the same problem Barbara's dog had and she almost had to be put down. The dog, not Barbara." I could tell Bennet a thing or two about the long-form narrative.
On the last point, the "selfless nature," I hardly need elaborate. Much has been written about the loss of self that many women experience as they spend the heart of their working lives attending to the needs of those around them. Not to try to put a happy face on it, but there are advantages to not having a self.
There's the great underexplored field of bank robbery, for instance, that stay-at-home moms haven't even begun to tap. You don't need any tools, any guns, any lock-picking implements, any know-how. All you need is a double stroller with children in it and you can stroll straight into the most heavily fortified bunker and do anything you like and there's not a single witness who will be able to recall anything about you.
They won't know your height, your weight, your eye color — nothing. They will tell the police that the robber was "a lady with a stroller," which will hardly distinguish you from all the other would-be Dillingers behind you in line.
Which brings me to the last point, the part about the "vertical hour" of my career, which passed while I was horizontal, exhausted from too much time spent vertical. I am sure this is where I came up short when compared with Bennet.
The Atlantic apparently was looking for someone "whose career was still on the rise as opposed to an older person looking for a sinecure." Well, that put me out of the running immediately. After I looked up "sinecure," I realized that that was exactly what I was looking for: "a position that requires little or no work and that usually provides an income."
Now that the kids are no longer in the double stroller, dreams of my bank-robbing days are behind me, so I could use a little extra income. If it doesn't work out for Bennet at the Atlantic, I hope they know they can always call me to fill in. I'll be lying down.
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