If you had asked me 15 years ago what my dream job was, I probably would have told you I wanted to work for the New York Times. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota: the idea of big-city cacophony was heaven to me. As a budding writer and editor, I figured newspapers were the fastest way to get where I wanted to be.
It would be an understatement to say that my professional dreams have changed. I’ve edited copy for nearly every medium (all except television, I think) and have made the acquaintance of a wide variety of talented professionals. Some have worked at the Times. Some have quit the Times. Discovering that people I respect quit what I once considered a dream job contributed to a larger impression that dreams, by necessity, change and lose their rosy glow upon closer examination.
The past six years brought opportunities to use my skills in new ways, and with odd and pretty much intangible measures of success.
I currently edit books and corporate exhibits and am reasonably happy doing so, but I still have a dream job. It’s different than the dream job of a 21-year-old scribbler — but better, because it doesn’t exist and will remain rosy and distant.
My dream job, as of 2014, is to work as an editor for Life magazine. (Life was published weekly for decades and monthly starting in 1978, before it ceased publication in 2000.)
If a job could be an anachronism, this would be it. Oh, sure, there are lots of magazine jobs out there. People make a living editing stories that show up on that blissfully slippery paper. Newsstands still carry a breathtaking variety of these rags. Vanity Fair is one I admire; so are GQ and Rolling Stone. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I subscribe to People and occasionally flip through US Weekly in line at Safeway.
Life is (was) different. It hearkened back to a different era, with its oversized folio and striking, extensive imagery. To open an issue of Life — I particularly enjoy issues from the 1960s — is to step into another world. Stories were long and rambling and curious. Photo essays expose people and ideas and ways of life that are clearly foreign to a distinctly white, upper-class editorial department. It’s worth noting, however, that the magazine treated a number of controversial topics of the time — such as homosexuality and interracial marriage — with care.
Even more intoxicating: the advertisements. Slick copy-dense ads for insurance and vacuum cleaners in the 1930s and ’40s gave way to gorgeous, colorful full-page ads devoted to cigarettes, alcohol, cars and fashion. To read Life was to get a taste of the good life.
My own intellectual curiosity manifests most frequently as garden-variety nosiness, easily satisfied with websites such as Buzzfeed and Jezebel. But I keep coming back to my Life magazines, re-reading old stories about teenage models, war widows, TV stars and humanitarians. They’re a perfect fusion of high and low culture.
Life is periodically revived in the form of special issues about this person or that current event. But nothing compares to the Life magazine of yesteryear. Even if it re-emerged as a proper periodical, it would not hold the magic of the old, crumbly-edged issues.
So I’ll tuck away my dream-job dream and dust it off on those days when I need to remember that writing and editing are still exciting and worthwhile. Life, I hardly knew ye, but if our paths had crossed this side of the grave, we would have gotten along famously.
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