Way back in the late 1990s when Rolling Stone cover stories were all the rage, I decided to major in Magazine Journalism. I also decided to earn a Women’s Studies Certificate. When I announced this to my Dad he said, “Now what in the hell are you going to do with that?” and “Women’s Studies sounds like some kind of feminist or whatever they call it kind of thing – you mean to tell me you are studying women? What does that even mean?!” I was adamant that both of my focus areas would work out in the end, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t know “what in the hell I was going to do” with either one of them.
You see, the thing I loved most about Magazine Journalism was meeting the people you were writing about. The interview! I loved it. Here is a world FULL of extraordinary people doing extraordinary and ordinary things. I get to see it and write about it so that others may know who they are and what they do and why they matter to the fabric of this big, wide world. I didn’t have to do math or science, I just had to talk and listen and ask questions. For those of you who know me, you know that I have no problem with talking and I’m continuing to work on my listening skills.
Here’s the thing about a career in Journalism (especially magazine journalism), it’s hard to find a job (in general) and especially hard to find a job in the Southeast. Towards the end of my school journey, I decided to try something for myself and I drove to Atlanta from Athens, got on the first plane headed for magazine capital of the world, New York City. I landed at the airport and found a taxi. I had on a suit and heels and I carried a briefcase full of my clips. This Georgia girl was NOT playing around. I found my way to the “job fair” in midtown and began to hit every single booth (though I have to admit, I beelined my way to Oprah magazine along with hundreds of other people). I talked and walked and talked and walked and handed out my resume to every single human. By 5 pm, my feet were covered in blisters. I didn’t pack water. I realized I was a small fish in a really big lake (not even a pond). I found my way to Grand Central Station, hopped on a bus headed for the airport, got on the last plane out of NYC headed for Atlanta, and then managed to drive BACK to Athens. It was the longest day of my life filled with about every emotion you could possibly imagine.
I didn’t get any calls from that trip, but I did get a lot of rejection letters. I moved back home after graduation and I continued to wonder, “what in the hell am I going to do?” Luckily, a friend who graduated before me from the University of Georgia found a PAID internship at a place called Southern Progress Corporation in Birmingham, Alabama. Hold up. Scrreeeeech. Internship AT a magazine? In the South? 2.5 hours from my hometown? And it is paid?????
Fast forward a few months and I found myself in that same suit, in those same heels, and with that same briefcase filled to the brim with my clips and resumes. This time, I was entering the most beautiful campus I’d ever seen thinking, “people actually work here?” I remember the staircase leading to the editorial floors. I remember my Mom sitting in the car waiting on me to finish. I remember the waterfall and stream running through the atrium. I remember everything about that day – the weather, the smell walking in, and the nervousness. All of it.
I interviewed for three different available positions in three different departments. One of those departments was the Gardens department at Southern Living magazine. I didn’t know anything about gardening, but I did know that my Dad LOVED the Gardens section of Southern Living and especially liked garden writer and editor Steve Bender’s column. Somehow, I landed the position in the homes and gardens department. You can imagine my delight when I called my Dad to tell him that not only did I land a magazine job, but it would be 2.5 hours from home AND it is in the Gardens department. So, there! (phew.)
And that was when my 8-year career in magazine journalism started. I began working with editors, gardeners, horticulturists, writers, designers, copy editors, illustrators, chefs, recipe developers, stylists, production managers, and photographers. Little did I know that the Editor-In-Chief (who you could see and hear from a mile down the hall), Dr. John A. Floyd (“JAF” to all of us) would be a horticulturist and garden expert. Great. Here I am thinking that King Alfred Daffodils were called King Affa Daffa Daffa Dils because that’s what my Dad told me they were called (not knowing it was a joke). Dr. Floyd hung out A LOT in the Gardens department and I spent a lot of time looking up words he and the other writers and editors would use on a daily basis. I will never forget putting together a Special Interest Publication called the Garden Guide and having to pitch MY stories to him. He was thoughtful, constructive, and encouraging. He gave me chances to make my stories better and he never let me off the hook. Why? Because it wasn’t always about me – it was about the reader and how we connected to them, entertained them, provided info for them, and made them feel part of our magazine family.
I happened to be at Southern Living when 9/11 happened. I’ll never forget it. My whole world turned upside down because I was away from my family, this horrible thing was happening, and I am in my first job trying to make sense of my own world and now… this? I remember hearing him (remember when I said you could hear him from a mile away) instructing every single person responsible for our departments’ travel to “find our people and get them safe and whatever cost. Just get them home.” I’ll never forget feeling cared for in that moment when I needed it most and it was a sign of leadership I only hoped to provide others one day.
I clung on to each rung of the corporate ladder for dear life: Intern, Library Assistant, Editorial Assistant, Assistant Editor, and Marketing Assistant. I met incredible people along the way, but Dr. John A. Floyd will always stick out to me because he was my very first boss’s boss’s boss at a large corporation. Sadly, our SPC family recently found out that John passed away a few days ago at the young age of 73. He died on February 7th and ironically, my Dad died on February 6th seven years ago. I couldn’t help but connect this experience in my mind and heart and that’s why I’m sharing it.
And so today here I am the Executive Director of Jones Valley Teaching Farm – a non-profit delivering agricultural, educational, and food-based programming in Birmingham City Schools. I met the co-founder of the non-profit over 15 years ago at Southern Living in the Gardens department. When I was laid off from the magazine world in 2008 (one thing I didn’t think about when I was majoring in magazine journalism was… the internet), I had a 3-month severance in my pocket and knocked on Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s door to help in any way I could.
That led to other jobs and eventually BACK to Jones Valley Teaching Farm. I still don’t know a lot about gardening (just ask my colleagues), but I do know the magic it contains. I do know the inspiration it offers. My Dad loved his yard, his garden, and daylilies, hibiscus, fruit treas, tea olives, and King Affa Daffa Daffa Dils. My husband is an incredible gardener. I also can’t help but think how I ended up here – surrounded by plants and love and hope and friends and a journey I wouldn’t trade for anything.