Full disclosure: I wrote this right after the Oscars last month when it was fresh on my mind. But the Oscars I refer to here happened in late March that year, so it still felt timely. Enjoy!
The Oscars telecast is usually prime time for the celebrity obsessed. Between the pomp and circumstance, what the actors are wearing and the red carpet, it's a pop culture overload.
For our household, the Oscars brings back memories of an important moment in our lives that happened 10 years ago. And it had nothing to do with movies. And it was a moment in which I was very under-dressed for any red carpet.
I was in New York City during the 2002 Oscars, getting ready for a copy editing tryout at The New York Times. My time at The Oregonian was running out and I needed to figure out what to do next. I was also a newlywed, having married Jen the previous August. Meanwhile, Jen was in the stretch run of her MBA program at the University of Oregon, commuting twice a week down to Eugene from Portland for classes.
It was a stressful, uncertain time.
And this copy editing tryout was not exactly going to be easy. They say that the New York Times copy desk has a lower acceptance rate than Harvard, and with good reason. Copy editors are a newspaper's quality control and The New York Times prides itself on being the best in all aspects of its operation.
The fact I had even earned a trip to New York was actually a promising sign. And Neil Amdur, the sports editor, was an advocate of mine from my days when I worked as a summer intern there during college. But the fact was, I still had to show I was good enough when it came time for the actual tryout.
So as I was watching the Oscars with an old college friend, watching Halle Berry and Denzel Washington win awards, watching Woody Allen's heartfelt plea to the Academy to keep filming in New York (remember, we were only six months removed from 9/11), this was weighing on my mind.
I knew it was a fork in the road moment in our lives, certainly in my career. If I got this job, we'd be embarking on an adventure all the way across the country and I'd be taking an important step professionally. If I didn't, we'd be closer to family and Jen had a job lined up after graduation, but my career would be stalled (I didn't have a Plan B).
As I was telling a colleague last week, what makes the Times' tryout so difficult isn't so much the editing of stories, but the critique session the next day. You sit in a small office with a no-nonsense editor who hectors you for even the smallest thing. You are on the defensive from the get-go, and I've met many fine editors who came away from that experience very drained. One particular memory that still stands out for me: This editor getting on this compact exercise machine as she deliberately read this very long sentence that I did not make shorter. Her point was that it was too long a sentence for someone who was somewhat distracted to try to read.
(As embarrassing as that felt in the moment, it was a lesson I still refer to today. I've substituted "person on exercise machine" for "person reading on mobile device on the subway" whenever I need to make that point.)
Of course, I survived the tryout and two weeks later I got the call.
In the years since, me and Jen have gone through a lot of adventures on the East Coast, as she eloquently pointed out in her recent post. And in spite of some obstacles in our lives, particularly with Noe, there are really no regrets to speak of. I was looking back at my journal from that time in our lives and I found this passage from the day after I received the job offer from The Times:
"I think of how we are now, young and on the cusp of the rest of our lives. We've got our whole life ahead of us, not yet burdened by the weight of what's ahead and full of hope. It's a nice feeling, and it's also so fleeting."
Sounds about right, especially the part about it being fleeting. Time certainly flies, but when you have a life partner like Jen, the nice feelings don't necessarily end.