Many of us have weird stuff on our resumes from the early years of our careers, times when we were still figuring out what it was we were going to do with our professional lives. I was a daily newspaper reporter covering local politics in the very earliest years of my career, which is a pretty generic “future journalist” job. But my favorite early-career respite was the two years I spent looking at slides of beautiful lamps and throw pillows as managing editor of Accessory Merchandising and Residential Lighting magazines. So I felt a little nostalgic when I heard this week that the company behind those magazines, Vance Publishing, was dissolving after 75 years in the trade magazine business. (But don’t worry, Beef Today and Daily Herd Management will live on under new owners.)
It was an awkward time in my life, a time of transition, and this job was perfect for that. I had written one too many lame newspaper stories updating readers on the status of plans for a new Walgreens or protests over adding a 170th mall to Orland Park, the mall-infested Chicago suburb I covered for The Daily Southtown. My editor asked me to “look into what’s going on with the City Hall parking situation,” and I just thought: NO. I cannot. So I started looking at job listings, which included an opening at a group of home decor trade magazines. I had always wanted to be in magazines, and many people had advised me to consider trade magazines. They may not always cover the most glamorous of topics, these people said, but trade magazines will teach you how magazines work. You’ll learn so much.
They were, it turned out, right. The topic wasn’t bad: I got a lot of nice freebies and discounts, plus an infusion of taste in my heretofore tasteless 20s. I learned how magazine production worked because there were only a few of us making the magazines every month. I was part of everything: coming up with stories, writing them, editing them, laying them out, and shipping pages. I was at least tangentially involved in advertiser relations. I went to trade shows. I spotted trends.
Best of all, the job had pretty regular hours; it wasn’t like I was taking home images of Tiffany lamps to sift through on weekends. We quit at like 5! This was good, since I had a commute that could last from 45 to 90 minutes, depending on traffic. But it also allowed me some breathing room during a critical time for me. I had just broken up with my longtime boyfriend, whom I’d been with for nine years, since my sophomore year of college. We were constantly toying with getting back together while I tried to date other people. Meanwhile, my high school boyfriend, Dave, had just come out of the closet and become my best friend. (My main memory of Vance, to be honest, is spending hours with Dave on my phone — just sitting there, on my headset, so my coworkers couldn’t even tell — while both of us worked. We would just type away, and occasionally talk to each other when the mood struck, as if we were working in an office cubicle together. This was before IM was pervasive.) I was also dabbling in freelance entertainment writing for VH1 and MTV online. I would often spend my lunch breaks on my ancient cell phone in my car, interviewing upstart pop stars like Aaron Carter.
This job always felt like a bump in the road when I would recount the trajectory of my career to young aspiring journalists seeking my advice. Like, obviously, don’t go get a job at a group of home decor trade magazines if your main goal is to become a pop culture writer. But I realize now that, in a lot of ways, I owe my career to Vance. Obviously I did not become a world-class lamp journalist or anything. But it allowed me some breathing space in which to rethink my direction, build up some solid entertainment-writing clips, and learn how to run a publication — which I did, for eight years, with my partner Heather Wood Rudúlph, when we ran SirensMag and Sexy Feminist.
I left Vance just before 9/11 — like, four days before — to move to New York City. I knew now that I wanted to be in magazines, and the best place for that was Manhattan. Here, I worked at Entertainment Weekly for ten years. I got engaged to that college boyfriend, broke it off, dated a bunch, and found my current partner of six years. I found my career as an pop culture critic and author. You never know what role a job will play in your your overall career arc. I thank Vance for its pivotal role in mine.