|Avery Rome: On a 'Gap Year'|
I ran into a former colleague a few months ago – a woman who for many years held a top editing job at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Avery Rome had decided to take a buyout about a year after I did, and I asked her what she was doing.
She said she was trying out all kinds of things – working in a community garden to raise fresh crops for a local food cupboard, studying Russian drama, taking Coursera classes (on movies, ancient Greece and the modern novel) -- and loving it.
“I’m really curious about things I haven’t done,” she said.
When she told friends who were still working what she was up to, they didn't say much. Maybe they couldn't connect. And so, Avery explained, “I’ve recently come up with the phrase for what I'm doing. It's ‘a gap year.’ That,” she said, “people can relate to.
“Sometimes I think people who are still working scroll through what you’re telling them and ask themselves, ‘Would I do that? Would I do that?’ If what you’re doing doesn’t interest them, they change the subject.
“Starting a new career or teaching literacy might explain my not being a journalist, but lollygagging is hard to understand.”
Here’s some of what Avery is loving about her gap year.
Gardening, for one. “I find it a great meditation and I think about all kinds of things. I just love getting that close to nature, learning about bugs and plants. I love using my hands now. A part of me just wants to do physical things.”
Less stress is another. Like so many of us, she poured herself into the survival of her company. “I like not worrying about how to hold the paper up,” she said.
Having what she calls “loose days.”
“Loose days mean you can go and help out your kids or your grandkids. I have a friend whose husband is ill. I spend time with her. I show up. That freedom to be charitable, if you will, to be giving rather than receiving is a great joy.”
Giving herself permission to indulge in ways she hasn’t before. Like not necessarily getting up early. And having time to read the paper before the day starts. Or watching movies any time.
“The Coursera movie course, called The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound and Color, was great. It gave me license to watch movies in the middle of the day,” she said. “You can’t drift like this when you’re raising kids or paying off a mortgage. This leisure is a gift of this time of your life. I see daylight more than I have in the last 34 years. I’m much more aware of the weather. My life now would be really boring to someone who is driven, someone who’s a high achiever. So I back off in those conversations and I just ask them about themselves.”
What’s next for Avery when her gap year ends, if it ever does?
Avery says she might get involved in politics, supporting candidates who could do a better job. Or study to be a master gardener. And she has by no means abandoned her craft. She will be teaching a writing course this spring at the University of Pennsylvania, where she has long taught. And she wouldn't walk away from a big project.
“The whole thing is finding the balance. If you float too much, you think why aren’t you busier? I don’t know what we’re measuring ourselves against.”