Chasing fire trucks is not for me: my second beginning as an editor

Karen Kemlo
Karen Kemlo

By Karen Kemlo

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” —A.A. Milne

I call my decision to change careers in mid-life my “second beginning”—for me it defines the place where I am now. It’s also about coming full circle again and being a late bloomer.

I grew up surrounded by books and newspapers and I was a secret writer who dreamed of having her first novel published by the age of 21. I read voraciously and critiqued everything I found. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I worked for several years in a public library. I then decided that I wanted to be a foreign correspondent, travel the world and cover stories for the world press.

I took the plunge and applied for the two-year Journalism After Degree (JRAD) program at Ryerson and was amazed that I got in. In the early 1990s, I was taking my first steps toward becoming a journalist. Having worked for several years, I was also one of the oldest students in my class and my expectations were high. I soon realized that I would not emerge fully formed and be hired by the CBC as an arts reporter or as a feature writer for the Star. It was—and still is—a tough, competitive business and I had to run the race like everyone else.

I also realized that chasing fire trucks and getting elbowed in the face while pressing for a 20-second sound bite from a red-faced politician was not for me, and I didn’t want to go to Yellowknife or St. John’s to get work. Who knew I was so set in my ways? So when I finally found a job as a writer and researcher that allowed me to work from home, I was in heaven. My boss was in another country and my deadlines were weekly. I had time to work on my novel and the dream of finishing it. It wasn’t as exciting, perhaps, as what some of my friends were doing, but it was quiet, peaceful—well, except for the screaming baby.

It’s amazing how disciplined you become when you have to be. My son was on a tight schedule of naps and feedings and likewise, my work hours followed a strict schedule. During those early years, I toiled at night doing research and wrote fiction while he napped. It was incredible how much I got done, even though, sometimes, the laundry and dishes were piled high and I woke up still wearing my clothes from the day before.

It was all much harder when I became a single parent. I was fortunate to meet someone working in television who hired me as a freelance researcher. It was scary at first, because I had to leave the quiet, safe place that was my home office to re-enter the fray, but I would also be making more money. It was a shock and a challenge, but I loved it.

Working in television was a bit like being in a parallel world. I worked on crime shows that recreated real murders, reality shows about people doing real jobs, and design shows about remodeling homes where real families lived. I also worked on a program about outer space and UFOs. I interviewed survivors of crime and people who claimed they had been abducted by aliens. I met world-renowned scientists and homicide cops who had seen it all. I travelled all over North America with film crews that were all men. It was exciting, challenging, full of high stakes, and a grind.

After almost 12 years and as many shows, I found myself once again competing for smaller contracts against younger people, including my son, who’s now studying journalism at Ryerson. I also found myself longing for the peace and quiet of my earlier life.

Using my journalism degree as a springboard, I went back to Ryerson and began taking courses in their publishing program in late 2012. Even though it’s part of the Continuing Education program, I’m still the oldest one in class. I’m just doing it part-time and I’m loving it. The goal of becoming an editor suits my life and where I am now. It feels right and it’s a good fit. Other editors are welcoming and supportive and I’m learning a lot.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll even finish that novel now.

Karen Kemlo worked as a journalist before going back to school in Ryerson’s publishing program. She is now taking the first steps to becoming a freelance editor. 

An earlier version of this article was published by The Editing Company.

This article was copy edited by Afara Kimkeran.

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