I admit I was surprised when they closed the Washington bureau. I’d worked as a public radio journalist for more than a quarter of a century, hosting an LA talk show, covering everything from war crimes to earthquakes to Congress, stuffing my shelves with awards. I was so busy, I didn’t spent a lot of time thinking about what else I wanted to do with my life. But in January of this year, that’s exactly the question I was forced to ask myself: who do I want to be now?
For the first time in decades, I have an open calendar. It’s been a blessing and a curse: the opportunity to reinvent myself – if only I can narrow down the possibilities.
I’m a big believer in lists. My mother used to plan her entire life on a sheet of paper folded in half, stuffed with last week’s “to do” list and the ones from the weeks before that.
I started a list of all the things I am passionate about besides Capitol Hill politics:
- Kids literature
Not very promising, if I was looking for a steady paycheck. But I’d freelanced for almost a decade in my younger years. I could do it again! I decided to try to pursue ALL of them.
But not right away.
I found that my first days and weeks of starting over were filled with endless logistics: researching and buying a new smart phone, a new computer, a new cellular plan, signing up for Obamacare, figuring out how to transfer my contacts to my new email. My “to do” list was overflowing with all the tasks that had to be completed to create the infrastructure of my new life. It exhausted me.
I also realized that I didn’t want to abandon journalism entirely. I reached out to places I’d freelanced for in the past, renewed my press pass, and filed a few stories. But I made the decision not to apply for journalism jobs. I just wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a reporter for the rest of my working life. I wanted to explore those other parts of my life that give me joy.
I’m not alone. The AARP just came out with a new survey: more than half of those over the age of 50 are re-employed in new occupations. But which one?
Number one on my wish list was theatre. I missed the thrill of standing on stage in front of a live audience or hitting my marks in front of a camera. I’d been a working actor for the first decade after college. Now I had time to return to “the boards.”
I was freaked out about getting new headshots. What woman of a certain age wants to see an 8 x 10 color close up of her face? I gritted my teeth and found a terrific photographer who made me look like my best self. I dusted off my union cards and pulled together a resume. I found acting-related Facebook groups and started following the movers and shakers on Twitter.
Almost immediately, I was cast in a DC production of “The Vagina Monologues!” It was glorious hearing the audience laugh out loud, standing there under the lights again, working with an ensemble of actors. Up next: I was cast as a nun in a Capital Fringe Festival play. There are two TV shows filmed in the DC area and both cast women my age. My goal: snag at least the smallest of roles on both “House of Cards” and “Veep.”
Acting the second time around is different… and the same. It’s much harder now to memorize lines than it was when I was 24! But it was easier to audition – less traumatic. My entire identity doesn’t depend on getting the part. This older me has gravitas on stage and more self-confidence.
But there’s a lot of waiting around when you’re an actor. What else could I do?
I do love to sew.
When I was working on Capitol Hill, my journalistic colleagues and congressional staffers kept asking me where I got my clothes. When I told them I’d made them, they asked when I was going to make clothes for them, too. Now, I thought, I can!
I set up an Etsy shop: “Kitty of Capitol Hill; shaking up DC fashion one dress at a time.” The online shop carries a combination of work appropriate dresses, skirts, and jackets – as well as weekend outfits like tunics to wear over ballet togs.
Then I had an idea for a second Etsy shop: “Dear Aunt Kitty.” My now-seven year old niece has been sending me fashion sketches the past few years, pictures she wants turned into finished garments. I thought: I’ll bet there are a lot of little girls out there who could use an Aunt Kitty!
But just as I discovered that memorization is harder, so too is marketing a product. I am not a natural entrepreneur. The most successful business venture I ever started was a backyard carnival to raise funds to fight Muscular Dystrophy. I’m not sure I have the chutzpah needed to brag about my shop, to spend hours on Pinterest and Facebook getting the word out. But it’s a low risk venture. So we’ll see.
The thing I am most passionate about is children’s literature. I fell in love with the genre back when I was shelving books at my local library. I’ve been faithfully working on my second middle grade novel (the story of Fina Mendoza, the ten year old daughter of a congressman who moves to Washington and solves the mystery of “The Demon Cat of Capitol Hill.”) Now, I wanted to revive Book Club for Kids.
Back when I hosted the radio show, I carved out half an hour once a month to bring a trio of middle schoolers into the studio to discuss the book of the month. The show moved from radio to local cable TV, and now I want to recreate it as a podcast.
The logistics have been challenging. I reached out to local libraries and middle schools, set up a website (bookclubforkids.org) and started interviewing authors. We tape our first three episodes in May. Episodes of the Book Club for Kids will be released twice a month on iTunes. Again, I’ll face marketing challenges. But I feel more confident about pitching Book Club for Kids.
I don’t know which – if any – of these crazy ideas will take off. Some days, I believe that I can do anything … and everything. And then there are those toad days when the self-confidence flags and I’m content to curl up with a new mystery and a cup of tea. Even on those days, I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to reinvent myself again, to take the time to try on new roles, to see what fits and what does not. Check back with me in a year. I hope I’ll be able to answer that question: who do I want to be now?
Kitty Felde xxx
Kitty Felde has spent most of her career as an award-winning public radio journalist, with more than a dozen Golden Mike Awards for her work covering baseball, politics, high profile trials, riots, earthquakes, and immigration. She was named “Journalist of the Year” by the LA Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists three times during the decade she hosted KPCC’s afternoon talk show “Talk of the City.” She is also a playwright and writer of middle grade fiction. When not at her laptop, she can be found at her sewing machine, happily working through a mountain of fabric, creating new designs. You can read more at: www.kittyfelde.com.