My first real job after college was with Rowland Publishing in Tallahassee, where I had just earned a degree in Creative Writing – one small step up from my previous studies in Musical Theater, in terms of employability, according to the world.
That’s not expressly true. After accepting a paid internship with Health Magazine at the Southern Living campus in Birmingham, I rented an apartment there but bailed before beginning, having taken a proper job as an editor for a magazine in Gulf Shores. (And renting an apartment there, too.)
How’s that for employability?
I worked there for five days, I think, before realizing I had made a mistake and running home to make a desperate phone call to Rosanne Dunkelberger – editor extraordinaire at Tallahassee Magazine, with whom I had worked as an intern in my final semester at FSU. (I wooed her with clips from my self-titled “Across The Pond With Ashley Kahn” series, written during an autumn abroad in England.)
In addition to having the coolest name ever to be spoken, she played a very important role in my life, during an especially formative time.
When I called Rosanne wailing “What have I dooooooooone,” there was an opening on her team left by Erica Bailey, torturer of interns with her acerbic tongue and devastating glares.
I would be the new assistant to Rosanne Dunkelberger, wielder of the trusty red pen. I don’t know why she hired me. Throughout my internship, Rosanne laughed with me, cried with me, celebrated me with the preppiest pink and green cookie cake I have ever seen, and listened to me lament the loss of limitless loser boyfriends.
But she liked me, and I liked her.
She gave me a chance to figure out who I was.
She helped me grow up, a little. (I was only 23.)
She taught me not to overuse the word “that.”
Example: “I know
that I’m going to have to remove several “thats” before I publish this post” can be simplified to read: “I know I’m going to have to.”
THAT just doesn’t serve any purpose here.
Neither does whining or feeling sorry for yourself or failing to book an interview for the 100th time with a lady who just turned 100 and may actually die before you get to write about her. (You can find that story, my first for the magazine, “One Savvy Centenarian,” here.)
Evidently she also taught me the value of a clever headline, like the dance piece I called “Raising the Barre” or “Mother of Invention,” about a mom who invented a syringe to improve her daughter’s life and countless others around the world.
Aside from grammar and “furniture” – that’s industry speak, not for couches but for things like photo captions and subheads – Rosanne taught me a lot about life. She was, and remains, a true mentor to me, but also a dear friend.
Here are some of Rosie’s rules for living, as I remember them:
Ask the weird questions. Rosanne taught me how to conduct an interview and how to tell a story. This is good stuff outside of reporting, too. Don’t ask people how they’re doing – ask them what lights a fire under their ass. (I feel like that’s how she would have said it.)
Get what you deserve, from the get-go. I started out as Rosie’s assistant, but was quickly promoted to associate editor of a couple of magazines whose editor moved on. I think they would have made me just-plain-editor had I been a little more mature. As the jobs got bigger, she encouraged me to ask for the salary and benefits I wanted up front. Good advice for all young lassies up-and-coming in their careers.
Always order dessert. We were ladies who lunched. It was just part of the job. And we always, always had dessert. (Probably two.) Rosanne is known to many for her quick wit and formidable character, but there’s also a real sweetness about her. Somewhere between a mother and a best friend, she was there for me through the pains of young adulthood, and I will never forget it.
When life gives you lemons, laugh. Oh, boy, did we laugh a lot. She has the best laugh – the kind that makes people turn around and look. We were quite the team for those years we shared. Friends before Facebook, that’s mostly where our friendship lives now. I hope someday soon she’ll come to the beach and meet my family.
She was family to me before I knew who I was going to be.
I don’t know if Rosie would be proud of me. I hope she is. Most of the things I write now are sort of incognito for other people or nonprofits close to my heart. I haven’t published a book or made a big name for myself, YET, but I’m choosing to use my voice in ways that matter to me.
And because she helped me find my voice, she matters to me – a lot.