A year ago Suzanne Rico lost her job as morning co-anchor on KCBS-TV (Channel 2). The reason? She was a victim of a major restructuring. “I went from news anchor to news nobody in the three minutes it took for new News Director Scott Diener to fire me.” Suzanne has been reinventing herself ever since that fateful day. She and her husband jettisoned their comfortable life in Los Angeles and began a long, worldwide journey in search of a slower, simpler life. Where will it end? ”With two little kids and a 15 year old Labrador in tow, I’m either headed for enlightenment or an expedited check-in to the looney bin,” Suzanne says. She is documenting their travels on a blog aptly titled Walking Papers. Here she talks about her new mobile office.
You recently went through a big change in your work life. Can you tell us about that? I went from working on deadline ALL the time to working on no deadline at all. This, I would say, is the best thing that came with getting fired. The worst is having no paycheck. The second best thing about getting fired is not having to put on make-up, fancy clothes and heels in the pre-dawn hours–especially if I had been up with a sick kid all night and felt like the living dead. The best lighting a major news network can provide will not make you look or feel good in these circumstances–not to mention allow you to form a cohesive sentence. Now if I have a bad night, I can work in my pajamas and eat grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup (did I mention I no longer have a paycheck?). The journey from well-paid anchor to un-paid blogger feels like a re-birth. I am in the process of discovering who I am when I no longer have to squeeze myself into the confines dictated by a news job. I have total choice. I am my own boss. When my children need me, I can put the computer to sleep. This is liberating, fulfilling, exhilarating and scary as hell to a lifelong workaholic career woman.
With all the travel you are doing right now how do you keep yourself organized? When do you find time to write? And where do you do it? I write in the car, train or airplane as much as possible, but I take my computer anywhere that I think I will have five minutes to write. I work between stints as referee, waitress, circus clown, Lego-builder, teacher, healer, and story-teller because my husband and I are all things to our children right now. All the help I had back when I had a paying job is gone–and I don’t miss it. I work late after the kids are asleep in whatever random room we are staying in, comforted that my family is there but relieved that, for the moment, I have the night to myself. These stolen moments are enough.
Chaos has always made me jumpy. This is likely because I lived such a structured life for so long (be one minute late to the set, and you miss a live broadcast). I stay organized by being a minimalist. I clean as I go, throw away everything that isn’t crucial to my work (and often find that I need that “trash” later), and every few days I empty the contents of my black back pack onto the floor and repack it, organizing snacks and sunscreen, power cords and Tylenol, home school supplies and vitamins. Being on the road has its advantages, as you are limited in what you can bring by space. I am forced to travel lean and when my work area gets messy (as it often did in the “micro-car” we rented for a three week road trip down Argentina’s rough Ruta 40) I stop down and clean up. With my computer, camera, power cord, adapter and a good power source (sometimes difficult to find!), I have all I need.
What piece of technology besides your laptop are you most attached to? My husband is my second favorite technological tool. He’s like Rain-Man in that he can learn anything and has this vast ability to retain information. I am technologically challenged, so he is my go-to guy when something goes haywire with my computer or iPhone. He says he has to stop enabling me so that I learn for myself, but I figure it’s easier just to make sure we never get divorced. If I had to pick a real thing, I would say my iPhone. I haven’t made one call on it in months, but I use it to jot down thoughts and often take it with me on my runs, so that when an idea hits, I can record it in a voice memo. Plus, it holds my favorite photos. Do I sound like a commercial for Apple?
What inspires you? My children make me laugh and cry–two emotions that always provide inspiration. When my three year old looks at the vast African sky and sighs, “Look at all the colors!”, I see the world through his eyes and my problems seem small and solvable. When that same exhausted kid has a melt down as we are being questioned by a stern customs agent (a long line of annoyed travelers staring as I wrestle him off the ground) I try to breathe and know that parents everywhere have walked in my shoes. Bad or good, my children provide my best material.
Lately, a beautifully constructed sentence also inspires me. A well-written sentence is like a house design that blows you away with its perfection, functionality and originality. Ever since I changed my life a year ago, I have been learning the art of writing. I now read much more slowly, inspired by each lovely line. It is also inspiring to have something suddenly click in my own writing–the invigorating moment that my thoughts take form and the story comes together. I don’t know where this new love of travel and writing will take me, but the ride has been awesome so far. I know I am incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to walk new paths and try not to take it for granted.