Formerly an academic and medievalist, I decided to try another kind of writing and entered J-School. Now I edit books and contribute to several blogs, including Women’s Voices for Change— interviews, opinion pieces, personal essays, etc. — and to ComedyBeat, where I write profiles of comedians, with a special focus on female comics. I am a partner in a publishing venture, VegaWire, and ComedyBeat, which is about the business of comedy.
I began as an intern at TalkingPointsMemo, and eventually writing a weekly column, All Muck is Local. and TPM Muckraker. At Chelsea Now I reported local news— zoning, education, transportation, housing, for example, but all my stories for Chelsea Now have succumbed to link rot.)
In this blog I write about issues I care about — climate change and the environment, money in politics, women’s issues, inequality — I am an eclectic, and my beat is a broad one.
An overriding concern for the degradation of our environment — not only the devastation of our planet, but the erosion of civility in public life and the increasing corrosion of the American political system — impelled me to become a journalist. I had the vain idea that if I could lend my impassioned voice in support of the Constitution and American ideals, I might make a difference. I haven’t given up, despite the poisonous political environment and the current near impossibility of effecting positive change.
That’s a gift from my daughter: she was puzzled about a friend’s actions and persisted in exploring the incident from several perspectives until her curiosity was satisfied. Her friend promptly christened her VBI — Vacca Bureau of Investigation — and the tag stuck.
I liked it — and she generously gave me the name for this blog.
For those who like digging into the weeds:
How did a homemaker without a signed high school diploma end up with advanced degrees from Yale and Columbia Universities?
When my kids were in jr. high, I returned to college and majored in math (computer science). I realized, however, that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life writing code, and fortunately I was able to cobble together a double major in comp lit because of the courses I’d taken in Italian, French, Spanish, Latin and English literature. I entered the Yale Ph.D. program in Medieval Studies. I chose MS because it encompassed many disciplines and didn’t restrict me. I continued to study literature in the above-mentioned languages and took courses in history of art, religion, history and philosophy as well.
One year during spring break, my husband and I drove through the French countryside and Burgundy in particular, our itinerary determined by the outstanding examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture I’d been studying. The cathedrals leapt off my mind’s pages and sprang to gorgeous life. Iconology, religious ideals, philosophy, medieval guilds, human aspirations and temptations assumed a physical, living form.
It wasn’t easy, of course. I was split between my family in Westchester and my intellectual home in New Haven. My kids were in high school by then, more independent, but still needing their mother. Without the unfailing support of my husband, I wouldn’t have been able to manage two different lives in two different places. By the time I was teaching five days a week, the kids no longer lived at home, and he drove up in the middle of the week and stayed overnight.
I wrote my dissertation wherever I happened to be, including a Boston hospital room with my brother-in-law and on an Italian island, on a gerry-rigged desk made from a Sicilian cart raised on bricks).
Finding a job was harder still: how many institutions in the New York area do you think were looking for a medievalist specialized in Romance literature? After a fruitless search, I decided to cast my nets farther afield. I turned down an offer in Canada and chose the University of South Carolina. I taught Spanish and Business Italian (learning it as I taught). Best of all, I taught literature seminars in the USC Honors College. In order to do so, I had to commute weekly between New York and Columbia, SC. Two flights in each direction. By Spring Break, I came to accept that, supportive as my husband was, neither of us had signed up for this interstate, weekend marriage.
Had we been younger and both of us academics, we would have accepted our separation, knowing that our situation was the norm rather than the exception. Had I been born a few years later, I would have been able to follow my star without guilt. I would have grown up in a different world with looser conventions and fewer restrictions. I would have felt more entitled to have a professional self that was fully independent of my wife- and motherself without detracting from them. If . . .
In time I found a tenure-track position in the city, and for the first time ever, my commute consisted of a subway ride. That was the good part. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a good fit with the institution and its culture. I stayed for a few years, then left. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art I led tours in Italian, and subsequently worked in the Museum library.
Today, 10 years out of J-School, I’m very glad I made the career change. I’ve had the privilege and great pleasure of meeting people with many different stories. Even after all this time, it still amazes me that people are willing to bare their souls to a stranger. I am very lucky to be able to share their stories. I look forward to many more.