KC Cowan resets the compass of her life
The road to professional success is often a twisting, turning affair.
While there may be a few pot holes and detours along the way, most people do reach a scenic vista of personal satisfaction at some point.
But what happens when the road dead ends after you've passed the half-century mark in age and the once lush landscape becomes a barren desert?
"Sometimes, things happen to you over which you have no control," said former broadcast journalist KC Cowan. "But what you can always control is your reaction to it or how you move forward. Sometimes, it's just being [receptive] to the possibilities, that you hope, pray and believe, will arrive down the road."
Cowan has faced that dead end. After a nearly four-decade career in broadcasting and communications, she found herself dismissed from her dream job at age 55. The loss rendered her depressed, stripped of her professional identity and discouraged by the sound of crickets from an avalanche of resumes she had circulating.
Turns out, Cowan only encountered a speed bump. Today, she does occasional on-air fill-in work for KPAM radio, dabbles in a little marketing and produces training videos for airline flight crews.
But she's also co-author of a newly published series of fantasy/adventure books. The soft-covered trilogy has spawned a sense a purpose for Cowan and illustrates how the opportunity for personal reinvention comes when it's least expected.
A native Oregonian, Cowan, 59, grew up in southwest Portland. She attended Wilson High School and forged what became lifelong friendships with two women, Sara Cole and Nancy Danner. Their impact on Cowan's life, however, wouldn't become known for decades.
While students at Oregon State University, the trio collaborated on a fantasy-adventure story based on three girls out to defeat an evil wizard. They took turns writing chapters, passing what came to be called "The Log" between them as the story unfolded. By graduation, each author possessed two large three-ring binders with the story when they parted ways to pursue careers.
In 1979, a month after Cowan received her degree in speech communications/broadcasting, she found herself in Missoula, Mont., reporting the news for KECI-TV.
"I was also the weather girl," she said, laughing, "even though I knew nothing about the weather. But I also did some weekend fill-in on the anchor desk too."
The on-air experience led her to KGW in 1981. For 10 years, Cowan covered the Oregon Legislature during the Goldschmidt years, and became the station's resident arts and entertainment reporter.
Despite her success, Cowan found herself "burned out on TV news" by 1991. She switched gears and bounced around doing public relations work for a variety of public agencies and nonprofit organization.
"I call that 'the lost decade,'" she said. "Every two years, it seems, I moved somewhere else."
But in 2001, former KGW co-worker Jeff Douglas contacted Cowan, to pitch a new Oregon Public Broadcasting show called Art Beat. The weekly series needed a host, who would spotlight artists from around the state. It was a concept that spoke to Cowan's passion for the arts community.
"It was supposed to be 10 shows, but it turned into 10 years," Cowan said. "I traveled the state producing and writing stories about local artists. I was well paid, enjoyed a certain amount of 'fame,' and was frequently asked to host or emcee big public events, such as the annual Aids Art Auction. I had never been happier in my life. With a passionate interest in the arts and a background in reporting, Art Beat was the job of my dreams."
The dream ended abruptly in November 2011.
"I was summarily dismissed, with no severance and no thanks for the past decade's work," she recalled. "I was beyond devastated and there was a lot of anger."
Changing employers in the broadcasting world, Cowan said, is "par for the course." Reporters often hop from one local station to another to remain in the area or move on to other markets.
But her niche within the arts community restricted her employment mobility. OPB's Art Beat was a one-of-a-kind magazine show.
"I became seriously depressed," Cowan said. "Could it be I was just going to be 'retired' 10 years before I expected? I was so certain I would retire from doing Art Beat that I even knew what kind of cake I would have at my goodbye party."
Trying to cope with her dismissal, Cowan recalled her favorite minister once saying, "We all have to walk through the valley of death. The trick is to keep walking."
"My problem was I not only quit walking, I pitched a tent; I sent up camp — for two years," Cowan explained. "It was tough getting up each day when you're used to having something to do. I started putting things on a calendar — OK, today I'm going to clean the house, make dinner and make two phone calls about a job. And work out. That effort kept me from laying on the couch watching TV all day."
A long-time bachelorette, Cowan married Glenn Micallef in 2010. Despite Micallef's stable career as a sound mixer for the popular television series "Grimm," Cowan was consumed with guilt that the financial burden fell to her new husband. She also wasn't accustomed to being dependent on someone else to pay the bills.
But then she picked up some fill-in radio gigs and signed on to do voice work for a variety of airlines, producing flight crew training videos for onboard entertainment systems.
Then, in June 2012, out of the blue, Cowan's life-long friend Sara Cole asked about "The Log," the fantasy story Cole, Cowan and Danner had penned in college. Cole wanted to know if Cowan still had the binders with their hand written chapters. Her's had gone missing, she told Cowan, and she wanted to see it again.
"Since I certainly had time on my hands, I began transcribing our handwritten pages," Cowan said. "I emailed each chapter to Sara and Nancy and we took great delight in reliving our fantasy story in which we, of course, were the heroines."
Cowan soon realized, however, that the book had never been finished. Fueled by the story's re-emergence, the trio divided up the work and completed the storyline. Cowan then utilized book-making resources at Powell's Books to print copies for all three authors.
"I still had no job," Cowan said, "but I had a new passion. "The Log" had rekindled in me a love of creative writing — so different from the news writing I had done for most of my career."
For the next two and a half years, Cowan poured her energies into wrestling the 156,000-word story into a version suitable for publication.
On July 31, 2016, after several rejections, Cowan learned a small, independent publishing house, Ravenswood Publishing, would print "The Log." Renamed "Journey to Wizards' Keep," the book sets the stage for the July release of its' sequel, "The Hunt for Winter." A third installment is nearing completion.
Cowan's journey to reinvention at nearly age 60 hasn't been without its' share of bumps. These days, however, the view from the crest in her road is pretty sweet.
"Never could I have foreseen this new life," Cowan said. "I realize not everybody has an old book in their closet that can be used to reinvent themselves. But there is always something you used to love doing — go back to that. I get up every day with excitement now. From unemployed and depressed, I am co-author of a fantasy trilogy!"
"Journey to Wizards' Keep," by Sara Cole, KC Cowan and Nancy Danner, is the first in a three-part fantasy saga featuring Irene, Nan and Kay, three friends who join forces to fight a common foe bent on destroying their world. The book is available at amazon.com, in print and Kindle, iBooks, KOBO and NOOK formats. "The Hunt for Winter" continues the tale and will be available in July.