Tuesday, February 24, 2009


In Which I'm...Where...Wait...WHAT now...?

Sorry, sorry. I’ve been busy.


Preparing for my job interview tomorrow.

The one that will make me a college journalism professor. Somewhere.

Or not.

And if not, well, I still have about 10 more weeks of unemployment.

Oh, and that book proposal I need to work on.

The one my agent is waiting for.

(Ooh, did I bury the lead?)

More soon. I swear. Meanwhile, have a thought for me tomorrow.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Thursday, February 05, 2009


In Which We Work Through the Stages...

I don’t know what your opinion is about the Kubler-Ross scale—you know, the Five Stages of grief and loss (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), but I’m not finding it terribly useful as it applies to my current situation which, for those you who have forgotten (and after all this time, I could hardly blame you), is a situation currently typified by abject unemployment.

Which, for those you playing the home version of our game, is in its fourth week.

Like the pain scale doctors always try to use on my bad back, I find that the Five Stages is just a little too limited for my needs. I just find it easier to follow my own grief scale which, predictably enough, has a few more than five stages (but I'll only share a few with you today).

Useful Shock:

This is actually my favorite part--if there can be such a thing--of coping with grief and loss. I know a lot of folks talk about shutting down in an emotional crisis. That doesn’t really happen to me. In a weird way, I feel like a part of me--the calm, rational part of me that is nearly always dormant--wakes up. When my boss--excuse me, my former boss--told me I was being laid off, I was stunned by the emotional reaction of my coworkers. I mean, yes, I suppose I would have been disappointed if they hadn’t been at least a little down in the mouth. But I was unprepared for their level of shock and grief. My assistant--a capable woman of late middle years who in her off hours is an EMT who has faced with admirable stoicism the kind of human suffering that would leave me curled up in a closet with my thumb in my mouth--sobbed uncontrollably. Coworkers I’d barely spoken to in six years came from across the building to find me and shake my hand. One young woman, a designer of stunning beauty but somewhat severe demeanor (at least towards me. In truth, I always thought she hated me), raced into my office while I was cleaning it out and, to my total but delighted surprise, threw her arms around my neck and laid her wonderfully heaving bosom up against me while she told me how much she would miss me. And at that moment, I had to admit the feeling was entirely mutual.

But beyond that general sense of missing something--not least of which a steady paycheck--I was remarkably blank. I found myself focused on the job at hand. Empty the desk. Pack the car. Get home and break the news to Her Lovely Self before someone else did. Post the information on the blog. Find my resume file in the vast dusty hamper of My Documents. Begin again.

Rank Disbelief:

Unfortunately, by the time I celebrated my one week anniversary as an unemployed person, the last of the useful shock had worn off, and my, was I sorry to see it go. Because in its place was this headshaking, open-mouthed incomprehension that, despite my best efforts, my utmost craftiness, my every nuance of social engineering calculated to make others believe I was indispensible to the operation, I had been...dispensed with. It was inconceivable. After 18 years--what must surely be a record in my family--I had lost my job. What. The. Fuck. ?.

It was during this time that I called my Big Brother with the news. And while I think it’s safe to say his disbelief was almost as great as mine (“Are you fucking joking?”), I had underestimated his glee at the thought. (“HAHAHAHAHA! Oh, man, HAHA I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t be laughing, but geez, WHAUHWHAUHHAAAAA I wish Mum and Dad had lived to see this. I would be so much less of a fuck-up in their eyes. I mean, at least I never dragged my family halfway across the country, only to lose my job and be stuck in the middle of fucking nowhere. Ohh, AHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA--oh, man, I just pissed down my leg!”)

That brought this stage of the cycle to an abrupt and welcome end. Having your brother urinate down his leg at the news of your lost wages is about as grounding an event as you can hope to have.

Grudging Agreement:

In some ways, this is the most dangerous stage for me. Long about my third week of unemployment, and after a dispiriting day of reaching out to old cronies in the field, only to find I had fewer of those than I thought, I began to understand why I was in the pickle I was in. I found myself casting a philosophical eye across the landscape of my career and nodding, thinking, Well, you know, it’s not like you didn’t see this coming. The way the economy’s been, it was practically inevitable. But then I found myself thinking And you know, maybe they just decided you’ve been too much of a zombie, too much on autopilot since Mom and Dad died. Maybe you just brought this on yourself. In such circumstances, the only remedy is to shake my head and say, “Well, fuck that!” but I found it increasingly hard to do so. Still haven’t said it, in fact. Some stages stay with you longer than others. I'm still struggling with this one--it is in so many ways attached to my sense of self-worth. But it bores even me to talk overmuch about this part of the process and so I'm going to stop it now.

Unbridled Catastrophizing:

I entered this phase the other morning, when Thomas asked me if I had any gold teeth in my head.

“Why on earth would you ask me that?” I replied, although as soon as I did, my tongue was immediately roaming around the interior of my head. That crown? That was gold, wasn’t it?

“Well, you can sell gold, right? I’ve seen it on TV,” he said.

I quickly reassured my son that, in the first place, we’d only get so much for my crown, and that anyway, we’d be in a lot better position financially if we sold off one of his sisters, a statement that scandalized him. But once that train of thought started rolling, it was hard to stop. Even after Thomas left, I kept running disaster scenarios over in my mind, as unable to keep my imagination off the notion as I was to keep my tongue of that crown.

Just how bad could this get? What if I came to the end of my severance pay, or to the end of my unemployment benefits and still had no job? What if we lost our house? I tried to imagine moving out of the Magazine Mansion, our possessions--what few we had not sold off--lashed to the top and back of the minivan: desks and trunks and long boxes of comics, and even the dog in his kennel, like so much livestock, all hanging off the van while the kids sat, hollow-eyed, staring out the windows. Up front, Her Lovely Self sat, hair done up in a bun, hands clasped to the front of her threadbare shift, eyes staring straight ahead. “Ah cain’t buhleev it,” she’d say. “Ah worked this land with muh own two hands and now the bank done got it.” And then she’d cry. And I, sitting next to her in my patchwork overalls, my worn cap pulled down over my eyes, would reach over and pat her hand. “Don’t you worry, Maw. We’re goin’ to find a better place. Make a new start. Anywheres has gotta be better’n this.” And I'd put the van in gear and off we’d clatter, rolling down Indiana Avenue in disgrace as our neighbors came out to watch, the Family Whose Dad Had No Job.

Off we’d go? To where? To live with my in-laws in Ohio? To live with my Big Brother in New Hampshire? Wow, it’s hard to decide which scenario is worse there, isn’t it?

About then, I came back to reality and realized that we were a long way from losing the house.

And anyway, I don’t even own a pair of overalls.

I haven’t hit the next stage yet--that’s Magical Thinking, by the way, and I’ll get to it when I get to it. But for now, I thought I owed you all a letter. My Dad always used to send me out the door with the words, "Write when ya get work!" but I didn't want you to wait that long for some reassurance that, unbridled catastrophizing aside, I am well. Well enough, anyway. We are none of us wanting for any necessity and are even enjoying a few luxuries: Thomas and I have been selling CRAP from the basement on eBay and it has allowed us to continue funding the purchase of comics and art supplies and even an action figure or two. I have managed to tap a seam or two of freelance opportunities and have been far busier than I’ve a right to be, laid off layabout that I am.

But that’s no excuse for leaving friends in the lurch. So thank you one and all for your notes and comments of support and concern, and sorry if I gave any of you cause for worry. I’ll do my best to post here again, and sooner. You deserve it. And so do I. Being here is, after all, one of my life’s great pleasures.

And nobody can take it away from me.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

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