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

Thank you so much for the update. I think of you and your family often, and I'm glad you all are still doing okay! Hang in there.
Good God, man! I'm sorry for your predicament, as you know, but you had me laughing - hard - at the picture of you and yours re-enacting some scene from The Grapes Of Wrath.

So glad to hear from you, MM.
When I read the part about gold teeth I had a good laugh. Just the other day I jokingly told me dad (who just got a gold crown and laid off) to pull out his tooth and send it in. I thought he would chuckle but instead told me it didn't contain enough gold to make a profit. I guess times really are tough if you can't even joke about that stupid commercial!

Good luck, I know it won't be easy!
Most excellent to hear from the Halls of MM Manor. I was going on the assumption that you would wander back in when you got your brain wrapped around enough stuff that you could share.

Any desire or opportunities to try teaching? I was thiking college level stuff after some of the posts you had made. *shrug*
I'm just spit ballin' here.

Good luck to ya.
I'm in a position where I am afraid to let go of my employment because if and when I come back....I'm not certain if I'll be able to find work.

We are living our lives as best we can, and all we can do is smile through it. Or at the very least, make a best effort.
You could always work on your book?

Or script some comics.

And if you ever want or need something special I'll have Derrick pull it and we'll mail it to you soon as we get it. :)

Because I'd hate for you to miss Old Man Logan.

Just offering. Always look forward to your posts and hearing if you're doing okay.
Good to hear from you.

I sure hope you can keep your forest land. I wouldn't even mention it but I'm sure you'd think of it sooner or later.
It took me 13 months before I reached total panic mode -- let's hope you don't get there. It was 15 months from last paycheck to first paycheck. Sucks being unemployed.

If you get to the point where you're just 'considering' taking a position, then you ain't in deep enough. My advice: Take the job, if you're offered one. A steady paycheck, and the health insurance it comes with, is critical to supporting a family.
thanks for the update....your annonymous freinds back in the Granite State are breathing again. So glad you're back.
Okay, so so glad to hear from you again. And yep, I had to read aloud the "Ma Joad" moment just to savor the dialect in its entirety. Dude, praying for you and yours to reap all the joy you have sown, even in just this venue. (And to pay the bills with ease, of course... that's a given.) Honestly, this whole scenario seems like small potatoes given what you've been through and shared. You've already landed on your feet--now just pad on, man. You've got a !*@#load of people pulling for you.
Thanks for checking in, MM :) I was interested to read about your stages of grief, and look forward to Magical Thinking. Sounds exciting! :>
Thanks for checking in, I've been wondering how you were.

Scary times. We had two major employers here let a BUNCH of people go, and now half the restaurants in town have gone under. The impact has rippled quite far.

You, being you, will probably crash into a branch or two on the way down, but I have every confidence that you'll land on your feet. :-)
Glad things are going reasonably well, MM. Thanks for posting.

Thomas' question made me laugh out loud. And of the two, I think living with your brother would be marginally would certainly give you more material for a future novel.
Thanks for the update.

I have thought of you and your family often over the last few weeks.

It's funny, this internet thing. I've never met you, but I feel like you are one of my friends - even though you don't know who I am!

Please know this, I'm pulling for you!
Okay, just have to say, because lil gator mentioned it, and she isn't the only one to have expressed the fear:

I will NEVER let the land go. My Dad was laid off more than 20 times in his life and if he could keep it--and every other owner of that parcel going back to Grandpa Nicholas in 16-goddamn-34, by God I know I can.

All this means is my plans for it--I had this very cool idea for a writing cabin/tree house--will be back-burnered for a while.

Oh, and even if I was so inclined, I can't sell it anyway, because BB and I still own the whole parcel jointly and he ain't sellin' neither.

Also, the taxes are paid up. On into the next decade. And no bank nor man holds lien on it but yours truly and his Big Brother.

Hope that eases some minds (I swear, the things you people worry about...)

Glad you updated, I too have been wondering how you were doing from out here in the wide yonder.

I also wondered if you had considered teaching at the college level, I so would have loved a professor like you filled with interesting stories.

As a side note, I was laid off shortly after you were but with no severance and because of some poor advice last year, my unemployment runs out in 4 weeks and unless something changes soon, we probably will have to sell our house and hope that we can find something to rent for our family of 5 which also means getting rid of our dogs.

Here is to hoping for something good for each of us!
Methinks I erred and posted what I intended as a comment to this post on the post below it. Ok, sue me. I just need new bifocals I guess.
I saw though in comments on the first "unemployed" post that Suldog had suggested you do your book. Every writer has one tucked away in their mind or in some state of disarray on their computer someplace, don't they?
But gee -think of John Grogan and "Marley and ME!" Heck a best selling book and a movie too! Your stuff is just as awesome as his is. Okay -I confess -I like John Grogan and read his column in the Philly Ink for a few years steady a while back.
But your humor -not the same as Grogan's -but close, not quite as wacky as Dave Barry's but a style all its own, with a great edge to it. I'd be right behind Suldog lining up to buy a book -or a couple for that matter -although I would expect it to be an autographed copy, of course!
Just food for though. And also, to explain why I saw humor in the earlier post to. Well, the humor was there but not quite the same as in this one -which I loved. Making people laugh at a traumatic event like a job loss -now that is talent and in today's market, probably a topic that easily would be a best seller on its own, don't 'cha think?
As others have said too, considering how you've bared your soul on some really traumatic events in your life and managed to maintain a darned good degree of sanity -where lots of others might still be in the looney bin -I do have utmost confidence that you'll do like cream and rise to the top. But yes, it is a damned scary trip getting there sometimes.
"I swear, the things you people worry about..."

Yeah, but it's difficult for your readers (or me at least) to think that your state of mind/life has changed unless you post about it. And you were (understandably) PISSED OFF in your last post. So this time we get to learn that you still have your sense of humor, that you love your blog and that for a while you have everything that you need and that at least puts my mind at ease.

And while the thought of you selling your land never occurred to me, as a fellow comics geek, I sometimes wonder what it would take for you to sell Batman #1. This post would suggest that you'd change your wardrobe, your accent and move in with BB or the in-laws before you did so :p
so glad to hear from you again! I was starting to go through MM withdrawal. Glad to hear you guys are getting by and so far still have all 3 of your kids! I laughed out loud about BB's could you not see that coming?!? Hope that things get better for you soon and know that we are are still thinking of you!
My husband was out of work for just over a year in 2002. He thought he'd get a job right away and worked hard at it but nothing happened and it was starting to get very gloomy. Oddly enough, he was rehired by the original company that laid him off, in a better position, and has been there more than 5 years now.

I wish you the best, and besides, didn't you always want to teach?
Thanks for the update MM. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.
Having been through more lay offs between myself and my DH I think that your stages are very appropriate. The only thing that I think is harder is getting past the self doubt and gradual slide into depression the longer you are out of a job. I have several friends going through this same situation now and my sideline cheer is always the same, take the first job, any job that comes, even it it's McDonalds. Because it is always so much easier to find a better job when you don't have the total lack of job breathing it's horrible stench down your neck. I am very hopeful that you will find something soon and that it will lead you to a place where you are much happier than you were previously.
I don't want either of your daughters(no offense intended to anyone) but what are you asking for Blaze?
OH, and shouldn't someone be quoting Scarlett O'Hara's father about the Irish and their feelings about owning land?
We missed you!
I love reading your blog and am keeping you and yours in my thoughts. Thanks for always giving me a laugh, even in the not so good times...
Good to hear from you. Wishing you the best and hoping that you can keep the choppers.
Good to hear from you MM! Glad you're not totally giving in to despair. (Of course you haven't reached the SOUL CRUSHING PANIC stage.)

As someone who's been unemployed before (consulting is a feast-or-famine kind of thing), here's one tip I use to keep myself sane:

Write down the absolute worst case scenario you can think of if you don't get a job. In my case it was this:
"Have to move in with parents, never find a new job, die alone while lying in puddle of urine in welfare hospital."

This does two things for me:
1. I remember that it can always be worse.
2. It serves as a planning document so I have some idea of what to avoid.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll find something. Your command of the English language is too good to keep you from landing something new.
Awe, man. It's like I knew you were posting today. I had the strongest feeling while leaving the house that I needed to check in on you.


Sorry it took until lunch time to do so. but I am so glad that, at least here, you seem to be ok. Write that bucket of yours off, sir! And someone had better snatch you up right quick.

and Whew! Glad to hear that the land of your ancestors will one day be there for Thomas, the Brownie and the Eclair to take their children wandering about.
Thanks for the update, MM. While I didn't really doubt that you were certainly making it through whatever stages you needed, it's nice to hear from you.
I second lannalee's comments. This internet, it's an odd thing, don't you think?
MM- I am glad to read your voice again :)

Looking forward to updates. Sounds like time to think outside the magazine publishing box? I, too, would probably buy more of your books than any one person should be buying...

Hell, if you just put together some thematic compilations of some of your blog posts here, you could probably publish them... You've already got it half done - The Mighty Blaze; The Writing Life; Maximum Dad.

Just keep us up to date, and keep those spirits up!
My gosh, MM, am I ever glad to see you! I've been worried about you since you were, shall we say, a little on the postal side when last we heard from you. I'm glad to see you are doing pretty darn well under the circumstances and moving through the 2,496 stages of grieving the loss of a job. Seriously, thanks for the update. We really do care about you out here in wwwland.

PS That phone call to your brother? Totally. Cracked. Me. Up.
Me too! Thanks for the update. Thinking of you and your family often. Yours is the first site I've been checking every morning, waiting patiently, well it started patiently, then it got anxiously, then worriedly (is that even a word?!). Whatever. Thank you for checking in with all of us who while may not know you personally, we are out here supporting you just the same.
So thankful for the update, AuxMem and I have been worried. Please know we're thinking about you.

And I must say I sympathize greatly with your extra steps. This past week I suffered a miscarriage and have to agree the established stages just don't cover true grief.

Our thoughts are with you.
The other thing to remember about grief is it isn't linear. It goes back and forth, you feel better for a while, then you feel worse. But that doesn't mean you're falling apart or failing to move on, it's just the way it goes sometimes.
Hang in there dude. Maybe this free time will help you land that best seller you've been meaning to write!

Let me know if you need the AT-TE Tank Gunner back, that thing has to be worth at least $20 by now!
Your version of the Kubler-Ross scale made me think of this:

Thank you for the update. I've been worried about you.
In the good times, you have aquantances.
In the bad times, you have friends.

We are all here.
Provided that we can still afford to have broadband.

Have faith.

Verification code: hictia
been checking daily for an update.

why isn't SOMEONE writing a book?

or a weekly commentary?

can we start a movement? a petition? something! I don't want to see your writing just on this blog (no offense to the blog).

Cindy in CO
Hey there. Thanks for the kind thoughts. I had remembered HLS had been through something similar and wanted to ask you about it. But with your current situation, I felt that would have been kind of a "kicking you while you're down" thing to bring up. But thanks for the encouragement. We're making it through.
Glad to hear you're still keeping your head straight (even if BB has to come at it from the funny angle). With an 18 year track record, you should have a shot at whatever opportunities you come across. My 6 month journey through laid-offed-ness was pretty ugly (after 6 months of no income, my average income was still too high to qualify for a "normal" bankruptcy), but opportunities arose and one of them stuck. That's all it takes...just finding that one. Good luck, my invisible internet friend. As so many times before (and echoing so many others), thoughts, prayers, and good juju are flowing your way.
While looking for a new job can be a full-time one itself, maybe in the meantime you could do some crazy odds-and-ends jobs. Why don't you work a few weeks as a waiter or bartender, a few weeks on a construction site, etc... the experiences could be compiled into one hell of a memoir and be a New York Times best seller! Not to mention that you will show your kids that no job is "beneath you" when it comes to keeping the bills paid! Could be interesting!
So glad to see that you've posted again! I've thought of you often and hoped that you were surviving. Looks like you still have your sense of humor; loved the Pa and Ma Joan scene!

Please, please keep us posted on your situation.
I loved your update! Thanks so much. It is amazing the Worst Case Scenarios that run through our heads, isn't it? Also, there is noone like family to put your woes into a less dire perspective. Though if my bro laughed til he pee'd that I'd had a set back, I'd want to drive straight over (and I am 14 hours away) and kick him in the balls. ;o) Who'd be laffin' THEN? haha
May your grapes be ever wrathless,

Alison in Quebec
I work for the Times out here in Seattle so I'm pretty well aware of how hard-hit print media is these days (just ask the P-I). I've managed to survive two mass layoffs here but we'll see how my luck holds out. =) The tension out here is almost palpable.
I'm so very sorry for your predicament MM, I really am. You and yours have my best wishes and I still love reading your words as always.
We lost the SYSCO contract the end of last July ... I've been unemployed ever since. The extended family has run out of the joy of helping us ... I shop the employment office & newspaper ads ... and submit a resume for absolutely anything ... the temp agencies don't even call back ... down to living in 386 sq ft cabin ... had to get rid of everything that doesn't meet that lifestyle (and to pay the electric bill) ... the state said I didn't qualify for unemployment ... down to one old car and a couple of bicycles (gasoline is a premium) ... sucks to be "under-qualified" ... "over-qualified" ... or "not focused enough" ... those are all terms for too young to retire and too old for most employers to hire ...
I just found your site and was sorry to hear the news.

I saw your comment about e-bay and wanted to introduce you to E-bayers are joining by the droves.

No charge for listing, selling fees less, one page to list your item (get that, one page and four pictures, no cost) immediate help, wonderful friendly members. Just spreading the word and hoping to help others out.

God bless us all!
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