Friday, January 09, 2009

 

In Which She Says the Words...


The Chief, the top editor of the Really Big Magazine, called me into the conference room this morning. We were supposed to start our story-pitch meeting about an hour ago and now it looks as though we're finally going to get underway.

I bring my story proposals with me, stepping into the cool, dim room and sitting down opposite the Chief. But something isn't quite right: My supervisor, the executive editor, who always sits in on pitch meetings, is strangely absent. So is my department's graphic designer. Instead, sitting opposite me at the conference table is a big bear of a man, someone I've never met before. He sticks out a meaty hand and introduces himself.

"I'm from Human Resources," he says, a statement I find odd. I know everyone in our HR department. Then I look at the Chief, and catch the odd, guilty glint in her eyes, as she holds my gaze for a second, then breaks eye contact.

Oh, you have GOT to be kidding... I think.

"MM," she begins, "this is really hard for me…"

But of course, what she has to say next is hardest for no one so much as me.

She uses phrases like, "The company is having to make several hard decisions today," and "Everyone, even us at the Really Big Magazine, are being asked to make reductions," and "I think you know what I have to tell you."

I'll be damned if I'm going to be implied off the staff. "You know," I say to the Chief, doing my best not to sound angry or upset. "I'm not an idiot. When I started here 6 and a half years ago, my department ran up to 20 pages of content a month and I had 5 editors and two assistants reporting to me." I take a shaky breath. The big bear man from HR is leaning forward, apparently ready to act as a bodyguard and protect the Chief from me, should I decide to pull a gun or go for a jugular. I just shake my head and turn away from him, back to the Chief. "Last month, we ran 3 pages, and the department staff is now only me and one assistant. It's all been going in the wrong direction for some time now. So I'm not really surprised here."

I pause and now I'm the one having trouble making eye contact with the Chief. God, I've been busting my ass, taking on all kinds of extra work, jumping through hoops to make myself indispensable, and still it came to this.

Dammit.

"I just need you to actually say the words, okay?" I finally say to my boss.

The Chief is a pretty decent human being. She has always been kind to me. So her eyes are swimming with tears when she finally gets the words out:

"MM, we have to let you go."

Well, God damn it.

Eighteen years. Two trade magazines, a book publisher, and two large national consumer magazines. Assistant to associate to senior-associate to senior to senior-staff to deputy. Every nine years, I doubled my salary. I slept well each night knowing that I provided for my family, and helped provide for lots of other deserving folks too--my publication's readers; my friends in the business; new writers--some of them patrons of this very blog-- desiring a foot in the door, a single, first break into the biz.

I was pleased and not a little proud to think I had built up a career of distinction and value and accomplishment that was uninterrupted by the thing I had dreaded so much as a child, sitting at the dinner table in Goffstown, New Hampshire, and listening as my Dad explained to me what "laid-off" meant. He was at such pains to differentiate it from being fired, but all I understood was that, fired or laid-off, unemployed was unemployed.

And that's what I am now.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. There are a lot of people in a lot worse shape. A lot worse. I have no problem putting the situation in perspective for myself. I just didn't think I'd actually have to start finding that perspective right now, today.

So, now you know.

If you'll excuse me, I have to go to bed so I can get up in the morning and go sign up for unemployment benefits. Maybe I'll post something else later tomorrow. Maybe I'll be in a better mood then.

But don't count on it.

Yours,
From Nowhere on the Masthead


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