Category Archives: Unemployment

Listening to Our Better Angels: 1000 Voices for Compassion

1000Voices_zps11edff99

“One blogger shares a sentiment of compassion that resonates with another blogger. That blogger has a vision of more bloggers joining together as a whole to flood the internet with compassion much like tiny drops of water causing a ripple effect across the internet, across the world. Within two weeks over 1,000 bloggers make the commitment to share compassion individually yet together as a force so strong it takes on a life of its own because so many of us crave acts of good, positive deeds, a spark of kindness, empathy and good will that has been missing for some time.”
~ “Compassion Is In Our Nature,” as published on 1000Speak for Compassion

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” ~ Abraham Lincoln, Inauguration Address, March 4, 1861.

I’m blogging today as part of 1000 Voices for Compassion, a worldwide initiative to get a thousand bloggers to write posts about compassion, kindness, support, caring for others, non-judgement, care for the environment etc, and to publish these posts on the same day – today, February 20. The goal? To promote good.

It took me about two nanoseconds to sign myself up for this project. Blogging about compassion?  Easy.

Among the things I strive to do as a blogger is to use this small forum as a place to share with you what I care most about. Most of the time, that’s a good book or a new-to-me author I’ve just discovered. I enjoy sharing what I’m reading with you and I love talking about good books, especially with like-minded people.

Maybe it’s the been-doing-this-for-too-many-years nonprofit professional in me, but what I am most compelled to write about here are the stories of the people and the issues and the causes I care most about, such as:

the need for acceptance and greater understanding of people with autism and other special needs;

domestic violence and how it can leave a family shattered;

our country’s deeply flawed foster care system that allows a four-year-old girl to be all but forgotten and ignored by the Wisconsin child services agencies and professionals whose jobs are to protect her legal rights – and whom a judge has bounced from one, two, three foster homes in her four years after she was taken away screaming from the adoptive parents who loved her in their home;

the still-present reality of long-term unemployment and my belief that it will alter our country’s workforce and our economy forever;

the loss of so many creative, inspiring and loving souls to the epidemic of AIDS while our country’s leaders turned a blind eye, and why our legacy to those lost too soon must be continued striving for equal rights and protection for those identifying as LGBTQIA.

All of these topics have something in common.

Yes, they’re all ones that I have written about here.

But they are also subjects that tend to bring out the worst in people.

People with AIDS? “They deserve it.”  People who are unemployed and can’t find a job? “You must not be trying hard enough.” People who are abused by those they love? “Why don’t you just leave?” People who have a child with special needs? “You wanted to be a parent, so stop complaining.”

This is tame compared to what you’ll find on the comments section of certain websites or blogs or newspapers.  The haters are rabid – and becoming even more so. I’m not sure why people feel the need to be so nasty. Whether it’s the sanctity of feeling safe behind a computer screen under the cloak of anonymity or whether we’re just so hyper-stressed that we need to vent and take our anger out on some unsuspecting person or whether we are just so desperate to be heard, I don’t know.

So what do we do? I don’t know the answer but one thing I’ve started doing is not reading the comments – or, trying not to, anyway. Mainly my reasons are that it’s a time vacuum and also unhealthy for one’s soul. Even a few minutes spent with the comments makes one bereft of feeling – or, at the very least, numb. Not reading the comments is not feeding the beast, and it isn’t polluting my sense of compassion toward others.

(Edited to add: I need to clarify this based on, ironically, a comment from earlier today: I read all the comments here. What I’m talking about are the comment sections in the online editions of the newspaper or certain websites or whatever that just seem to fuel the crazy. With the exception of certain posts – mostly the adoption ones  – this isn’t much of an issue here on my blog. .)

I admit, there have been several posts where I’ve wondered if I should “go there.” I’m not a big-time blogger. I’m not going to change the world.

But deciding not to post about certain controversial issues doesn’t help with awareness and genuine healing. Because it’s a collective effort that starts with one person realizing a different perspective and gaining understanding.

We won’t get there if we don’t address the negativity and the snark that is so prevalent while re-committing ourselves to turn outward – not inward – toward others. And the good thing is, it’s easier to do than we think.

Notice those who are struggling and those who have suffered. As the quote (attributed to many people) goes, “Be kind, for we are all fighting a hard battle.”

Extend a hand or a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.

Be proactive in asking someone how you can help, or … just help.

Only then will we be able to fully hear the still and emerging voices inside us:

The song of our better angels.

To read links of #1000Speak Compassion posts from bloggers all over the world, click here.  

 

 

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Book Review: Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession, by Barbara Garson

Down the Up Escalator Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession, by Barbara Garson 
Doubleday 
2013
276 pages

“If you’re not a worker, not a consumer, and you don’t earn significant income from investments, then you don’t have much of a place in capitalist society. In the course of this recession millions more of us have slipped into that no place. Most of us will still manage to eat and keep our televisions connected. But it can’t be pleasant to live in a country whose elite have no regular use for us.” (pg. 269)

This quote, coming at the end of Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession, captures the feeling of this book pretty well. And we’ll come back to this in a bit.  In the meantime though, misery loves company, right? That must have been what I think I was thinking when I requested (and received) an advance readers copy of Down the Up Escalator from NetGalley.

(A disclaimer: this review is based on the audiobook narrated by Jeanine Klein as well as the print version from my library, which all the quotes are taken from.)

I’d imagine that the target reader for Down the Up Escalator is someone like me. Someone who has truly, honest-to-God been irreversibly financially impacted by the economy on each one of the three levels that Barbara Garson highlights in Down the Up Escalator – the housing/mortgage crisis (check), long term unemployment (check) and depletion of personal savings (annnnd, check!).

The personal stories of my peers are, indeed, at the heart of this book. As they should be. Those who Ms. Garson interviews span various demographic groups and have been impacted by the Great Recession. She traveled extensively across the country using her business and journalistic connections to find people affected by the housing crisis, who were unemployed or underemployed, who lost all their savings, who were seemingly in a state of shock that this had happened to hardworking, educated, middle class people like them.  Without their stories, there wouldn’t be a book.

So, I certainly didn’t mind any of the profiles which are supported by statistics. I deeply understand the situations of almost every person in this book (except for the last few mentioned toward the end, who had pre-Recession wealth in the millions).

However. 

The reasons I related so well to this book are the same reasons why I had a really hard time with it. 

Allow me to explain.

Down the Up Escalator has a very detached feeling in the personal stories. I struggled with this, because it wasn’t the stories themselves that were the problem. As I said, I could relate to them and the people behind them all too well. Instead, I think it’s this:

As a reader and as someone walking in the well-worn shoes of the people profiled in the book, the conversational, hey-let’s-have-lunch-and-chat-about-how-you’re-coping-with-the-recession interview format simply doesn’t work for me in Down the Up Escalator. I didn’t feel a single connection between the author and any of the people she interviewed, not even a GI that she met in a coffeehouse during the Vietnam War and reconnected with sporadically during the decades thereafter.

What Down the Up Escalator needed was a different structure, one with the focus more on the INDIVIDUALS and less on the verbal exchange between the author and subject. Because as it is, the result is way too much dialogue and interactions like these: (the “I” in the passages below is the author recounting her conversation with her interviewee):

“I wrecked Elaine’s mood by asking her to describe what happened on the day she was fired. 

‘The word is not ‘fired!’

‘I’m sorry, I just meant …’

‘Someone is fired when they do something bad. I was laid off because they found a computer program to do the invoicing.’

I apologized, stammering that to me a layoff meant something temporary, like a seasonal layoff at a factory. If they weren’t going to call you back, then ‘layoff’ was a euphemism. 

Feldman explained the term’s functional significance for him. ‘Laid off’ means you can still collect your severance and unemployment. You didn’t get fired for cause.’ (pg. 19)

and this:

“But bright, educated, unemployed people will surely drift into some kind of work eventually – won’t they?….At the rate at which full-time staff jobs are being phased out, the older long-term unemployed of this recession probably have less than a fifty-fifty chance of finding permanent, full-time jobs. But that’s statistics. All any individual needs is one job. (pg. 46) 

…for all my intellectual grasp of the downward trends for American workers, I just can’t believe that these four generous/selfish, mellow/excitable, unique/ordinary, and highly employable individuals will simply remain the long-term unemployed. Even though they might.” (pg. 47)

and this, in a conversation with a guy unemployed for five months:

“‘Maybe something more interesting than banking might turn up in one of those businesses,’ I suggested. ‘Down the line, I mean, as the economy recovers. Why not put feelers out?’

That got no response. 

‘Or what about teaching?’ I asked. ‘You seem to be good with children.’ 

Then I thought about all the teachers being laid off. What a stupid suggestion.” (pg. 103)

and this conversation, which comes across as somewhat patronizing, with a woman describing the frustration of trying to get through to her mortgage company on the phone:

“I was taking an Access-a-Ride back and forth to Manhattan, sometimes traveling four hours a day. Then you get home and call Ocwen, and it says, ‘The waiting time will be an hour and a half.’ 

‘They actually said an hour and a half?’ I asked dubiously. 

‘Do you remember that, Samuel? They would say, ‘Waiting time two hours,’ ‘Waiting time two hours forty minutes.’ So you take your food upstairs and you sit on the phone after work; you sit on the weekends. I called for months and they would put me in a queue.’

‘You must have gotten through to somebody, sometime?’ I said.” (pg.132)

and finally, this, to talk-Internet radio show celebrity Richard Bey (my Philadelphia friends will remember him from “People Are Talking” back in the mid-80s) who lost all of his savings in a Madoff-type investment fund.

“Richard,” I couldn’t help asking, “didn’t you ever think of the risk of having all your money in one fund?”

“Yes, Barbara, I did think about it,” he said in answer to my annoying question.(pg. 239)

There’s obviously a disconnect here. The author simply appears to be trying too hard to empathize with those she’s interviewing. And it backfires, which erodes the book’s credibility.

Because if you haven’t tried (or desperately needed) to sell your underwater house as your personal housing bubble was being popped by anonymous fat-cat bankers, and if you haven’t sat across from an interviewer and had to answer why you left your last position that you were laid off from and then answer the follow up question of what you’ve been doing in the six or nine or twelve months since, I think you can’t really empathize and understand what that is like for someone who has.

I listened to most of Down the Up Escalator on audio. While Jeanine Klein seems to be a fine narrator, there was just … a tone to this that rubbed me the wrong way. I then went back and read many of the interview portions (including those above) that I had difficulty with. I had the same reaction each time. I’m not sure whether it was the nuances in the audio narration or the actual words in print, or my coming at this from a personal place, but I had the same bristling reaction every single time.

Let’s go back to the quote that opened this review: “In the course of this recession millions more of us have slipped into that no place. Most of us will still manage to eat and keep our televisions connected. But it can’t be pleasant to live in a country whose elite have no regular use for us.”

This is contradictory. We never get a sense in Down the Up Escalator of how the recession has personally impacted the author – which is fine because this isn’t a memoir. But because that’s missing, the empathy is lost. One runs the risk of appearing elitist when making statements like “It can’t be pleasant to live in a country whose elite have no regular use for us.” 

No, it isn’t. It isn’t pleasant. IT FREAKING SUCKS.

We all have that friend, the one who means well but somehow always says the wrong damn thing. And that’s the impression I was left with from Down the Up Escalator. In no way, shape, or form, is this a feel-good book about our country’s economic future. It’s depressing as hell.

Perhaps there’s no better symbolism of that then the To Be Continued … portion of the book.

“I can’t quite bring myself to leave people I got to know personally – not to mention millions of others – in such distress. So I’ve created a Web site that we might call the ongoing book about the ongoing recession. 

A book eventually gets printed. But no deadline stops me from getting back to individuals to find out how they’re getting along. Their updates, taken together, may also give us some idea how the country is getting along. 

You can catch up with the folks you met in these pages at www.downtheupescalator.com.”

Except … well, you kind of CAN’T.

Because there ISN’T a website.

The link is broken. But, supposedly it’s coming soon. We’re to stay tuned.

Just like, I suppose, we’re still waiting for the end of the Great Recession that supposedly was over a few years ago.

2 stars out of 5

 

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She Blinded Me with Science (and $25 Bucks)

Doctor's Kit

Fisher Price Medical Kit (who remembers this?!)
Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, PA
photo credit: Melissa Firman, May 2009

So I finally got around to scheduling the kids’ well-visit checkups with the pediatrician.

We skipped last year’s visit – a fact that, when revealed to The Husband, horrified him as much as if I’d confessed I’d been cheating on him with the neighbor’s dog.

Not the NEIGHBOR, mind you. The neighbor’s dog. Because you see, The Husband is freakin’ religious about things like regularly scheduled doctor’s visits and flossing and all that grown up shit you’re SUPPOSED. TO. DO. He takes that crap VERY seriously. Me? Meh. Not so much.

My excuse for missing last year’s well-visit is The Cancer, which has been my excuse for … well, everything I want to blame cancer for screwing up. (Which is everything.) But, hey, we’re getting back on track with life now, sorta, so there we were in our lovely pediatrician’s office this afternoon.

(And really, this pediatrician practice is lovely. We like all of them very much.)

As tends to happen, the good doctor was running behind schedule. Of course.

See?  I’m thinking to myself. THIS is why I hate going to doctors. Exhibit A. The bullshit of waiting.

The nurse comes in to do all the pleasantries and prerequisites, and then makes us an offer.

“Dr. L. has two med students with him today,” she explained as a reason for him being late. “While you’re waiting, would you like to be part of a research study being done by Pitt on safety and risk factors in pre-teens and teenagers?  Your son fits into the right age group.” She went on to say that all that was required was to answer about a dozen questions on a laptop,

“You’ll get $15 and your son will get $10. Takes about 10 minutes of your time.”

“Sign us up.”

Because, dudes, FINALLY.

IT HAS FINALLY HAPPENED.

A doctor’s office paying me for THEM being late for my appointment. Cha-ching!

(Well, I know, not exactly, but work with me here, ‘kay?)

Plus, y’know, I’m kinda scraping the bottom of the unemployment barrel by living on borrowed time with 8 weeks left until they cut me off for good, and $25 bucks at this point is $25 bucks. (I’m hoping My Research Patient forgets about his earnings, although there’s little chance of that happening – he’s been gloating to his sister all afternoon.)

Besides that, I think this whole thing is freakin’ brilliant. You have a captive audience of potential research subjects right there in the pediatrician’s office. We’re at our wit’s end and our bag of tricks is empty in terms of distractions for the kids.

(I mean, forget fucking waterboarding: if you REALLY want to torture a terrorist, leave them alone with an infant or a toddler in a pediatrician’s office while waiting for a doctor who’s running 45 minutes behind. And if you really want the hardened convict to sing, leave ’em in there with TWINS and they’ll confess to anything. There were days during Betty and Boo’s infancy when I would have confessed to crimes I’d never heard of if it meant getting the hell out of medical jail.)

I’m quite proud to say that we did our part for science. So when you see an academic study come out with something like, ‘MULTI-GAZILLION DOLLAR FUNDED STUDY FINDS 11 YEAR OLDS WHO WEAR SEAT BELTS ALSO INTERRUPT THEIR PARENTS!” know that yours truly had a hand in this important research.

But the best part?

We go back to the pediatrician TOMORROW for another well-visit appointment, this time for Betty.

Send me some good vibes that HER doctor will also be running late, will ya?

My bank account thanks you as well.

 

 

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It’s a Small World, After All

I’m trying to imagine the conversation, trying to put myself in another person’s glass slippers shoes, so to speak.

I’m thinking the scenario goes something like this:

Two moms, both living with their modern-day Prince Charmings in Manhattan.

Both with children attending the same private school.

Mom A mentions that they’re going to Disney World for spring break and Mom B’s response is the all-too-familiar eye-roll, accompanied by the even more familiar been-there done-that semi-annoyed sigh.

That’s because Mom A and Mom B know what we all know – that even though Disney is supposedly The Most Magical Place on Earth, it can also be akin to The Seventh Ring of Hell (at least in my view) with wait times for rides being as long as 90 minutes, according to a poll of my friends via Facebook.

A disclaimer: I don’t wait 90 minutes for anything. Not a table in an overpriced chain restaurant, and certainly not for a 3 minute amusement park ride, Disney or no Disney. Hence, I needed to do the Facebook poll of friends who have gone to the Magic Kingdom as a family because The Betty and Boo Family has not made a sojourn to Orlando, Land of Required Childhood Vacation Spots. Nor do we plan to in the foreseeable future. 

(I know. My kids are dreadfully deprived.)

But! There’s good news for those who ARE sprinkled with pixie dust. Apparently it’s now possible to arrange for a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo! You now have a pumpkin in the form of a motorized scooter or wheelchair and your long-line ride problem is solved!

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Post, you can hire a disabled “black-market tour guide” (the NY Post’s words, not mine) to pose as a member of your family’s entourage and therefore easily bypass those pesky 90 minute wait times for the rides by taking advantage of Disney’s services for guests with disabilities. (Disney allows each guest who needs a wheelchair or motorized scooter to bring up to six guests with him or her to a more convenient ride entrance.)

This supposedly could have been arranged via a VIP Tour with Dream Tours Florida, a firm reportedly owned by Ryan Clement and his girlfriend Jacie Christiano, and will run you $130 per hour, or $1,030 for an eight hour day. (They are, according to their website, suddenly not offering such tours at this time “[d]ue to inaccurate press and slander.”) This practice was discovered by social anthropologist Dr. Wednesday Martin while doing research for her new book, Primates of Park Avenue. She is also the author of (in keeping with the Disney theme) Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do. 

Okay. Deep breaths. As you might imagine, I have a few issues with all of this.

First, let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute. Like all good movies, sometimes what we think we’re seeing isn’t always the whole truth. One reads that all these rich bitches are hiring these tour guides, which then somehow translates into our minds as there must be this underground secret stash somewhere of developmentally disabled people that Dream Tours is exploiting by renting out by the hour.

Which is entirely believable because we have seen such examples of such depravity time and time again, haven’t we? It’s our biggest fear as parents, as people who love someone with a disability, and it’s not impossible for us to go there, to make that leap, because we’ve seen the worst in people. (Hell-lo, Cleveland!)

We know and we fear the happily-never after side of how our kids and the most vulnerable are treated by the Cruella de Villes lurking among us.

But could it also be possible that Mr. Clement and Ms. Christiano, for whatever reasons – call it desperation, call it greed, call it whatever – are in this just for themselves? That they see this as a way for Ms. Christiano (who reportedly has an auto-immune disease and uses a scooter) as a way to make a few extra bucks? Who the hell knows how their business was really doing in this shit-tastic economy? Maybe it’s really just Ms. Christiano who is really the only “black-market tour guide” who is earning $1,030 a day by using her disability to help families get onto the rides faster.

I’d like to believe that. I really would. I’d like to believe that their bungled media response to reporters’ questions is simply a result of scared naivete, of poor crisis communications management. (And if that’s the case, I hope they get in touch if they need a PR strategist. I happen to be available.)

That still doesn’t make it right.

Because there are still a lot more things incredibly wrong and rightfully outrageous about this.

In my view, this story shows that we truly do live in a small, small world when it comes to employment and people with disabilities.

It’s a small, small world where only 20.7% of the labor force is made up of people with disabilities. (Source: United States Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy)

It’s a small, small world when the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is at 12.9%, compared to 6.9% for people without. (Source: United States Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy)

And it will continue to be a small, small world with the current dismal economy and the state of human services for the number of people with disabilities who need gainful, meaningful employment as well as those who will need jobs in the future.

We’re living in a fairy tale, going ’round and ’round on the same ride.

The only way this story has a chance of a happy ending is if changes are made. Because people with special needs deserve the same employment opportunities as all of us. Because if indeed there was a practice of employing and hiring people with disabilities for the purpose of skirting the system, then the outrage most certainly belongs with those who perpetrated such morally despicable acts.

And it certainly belongs on a mindset that sees people with disabilities mere playthings for the rich, as objects and goods to be bought and sold on the “black market.”

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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Governor Corbett Drops Trou, Pisses on Pennsylvania’s Unemployed

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Governor Tom Corbett held a Wednesday morning press conference to clarify his remarks about unemployed people being on drugs made on Radio PA’s “Ask the Governor” program.

In regard to Pennsylvania’s slippage from 7 to 49th in job growth since 2011, Corbett made a statement accompanied by a dramatic (and unforgettable) visual.

“Cake is too good for the unemployed people of this state,” he said. “And besides, none of ’em can afford it anyway. Instead, I say, let them drink piss!”

With that, the Governor ceremoniously unbuckled and unzippered his pants as aides handed him a urine specimen cup, which he filled and then promptly raised.

Specimen cups with Corbett’s campaign logo were then distributed among attendees in the crowd.

“Cheers to the hardworking people of Pennsylvania, who are putting us back to work!”

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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What Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day Means When You’re Unemployed

Exactly nine years ago this week, I was in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport sitting next to the co-creator of Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

We were returning from the same global women’s conference, one that would change how I viewed myself, my profession, and the world. At 35, I had just been appointed the first-ever executive director (and first and only paid staff member) of a women and girls foundation. A part-time position, my new job was the perfect balance for my desire (and, yes, need) to work and the need to be Mom to our then-2 year old twins. I remember feeling intoxicated with this work and in love with this fundraising career of mine.

As we waited to board our planes, the energy of the conference remained. I complimented Marie on her keynote speech. We talked politics, about Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day, about my toddlers. To her, I was probably just another person in an airport but I remember feeling heady, proud, and professional.

Nine years later, Toronto seems like a lifetime ago.

Something that happened to a different person.

I was different then.

I am even more changed now.

* * *
At least once a week, my 11 year old daughter asks about Take Your Daughter to Work Day.

(In her world, her brother is left at the door.)

She talks about this incessantly. About the projects she’ll be working on. About the people she’ll be meeting with. About what desk she’ll sit at and of course, where she’ll go for lunch.

I used to be part of these conversations.

I’m not anymore.

* * *
It has been almost a year since I was laid off.

After the foundation job that took me to Toronto, I took a position as a fundraiser for a domestic violence organization. Stayed there five years. We moved for my husband’s job during that time, which increased my commute by 2 hours a day. I stayed, mainly because I loved the work and the people and because I was fortunate to have a supportive boss who allowed me to create a flexible schedule and work one day a week at home. I will always, always be grateful for that.

But at some point, dumping $125 down your car’s gas tank each week isn’t sustainable (public transit and car pooling wasn’t an option) and I took a nonprofit job with a child abuse agency much closer to home. My role was to write grants and to increase awareness for the organization, and the result was the best fundraising year they’d ever had.

And a year later my husband was tapped for a better position – six hours away. Here in Pittsburgh. Where we knew nobody and the job hunt would start again. From scratch.

During a recession.

* * *
I didn’t mind the $20,000 pay cut.

It was a job when hundreds of thousands of people didn’t have one.

It wasn’t perfect, but I was going to do my best at this, and I truly believed I did.

But sometimes your best isn’t good enough for people who want the impossible.

And sometimes you aren’t the right fit for people who expect perfection.

And sometimes you don’t ask the right questions when you don’t realize you’re being lied to.

Regrets? Yeah, you could say I have more than a few.

But I also have some words of advice from a mentor from a long-ago internship, someone who believed in me and who still does, who once told me for very different reasons that we make the best choices we can based on the information we have at the time. That’s the best we can do.

It has become my mantra.

* * *
At dinner the other night, the kids announced they had to interview someone in their family about their job.

What if nobody in their family has a job, I thought.

They both called dibs on Daddy. The assignment was “Math in the Real World” and how that grown-up used math in his or her every day job. They started peppering The Husband with questions while I silently cleared the table.

“You’re not angry that we picked Dad, are you, Mom?” Boo said. “Because, you know, you kind of don’t have a job.”

“I’m not angry, baby,” I said. “Not about that.”

* * *
We live in a country of haves and have-nots.

Those who have dealt with long-term unemployment and those who have not.

Those who have not known this life leave know-it-all comments on blog posts like this and tell people like me to stop mooching off of the taxpayers and to just go get a job already at Wal-Mart and that I really must not be trying hard enough and that there’s no excuse and maybe I’d have a job if I didn’t blog so damn much and have I thought about going back to school to learn a trade and have I tried nonprofit XYZ because you know, those nonprofits they are ALWAYS looking for fundraisers, they’re always hitting people up for money, ha, ha, ha, and there are so many of them here in Pittsburgh (I know, I’ve either sent my resume to or interviewed personally with 27 of them) and oh, by the way, congratulations because this is what you voted for when you cast your ballot for Obama because Romney would have fixed this mess and given you a job by now.

Or they’ll say that it is just a matter of time, that I’ll find something, that I need to meet more people here, that  it’s all about personal connections. And then the personal connections really do make that call or send an email and the result is the same because a dozen other personal connections have pulled the same strings, with bigger favors attached.

Those who have known what long-term unemployment is like or who are living this life with me, well, you understand that I am lying when I say that it doesn’t matter whether I can Take My Daughter or Son to Work today, right?

That it doesn’t hurt when your child comes off the bus and tells you that half her class was at their parents’ workplace today?

You understand what I mean when I say that this fear goes deep, that you worry at what point does a parent’s long-term unemployment become something imprinted on their psyche, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe you see the anger, too, from your child who calls your former employer names and tells you that you were too good for them anyway.

And that you swear you can see yourself diminish more every day in your child’s eyes and that even though you know they will understand when they get older, that seems like such a long, long time from now and you would do anything in the world to stop that from happening.

* * *
My daughter is still talking about how many of her friends weren’t in school today because of Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day. (“A lot of people were absent,” she reported.)

(The Husband was home sick so he was out of commission.)

I tell her again about how I met the woman who co-created Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day. How we sat together in the Toronto airport. I sound like an aging football jock, talking about my glory days when I used to raise thousands of dollars for women and families.

It’s not much, but it’s all I have this year. I see the disappointment and I tell myself that Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day doesn’t matter, but it does because so many kids are in the same situation of having a parent caught up in long-term unemployment. So many, many families are like ours, or worse.

And that disappointment is what gives you the motivation to continue on, to slam refresh again on the job search board; to contact yet another colleague from 1995 on LinkedIn; to go to that networking event and the one next week and the one the week after that; to not take it personally when the place that you had two interviews with never calls you back; to pitch that editor with your freelance article; to cold-email that guy on LinkedIn who said he needed a content writer in hopes that maybe he’ll be the first client for your freelance business; to ask that friend if they know anyone at a nonprofit who might need a grantwriter; to downsize and dumb down your 20 years of experience on your resume, removing anything that makes you look overqualified; to try and do whatever it takes to keep your head above water –

– to keep going.

 

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breaking news of the bookish kind

outside the Carnegie Museums
Pittsburgh, PA
taken by me, September 2012

I’ve been given the green light to break some news in this space here – but first, some background of sorts.

Pittsburgh is the kind of big small town where people are, for the most part, very approachable. Maybe it’s our proximity to the Midwest, maybe it’s something that hearkens back to this city’s gritty steel past, but there is something ingrained in this town that makes folks naturally inclined to be helpful, to give someone new a chance.

(I happen to think it’s all that, plus a symbolic byproduct of being surrounded by all these bridges.)

As a transplant here, I’ve had a bit of a tough go of it, professionally-speaking. Unemployment and a now almost year-long job-hunt has changed me completely, permanently. Reinventing oneself sounds easy on paper; in reality, it’s damn harder than I ever imagined.

Fortunately, when someone in Pittsburgh knocks you down, three more usually extend a hand or an opportunity to help you back up.

On Tuesday, I happened to be in the right place (Twitter) at the right time (in the morning) when I spotted a tweet from Tony Norman, columnist and associate editor (and now, books editor) for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. We had met in October at Podcamp Pittsburgh through my friend Sue Kerr. Unbelievably, Tony had heard of my very blog.

So I emailed on Tuesday, then I found myself with Tony today talking books, and local politics, and about my 11 year old son’s ambitions to be Pittsburgh’s next mayor (hey, we sort of have precedent in such matters), and (who the hell knew?) our shared native hometown of Philly.

The result of all that?

I’m now among the Post-Gazette’s freelance book reviewers. I’ll be reviewing literary fiction and my first review should be within the next month or so.

I know, right? Needless to say, I’m beyond thrilled. Sure, it’s a nice notch in this writer/editor/blogger/consultant/whatever else comes along life of mine, but know this: not only does the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette give ink to books (a rarity among metropolitan newspapers) but Tony also seems committed to local writers. His weekly books column includes local books (including self-published works) that have been published in the past year. Yes, you read that right, folks.

I’ll say it again, for it bears repeating: a major metropolitan newspaper whose book editor gives print time to all books, the big bestsellers and your neighbor’s e-book alike.

Because that’s how we do things here in the ‘Burgh.

 

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