1. State the thing that makes you angry. Out loud. To someone you trust. Stating it out loud to yourself while thumping about the kitchen doesn't work. I tried that first. Saying it out loud to Joe cut the anger in half. Immediately.
2. Do something good. This happened by accident. I went to the Goodwill to drop off a batch of unwanted things. Then I stopped in the store. There I found two handmade blankets in the discard bin. One is extraordinarily unattractive, knitted up from acrylic leftovers, including a knock-your-eye-out orange. I like it because someone took the time to turn leftover strands into a piece of fabric that keeps a body warm. Its retro self will find a home on our brown couch. The other is bright and cheery and perfect for giving to Project Linus. The two of them together set me back $2.56, which of course doesn't make even a smidgen of a dent in the cost of the time that it took to make them. I'll wash them both up and send them on to their new homes.
When I left the Goodwill, I had a little lift in my step. Cut another 25% of my anger.
3. Work. I focused on cutting into my to-do list. The engaging work pushed the anger right out of my mind.
It's not all gone. But enough is gone that I can see how to take steps to try to reduce chances that it will happen again.
4. Walk. Yes, I know, I probably should have done this first. But I'll do it last. That should cure me.
Try it. Let me know how it works out.
I'll give a little post-layoff update in the next couple of day. And in the new year, I have some new plans for this blog. Sign up for an RSS feed so you know when these posts arrive.
And enjoy the rest of the holidays. Give your loved ones a hug. Give yourself a hug.
Loveland, Colo., December 16, 2008: Interweave announced today that Marcy Smith has been named Editor of Interweave Crochet magazine, effective today. She will report to Marilyn Murphy, Interweave's President and
Publisher of the Fiber Group.
"Marcy's strong background in print and online journalism, plus her passion for crochet, makes her ideally suited for this opportunity," says Murphy.
Smith joins Interweave Crochet from The News & Observer daily newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she worked for 10 years in several positions, including four years as the Crafts Columnist and most recently as the Literary Editor. Prior to The News & Observer, Smith was a copy editor at The Winston-Salem Journal.
Smith has been a crocheter since age 8 and is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Crochet Projects, Illustrated (Alpha Books, 2007). Plus she's a knitter, spinner, and weaver.
"Five years ago if you had asked me to imagine myself in my dream job, this would be it. I'm thrilled to be joining Interweave Crochet and look forward to building on the magazine's success and continuing to push the boundaries of crochet in new directions."
Smith has a PhD in American Literature from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, an MA in English from Wake Forest University, and a BA in English and Education, Albertus Magnus College. Smith will work remotely from her home in Cary, North Carolina with Interweave's Colorado office, at 201 E. Fourth Street, Loveland, Colorado.
About Interweave Crochet
Interweave Crochet is a quarterly magazine and website devoted to the creative possibilities of crochet, with fresh, smart, and stylish designs contributed by some of the most respected crochet designers in the country. For crocheters, knitters, and new crafters exploring the hook for the first time, there's something for all skill levels, all occasions, and all personalities with designs ranging from clothing and accessories to home décor. Website:www.interweavecrochet.com
Interweave, a unit of Aspire Media, is one of the nation's largest and most respected arts and craft media companies, with businesses in magazine and book publishing, online media, television and video programming, directories, and events. The Interweave Publishing Group features 18 subscription magazines and many more special interest newsstand publications sold on newsstands nationwide. Interweave has more than 250 books in print and
annually publishes about 40 how-to books on the same subjects as the company's magazines. Linda Ligon founded the company in the 1970s when she began publishing Handwoven and Spin-Off magazines. Since then, the company has grown to employ more than 100 people throughout the country, with corporate headquarters located in Loveland, Colorado and other offices in New York, New York, Malvern, Pennsylvania, Santa Fe, New Mexico, San Diego, California and Stow, Massachusetts. For more information on Interweave, visit www.interweave.com.
OK, really, I'm not messing with you. I can't tell you what my job is yet. I have to wait for the press release to come out. (Now you're really intrigued, aren't you?)
But I can give you a peek into my first day of work.
I went downstairs and logged on to my computer. Ta-da! I was at work! I had some phone conversations, I sent some emails. The emails were curious, because I didn't have a functional "B" key. I was supposed to hook up with IT, but really, I needed to fix my B first.
I couldn't send IT an email, because he has a "b" in his name. So I found his phone number and left a message that I was off to the Mac store. I got an email on my iPhone saying he'd be in touch later (for those of you unused to this, as I am, I'll clarify: He was working around my schedule).
Later, B key intact, we talked on the phone as he guided me through the process. We reached a point where I needed a password. I said, "I can't access that code right now." He knew and I knew and you know that I was really saying that I couldn't remember the dang thing. But he didn't suss me out. He gave me some instructions on how to download later. Then we talked about how to access email from my iPhone. He gave me several options. I wondered which was best. He chuckled gently and said, "You decide what will make your work day move along in the best way, and we'll make it work for you."
I know! Isn't that crazy?
I'm still swoony.
That's right. A real full-time job. And it's an excellent job. Exactly the job that as a kid I would have said: "That's what I want to be when I grow up!"
I can't tell you a thing about it. Until Monday.
Have a swell weekend.
I'll be offline for a few days, pursuing a venture or two. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves. Or amuse yourselves here or here or here.
And I've nearly recovered from Friday.
Shortly after I arrived at the yarn shop on Friday, I answered the phone. The woman on the other end wanted to know if we had any special hours or special sales going on. Since it was Black Friday and all. Nope, I told her. Just the usual fun.
Well, you'd have thought there was something going on. We were jammed all day -- biggest sales day yet by far for me. Whole families came in, looking to do something while everyone was together for Thanksgiving. Moms were teaching daughters to knit; grandmoms were selecting yarn to make gifts for all the grandkids (and, yes, all the grandkids came in to pick out their own yarn). We had buckets of yarn waiting to find a new home on the shelves.
It was a madhouse. And at the end of the day, I was done.
The day before, I had logged three miles on my Trikke (three miles on a Trikke, btw, is not like three miles on a bike -- it's a full-body experience). So my body was really, really done.
Saturday, I read & wrote. And Sunday, we all did this.
And, now, I'm just about ready to head back to the yarn shop tomorrow.
There were a few hiccups in the production, but in the end, she had some lovely packages to drop with the neighbors -- and a bit of fudge to share with our family. She loves to bundle things up, so she made the tags and tied the ribbon.
When she knocked on the neighbors' doors, they were a tad skeptical -- was she trying to sell them something? What did she want?
I just want to give you a gift, she said. Thanks for being our neighbors and all.
How's that? Just a gift, no string attached (well, except for those pretty ribbons). That's something to be thankful for.
Thanks to all of you readers as well. Have a lovely holiday.
Joe asks me what my day looks like. I tell him. He ponders, offers an idea. We riff on it until it blooms a bit more. I ask Joe about his plans. He tells me. I offer an idea. We riff on it until it blooms a bit more.
Then we clear away the dish and cups and head to our respective desks to work.
Our breakfast together shapes our ideas and our day.
And it's lots nicer than the granola bar and go-cup on the old morning commute.
I took the shawl and studied the pattern -- loopy and airy, it looked something like knit, but not quite.
"This is crochet," I told her.
No, no, it's knitted, she insisted. Her sister knitted it.
I selected a ball of yarn similar in weight to the shawl, then found a crochet hook. I began duplicating the pattern.
Another woman who works in the shop came over to study the shawl. "Oh, that's knitted," she said.
"It is knitted," the woman said. "She thinks it's crocheted."
They both looked at me. I held out my crocheted swatch.
They stared, mouths open.
"That's it!" said my fellow shop worker.
"Hmmm," said the shawl woman. She took the swatch and studied it.
"I studied books and books of patterns," she said. "I couldn't find it. My sister said she knitted it."
She was seeking an answer, and she found it.
It just wasn't the answer she expected.
I'm taking a little break from homework to get a little thing off my mind.
People ask me for help. This is fine -- good, even. I'm all about helping people. But there are two kinds of help I'm not keen on: Resistance to help and theft help (those aren't the best names -- I'm a bit at a loss here. Bear with me.)
The first kind of help has to do with employment advice. Folks ask me to help them find employment (I know, I know -- I'm laid off! Why ask me?). But actually I can help them -- except that right after they ask for help, they tell me all the things they're not interested in doing.
Well, I can't help there. Because my approach is this: If a door is open, walk through it. You don't know what lies through that door, and you can't afford to dismiss it without looking. It's like "Let's Make a Deal," where you have to trade in your winnings for something behind one of three doors -- it might be a bright shiny car or it might be a donkey or some other unsavory thing. Except in this case, if you've been laid off, you have nothing to lose. If there's a donkey on the other side of the door, and your mission in life does not include having a donkey, then you just say, "No, thanks." Nothing lost.
I offer this advice, then step away. I don't have time to persuade people of the advantages of this approach. They can do it or not. They can continue to pursue a dream job that may or may not exist right now, or they can take opportunities that come their way.
Tomorrow (well, today), I am walking through a door that opened. I don't actually have a chance to do the thing behind the door right away, because I have some other commitments. But I didn't say no. I said, "I have some other commitments, so I won't be able to work for you. But I'm really interested in finding out more about what you're doing. Can I come anyway?" And they said yes.
So I'll go and I'll learn and I have every reason to believe that I will gain from the experience. Learn what you can and don't say no. That is the gift of being laid off; you have time to explore. And, for me, maybe later the knowledge that I gain and the people that I meet will become a larger part of my life. And if not, I haven't lost anything but a few hours.
I am, as regular readers of this blog know, working in a yarn shop two days a week. This is a good thing; it is moving me forward in ways I can't explain quite yet. This door opened almost immediately upon my layoff. I walked through it. I have a PhD in literature and rhetoric. I could be doing other things. But this is a thing that moves me forward while allowing me time to pursue other endeavors. And I have learned a lot -- things I can learn only by working in a yarn shop.
And the yarn shop brought me to the other kind of help I'm not willing to give. Someone came in to ask for advice on a pattern I've been working on. I was working on it in the shop, so the person knew I was familiar with it. This pattern does not belong to me; it belongs to the designer who developed it and who sold it to a magazine that now sells it online. It has a trick or two that I'm willing to help a crocheter work through. But it quickly became clear that she wanted me not to tell her how to get past a tricky spot, but to tell her how to do the whole thing. I can't do that. I told her how to get it online, but then she told me why that wouldn't work for her. That was the end of the help I could offer.
Joe and I met with our financial adviser today. She seemed surprised that we weren't more stressed about the fact that I don't have regular employment. Well, here's how it is: We can do our work and be stressed or we can just do our work. Stress is counter-productive. I have my moments (btw, the picture on that post is of the bit of crocheting that I'm talking about above). But they are fleeting. Mostly, I focus on things that are moving me forward, and I have faith that one or all of them will pay off in time.
Faith is good. Nurturing it is the help that people need.
Look! Every leaf from every tree all of a sudden between today and yesterday! Whoosh!
That's how it's been with me and job possibilities. They are raining upon me. It is an abundance and makes me want to dance about -- though the ground is slippery and I have to watch that I don't take a tumble. My original post-layoff plans are still simmering as well, and I'm still taking that bird-by-bird approach.
There is one job that I especially would like to do -- it promises to be engaging and challenging and employ many of the things that I love to do, as well as allowing me to learn new things. And lest you think it's all about me, I feel I can do good things for both the company and its consumers. The job is kin to this :
an autumn rose blooming amid the tumbling leaves. And I'm ready to plunge right into it..
or maybe this metaphor is better:
(and, yes, I took all but the rose picture today -- crazy nature. I took the rose picture Wednesday, but it's still blooming ...)
I'm having the same issues. I can see the nips and tucks and desperate measures playing out on the pages. I can see work that is undone or overdone. I can see typos and missteps and odd judgment calls. It's hard not to care, after all those years.
It is part of the newspaper's job to engage readers, to make them shout at the page, write letters to the editor, engage in a dialog.
That's not what's happening with us. We care too much about the type itself on the page, how it got there, why it is where it is.
We need to let go. This is probably some step in the grieving/ recovery process. We need to fully separate. Then maybe we can engage again, on a different level.
Hey, look at that! I had to make three lame things before I made that (ok, technically speaking, I didn't have to make three lame things before I made that -- it just happened that way.) This is a clear ornament wrapped in sparkly yarn crocheted into a lacy snowflake pattern. I made it up -- not the concept, just this particular wrap. There are books of crocheted ornament covers -- many in questionable colors (think royal blue and that yellow that appliances used to come in). I wanted a pretty simple, pretty dazzling design, one that I could teach to others who have minimal crochet experience.
It takes a while to develop something simple. I kept trying to get to the end before it was ready. Finally, I let it ease into itself, stretching around the glass. Once, I let it go too far, and I had to ratchet it back again. Easy-like, of course. That's real glass.
And then, it was done. Fits perfectly, like I'd planned it that way. So what if the most interesting part is on the bottom. So what if I have little kinks in my back -- kind of like those little chains in the crochet. It's something I've been meaning to do and it's done. And tomorrow I might just do another.
A friend sent an essay on Autumn from "Let Your Life Speak" by Parker Palmer, who writes: "In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time -- how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do, how the 'road closed' sign turned me toward terrain I needed to travel, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know. On the surface it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown."
Yes, all that -- and the aching beauty of dying in the dye of the leaves leaving.
So, today at the knit shop someone came in for help getting her scarf started again. She had end-stitch issues that resulted in a snarly mess of something that wasn't a scarf. So we started over. And for the life of me, I could not remember how to cast on. I was completely baffled by it. I knew there was a way to loop the yarn onto the needle. I'd done it a million times. But it wasn't happening. Fortunately, a customer was on hand to take over. She showed the long-tail method, with a little ditty involving going around and behind and through the hole. It worked for both teacher and student. As for me, I can't even recall the ditty right now.
This is what happens when the mind is dazzled by details. Basic information goes out some other hole.
The shop is very busy. In the past couple of days, several people have left a lot of money at the store, in exchange for balls and skeins of lovely, sparkly, fun fiber. Hardly any practical stuff. Some are for presents. Some are presents for the knitter herself (we had one fellow come in -- he was looking for a copy of "Naughty Knits" for his girlfriend). Several have come in to learn to knit (don't ask me! I can't even cast on!), several to relearn after several years away from the craft. The slumping economy is not evident in the knit shop. Some are openly celebrating the election with good gifts for themselves and others. At least one was wallowing in perimenopausal self-nurturing (we support this, keeping the AC low and the mood high). A blind woman came in to see what bright colors she could gather, to make hats to donate to others.
All good. All dazzling. All a new kind of challenge, staying up & alert for eight hours.
So some things slip through the hole. They come back.
I remembered, later, how to cast on. And I cast on 100 stitches to start a new project. The picture there does it no justice -- it's babykid mohair in a lovely moss green. I have 58.5 inches to go.
Like that thing? It's cool.
I had to do & redo it three times. I'm OK with that.
Yesterday, I would not have been OK with that. Yesterday, even the ding of incoming mail was enough to set me off. Today, not so much.
Stress is the collision of expectation with reality. Yesterday, I expected to be able to do a set amount of work in a given time. And the reality was that the time had to be spent differently. It took me a little while to recover from the collision and adapt to reality. Once I did, life was better.
And today, I was able to do that work. And I was able to do and redo this thing three times.
And did I say: I'm OK with that.
Much of my work this week was meetings to set up ventures. This is good. But it's not writing.
Here we go: Let me write to you about a remarkable woman named Karolyn Cleveland. I went to her memorial service on Wednesday. She was 97 and sharp as a tack -- sharper. She was felled by pneumonia which came quite suddenly and took her very quickly.
Karolyn called me last year, to talk crafts. I met her at her new home, a graduated-care facility. She had her own apartment. Her son, who had had an aneurysm, was in skilled nursing at the same facility. Her daughter-in-law, who also had had an aneurysm, was in assisted care. Karolyn visited both daily. She made sure that her friends got out of their rooms at least once a day. She logged miles down the hallways each day. She reminded younger friends of things they let slip -- not by telling them the correct answer, but by encouraging them to stretch their own memories to come up with the answer.
Karolyn drove a car into her 80s. But when her grandson totaled her car, she decided she didn't need to replace it.
When a fiber friend of mine moved to the same facility, I told her to be sure to look up Karolyn Cleveland. My friend moved in on Monday, and Karolyn introduced herself to her on Tuesday. They enjoyed several fine adventures during the few months they were friends.
Karolyn and I had some good conversations about knitting and about charity crafting. She told me once that the folks around her had amazing stories -- but too often she didn't learn them until after they died. Here is the amazing story of Karolyn Meyer Cleveland's life. And here is another.
Thank you, Karolyn, for sharing yourself with me. I'm sorry we didn't have that last conversation. I'll catch up with you later.
4:30: Notice the time. Look at the tasks left to do. Determine what can be done in one hour and madly go about doing them.
5:30: Notice the time. Look at the tasks left to do. Pick one that must be done. Do it.
5:45: Jump up from chair like it's on fire. Log off, swearing at the computer that YES, I am SURE I want to log off.
5:47-6: Drive like mad across town.
6: Sign child out of after-school just under the wire.
6-6:30 Navigate after-work traffic, listen to tale of daughter's day.
6:30 Arrive home, think about dinner. Think about take-out.
Now it looks like this:
4:30 arrive home with daughter, who now takes the bus to a nearby express stop.
4:30-6:30 Afternoon light moves across the living room as I crochet and my daughter does her homework. My stepdaughter works quietly in her room. My son practices trumpet not-so-quietly downstairs. My husband works in his office. My daughter and son go out to play. I think about dinner, crochet one more row. I go to the kitchen, get some cooking started. I crochet some more, cook some more. We all sit down to dinner together.
And, tonight, afterward, we did this.
Huh, not bad. Until I wrote all that down, I didn't feel like I got much accomplished today.
I did not take a spin on my Trikke or go for a walk. Still trying to fit that in (it's too easy to put that off, even though I always feel better afterward. It's on the list for tomorrow, between some errands and writing and a trip to the dentist).
I did not do any fiction writing. But there may still be time tonight ...
So, there you have it. Not very exciting. I'll try for exciting tomorrow.
(And lest this sound depressing, I just want to note that I'm not depressed. In fact, I took a moment or two today to glory in the fact that I could just read, tidy, knit for 20 hours. And I didn't have to work at the newspaper tonight. I did my homework. And now I'm going to bed.)
To boost my income, as well as my knowledge base, I am working in a knit shop two days a week. The knitting part I know; the retail part I'm a bit rusty on. I haven't worked a cash register since I worked in a shoe store in college -- and back in the day, we pushed buttons and the machine made a ringing sound. The whole computer check-out thing is fine, but the swiping of cards & doling out of correct change is a different thing. It's interesting to broaden one's skill set this far into one's working life. And interesting to say about a hundred times, "Yes, thanks for your patience. It's my first day."
And also: At the newspaper, I sat on my tuckus all day long. At the shop, I stand. All day long. Occasionally, I sit to help a customer with a knitting question, but mostly I stand, stoop, reach, wind (yarn, that is), and generally am up and about. I don't eat, because there's not really time.
I'm actually the go-to crochet person in the shop, what with the book and all. I'll be teaching a few crochet classes a bit later.
But for now, I'm going to go put my feet up.
Some days, I write a lot. Some days, not so much. But every day I'm thinking about writing and shaping what I've already written. The other night, I logged on to change jsut one word. It was the right word.
Today's new words were the bare bones of a book. Another book! I have five book ideas right now. I have to go back and reread the "bird by bird" entry to remind myself that I can't get down all the words at once. Every bit of drafting, revising and proofing moves the work -- this very delightful work -- forward.
Anne Lamott wrote a fabulous book on writing called Bird by Bird. The title comes from a story about her brother, who had a report due on birds the next day. He despaired as to how he would complete it in time. Their father suggested that he just take it "bird by bird."
I have taken this advice to heart beyond writing, as Lamott herself suggests in the subtitle, "Some Instructions on Writing and Life." I have numerous plans, much I want to do right now already, OK, yesterday would have been better. I can't do it all at once. And the first task I set out for myself (a book proposal), I completed before the layoff even and it was met with enthusiasm, with a request for a follow-up sample. As with all things (and most especially home-improvement projects), everything takes longer than one might hope. I am writing this forthwith, and moving some other projects along in the process. They will all take time. Longer than I might hope. But all I can do is one bird at a time.
To remind myself, I have knitted a bird (the pattern is in Folk Hats. The wee fellow hangs over my desk, where -- when I glance up in moments of overwhelming so-much-to-do-ness -- I can see it.
Today: I spent lots of time with the kids; I revised my chapter; I threaded about 30 stitch markers. These things all move me toward tomorrow.
Bird by bird.
A rather slender Saturday paper provided reports on deep-fried mac 'n cheese and pecan pie at the State Fair. Page 3A had a picture of Obama and McCain, nicely balanced. Carnivorous plants ate up the front of the Home & Garden section.
The pool is officially closed. We're holding off on turning on the heat. It could be a cold winter.
We were talking with a couple who are journalists for the Idaho Stateman (another McClatchy paper). We had several conversations about the state of the newspaper business. In fact, both of them were in the process of re-tooling just to stay employed at the paper. The husband moved into management to head up the online division. The stresses they operate under would probably sound familiar.
Like everyone else, I worry about the consolidation of the newspaper business into basically three hands: McClatchy and Murdoch and Sam Zell. For over a century, Mencken-era journalism was dependent on the nobless oblige of the wealthy families that owned and operated this country's newspapers (Bancroft's, Graham's, Sulzberger's, and their counterparts at the local level). Local ownership sold out years ago, and now we are beginning to see the same thing at the national dailies (e.g., Bancroft's selling their stake in the Wall Street Journal to Murdoch). Let us all hope for the sake of the country and the 1st amendment that the Sulzberger's do not sell off the NY Times.
Jeffrey Brown (NewsHour) recently did several pieces on the state of the newspaper business.
Check out the links. Let me know what you think.
Here's what I think:
Thanks for the links. These are fascinating conversations. What's most fascinating to me is that they don't happen in the newsroom. There's not enough time. Journalism is really vital to our democracy. When countries go over to dictatorships, the first thing the do is squelch the media. Journalists keep politicians accountable for their actions.
What makes journalism strong is the believability of their stories. The people who ensure that strength, that truth, are the editors. Inexplicably, newspapers are killing off editors. Even if they go to an online venue, without editors, their product will erode.
I got my termination papers today (that's what it said: "terminated.") The reason given was "position eliminated." My job title when I left was copy editor. I was also a section editor and a columnist (two columns, actually). My books editor position will not be officially replaced. My copy editor position was spread over four part-time and/or temporary copy editors.
The wealthy families actually gave the journalists far greater freedom than the big companies do. The big companies are ad-driven. They run newspapers like they'd run a widget factory. The wealthy families didn't need to be ad-driven. They were truth-driven. Other newspapers gave journalists an edge of competition; with the mergers, there is no compelling drive to get the story. And with reduced staff, their jobs tend to focus on reporting news, with very little room to investigate news.
Yes, it's a very dangerous situation.
I'm going now to brush up my short story for a fiction contest. Less dangerous.
But that first day, I had the time, finally. It was a good thing. I registered and asked a bunch of people to be my friends. I made a lot of friends and my day was punctuated with messages from people at the newspaper and from college. This was a good thing. At work, I fielded emails all day long; this was not a good thing. But the steady stream of email at home lent a sort of normalcy to that first day.
It's a very seductive thing, Facebook. It's easy to spend a great deal of time on it, chatting and looking for people. Fortunately, I had a great deal of work to tend to, so I avoided the trap of constant communication. However, the intermittent connections have been very good. Every day or two, I'm in touch with my former co-worker who also took the buyout. It's been good to stay in touch with how these first days are going.
I'm a bit Ludditeish on Facebook. I don't know all the etiquette & am not hip at all to the games and what-not that are available. I'm not great about replying to all the queries, mostly because I don't want to talk to everyone about how things went down at the newspaper and about my plans for the future. They're just curious, you know. I only want to talk to people who are really invested in how things are going. Selfish, in a self-preservation kind of way.
A short time ago, a friend from the Way Back Machine found me on Facebook. Turns out, he made a similar leap from his job last year. Good to know. He also told me about a person who is doing very interesting quilting work. She lived very close to me until recently, but has moved across the country. Facebook makes it possible for me to get in touch with her and to find out more about her work.
It has also been very good getting back in touch with my friend. It also helps me get back in touch with myself and what it was I loved Way Back When, when I was first shaping my future, before I was sidetracked into making a living.
Time was, this blog wasn't even a part of my life. Now, I'm away five days and I've felt its absence.
The first three days were fun -- we headed out on holiday. You can read all about it here and here.
Monday, not so fun. Started off writing, then was felled like a tree in the forest by -- what? I'm not sure. I think it was cumulative fatigue. Just couldn't do a thing.
I think I underestimated the stress of the past few weeks (months, years ...). I suppose if you've kept up with the blog, you might be thinking, "Well, yeah, this is Stress City, baby." But frankly, it didn't really feel that way. Even in the peskiest times, it was so clearly the right choice that I never thought out loud about being stressed. Optimism? Maybe.
It's kind of painful having a sick day when you're your own boss. Nobody else is going to do the work that you have planned to do. It will just have to get done the next day. And if you miss a deadline (and, yes, I do have deadlines in my life again), then you lose out on opportunity.
I tend to work in cycles of alternating super-productive days and ok-productive days. Last week was super productive. This week cannot be just ok-productive.
So, with that in mind, I'm off to bed. Mucho writing tomorrow.
Actually, it's not the bonbons I crave, but more the emptying of boxes and sorting of stuff that will bring order to my random office space here. I need to carve out the time for that because it will make my work much easier to do. Probably.
And did I say? I'm really loving everything I'm doing. I love the writing, the talking, the emailing, the communicating in real time with people who are interested in moving forward with me.
It's been a very large week so far.
Leaving the newspaper is like that, too. As I come past the initial separation, I discover that I have severed myself not only from the immediate crush of an overwhelming workload, but also the slights and oversights that punctuated my work at the newspaper. It is difficult enough to do the work; it is soul-bruising to be continually undervalued for the creative work that you can eke out between the numerous maintenance tasks.
It is the appreciation of my work now that underscores the underappreciation.
I have received many kinds emails from readers sorry to see me go.
And I spoke with the editor today about my book proposal. She said that initially the topic intrigued her not at all. But she read it and found herself drawn by the voice.
The voice! This is something that nobody at the newspaper ever commented on. I have waited my whole life for someone to appreciate my voice. And I find that person two days after leaving the newspaper. Holy mackeral.
So, I have direction there. I need to write a bit more for her, to show that the voice can sustain itself.
On Wednesday, I began the day with a brainstorming meeting for a board I'm on. Very lively & creative.
Then I wrote a short story. It's been a very long time since I've written any fiction. It was good.
I spent the afternoon crafting business cards. Creative. Fun. Down-time for the brain.
I went to a pre-book event for Joe. Very engaging.
I went to a book reading by Ron Rash. Afterward, I talked with someone who 1. encouraged me to apply for a writing grant and 2. asked if I was interested in media consultancy work.
In these three days, I have accomplished more creative work than I have done in a year. I have talked with people about engaging topics. I have exercised my brain.
Not that I want this to be all about me -- but right now, it's good to be me.
* signed up to bake cookies & brownies at my daughter's school
* drove my daughter to school
* bought home-office furniture
* unpacked some work-office files and put them away
* took a ride on the Trikke
* did laundry
* logged on to email
* read email that editor in chief liked my book proposal and wanted to be in touch
* set up two coffee dates to discuss venture-related topics
* sent agent an email about dismal sales of Book 2, which sells dismally because it is not in the bookstores
* registered for Facebook
//two hours later//
* made some friends on Facebook
* made some biz cards
* took a nap
// two hours later //
* email from editor-in-chief herself who says she really liked book proposal. phone date set for tomorrow
* email from knit shop owner wanting to discuss possibilities. phone date set
* went to knitting group
* knit shop owner called to discuss teaching classes, selling Book 2 (which the agent did not reply about), and working a couple of days a week.
Meanwhile, at the newspaper today (I found out through some Facebook friends), the computer system was crashed all day.
Within the hour, I had two potential buyers for my book (if only they could find it in stores -- must write to my agent tomorrow about this). And someone who works in a knit shop thought it would be great if I could teach some crochet classes. And, hey, why don't they fill the window with products from my book! And an idea for a book was born. And a possible connection for some writing jobs. Quite a productive hour & a half!
Later, online, I found email for more knitting connections and folks who wanted to talk books and folks who wanted to meet for coffee.
It's very nice to know that I can have an identity separate from the newspaper. Again with the divorce analogy. Remove the Mrs. and just be. When I divorced, I reclaimed my name. And when I remarried, I kept my name. It is I.
Separate from the paper, I have more freedom to apply my skills in new and different ways. I had a fair amount of freedom with my columns, but the daily tasks of copy editing kept me from fully exercising my freedom. Now, I can focus on a single job until it is done, instead of interrupting it several times with other tasks. And my brain is free to move and stretch. I had a little brainstorm tonight about how to organize my Web site to incorporate all my ventures. I had not been able to see that before.
And I haven't even officially started my layoff yet! Let's see what tomorrow brings. The plan is to do some serious decluttering -- but I'm open to creating as well.
Let me say first, though, that it's very odd to see the accoutrements of my cube around the house. In the kitchen is my oversize soup mug. On my "new" home desk is the picture of Joe and me that had been on my newspaper desk for two years or so. They are both familiar and unfamiliar -- not quite out of place, but still standing out.
I started my day with a ride around the 'hood on my new Trikke. This warrants a blog of its own -- so later.
Then we headed out to a six-hour bike race that Joe signed up for. Crazy, I know, but he loves it. It began at 3 and ended around 9 -- yes, that means they ride in the dark.
We thought we might hang out for a little while, then leave for a while. As it turns out, we stayed for the whole six hours, with a quick drive out to fetch dinner.
What did we do? Not much.
I knitted (a chemo turban). I took pictures of the kids. I sat. I watched. We talked. We walked.
Every now and then, I'd think, I have to go do ... then I'd remember, no, I don't have to do anything but be here. I don't have reviews waiting to be edited. I don't have to hurryupandgetsomethingdonesoIcangettowork. I'd get a pang of remembering being at work at 2 a.m. on a Sunday night. And I don't have to do that again. I don't even have my passcard anymore. I don't even have access to reviews anymore. I don't have a title anymore. I don't have responsibilties to anyone but myself and my family.
This is both painful and liberating.
I checked into my various online connections and found notes from readers and friends. One note asked for some advice -- this one was most encouraging, as it indicates that I can continues to serve that purpose. One was very humbling. Here, I'll share it:
I just read in the [crafts] column that you will be signing off the newspaper now, and I wanted to let you know what your columns have meant to me. I was a passionate quilter for 20 years until 9/11, and then suddenly felt the need to knit. I was knitting along in my little world until I saw the Hallowig pattern in the [newspaper]. I actually made one for a college professor friend! But through this I discovered knitting on the Web, and oh, what a world opened then– Knitty and the Yarn Harlot and eventually Ravelry. And through that, knitting podcasts (of which I now subscribe to 8), travel (Stitches East), and learning (after 2 years of work I received the Master Knitter designation from the TKGA.) The column also connected me with local meetups.
So many, many thanks for taking crafts seriously and opening up a vein of happy enrichment for my life.
One of my colleagues said a few words and said one of the things she really liked about me was that I have a life outside the newspaper. That is a very good thing. I can now let that whole life bloom.
And I'm pretty sure those pangs will ease off soon. The benefit of them is to remind me that this is a good thing, that the work was squishing me.
Well, this was an extraordinary day. Again, very emotional, Again, affirmation that this is the right choice. Again, the occasional jagged edge of fear -- not that I'd made the wrong choice, but the fear of stripping off one identity and leaving it behind. A day of occasional flashes of "this is the last time I'll be ... parking my car here ... using my badge to open the door ... sending the Home & Garden section ... sitting at this computer ... editing a review ... logging off."
It was curious to hear my boss' description of my job - which amounted to being an expert recipe editor. I hate to think that 10 years of my life amounted to being a good recipe editor. Never mind editing books, writing a Crafts column, writing a blog, soliciting fiction and poetry, editing Travel. This was an affirming moment for me: This is the right choice.
The farewell party included six other people who were departing (other farewells were held in other departments). The end of the day brought a flurry of farewell emails. Lots of empty real estate in the office.
This evening, I went to post a few blogs that lingered and found my blogging powers were gone. This was a transitional moment for me. I simply shifted from the work blog to my home blog.
This day was again reminiscent of divorce. It reminded me of leaving the house for the last time -- packing up, then gathering some final things after the movers had taken my possessions to a 700-square-foot apartment. I was certain that the choice was the right choice, but it gave me a pang nonetheless to leave the place I had lived for 10 years.
It's scary heading into a new land, where I will try to live by my skills alone. I will be my own boss. I will create my own schedule. The products I, and Joe, create will be my own, and Joe's. And, when all is good, I will make some money, too. I really want to make this work.
OK, I don't want to get all Hallmarky. More later.
No kidding. 14 hours worth. And that last bit of Band-Aid that was still attached got ripped off by someone else. It was a physical and emotional roller coaster.
It's one thing to be replaceable. Another to see yourself being replaced, bit by bit, over the course of a very long day.
My job will be dispersed over about six people. It's not that I did the work of six people, but more that my job was so diverse that it needs to be distributed over a wide area. Plus the staff is so thin that it needs to be parceled out in bites small enough for each person to take on without going all Mr. Creosote.
Identifying what they need to know out of my accumulated experience has been the bulk of the work today -- woven into finishing up farewell columns for Jobs 1 & 3, and doing the editing work I regularly do on this day. And Job 1 has been a thorny hand-off, with some reluctance to do the work I did in the same way. That, of course, is not my problem, but I need to make sure that they have the tools to do the job in whatever way they see fit, while also doing my best to protect the Copy Team (also not my problem, but loyalty runs strong among deskers, and I am leaving a desk that will be extraordinarily overloaded. I'm doing whatever I can to reduce that load.)
My Job 3 is coming home with me, to morph into a new venture.
In the morning, I received my Separation Agreement. I've just now had a chance to look at it. It is very like a Separation Agreement in a divorce, with both parties agreeing to hold no bars or commitments upon the other. The party of the first part takes the settlement and goes away.
Has this been tedious to read? It's been tedious to live.
For most of my newspaper career, weeks have flown by. In Features, our active date is days ahead, so we never live in the present; we live in the date of whatever section we're working on. I go to work Monday morning and return Friday evening, wondering what happened to those days in between.
Not so this week. Each day is full full full.
Two more full days to go.
7: Number of days from the time the tree karate-chopped the side of the house to having siding, new window and new interior wall in place.
4: Number of full-time copy editors in Features in April 2007
2: Number of full-time copy editors in Features in October 2008 (Note: both are inexperienced in Features editing)
11: number of sections produced by Features in April 2007
7: Number of sections produced by Features in October 2008
16: Number of positions cut at our newspaper in January 2008
70: Number of positions cut at our newspaper in April 2008
53: Number of positions cut at our newspaper in October 2008
10,894: Number of newspaper jobs cut in the U.S. in 2008
(Source: paper cuts, a brilliant graphic representation of newspaper cuts)
3: Number of days I have left to work
2: Number of blogs I have left to write for the newspaper
1: Number of columns I have left to write for the newspaper
One more day left this month! What a long, strange month it's been.
Intrigue swept through the office today -- and I don't mean The Pepsi Syndrome that ensued when my nearby neighbor drowned her mouse with her beverage (though it was intriguing how many people she called to tell that she'd killed her mouse with Pepsi and couldn't work).
No, this was intrigue so intriguing that I almost didn't find out about it -- because I am very close to it, as it turns out. Intrigue that I stumbled into. Intrigue that had several people meeting in a large room, then fewer people meeting in a smaller room. Lots of averted gazes, attempted poker faces.
Intrigue so intriguing that I can't even share it with you.
And -- it is intrigue that does not affect my life. Because I am leaving. In Four Days.
Oh, one other odd incident: an email from an outside friend, asking about the layoff.
The news story that we ran did not specify who was voluntary and who was involuntary. So, of course, people want to know.
Does it matter? I'd like to say it doesn't. But it does. I want to be able to say that it was my choice. Is that bad? Because, deep down, it was really no choice at all. It is very, very difficult to work at the newspaper. And not difficult in a challenging sort of way, but difficult in a soul-eroding sort of way. So, given a choice between scraping out a living there and breaking out to make a new start -- well, you see there is no choice. Yes, I left voluntarily, but mostly so that I didn't leave later, involuntarily, in one of these.
What am I doing? I'm transitioning. I'm writing long emails to my successor (who is also my predecessor) filled with lots of coding information and routing that I will no longer have to do.
I am creating files for all the reviews that are in my inbox, and assigning them a place on the schedule. Almost the last time I'll have to do that. YaHOO.
I am also clearing stuff out. It's stunning the amount of paper a body can accumulate in 10 years. One file had stapled to the front seven years of scheduling for the fiction and poetry column. Inside were hard copies of stories. OK, that gave me a little pang -- I will miss that work. Here is a note that a poet sent to me when I told him I was leaving:
Dang it, dang it, dang it. I feared this. You have been great to work with and this is a real loss for literature in NC. Do you have something in line? The [newspaper] should know better than this, but they don't seemed to really care about anything but profit now. ... of course I want to stay in touch. I'm really sorry this is happening ... Let me know what's next.
That I will miss -- the doing good for authors, especially poets who rarely find an audience as large as they found with this newspaper. And I will miss working with these very good people.
Anyway, the thing about all that paper is that it is sorted by email now. Interesting to see all those old ways of doing things. I have a file filled with author photos that they mailed in. In an envelope. With a medley of stamps. All images are sent digitally now, of course.
Interesting too the things that are so important to daily life here -- calendars, schedules, details of style changes (I served lots of years on the committee to update the in-house stylebook. Oh the things I could do with all those hours spent discussing capitalization and punctuation!). Not a bit of it is important to my future life. I will have my own calendar, my own schedule, my own meetings. All fun, of course.
I emptied three mail bins and a vertical file and two drawers. I filled a tall trash barrel with papers and folders. I filled another wastebasket.
There is more. There is before me five days in which to get it done.
I have a most delicious carrot awaiting me. I will get it done.
Leap and the net will appear.
So, here's a thing: It's about writing, when I write and how I write.
My job at the newspaper included writing, but it was a task done outside of work. At work — in my cube, with all the many people stopping by my desk or sending IMs or email — I don't write. I edit, I correspond, I solve problems, I have stand-ups. But I don't write.
I write at night, mostly. Sometimes I write in coffee shops, where there are lots of people I don't know equally engaged in focused tasks of their own. Often at home, I own the night and that's when I write.
Tonight, Joe — recovering after three days of being ill — was awake. He was working in the office, doing what he does, which is writing. I was not writing. I found I couldn't write when someone else was awake, even though Joe was completely focused on his own task.
The more I thought about it, the more disturbed I became. How would I be able to live here with Joe also working from home and do this new job, which will involve much more writing, if I could only write in the darkness of night, alone? So I blurted out, "I can't write while you're still awake."
To Joe, this sounded like a large problem. To me, this sounded like a large problem. But for each of us, it was disturbing in different ways. Until I told Joe that it wasn't about him, it was about me (doesn't that just sound like a totally lame break-up kind of line?). But the furrows in his brow eased when I said this. He got it. It is the same reason he goes to the library when
he's on his Tuesday deadline. In order to do focused writing, he has to go away.
I will have to figure out what writing is focused and how I will cope with it. Our first priority will be to get the office in order to make it the "work place" where both of us can do our work. Some of our work will be collaborative, and some of it will be work that doesn't require a great deal of attentiveness. But other work will call for a sit-down-and-do-it space where each of us can focus.
It's a curious problem, having all this time and space, but it will clearly call for some organization. I will have to parcel out my time, in ways that I don't actually do at work right now (work now = domorefasterNOW). I may designate entire days to working on crafts, but at least of corner of every day will be dedicated to writing. Some days will be all writing.
In 2006, Joe and I were both writing books. And often it played out this way: When Joe was in the field researching for his book, I would be focused on writing or creating for my book. There were times when we worked at parallel times, in separate spaces, checking in on each other every hour or two to bounce off ideas or read portions aloud. We are each skilled at doing quite a bit of writing in a pretty short period of time, if we designate the time and space. So we can take those lessons and apply them to our soon-to-be daily lives.
And, again, through the magic of communication -- albeit reluctant 3 a.m. communication -- we worked through to an understanding. We haven't solved the problem, but we have defined the problem. And that is the biggest step.
Often, as the face of the newspaper, we don't hear too many good things. Email tends to bring out the worst in people, as they don't imagine a real audience. Most of them probably wouldn't talk to their mothers that way!
I heard good things far more often than I heard bad. It was a big perk of my job as crafts columnist, in particular. As books editor, I also heard many good things, with the occasional it's-not-rocket-science! feedback when we had some lamebrain error. It's rigorous business, putting your words out there for folks to scrutinize. They expect it to be right, and when it's not, it throws everything else into question. I get that. And, frankly, I'll miss putting my words out there. I'll miss seeing everybody else's words.
Some very talented people remain at the paper -- including my husband -- but their job will be harder than ever. Even with a shrinking news hole, it is incredibly difficult to put out good quality information on a fine day. And there are no more fine days. There are incredibly difficult days ahead, where the infrastructure of the many "faceless" people who make the paper happen -- editors of all types and designers -- is a skeleton frame barely holding up the operation. The morale is phenomenally low. Too low even for the gallows humor for which journalists are famous. It is sad beyond words to see this industry crumbling.
*I avoid naming the newspaper not out of coyness or evasiveness -- it is easy enough to figure out where I work (for just another six days -- seven if you count the Sunday evening I'll have to go in still). That is the brilliance that is Google. But our story is echoed across the nation. We are in a particularly bad situation because our parent company made stupendously bad decisions. But every mid- to large paper in the country is going through this (smaller papers are, curiously, doing OK -- fodder for discussion here). I don't want to blunt the impact by drawing focus on a single newspaper. My story is the story of many.
Well, that's better. The big gaping hole is gone, covered with blue tarp secured with various lengths of timber. It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.
Kind of like the newspaper.
The difference is that at the house, before long someone will come and replace the siding and paint outside, and the tiling and window frame inside, and it really will be all better. Even better than before, since the bathroom won't be mint green anymore (apologies to all of you with mint-green bathrooms).
At the paper, not so much. If we -- pardon, they (I'll have to practice that) -- are lucky the nails will hold and the tarp won't tear. Maybe.
We were talking with someone last night who said he used to wake up to the thwap, thwap, thwap, thwap, thwap of newspapers hitting people's driveways. Now there's just a single thwap. Hardly enough to wake a body up.
Somehow the paper keeps coming out every day. A reader wrote to tell us of our "outrageous ignorance" at using the word "morays" where we should have had "mores." Well, now, we've got signs aplenty of outrageous ignorance, but that's not one of them. That's just a sign of too few people trying to do too many things.
At the end of the day, Joe and I went to The Monti at Golden Belt. Good stuff, that storytelling gig. Back in May, I told a story about our dog, Peyton. She's a foster dog. When we first got her, the very first thing she did was run away. For four days, in the wilds of Cary. It's a good story, but it's 12 minutes long and, well -- long story short, since we found her again, she pretty much stays under the bed.
Which is why I was surprised when I opened the front door when we returned home, and she bolted out. I stopped her in her tracks and she ran back in.
Shortly thereafter, we found the source of her angst. Poor thing was home alone in the house when this happened:
here's the view from the inside:
Today was the day that departments let everyone else know who was leaving (not that everyone didn't already know). It was also the day that people who didn't know they were leaving found out that they were leaving. And, curiously, it was our quarterly Development Day, where we do in-house training.
On the D-Day first note, the little bio that the boss sent out about me included the fact that I was the go-to person for recipe editing, but not that I'd had two books published during the time that I've worked here. Odd, that. I can let it go, but it's a reaffirmation that the work I value is not the work that they value. I heard good things from people I've worked with. Many were supportive of my heading out into the unknown to do good things. They believe that I can do it, whatever it is, and offered to help in whatever way they could. I'll definitely be calling on them for help, particularly the photographer I worked with on my Homespun series -- which tracked fleece from the sheep to the final product of weaving, knitting, spinning -- who offered to train me to do online videos.
On the second D-Day note, they involuntarily separated our graphics guy who does satirical cartoon films. When he posts a new film, we get 10,000 hits right away. That is most puzzling.
On the third D-Day note, attendance was sparse.
It was an exhausting day. I got some work done, but not nearly enough. Heading in now to work on Wednesday issue, which is a full day behind production because the designer had to attend Development Day classes. Go figure.
So, I went to the fabric store today for the express purpose of buying a pattern to make working-from-home capris (OK, they're jammies!) with some sushi fabric. My daughter decided she wanted fun jammies, too. So we were loaded with fun fabric at the cutting table. The friendly woman cutting our yardage asked what w were making. I said, "I've just been laid off" and the woman next to me swung towards me, half a smile on her face, "and," I continued, "I'm making sushi jammies to wear at home." The woman next to me quickly lowered her gaze, swallowed her smile and angled away from me.
I wasn't quite prepared for that reaction. Around the ranch, folks who know say, "Congratulations." This is the first awkward reaction I've had. The friendly woman cutting the fabric continued to be friendly and just nodded, like this was a good and usual thing, making sushi jammies to wear after being laid of.
btw, for those of you who are curious: This is "Chopsticks Please!" by Robert Kaufman fabrics. As it happens, I picked up some different sushi fabric in Philadelphia's Fabric Row about three and a half years ago. It, too is "Chopsticks Please" (but no exclamation point) by Kaufman fabrics. There are different versions, including this one and the one like mine on an ivory background instead of wasabi green.
My new work uniform. I can't wait!
Out of sorts today. I'll chalk it up to reality setting in and anxiousness for the future to get underway. Well, that and a puny child. My thought was that I'd just plunge right into things, on this the first Saturday post-layoff acceptance. In fact, there are still children to tend, meals to cook, errands to run. Joe is super wonderful at entertaining the children, but our play/work plans were run amok. The plan was to attend SPARKcon, an annual gathering of creative people in Raleigh. This is linked to our future plans, so I saw it as something we needed to do. Alas, the present overwhelmed the future. It got me to thinking about the reality of juggling working at home with tending a home. We'll be able to do it pretty well during the week, but our weekends will necessarily include some work-related things, since creative things happen on the weekend. We'll have to be diligent about prioritizing weekend events, even when the kids are with us. And if one of our sweeties is ill, we can divide and conquer.
It will all be fine. We can meet up with a lot of these folks anyway. But this would have been easier, to see them all at once.
But I did get going on a couple other endeavors. That is good.
I really should read my separation packet. And find a pen.
So the boss sends an IM yesterday that says "Come see me." I go in, a twinge of nervousness, a pang of nausea -- what if they decide both of us can't go?
I say, " What do you know?"
Boss, "I know they WAHWAHed your buyout."
(she didn't really say WAHWAH, but I couldn't hear what she did say)
Boss: "I know they accepted your buyout."
I'm off now to gather up some post-layoff tools.
Late again -- I was polishing up a book proposal.
Curious day at work. Unofficial word was that our boss would announce our departures today. But yesterday, a key copy editor turned in his Form. His departure and mine combined would decimate the desk, leaving one temporary fulltime copy editor and two part-time editors to put out 10 -- make that 9, as of Oct. 5 -- features sections. So the announcement was delayed. Methinks that someone upstairs is rethinking that clause that says your voluntary separation may not be accepted.
The copy editor's thinking was this: We have to meet a number. And he is planning to leave in six months. So rather than someone losing his/her job when we come to involuntary separations next week, he opted to check that box. He couldn't watch someone go reluctantly when he is planning to leave anyway. And also, he could use the time to prepare himself for his next step, a venture into a whole new career, which will require a graduate degree.
This makes for some edginess on my part. Did I say I'm ready to go? I'm ready to go. I've already started leveling the dirt and have bags of gravel ready to pour (sorry -- neighbor down the street is putting in a driveway & it was the handiest metaphor).
It makes for some queasiness. That whole dreading tomorrow thing.
Oh, and on the gravel-laying front: In addition to polishing up the book proposal, which I will send out tomorrow, I made contact with the coordinator of a cancer program about the possibility of setting up a volunteer program. I find that if a body is feeling low, nothing helps more than helping someone else -- especially someone fighting not to work, but to live. Yanks everything into perspective.
When I awoke, Joe told me that an entire division had been laid off. An interactive media division. That makes no sense. That is supposed to be the future of newspapers. Of course, what they do is not compatible with our newspaper's software, so we personally don't use them. But surely someone somewhere uses them.
I will have to hunt down some internal correspondence to try to make sense of that. I'll let you know when I know.
Also, I talked with my son. He was good and smart and understood that if I didn't volunteer for the buyout I might not get another chance to leave with some sort of severance package. In fact, I went in to talk with my boss today about a review that will come in after I'm gone. She got a faraway look in her eyes, then said, "Let's go down to HR. You provide a distaction, then I'll grab your form and we'll pretend it never happened."
That's nice. Really. It's good to be needed. But it's a desperate sort of need. I'm looking forward to moving into the future, a creative future. This is my best chance at it right now. I don't think they'd pick me for an involuntary separation. And I would have more work until the end comes.
I will say that my son looked longingly toward our bikes. He wants a new, expensive bike. That will have to wait. And it will all work out.
I am up late again. I'm looking forward to working on the future in daylight hours. When my after-hours work becomes my actual work. Rather than dreading the next day -- which is what I'm doing at this very moment, not sure what the morning or afternoon will bring, what bad news, what new change, what new tightening until the newspaper simply evaporates. I will look forward to the next day's work. I am more than ready.
The first time the manila envelopes were passed out, back in May, a section editor sitting nearby let out an unearthly yowl when the boss handed her one. There weren't so many that time – it felt personal
This time, when every FTE in the room received a packet, there were jolly “Thank yous!” all around. I took mine as if it were the annual report – whoop-de-do. I asked my boss for my husband's, since he works outside the office. She hesitated a moment, not sure it was proper. But heck, who didn't have one? Just two part-timers in the room.
I've been looking forward to the packet. It's tough living in a household supported by two journalists. I have applied for other jobs – one of which I really wanted to do. Every day we didn't know when they would announce more cuts or whether they would provide any severance.
The package has a two options, with varying levels of insurance and pay or a non-insurance option. My husband and I briefly discussed the options, planning to talk more later.
But later, we fell fast asleep. Then he kept sleeping while I got up and read and crocheted and thought about the future. We have plans.
But the packages come with a twist-tie: If you opt to take the buyout, management might elect not to let you go. Hard to make too many plans that way.
I was up until 3, and took longer to fall asleep.
This is the fullest day of the week – pushing lots of copy through just a few people, including a temporary worker who just started this week. In the midst of going down, we are switching to a new publishing system, and our main desk person will be working fulltime on learning the system well enough to train the full staff.
At 2, the department had to go to a training meeting, for a new AP delivery system. I'm thinking “People, I won't BE here! I don't need this!”
Nobody is saying much about staying or going. Holding their cards close.
I don't think any of my copy desk peers will accept the package.
This afternoon, a photographer asked me: “You throw away that brown envelope yet?” No, no yet.
Joe and I don't fight. We just don't. We don't even fuss. But we had a hard time this evening. A slightly late unpaid bill was the catalyst. Some second-tier family issues had been simmering as well, so our resources were stretched a bit thin. The thought of stepping into the future with just a bit of a safety net casts a new light on everything from the phone bill to the cost of food coloring (almost five dollars! what's that about?) to the possibility of a weekend getaway. Any late bill, to my mind, didn't have any place in that mix. We worked through it, but it was not our usual way of communicating. Despite the fundamental good of our plans, stepping away from a regular paycheck is a stressful thing.
Also today: A talented longtime section editor who was let go in the last round of buyouts (let go – is that the right term – more about the concept of voluntary separation later) was asked to come back on contract to coordinate a special section. We weren't going to do the section, but advertising decided, rather late in the game, that we should. Nobody else could have put it together so quickly. And there simply aren't enough section editors left to do it (full disclosure: We put out 11, make that 10, sections. The last round of layoffs left us with one section editor. If you are holding a features section from our paper, it is something of a miracle.) Truth be told, she was so adept at this job that nobody else could have done it in that time frame. She agreed to return on contract and do the section. Today she left again.
If anybody else is considering the buyout package, they're not saying so. I have been working for the paper for 10 years, which brings me nearly to the max buyout that the paper is providing (up to 26 weeks; one option gives me 22 weeks). The package won't get better.
Today I cleared out one drawer and two boxes, in between editing copy and sorting books.
I have a lot of boxes. Last year, I became the book editor, as a result of an attempt to reduce staff by irritating them to the point that they would leave voluntarily. In short: They made the book editor the “ideas editor” (we still don't know what this is). Our readers, prompted in part by an email campaign by the books editor, rose up. They needed a book editor and I was willing and able. However, I still kept my other two jobs: copy editor and crafts columnist (which was never really recognized as a job, but more as a hobby that I did outside of work hours). And over the past year, the workload for the copy desk has increased fourfold. We do section editor jobs, we route stories, we book sections – and, oh yes, we edit and proof copy.
My job is so enormous that many days I am paralyzed.
My husband and I have some ventures we'd like to get underway. But neither of us have time to develop them. We have talked about freeing me up so I can pursue them fulltime. Last week, during our enforced vacation time, we explored the potential of our ventures. And our consultants were very encouraging.
Now is the time.
I have made leaps before in my life. I leapt into graduate school. Twice.
I leapt out of teaching and back into journalism, when I long swore I wouldn't work for newspapers. But I couldn't afford to teach.
I took a leap out of my first marriage.
I leapt into an unexpected book contract.
I took a running leap off Jockey's Ridge, strapped to a big wing.
Joe and I married on Leap Day.
I'll take this leap, then put all my energy into making our ventures work.
Today, a Saturday, Joe worked. Since the hiring freeze last year, as people left and weren't replaced, the newspaper required Features writers to join in the weekend news rotation. Initially, it was to be two or three times a year. It has necessarily become more frequent. So Joe is working news today, covering the aftermath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hanna.
I was at home with a 10-year-old and two middle-schoolers. And it was a lovely day. With my stress lifting already, we worked together to prepare dinner, then put it in the fridge and went to the store. In between, we all read and played and were just together. My mind filled with the possibility of doing this more – spending more time with the kids without the worry of when I would sneak in to the office to do enough work to get the week off on a good foot. I do plan to go in tomorrow evening. But knowing that I will apply for the buyout – and feeling pretty good about them accepting it – has eased my mind quite a bit.
It's good to think that you're irreplaceable. But in fact, all the work I do can be absorbed. The previous book editor would (gleefully) resume that job. The crafts column will evaporate. The copy editing – the job that has both kept me in place and limited my ability to do my other two jobs – will be absorbed by the temporary full-time copy editor they just hired.
I am replaceable. And I'm happy about that.
I will take my crafts on the road and see what I can do with them outside the newspaper.
(I do not know what will happen with the late-night habits. Maybe doing the work I usually do at night during the day will relieve that. I am, though, drawn to the night.)
Tonight I worked into the late hours trying to gather up some book copy for Sunday. Reduction in budget has me leaning hard on the wires for reviews. Monday promises to be busy on the desk, with our primary copy editor out of pocket learning to use the new publishing system. In the afternoon, Joe and I will go to an information session on the buyouts. Those two things together are quite puzzling.
At work, I ran into the same person I saw last Sunday in the wee hours. A woman in sports who, on Sunday, has three jobs: News editor, overseeing the movement of all copy of the Monday edition; slot, doing final edit on all stories, and rim, helping edit stories along with the part-timers who work Sunday evening. Then she gets a boost on compiling copy in a weekly task that takes 10 hours to accomplish but is not built into her workweek.
Again, I say, that pile of paper that smacks onto your driveway every morning is a daily miracle.
(Also: I took two naps today. I think that the first week I'm off, I will sleep all week long.)
Here's a little something my sweetie wrote for his humor column:
As the American workforce continues to shrink — another 84,000 jobs were lost in August — corporate America continues to find new ways to say “see ya.”
At IBM, for instance, it's not a layoff, it's a “resource action." Usage: “You're part of a resource action that's going to add a thousand new jobs in India.”
On Wall Street it's called a “head count reduction,” “reduction in force” and “redundancies.”
downsize, rightsize, smartsize, workforce reduction or workforce optimization, simplification. Down at the factory you're simply “let go.”
So what do they call it at your place of employment when the grim reaper from HR pays a visit? Is the euphemism fairly clear? Or are you like the IBMer who doesn't fully understand what a resource action is until a couple of fellas from security come to escort you out the door.
Another term somebody shared today: Proactive attrition.
Here at the ranch we call it “Voluntary separation.' I went to the HR meeting today that detailed our options and answered questions geared toward optimizing the options. I found that I could do the more attractive options.
When we leave, we'll be given a letter explaining the circumstances under which we left. They make it sound like a choice, this voluntary separation – and indeed it's better than a poke in the eye and two weeks' pay. But on the letter, it's coded as a layoff.
So in the end, a layoff is a layoff.
So here's a thing that's hard to do: Plan ahead. A reviewer will ask to review a book and I have to think 1. Will I be here? and 2. If I am not here, will my successor honor this review? He will, of course, but he will also be easing back to his way of doing things. So I can' t really launch anything, like the romance column. I can set up a few weeks' worth of basics, to give him a jump start. I like what I did with the Books pages, but I'm not terribly invested in them. It will be OK if they change, because it's not about me – it's about the readers.
I have developed ADD. I do my job, but i am constantly jotting down ideas for things to do starting – soon! My brain seems to be taking the bit of space where I know I 'm leaving and filling it up with the future. I already have a huge list of tasks to do, even beyond the plans Joe & I already have. And they're all fun tasks! I'm very excited to get moving on things.
Around the office, folks give one another sideways glances – like “Are you going? Are you staying?” Or maybe it's just me, knowing that I'll be handing in my form next week.
My leaving will cause some ripples. I'm no longer one of the behind-the-scenes people. Part of my job – books – will ripple.There will be some sort of public response to it. My columnists will miss me – I'm not sure what will happen with them.
Sunday Reader – the poetry and fiction column that I have edited from acquisition to page for the past nine years – will likely be lost.
The loss of the crafts column will cause ripples as well. I haven't been able to devote much time to the crafts column since taking over books – so I'm not sure what the response will be. Something.
The copy editing should be a smooth transition. Our new person is very adept and will be able to absorb that work.
So there's me, working up to the end, getting stuff out. A few times a day, I have to make decisions that go beyond my release date. This is difficult, as I'm not sure what kind of commitment I can give. I need to provide some work for beyond my departure, so some decisions are possible.
So my mission is to stay on task for three more weeks. There's actually a clause in the separation packet that stipulates that they can renege on the agreement if you don't do your job in the transition period. That's some motivation.
09.11.08 / 09.12.08
These two days blurred together, bridged by some oddness.
Both days, I was very focused at work, getting the job done. Thursday, I multitasked, shifting from assigning books and editing book reviews to booking Home & Garden to working with page designers to proofing to copy editing. That night, I sat to do some craft blogs (which i do after hours), then my mind began spinning out ideas faster than i could capture them. I was ready to move right along into my future work – craft ideas, sales ideas, Web ideas. I wrote them all down. By the time I settled down some, it was 3:30 in the morning. At about 3:45, Joe got up to write his story. We passed in the night – he to work, I to bed.
Friday, my mind was too weary to do anything but copy edit. Which is what I did.
I'm a copy editor, you know. That's my official job title: Copy Editor II. The books editing and crafts writing and occasional other feature writing – not my job.
No wonder I'm weary. It's a futile sort of work, like building sand castles at the beach as the tide comes in. When it made a difference – and it sometimes does – it was worth the work. Now, it just wears me out. I'm ready to put my energy into something that can make a difference.
Two things today.
One: Joe & I went to Winston-Salem to have lunch with my parents & my brother and his girlfriend, who had flown in from LA. After lunch, we went to an outdoors store. Someone called out my name. It was Trish, who had left the newspaper in May, for reasons not directly related to the demise of the paper. She looked great! She is very happy and relaxed. She was never that happy at the newspaper. We had a good time catching up.
Two: Some friends at the paper had a pig pickin'. This is a cultural event peculiar to North Carolina (which I've curiously never attended despite living here nearly my whole life) that involves cooking a whole hog on the grill and chopping it up. It was a practice run for two friends who are competing in a barbecue contest. The hosts both work in features, but she used to work in News. So they had invited just about everyone at the paper. And just about everyone came. Easily 125 people filled their lawn, with kids on slip & slides and people talking “out of school.” It was great to be out in the world with these people we see in work clothes every day. The managing editor was there, but no other big-wigs. The talk was easy and fell occasionally to the buyouts. If anyone else is considering it, nobody's talking. But we talked about Plan Bs with a lot of folks. Some had looked for jobs when the first wave of buyouts came. But many are looking to stay the course, it seems.
What was palpable though was the sense of camaraderie, with everyone together for the purpose of just being there and relaxing. It was a good time.
We also talked with a former section editor who took the last buyout. She has more work than she really even wants right now – and it's all interesting work.
There are lots of options out there. And it's a happier place.
I'm looking forward to being there.
I have just made the little check mark that requests voluntary separation, option one. There's a lot of talk behind that check mark. We have thought this through and really believe that we can make a go of it. Still, when I was photocopying it for my records, I had a jump in my tummy. It's a leap
Today, when we were reading the paper, Joe discovered that the designer/copyeditor/whoever, had neglected to put in the substantial factbox that was to go with his story. Since I was in the room when it was being produced, I was able to explain how it might have happened, given that a designer was out sick and another was out on computer training and another was just learning the system. Essentially one designer put out six sections in three days. We read more of the paper. Then Joe said, “What if we both left?”
My look made him laugh out loud.
But, really, it could be either or both of us. This voluntary buyout is a luxury, really. We can choose to get a jump start on the future. One of us can strike out. It makes sense for it to be me because my job is unworkable. I have just returned from another late Sunday night of trying to get ahead. Joe, meanwhile, has a solid audience, both in print and online. They can decide that they don't want to cover health, fitness and the outdoors, but if they want to keep that there is nobody else who can do it. And Joe's online audience is valuable to this evolving newspaper business.
I, however, am replaceable. They will lose some crafts coverage, but they have another writer who covers crafters in a different way. They have someone to step into books. I have an online following, but it isn't strong because I can't reliably and predictably provide posts. I hope that I can nurture the following I have after I leave the paper. I recognize that I won't have the newspaper behind me; that makes a difference.
But if we were both cut, there would be an urgent desperation to our venture that might well kill it. We need some creative space. The severance should allow the time to nurture that as well.
It was a scary moment. I know Joe is just as eager as I am to get out of the newspaper and onto our future, and I felt a bit of it in that moment. Crazy how it seems selfish to be laid off. But this is all good. We talked about it. We've made plans. It's all in that little check mark.
And, can I say, I look forward to posting this all so you can read it – I could use some voices. So far, I'm typing this daily to capture the daily dips and rises. I don't want to go live with it until I know I am laid off. I look forward to hearing your response to this and your own tales of being laid off.
First thing today -- two days before the deadline -- I dropped my form off at HR. The VP was very nice, asking me if this was a good thing. Yes, very good. She told me they would likely let me know before Friday for sure.
Then I went of and did my job(s) for a while.
Midafternoon, an IM popped up on my screen, from the features editor: “Wanna go for a walk?”
It's hard to know the right way of doing these things. Is there Layoff Etiquette? To me and Joe, it made sense to keep quiet until the moment of turning in the form. The Boss was a little put out that I didn't talk with her – I told her, frankly, it's hard to know how to do these things, not having done them before. She agreed. But she was still stunned. How will she fill the gaps? I gave her some ideas.
I'm not sure how information travels. I suspect it went from HR to upper management, then down to middle management. My boss didn't hear it from HR. Newspapers have a curiously viral form of communication, not at all direct. I am hoping for some time between when I get actual confirmation and the time I tell people to get some ducks in a row.
It was a good walk & a good talk. I felt fine through the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. But as soon as I got home, all energy drained from me. I was done.
This was a most remarkable day.
Early in the day, someone passed me in the hall and said, “I understand you're a short-timer.” I followed her down the hall to see how information had gotten to her. She said she couldn't remember who told her. Hello! We're in the business of remembering sources – but not revealing them.
Then I saw the executive editor in the hall. He said, “I heard you're leaving.” We talked about it for a few minutes. One the way down the stairs to talk with HR about why so many people knew, I passed a friend who said, “We need to talk.”
I have textbook blood pressure. In my former job – teaching at a university, 10 years ago, before coming into the business I said I'd never go into – my peers used to send me to faculty meetings as emissary because I didn't get rattled by tenure-track faculty dissing the adjuncts. But I could feel the blood rushing a bit in my ears. I told the HR VP that I'd been approached by four people who knew about my signing The Form. She apologized and said she'd remind upper management that personnel matters are confidential.
I know well how news travels virally in a newspaper. But this was apparently a fell-swoop deal: My decision – and that of a few other people – was a matter for discussion at a meeting Monday afternoon. And that information rapidly traveled beyond the meeting.
I was trying to play by the rules – wait until confirmation by HR telling anyone. Turns out there are no rules anymore.
So when I returned to my desk and got an email from a friend asking if I had something to tell, I got about the business of planning the transition for my departure. There were questions – why are you jumping? what are you going to do? And there were nods of understanding -- of course, we can't have our household relying upon the income of two people working for a sinking industry.
I somehow got the bare bones of my job done in between talking with people.
Then at 4:46, an email was sent from our publisher. I say it that way, in the passive voice that I despise, because our publisher was no longer on the property, as it turns out.
The gist of the email was that the newspaper had to cut 60-70 people. This number is one that I had heard a couple of times over the past week, but everybody claimed that there was no number. But, this email said, if 60-70 people did not step forward, involuntary separations would be announced Sept 22.
The executive editor hastily called a stand-up meeting for 5:30, at which he said that if people were thinking about taking the buyout, they should take it.
Suddenly, my decision, which had seemed a bit rash to some people earlier in the day seemed a smart thing.
It's funny how the tables turn like that, in the space of just a few hours. My brief drama dissolved in the larger drama that people weighing their mortgage against the possibility of involuntary separation. Is there really a choice?
They were shaking the tree hard, trying to get people to fall before the deadline. It could happen. But not the number that they are looking for.
And if they do get to that number, how will they produce even a crappy paper every day?
It was a roller coaster of a day. But it wasn't over.
When I picked up my daughter, I told her that I would be leaving my job. Even though she has complained about the fact that I work all the time and we don't get to do things together, she was stunned. She cried. She said, “I'm worried that we won't have enough money.” Here, I'll let her tell you:
When my mom first told me about her getting laid off my heart sank, and I felt as if someone had just laid a bunch of bricks on my shoulders, I felt horrible. Then, once she started telling me about all of the different things she would be able to do, and how much stuff would be better than when she worked, I felt like someone took the bricks off my shoulders, and replaced them with warm, soothing hands, gently massaging my shoulders. I became very enthusiastic about the ideas that she had.
She's 10. She's good.
I haven't yet told my son. He's a worrier. I will tell him tomorrow.
I have to say that my writing here is not my finest. It's stark and bare. But then, that is how it all feels right now.
My husband and I talked later about work – he works from home, so he missed the office drama – and about the future. He feels very strongly about it. He can envision the future quite clearly and it is good. I trust him, because he envisioned our future when we first fell in love and it was good. And all that good future has come to be the present. And it will again.