holy cannoli!

Working like mad! All fun stuff, but mucho work nonetheless. Is being laid-off supposed to be like this? I haven't sent out one resume, but I have work to do every minute of the day. And some of it pays!
Details TK.



For years, the hours of 4:30 to 6:30 looked like this:

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.

So nice.
And, tonight, afterward, we did this.



Today, I multitasked: I coordinated some volunteer work for a nonprofit board I'm on. I finished up my revisions and sent a chapter in (yay!). I did some online research for another potential job. I coordinated books and projects for a book event tomorrow night. I emailed with friends. I emailed with work contacts. I did the round of pick-ups from three schools and ferried a child to the orthodontist. I made dinner. I crocheted. I even took a little nap.
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 ...



Good golly. Friday was stocking day at the yarn shop. By the end of the day, I was done, done, done. Saturday, I didn't need to see anyone or talk to anyone, so I didn't. I had the house to myself. So for the next 20 hours, I tidied up, I knitted, I read (a terrible book -- it's an ARC of a new book by a very popular writer who is not a very good writer. It's the only thing I did on Saturday that I was obligated to do and it's done). On Sunday, I recovered from my 20 hours of work. And I wrote -- revised, really. I'll write fresh stuff tomorrow.
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.)


"It's my first day"

Retail ain't for sissies.
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.



Today was a talking and meeting and connecting day. And also some writing. I write something everyday. This feels very, very good. It is like connecting with a part of myself that has been long dormant, trying to find its way out. I wrote some for the newspaper, but the buckets of other work got in the way. One morning, I even got in trouble with the boss for writing. Now, my boss loves it when I write.
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.

bird by bird

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.



Autumn arrived in a hurry today. The dog was particularly animated, infusing all of us with an energy we didn't realize was lurking below the surface. There's a "got to do something NOW" quality to the air, what with the election signs dotting the lawns between the flutterings of ghosts in the trees. Change is nigh.
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.



A friend sent an email:

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.


About Face(book)

My first day post-layoff, I signed up for Facebook. All my peeps were on it. Frankly, I didn't know how they found the time to sign up, never mind actually correspond on it.
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.



Vaguely disgruntled this evening. Turns out I had a to-do list running in my head -- and even though all these swell things happened this week, I feel like I really should have made my sushi jammies already. Crazy, huh? I've got this mobile office running and a bunch of work ready for me to just do already and really wouldn't it be great to just sit around and eat bonbons? For just a day?
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.


Root canal & recovery

Tuesday was a curious day. Not a lot of action, but a good bit of pondering. Namely, again with the divorce analogy. My divorce was like a root canal, in this way: When you have a tooth that needs a root canal, it hurts like hell. The tooth itself is what you focus on, until you come under the blissful needle of the endodontist, who severs the live nerve endings that are causing the immediate pain. After a short while, you discover that you are completely pain-free, and you realize that it wasn't just your tooth that hurt, but your whole body. You had systemic pain up in your sinuses that you thought were allergies, jaw pain that you thought was from grinding your teeth at night, general ache all over from the fatigue of enduring the pain.
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.


Day 1 Post-Layoff

What I did today:
* 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.



As part of my recovery process, I went to a knitting event today. Usually, I write about these events, then am too busy or tired or whatever to actually go. But I went and found a roomful of people who knew me and knew I was leaving the paper. Empathy all around and excitement about what I was planning. There's really nothing like a roomful of knitters for loads of encouragement and support.
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.



What an odd day. No emotional swings (unless you count the unwarranted crabbiness in the early afternoon -- OK, some mood swings), but the day had swaths of ease punctuated with pangs of anxiety.
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.

Now, how cool is that? That helped a lot -- made up for the whole recipe-editing thing.
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.


logging off

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.


toughest yet

"Long day ahead," someone said to me this morning.
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.


not for sissies

This whole separation process is like a divorce -- just less costly and in a much more compressed time. (This metaphor is enhanced by the fact that I dropped by my divorce attorney's office today to sign some long-overdue paperwork.) There is pain and angst and conflicted feelings and the slow, steady painful process of stripping off my duties -- like ripping off a band-aid slowly from some really hairy part of your body (if you can stand another metaphor). The trouble here is knowing where to place the duties. My job has become so rarefied (not in the exalted sense, but in the mighty specific sense) that it is difficult to know where to place what I know. Part of my Job 1 is going to a tag team. Parts of that job will be peeled away and put on the party of Job 2, herewith known as Copy Team. My desk duties are going to a Copy Team with patchy experience in Features (they are fine editors, but they have not worked in Features, where copy editors have jobs that encompass more tasks than other copy editors' jobs). Part of the Copy Team is also new to our publishing system, adding another layer of training.

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.


by the numbers

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