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.
Actually, I'm getting a head start on Monday. It's very late on Sunday night. It's the last late Sunday night that I'll spend in this cube. YaHOO. 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. YaHOO. 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. YaHOO
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.
Today we ran a story about the layoffs (on Page 7B, the new front for the Business section now encased in the State & Local section, below the fold. No note in the A1 rail.) It reads, in part, "Among those departing are several staffers and columnists who have become the faces of [the newspaper]* for many readers." So I am in there. As a result my day was punctuated with email and phone calls from people who had read the story and were startled to see me go. Many understood why. Most were sad anyway. Almost all were curious about where I was going. (So am I.) 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.
This day was super surreal -- it was like being on a movie set, with actors who had just learned their lines and are still a bit tentative trying them out. Everyone is rattled and unable to sustain their focus. 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:
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) Me: "What?" Boss: "I know they accepted your buyout." Thank goodness. 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.
This was the voluntary-separation D-Day. It was remarkably low-key until late in the day -- though I can't vouch for that because I had to leave early, fatigued out of my mind. I wasn't seeing little crawly things, but I was quite spinny in the head. So I did the things that are specific to my job, then headed home and crashed for three hours. 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.
I work for a newspaper. In two and a half weeks, I will no longer work for a newspaper. I have been laid off. I began keeping this log when I first received my severance package, but held off on the blog until I received confirmation that I would be laid off. So, here are the past two weeks. The remaining entries will be live.
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.
Dead tired. 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. at home: 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.
09.06.08 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.)
09.07.08 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.)
09.08.08 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. Write, share.
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.
09.09.08 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. More later.
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.
09.13.08 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.
09.14.08 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.
09.15.08 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.
09.16.08 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.