Getting Laid-off (again)

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These are layoff notices. Receiving two of these for a two-income family is a bad day. A really bad day. Today, we have two incomes. On July 1, we will have 0 incomes and no benefits. Over the past year, two of the key phrases heard have been “more jobs” and “drain the swamp.” Well. This is what that policy looks like folks. In Alaska, that has translated into firing many thousands of people and eliminating the option for even collecting unemployment insurance. The real bottom dwellers in our political system are the politicians who only act in the interest of people who give them money. In all other countries of the world, this would be considered bribery or graft. In our country we all pretend it’s ‘free speech’ and then try to go about our business as if it’s not going on at all. As the state moves to lay off some 20,000 people, the politicians will continue to be paid, and no-doubt, be receiving money from their well-heeled benefactors to keep them going.

To digress from the political rant a bit, and make this into something more positive, I posted something like this almost exactly two years ago. In response to the layoff threat two years ago, I went and got a new job. A job that would free me from the threat, a job that would offer me opportunities for advancement, and an opportunity that might make me more marketable in the broader economy.

That new job was generally most of the things I hoped it would be though to be honest, it was no less subject to layoffs than where I’d left. While there, I realized that there is no longer such a thing as a ‘stable job’. The best you can hope for is a marketable skill set and a local economy good enough to shop that around. That said, the job I got turned out to be what I describe as a hostile environment. Based on things I learned at ADF&G, I tried to be inclusive. Things go better when you involve your team and other folks who’s support you will need to proceed. I attempted this and for the first year or so received mostly responses of “well, it’s complicated, good luck”, and (quite literally), “I hope your project fails.” That last one stung the most, even though I tried to roll past it with good nature.

That hostile environment is one of the reasons I left. You can either be an agent of change or shrug and let them carry on. When my old job at ADF&G opened up and the possibility to return came to me, I was in a meeting being told about all of the things I wasn’t doing right at the new place. To be clear, the purpose of this meeting was to explain that I didn’t have the resources and might not make the deadlines set in spite of every attempt to get there. With this option in hand, I spent a few nights thinking very, very hard about what it meant. And yes, it did mean possible layoffs, but that’s going to be true across the board with the Trump administration gutting government – no job is safe. I concluded that, for the benefit of my family life, I needed to leave the job even with layoffs a distinct possibility. So. I left. There were other options, some lucrative, some very risky, but they were there, once I really started putting myself out there.

What that short-lived foray out of ADFG did give me, however, was a sense of optimism and life satisfaction with my old position that I desperately needed. Just six months back and I am a genuinely happier person with a seriously adjusted attitude for optimism. Even though both myself and my wife are going, as likely as not, to be out of work and out of health benefits without even the prospect to collect unemployment, I feel more optimistic about what comes after. There are no plans for me to bail from where I am, and I’m not even looking. Not because I’m not worried, but because I really like my job and want to hang on to it and because even if I’m asked not to come back in the end, I know there are options out there. If this extends into a month or longer and we default on our mortgage or wrack up tens of thousands of dollars in surprise medical bills or perhaps just lose a car or two for failing to make the bills, I know I can find ways to start digging us out. We probably won’t be living in a cardboard box.

The truth of the matter is that, I genuinely believe that the politicians engineering this shutdown really do want to inflict damage on state employees and, indeed, the state economy as a whole. If we’re in a shambles and desperate for work, we will sacrifice freedom, income, health, education, property, and environment to feed our family. They know this. So too do the politicians in Washington. If you make us hungry, we will beg. That said, I’m also confident that we’ll pull through this mess. Perhaps poorer, perhaps without the land we’ve worked so damn hard to get and keep, or even some of the nice things we’ve gown accustomed to, like the ability to afford reliable transportation and the certainty of our next meal. What I do know – what I believe – is in spite of the concerted political attack on families by our politicians, we’ll figure it out, even if we have to move to Canada.

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Can’t I just disappear for a while?

This morning I got up, dragged my sorry rump off to work, got stuck in traffic and rolled into work late. Not awesome. I was able to stay late to make it up, no problem. The bigger problem was that when I hit the parking lot and climbed out. My first thought was “I am so done, so done.” To be clear, I don’t hate my job, but I’m so so busy, so incredibly busy. I know I claim to be a writer and should easily be able to describe how many flavors of busy I am and how it feels to work in an environment so saturated with crises that everyone seems to think adding unnecessary crises is a pretty good idea  – you know to really show how busy we are, but the best I can come up with is that I can’t finish a current task without having two more added to the list. My colleague and I have written about 120 reports in the past five months. To add some context to that, this is roughly the annual throughput of the entire team prior to our arrival. As this is my job and I’m well compensated for it, it should be YAY us, we’re freaking awesome. Nope. Not feeling it -I’m tired.

Last weekend, the wife and I went to Seattle, sans children, to have a romantic stress-free weekend. This was fully achieved, it was great. I don’t care how many homeless people I didn’t see or how much I didn’t have my car broken into or any of those things that happen in big cities. I frikkin’ loved Seattle. LOVED. I figured the trip would really recharge my batteries. It did for about a day. Then, I came back and reality hit again.

I have made myself so busy, I now feel guilty about the 1 hour a week I’m devoting to watching Westworld. I’ve got a demanding job, for which I’ve recently had a title change that I can’t tell anybody about that because apparently something got screwed up, I don’t know what got screwed up, just that I have a shiny new meaningless title and I’m also pretty sure everyone thinks I’m slacking. On top of that, I’m trying to start another company for another company, which is NOT going as hoped. I’m also trying to write 2 (no, actually 4, but only two actively) books AND I’m trying to get a book published on inkshares – that’s not going great, but I’m doing the best I can to promote without being absolutely insufferable. To continue to add to the list, I’m writing a recipe article for my wife’s dad’s newspaper (any suggestions? – due tomorrow, looks like). Then, last but not least, I’m trying to keep up on my blog, which (obviously) is not going well. I’m so damn over-taxed that I’ve tried about half a dozen posts in the last week or two and have gotten just past the “hey, I had this great thought I wanted to share” point and realized I didn’t have the mental energy to get to the point and wrap it.

Yesterday, I started the audiobook for Felicia Day’s autobiography – it’s called something about being weird on the internet, don’t ask me the title, I’m too lazy to pick up my iPod or open another tab to Google it and get it right. This audio book is good, I mean I love her work, and think she’s a spectacular writer. I’m pretty sure the book is meant to be a ‘rah-rah, love yourself and follow your dreams’ sort of story. Well, it didn’t work for me. I pretty much finished it and have more or less come a way thinking that this woman is brilliant and talented, and I am not, and no amount of hard work I put into anything is going to amount to anything one tenth so brilliant.

Part of the reason I’m so busy at work is that I’ve built a system that lends itself to extremely rapid adhoc report development. Someone can ask me the question: How many CCU visits resulted in this particular diagnosis in August & September 2016 and the same for 2015. I can spin that around in like 20 minutes. The usual timeline for an adhoc like that is like six months – largely because it would take 3-6 hours, maybe more, and it doesn’t count as a big important thing, so it gets dropped to the bottom of the list. In any case, having built this system up, I am becoming ‘the guy’. I’m not the only ‘the guy’, but I am one, and so I’m in demand. On one hand, you could call this a win and say it’s brilliant within my work context, but I don’t see it that way. I still have 50 unresolved tickets and have a mountain of documentation and training materials, plus hours of meetings and requirements gathering for more reports, I don’t have much of a handle on planning or even progress, my whole project management game is shit, really. Basically, I have worked my ass off and am further behind than when I started. This is not a win, nor is is anything like brilliant.

I wrote a book I love and characters I think are awesome. That book received 0 response from more than 40 agents and has not gained any sort of momentum on inkshares. I have had TREMENDOUS support from so many people, who are endlessly sharing and tweeting and pre-ordering, but with less than a month and more than 200 copies to go. The win is looking beyond remote. That book is very unlikely to see the light of day. I can’t tell you how much THAT makes me feel like I’m letting folks down. So much support, and I’m unable to make the win. When you crowd-fund like that, the project becomes the project of everyone who supported, and for me to not hit the magic number is an ENORMOUS failure to deliver for EVERY SINGLE PERSON who has helped and been generous and supportive.

I’m not stuck on my other works as much as I simply haven’t got the time to work on them as much as is necessary to finish any one of them. I mean, I do write -every day. Sometimes, I get super productive and knock out 2K in a single night, but those nights are rare and with so little energy to spare, the best I can do is read through what I wrote on one of those WIPs and think about how much work remains.

So.

Here I am.

I don’t have the bandwidth. I just want to walk away from all of it. I’m tired and my motivation for doing more than coming home, having a beer and falling asleep on the couch is basically non-existent. I clearly haven’t got the drive or talent of a person capable of pulling off any of what I’ve set out out to do. The hard part is that I can’t help but try. I suppose that for every ‘I worked my ass off to get here’ story you get, you get as many ‘I worked my ass off and I’m no further down the road than I was ten years ago’ stories. Anyhow, now I’m off to work on something that requires my attention.

Maybe stupidity and unrelenting stubbornness will pay off at some point?

We’re too young for this nonsense.

Before I start here, I just want to say that this is not a writing blog post. It’s a little more personal than that, but it’s an interesting story and not the sort of story you can make up, so I’m going to toss it out there.

Yesterday, while I was at work, I learned that an old friend from college had passed away suddenly in her sleep. I’m 37 and she was 36. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen to people of our age, does it? I mean, when I’m in my 80s, well yeah, that shit is going to happen. It does when you get old. It still sucks, but it’s also a part of life, it’s just not something you expect when you’re in your mid 30s. My friends are still having kids for crying out loud.

When I first read the texts I thought it was maybe another famous person. It didn’t register that it should be the person that I had known by that name. Nope. It was one in the same. Now, I wasn’t close friends with her, and neither was my wife. We hung out, had coffee and chatted – the usual stuff you do in college. My wife’s history with her went back further into high school. Now, none of this alone is so poignant or significant. After all, we live in a sparsely populated state. The saying runs something like: If you don’t know someone, you know someone that does. To wit, I once visited former Governor Bill Scheffield’s house to help him with a computer problem, and attended a funeral with former governor Tony Knowles, I even once attended a 4th of July parade where I was obligated to shake Sarah Palin’s hand, and had her dad as a substitute teacher more than once. So, to know someone who has passed away is not, in and of itself, an unusual thing here. What makes this so absolutely disturbing is the following story:

Before my wife and I started dating, at the age of 19, she was trying to get my attention. She stalked me, invited me up to her room to check out her Christmas lights, and asked a friend and I to join her for dinner. I’m an idiot, and so none of this really struck me as interested. What finally did it was the Symphony. I was at dinner with the young woman that would some-day be my wife and her friend. They were chatting comfortably and I was in a stupor of exhaustion due to some very intense and competitive nights stealing wooden pallets from teams in other dormitories for our annual bonfire party (we won that year BTW). Anyhow, my someday wife’s friend turned to her and said, I can’t make it to the symphony this weekend, sorry. My someday wife turned to me without missing a beat and asked ‘I have an extra ticket, do you want to go?’ Naturally, I assumed that I was only being asked in order to use up a spare ticket. When my someday-wife arrived to pick me up, she was wearing a dress. In retrospect, this was not a shot across the bow, but a full broad-side. I only know this because getting my wife into a dress these days requires an assurance of a $300 romantic night on the town. Even then, it’s a debate. In any case, the symphony date was the first of many and here we are nearly 20 years later. That, however, is not the point of the story. What is the point of the story is that the woman who died in her sleep yesterday was the very same who had given up her ticket in what I was, and still am, sure was one of the best wing-woman plays of all time.

How is it that the young-woman who helped get my wife and I together could end up dead in her sleep? I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense, and I know that’s life, it’s full of those sorts of things. I still don’t have to like it though do I? Anyhow, I know you’re not around to hear it anymore, but thanks Katie, you bailed on your friend at precisely the right moment in our lives once, I just wish I’d thought to say so sooner.