Saturday, September 20, 2014

Conscious nonlaboring

"You need to blog the shit out of this," my friend Tortilla told me, twice in as many days. The same exact words, urgent, intense. And, well, that I can do! I am now MADE of time.

So: Thursday I got laid off, after just shy of 14 years at NerdCo. (It's not my intention to burn any bridges, plus I'm still amused by my own pseudonyms.) It was swift, not entirely unexpected, and remains a little bit surreal. They called a clump of us into a meeting, one of the larger conference rooms with banked seats; whipped through a series of HR bullet points in a slide deck (with a black background and color scheme, very Goth); and distributed our individual packets of severance and compensation info. I think it took eight minutes flat before I was back in the hallway outside my office, looking for boxes.

I've been through worse. I was laid off once before, from a retail job, and before I left the store weeping I had to submit to a search. So this was altogether more dignified. Then, too, my last period of unemployment--a month, where I actually collected unemployment!--had been just after I'd left grad school, with my oh-so-employable MFA. My student loans had come due; I had made one payment. And so I was dead broke, insurance-free, and had few skills beyond running a cash register and picking up customers' abandoned sodas and Kleenexes off the floor. I had at least abstained from any facial piercings to conform to the Draconian mall-bookstore dress code.

I job-hunted then like that was my job, in a clammy terror the entire time. And a former fellow clerk knew someone who was looking for a writer, someone to craft software training manuals. They took me on as an intern. The first day, I did not even know how to turn on my PC, had only ever mastered my third-hand Apple IIC at home. "Have you set up your email yet?" the woman in charge of onboarding me asked, and I said "No!" brightly, and then watched her like a hawk to find out where the power button was. Nearly 20 years ago, and I owe virtually my entire technical career to that moment, and to a series of lucky accidents and friend-of-a-friends.

With most of those two decades nestled in the bosom of NerdCo, I am pretty well buffered while I contemplate my next steps. I've socked away enough, established sufficient history, that I can remain calm and approach a fresh job search without the same panic I felt at 25. This feeling itself is new, something I need to get used to...but truth be told, I feel worse for my colleagues: for the others who were laid off, who have shorter career trajectories--and in most cases, little shorties to take care of, at home. And I feel for the colleagues who remain, shouldering the work left over when hundreds of us were Raptured outta there. Monday is gonna be rough.

But not for me, not in the same way. That's the trippiest part, the notion that, for a while at least, my time is my own. For two days I packed up my motley assortment of crap (vast 1960s table lamp/ Mariners bobbleheads/editing textbooks/gigantic coffee mug), gave and received hugs, gratefully accepted the immense margarita my team took me out for. My immediate manager was actually out of the US for a conference; he didn't even know what had happened until I sent out a farewell email. He called me Thursday afternoon, shocked and apologetic, and was surprised to catch me still at my desk.

"Well..." I said, looking around at the inflatable garden gnome/throw rug/favorite yo-yo/vast postcard collection I had yet to cram into boxes. "I'm still packing." My boss continued to express regret, empathy, etc. Then he said:

"Okay, well...don't do any more work on [Labyrinthine Project] or [Onerous Task], okay? You can just hand those off to me or Tortilla," he noted, utterly earnest. For a brief moment I thought about hitting the Mute button and laughing hysterically, because OH, OKAY, I WON'T. And he is either the noblest man in the world, or sweetly severely deluded, but if he thought I'd accomplished a single thing besides the packing, hugging, crying, and margarita-drinking since 11:08 AM, he was...misled. Maybe it was jet lag? At any rate, he was gracious and supportive, so I chose to find this remark hilarious, and still do. Not a bad way to go out.

That night, I had a pint of ice cream for dinner and watched three DVRed episodes of Billy on the Street--something about all that screaming was soothing, in a way I can't explain. Yesterday, I went in with Krispy, another RIF-ee, to make our final purchases of every possible thing you could put a NerdCo brand on in the company store, and then turn in our laptops and worn, raggedy corporate IDs. We went out for happy hour beer and nachos.

And then I, a legendary insomniac, came home, took a two-hour nap on the couch, and then rallied enough to move to the bed. I'm not exaggerating at all, to say that I am a terrible, terrible restless sleeper. For weeks, for years, I've lain in bed unable to shut my mind down--that little hamster running on the wheel, planning ahead to the next meeting, the next draft, the next deadline, oh god I have to set up that conference call, who has the blahblah spreadsheet, don't forget to update the database, on and on and on. And come morning, I'd be that person who hits the snooze button three, five, twelve times...or resets the alarm for twenty or thirty minutes, who tosses around sluggish and desperate, and for whom no amount of hot shower or coffee really kicked me into high gear, nine days out of ten.

Last night, I slept like a corpse. Smooth, sweet, dreamless dark, straight through til morning. I only awoke when Frankie decided, at his Swiss-accurate 7:30 on the dot, that just because we were now indigent was no excuse for his being able to see the bottom of his bowl, and could I please make with the kibble immediately, thank yew. I felt like a completely new woman. And oh, I am sure that new stress, different stressors, will surface soon enough. Eventually, I will lie awake grinding my teeth about entirely different professional challenges! But for the moment, in the moment...I am going to be just fine.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

I just wanna get some kicks

My Facebook feed lit up this week, with pictures of everybody's kiddos returning to school. Little dumplings in the primary grades. A high-school classmate's daughter, following in our footsteps as a newly-minted Garfield freshman--an effective sobering agent in case we awoke feeling remotely spry or youthful. My cousin's oldest son, launched into our 1980s football rival, Snohomish High. (I say "rival" only in the sense that we were somehow cruelly classified in the same division and had to play each other, because GHS football stunk up the joint.)

I must say, you parentals are so prepared for the Pinterest nation we live in now! Posing the kids in, say, the same spot, year to year! Giving them a little sign to hold, stating their hopes and dreams! That is actually going to really help in 30 years--they'll be able to tell what the heck is going on, and gauge their progress towards becoming a ballerina-veterinarian, or whatever.

I mean this sincerely. Not having progeny of my own, I went digging through yon family archives to see if I could find my own first-day pictures. We were much more haphazard with the photo milestones, it seems. Maybe this was due in part to the nature of real film itself? My mom's persistent inability to center a viewfinder on the scene in question meant that she'd fire off one or two weirdly composed shots AT BEST; processing was a whole 'nother order of expensive. One set of these back-to-school, September-morn prints states on the border that it was developed the following January. We were parsimonious, with our Kodak moments--it was better if you could get school-Halloween-turkey-Christmas-birthday-neighbor's litter of kittens on one roll.

At any rate, I couldn't find them all. I found enough, however, to compose a mortifying photo essay and time capsule. Dig it:


Kindergarten. I remember resenting the immense nametag and, presumably, care and feeding instructions? pinned to my left shoulder. I got my mother to pin it to the jacket, which I promptly shrugged out of and hung on the designated little peg in my similarly-labeled cubby, because what was I, a moron? I KNEW MY OWN NAME, sheesh. Room 10, Mrs. Bacon, yadda yadda, I AM HERE FOR THE EDUCATION LET'S GO.

Third grade, which would put Sis in kindergarten. Nice socks with sandals, there, Northwest Stereotype Girls. This dress came with a little red blazer, I guess so that I could easily take my look from "Highland Park Elementary" to "night" with a simple adjustment. Also, check out the rabbit ears, with which my grandpa was coordinating NASA satellites.

Fourth grade. I think this is the first year Mom was likewise working in the public schools, and as you can see we are all SUPER EXCITED by this academic development.

Look at that folder, though. No mere Pee-Chee for me: I selected that majestic mountain vista myself, y'all. This is only the very first evidence of my persistent belief that the right accessories (spiral-bound notebook/leather journal/antique desk/sleek laptop/sushi-shaped pencil erasers) will generate the greatest American novel and/or confer the PhD themselves. The globe is very intellectual-looking also.

I know there's a sixth-grade picture, lost somewhere, because I used it as a painful "thinspiration!" photo stuck on the fridge for far too long. I'd selected every element of my ensemble myself, too: white jeans, a navy-and-white-striped Oxford shirt with a Nehru collar, and brown suede platform-wedge loafers that I...might consider wearing today. Feathered hair. I weighed 113 pounds, but was angling to get back down to double-digits, because "100" was way, way too much. I was 11 years old. Oy. Ladies, girls, kids, everyone: don't do this to yourselves! If I did have a daughter, or a son, I hope that'd be the one thing I wouldn't pass on, the decades and decades of obsessing about exactly this. You're beautiful and perfect and your body is a miracle machine, full stop. Regret nothing! Except maybe the outfits!

Okay, PSA over. Eighth grade. 80s fashion was a slippery slope, and I'm afraid both Sis and I were rolling rapidly downhill at this point.

Won't someone please think of THE CHILDREN, and then STOP THEM? Is her Colonel Sanders tie worse than my twee little grosgrain-ribbon choker? My teddy-bear ski sweater? I think her hair is entirely my fault--I'd braided it, wet, the night before, to make it wavy. Later, Sis was brave enough to undergo a perm; timid, I continued to farf around instead with ribbons, barrettes, and the occasional novelty shoelace as hair accessories. I...don't know. It's a tie, in which nobody wins. Though if you look closely, you might note that my pinstriped jeans give me a slight edge. Kudos also to Mom, who's gotten a new 35mm camera so she can better capture random shadows across our squinting faces, plus a crystalline focus on the landscaping behind us.