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Here’s to your illusions.

November 3, 2011

Four years ago, I was in stuck in a routine. I got up in the morning, played with my bird, went to work, went out to eat (which was the focus of my work), went to a dance class and then went home.

Except for the dance classes, there wasn’t really much in there that demanded anything of me, other than my time. I worked 80 hours a week, filling the weekends and evenings with work, but it was largely a blur, all rote. Reading 19th century novels was my one great escape, the one big thing that prevented my brain from petrifying into the vapid mess that surrounded me.

I was working for a newspaper at the time, and I had stopped reading it because nothing in it had any relevance to my life. All of the political news I had read online before the paper hit my driveway in the morning, and I had written most of the rest of what interested me or listened to the reporters around me talk about what they would be writing.

That was supposed to be the way it was until retirement. Put in the hours, do a good job and forget about it.

Then, 2 1/2 years ago, I lost my job. I wasn’t the only one bored with the paper. Hundreds of thousands of readers had left it in recent years and, according to many of my friends, don’t even notice that it’s gone from their lives. So, 175 of went down on what I call the Ash Wednesday Massacre, for that was the day we were told.

Suddenly there was no need for my specialized services. I was forced to admit that I was no longer in control of what happened to me. I actually knew that already, thanks to my faith, but it doesn’t mean I wanted to acknowledge it.

And it hasn’t always been easy since.

After months of no work, I found myself taking minimum wage, seasonal work at a bookstore that occasionally only had seven or eight hours of work a week for me. (For those who have not worked minimum wage in decades, that’s about $55 a week before taxes, which is not enough to pay heat in the winter let alone a mortgage.) But I loved the work. There was something thrilling about helping a person find the book they were looking for, but they had no clue what the title was or who wrote it. All they had was a vague remembrance of something.

Then came another labor drought, followed by a job at the U.S. Census, a promised six-week gig that turned into six rewarding months. But it, too, came to an end. There was no illusion of control or routine or habit to develop with that.

Six months ago, I landed a job writing for an insurance company. I find myself getting up in the morning, playing with the bird, heading off to work, eating at maybe two restaurants on the way home (more work again), taking a dance class on occasion, and writing all night.

But I’m not nursing any illusions this time. I’m a contract worker, which means that the job could end whenever the money runs out. I do have health insurance, but I don’t even take that for granted.

God often has a way of taking us from famine to feast. Because I was out of work, I figured it was a good time to start on my master’s degree. I had the free time to devote to the classes and the papers I would have to write. But the second semester and work both started the same day. I have also partnered with a long-time colleague on an online magazine devoted to food in the area. Then, a couple of months go, we were approached by a Connecticut publishing firm to write a book. How could we say no?

So, my juggling act has gotten good lately, though I will admit not all of the knives have been in the air as long as others. I forced myself to check into a hotel room this past weekend in order to get away from it all and do nothing but work. It helped. I now feel more comfortable about the December book deadline than I have in weeks.

I now feel more connected to my classwork, even if I don’t get to post as much as I would like; and to my website’s readers; and to my job.

It’s great, except the bird is screaming because he’s being neglected. It’s a reminder — a very loud one, in fact — not to prop up any more illusions along the way. It’s out of my hands, and the more I remember that, the more I can focus on what needs to be done.


From → #CMC11

  1. Karen permalink

    Hi John,

    I love the post and I can relate to your sistuation. I became unemployed about 4 years ago, and rather than feel sorry for myself, I decided to enroll in college. I really had no expectations about wether or not I could do it. To be honest, I had not been in school since 1979 and back then I was a terrible student. I was extremely afraid of failure and the idea of going to class on campus scared me to death. I was in my late 40’s when I began this treck and I didn’t think that I would fit in within a classroom. Online allowed a flexibility that I couldn’t get anywhere else, so here I am. I hope to graduate in December and go for my master’s as well. Here I was this crappy student in high school who never thought that she would amount to anything, and now I’m less than two months away from accomplishing something, that to me is incredible. I think for the most part that good things will come if you just believe. I really do believe in the power of positive thinking. Just when I was on the verge of not being able to pay my bills, I got a call from a wonderful family looking for a part time nanny. The pay is good and the job gives me the flexibility to finish my schoolwork. It came at a time when I was really at the end of my rope. But, I kept the faith and things have worked out for the best.

    Karen M.

    • Excellent news on your job and being able to keep up with your schooling. May things continue to do work out well for you.

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