The layoff, one year later

Last weekend was LiTFUSE–a fabulous three days of poets and poetry in Tieton, Washington. Plus a chance to see my aunt and uncle, a quick visit to the horses, a trip to see my grandmother’s old house. And poetry in the air–everywhere.

Last year, three days after LiTFUSE, I was laid off. People have asked if I’ve written about my “time between jobs”–what one person called my “fluid time.” Given the recent round of RIFs, it seems time to share my experience.

First, it was devastating. It felt like a death–but having been widowed in 1993, I knew that it was not a death. It was a huge loss, but nowhere near a death. By the second day, it felt like a divorce. I’ve never been divorced, but I imagine it might feel like that. On the other hand, this was not the love of my life. It was a job.

My family was amazing. “Now you’ll have time to write!” they said. I did write, starting with my resume. And filling out paperwork–a lot of paperwork.

Gradually, I was able to walk through the neighborhood in the afternoon–in broad daylight–and not feel like a total loser. I went to the gym every day. I wrote on the bus. I did not unpack my boxes (I still have boxes to unpack). I attended the induction ceremony when my son joined the Marines. I searched the job aggregation sites (like and I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn (it turns out that LinkedIn is important, and you need to have a lot of connections, and they need to be people you actually know). I also read novels and looked for cover art for In Both Hands, and read through four proofs. I thought about what I wanted to do next, what I wanted in my next job, what my next career might be. I made a list of all the places I applied (this was useful).

But I still carried a lot of fear–especially as that last list grew longer. What if I couldn’t find a job? What if no one would hire me? And I realized that I am a person who gets up and goes to work–it wasn’t so much the specific job, it was the doing, having that place to be, that way to contribute.

I started my new job in March, at a place where I get to use my skills and also learn a lot of new things.

Many people helped me through my transition, my fluid time. You know who you are–and I am so thankful for all that you did. People helped me with that resume, people met me for coffee, people sent job leads my way, accepted my invitations to connect on LinkedIn. I learned a lot about how to look for a job during the 21st century–but the biggest thing I learned? Generosity. Now it’s my turn to help.

I feel terrible for the people who are losing their jobs. Uncertainty is exhausting–even if it’s good for developing new neural networks, it’s tiring. But I also feel hope. And I am here for you.

Official transitions

On Friday, my son graduated from United States Marine Corps boot camp. I’m thankful we were able to fly down to San Diego for his graduation, and I’m thankful that he’s home on leave before his next phase begins.

Soon, my next phase will begin. I’m going to work for a company called Winshuttle. I’m excited and thankful for this new opportunity.

During the past few months, I’ve thanked my family for their support and I’ve thanked all the people who met with me, sharing their insights and encouragement.

Thank you, again and again.

In or out of the box

Is it one box?

Can you put all your passions and tasks, your past experiences and your ambitions into the same container? After all, they’re a part of you, and your one self.

I’ve been thinking about compartmentalizing–how I was one person at work and another person at home and maybe another when I stand up in front of a microphone, just for starters. Do I need to be all these separate people? Or can I be me–all the time?

Recently during a meeting about future job prospects, someone asked me what kind of poetry I write. I gave a kind of tortured, generic answer (free verse, formal verse, including some sonnets), when I could have pulled a copy of Into the Rumored Spring out of my purse and said, “Well, here’s an example.” I was making too strong a distinction between “work” and “everything else,” between my professional tech life and my poetry life. And I missed an opportunity.

But if I combine everything, am I deterring other opportunities?

On LinkedIn and on this blog, I have been mingling transitions, book announcements, writing questions, poetic craft. It’s all welcome, and I think that’s how I want my in-person life to be: Whether I’m thinking outside the box or working inside it, I want everything there.

Do you maintain separate presences or even personas for the different things you do? Or have you merged them into one glorious “This is who I am”? What trade-offs have you found?

How not to look stupid

Start by looking stupid.

It’s okay. No one has to see you.

When writing something for the first few times–especially the first time–I find I try to get it all in my head before I write it down. I get stuck in thinking it has to be perfect and since I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, it’s doomed to fall short.

Hence, procrastination. Staying stuck.

But if I tell myself that it can be terrible because I’m going to go over it at least two or three more times, I can start. As soon as I’ve got something down on the page, I’m on my way.

Lately I’ve needed to do new things, or seldom-done things. I call them my new genres: Resumes, summaries, cover letters, introductions, press releases, postcards, and asking for things.

Asking questions–for information or help or anything else–is like doing something new. There’s that fear of looking stupid.

Ask yourself if you can find the information on your own, if you can look it up later, and if that’s okay. If not, ask yourself if that’s really the question (or is another question lurking behind it).

If you’re in a meeting or a class, listen closely to make sure your question isn’t answered while you’re waiting to ask it. (Seriously, this happens.)

Then ask.

Even if you feel stupid for a fraction of a second (and in this case, people do see you), chances are good that at least one other person in the room has the same question, and that person will thank you. (I’d rather ask a question that everyone else knows the answer to than walk out of a room without the information I need.)

How do you get unstuck? How do you approach your new genres or situations? Or, that question behind the question, how do you overcome fear?

Reinvention, revisited

What new things do you want to try in the new year? Big changes? Subtle adjustments?

Early January, we’re thinking about resolutions, about change, about improving our lives and how we live them.

Last year, I posted about reinvention–the long list and the 5-item cheat sheet.

Now I’ve read an opinion that reinvention is a path to disaster (examples cited: opening a B&B or starting a vineyard) and instead we need to think about reintegration.

I’m a word person. I’m a poet. I like to think about different words and their nuances. But here, I’m staying squarely on the side of reinvention. And it doesn’t mean throwing out all your life experience and starting from scratch.

It means taking what you’ve learned–about the world and yourself–and striking out in a direction that makes sense to you. Sure, that’s a risk–but it isn’t a crazy risk. It also means doing the research. That’s what I like about the advice to find mentors and read a lot of books. If you find you don’t like talking about your passion or reading about it, maybe it isn’t a passion, or a good direction for you. Good to know–and you aren’t going to find out if you don’t try.

Back in October, I thought maybe I should go to vet-tech school and become a veterinary technician. This lasted for a couple of days–until I realized I wouldn’t be happy in any work that didn’t involve some kind of writing or editing. (It will have to be enough that my cat sometimes sits on me while I write.)

Maybe reintegration is a more clinically accurate word–implying weaving back into the past. Right now, I like the idea of bringing all my experience–my years and stories and skills, as though they’re folded up in a red kerchief and tied to a stick I can shoulder–and moving forward in a new direction.

In the meantime, my next book has been sent to the printer, I’ve applied for work at some new kinds of places, the sun is out, and the view from here looks good.