The Layoff Diaries: Nice girls finish last?

piggy-bankWhen I pick up my daughters at the end of the day, it’s not the typical “grab backpacks and firmly herd them out the door” kind of scene.

Because Joe is the family cook – and he won’t be home until after Neve’s pre-school closes at 6, anyway – it frankly makes no difference to me whether the girls want to linger and play with their friends or leave right away. So on most days, I take a seat and play with them, or chat with the young women who are their caregivers, or just spectate.

While doing the latter on a recent evening, Neve and a friend were playing with a plastic toy garage, with curving car ramps, when a younger blond girl approached the table and pulled it toward herself.

Neve yelled, “Hey!” and yanked it back, like a reflex.

I, meanwhile, did the thing you expect mommies to do. I said, “Neve, she shouldn’t have grabbed it from you, but you don’t have to freak out, either. You could just pull it back and say, ‘Excuse me, we were playing with that.’”

But even as I went through the motions of saying these words, I wondered if this is how it starts. If these are the subtle ways that girls are taught that “being nice” is prized over backbone and action. (You might think, “You’d say that to a son, too” – and you’re right, I probably would; but boys aren’t usually groomed in the same way girls are to “not make waves” and to always put others’ needs before their own.)

The timing of this particular parenting question is no accident. Since my layoff happened on January 6 – 33 days ago now – I’ve been accepting free-lance assignments from a number of sources: theater companies, local arts-oriented websites, news organizations, etc. But because I’ve been out of the free-lancing game for nearly 12 years, I found myself immediately staring down my least favorite part of this racket: negotiating a price for my labor. Continue reading

The Layoff Diaries: Going dark

12573942_10153465019147632_7273749574340761564_nA week and a day after my layoff, I sat in a neighborhood hair salon and considered, for the first time ever, going brunette.

When I’d made the appointment, I’d planned to get my usual blond highlights and a cut, so that if and when I actually had a job interview, I’d look more put-together than I actually am. But I already wasn’t feeling like myself, being out of work for the first time in nearly 12 years. Did I really need a physical, external change, too?

Well, yeah. I guess I did.

I wanted the world to somehow get tipped off to this otherwise painfully invisible, seismic change that’s now underway inside of me, as an inevitable result of this layoff. Yes, I’m laboring to do all the things you do to see yourself through a mini-unemployment crisis – overhauling my resume, writing cover letters, updating my LinkedIn page – but it still feels like I’m floating through these days. I have plenty to do to keep myself busy, but I miss my coworkers, and the energetic hum of the newsroom, and the satisfaction that comes from writing and publishing stories daily.

So although I hadn’t considered a significant hair color change until I was sitting in that chair, I found myself – when my stylist said, “What would you think of going darker?” – nodding and saying, “Yeah. Let’s do it.”

At this point, I should note that I’m not a person who makes broad changes of any kind in regard to my appearance. I’ve never gone through a phase of strange or different hair colors (though I’ve been tempted upon reaching middle age); my clothing is far more comfy than chic; I don’t wear makeup; and I have no tattoos – hell, I never even bothered to pierce my ears. I always liked the idea of asking the world to accept me precisely as I am, by nature.

But guess what? Going “natural” now just might hinder my job prospects.

Yes, my stylist and I chose a shade of dark chestnut that would mask the gray in my hair, since I now have to, on top of everything else, worry about appearing to be “too old” in my job interviews. I don’t generally kvetch about aging, but I must admit, being forced to think about this definitely adds to the humiliation of being unemployed. (Tellingly, I was tempted to write in my cover letter, “Sorry in advance for not being a Millenial, but if you’ve got a VHS player lying around, I’m your girl.”)

When my stylist brushed and blow dried my hair, I stared at her station’s mirror uncomprehendingly. The skin on my forehead looked red and irritated from the eyebrow wax, so at least that much was familiar. But the dark, shoulder-length mop on my head looked more like a stylish wig than something that was now part of my body.

So often, you want big shifts in your life to not threaten or change the person you’ve worked so hard to become. I remember desperately hoping to maintain a sense of my hard-won identity after we had kids, for example. But it was ludicrous, of course, to expect or even hope for such a thing. Becoming a parent can’t not change you, since the center point of your whole life shifts.

In that same vein, losing a job that you poured your heart and soul into for more than a decade can’t not change you, either. My family and friends will certainly help me stay rooted, but professionally, I’m on my way to destinations unknown.

And as a nod of acquiescence to this truth, I now look more like the stranger I suddenly feel myself to be.

Out of work, out of whack


(This photo was taken on the last day of operations for the original Ann Arbor News in 2009.)

Last Wednesday morning, I stood in front of my closet and asked Joe, “So what do you wear to get fired?”

The line was kind of funny, in a gallows humor way; but this wasn’t just a joke, and I wasn’t speaking hypothetically.

After receiving a late-in-the-day Tuesday email – containing three clues that blinked like a neon sign, pointing to my imminent layoff – I’d stayed up late, uploading the hundreds of videos and photos (mostly of my daughters) from my work-issued phone, and sending documents and contacts I wanted to keep from my laptop.

It was like living out that “If you were stranded on a desert island” scenario, but with your two most essential gadgets.

We tried to hold to our usual morning routine on Wednesday, getting Lily to the bus stop, and dropping Neve off at preschool; but then I stepped back into our quiet, empty house, left to twiddle my thumbs until nearly noon.

Which led to the next question, “What do you do while waiting to get fired?”

I’d thought a bit about this the night before, while frantically uploading, and I’d decided that this would be the perfect window of time to finish up my year-end wrap-up of local theater highlights and news. I was off the clock, and year-end pieces like this had recently gone the way of the dodo, but I’d wanted to do it, anyway.

It would be my swan song, my parting gift to a theater community that had weathered a pretty tough year; and as it happened, this gift was mutually beneficial, in that I felt grateful for being able to focus on pulling together story under a tight deadline – just like old times – and leaving my nearly 12 years in arts journalism with a story that only I could write. Continue reading