Thursday Ten: And It’s Time to Turn the Page edition

1. It hasn’t really hit me yet, I suppose, because if it had I am sure I’d be a sobbing mess of goo unable to function but: I am now an unemployed person. I jokingly referred to myself as a “lady of leisure” when talking to my mom after I left the office for the last time on Tuesday afternoon, but there has been no leisure thus far, mostly because I feel like if I stop moving, I’ll lose any possible momentum I might have.

2. But I have to believe there is something better waiting for me – if for no other reason than because Chris keeps saying so. What I know is this – now that I’m done, I have a blank slate and who’s to say what is ahead of me. I do feel a bit lighter. Still fearful but instead of anticipatory dread, I can deal with what I know, this moment I’m in. And I hope Chris is right. I am hoping to find an amazing job opportunity. Soon.
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3. So, Valentines Day is tomorrow. Love it or hate it, you can at least know this: Candy will be half off on Saturday and that’s good news, right?

4. Took the pup in for a long overdue grooming and now that I can see his eyes again, he looks perpetually sad. Somewhere between close cropped and Muppet is where I like him best. With 20 pounds of fur gone, he’s lost that playful puppy look. Now he looks so serious.

5. I admit it, even though I know the south is ill equipped to deal with this weather and I don’t wish for them to struggle, there is a part of me that thinks, “At least it’s not us this time.” I’m so over snow. Sorry, Georgia. Have fun.

6. Love the original. Love the JillAndKate cover.

7. I have to get a new job. I just don’t have the patience to drive through the elementary school drop off line every day because WHY DOES IT TAKE YOUR SECOND GRADER FIVE MINUTES TO GET OUT OF THE CAR?

8. The nephew had some jaundice last week and a weirdly timed doctor’s appointment that made our attempt to do portraits a minor fiasco. Today is a do-over! Can’t wait!

9. I’m…not really watching the Olympics. I caught a few minutes of pairs skating while in a bar on Saturday but that was pretty much it and I can totally live with that.

10. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a moment to catch my breath. I feel so busy for this whole “not having a job” thing. I’m scared to sit still. Gotta. Keep. Moving.

Rage Against the (Snow Removal) Machine

Sometimes I wonder if it will ever stop snowing.

This winter has been relentless – both emotionally and weather-wise.

I am still reeling from finding out on Wednesday that my job is being eliminated due to budget cuts. My boss and the director of human resources sat me down, they complimented me on my sweater, how it made me a ray of sunshine or some such, and then told me that sorry but this is how it goes sometimes and la la la la la it was hard to focus after that because as much as I’d love to go completely stoic, I’m just not built that way. My eyes flooded with tears and my brain was instantly slammed by what I was hearing.

I was handed a bottle of water. “Take a sip, it’ll help.” I couldn’t see then, and still can’t, for that matter – how on earth water was going to help me? What could it possibly do to fix anything? I awkwardly took the water after being urged once more, “Be sure you drink some of that.”

It’s been a crazy few days since. I’ve been hoping, actually, to have time to truly process it – to truly just stop and just BE and pout a little if I want to, cry a little if I want to, bury myself under the covers if I need to. One thing after another has conspired to keep me from having a proper mope – a false alarm with my sister at the hospital, the kids not having school Friday, and then a weekend of mom’ing.

And Saturday morning, I woke up to this.

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In the midst of winter storm warnings, we had blizzard like weather – with not much new accumulation (I don’t think) but a lot of blowing and drifting snow. When I opened my garage on Saturday morning this is the sight I was met with – a drift that was at least a foot tall, probably closer to two (And oh, how I wish I’d measured it).

I scooped a pile of snow and the shovel was heavy with the weight of the wet snow. I turned around and went inside.

I can’t do this, I said.

I bitched about winter on Facebook a little.

“You need a snowblower,” some genius commented on my status.

Admittedly, my hackles were immediately raised.

Oh really? So, that’s how you get rid of snow? A snow blower? Is that what I need?

I don’t need a snow blower. I need a job.

Disposable income? What’s that?

OH. A SNOW BLOWER. I hear they’re giving those away with Happy Meals now.

As if you could understand.

I don’t want to be angry and I don’t want to be bitter, but I am a little angry and I am sort of bitter and frankly I found the comment to be so irritating that I bundled up in two pairs of pants, my grandpa’s flannel, boots, hat, scarf and gloves and I went back outside and I pushed through it until my whole damn driveway was nearly clear. And when my brother-in-law arrived as the local road crews were burying the end of my driveway in sludge, I graciously accepted his help and we finished the shoveling.

I don’t need a snow blower.

I am strong. And I’m capable.

I may hate the cold. I may hate the snow. I may hate shoveling. I may be recovering from being sick.


And I did it thinking of that smug woman and her “You need a snowblower” sitting in her home while her husband undoubtedly took care of her driveway and I finished it proud of myself.

(Still angry, though)

This morning, I cleared out the three new inches of fresh powdery snow in a -8° windchill. By the time I made it back inside, my body was numb. Despite my gloves, I couldn’t feel my hands. “I hurt, I hurt, I hurt, I hurt…” I kept repeating over and over until I was able to regain feeling in my fingers.

I hate winter.

This Polar Vortex garbage is lurking on the horizon again and we’re looking at another week with bone-chilling temperatures. I cannot take it anymore. Every winter makes me want to move to California again – this winter more than most.

I want to escape the cold. I want to escape the snow.

I want to escape the helplessness I feel – helpless because I’m losing my job, helpless because finding a new one is proving to be dang near impossible, helpless because I can’t run away from it all. I’m here. And I have no choice but to put one foot in front of the other.

“You need a snowblower,” was just one more thing.

As though problems are so easily solved. As though one can know what any one else is enduring. As though the answer is to always take the easy way, the way that is the least work, the one that allows you to push through without the back-breaking, muscle-aching, sweat-dripping, snow-slinging WORK.

I’d love to take the easy way.

Who wouldn’t?

But since I can’t, I’ve got my shovel out. May take me awhile to get it all cleared out…but I’m told that I will and I’ll just have to believe it.


Waiting at the unemployment office

I once saw an episode of Oprah – it was awhile back, of course, because Oprah was still on the air and not just on her ridiculous Oprah channel. Denzel Washington was on her show that day, I think he was probably promoting John Q (a not altogether awful movie, if I’m remembering correctly). ANYWAY, somehow in this segment with Denzel, he shared his philosophy:

You have to do the things you have to do so you can do the things you want to do.

I think about that often, how there are things that just have to come first, priorities that need to shift to get in line with the way life goes.

And then I think to myself, Whoa, self. You give Denzel a LOT of head space.

I went back to the unemployment office today. I didn’t want to, for sure, but I had to. I’ve worked hard since I was 16 years old. I’ve always had a job. I’ve always paid taxes and contributed to society and all that whoosy-whatsit, and now that I’m not working full time, as much as I would love to not need the unemployment check, I kinda do.

It’s taken me awhile to reconcile myself to that – because frankly, not being able to do everything on my own without help is kind of pissing me off.

I didn’t want to go back. Thursday was really difficult for me and I wasn’t the least bit eager to experience that again. I didn’t want to cry in public. I didn’t want to be angry. I didn’t want to spend my whole day in that dismal office.

I gathered my paperwork. Check stubs. A People magazines. Two books. Two granola bars and a plastic sandwich bag of popcorn. It could be a long day, didn’t want to get hangry. A notebook and pen, because my god, if I’m going to sit there I am going to take notes.

I arrived just moments after the office opened. The parking lot was already full and when I entered the doors I was immediately faced with full house.

I was ticket number 537.

A glance at the wall showed that they were on 471. 66 people in front of me today.

One of the workers was talking as I walked in. They had yet to start assisting claimants and were going over basics – computers over here and here to use, if you’re dropping off a form go here, you can use these phones. La la la. The room smelled like stale second hand smoke. Every chair was full but no lawn chairs yet. Nearly all of us seemed to be wearing dark colors. Were we trying to fade into our surroundings or just taking on the grim nature of the occasion with our wardrobe choices.

8:30 a.m.: The first lawn chair made an appearance.

There’s an obnoxious loop of information on the television. One segment had a little boy in a suit singing in this exaggerated falsetto. I glanced around the room for a moment, trying to place the source of this noise, before realizing it was the television. Off an on for hours, that kid. Shrieking into the room. Who the hell thought that was a good idea?

A man holding a paper cup of McDonald’s coffee circled the perimeter of the room, his pointer finger buried into his ear up to its first knuckle, rooting rooting. Ear muffs perched on the top of his head. Root, twist, dig in the ear with the finger.

When I was a kid, I loved the story Harriet the Spy – but as an adult, taking notes in the unemployment office, well… I felt like an oddity. I’d alternate: write, read my books, look at the clock, look what number they were on, but infrequently I’d look at my phone. It was my lifeline, that phone, and who knows how long I’d be there. The thought of sitting in the unemployment office with a dead phone somehow seemed even worse than just being there in the first place.

9 a.m.: 489. Shoot me. Faster than Thursday but still gruesome as hell.

“I’ve had two mochas; my toes are curling up. I’m gonna have to go home to have a beer to calm down.” The guy next to me was only without a job for two weeks and out of nowhere he’s telling me his story. Do I want to know his story? It’s far too easy to shift into my mode of not allowing strangers to just engage in conversation, but it seems rude, and we’re all kind of in the same boat. He was fired and said he shouldn’t have been. He found new work quickly but due to an error, never received his unemployment check. “I’m the sole breadwinner, ” he said. “My wife just started working a few days a week, but I just need the check for two weeks and then I hope to never come back here again.”

9:22 a.m.: 497.

Thirsty and hungry and the walls prominently feature signs that say food is prohibited. I began regretting that I’d said I’d go to work after settling things at unemployment because I was already weary and tired, and fantasizing about a really cold Coke Zero.

I found that I spent a lot of time in the unemployment office looking at the clock. This constant need to know the time is something I also experience on airplanes, and so here on land, it surprised me. I started wondering if anyone behind me was taking notes: Woman with brown hair, repeatedly looking at clock.

9:50 a.m.: 499. Shoot me. Shoot me. Shoot me. I’m not patient. This sucks. I feel resigned to the experience. Today is the day and I’m here until it’s done. Even if inside it’s killing me a little. Fine. A lot.

In two hours they saw 30 people. There were six people assisting claimants. 15 per hour? Darn near a half hour per person? The inefficiency of this office is mind boggling. I thought of busy emergency rooms and how patients are triaged based upon urgency – heart attacks before paper cuts. The Social Security Administration offices assist people based on the nature of their visit. Schedule appointments. Prioritize. SOMETHING. The rampant inefficiency was explained by a worker who stood before us and told us that the slow times we were experiencing were due to their new computer system.

“Didn’t y’all beta test this mess?” is what I want to ask, but don’t.Way to roll out a system that your employees can’t figure out.

That’s the government for ya, I suppose.

It’s 10:52. Nearly three hours gone. Coffee would be so good now.

A man and his daughter. A woman putting on makeup  while her son flipped through a book. A man bouncing a screaming baby. I can’t imagine having to bring my children here. Grateful I had a choice.

At 11, they started handing out Call Back slips. Already, people arriving at 11 or after had no guarantee of being seen today. Claimants could opt to leave, filling out a form detailing their problem and someone from the state would call them back with a solution to their problem. I don’t understand why they don’t do that for everyone. Seems more efficient.

When they called number 527, a man with long dreadlocks called out, “Bingo!” and the entire room erupted in giggles. Grateful for a laugh. Grateful that there were just ten more people ahead of me.

11:55 a.m.: 530

I was assisted by a friendly gentleman who never could tell me what the problem was only that he was fixing it, there now it’s fixed. He was kind and when I said, “I don’t think I’d want your job!” he argued back, “But this job makes so much sense. I love numbers.” I would have been annoyed if I was him and if my day had been go go go go go since the second I walked in the door. Then again, I don’t have a ton of patience. And people who are frustrated or upset would wear on me after awhile, I think.

When he told me the benefit amount, I asked, “Are you sure?” I wanted to be outraged. I wanted to be angry. It was considerably less than the determination they’d sent by mail months ago, months ago when they hadn’t done anything and nothing happened. This lesser amount was a shock. A shock, but still? It will help. Though I’ve never been one to be cavalier where money is concerned, it is still humbling to be so grateful for the mere fact that it lightens my load by that much.

I walked out the door five hours to the minute after I walked in.

I hope to never have to go back.

The state of the state and hours I don’t have

I walked in around 10 a.m. The parking lot was full and there were people milling around outside the doors. A gentleman was in my path, puffing on a cigarette and I was frustrated. You can’t just not smoke for the time it takes in here? I thought. Ridiculous. I veered around him, opened the doors, and was confronted with reality.

The reality of the Unemployment Office.

More accurately, it was (and is) what is called a Problem Resolution Office. Michigan has offices located all over the place for basic things – classes on how to update your resume, job postings, computers for you to look for employment or file your claims. These offices are plenty and located pretty centrally to most places. I have one not too far from me. These offices, however, cannot answer any of your questions. At all. In fact, they’re pretty straight up about it.

When I was told in January that my job was going to eventually be reduced to part time, Human Resources was adamant about letting me know that YES! Your! Part! Time! Status! Qualifies! You! For! Partial! Unemployment!

I’d rather have a full time job, but you know, part time unemployment, that’d help.

And I filed immediately when my job finally made the transition to part time.

It’s a tedious process, and I get the necessity of that. You can open your claim online or on the phone. You can do so in person. They make a determination (Yep! You’re Eligible! or HaHaHa Sucker Too Bad So Sad!).

I did this.

They made their determination.

I jumped through all the hoops – and there are a great many hoops. You have to call or report online every two weeks to answer a series of questions. You have to actively seek employment and report that as well.

I did everything I was supposed to do, and yet…

Nothing. Nothing ever came.

And at first, I thought to myself that even just the mere act of filing would make the cosmos smile upon me and a great job would be sent my way. I’d file and then get a job and be like, “NEVER MIND!”

But that’s not happening. At least not in a time frame that is suitable for real life. And real wallets.

I walked in to the office and it was filled with people. Before walking in, I had been trying to gauge how awful the experience would be: Would it be more or less painful than Secretary of State?

Spoiler alert: SO MUCH WORSE

There were rows and rows of chairs in this plain box of a room. Nearly every chair was occupied. People lined the walls of the room, and people sat at computers spaced on either side of the room. There was a line of several stations were people from the office were assisting customers.

I grabbed a number from the ticket machine.

I was number 613.

I stood on the wall for awhile, just gazing around the room, at the people. I saw new people go up to the desk and realized I had never heard the numbers called. I approached the security guard. “How will I know what number they’re calling?” I asked. “Are they posted somewhere?”

He gestured to the wall behind me. They were on number 452.

There were 161 people ahead of me.

Chew on that, if you will.


I started watching the numbers on the wall, how they wouldn’t move. There had to be at least five workers assisting people at those stations and yet those numbers NEVER. MOVED.

He Who Makes Me So Happy (I should probably just start referring to him by name, right?) had dropped me off at the office to get some coffee while I waited, and so he joined me shortly, as I stood watching the numbers that didn’t move and the people that didn’t leave their seats.

There was a woman behind us who had brought her own lawn chair. And all I could think was, She KNEW she was in for the long haul today.

I knew it’d be busy but I was amazed at how busy. How long it took. How nothing happened.

Women with babies. A man asleep at the computer. People rotating in and out to go stand outside and smoke. The smoke break made sense to me then – that guy had probably been there for hours.

The longer I stood there, the more the experience made me angry. And the angrier I got, the sadder I felt.

I hate this process, I hate this system. I hate the economy. I hate how this office is run. I hate these drab walls and I hate this industrial carpeting. I hate these plastic chairs and I hate the humiliation.

And it’s humiliating.

None of us asked for these circumstances, I’m sure. The last thing I want is to need the unemployment check, but… I’m a single mom raising two kids and yes, I need that check. I want to go to a job every day, and work my ass off and be impressive and do work that I love, that I’m passionate about and that makes a positive contribution. I’m trying to get back to that point.

In the meantime, this is what I need to do.

The longer I stood there, the more I wanted to cry. And the fact that I wanted to cry made me mad, all of those other people bravely sitting there in their plastic chairs, on the floor (ew…), on their lawn chairs, whatever – just standing there, waiting. No one else looked like they were going to cry. What’s my problem?

We left, making sure my 613 ticket was tucked in my pocket so we could come back later.

In the thirty to forty minutes I was there, they only got through FIVE claimants. FIVE.

There were still over 150 people to be seen before it’d be my turn.

He took me for a drive in the country. Quiet roads lined with trees with changing leaves. A fox darting along the road racing ahead and then slipping into a cornfield. A lake and a park that was closed. A battered house with a wooden swing hanging from rope from a tall strong tree in the yard. A bright shining sun on a beautiful day.

I could catch my breath and see beauty and feel those feelings – the fear, the anger, the frustration – settle for a moment.

Here’s the thing.

The system is screwed. That there are THIS MANY PEOPLE needing problem resolution is a problem. This was just one day of one week of one month of one year. And if I were to walk in the doors tomorrow, I’m sure I’d find the same scene with different players.

That’s a problem.

Offices all over the state, but only a select few that can answer your questions? THAT is a problem. Why is it that I can’t visit the office near my home and get answers to my questions? Why is it I can’t just EMAIL someone?

We returned an hour later, and I got out to see what number they were on. The group of men standing by the door looked me up and down so I walked faster to peek inside the building to find that they were only on number 479. There were still over 100 people ahead of me. I gave my number ticket to someone else on the way out and left, resigned to having to come back another day, armed with books, more patience and snacks.

I feel helpless. I feel helpless and angry and frustrated. This is an ugly and difficult thing to need to do, and yet… they make it harder. Everything from the inconvenience of the office, the drab and depressing decor, the long and impossible wait times – all of it makes this time even more demoralizing, more trying.

I don’t know anyone else’s stories. I don’t know their situations. I am sure we are all different in a lot of ways, but in this way we are similar. All of us just waiting.