Monday, June 25, 2018

I Lost My Job

Can I write about the loss of my dayjob on a metal detecting blog?
Let’s see.

Later this week, I will submit my last stories to the University of Michigan Office of Medical Development and Alumni Relations. In one way or another, I’ve been employed by the U-M (my alma mater) for 22 years – a relationship that has supported me and my family with varying degrees of generosity. Despite its many distractions (and the cognitive dissonance of dayjob vs. artist), my work for Michigan has buoyed me through the creation of dozens of dance/theater pieces and hundreds of songs. Because of this job, I have a (very) modest retirement account that I never would have had if not for those “golden handcuffs.” Because of this job, I made some stellar friends I adore to this day.

This is one of those stellar friends,
on casual Friday.
What did I actually do? From ’96 to ’01, I was the public relations coordinator for the U-M Museum of Art. I also organized community arts events that were tied to exhibitions. That was fun.

In 2001, I took a job as a development writer for the Medical School. As part of a feisty, supportive, brilliant team, I wrote campaign copy, research descriptions and donor bios (hundreds and hundreds of donor bios, which I LOVED!) I interviewed and wrote about billionaire philanthropists. I ghost-wrote letters for various deans and administrators, and historical articles and (more) research descriptions for our beautiful alumni magazine.

This is not an example of the kind of writing I
did for the U-M Medical School.

The health insurance was dreamy. After years of dancing, I had my right hip resurfaced in South Carolina in 2006. It set me back $150.

This is money I dug up. I did not have to dig
up any money to pay for my first hip surgery.
Due to dreamy U-M health insurance. 

Here's an example of one story I loved every minute of writing:
http://staffstories.umich.edu/genius-in-his-hands/


All the while, I was writing more and more music, zooming to Nashville to record demos and get the lay of the land. Al was touring the world with Bettye LaVette and I was home with the responsible dayjob/health insurance, feeling increasingly bitter, pulling against an oceanic current of longing to be part of a bigger songwriting scene.

In 2007, I asked my boss if it would be possible for me to move Nashville. He didn’t hesitate. “Sure!” he said. A year later, we did, with the full blessing and understanding of my amazing office mates and administration. Not only would I be writing from my home office in TN, I’d be driving all over the state visiting alumni. I set up my computer and worked 9-5, just like everyone else. Far from the distractions of the office, my productivity soared and my annual reviews reflected this.

Metal detecting a construction site while I should have been
at my desk working for the Medical School. SUCKAHHHS!
I am totally joking.

Things happen, though, don’t they? (The next part is boring. In fact, I’m pretty sure this whole thing is boring. That’s why I’m illustrating it with items I’ve dug out of the ground.)

Like this beautiful, brass instrument mouthpiece.

In 2013, there was a sweeping deck-shuffle back in Ann Arbor. A new director was hired to reorganize the entire office and in the process, it was “discovered” that there was a full-time employee (little me, trying desperately to keep my head down) in Tennessee of all places. Outrage! 

Look at this OUTRAGEous haul from a Nolensville-area
construction site.

A new supervisor, oozing great, smarmy “empathy” made me an offer. I could keep my job, she said, if I moved back to Michigan. I declined. They couldn’t terminate me right then because I was in the middle of a huge, multi-year writing project. But when that ended, I transitioned to free-lance.

(Even though it is beneath me, I feel a strong urge to hint at the identity of that smarmy empath. Her name sort of rhymes with “Buy me lunch” and soon after she terminated me, she was gone too. Such is OfficeLand.)

I feel a little bit bad about making fun of the name of the lady
who terminated me. Pearl is clearly embarrassed too. She
thinks I am not being the best version of myself.

I love that the word “free” is in “free-lance.” Did I feel free tho? No, mostly terrified. When you’ve had phenomenal health insurance for years, the lack of it brews up a stew of anxiety that, in turn, makes you sick. I’m not going to rant about health care in America – not here – except to say “Thank you, ACA.”

Found this awesome 1910 City of Chicago
"Vehicle Tag" in a northern Michigan field
last fall. The man largely responsible for the
ACA is said to have ties to the Windy City.

I augmented my income with lucrative assignments from renowned medical schools in Gainesville, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chapel Hill. And of course, I taught a zillion dance classes – gritting my teeth through the pain in my other hip joint. All of it was never quite enough to pay my part of the bills, but Al, bless him, kept touring.

Me, at DancEast (where I teach), in full
detecting/songwriting regalia. Even I
am not sure why this photo exists.

I’m no innocent. As I knew would happen, the U-M freelance work began to evaporate. I’ve been physically gone from the office for years, my accomplishments and my genuine belief in the place mean nothing now.  A week ago, I got a very nice call from the truly lovely man who now heads communications there, snipping my final connection to the place. Something about a budget.


Part of someone's budget a century ago.

And so here I sit, trying to figure out what’s next. In the other room, I have two shelves of books about the history of the University of Michigan Medical School. I have thick files of research for all the stories I wrote, stories I cared about. Why did I care? Because I’m a carer, and it all seemed so important at the time. Even as I wrote the stuff, I tried to remember: this won’t last forever and won't mean much in the long run.

These items used to mean something to someone.

This Civil War gunpowder keg used to "belong"
to a soldier.

A man wore this against his chest, then lost it.

These things were useful. They had value. Then they were dropped.
And then I dug them up.


I’m 60 years old. I just had hip surgery #2. In five years, I’ll be eligible for Medicare. Who knows what will happen to the ACA in the next five years? I’ve got other some stuff going on in my body that could get rather expensive and it sure would be nice to feel like simply existing isn’t dangerous.

Me, pondering the future. Or perhaps just looking at a tree.

60. I’ve been applying for weeks, for work I could excel at with my eyes closed, and have not heard one thing back. I picture the 30-something HR lady looking at the year I graduated from Michigan and doing the math. 

I teeter back and forth between “go get that fucking JOB” and “why bother trying?” (While filling out a recent application, I was asked to answer the following question: “Do you believe in the Eternal Lake of Fire for the Unsaved? Check yes or no.”)

I really can't think of anything to say, so here are some figurines.

Notice that I haven’t said anything about trying to support myself through my songwriting? That is some pondering for another time, but suffice it to say, I’m a realist. When you blend the current state of the music “industry” together with my innate introversion and cosmic lack of drive, you get a whole lotta overwhelm. And song after song, written simply for the writing.

Me at the Bluebird Cafe, feeling grateful and happy.

Goodness! That’s enough introspection to last me a good, long while. I’d walk the dogs now, but it’s too hot. Al comes home tonight after two weeks touring Europe with country music royalty Carlene Carter, whose music always makes me feel like good things happen. So maybe they will.

Here are things I’m good at (in no particular order):
Development writing
Editing
Interviewing
Artist promotion
Songwriting
Teaching songwriting
Dance teaching (babies to adults)
Metal detecting
Metal detecting blog-writing
Dogs
Gardening
Driving (’99 Camry, baby...)
A particular kind of gluten-free cookie (Note: I am not GF)

If you hear of anything, let me know. Meanwhile, I'll be OK. I have a shiny, new left hip and am just about ready to plunge a shovel into the ground.

It's gonna be OK, Whit.









31 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing in such a personal way. A few years ago I had to start taking social security benefits at age 62 because of financial reasons. I would rather have waited until 65 when I would have had a higher monthly benefit but I couldn't wait.
    I feel your struggle and wish you only the best.
    Keep putting out good vibes and good vibes will happen to you.

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  3. I've concluded that new starts always begin with a bittersweet kick in the ass. Additionally, good things almost always follow. You're a very cool kitten, Whit. You'll completely own something awesome, new, exciting in no time. You will.

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    1. Thanks, dear David. I wasn't surprised to lose this cake job. Was actually shocked it lasted as long as it did. Feeling upbeat about the future. Hugs.

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  4. You a national treasure, Girl. Play on!

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  5. Not that it will make you feel better but it makes me feel better knowing that other people have major anxiety due to health ins. issues, not enough retirement savings, etc.
    Here are some pluses. You will get a job(s) because you’re super smart and talented at many things. Check out an app called DuoTrope for writers (it’s only $5 a month for lots of leads on paying writing gigs and free if you only want a few leads.
    I am teaching music at a new arts academy in Spring Hill and they may need another dance teacher. They teach lots of stuff there so PM me about it. And, you don’t have to put the year you graduated college on your application. Only where you graduated, (that’s a resume no-no). I never put the year down. Only list the last decade or so jobs you’ve done, not your whole history.
    Hope this was helpful. Love you lots and I will try to help if I can.

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  6. Sending all the positive vibes. I too was once an Ann Arborite - Ann Arboree?? Either way...I lived in A2. Met Al while he played at Zydeco on Main st. (I bartended). Now reside in the place my musical heart belongs - Nashville :-)
    Oh!! And I loved your book. :-)
    Positive vibes, good juju, rainbows and unicorns....and whatever else helps to land you a spot where you’ll be happy!

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    1. So sweet of you to reach out, Nichole. I loved those Zydeco days! Thanks for reading Not About Madonna! I'm always amazed to hear that anyone has read it. Be well.

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  7. You're a gem, Whit, an absolute gem.

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  8. Some one with good sense will see your value, so sending this out to the universe to tag that person. Glad you got your hip, they're so important. And thoroughly enjoyed this blog. Thanks for starting my day on a positive note. Watching for your next MI show.

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    1. Yes, I am LOVING my shiny, new hip joint. Went for the longest walk I've walked in YEARS tonight. Just. So. Great. Dr. Gross is my hero!

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  9. Please send your resume to me at stephanie at Cartycomms.com. I have a client who needs someone to write HR comms for a few months while a staff member is on maternity leave.

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  10. All the best, Whit. I don't know of anything right now, but I'll certainly keep my eyes and ears open. As somebody who found himself high and dry in later life, my advice is to network unashamedly. People will want to help, and that's how you find a gig.

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    1. Thank you! I actually got several promising leads from this post, of all things!

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  11. loved the bio of the lab surgeon; you are an engaging writer. Write a history book; you are well qualified to do so. I'd suggest overlooked women with great stories...major and minor...real gems out here waiting for you to expose or to give them a polish. I picked up a woman's short auto-bio at an estate sale, really amazing. If bill o reilly and bill bennett could write best sellers, you certainly can. I'm retired, would be glad to help.

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    1. thanks! I did write a book. Pretty proud of it. Got great reviews. I make about $7/year on it. Not a good ROI... I have some ideas tho...

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  12. oh!! Another thought. Metal detecting women have some very successful youtube and blogs, get invited the world over, maybe get sponsored, a cable show, who knows, maybe team up with a youngster with tattoos and purple hair...

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  13. Just wanted to say for the record, you're a gem. Thanks for sharing this brilliant post.XO Cindy Alexander

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    1. Gawsh, thanks, Cindy! I've already snagged a pretty sweet freelance gig -- from a metal detecting blogpost of all things. :-)

      I love keeping track of you and your precious kiddos via FB and hope our paths cross again sometime. Hugs. W

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  14. Thinking of you, Whit! I am in the same situation. Continue to try to lift myself up and keep moving forward. I echo the comments from others here. You will land somewhere that suits your talent and heart.

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  15. I know where youre coming from on the insurance.....with this next SCOTUS pick we might very well lose the "Pre-existing conditions" deal and after my wreck that pretty well is my whole deal......as always good luck to you, sounds like youve got a good attitude about it all and that helps! Chris Crawford

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    1. Thanks, Chris. Yeah, scary times. Hope you're on the mend. Be well, friend.

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    2. Thanks, Chris. Yeah, scary times. Hope you're on the mend. Be well, friend.

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  16. Hey Whit - I've tried to send this before, but never saw it go. Hope this isn't the third copy you receive, but I do want you to know what I was thinking after Kira shared your wonderful blog with me. I loved the interposing of things you've found among the things you've lost. I've also known free lancing, smarmy, and the 30-year-old HR person. I even got to sit across the desk from her when I was in my 50's and see her disdain for both my age and my untidy professional choices. I wish all the best for your hip, your health care, and your spirit. I know the strength of the last one. Leah McConaghy

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    1. oh, Leah. thanks so much for sharing these kind and empathetic words. That means so much to me. You can't imagine. In happier news, this blog WORKED. Some Facebook friend I don't even know sent it to someone else I don't know and I got a really sweet freelance writing job that is nicely providing some income. In even happier news, my new hip feels amazing. May your beautiful daughter's foot feel the same soon. xxx

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  17. Whit , my friend,
    I think turning 60 is a heavy mind f...especially for our generation. As you know, I'm in that water as well. I keep thinking of people I know who are over 60, stay in great shape, in all ways, and I'm trying to keep them top 'o mind. My boat is very sinkable too, sooo...bail and sail. Best we can, enjoy it all, right?
    Love you...Pete
    P.S. Update: Good Hart...still good!!!

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