Saturday, November 28, 2009

Of Mallards and Men

Before The Lull, I never had time to watch television. Work always beckoned, as did the pooch and other responsibilities. Same went for my husband. Hence our decision to remain cable-free.

The decision has saved us money over the years and prohibited us from watercooler discussions about the latest episode of whatever show has captured the public's devotion.

Sometimes the decision has put us at a pop-cultural disadvantage, but more often its shock factor has entertained us: "What do you mean you don't have cable? Do you not have a television?!"

Yes, as a matter of fact, we have a television. And lately, thanks to Netflix, we've been catching up with Mad Men. We're just getting through the first season, which is so steeped in stereotypes of the era that it's sometimes difficult to stomach, especially the dynamic between the men and the women.

For those who have forgotten and those who never knew women's place in the workplace of yesteryear, Mad Men brings it home searingly. It wasn't that long ago. "You've Come A Long Way, Baby"—that old cigarette slogan—means a lot more when placed in the context Mad Men provides.

I was chewing on this the other morning when the pooch and I strolled to the beach. Every year, about 12 ducks winter at our beach. And true to form, there they were—7 males and 5 females.

I wondered about this gender imbalance and what it signified. I know nothing about mallard behavior. Were some of the males juveniles? Or had some of the females not yet chosen a mate? Did the females feel safe or insecure with the extra males around?

Though the ducks flee from other dogs who delight in terrorizing birds, they've always relaxed around my pooch. Which makes her happy because their every movement enthralls her.
But that day, as the mallards dipped and dove for breakfast, one of them sounded an alarm. They all swam or flew away from us—all but one.

The lone duck was, I believe, the one who had sent her brethren away. And as if to answer all my earlier gender questions, she alone continued eating and swimming in the contours of the rocky mount at one end of our beach. Sure, she swam in a male-dominated society. But her mind flew in an independent direction. She could take care of herself—even if it entailed some underhanded (underfeathered?) means.

Ahhhhh. Another smile brought to you by the beach. Who needs cable for entertainment?

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Can’t Control My Karma

I still have some unresolved issues with my phone/Internet/cell provider and I have to confess I’ve not come clean with them about one serious obstacle: karma.

My work family grew to accept and try to offset the extraordinarily bad luck I had in three different areas of my life:
1. Technology
2. Public Transportation
3. Restaurants

For example, in our offices, the writers and designers used Macs while everyone else had a generic PC. Every 15 months or so there was an uprising from the CFO and IT Director about getting rid of the Macs (largely because the IT department didn’t have anyone to service them). And each time, I led the brigade to denounce their reasoning.

Even so, my little laptop periodically “acted out” in mystifying ways. One time, every e-mail in my inbox (and we’re talkin’ a LOT of e-mails here) disappeared. Didn’t scurry into another folder, didn’t end up on some clipboard somewhere—just went poof! Another time, every file in a folder containing one year’s worth of 8 monthly publications, including revised files, began to open. Frequently, I would have only my Web browser open while researching something and suddenly Word would “hijack” the browser—the window showed the browser, but the menu at the top of the screen was from Word.

I was the only one who had such problems with a Mac. (I was also the only one who could go to a fine-dining establishment and have a bug or a broken piece of steel equipment in my dessert, or be served the wrong order. Other people started ordering for me.)

When my company finally hired an IT person who vowed to help the Mac faction, my boss made it clear to the fellow when he introduced us that I was a special technology challenge.

Of course, the young whippersnapper said something to the effect that karma has nothing to do with anything. He was of the binary generation.

No, no, insisted my boss. It wasn’t just technology; it was anything to do with food and public transportation as well.

Everybody got a good laugh out of it.

Slowly, though, Mr. IT started to understand my tech karma. At first, he thought things were “operator error”—that is to say, my fault. But he came around and warmed to me, trying to find workarounds so I could keep production moving. But he still didn’t buy into the karma explanation.

Then one wintry night, he happened to be waiting for the same bus as I was. We chatted a bit before it came, then went our separate ways once we boarded.

Before the bus inched its way through traffic past the downtown area, it broke down. Everyone was ordered off to wait for another bus. This was at least a weekly occurrence for me. Mr. IT, however, came toward me with his jaw dropped.

“That’s NEVER happened to me before. You DO have bad karma! I didn’t believe it before, but I do now,” he said, keeping his distance as if my karma were contagious. “No offense, but I’m going to get on a different bus now because I have to get somewhere.”

And with that, he walked to another stop for a different route toward his destination.

As for my possible karmic interference with phone/Internet/cell issues at home, maybe there are some things better left unsaid.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Year of Unenjoyment

This week marks the one-year anniversary of my getting the boot from my job of 12 years. I kept working for the company until January 30, to "help them through the transition." But during that time I was neither a full employee nor an unemployed one. Just a hard-working outsider.

We've heard all sorts of horror stories about layoffs, like the manager who set off the fire alarm in order to corral his staff in the parking lot and give them the boot en masse. So I have to admire the owner of my company for allowing the employees he chose to keep to go to a nearby saloon with the employees he'd just let go. Everyone had a chance to graciously say goodbye to one another.

On the other hand, I may be the only person who's been laid off by a CEO and then pulled into his office later the same day because he couldn't wait to tell me how the new structure was going to work. How he was going to meld editorial staffs from different divisions into one cohesive unit, how he would be editorial director of all, how he would turn it into a news bureau of reporters (his dream had long been to have his own newspaper-ish organization—this at a time when nearly every newspaper in the country was failing).

He was genuinely excited about the prospect and eager for me to share in the thrill. I was aghast at his insensitivity to my own future outlook. All I could muster was, "I always wanted to have a reported newsletter in my division. I'm sorry I won't be here when it finally happens."

I suppose he did me a favor, however unintentionally. I have a hard time dealing with mercurial behavior in people who hold powerful positions. Or I used to. This has become one of the lessons—and blessings—from my year of unenjoyment: that my standards and expectations of civility are not always shared by others. The sooner I'm not affected by these differences, that I don't make them so important in my life, the better.

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."
—Thornton Wilder

This Thanksgiving is not as grim as last year's. After a year of reflection, I find it easier to let go of the disappointments and anguish (though not to forget them). I now look forward to whatever future awaits. I'm still anxious about it, but I'm not pining after the worklife I had where I had it.

I'm thankful for this change of perspective, and to my friends, family, readers, and colleagues who have supported me during the transformation.

A Most Happy Thanksgiving to You!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gearing Up for Thanksgiving

Still unemployed? Still counting pennies and running low on blessings?

If you're searching for something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, how about this: READING.

Yes, just the fact that you're reading this blog is cause enough for celebration. All over the world, others aren't so fortunate.

In fact, according to Open Books, a literacy advocacy organization, some 20% of U.S. adults can't read a story to a child. That's 44 million Americans unable to nurture a love for books in their children through positive example.

Nina Patawaran is trying to make a difference in the number of readers in her homeland with the Philippines Dictionary Project. She's been sending children's dictionaries to the schools and been rewarded with news that the children's grades have risen 15% simply because of the new tool.

If you're looking for a good cause to donate to, $8.50 will get one of these special dictionaries to a child and open a brighter future for him or her. Or donate your time to a literacy project closer to home (wherever home is for you).

Reading is everything to me. I can hardly imagine my world without it. I may not have a job when Thanksgiving rolls in tomorrow, but I'll still be able to comprehend a menu, savor a poem, thrill to a travelogue, follow a recipe, relish a short story. Through reading I can access the worlds beyond my small home base. I am grateful for this. It is a blessing everyone deserves to have.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Little Something from Hallmark

Sometimes the best thing to do is just look in the mirror and say,
“What shoes go with this stress?”

On the Edge But Hanging On

Hello again.

I must be the only person in the world who's been told, "Your Internet connection is too fast." Say again?

The Internet speed I've been paying for is too fast for the conditions of the lines. So I've been "downgraded" by the repairman.

Now I have to call my service provider to find out if they bothered to downgrade my bill. And to let them know that I've had only intermittent service, even though I bought a new modem, and I can knit a scarf while waiting for a new Web page to load (that is, if I could knit). My Internet connection times out almost as much as my cellphone drops calls. And this on top of everything else that's wrong with my world right now.

I wonder if the lass in the illustration sees Hope on the horizon. I'm ready for my ship to come in…

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oh Where Oh Where Is the Internet Fairy?

I'm still working on getting steady Internet access. Please bear with me and check back in a couple of days.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Will Justice Be Served?

We’re headed back to court this morning.

I’ve no idea what to expect. Never heard from my lawyer, don’t know if he heard from the landlord’s lawyer.

Will today end the dispute? Or will this preposterous case continue?

I think everyone in my household, and probably anyone who’s listened to our plight, is ready for it to end—one way or another.

Uh-oh. The clock struck 7 and I’m on a tight schedule. Gotta run. I’ll come back as soon as I can get online again (couldn’t yesterday).

This old bumper sticker wisdom comes to mind as I think about my evil landlord:


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Our Place in Evolution

I stumbled upon this quote in Kinship with Animals, a collection of essays by animal behaviorists and researchers:

“For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
Henry Beston

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

In the post below is an unintentionally broken word. Please overlook it.

For the past week, our home has been rattling and our Internet access has been spotty. The vintage Fiestaware in my pantry started chattering on Monday when the city began repaving our street. Then, the tuckpointing started in the building to the south of us, giving us a double whammy of infrastructure trembling. If I try to correct my mistake at this point, I could make matters much worse.

Venturing into a World of Heartache

I finally finished Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants.

I started it in the last millennium, started it again some years ago, and started over during the Lull. I bought it as a companion piece to Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone, a work of fiction about an elephant society. I thought I'd read them together: get lost in Gowdy’s artful tale while learning bioacoustic researcher Katy Payne’s latest discoveries about African elephants.

My Start Attempts for White Bone mirror those of Silent Thunder, but I never finished the novel.

In a testimonial for White Bone, author Joy Williams writes: “This sorrowful novel does holy work because it engages us in that holiest of acts—empathy.”

Sorrowful is a good description of White Bone. But for someone (like me) who isn’t lacking in the empathy department, excruciating might well be the better word choice.

I’d read a number of Gowdy’s other novels over the years and thoroughly enjoyed her characters, her plots, and the quirkiness of both. So this last time that I started The White Bone, I decided to approach it as a student of writing might—to clinically consider the world she’d created. It helped, but not for long. I never made it to the 4th chapter. I connect to animals too much.

But I still recommend the book, whether you read it to hone your empathy or to study masterful writing. Gowdy did a lot of homework for it, even going so far as to create a lexicon for elephant communications.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
John Muir

As for Katy Payne’s Silent Thunder, it was painful too. But it also contained stretches of Payne’s reflections on her experiences and her thoughts about the future of conservation and the African populations affected by it. There was breathing space between the sorrows.

Toward the end, I read only a bit at a time because I didn’t want to leave the world Payne had introduced to me. I will no doubt mention this book in future Lull postings because it was rich with ideas. I was fascinated by the language structure of the Zimbabweans, how it connected to the societal structure of the elephants, and how this in turn related to the larger global environmental crisis we battle today—nesting dolls of an ecosystem, of one planet.

So take a trip to Africa, with Gowdy or Payne or both. If you’ve been unemployed for long, you could probably use the vacation. I guarantee that you will see your own world differently.

[Elephant photo courtesy of]

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Idiot's Guide to a Litter-Free World

ormally, I’m a patient and reserved individual. But when it comes to littering, I have a short fuse.

The Antilitter Crusader
If I actually catch people in the act of littering and I’m near enough to confront them, I practice some deep breathing to suppress my anger before initiating my antilitter operation.

First, I pick up whatever has been tossed to the ground. “Excuse me, excuse me!” I call out to the culprits.

They stop, wondering whether they know me or whether I’m about to con them or whether I’m an evangelist. And before they can figure it out, I sweetly say with a smile and look of concern, “You dropped this.” And as I say it, I put the litter back in the hands of the litterers. Before their dumbfoundedness turns into something else, I walk away. Mission accomplished.

Well, maybe not. I probably haven’t changed their habits. But I’m usually able to get that one piece of litter disposed of properly.

Profile of a Litterer
Now there are people here who will tell you that littering is cultural (meaning immigrants are the perpetrators) or socioeconomic (only poor people do it). But I can assure you that litterers in this city cross all cultural, gender, age, and socioeconomic divides.

I’ve seen drivers of new Jaguars do it, real estate brokers, children, senior citizens, college students, and even cops. And since rescuing the pooch, my animosity toward litterers has deepened, for walking a dog provides an entirely new perspective on how much debris we walk past every day.

In addition to the obvious that dot the curbs of my street—Corona beer bottles, Starbucks cups, children’s homework assignments, business promotion fliers—there are the small or unexpected: still-burning cigarettes, gum, used condoms, nearly empty Viagra packs, glass shards, and carry-out meals.

I realize that some of the items I’ve listed are organic (food) or seem inconsequential (cigarette butts). But where a dog is concerned, these are hazards.

Dogs and Debris
I have a strong-willed god-puppy who ingests everything his eyes or nose leads him to: banana peels, potato chip bags, mittens, pens, action figures. Just walking half a block with him can be a nightmare.

My own pooch has Mr. Magoo–like tendencies and I have to be ever-mindful of what she’s about to step on or in. Yesterday, I didn’t see the white chewing gum.

I spent last night trying to tease out the gum and all the other icky elements it had collected from the space between the pooch’s paw pads. I got about half of it out, along with most of her hair. I’ll be working on it more today.

Antilitter Campaign Redux
If you’re one of the thousands of people who flick their “finished” cigarettes to the ground without a thought, please think anew. Though a cigarette is small and contains organic materials, it still qualifies as litter. And if it’s still burning, it can harm someone (especially if it catches in a breeze). Gum is a danger to animals and high-end footwear. And food, well . . .

Here’s the bottom line: If what you’re about to toss on the ground didn’t grow there in the first place in the form it’s currently in, then hold onto it until you can dispose of it properly. For instance, let’s say you’re about to dump last night’s vegetable fried rice in the park. The birds will love it, you claim. Yes, you may argue that it originated in the ground. However, you would certainly agree that it did not sprout up all seasoned and julienned like it is now. Hence, you mustn’t share it with your avian friends.

Let’s start a new crusade together to be better stewards of our environment. The pooch will appreciate it.

[Photo is a poster from an antilitter campaign in San Francisco, where gum accounts for 41% of small litter.]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Hate Waiting

Waiting has always made me antsy. I realize that being jobless—living in a Lull—is nothing but waiting.

However, when I’m waiting for something I KNOW is supposed to happen—a ride somewhere, a letter in the mail—it’s pins-and-needles time for me.

That’s how I’ve felt since we went to eviction court on 26 October. Our lawyer made a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that we’ve always paid our rent in full and on time, and all our efforts to replace the “lost” August rent check were ignored by the landlord and the people working for him.

The judge ordered that the landlord had 14 days to respond to the motion, which by my calculation expired at 12:01 am Tuesday. I had hoped to hear from our lawyer on Monday but didn’t count on it.

On Tuesday I left him a voicemail.

Now it’s Thursday and my anxiety is visible: foot-shaking, inability to sit still, impaired motor coordination. I’m going to call the lawyer and then his colleagues, if necessary, as soon as I’ve finished this post.

ll leave you with this chuckle:

Outside of a dog, a book is a mans best friend.
Inside of a dog, it
s too dark to read.
—Groucho Marx

[The peapod shown is a handcrafted emery pincushion created by Dottyral.]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dogs Are People, Too

“Husband?” I cried (though I used his real name).

Yes?” he said from the other room.

“There’s something in here.

Well, what is it?

“I don’t know. I can’t make it out. Please come in here and help.

Whatever it was, I’d never seen one before and it looked dead. Or maybe almost dead. Either way, I couldn’t bear to see it up close. I was imagining how it managed to sneak into our home and why it died (was dying) on the Persian rug next to our front door.

My husband came into the room, eyeing the mysterious clump. “Looks like a leaf. Probably came in with you a
nd the pooch after your walk.”

He toed it lightly before bending down for a closer look. “No-ooo. This is a bone. Or what’s left of one.”

A bone?! We both turned to stare at the culprit, who looked back at us from one of her many beds—a look that said “Hunh? Is there a problem?”

It’s been a long, long time since the pooch pilfered anything from the trash. On the other hand, its probably been a long, long time since we put anything in there that she wanted.

But I wonder if this is another sign of her aging process. Or if—because none of us has a job to go to and we
re three peas in a pod of four walls, day in and day out—she has decided she’s one of us and entitled to everything we have and do.

Recently the pooch was thrilled when a former colleague of mine visited with two of her young children. For the occasion, I bought a special cookie for the 2ish-aged girl: a large round butter cookie glazed in pastel pink with a white smiley face on it and a three-dimensional white daisy
hair adornment.” The tyke loved it at first sight. I set her up with the cookie at our coffee table and then stepped away to get a plate of baked goods for her mother.

But when I returned, the pooch stood in place of the tyke and, with her giraffe-length tongue, was taking one long lick across that smiley face.

“I thought that was MY cookie?” the tyke said to me, as if Id done a bait-and-switch on her.

It was! I assured her and apologized for the poochs behavior.

The pooch, meanwhile, looked a bit sheepish.
Im sorry,” she seemed to be communicating. I know I should have waited for everyone to be served. But I was just tasting it, after all—not eating it!

Whose etiquette playbook was the pooch following these days? Patricia McConnell’s or Emily Post’s?

Perhaps Ive given her one too many senior passes” on her behavior. Perhaps, like the unemployed creatures who share space with her, she needs help with her identity; she needs more structure to help her make sense of her day and her existence.

Ah, the ripple effect of a bad economy. Even a cookie—now rendered inedible for both dog and child—isn
t immune from the consequences. But like the cookie, we try to keep smiling.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ripples from an Egg-straordinary Conversation

he pooch and I headed out for our usual stroll the other morning, but suddenly the sidewalk morphed into a slalom. Every few feet we had to dodge the splatter of a raw egg.

Strange. I expected to see smashed eggs and pumpkins the day after Halloween—not several days afterward.

I smiled. Memories stirred of the bus ride I’d taken the afternoon before Halloween. I was traveling downtown to make my COBRA payment and visit with a few former colleagues. It was pouring rain so I took the first bus that stopped. Unfortunately, it was the least desirable route: seven miles of stop-and-go at every other corner.

Halfway through, as I was wondering whether I would fall asleep or heave first, a man sat next to me. Then he asked if it was okay to sit next to me, but he didn’t wait for my reply. He kept talking.

He’d been seated a few rows ahead of me earlier, until he had to move to let the person next to him exit the bus. I had sensed some discomfort of the people around him. Some distrust. So I braced myself for whatever was about to unfold.

The man seemed young but looked old. He was thin, not tall, well equipped for the rain with umbrella, raincoat, and hat. He talked incessantly.

This, I think, was the source of discomfort for others. He spoke as if word spaces didn’t exist. He quietly mumbled most of what he said and periodically enunciated some phrases at normal volume. His phrases came out in question form.

He was seeking conversation, or connection, and I did my best to oblige. He wanted to know why I didn’t have an umbrella or rain hat, whether children came trick-or-treating to my door, if I would be going to a Halloween party and what people did at those parties (he’d never been to one), but over and over again he wanted to know why people threw eggs on Halloween.

He stumped me there. I never did it myself, never saw a reason for doing it.

We continued chatting until the bus arrived at my stop. I wondered if anyone would take my place as his conversation partner.

In the Before Time, when I had a job, I usually had a bus story to tell my work family. Now that my work family has been disbanded, I told my tiny tale to my former boss. I said I didn’t know why encounters like that didn’t bother me yet I can get tongue-tied in every other human exchange. (I was worried there was some kind of hidden superiority-inferiority element to it and I would soon have to confront the revelation that I’m a jerk with confidence issues.)

My boss surprised me with a quick answer to my question: “Lill, love,” he said, “innocence. You talk to people like that because they exude innocence.”

I’ve thought more about this since then, and especially after seeing the smashed eggs on the sidewalk. I might have an answer for that fellow bus-rider about why people smash eggs.

It’s a display of power. There’s a certain thrill for some people to destroy a fragile thing. It provides immediate gratification and, because it’s so easy to do, it can be done well. Houses of cards, sandcastles, small animals, children, people who are “other”—all are at the mercy of those seeking power. And since Halloween is admittedly a night of mischief, these thrill-seekers get a free pass for one night.

This is also the answer to my question about why that bus conversation didn’t bother me. When I encounter a fragile thing, my immediate reaction is to protect it. Help it. Engage it.

The world is made up of two kinds of people: the powerful, and the fragile. And I am neither.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

OOPS! I May Have Written Too Soon

Correction: I must confess that I wrote the post below before I'd read much on the blog profiled, and now it's come to my attention that the hound in the photo may not be Phoebe. My apologies to Phoebe and Margot if this is the case.

OMG! Look What I Found on Bark!

This is Phoebe B. Dackel, who figures prominently in Margot Rosenberg's book shop, Web site, and blog: A Book and a Dog.

It doesn't get better than this for those who adore books nearly as much as their dogs. And if you live in New York, you can actually visit Dog Lovers Bookshop. (If you do, please tell Margot and Phoebe Hi from Lill.)

A Reading Recommendation for the Unemployed Book Lover

When I first got the boot from my job of 12 years, diving into books was exactly the escape I wanted. But it was hard to concentrate. Still is, actually. Which is why the reading list to the right contains so many books that are 1) short in length, and 2) not too taxing on the noodle.

Picasso & Lump is one of the first books I picked up when my Lull started and I nearly forgot to add it to the reading list. It's perfect for distracted readers: photographs on every page, bits of explanation here and there.

And if you're like me (and let's hope you're not cursed by being JUST like me), this book provides a perfect blend of many of your special interests: art, dogs, history, and fashion.

You get a glimpse of the private life of Picasso and his muses; his studio and his works-in-progress; his villa and the people who gathered there.

My other recommendation for reduced-focus reading: Browse through those coffee-table books you haven't picked up for ages. You'll see things you'd forgotten, and you'll see some things differently than before. You'll get lost in some luscious photographs that take your mind away, however briefly, from your circumstances.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Jobhunter's Dilemma: Passion vs. Pragmatism

"Follow your passion."

This is the siren song of career coaches, career authors, and even my state's unemployment office. Everybody wants me to choose work that makes me happy, work that fulfills my aspirations.

The first step, they say, is to examine the characteristics inherent in certain types of jobs and determine how comfortable/content/enthused you would be about those traits. For instance, do you seek recognition for your work?

To this end, my state government encourages displaced workers to answer lists of questions in an effort to match passion with skills, and then directs the unemployed toward the appropriate career path.

Eager to follow my bliss, I answered all the questions and waited for my results.


What?!? Heck, back in the Dark Ages when I was fresh from college, I knew the unemployment rate for actors: 95% unemployed. (I can't imagine what it is now.) And though my father didn't know this exact statistic, he had a hunch that the footlights wouldn't put food on my table and persuaded me to get a degree in something outside the performing arts.

And now here's the unemployment office—which, in the best interest of taxpayers, prefers to shoo people off the dole sooner rather than later—pushing me toward a potential life of poverty.

What's more, my skills don't necessarily prepare me to compete in the arenas that I would find fulfilling (in addition to the performing arts: animal welfare, museum studies, anthropology, archaeology, the fine arts). Following my bliss could mean queuing up at the food pantry. And I would guess that I'm not alone in this.

Still, it's worthwhile to at least consider the spectrum of career choices—from pragmatism to passion—so we can gauge what we're willing and able to sacrifice.

I've spent a number of months trying to find a job that lies on the outskirts of my passions yet requires the very skill sets I already have.


Now I'm headed for the other end of the spectrum. So long, Sarah Bernhardt.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Look to Small Presses for Overlooked Treasures

"The past is simple enough. The future is what I find remote and difficult."

That's a line from Flann O'Brien's The Dalkey Archive. It was published in the early '60s and would have gone unnoticed by me had it not been for Stop Smiling magazine, which printed a small profile on the current American publisher of this book.

I'll not write unkindly of large publishing houses (for they one day may be the hand that feeds me). But I encourage you to seek out books from the small presses that take chances on authors overlooked by the biggies—authors unlikely to hit any bestseller lists or be read by a mainstream audience.

As for The Dalkey Archive, it provided some much-needed levity during my Lull and some delightful play with language. Plus, the quote above jumped out at me as the perfect description of the jobhunter's challenge.

I'll leave you with this passage from the book:

[De Selby] sat down at the piano and after some slow phrases, erupted into what Mick with inward wit, would dub a headlong chromatic dysentery which was 'brilliant' in the bad sense of being inchoate and, to his ear at least, incoherent. A shattering chord brought the disorder to a close.

—Well, [DeSelby] said, rising, what did you think of that?

Hackett looked wise.

—I think I detected Liszt in one of his less guarded moments, he said.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Turning "Unemployed" into "Unencumbered"

In my search for evidence to prove to the eviction court that I'm not a deadbeat tenant, I stumbled upon Richard John Neuhaus' essay "Born Toward Dying." I initially read it with an eye toward helping my neighbor mourn her husband's unexpected death. And I was struck by this quote about grief:

"The worst thing is not the sorrow or the loss or the heartbreak. Worse is to be encountered by death and not to be changed by the encounter."

With a few word substitutions, the notion easily applies to the jobless:

"The worst thing is not the anger or the degradation or the sorrow. Worse is to be encountered by loss and not to be changed by the encounter."

For many of us, unemployment catapults our brains into high gear. Swirls of negative and sickening thoughts dominate prime real estate in our gray matter—like that wild teacup ride in amusement parks, with a new thought at every twist. Except that this teacup ride never makes us smile.

It's up to us to control the ride, though. And that demands some introspection. To make this stretch of jobless time valuable, we must examine ourselves and our perceptions:

What view are we afforded of the world from this level?
How does it differ from our employed view?
How fulfilling was our worklife? Do we want to replicate that?
How many different futures can we imagine for ourselves?

Some of us were so focused on our previous jobs and responsibilities that we lost sight of who we are outside of the workday. Being relieved of those responsibilities gives us an opportunity to connect with what's left. Or what's been shoved aside for years.

Job loss also gives us an opportunity to heighten our awareness and compassion for those less fortunate. To count our blessings while counting our pennies. To see our circumstances from yet another point of view.

Allow unemployment to change more than the number of shoes in your closet, or the balance of your checking account, or the busyness of your social calendar.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not pressing anyone to plaster on a faux smile and grab any old silver lining.

Unemployment sucks; why pretend otherwise?

Nonetheless, we must stretch ourselves to make this loss meaningful. By plumbing the depths of our circumstances, we can expand our humility, compassion, and wisdom. We can build character as well as resumes.


I've done something awful to Lull. I created a sister site on which to experiment with coding and somehow screwed up Lull in the process.

I'm going to try to delete the sister site. But I may end up deleting Lull as well.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

About Last Night . . .

I didn't get to tell all my ghost stories yesterday, and now it seems a little inappropriate. My roadblock was . . . well, I'm not certain. But the bottom line was I had no Internet access. Don't know why but it sure was irritating.

Today seems a world away from the Halloween festivities of yesterday. The weather has taken a turn for the better—sunshine, no wind—and between last night's fireworks display (is that a new Halloween tradition I knew nothing about?) and the time change, I feel like today marks an entirely new year.

But I know better. Judging from the holiday displays retailers rolled out last week, I know we still have to get through Christmas before we can say Goodbye to this wretched year. I plan to welcome 2010 in a BIG way—employed or not; or, at least, I'm going to make a BIG deal of putting 2009 in the past.
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