Sunday, March 28, 2010

Learning to Wait

Sandhill crane, Citrus County, Florida 
Patience is a necessary quality for any person unfortunate enough to be among the ranks of the unemployed.  If you don't already have patience, you will learn it during this process.  I was not prepared for this seemingly endless period of hurry up and wait nor for the highs of the maybes and lows of disappointment.  Learning to wait is one of the most important lessons I am working on.
Sandhill crane on nest, Citrus County, Florida
Just last week I spent a few days in Florida.  In addition to family, it is home to the sandhill cranes in winter (many migrate north to Canada for the summer season).   

I was pretty low about the job situation when I arrived, and so ready for an adventure.  My brother arranged for me to visit a friend’s property where most mornings some 100 sandhill cranes visit.

I spent two very long, chilly mornings watching and waiting for their anticipated arrival;  I waited, quietly, for more than 4 hours.  They never came,  but something perhaps more important happened.
Citrus County, Florida
I was calm.  I did not get mad when they failed to arrive.  I enjoyed the anticipation and the time outdoors; I found other things to appreciate and enjoy during the wait. 

This experience was much like the past 14 months, except that I was even better prepared.  I  had the right clothes and the necessary supplies (two camera lenses, extra batteries, lens cleaner and a large cup of coffee).  Perhaps most importantly, I was fully aware that the wait was likely to be long, and could be fruitless.    
Great white heron, Citrus County, Florida
Great blue heron, Citrus County, Florida
Tom and part of his harem, Citrus County, Florida
Lone sandhill crane in morning fog, Citrus County, Florida
On the first day, my brother went with me and we spent the first hour together, without interruption.  It was absolutely worth it for that part alone.  But I was doubly rewarded.  Like the past months when I have spent unexpected time with nature, I was given an extraordinary gift.  Through the fog we observed deer, two flocks of wild turkeys, a great blue heron and a great white heron.   I had never seen a Tom Turkey leading his flock.  It was fascinating and gave me a better understanding of the term “turkey trot”.  Those girls can really move when Tom gives the word!  Rather than 100 sandhill cranes, I saw one lone sandhill walking around the owner's yard.
Deer and Great Blue Heron, Citrus County, Florida
Vultures, Citrus County, Florida
Hungry gator, Citrus County, Florida
On the second day, the fog lifted and I saw the sun rise higher and observed more turkeys and deer, a little blue heron and my old friends the great white and the great blue.  A pileated woodpecker flew by and a dozen enormous turkey vultures perched in a nearby tree and flew so close that their wings sounded like beach umbrellas on a windy day.  I heard the wild turkeys continuing their loud chatter long after they trotted into the woods.  Then I saw a second great blue heron fly low over the other, calling out to him.  He reacted quickly and flew off in pursuit, making a great deal of noise.  Moments later I realized what the commotion was about when, in the same spot where the great blue had been only moments before, a 5-foot alligator, looking greatly disappointed, crawled out of the water to lie in the sun in lieu of his anticipated feast. 
Early morning squirrel, Citrus County, Florida
While a little disappointed that I didn’t see the flock of sandhills I had heard so much about, I left that second day feeling refreshed and reinvigorated.  I had in fact spent a fair amount of time talking to God about my situation, asking for guidance, and meditating.  It was time well spent.

Interestingly, I later found out that our information about where exactly to go to see the sandhills was not quite right.  Also like job hunting, it seems that if you aren’t clear in your directions or are not focused correctly, you can be very very close to your goal yet miss it completely.  The cranes were on a nearby piece of land and I was just not quite close enough.
Sandhill cranes near Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida
On another day, I spotted a sandhill crane along a rural road and my friend and I pulled off to see it.  He moved quickly away from us and into the shallow marsh.  In the middle of the marsh sat another crane and he headed toward her.  She rose and exposed a tiny fuzzy crane chick, probably only a few days old.  The baby walked to the edge of the nest to greet his father, then walked between his doting parents, seemingly enjoying the freedom of a few feet of playspace.  The parents paid much attention to him, gently nudging him back when he got too far from the center of the nest.  It was a sweet scene.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that. 

Job hunting, like life, can involve a lot of spinning wheels, looking in all the wrong places and waiting endlessly.  Then when you least expect it, something good happens that might not be what you had envisioned at all.  

Lessons learned:  Be mindful of where you look and don’t give up.  It’s worth the wait but it might take longer than you planned.  You never know what is around the next bend; it could be an ugly old wood stork!
Wood Stork, Pine Island, Florida

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Unemployment: Unintended Consequences: Vulnerability

 Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Washington, DC
In the last few months, I have been more aware that unemployment renders you vulnerable in many ways.  It isn’t just the loss of income; there are other resulting financial stresses and everyday things that are subject to hits.  These thoughts are illustrated with photos taken during the past year of unemployment.
 Orr's Island, Maine
Household expenses, ouch!  When you are down, the appliances revolt.  I have replaced my heating and air conditioning system, significantly patched the roof, purchased a new dryer, paid for expensive tree and limb removal and am praying regularly for the fragile health of my dishwasher and water heater. 
 Somewhere on the Baltic Sea
Staying fit.  Staying home is counterintuitive to being in good shape.  I find it harder to organize my exercise time when my schedule is so irregular (I am less organized when I have more free time) and shall we just say that the urge to cook comfort foods has greatly increased.
 Copenhagen, Denmark
Telemarketers,  aargh!  I am often home during the day and I get excited when the phone rings because it might be a call-back on a job, or a lead to work.  Who knew that so many telemarketers called during the day? When my children are home, they use their acting skills to create a terrible tragic ending for me in hopes that I will be removed from the list.
Washington, DC from Arlington National Cemetery
It is hard to say no.  Everyone is asking for money.  Saying no doesn’t feel very good.  I have tried to counteract that by volunteering and, in lieu of wrapped presents for birthdays, making contributions to charity. 
Dog on the C&O Canal towpath near Great Falls
The dog is more attached:  He can’t stop following me around.  As the one who feeds and walks him, I am the goddess who makes all good things happen in his life (food, belly rubs and the W-A-L-K).  I spend a lot of time tripping over him, big yellow hunk of 13 year old fur that he is.
 New York, NY
How many different ways can you tell someone that nothing has changed?  People care.  They call.  They email.  There are only so many ways to say “I am not employed yet.  I know it will be ok [read:  it has to be ok, the alternative is unacceptable] and please don’t worry.”  I need to work on some creative scripting as I am tired of saying the same thing and spending my time making others feel better about my lousy situation.
 Washington's Birthplace, VA
My Mom is worried about me.  Mom is the strongest person I know.  She’s tough and she is smarter than I will ever be.  I don’t like it that I have caused her to worry.  At her age she should have the satisfaction of knowing that her children are all in a good place and I have denied her that.
 Crow on the Withlacoochee River, Florida
What about all this personal information out there on the internet?  I have no idea how many copies of my resume are colliding in cyberspace.  It is a wonder I have not been spammed to death with all of the times my email has been turned over to a nameless, faceless black hole.
 US National Arboretum, Washington, DC
Your schedule takes a hit!  I schedule appointments at odd times and am subject to the whims of clients or potential employers.  When I have an opportunity for work or an interview, work takes precedence over fun and is not always at the time I choose. I may not be working, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a busy schedule or at least one that is unpredictable. 
 The Falls Church, Falls Church, VA
I worry that I may not be strong enough for this test of stamina.  I trust that the right job or combination of jobs and additional work will come along, with my hard work, but I doubt myself and I lose faith.  With doubt comes vulnerability and it can be so destructive.   I pray, I trust I will be ok.  And I avoid being around people who cause me to to doubt, or who do not have a positive outlook.  
 Alexandria, VA
Networking is exhausting.  The first few months, I met with at least one person every day.  That was a huge number of thank you notes and a lot of metro trips.  When I tired of it, I withdrew for a few days and to write and mindlessly send out more resumes.  Withdrawing breeds vulnerability too.  The networking continues, and as long as I keep reaching out, the people are there.  And one of them will lead to my next job.
 Sandhill cranes in Citrus County, FL
Uncomfortable situations are not unusual.  I have been fortunate to receive unemployment benefits during this time.  It required two trips to DC Unemployment and on the second trip my license plate was stolen while I sat across from a man dressed as the “Cat in the Hat” and it was not Halloween.  After another glitch and now counting 6 weeks with no benefits, I went to a different office and the problem is still not straightened out.   I wonder about the "Cat in the Hat" man and whether he has been more successful than I have.  
 Washington, DC
Caught in PJ’s.  More than a couple of times this winter, I have stayed in my pj’s until noon, having the luxury of working in whatever feels good in my home office.  Occasionally the doorbell rings and I am caught in contented flannel comfort. 
 Flea Market, New York, NY
Willing to do work I would never have considered before.  I applied to work for the Census.  It required taking a written test.  The test, given at a local high school one evening in January, only required that 10 of the 28 questions be answered correctly to “pass”.  The proctor collected the tests and looking at me she said “It must be hard to take a test after a long day at work.”  I resisted the urge to scream “DO YOU REALLY THINK I WOULD BE HERE IF I HAD A JOB???”   I have never been called for work, and they indicated a great need for help in my community.  Presumably with such low standards there are many who are able to meet them.  I would never have dreamed that I would be in this situation, which is probably why I need to experience every little indignity. 
 Falls Church, VA
Insecurity. Unsolicited resumes by the hundreds have been sent, and countless interviews and phonecalls have taken place.  It is hard not to second-guess myself, thinking that I am just not doing something right.  Or feeling panic when someone says “you really should have...” or “why didn’t you...”. 
 Newburyport, MA
The resume is never finished.  Last week a former colleague recommended me to a search firm that then contacted me for an initial interview.  The job sounds really interesting.  The search firm representative, however, seemed to have little comprehension of how well aligned my previous work was with what they are looking for.  It is up to me to make very clear what I have done and use buzz words that resonate with the hiring professionals; something on my resume did not do that.  Once again, I am facing this inadequate, sterile, two-page summary of my professional capabilities that has been distributed to hundreds of potential employers so seemingly ineffectively.
 Falls Church, VA
A little success can give you unrealistic expectations.  I sold two small stories, had a couple of blogs published, and went through a couple of good interviews.  I was pumped for a few days.  People in my network started thinking I was out of hot water but really I am just deeper into trouble because that little bit of confidence made me unrealistic about what I can expect from writing, and I spent more time writing and less networking. 
 Falls Church, VA
My urgency means absolutely nothing to employers.  I thought I had a good chance at both of the positions I interviewed for and they said they were making quick decisions.  One still hasn’t decided after 3 months and the other has been more than a month.  I have given up on USA.Gov jobs.  In the network of unemployed professions I regularly visit with, the consensus is that without preferences, you’re dead in the water for a federal job and their application process is far more time consuming and frustrating than any other I have worked with. 
 Sunset in Falls Church, VA
Network, network, network.  Last week I stepped way out of my comfort zone and went to a potluck gathering of women networkers who I did not know, in a nearby town on an unfamiliar street.  After a process of elimination, including walking up to the incorrect front door on the unlit street, I reached my destination.  Once inside it was warm and inviting and I was pleased to meet many nice people.  It was worth it to join the gathering and beat back the thoughts of turning around and going home at the first roadblock.
 Greeneville, TN
A good haircut is worth the price.  I had been avoiding the hairdresser because it is an expensive visit.  When you don’t like the way you look you are more vulnerable and less likely to network or engage.  I spent the money, felt great and it boosted my confidence.
C&O Canal towpath, near White's Ferry
Age makes a difference.  There is a reason there are so many 50-somethings who are unemployed.  It is not because we are all incapable of doing the jobs.  Some of it is because we cost more.  A recruiter recently chastised me for not putting my college graduation date on my resume and tried to tell me it was so that potential employers could verify college graduation.  I said that no potential employer would verify college graduation before an interview.  Why else would someone be curious about your college graduation date before meeting you but to try to determine your age?  Unfortunately, I think discrimination occurs often.  And I think that the short-sighted employers who choose the social networkers over the experienced workers will eventually realize their error.  I just hope it isn't too late for me.  Meanwhile I have updated my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Preparing for a family jaunt to our cabin in the Kentucky hills last summer, I asked my eldest to give me his grocery wish list.  He named food items that violate the rules of the Mayo Clinic Diet book that I am currently reading and every version of the food pyramid that has ever been written:

  • Beer
  • Brownies
  • Bacon
  • Bread
  • Bourbon
  • Burgers
  • Beef
  • BLT's

"They all start with a "B", he said.  " Come to think of it, most things that start with a "B" are good,"  he added.  He continued his list of favorite b-words, "beach, breakfast,  boy, bicycle, boobs..."  I changed the direction of the conversation after the final installation, which is not a subject a Mother wants to discuss with her adult son.

So we talked about how the things he named were distinctly male on the goodness quotient.  If I were asked what I wanted food-wise for the lake trip I would have said:

  • Red wine (old vine zinfandel)
  • Spinach
  • Turkey
  • Light cheese
  • Chicken
  • Broccoli (a B-word he did not name)

Sure, a few of his b-words are ones I like, too, but my list is more eclectic and heart-healthy.  While I would partake in some of the enjoyment of his b-foods, they would not be things I would generally tempt myself with at the lake.  For me, the trip was really one big B-word, bonding, but more specifically about G-words including only a few food items:

  • Grainy bread
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Goat Cheese
  • Generosity
  • Getaway
  • God
  • Grits
  • Generations
  • Genealogy (we spent time researching some of the WWII letters of Dad's and other family history)
  • Good food

When you are in your 20's, vacation seems more about sensual pleasures like food, for example; with age, you move down the alphabet to the deeper pleasures of creating lasting Memories and stealing Time away to Observe life Simply and Study Nature.

The result was a great weekend and fun for us both.  He got his B-words and I my bonding, family, nature and peaceful time.  Maybe this year he will ask for C-words.  I can only just imagine what those might be.

I am skipping to the J-words this year.  The first of those, having nothing to do with vacation, is JOB!  I just hope it isn't June before I realize it!!  But I will Jump for Joy when it happens.  And I might go for a Jog.  But the food choices will be limited.