Unemployed

I lost my job yesterday.

It’s not a huge job, mind you.  I’ve been working on and off at our local children’s art studio for five years.  Jill and I started working together after she allowed me to host a Kyle Vincent concert at her studio in late 2006.  I didn’t know her then; a friend I’d met at my son’s preschool did, though, and when I wondered if all of my girlfriends would fit into my small roomed house for such a “living room show”, she suggested Jill’s studio close by.  By the end of the event Jill was talking to Kyle about business, and he mentioned that I did his website and graphic design.  A few weeks later, she approved my mock up for her site, and we’ve been working together ever since.

Jill put me to work doing anything my skill set allowed.  First the website, then her accounting and some clerical work, and finally, some teaching of the classes she offered to the children of our town.  It was extremely part time, but perfect for my busy life that didn’t allow me to work outside of my childrens’ school hours and sometimes required me to be available even then to meet all of their needs.  It was my first foray outside of my home since I’d moved to Connecticut, and it was just enough to make me feel like I wasn’t allowing my skills to evaporate while tending to my children’s lives so fully.

Working for Jill introduced me to other business owners in town too, and before long I had a small roster of website design clients.  With Jill’s studio being popular and well known in town, all I had to do was drop her name and jobs came my way with very little effort.  It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to feel like I was doing something meaningful in my off hours.

Unfortunately, since I did Jill’s books for her, I could see that the economic crash of 2008 took a huge toll on Jill’s business.  Children’s art classes were a pricey luxury that most parents were easily able to slash out of their budgets.  Jill responded as any shrewd business person would by cutting her own costs.  One by one I saw most of the seasoned teachers leave.  Jill taught everything she could herself, and when she couldn’t, she hired cheaper college and high school students to fill in.

And for a while, that was enough to stay afloat.  I marveled at how her summer camps and her birthday party businesses kept her in the black.  She bought a kiln and added paint your own pottery aspect to her studio, which brought income in during the long stretches between semesters when the bank account often grew thin.  But she also quietly put the property up for sale, waiting to see if anyone would be interested in buying the business.

No one was.  After two years on the market and over $100,000 in reductions of the price, she made the hard decision to close the studio.  I was unprepared, when I went in for my usual Thursday perusal of receipts and tasks that this would be the last time I would be asked to come in.  I knew it was coming, of course, but didn’t realize it was happening now instead of later.  This was it.  Five years and what seems like a lifetime of growth and change later, Jill and I are parting ways.

I’ve always called my job a “little job”.  But today, in its absence, it feels much bigger than it ever was.  And I will miss it.  Very much.

East or West?

“Well, which is it?” I asked, frustrated, impatient, and bitter.

R had spent the last month traveling to job interviews throughout the company.  He’d been to Baltimore, he’d been to a town in Connecticut, he’d been to Los Angeles.  It was so different than when he’d done the same before we’d moved here; those interviews had been an exercise in frustration for him with lowball job offers and uncertainty wrapped around them.

This time, R had been shown the moon.  Everyone loved him, everyone wanted him to join their team.  There were offers and promises of this or that, there were tours of facilities and cruises on bodies of water.  Meanwhile, I grew tense at home caring for my three children as the summer waned and Michael’s issues began to come into clearer focus.  I scheduled two evaluations for him at both a private facility and at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, hoping to find a path or direction to go in with him.  My consistent bad mood spilled over to the children, and with no R there to fill in the gaps and provide any relief, everything felt tense.

I found myself growing jealous of R’s burgeoning opportunities.  I had walked away from my teaching career, and had just started building a new one at the University.  I knew that if I could stay in Cincinnati I would end up eventually having a full teaching schedule there in the Continuing Education department.   The staff and students alike seemed to like my simple, no nonsense computer classes; I was constantly asked for more ideas, new things to share and teach.  I would be walking away from that with R’s new job, and I was definitely unhappy about it.

The only saving grace for me was that one of the jobs was positioned out in Los Angeles.  If we were to go out there, I was sure that I could increase my role in the Rick Springfield organization.  I was growing restless with watching the new website designer slowly but surely lock me out of any duties at all related to the site.  When he’d upgraded the site he’d blocked my access, explaining it away to the rest of the team in a way that they accepted, but didn’t make sense to me.  I hoped that if I was out in LA and able to see Rick for meetings now and then, I continue my Street Team work in an even more effective way by accompanying Rick to appearances and making sure that the loyal fans who had kept him afloat enough to be where he was today still played in his decision making.  It was an opportunity for me, and I hoped to be able to take it.

“Well,” R answered slowly, “Baltimore seems like a no go.  That division of the company is going to be sold, and so if I were to take that position, then I would end up not working for this company any more, which is not a position I want to be in.”

I nodded slowly.  Baltimore had been a reasonable choice.  The cost of living had been the lowest of the three choices, and it was near my father’s family in Delaware.  My father had lived there for a short time and so I was familiar with the area.  But I understood his feelings; we had to ensure he was moving up in this decision, not being pushed aside.  “What about the other two?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even.

“OK so the offers just came in this morning for both LA and Connecticut.  And they’re exactly the same.”

Same?  “What does that mean?”

“Well, they’re identical, which I guess shouldn’t be a surprise because they’re both at the same level in the company.”

“But it costs more to live in Los Angeles.  There wasn’t a cost of living bonus or anything attached to their offer?”  This was not good news for Los Angeles.  I’d been on Realtor.com every day looking at houses in LA since R had gone out there for the interview.  The costs were staggering.  Our house in Ohio was priced the same as a house for sale in Compton, a rough part of Los Angeles.  We would have to live far from his job in Studio City for us to find anything affordable.

“No, there wasn’t.  And the Connecticut job is working for my old boss, the guy who I was working for here until six months ago.  Plus that is working for the main corporate office, rather than another side business, so there is more opportunity for advancement there.”

I looked down at my hands.  “I guess I know what you’re thinking, then.”

R nodded.  “I think this means we’re going to be East Coasters.”

Shock and Awe

I was standing in my classroom at the University one chilly, March night, staring out into the night sky.

Tonight I was teaching Web Design 101 to twelve adult students at varying skill levels.  I loved my classes at the university these days; I loved putting on real clothes and make up and being someone other than the mother, wife or crazy freak fan of an 80s singer.  It felt good that while I wasn’t getting paid for my work as Rick Springfield’s web designer and fan liaison, I had at least developed skills that I could parlay into a paycheck elsewhere.  I loved that I was teaching again, even if it wasn’t a classroom with little kids.  In some ways, my classroom full of eager to learn adults was even more satisfying to work in, because the students were like sponges just ready and waiting to absorb the skills I was there to impart.

I taught the class in much the same way I’d learned how to create websites myself.  I didn’t think it made sense to ask people to buy pricey software to do beginning work, so I found a free Microsoft product online that the students could use in class and download on their own home computers.  I set them all up with free web hosting accounts, and off they went, learning slowly how to create text on web pages, then how to obtain pictures from a Google search to use in their pages, then how to add those pages to their pages and finally, how to upload all of it to their own, unique website.  I loved watching my students start as insecure and unsure to confident designers who wanted to learn beginning graphic design and other skills to make their websites their own.

The university had asked me to teach a second class for the upcoming fall, a Photoshop class.  I was glad that my skills were being noticed and that I was going to be able to take on more of a load at the school.  There were a few instructors that had nearly full time jobs teaching both daytime and nighttime classes; for the near term, this was my goal.  I was thinking about the possibilities of what else I could teach when one of my students said calmly, “The war has started.”

A chill went up my spine as I broke my reverie and focused on the here and now in my classroom.  “Really? How do you know that?”

“When I went onto Google for my pictures, one of the hits was for a breaking news story about the war starting in Iraq.”

I breathed in and out.  These weren’t kids, so I didn’t have to control the situation as much as I normally would feel like I had to.  In fact, the balance of opinion about the war was so split, the only thing I was concerned about was if we had vastly differing viewpoints in the room. “I suppose that it isn’t much of a surprise to any of us,” I said evenly.  “I mean, this was probably the least surprise of any attack ever, right?”

‘They’re calling it ‘shock and awe’,” said my student, reading from a story on CNN.com.

A rustling started as I heard students start typing in their own favorite news websites on their computers.  “Go ahead and take a look, and then let’s go ahead and call it a night,” I said from the front of the room.  “I know you’ll all want to go home and be with your families right now, and frankly, so do I.  We’re nearly done anyway for the evening, so just save your work to your folders and then you can wrap it up.”

As I watched them all gather up their things and wish me goodbye, I felt a heaviness in my chest.  I remembered the war in Afghanistan, and where I was that warm October day when we’d all heard the news.  I remembered the Operation Desert Storm, and watching the news one night when Zach was a baby on the then brand new network, CNN.   It all mingled into a vague sense of unease and worry for the two boys I had back at home; what kind of world were they growing up in?  Zachary was thirteen; in five more years, he could be one of those kids out there being either the Shock or the Awe.

I had never made the drive home from the university so quickly as I did that night of March 19, 2003.

What Had I Missed?

I sat there, with my baby in my arms, wondering.

Had I missed something?  Nothing seemed wrong with him.  He smiled, he ate, he held my finger as he nursed, he sat up in his high chair just like my other two children had.  Nothing seemed different to me, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

I ran my hand over the peach fuzz on his head, and sighed.  He had been born with dark brown hair, like R’s, but it had all fallen out and now was reemerging as baby fine, yellow colored fuzz.  Like mine.   His eyes were holding that clear blue hue that had already turned gray and then later brown in my other two children.  These things, I could see, I could touch, I could know for sure.  But as he slumbered sweetly in my arms that warm afternoon, I wondered.  Could I be missing something?

I was more lax with him, I knew it.  It certainly wasn’t something I did often, I chastised myself, sitting here like this, absorbing every detail of my baby son.  There was never simply any time to do it.  There were dinners to make, children to pick up from activities, playing to be done, and of course the never ending work on my computer.  I spent much of my time with my two younger children on the phone with other adults, just to hear their voices, feel like I was connected to something other than diapers, Goodnight Moon and car seats.

And more than just the normal stay at home mommy crazy that I knew I was absorbed in, there was more.  I knew that I was not just trying to do what millions of other moms did within the four walls of their house, struggling to keep up with the daily tasks of running everything smoothly.  I was also trying to keep up with the demands of a celebrity job, a tenuous thing without a job description, a contract or a payment system.  A job run much more by the whims and fancy of people who did not have the patience to hear that this or that was delayed because I was worried that my son hadn’t pooped in two days or that I needed to potty train my daughter.  A job that could easily be hoisted onto the next willing fan if I was ever found to have stumbled, as evidenced by the recent dismissal of Elizabeth.

It was a job I loved and hated all at the same time, but couldn’t bear the thought of losing.  Still, as I sat there in the quiet still of my living room, watching the warm summer sunshine outside, listening for the return of Z from his friend’s house or Melinda’s slow waking from her nap, I wondered.  What was I giving up by having this feather in my cap?  Was I giving up sanity?  Surely.  Was I giving up my own chance at resurrecting my teaching career?  Maybe, though my part time gig at the university was quelling my feelings on that front, somewhat.  Was I giving up time with my children, my family?  Absolutely?

Was it worth it?

Had I missed something that should have been obvious to me if I hadn’t been so distracted by which fan was saying what about whom and my worries about how keep my skillset above everyone else vying for this role?  The baby in my arms squirmed in his sleep, unconsciously turning his face towards my warm chest and snuggling in further.  He seemed sweet, normal, perfect.

I didn’t know.  I couldn’t say.  But I did know that if somehow we pulled through this in a few days having learned that this was just a false alarm, I vowed to do a better job at keeping my priorities more towards my family and less towards far away people.  They certainly weren’t going to be the ones to be there at the hospital with me if my child’s skull needed to be cracked open and a shunt put in place.  From now on, I silently prayed, I would find a way to prioritize what was really important first.

New Job

“I am sure they’ll take you,” Annette had told me last spring.  “You have an even better background than I do for this sort of thing.”

She was referring to the classes she taught at Miami University; not the big campus half an hour north of where we lived, but the local satellite campus in a town called Hamilton.  A few times a year she taught a computer camp for teenagers; I’d come and visited her during one session last spring.  She had been teaching the students the basics of Microsoft Word, but doing so in fun ways that would interest the kids.  She made candy bar wrappers, gift bags, stationery and the like.

It was right up my alley.  I was looking for something part time to do, and obviously teaching was perfect fit.  I had told her that I would love to teach a basic web design class in the same structured format, the five day a week camp format that she taught.  Annette thought it was a great idea, and suggested I bring a class format outline and my resume with me when I visited her.  Sure enough, she had invited the Director to come and meet me.

It took less than a minute for the Director of Continuing Education to offer me a position in their Summer Camp program.

I was rather shocked at how easy it had all been.  Since I would be teaching at a University, I didn’t have to do anything to renew my teaching certificate, even though I was teaching children.  Even if I had been teaching adults, I later found out, I wouldn’t need any teaching certification.  This was amazing to me.  I had thought all along that standards for university teaching would have been even higher than K-12 instructors, but this was not the case.  All it took for me to get contract work at the university was one person in an office that thought I was qualified to do the work.

I was even more floored to get a phone call a week prior to my class from the Office of Continuing Education.  They wanted me to submit all of my teaching materials ahead of time so that they would be copied for me in time for my class.  “Wait,” I’d stammered into the phone.  “You do all the copying for me?”

“Well of course we do,” the secretary responded.   “We’ll have your class list ready for you that day.  It looks like you’ll have a full house.”

My heart skipped a beat, a little.  “How many is full?” I asked.  I’d taught computers at the middle school, once, on my prep period.  That class had 27 students, and I remember that at times it felt a little like a “Whack a Mole” game, running from machine to machine to help the students.

“Fifteen is a full class,” the secretary told me.  “You’re a hot ticket.”

I laughed.  “Fifteen is a full class?”  Wow.  They do all of my copying and cap my classes at fifteen.

“I could get used to this kind of teaching,” I told her as I hung up the phone.

Testing, Testing….

I was sitting in the cafeteria of the middle school in town, a number two pencil in my purse and a bottle of water in front of me.  I looked at the woman next to me, similar in age and possibly station and life, and smiled.

“So are you already a teacher?” she asked me, trying for a question that made clear she recognized the difference between me and the impossibly young college students that surrounded us.

“Yes,” I responded, laughing a little.  “I moved here from Michigan, so I’m trying to get my Oklahoma certificate in time for the start of school.”  I knew I was cutting it close; it was already July and school started here in mid August.  “You?”

“I taught preschool for a long time, but then finally decided to go back to school to get my degree.  I finished student teaching in the spring, but this is the first chance I had to get down here to take the test.”  I nodded, understanding.

“I wonder how long after you take the test it takes to get your certificate?”  I mused, already adding up the days in my head.

“Oh, if you have an active certificate in another state, and have done all of the testing here and everything, you can still apply for jobs.  Just tell them your Oklahoma certificate is pending,” she answered matter of factly.

I knew this, of course.  My original plan, when I had booked the test a month ago, was to do exactly that.  But now, with my new pregnancy hopefully growing every day in my belly, I wasn’t sure.  According to my new doctor, my baby was due in mid March.  I wondered how I would be able to manage teaching, knowing right from the starting gate that I was going to be out in March.  Six weeks from there took me to the end of April, and the schools here ended for the summer around May 20.  I just wasn’t sure what to do.

On the one hand, I wanted to teach.  I missed it terribly; not just the work but the feeling that I had an identity outside of the work of being a wife and a mother.  Even with the exciting new website work I was doing, there were still days when I was watching the clock far too often.   I enjoyed the extra time with Zach, taking him easily to his myriad of blossoming activities, but it still felt sort of like I was a kid playing hooky from what I was supposed to really be doing.

On the other hand, R and I had always said that when we started having more children that we planned on me staying at home for at least a year or two.  If that were the case here, how crazy would it be for me to go and get a job teaching only to leave it less than a year in?  I just wasn’t sure what the best course of action would be.

Still, I reasoned, there was no reason not to take the test and get the certification to teach here in Oklahoma.  It left all of my options open; if I wanted to teach, I’d be fine.  If something happened to the pregnancy, God forbid, I’d still be ready to work.  And if for some reason I decided to take it easy and stay home instead, then it wouldn’t be any big deal to not use the certificate.  It would be good for years; I could go back later.

“Thanks,” I responded to the woman next to me.  There was no time for more conversation; the proctor began to talk and give out our instructions for the test.  I gave her a sympathetic nod as we both busied ourselves with our pencils, each working towards our own new fate.

The Girl With The Website

I sat down at my computer after sending Zach to school, as I had done most days since moving to Oklahoma, and started working.

It had been two years now since I’d started our little fan club website for Rick Springfield with my friend Dawn.  We’d started on her computer in her tiny apartment with my old tourbooks and inspiration from the small but very active fan club we’d just joined.  But it quickly became a responsibility that Dawn just didn’t have the time or inclination to handle, as more and more club members found out about what Rick was doing.  After I’d posted my journal on the website about Rick’s charity event in Tucson, membership had exploded.  The following year’s event enjoyed triple the attendance from club members, and the club added a luncheon with Rick and charity auction to the event list.  It meant more interaction with fans, more personal meetings and always, more content for my fledgling website.

Vivian had seemed thrilled with the various ideas I’d had for the site.  When Rick had started a small tour in 1998, we’d started adding photos and reviews of the shows from the fans.  This current content drew fans in from all over the world, and started exciting them about the possibility of Rick coming to their town.  After ten years in near hibernation, fans were thrilled to see Rick onstage again, myself included.  I’d traveled last year all the way from Michigan to Kansas City and Dubuque, Iowa to see some of Rick’s first few shows.  Not only were the shows full of energy and fun, but Rick seemed genuinely amazed at the fervor that still existed for him as a performer.  He’d invited all of us club members to the sound checks and seen us all backstage afterwards.  The more I chronicled these types of things on the fan club website, the busier the site became.

Not long before R and I had moved to Oklahoma, Rick Springfield had launched an official website with a real domain name:  rickspringfield.com.  Everyone was thrilled with the prospect; what kinds of things would Rick include on his own website?   The site was artistic and beautiful, having used the cover art from Rick’s newest record:  Karma.    Some fans questioned if there would still be a need for the work that I did on the fan club website, but after the launch, we quickly realized there would be room for both.  Rick’s official site didn’t include any of the fan friendly reviews or interaction that we had on ours.  Plus, once I moved and stopped working, I was able to update our news and information, including additional tour dates, within hours of receiving it.

I was glad that the fan club site would continue.  Not only did I really enjoy creating something that others were enjoying, it was giving me an outlet while I figured out what life would be like in my new home.   I still didn’t know a lot of people, but sitting down to my email box and finding friendly notes from people who were grateful for my hours of work made me feel like I was still doing something that mattered, somewhere, to someone.

There were several shows in the area this summer that I was planning on attending.  I’d already gone to a small club show in Tulsa a few weeks ago, in a horrible bar that made me embarrassed for Rick.  To my surprise, he remembered me after the show as “the girl who does the website.”  I stammered and flushed and smiled.   Vivian asked me to attend an upcoming show next month in Kansas City at the same venue Rick had played the previous year.  Since we’d both be there, we planned on getting some good photos and content for the site.  A few weeks after that, Rick was playing Oklahoma City at an amusement park called “Frontier City”.

I might not be teaching yet, I might be feeling often like the world was spinning and I was watching.  But when I sat down to my computer in those spring months of 1999, there was at least something moving forward and giving me something to focus on outside of my four walls.  And I was grateful for it.

 

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