Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Really, don't cry for me...

Inevitably when I tell someone I got laid off the first response is, sorry.

I get it. The loss of steady income in this economy is scary. And the job prospects? Well, things do look pretty grim, don't they? Especially for a 53-year-old writer. Not that there's age discrimination in the working world. Especially in youth-oriented marketing departments and ad agencies. Oh no. That would be illegal.

But the thing I keep saying to people is that I was prepared for this, the writing was on the wall despite whatever I or anyone else was being told. And this is the third time in my career this has happened. You learn over time how to deal with this situation. My advice to anyone nowadays is get used to this. I forgot how many different jobs "experts" now predict college-educated people entering the workforce now will hold over the course of their lives. Whatever the number, I know it's a bunch.

I do appreciate the kind words, though. And the sympathy. Hearing them is a little like being Tom Sawyer listening in on his own funeral. But for all my friends out there, I'm doing okay. Sue and I are doing okay. My kids know it: I one tough son-of-a-bitch. (Thanks, Dad.) I only look cute and adorable. I really do like a challenge, and by God the Creator really handed me one this time.

I think the most important thing I learned from being laid off the first time back in the '90s was that my job does not define me. I was devastated that time. My whole being, all my feelings of self-worth and accomplishment revolved around my job. My feelings of worth are no longer tied to being a corporate writer any more than they are to me being a creative writer, businessperson, actor, or musician. These are things I do to enjoy my life. I write, act, engage in the business world. But all these things are just a top layer. I almost want to say window dressing, but that denigrates them a bit. They are the outcome of what lies below them.

The real me isn't a writer or actor or businessperson. The part of me that gets me through these times are parts that are curious, daring, risk-taking, fun-loving, and caring. These are the real parts of me. I write and act and photograph because they let me explore and learn about the world and life, which I am so curious about. Of course I need money and through business I earn money, but just as important as the money is, I also like that business teaches me so much about how the world runs, and how people operate and interact.

The senior exec who gave me the news said that we were going to have a difficult conversation. I wanted to say to him, are you going to tell me I have cancer? Are you going to take away my kids? Losing a job is hard, but there are lots of worse things in life to lose. Over the course of my lifetime, I've lost a lot more than jobs. There are even parts of me, deep inside, that are gone. So a job? Well....

And I keep saying, I'm going to fight this from intruding on my life. Yeah, I'm waking up in the middle of the night, I'm sure from nerves. But there are so many other things in my life, big and small. Coming up are Christmas with my daughters, for the first time in maybe seven years. Tell me that's not cool. The Halfway House Club opens Thursday night, a project I am very excited about. Right now there is a big pot of chicken soup cooking on the stove, making the apartment smell so great. SRV is cranking on the stereo. I'm barefoot, wearing an old pair of jeans (well, that's nothing new) and a favorite old shirt. There are wonderful things in this world, big and small, and to let the loss of a job stand between me and experiencing the world and life is just wrong.

When I was going through probably the toughest time in my life, I told myself I didn't want my heart to get hard. Yesterday I was in Park Street Station, and while waiting for a train that didn't come (I eventually just went upstairs and walked to my meeting over on Boylston Street) I was lucky enough to be able to listen to a busker there. His name was John Gerard, and listening I realized he had a really sweet voice. I had one dollar in my pocket, which I threw in his case. (One more lonely dollar, as The Low Anthem sings.) If you let this shit get to you, you'll never hear the new singer. You'll never see what makes you you.

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