Day 50 – Celebrating 50 Great Days of Unemployment!

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Saturday – October 18, 2014

ID-10086740Day 50! Wow, what a milestone. I just never thought we would make it this far. I’d like to thank the job that let me go, and all of you who said “Brock, I believe in you! You can do this. You can be unemployed for 50 days straight!” You were right. There were times I didn’t believe, but… you were right.

What I hear from people who have been through this is that a months-long wait for employment is not unusual. It’s not just about finding the right position, it’s also about wading through the interview and hiring processes, which can be stressful and lenghty. Funny thing: most companies aren’t in as much of a hurry as I am. Go figure.

* * *

Today was a Saturday and Saturdays are always a bit easier to take than other days. This is a day I wouldn’t have been working anyway, so I skip through it essentially guilt-free.

Yes, there is a bit of guilt associated with all this. Not because of anything I did wrong or any job performance issues I might have had to lose my job in the first place (nothing I did was the cause of the loss), but because I’m just supposed to be working. I feel bad for not working, period. It’s not a rational thing because it’s not like I’m living like this by choice, but at least I have Saturdays when I know I wouldn’t have been working anyway. It’s a small relief to engage with life without looking at the calendar and thinking about where I would be otherwise.

I used my blessed Saturday for a mishmash of things. I took Cami to go ride her horse out the Heart of the Horst Therapy Ranch, moved the treadmill out of our bedroom to make room for a desk so I can stop writing and drawing and working at the kitchen table, and I did a bit of pro bono design for the upcoming McKinley Ward Halloween Party. Always feels good to do stuff like that, even if it takes me away from my own stuff for a few hours. The sacrifice, actually, is what makes it worth it.

* * *

Today I posted Day 42 – What Happens When You’re Unemployed and Working Too Hard. Eight days ago I was having a pretty tough time balancing home life and the other projects and freelance work I’ve got going on while I wait out this storm. It’s encouraging to look back and that blog and realize that I’m doing much better with all that now. I’m spending less time on the computer and paying better attention to my family.

The consequence? As I feared, I’m falling behind. This blog is getting tougher to turn out and other projects aren’t as far along as I’d like. But it’s probably a fair trade off.

* * *

TWO SHORT STORIES FROM TODAY:

Erin told me this morning she applied to a job for me here in Fresno that could be great for me. This is encouraging because I can almost never find anything in my field here in town. I looked at it and it has a crazy amount of qualifications and requirements. I don’t know anyone who can do all that and knows all of those programs.

She reassured me it’s just a wishlist. After all, she only got half of what she wanted in a husband.

Awesome.

————————-

Violet (age 3), who had been watching Return of the Jedi this afternoon, ran up to Erin with the most broken-hearted little look on her face and choked out the following:

“MOMMY! Darth Vader… is Luke’s father. IT’S JUST SO SAD!”

shawscene

I agree, Violet. It’s a real tearjerker.

Day 48 – This is Hell and I’d Rather Be Naked

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Wednesday – October 16, 2014

I think I know why this man is not having success.

I think I know why this man is not having success.

If I have a personal hell, it has to in some way involve shopping for clothes. Supposedly, people do it for fun, but those people deserve our pity because they are clearly insane. How is it in any way enjoyable to go to a store, put junk on your body over and over again until something only makes you look half awful instead of Quasimodo awful the way everything else does, and then pay through the nose for the privilege of putting that same thing on your body in public when people can laugh at you and the fact that, in the end, you settled for a v-neck that you knew even at the time was just way too deep?

Why do we put so much of our identity into our clothes? They’re a poor representation, and we all know it. Isn’t naked best? There’s so much status attached to clothing. If we were all naked, then there’d be so much less to worry about and we’d all be equal.

“No,” says Brad Pitt. “That’s not actually true.”

Since I failed to procure any clothes suitable for face-to-face interviewing on my own, today Erin accompanied me on my clothes shopping trip with the determination that we would not go home empty-handed. This was a hopeless, hilarious cause. I’ve said it before: I don’t care about clothes until somebody asks me to, then I care a lot. 

Erin and I were not happy with each other for most of this morning as we went from store to store to store. I was admittedly negative and dismissive of the whole experience. She pushed me pretty hard to accept some shirts and blazers I thought were just boring and terrible. At one point I tried the old “I quit” routine and tried to walk out of this hell we were both trapped in. She wouldn’t hear it. You don’t back out of hell. The only way out is through it.

All I could see was a sea of clothing designed for people who, when they turned to the side, disappeared. There’s the model ideal, and then there’s the mannequins I saw on display with a form no human being should strive for. This Fall, in case you’re wondering, the starved look is in. Emaciate yourselves now and prepare to look hot. If you’re a skeleton, man, you’ve got options. (I can feel all the champion shoppers out there reading this rolling their eyes: “We know!”)

It took hours, but in the end Erin and I finally remembered we loved each other (read: I started communicating what I actually wanted more effectively) and found some suitable clothes for me for cheap. My big sticking point was trying to find an outfit that wasn’t too outlandish but that still said “Hey, I’m creative.” I wanted something with some personality but trying to find personality at JC Penney is like trying to find subtlety in early period Spielberg.

We finally found what I wanted at, of all places, Forever 21. I didn’t even know they had a men’s section. One of the blazers is the same color as a pair of slacks I already have, so now I have a new suit for church as well, which is pretty cool.

* * *

In less irritating news, Erin got her calling at church tonight, as advisor to the Young Women. She’ll be teaching girls ages 12-17 on Sundays and participating in activities during the week. This puts her in our oldest daughter’s church orbit, which Elora is actually really excited about. Erin is a phenomenal teacher (ask anyone who isn’t her husband and they’ll tell you the same thing) and I know she’ll kick that calling’s butt, but she’s also pretty sad about leaving her old one.

She was previously a counselor in the Relief Society Presidency (women’s group) and loved working with the women of all ages. Working with girls now is going to be a big switch. For a little while here she will mourn, but the other leaders in the Young Women’s are friends. She’ll have enough fun to bounce back quickly. Fun counts for a lot right now.

Day 47 – How to Be Unemployed and Happy

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Tuesday – October 15, 2014

smiling-faceAfter the whiplash day yesterday, Erin and I were determined to get to the local Temple. This is our most sacred building, where we serve those who have gone on before us and where we are most likely to receive answers to the questions that trouble us. I’ve made more than one life-altering decision while attending the Temple because the spirit that exists there opens the way for such revelation.

After dropping the kids off at school, we sped across town dressed in our Sunday Best and spent the next 3 1/2 hours serving and praying. The serving part was great. The praying part proved to be fruitless. We gained no clarity on our situations and remain as confused about next steps as ever. This is not discouraging, but it is frustrating. We long for answers, but do not doubt they will come. I’m grateful to be as old as I am and have so much benefit from past experiences. I might have freaked way out a decade or two ago, wondering if I’d ever get an answer at all. Now I know to just be patient. We have plans to go back to the Temple at our earliest convenience.

* * *

Today, we got an email we’d been waiting a while for. The organization Erin auditioned for in San Francisco finally got back to her… only to say she did not get the job. Erin spent the rest of the day severely bummed out. Not because she thought she really had a shot*, but because this was her dream job. However ill a fit she was on paper, this was the job so much a dream she didn’t even imagine it could actually exist.

*She felt like she gave a good audition and had exactly the skills they were looking for, but she wouldn’t have hired her either if she were them. Who would hire someone who lives three hours away and may or may not be available depending on where her husband ended up? It was only a part-time position to start and she would have needed them to make some accommodations for her to make it all work. They knew all of this.

I told her to post the rejection on Facebook to get some immediate affirmations (mine weren’t cutting it). Say what you will about fights and drama and the misuse of Facebook*, when it comes to supporting a person when they’re down, there’s no better or quicker place to turn. People dutifully told her how great she is, which was both true and what she needed. Cody and Kristen (she of the dropping of the R Bombs) even came over with sorrow-drowning ice cream.

*Please, spare me the details of how hard it was for you to get the lid off the peanut butter jar. You didn’t conquer Everest and I refuse to congratulate you like you did. Also: I don’t care.

* * *

I capped off the day in much the same way it started–by serving others. In this case, I helped my friend Donna start her own blog so she can chronicle her upcoming adventures fighting Ebola in Africa.

Holy crud, right?

Despite evidence to the contrary, I’m generally reluctant to say “Hey, today I helped this person! Today I served this group!” I mean, besides the fact that it’s not like I’m FIGHTING EBOLA IN AFRICA (I mean, I’m not crazy), I believe boasting about such things is detrimental to the doing of them. There’s only one decent reason to even mention it to you here, in this blog. And that’s to illustrate this point:

I find that the only true way to ward off self-pity and despondence is in the giving of a helping hand here and there. I love writing and I like drawing and I appreciate the freelance work that’s increasingly being thrown my way, but the most satisfying work I do these days comes when I am allowed the privilege of helping someone out. I feel like I have purpose beyond my troubles and whatever results from them, and I like seeing people smile. That’s stupidly cliche, I know, but I’m telling you when the job is taken away–the thing you spend most of your waking hours doing–it’s a bit like dying. You see more clearly what’s of the most worth. Smiles are worth a lot. They won’t pay the mortgage, but they’re still better than cash.

If one of the big questions we were asked at the end of our lives to give an accounting of what we were up to on this Earth was something simple like “On the whole, did you make people’s days better or worse?” I think that would be fair. I would expect a question like that. No one is going to ask me about how successful my marketing plan was or whether that logo was really the best choice. They’re going to want to know if I contributed to the world’s darkness or fought against it.

Jobs aren’t bad things–they’re very good things–but anything we do mostly out of a need for survival can distract us from the stuff that matters a great deal more. Survival-based activities can start to seem like the only important activities. When that happens then we’re no better than every dad in the 1st act of every 80’s kids movie ever–overworked, neglectful of the truly most needful things, and unhappy.

All of which is to say: I’m unemployed and I’m yet I am happy.

Day 46 – Is It Time to Move Away?

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Monday – October 13, 2014

After receiving my call to the Elders Quorum Presidency last night, I did a bit of work for the calling this morning, to prepare, then immediately headed out to our local Social Services office to take care of some stuff there. Part of my responsibilities as the new President is to assess needs for poor or needy families, particularly welfare needs. It’s more than a bit odd to be one of those needy people at the same time I’m supposed to be helping them.

Odd, but not a bad thing. My empathy level is certainly through the roof right now.

All of this contributed to some severe whiplash today. In the afternoon, I had an interview with a company in Salt Lake City. This is a new, fairly big company that has a real need for additional personnel, particularly a creative type who can lead a team. Seems like a terrific job I could be very, very good at.

But living in Utah? Is that really something we’re prepared to do?

Utah, aka Mars

Utah, aka Mars

Yeah, sure, I always said I’d never do it. “Too many dang Mormons,” I’d say. I mean, when the religion becomes the culture, how can that not be a potentially toxic combination? One of the reasons I love California is that we Mormons stick out a bit. I think that makes is easier, not harder, to stay true to our beliefs.

We’re different, and that difference gets highlighted in the oddest of situations. When I was in high school, for example, everyone knew what I believed. One time–only once–I left the F Word slip from my mouth and you’d have thought the Apocalypse had arrived. I mean, I felt terrible about it, but those who heard me say it were beside themselves. It was like they’d seen a unicorn fart in the wild. They held me to a certain standard, and that made it easier for me to hold myself to that same standard.

I want that for my kids, but I know–when I’m honest–that that kind of fidelity to my religion doesn’t just happen in California, or even come from living here. It comes from how I was raised and my own personal testimony. Unless I’m doing a poor job as a parent, my kids should be able to benefit from similar checks and balances, but within themselves.

The reality is, moving to Utah? It’s not impossible. We could do that, and we could be happy doing it. That’s a change I and my family would be willing to make.

And that’s terribly hard to take in and process.

Since I basically knew the changes in the Stake were coming and that we’d be shifted over to a new Ward, I’d been anticipating what my new role in that Ward would be. I thought knowing what calling I would have might be some indication of whether we needed to stay in town or move on to something else. I thought some clarity would come from having somebody, somewhere say, “We want you here.”

This is exceedingly stupid.

I knew it was stupid, and I still thought it. Callings are temporary and I could do this job for just a few weeks and be done with it. That might just be the entire plan. I don’t know. I don’t know what the Lord is thinking and how this is all supposed to play out.

What I do know is this: I’m more conflicted now than I was 48 hours ago. I want to be part of the all the exciting changes and stay here and serve. I want to move away. I want to stay here and serve. I want to do something new somewhere else.

If anything, I have less clarity than ever.

But no matter what–no matter what–moving away will/would be incredibly difficult. Moving away is to leave behind not only family and friends and stores you like and restaurants you frequent and side roads you know to take and that park nearby your daughters love and the house you’ve imprinted yourselves on, but also all the things you were going to do. All the things you could have done had you stayed. All the friends you would have made and all the ways you could have contributed and helped someone.

Those are the things that are hard to think about. Usually, I don’t. But today, it’s like the universe is throwing it all in my face.

Day 45 – I Have a New Job (Just Not the One I Was Expecting)

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Sunday – October 12, 2014

file000103102419

This is such a misleading photo. I don’t know why I used it.

Today, it happened. Four wards dissolved in the Fresno East Stake and six new ones were created. If the preceding sentence makes absolutely no sense to you, I highly recommend reading yesterday’s post in which I explained what was then only a potentiality.

So, yes, boundaries were redrawn and our ward, the Fresno 7th Ward, got cut into pieces. Erin and I ended up in the McKinley Ward, which is also the ward that most closely resembles our previous ward, but with about a third less people. We lost a lot of friends. No, they’re not dead, but we won’t see them as much in the future now that we’ll be attending at a different building. There’s not even a chance of running into people in the hallways. Lots of tears in the room tonight as all this was announced.

Butler BuildingAlso part of the announcements: everyone was simultaneously released from their callings (ie, jobs within the church). The key difference between the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) and most every other church is that we are run–from the very top on down–by a lay ministry. No one makes a dime serving in the church.

No one makes a career out of it either. Callings are extended to members and they are expected to take them. That’s part of the commitment we make at baptism–to sacrifice our time and talents to serve in the church. But every calling comes with a release. You may be a Bishop one day–in charge of running a 500-person ward–and the next day be released and called as a nursery leader, instead pouring water from a pitcher into 8 little Dixie cups for 8 little Mormon rugrats. In my time in the church, I’ve been a teacher of children, teenagers and adults; a counselor; a secretary; and financial clerk. I don’t have a lot of time for this stuff, no one does, but we all serve gladly anyway. It just plain feels good to serve the Lord in these capacities, and we know we’re serving each other as well.

Six new wards meant six new Bishops, and they were identified immediately, during the meeting. Six new Bishops meant each of them needed two new counselors and three new secretaries, a group collectively known as a Bishopric. These were all also identified.

20 minutes before the meeting started, Erin and I were called into the Stake President’s office. There, he extended to me a calling to serve as the Elders Quorum President in the McKinley Ward. An “Elder” is one of the offices of the priesthood and the Elders Quorum is generally the largest “quorum”–or male group–in the ward. If a Bishop is like a pastor and his counselors like assistant pastors, then the Elder’s Quorum President is like an assistant pastor that leads the men.

What do you call that? A specialty pastor? Is that a thing? I don’t know. I’ve been to lots of other churches, but I’ve never been clear on the different rankings of pastors.

Stake President Nef made it known that there was some hesitation about calling me to this position because of my status as unemployed. Not because they doubt my abilities, but because I could up and leave town to pursue a job at any time, and they know that. But like an annoying tick you can’t shake off, they couldn’t get my name out of their minds and made the ridiculous and ill-advised choice to call me to the position anyway.

That’s the other thing about callings: really, they’re from the Lord. Lots of prayer goes into each and every one of them. I can’t imagine what President Nef has been through the past several months as he tried to sort through all these changes and the dozens and dozens of callings he’s had to extend.

I’m of mixed feelings about the whole thing. I’m incredibly excited to take on this responsibility and throw myself into this job that pays terribly yet yields high rewards, but how long do I really have to do it? I’m interviewing with two different companies right now, both of  them far, far away. It’s entirely possible I’ll just get things started in the Elders Quorum so I can make it easier for the next guy. Or, maybe this is the next three years of my life. I don’t know.

What I do know, immediately, is what I want to focus on as President. I want us to take care of each other; to do a better job reaching out to those around us–particularly those who do not attend church–and let them know they are loved and that someone is mindful of them. It’s a tall order, but I hope to be able to inspire the brethren I lead to do exactly what Christ commanded Peter to do when He said, “Feed my sheep.” There’s lots of people starving in one way or another. I  think we’re in a position to help.

But before any of that noise gets to happen I really need a couple counselors of my own. And a secretary. This job is way to big to do it alone for too long. Lots of my own prayers ahead in the next week.

After the meeting, lots of people congratulated me on the calling. I’m honestly not sure that’s entirely appropriate. For one, it’s not like i did anything to get this calling. There was no campaign and desire on my part to have it. There’s simply no “moving up” in the Church, and certainly nothing we gain based on our own merit. Secondly, this calling is tough.

I generally prefer to offer condolences when someone gets a calling, particularly one that will require a real time and emotional commitment. To lead and set an example is work. It’s not always easy, and, like I said, the people who serve in the Church don’t just do church stuff. They have all of their regular, normal life responsibilities as well. They have jobs.

Well, most people do, anyway. There are some notable exceptions.

Day 44 – Faith/Religion in the Blog: Sprinkle or Shower?

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Saturday – October 11, 2014

powerI was on deck as the Stay-at-Home Dad today, a role I fill with complete and total adequacy. It wasn’t quite supposed to work out this way, but Erin had a lot of places to be and I trust they weren’t all “day spa.” I’m actually quite happy to be the parent on deck. I think the (quite excellent) job Erin has done raising our kids at home over the past 12 years is maybe the hardest job a person can do. It’s child-rearing, it’s cooking, it’s cleaning, it’s taxiing, it’s giving comfort and aid, it’s educating, it’s disciplining–it’s all of that, 24/7. No real breaks or vacations. I think I could do a more than adequate job if I had to, minus the cooking part. It probably helps that she loosened the lid a bit and our household already runs like a well-oiled machine.

Since it was Saturday, I started the day by taking Cami out to the Heart of the Horse Horse Therapy Ranch for her half hour ride. Once again, she had a hard time letting go. She let everyone know, forcibly, that she wanted a couple more laps before she was willing to be her usual, agreeable self and get down. Seeing her assert herself like that and make her wishes known is a new thing. I like it.

The rest of the day was spent in the house with the kids, sneaking in an occasional bit of writing here and there. At 4pm I had a church priesthood meeting at the Stake Center.

I’m going to try to unpack this as best I can:

Mormons attend church according to geographically designated “wards.” Everyone who lives within certain boundaries attends church at the same time, in the same building. A Bishop and his two counselors run the ward according to the direction they receive from the Stake President, who leads the stake. A “stake”* is made up of about 6-10 wards. The Stake President gets his direction from the Area Authority who leads many Stakes. You can can follow this on up the chain to the President and Prophet of the Church himself, Thomas S. Monson.

*Why “ward” and “stake?” I don’t know. We’re not crazy people and we’re not building tents or killing vampires at our churches, so the designations only seem right to me by virtue of the face I’ve been using them all my life.

But let’s stick to the local level.

So, this afternoon was a meeting at the Stake Center–the chief meetinghouse where the Stake President has his office–of all the priesthood brethren in the Fresno East Stake. In the Mormon church, boys and men 12 years of age and above hold the priesthood. This means I ill-advisedly number among them, but I’m glad for it on several levels–not the least of which is the brotherhood we all enjoy.*

*Right now, admittedly, my interaction with everyone is a bit different than usual. Those at the meeting who met my eyes all asked the same question: how’s the job hunt going? I’ve lost a bit of my identity in that way. I may as well wear a badge that says “Hello, My Name Is Unemployed.” It’s okay, though. I understand how it is. It’s always nice to know what to ask a person to create an instant conversation. Makes things easier. 

To get further away from the point of this blog and back to the topic at hand, I’m giving all of this background info so you can begin to understand the frame of mind everyone was in today as we went into the meeting. You see, there is a rumor there are big things about to go down.

The rumor is this: that all the ward boundaries are about to be redrawn. While there have been slight adjustments from time-to-time, if this rumor pans out, it’ll be the biggest change in over 25 years.

It’s a necessary change because of the shifts in population growth over time. For example, my current ward, the Fresno 7th Ward, was one of the smallest wards–if not the smallest–in the Fresno East Stake when we moved in 10 years ago. Now, it’s far and away the biggest. We’ve got people sitting in the choir section and on the floors in the foyer because we’re just too big to handle right now.

If the change does happen, it’s going to quite difficult for many people. Our closest associations happen at and through church. Friendships will be tested as people will be moved to different buildings and simply not able to be in as much contact with each other as before. I remember when this happened to a friend a friend and I between 6th and 7th grade. Our ward split and he went one way and I went the other. He got new friends and I didn’t see him as much. I hated it.

This time around, I’m looking forward to it. It didn’t happen in today’s meeting, nor in the second, general adult meeting in the evening, but I don’t think anyone really thought it would.

Still, there’s a sense of finality in the air. Tomorrow, we have another special meeting. We’ll see what happens.

* * *

I didn’t go to the second meeting because I took my turn with the kids again so Erin could go. To her surprise, a friend of ours, Jennifer Ward, was one of the featured speakers and she made lengthy reference to this very blog. She even quoted a fair bit of it. I gave permission for this to happen, but didn’t think to ask during which meeting it might occur. And I didn’t tell Erin about it. She was somewhat… shocked to find that suddenly the hundreds of people in the chapel with her were learning all about her unemployed state. I was super bummed I missed it.

Jennifer’s purpose was to hold this blog up as a positive example of how to share faith online without being preachy or hitting someone over the head with it.

I hope that’s what I do, if that’s what I’m doing at all. My faith is not my focus here, but my faith is a big part of who I am so naturally it’s appropriate at times to share that perspective and insight. Sometimes it’s a sprinkle, sometimes a shower.

To be honest, I’ve never been particularly interested in preaching to the choir in my writing. It’s a far more interesting challenge to try to reach outside of my world to reach others. It’s just more exciting to me.

You all are better judges than I am. This particular entry was obviously a little heavy on the Mormon of it all, but I don’t think I go to this well too often.

Do any of you read other blogs by people of faith? Does it bug you when they don’t shy away from that, or do you appreciate it for what it is?