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

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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?

Day 43 – The Unexpected Physical Effects 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.

Friday – October 10, 2014

Lately, Erin’s been doing the morning school runs while I sleep in since I stay up so late and, if I were to try to drive the children around after four hours of sleep, they might die. Erin is up anyway since she jogs a few miles most every morning, but this morning she asked me to rouse myself, not kill the children, and make the runs for her.

I slapped myself around, put on some clothes, and did the runs, which amazingly did not end in a fiery crash. After Erin woke up around 9am, I went back to bed. I can function well on five hours of sleep, but not four.

The physical effects of unemployment have been unexpected. Never in the history of our marriage has Erin had trouble sleeping, but it’s been one restless night after another for her lately. She also has headaches about every day now. I couldn’t eat much during the first couple weeks and I’m clenching my teeth a lot without realizing it (though the hurt in my jaw wakes me up to that fact at the end of every day). We’re both experiencing a lot of tension in our muscles–to the point where we’ve pulled things the wrong way and spent a couple days doing our best impression of Movie Batman’s head mobility. Despite the fact that we feel deeply like we’re going to be okay at the end of this, there’s still a toll. The present does not always shake hands with the future.

* * *

823 Exterior neonSome good friends of ours, the Hubbles, took us out to dinner tonight at Tahoe Joe’s. Their treat. I got the salmon while Erin tore into the angus steak. Back when things were normal and we worked for the Company, Erin and I would go out together on a decently regular basis. But now, it just doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of time for such things, and even less financial justification.

We had no idea how much we desperately needed the night out and off until we were sitting in that dimly lit restaurant, watching platefuls of far too much food whiz by us, and talking and laughing with our friends as if the reason they’d asked us out didn’t even exist in the first place. In fact, nobody brought up our unemployment situation once. It was a glorious relief.* We were so relaxed, so happy, and so very, very full.

*The mood only really turned sour once, when I got off topic and started describing my father’s bullet wounds from his first shooting. We were knee deep in our eating at the time. Sometimes, I forget that story is shocking and kind of a big deal. Didn’t everybody clean their father’s bullet wounds after school?

We woefully underestimated our need to get out and take a break from everything. Even if we have to spend a little money, that might be worth it to take a second to calm down a little and recharge. I imagine we’ll feel a little guilty about it, but it might be worth it.

Day 42 – What Happens When You’re Unemployed and Working Too Hard

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.

Thursday – October 9, 2014

These are not the tools of my trade.

These are not the tools of my trade.

I’m excited to report I put in a full morning of writing the penultimate chapter of my next book. This is one of the most difficult chapters because it has so much to wrap up and so much to comment on at the same time. Good stories are a circle, thematically, but I find with a book length memoir project I don’t really know how I’m going to circle back until I’m actually writing the end. Themes emerge for me. Planning them is pretty pointless because I don’t know my story well enough until I’ve told it. After a long three years, I can hardly believe I’m at the point of ending this first draft and truly discovering just what the crud I’ve done.

Because of all of that, the writing process was utterly torturous this morning until the last half hour. Sometimes, the words just do not flow and the big ideas and themes do not emerge. Not without great difficulty, anyway. There’s some tricky material at the end of this book that I can barely wrap my head around, but that’s been true throughout the writing process. I’ll figure it out.

* * *

We met with Elora’s math teacher in the middle of the afternoon to discuss her grade, because that’s the sort of thing we have time for now. It was a good meeting. I noticed the teacher had some materials in her classroom that I had illustrated. Always cool to see my stuff “out in the wild,” but also, of course, it’s a reminder of what I don’t have anymore.

Elora’s teacher did not ask “Why are you both here?” I know it’s an odd thing to have both parents show up, especially in the middle 0f the work day. The teacher may not have even thought it, but every time I’m out and about I can’t help but wonder if people question why I’m not at work, earning a living, and making some contribution to society beyond creating more midday traffic. It feels like I’ve got a big, sloppy t-shirt covered with Cheetos crumbs that says, “I don’t have a job.” I don’t, of course. They’re Baked Cheetos. Healthy dieting is important.

* * *

Erin and I had to come to terms again today. We have to do these check-ins now and again because, while we’re both enduring the same trial, we each handle it very differently. And sometimes, by failing to recognize that difference, I handle it badly.

In her view, I’m just not pulling my weight around the house. I spend a lot of time working on this blog and writing my book and I’m saying things like “in a minute” a lot. Meanwhile, she isn’t able to work on the things that are important to her and take advantage of those opportunities that have come her way to make a little extra cash. I feel bad about the imbalance. I agree there are some changes I need to make about how I use my time when the kids are around and the house needs attention, but I’m also working hard on things that I think are important. I feel torn because it seems like I’m never able to get ahead on anything because I have so much to do (some of which, admittedly, I bring on myself). So the idea of backing off to allow her time to work on her stuff? Yeah, that freaks me out a little. It’s a selfish freakout, but there it is.

The most damning accusation–and the one for which I did not get super defensive–was that I’m operating my life as though being a writer is my profession, like I’m some sort of neglectful, stay-at-home dad who writes for a living I hope to make one day. She’s probably not wrong about the writing part of it, but I don’t know how long this unemployment thing is going to last and I want to take advantage of every second of it. I’m disciplined. My balance is out of whack, but I’m disciplined.

The idea that I’m neglectful though? Yeah, that hurts. I don’t want to do that.

We didn’t really reach a solution, but I’m determined to pay more attention to how I’m using my time and trying to take some initiative with the house. Erin made a good point about not wanting to be my boss, but by continually waiting for her to tell me when to get off the computer and what to do, I’ve made her into the worse kind of boss: a nagging one. I don’t want that.

Day 41 – Why I Refused to Give My Daughter a Cell Phone, and Then Did Anyway

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 8, 2014

Elora

Elora

I promised Elora she would get a cell phone when I did. Which, my shiny crystal ball reveals to me, is never. Why? Because I don’t believe in cell phones. Oh, I know they exist, but only to tempt and torment man. Somehow we went from being to able to talk–talk!–to people the next house or city or state over from the comforts of our home, to being able to talk to them from giant stretch limos in 80’s movies, to just sending written messages with bad spelling, to putting pictures of our private parts in each other’s back pockets. I shudder at the thought of what comes next. Alexander Graham Bell would weep.

I don’t want any part of that, and I CERTAINLY don’t want my kid dealing with it. It used to be the devil would possess our bodies to make us to do horrible things, but that’s so old school. Now, he just puts a cell phone in our hands and all of the sudden we transform into rude, inconsiderate, loud, obnoxious people.

Heaven forbid the only one who can hear you yakkin’ it up with your mom in the line at the grocery store is you.

No, no. Of COURSE you have to take that call that text right now. We were just having a live conversation is all. If it was important I’d be texting you.

Hey guy, why don’t you take that selfie right here in the movie theater? I mean, it’s not like you’re making any sounds. And, please, I can just pretend the tiny, bright, glowing screen in front of me is part of the 3D effect. Wow! Everybody wins!

I’ve made it clear to Elora over and over again that the cell phone is just not happening, but still she has continued to protest. Her pleas consistently fail to move me. I mean, at this point, I take a perverse joy in refusing her. And she knows it.

Which is why a cell phone was the perfect gift for her 12th birthday today.

Erin put the phone in a box-within-a-box-within-a-box. When Elora got down to the last box, the phone started ringing. She opened it, pulled the phone out, and then immediately put it back in. There was no scream, no excitement, just pure disbelief.

Here, I’ll show you:

So, two questions:

1. Why did I allow this? Besides all the safety advantages, Erin finally convinced me that it would be a good idea for Elora to learn about cell phones now and how to properly use them while we still have some influence and control over Elora’s life. So, there are rules like turning the phone in to us at night and “Be where you are.” Stuff like that. The fact is, she will get a cell phone eventually because the only people who don’t are weirdos like me. We can teach her proper use.

2. How do unemployed parents afford to give their child a cell phone for her birthday? Well, first of all, just because we’re unemployed doesn’t mean we’re broke. Not yet. Second of all, that’s what’s great about a grandparent with a family plan. We paid just about nothing.

* * *

We cleaned the house today instead of doing just about anything else. Was fun to take short breaks to watch the strong reactions to my blog “Day 32 – Why It’s Important to Write Like No One Cares” roll in. I learned that wa what was a very clear headline in my head meant something entirely different in the minds of others, as demonstrated by this rebuttal blog (rebuttal blog! milestone!). So, yeah, had some disagreement. The good kind.

I still maintain that if you put your writing out there to be consumed by the public then no matter what you say you’re not just writing for yourself. Acknowledging that fact can make you a better writer. Write like no one cares, then change their minds.

* * *

Scheduled a phone interview with a company in Utah. This would be completely different from the company there I was looking at before. It’s a reassuring thing just to have an interview. When you send out so many resumes and you don’t hear back for a while, you start to think maybe what you have to offer just isn’t desired. That you’re not employable. That’s a deeply stupid attitude, as my 17 constant years of employment will attest, but that’s the emotional part of this game.

I acknowledge that emotion, I embrace it, I move forward.