Time for a new weekly writer’s roundup of my works-in-progress and those ready to read!
Okay folks, time for a personal author update. It’s been a big week. Heck, it’s been a complicated month! Weekends are when I’ve been writing the most lately, and an emotional and layered one that deprived me of that privilege this week. A lot has been happening, and although the leading events were negative… things are now headed in a positive direction.
So, what happened?
Well, at the end of August, I accepted a contract job at a university working their IT helpdesk. As my regular readers may know, I was laid-off in March from a longstanding job as part of a corporate downsizing. My wife fervently wanted me to write full-time so that I can get my books published as quickly as possible, and I gave it a go. Unfortunately, she had a run of medical issues shortly thereafter that necessitated a change in jobs. That caused a gap in her employment that threw all of our budgeting and plans out the window. Although she has better work now than before, we got into real financial trouble.
I started looking for work again. I hadn’t entered into unemployment because I was treating my full-time writing and desire to independently publish my work as self-employment and small business. So I applied for the unemployment rightfully owed to me in July.
For the benefit of my readers outside of the United States, let me advise you that our unemployment system sucks. It’s very politicized and systematic, and run by bureaucrats so over-worked that they’ve become soulless husks shambling about. The root of the problem is the common and ugly American belief that poverty is a sin and not a condition people can fall into through no fault of their own.
For that reason, the attitude given to people seeking aid is extremely hard-hearted. At virtually every turn you are looked upon as a potential criminal. Every signed form comes with an extensive warning stating how you will be caught and punished for any infraction… You know, because your situation isn’t bad enough already. When I applied, I needed to drive an hour to attend a thirty-minute class saying that same thing, over and over, before I could get a check that amounted to slim-life support.
My country is having a serious crisis of empathy. I don’t think that’s a big secret to anybody. Instead of just complaining about it, however, I wish more people would start doing something about it. I’m not talking about sharing memes and calls to action on Facebook… I’m talking about doing something that any of us should be able to do every day: Look at a fellow human being in trouble and say, “That could be me. That could be my sibling, my parent, my child.” Give them the benefit of the doubt. Give them your compassion even if you can’t right their problems.
You might feel that you can’t make a difference. But the smallest of deeds can mean the world to someone in need. It can change everything, and I try to live by that principle. To that end, this line spoken by Gandalf in the movies rings very true to me:
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small things; everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay… simple acts of kindness, and love.
To return to my narrative, the unemployment was just enough for us to keep the lights on while I looked for work. Meager as it was, I was grateful for it. But while I was looking for comparable work to what I’ve done for years, the Unemployment Nazis just wanted me out of the system as quickly as possible. They say they don’t pressure people to take any job even if the pay is inadequate to their cost of living. But they made it pretty clear between the lines when the university IT offer came in that if I declined it as inadequate, which it was, they’d cut my benefits.
I couldn’t afford that kind of a hit with no other work yet lined-up. So I took a less than stellar job under financial duress.
And it was just as bad as I had feared it would be. The people I worked with were nice enough. The crushing lack of resources put into their department and the pervasive depression drowning it was not.
Thanks to years of budget cuts and under-staffing, it was a truly unhappy office filled with a remnant core of veteran staffers and technically unpaid student help… They all looked forward to the future like Damocles looks to the sword above his head.
I knew from the first day I needed to get out of there. Not only was the pay lousy, I was commuting back and forth for two-hours every day. And the university offered no benefits at all… And I mean, absolutely nothing! No insurance, no vacation, not even sick time. I didn’t even get paid for federally mandated holidays when the department was closed.
Empathy. As I said before, the United States is having a serious crisis of empathy. Businesses and institutions that treat people like this are another symptom of it. Good people… people that are obviously loyal and dedicated to the university to put up with it all… should be given better than a cruel eye over their shoulder constantly forcing them to justify their employment. I felt bad for them. And many were working one or more additional jobs on the side to make ends meat.
It was very draining to work there. Writing was my solace, although I got home so late that most of it needed to be done on the weekends as I tried to finish my novel. And it was a rotten September in general. I was sick along with ongoing dental issues that I’m still trying to remedy without insurance. My dad went into to the hospital, but fortunately got better. Then, as I said last week, a friend of mine died suddenly after years of poor health. All of this while I was working this awful job.
However, I couldn’t just quit no matter how bad the job was for me. Not without a monetary safety-net. So I simply never stopped looking for work. And that’s where the hard-heartedness of the unemployment system starts making it worse for employers. No matter how bad the university was, I had agreed to work for them. In good-faith they spent nearly a month training me on their systems. It cost them time and resources to do this, and I felt awful because I knew that I would be jumping ship before they would have a chance to reap any benefit from their investment.
But what was I to do? I couldn’t say openly that I had no intent on staying as soon as I got a better offer of employment… They would have shown me the door and that would have been a disaster. I felt rotten about it, but I chose to say nothing at all.
If the unemployment bureau had been systematically more compassionate and focused on people getting good jobs instead of any job at all, this situation wouldn’t have happened. But nothing pans out quickly enough for the jack-booted paperwork zombies at the bureau dealing with deadbeats like me. Not surprisingly, a few weeks after the university offer “I couldn’t refuse”, one of those feelers that I had sent out to much better employment got in touch with me.
In short order I had a phone interview, then a follow-up interview in person that went really well. I got an offer… a great one that blew the contract I had with the university out of the water! I accepted it immediately, overjoyed.
Great for me, but who gets left holding the bag? That’s right: The University. And the good people I had started building friendships with.
So, this weekend I had the tough pleasure of crafting a letter of resignation to my boss. Again, I hated the job, not the people, including him. I wanted to end this as honorably as I could. Face-to-face. Perhaps that was a tall order. I’m basically quitting without any warning after less than a month, after all… But I spent a complicated weekend stressed-out and writing a couple of well crafted letters all the same.
It helped that on Saturday night, I got to see a few old friends. Our small gathering was sparked by the passing of our mutual friend and a desire to greet the chill of Autumn beside a warm fire. We spoke of Gods, magic and books beside the flames:
Empathy. We shared it freely between us, and it was really good for my friends and I. It strengthened us all in many ways, not the least of which will be for our departed friend’s service happening this upcoming weekend.
On Sunday I prepared my letters renewed, and knowing that they would bestow a rough Monday of shock to the university IT team. But that didn’t stop me on Monday morning from living the fantasy of saying “I’m done” to a hated job.
I drove in like any other day. I collected the things from my cube in seconds. I handed my boss the letter, who took it how I had hoped he would: With a professional handshake. I became the one that got away looking him in the eye… Then I was gone like a ninja. No round of parting words as I left. Just a goodbye letter snuck onto my trainer’s desk for her and my team of now former coworkers.
Oh what freedom though. What sweet, sweet freedom on that drive home.
It’s a rainy Tuesday as I write this. I’m getting this post done so I can return to writing on my novel Vivian’s Last Cigarette on Wednesday and beyond. The new job starts in a couple weeks, and I’ll be working in IT for a charitable organization that helps children and families in need. Yes, again the value of empathy.
I’m looking forward to starting. Not only does the job offer significantly higher pay and the benefits I lacked at the university, but my commute time is going to be cut in half. That’s five hours a week of my personal time restored. Better yet, my wife currently works there as well in a different department! So we’ll be able to carpool together, see each other on breaks and lunches, and have more time to spend together even as I have more time to write at night!… It’s a win-win! :-)
Alright, time for me to stop blogging and get back to writing some more fiction! Take care!