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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Work Ethics


I thought it would be over by now.  I thought that within 100 days I would have had a job offer and have started the process of building my income again. The deadline has come and gone: a relay baton not passed or a left-hand turn in the car passed too quickly. My life passed by with both a blink of an eye with time both inexorably slow at the same time. 

In recent weeks, the void of paid work in my life has been a lingering dissonance, like the empty patch in the garden from a large plant that I relocated a few weeks ago or the annoyance of a typographical error on the sign near the cashier.  Characteristically, I am keeping busy attending to life details, getting out and about in wild places, conversing with a network about who I am and what I want to do, and undertaking  projects with a couple of groups that were close to my heart and were happy to have a seasoned consultant offer free services for a limited period of time.  My New England work ethic has always defined my character by what I do, but here in America your professional job typically provides you with other benefits- health insurance and sometimes an ability to invest tax-free.
http://image.slidesharecdn.com/Max Weber 

At this 100 day milestone, I am facing the need to refill those critical medicines I need to survive. I'm not clear of those costs and with a $5,000 deductible looming ahead for the next three months, all expenses are mine to bear. Fortunately,  I am receiving a low-income subsidy for the monthly premiums and I have virtually no living expenses while staying with my parents. I am grateful for that.  While I have grown to accept many of the facts about managing my diabetes, it pales to the reality of my grandfather. 

I had an opportunity recently to read my uncle's family history about my father's father, George.  My grandfather was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a young adult just after insulin was discovered in 1922.  He lost his job during the Great Depression and went to the library to hide the fact that he was unemployed. George found a job working with a steamship company in Boston, but he could never reveal that he lived with diabetes. He could never buy life insurance for his family. He never went out to dinner with friends or colleagues, in fact eating the exact same food each day: oatmeal for breakfast, ratatouille for lunch and meat and vegetables for dinner.  He was so scarred by the Great Depression that they never bought a house and he saved all of his money in Swiss bank accounts-- a secret kept from his wife until he passed. 

Today, I often cycle past the 2 apartments where my grandparents lived in Brunswick (they were displaced twice by Bowdoin College's student housing expansions.)  My father's great-grandfather was born in Nova Scotia and started logging in Brewer Maine at 16. At 22, founded one of Maines's larger lumber companies, which harvested vast tracts of timber and floated them down the Penobscot River to the waiting ships that clustered in the bay to transport to market.  The family has always worked hard. 
At the Oak Hill Cemetary in Brewer Maine.
Photo credit Bill Maling. 
I finally buckled down and applied for a seasonal, temporary job at a major outdoor retailer a few weeks ago.  

 "Have you ever worked on a factory line or around heavy machinery?", the interviewer asked.  This question came just a day  after a search committee for a senior level position asked about my project management skills, to which I replied, "Plate Spinning" and the interview team erupted in laughter.   But here I was in a cubicle with the interviewer typing into an online form while listening to my responses. 

"Yes.I have", I replied.  The factory was my first job after my freshman year of college. It was the first time that I met someone who had lost most of her teeth. Her think hair was pinned on a small bun atop of her head. She told me about her love flower over the clatter and dusty of the machines that spit out sheets with tiny glue squares, upon which we glued a petit four of small fabric squares. The country radio station played, "I'd rather be lonely without you than a fool by your side."  I realized the power of being born into the middle class and the power of health insurance.

Weaver Bird and Nest
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These days,  I am spending some of my days a the library. The full-time job search has thus far been  unsuccessful.  10 closely-targeted senior management level CV submissions and three interviews later, my internal dialog is beginning again about my uneasy relationship with office work. How to be a creative freelancer with the Ball and Chain of healthcare costs? This is a recurrent refrain from the opening number in my performance art piece in 2010.

I am so grateful to have this unique position.  As long as I can manage to wrestle the internal doubts and idiosyncrasies of living with my parents, this is a great place to stay. There are minimal financial obligations. I have savings after years of living on the very cheap.  Last week when I refilled the prescriptions, it was a huge relief- Obamacare is working for me.  I think I can pursue a creative path.

This process of forming relationships, establishing structure and creating a new life will take longer.  I can feel the webs forming, the tensile threads of connections, a glistening and resilient network that forms community and work connections.  I am building a nest, gathering threads, knitting together small balls of yarn to create the blanket of this new life.