Friday, March 25, 2011

Laid Off - Not working can be hard work!

Hanging out with nothing to do. Is it Heaven? Or is it Hell? (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

My mother always said it was better to be “pissed off” than to be “pissed on.” I always liked that saying, it made sense after all, but two weeks ago, something I never thought would happen to me, did in fact happen – I lost my job.

I was “laid off.”

A lot of things go through your mind when the carpet is pulled out from under your 26-year career as a photojournalist, but the one thing I couldn’t seem to shake from my head after the whole thing went down was the single burning question: Is it better to be “laid off” than to be “laid on?” Because being laid off certainly feels a lot like you’re being laid on.

It wasn’t like it was any big shock or anything, I could sense it coming for a month or so before it actually happened, but when it did happen, it still caught me by surprise. I can only relate the experience to watching a terminally ill loved one suffer for months, but when they actually die, somehow you’re still not ready for it. And like the death of a loved one, the death of a job – of a career – is just as painful, and the steps of dealing with that pain and grief are very similar.

First comes the relief. Why I felt relieved, I’m not sure, but it might have had something to do with the fact that it truly was over. No more walking on eggshells. No more uncertainty (as it pertained to my previous job). In essence, I was free and it felt pretty good, at least for a while – maybe an hour or two.

After that came another kind of uncertainty, and this one, I fear, may stick around awhile. This uncertainty leads to high anxiety – the kind that keeps you up at night while you try to find some way, any way, to think about something other than the fact that you are now unemployed for the very first time since you were 14-years-old.

But it’s not a constant. With the fear comes a dose of excitement. The “Hey, I don’t have to work today!” feeling. Unfortunately, that excitement is usually quickly replaced with the “Holy crap, I don’t have a job!” feeling of doom.

It’s a seesaw battle every day for a guy like me. It’s especially tough when you go from very much being sought after for 26-years, to suddenly no longer wanted - kind of like being Mel Gibson or Charlie Sheen, only I’m not cashing in on being bat-shit crazy.

Nobody can really predict how anything will come to an end in his or her lives, but I certainly would never have figured my last day of work would have ended the way it did – not in tears, but with a chuckle, sitting in an office being fired by the very same folks I’d photographed earlier in the day at a business expo where they were extolling on how great everything was going with our company and how the economy in Washtenaw County was on the upswing.

Well, I guess it's great for them – they’re still working.

The irony of the situation didn’t escape me, I laughed a little as they handed me my walking papers. The whole situation made me think of my mother, the very same woman who died last March nearly a year to the day I was being let go (from now on I proclaim we skip March completely and go straight to April) and even though she didn’t leave me much when she died, my mother did leave me with a sardonic sense of humor, one I knew I could rely on to help me get through this thing - how do you put a price on that?

So what now? I was already going through a full-blown mid-life crisis, now I was about to go through a full-blown mid-career crisis. What does a 45-year-old guy with mad skills do at this point in his life so he doesn’t go mad?

As it turns out, being unemployed is actually a pretty busy way of life. The filing for unemployment, trying to scrape up enough cash to buy camera gear, getting portfolios together, making calls, trying to remember to eat, sleep, and occasionally go to the bathroom, all eat up a great majority of time. It’s like I graduated from college again … or just died, I’m not really sure which.

Luckily, if my perspective was ever at stake, Mother Nature put an end to that by destroying half of Japan with an earthquake/tsunami combo the very next day, reminding me that my "so-called" problems were really just a hill of beans compared to being swept out to sea and drowned, or being slowly poisoned to death by nuclear fallout.

Who knows, maybe the Mayans were right. Maybe it’s all over in 2012 and all I gotta do is get to December and then the jig is up! (Or maybe they just got tired of making their calendar by the time they got to the year 2012 and they just stopped - hard to say).

The aftermath from the whole event has been fairly amazing, if not amusing. The other day I got a letter in the mail made out to me in scribbly children’s handwriting. There was no return address, but inside the letter was a Meijer gift card for $25 and a little typed note that said, “Please accept this gift, we feel really bad for you and your family.”

I was touched, and I did go out and buy dinner with the gift card, I just feel bad for the poor little guy (or gal) who probably envisions me standing all disheveled by the side of the road holding a cardboard sign that reads, “Will shoot family portrait for food.”

The amount of help I’ve received has only been surpassed by the amount of advice. Everyone seems to know what I should do, or at least, could do, with the rest of my life. Everyone, that is, but me.

“Now you can go and do something you’ve always wanted to do,” they tell me, “something you really love.

But what if you were already doing what you really loved? What if it was your dream job? What if the next job you get should have been your first job? You know, the one you hated so much you left it to go and do what you really wanted to?

It’s an interesting thought.

Soon, all the kind thoughts and support will begin to fade in much the same manner they fade in the weeks and months following a funeral. It's not that people won't, or don't still care, but life goes on, like it or not, whether you're alive or dead, working or unemployed.

In the meantime, I’ll try and stay a photographer and I think I’ll keep writing too; both bring me joy, and if I were to be swept out to sea tomorrow (or if the Mayans weren’t kidding around with this whole Armageddon/calendar business and the world really does come to an end in 2012) I’d rather not spend my last days doing anything other than what I’ve been doing for the past 25-years.

It’s the one thing I’m really good at and what I truly love to do.

Why change now?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stuck - The Fine Art of Going Nowhere

Floating ... sinking ... going nowhere, doing nothing ... stuck! (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

Today I’m stuck.

Stuck in a rut that I can’t seem to, and don’t really want to get out of. I was stuck yesterday too. And the day before that, and the day before that.

Every dream … every thought ... stuck in neutral, trapped in mud.

Hard as I try, I keep going back to the beginning - back to square one - doing the same thing over and over and over again. Just an endless cycle of spinning my wheels … going nowhere … doing nothing.

If I died today I guess I would have had a good life - a wife, three kids, a handful of plaques and a trophy or two. But today I don’t feel lucky. Today I don’t feel blessed. Today I just feel stuck.

I thought about exercising. I thought twice.

I thought about writing something funny. Nothing came to mind.

I thought about reading a book but turned on the TV instead. Nothing was on, 135 channels but not one thing.

I folded a load of laundry and pulled the vacuum cleaner out of the closet. I never plugged it in; I just put it back in the closet and left the floors dirty.

I opened the fridge to see if there was something good to eat even though I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t find anything so I shut the door. I opened it again just to make sure.

I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror - I was old. I washed my hands even though they weren’t dirty. I dried my hands and then looked in the mirror again. Still old.

I felt my neck for a pulse – still alive.

I walked back into the kitchen and flipped through a stack of CD’s. I opted for quiet.

I grabbed my jacket and keys and opened the door. It was raining outside. Hard.

I hung my coat in the closet and threw my keys on the kitchen table. A wasted day, a wasted week, a wasted month, a year, a life. No ambition. No motivation. No stimulation. Just emotional straightjacket, spiritual quagmire, buried-in-an-avalanche stuck.

It won’t last forever, probably not even the rest of the day, but right now I’d trade places with just about anyone else in the world.

Today I’m a loser, a whiner, and a complainer. I have no positive thoughts, not a one. Today I’m miserable and shitty.

Today I suck. I wouldn’t want to be me if I had a choice. But I don’t. I’m stuck with my no-good-rotten self for the rest of the day, probably tonight too. Maybe tomorrow will be different.

Maybe tomorrow I grease the skids and move forward, if just a little.

Maybe tomorrow I don’t look so old or feel so worthless.

Maybe tomorrow the sun comes out and dries up the rain.

Maybe I do 50 push ups and break a sweat. Maybe I eat something healthy and go for a run.

Maybe I write something funny or go for a drive. Maybe I take a good picture or chat with a stranger.

... Or maybe tomorrow I wake up and stare at the ceiling for an hour before I get out of bed. Maybe I don’t get out of bed at all. Maybe it never ends. Maybe I stay like this till the end of my days.

It’s not that great, but it’s not so bad.

Sometimes I'm fine standing still, doing nothing, going nowhere. Sometimes heaviness and doom are my friends. Sometimes it’s better being worse.

Sometimes I just want to be stuck.

But sometimes I don't.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sleepless in Ann Arbor - Things that make me go, hmm?

If only my brain had one way. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

I don’t sleep much these days. Actually, I guess it’s been about 14-years since my last good night of sleep.

Back then I could blame my lack of slumber on my newborn daughter. Two years later, my second daughter was the culprit, and then 16-months after that, my son - infants, especially breastfed ones, make a night of uninterrupted, blissful sleep pretty much impossible.

The problem was once they started sleeping through the night, I found that I still couldn’t. Somewhere in those five years my body became programmed to wake up every few hours to unite a crying infant with its mother’s boob, wait for them to tank up, and then return them to their crib.

And that’s where I stand today – minus the baby, boob and crib parts.

I may have the world’s largest diseased prostate gland but I’ll probably never know because even though I routinely wake up and take trips to the pisser in the middle of the night, I’m pretty sure my prostate isn’t to blame. Sometimes a funky dream is the guilty party, but more often than not it’s my maladjusted biological clock combined with an extremely overactive brain.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to shut off my brain.


And it’s not like every thought entering my skull that wakes (or keeps) me up at night is even worthwhile. If I stayed awake worrying about financial woes or my health or something like that, it might make sense, but usually I’m thinking about something stupid like: I wonder if everyone sees color the same way? Is my green the same as your green? What if we only both know it to be green because that’s how our brains have been trained? What if my green actually looks like your red?

This is the kind of shit that keeps me up - and when I’m up, my brain really starts a grinding.

I wonder what will keep me up tonight? (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

Here’s a small sample of some random thoughts that were bouncing around my noggin this very morning between 5 and 5:15 when I awakened for no apparent reason.

How can BP pump billions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for the better part of a year and gas prices don’t budge, and even go down, but lately if a camel farts in the Middle East, gas prices shoot up 30 cents a gallon overnight?

Are people just religious because they’re afraid of death? And if so, why isn’t that fear strong enough to make us glorify Jesus with amazing paintings like the kind Caravaggio painted during the Baroque period? That was some good art!

Why is it that spring is the only season that doesn’t already feel like it’s arrived when it finally does? I mean it already feels like summer well before June 21st, and it already pretty much feels like fall by September 21st, and it for sure feels like winter long before December 21st, so why doesn’t it already feel like spring well before March 21st?

If students are smart enough to get into college (say the University of Michigan, for example) why then, aren’t they smart enough to look both ways before walking out into the street? And why is college when most of them start smoking? Certainly they’re smart enough to know that cigarettes aren’t good for them. Not to mention they’re twice as likely to drink themselves to death than any other demographic.

If I had to lose one body part, which one could I do without? What if it were just a finger? A toe? An organ? How about senses? Would I rather be blind, deaf, or dumb? Would I miss it if I couldn’t smell anymore, or would it be a blessing?

Should I get rid of my 3-iron and put another hybrid in my golf bag?

Will I ever get cancer? I wonder if I have it now but don’t know it yet? Do you not have cancer one day, and then the next day you do?

Did the folks who jumped out of the Trade Center even know what was going on at the time? I wonder if they felt a strange sense of calm as they fell to their deaths?

What if I won the lotto and threw away the ticket without ever checking my numbers? If I did win, would I really be happier, or just less broke?

Why does hair appear in so many different places on my body at different times of my life? I had plenty of hair on my head for 20-plus years, and now it’s mostly gone, but I have plenty on my chest and my back, and lately in my ears and my nose. Even my eyebrows are starting to look a little too Thomas Edison these days. My legs, however, are smooth as a baby’s ass when they used to be plenty hairy – what’s up with that?

Is my mother really dead, or is she just playing a cruel joke on all of us? Can she hear what I’m thinking right now, or is she just rotting away in her casket? I wonder how long before she’s nothing but bones?

Why do we equate heaven with the sky and the clouds, and why do we think dead relatives are always favorably looking down on us? What if they’re really disgusted by us and are hoping we don’t die soon because they’re enjoying their time away from us? If there really is a heaven, how far back does it date? I mean could Thomas Jefferson be having a tryst with Anna Nicole Smith right now? (Assuming, of course, they’re both in heaven).

What is so hard about golf that I couldn’t become a professional? I mean it’s really nothing more than getting your body to repeat the same thing over and over again with a great amount of consistency and mental fortitude. Why couldn’t I do it?

I wonder if my kids will ever get married? I wonder if any of them are gay and don’t know it yet? I wonder what they’ll be when they grow up? I wonder if they wonder what they’ll be when they grow up?

Are dreams really just little slices of what it’s like after you die? You know, not always good, but always very interesting. Or do you just fade to a black nothingness and that’s it?

If I took every day of my life when I was sick, or just had a headache, and added them all up, I wonder how many weeks, or months of my life I will have wasted feeling like crap?

When do criminals turn bad? We all start out innocent babies; at what point does someone start down the wrong path? Are some people truly just evil? How can that be?

Do people really die in their sleep, or do they wake up first in a terrified panic alone in the dark? Is drowning truly the most painful way to die? I wonder if you know you’re going to die the second before a fatal car accident? How does anyone know?

Where should I put my son in the batting order this year?

How come some people can play musical instruments so well, and other people really suck?

If the world were made up of nothing but people like me, how many businesses would go bankrupt in less than a month?

Why do dogs like humans so much?

Is anybody really, truly happy?

Why the hell can’t I just shut off my brain and go back to sleep?

Hmm? Now I have one more thing I have to think about ... CRAP!!!