Thursday, July 21, 2016

Looking Out A New Window

Yesterday, I found myself in a place I never expected to be. The Minnesota Unemployment Work Force Center.  Wow.

I received a letter from my union telling me that I qualify for benefits because I was terminated without cause. Whatayaknow. So, I went ahead and filled out the application online, it was approved and I got a check, and that is very helpful right now. But it makes me so uncomfortable. I keep thinking I don't deserve it. My friend Sally pointed out that I most certainly do, given that I've paid into it and my taxes all my adult life.  But it is surreal to me. I'M unemployed? I've never left a job by other than my own choosing. I think it is hitting me now, as I would be getting ready to go back to school. And now I'm not. I can spin it anyway I want--retirement, new paths, new opportunities, but at the end of the day, I'm unemployed, and not by my choice. But that's old news.

So, last week I got another letter from the unemployment office, requesting (ok...requiring) me to show up on July 20th at 9:00. The letter was very unclear as to the purpose of the meeting. In my head I imagined being grilled by a rude state employee who would find out I was a FRAUD! A CHEAT! Not that I am either of those things, but that's where my head was. I was dreading the meeting, so much so that I asked Jon to drive me, which he did of course.

When I arrived at a pretty grungy building, I was given a number and escorted to a computer to register on the MN Works site. As I sat there and typed in my information, and began to create a resume on their site, I got very angry. Oh yes, I've had some moments, especially at the end of the school year, but this was different. What I now know was a truly "uppity" anger at someone like ME being in the unemployment office because of what I still believe to be unfair treatment at my job. "Why," I thought,"I don't belong here! I'm a good teacher! I have a Masters degree! All these people here just want a job in a warehouse." How snobbish that thinking was.

And guess what. That wasn't true. Apparently the reason why I was there was to sit through a presentation about navigating the MN Works website. There were six people in the room. Yes, two men were looking for truck driving work, (good for them), and of the remaining four people, three had degrees, and the other woman owned her own business. Apparently she sold it and the new owners fired her two weeks later. Ouch. As I listened I got some excellent information, and their site is amazing. It contains all kinds of online tutorials ranging from computer skills, to resume writing and many, many links to employers. At the end of the presentation, we were called up one-by-one (hence the number), to update missing information etc. And the employee was wonderful, kind and nice. No shaming.

I've never once thought that I would not work again. I want to and I need to. I'm still planning on being a "professional" substitute this year, but it got me thinking of all the other possibilities I can do with my degree and experience. For instance, I applied to Barnes and Noble today on a whim. I'm not sure what will come of it, but it was fun to think outside the box.
I realized that with my new resolve to live intentionally, and NOTICE things around me, that it showed me a new window to a part of the world I'd never seen. Looking out that window reminded me that everybody has a story, and experiences, good and bad.

I left with a sense of humility, and a new toolkit for the future.
Not a bad thing at all.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Giving Myself Permission

For my entire adult life, I've carried the Protestant work ethic, without even knowing it. When I was home with my kids when they were small, I always felt that I should be DOING something. If they were in school or napping, I felt guilty if I sat down to read instead of cleaning the bathrooms, kitchen or some other household project. Down time felt wrong. I remember a woman from a study group I belonged to, who was probably close to the age I am now, shaking her head and telling me that all those things could wait. "Take care of yourself!," she proclaimed. I hadn't the foggiest idea how to do that.

After they were grown, the trend continued. Weekends were meant to do all the things I didn't or couldn't do during the week. Sunday's were especially chore-filled. "I have to go back to work tomorrow! I must do xyz," which often included school work. My time for reading or thinking came at bedtime, which didn't amount to much as I was tired. I found myself overreacting to small things because I lacked the time or skills to process them.

As you know, on this part of the journey, I'm trying to live intentionally. I recently made a small quilt for my impending grandchild, and I could feel the difference. I wasn't trying to do five things at once. I concentrated on and prayed for the child that will one day lie on this quilt. It was a peace-filled, almost meditative project leaving me wanting for more.

Of all the bad things that happened at my last job, one of the positives was learning the practice of mindfulness. For ten minutes after lunch, the schedule allowed for a time of quiet and centering for the students. I used many techniques that were shared with me by a great colleague, and I often used a website called I did it at first for the the end of the year, I needed it just as much as they did.

Mindfulness teaches you to live in the moment and to let the other "stuff" float away for a bit. Oh how I have needed that this summer! When I start to feel anxious about the unknown future, I take a cleansing breath and realize that it will work itself out as it is meant. That is how life is. It also lets me answer the self-doubts of past decisions with a phrase I now call, "Yeah but...." "Yeah but" let's me answer those doubts with positive things that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't done the other thing.

So today I woke up already tired. We had friends and family over last night and it took some energy to get our not-cleaned-up house up to snuff, in addition to buying, planning and then conversing with dear people. Add that to the fact that I dream like crazy right now and I was back taking a nap about two hours after I got up. The rest of the day I finished my novel, worked on the NYT crossword puzzle, played in my gardens, and had a glass of  wine in mid-afternoon. Not once did I feel guilty, (okay not much anyway), that I wasn't producing or running errands or being physically productive.

I consciously kept bringing myself back to the moment and realizing that it is okay to do what brings me pleasure when nothing else is pressing; reading, gardening, thinking, relaxing, and just being in the moment.

I wish I had known this back in the day. My friend was right; everything will wait a few minutes. Enjoy the moment; even if it is only just that long.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Chance Encounters on the Journey

If you follow my FB posts, you know that we are on a trip through Milwaukee and Chicago to visit friends and family. It's been a whirlwind week full of wonderful conversations; we have ten visits planned in 7 days. At the end of the evening, we've taken to sitting in a quiet spot with a drink to process the day and the conversations, and enjoy a little quiet before retiring.

Last night that quiet was interrupted, and this morning we woke up with a feeling of, "Wow...that was an amazing experience." As you know, I'm trying to be cognizant of life and my experiences as I move forward, hoping to grow and learn from each one.

There is a family reunion going on at the hotel this weekend. The family and its extensions are African American and more than 100 people have come from all over the United States to reconnect--that in itself is amazing.

The first woman who sat down in the empty chairs across from us in the lobby was from Tennessee. She and 10 others drove straight through in a large van and she told  us she had been drinking since they left Tennessee...that much was apparent, and she was still at it. She works in a factory in a small town outside of Nashville where everyone she associates with is black.The statement that caught my attention was when she told us that she was disgruntled because she found out that  half of her larger family is white. I can imagine that it put her way outside her comfort zone. It was my first glimmer of..."Wow...we haven't come very far."

She left and just as we were getting up to leave a young man from Alabama, very handsome with gorgeous dreds sat down. He wanted recommendations of clubs in the area where there weren't any black people. Ok. I HAD to ask, "Why?" He didn't want to go to a "black" club because he just wanted to hear some good jazz...he didn't want to feel like he had to go somewhere because of his race, as he felt people expected of him. Wow. 

That began an incredible two-hour conversation about race, guns, gangs and life as an African American. I knew we should go to bed, but it was one of those MOMENTS I'm looking for on this journey. I still maintain that we need to listen and talk to each other to save our country and our planet.

He was joined shortly afterwards by a man closer to our age and listening to their differing views was incredible.

We talked openly about the tragedies of young black men shooting each other over trivial disputes. The young man (34) professed to having been in a gang before guns were an issue. Disputes were handled with fists. He joined because he wanted a "family." He claims that it is the recruitment of young kids--14 and even younger--who aren't mature enough to realize their actions. And yet, he said that he loves guns and owns many. "Why?" I asked. His answer was that his number one responsibility was protecting his young children. So even though the guns are locked up tightly, he knows that if he is going somewhere with his kids, and he has the "bulge" under his shirt, no one will mess with him. The older gentleman, probably 50+,also owns guns, but his are for hunting; a way of life he grew up with. He professed frustration at someone being on a terror watch list and not allowed to fly, but being able to buy a firearm. Both were in favor of background checks and making it a little harder to get a gun, but neither of them think that we should or could ever outlaw handguns or assault weapons. The younger man told us that he bought an AK-47 once for cash in a back room. It took 10 minutes. The NRA? Both said that's a group for white people. Remember these are opinions I'm reporting; not fact.

Elections? Not super interested, which disturbed me- these are employed men making a contribution, although the older man said he never thought he would see a black President. That meant a lot to him.
Do they feel prejudice? Yes. On a regular basis. The young guy just kinda shrugged his shoulders, the older man said he thought things would be different all these years later and it makes him sad how we as a nation haven't come very far.

Police? "White people get shot and beat up too." Older gent said, "All lives matter." Wow.

As we ended the conversation, the older man said the saddest thing. 
I've thought of it all day.

"Well with Trump trying to be President, at least the world isn't hating on us as much- they're after the Muslims so we're getting a break."

I had no response.