I had some dreams ... they were klowns in my koffee.

(With apologies to Carly Simon)

This is my journey through job transition from a toxic environment to a better life. Join me for a few thoughts and a few laughs along the way.
What are "klowns in my koffee"? They are the factors large and small that make you less than you are. A "klown" can be a grossly incompetent boss,
a short-sighted policy or a moronic coworker. They won't kill you, at least not immediately, but they abrade the soul
as you scrape past them to get through the day. Sometimes it's best to dump them out of the cup.


Day 6 - Krispy Klowns

This was a day of changes in motion. The great 48-hour cleanse and detox is over. 50 Ways to Love Your Liver! My jeans are looser. I can see my feet more easier. And there's a possibility that this is the first time in years that I'm not dehydrated. Swim, brain, swim!

I'm working hard to wean myself from constantly checking my email. I receive maybe 5% of what I am used to and it seems very strange. I signed up for Twitter so now I can get random emails at all hours. It's sort of like Porkus, except that the emails aren't asking me to do someone else's work. And they are usually spelled correctly.

I did some transition and loss exercises recommended by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. Yes, state-sanctioned touchy-feeliness. Group hugs for the masses. Still, I seem to feel better. I wrote out a lot of emotions, both positive and negative -- a little more skewed to the latter, frankly. At the completion, I realized it wasn't enough so I ripped up all the paper and ceremonially burned it in a frying pan. Fry, klowns! It lacked a little pomp and circumstance but it's just a little recipe that I like to call "Not S'more."
William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, says: "Change is external; Transition is internal." I'm starting to appreciate the difference.


Day 5 - Kutting Threads

Dear Porkus,
This is the end of the love affair. I need my space. I've wasted my best years on you and for what? You take up with someone younger and flashier when the going gets tough. We've been locked in this co-dependent relationship too long and it's time for me to move on. We've grown apart and you just don't meet my needs anymore. And, yes, I was faking it. It's not me, it's you.
I got a wonderful email today from my former assistant. It said everything that I hoped that someone would say -- that I worked hard, tried to keep things together and dealt with it all with class. That validation was something that I needed to hear to drown out the silence from my formerly close colleagues.
This was the time to cut. I cut my son's hair last night, the first of what I'm sure will be a long line of frugality moves. I cut more ties with Porkus by gathering up the little bits of leftover garbage that was theirs and taking it and their confidentiality agreement back a day early. I didn't want that hanging over me tomorrow. With their scraps in a shoebox, I drove there as my stomach became bubblier and more burning the closer I came to Ground Zero. That's exactly the feeling that I had most mornings for the last twelve years. I was to turn the notarized document in to HR Vice President Cheryl Boobquist, an ancient biddy terrified of women's breasts and almost every invention of the modern world. During my employment I would wear my shirts backwards to avoid a visit from the Church Lady about my neckbones showing. Scott Adams should be paying her royalties. She supported Hillary Clinton in the last election, not because she had any interest in social justice, but because she hoped that polyester pantsuits would come back and her entire wardrobe would again be current.

Fortunately, she wasn't there and I was able to give the document to her assistant, a nice woman who probably would also like to have a neck. I picked up another box of my possessions that had been left behind (and not in the Kirk Cameron kind of way). As it was afterhours, few employees were around. I chose that time for that reason and also because I was on my way to a 6:30 PM meeting and I wasn't going to make the drive twice. I said a quick greeting to someone whom I'd know for twelve years and he basically responded that my work was "crap." He seemed to think it was some kind of joke. It's as though this whole company is sliding back and forth on the autism spectrum.
The Job Support Workshop was good. The speaker talked about the ways that we can become "stuck": not making any progress in a job search, in a stifling job, or in a toxic relationship. People become stuck when they believe that they no longer have a choice. The solution is to recognize the situation and to truly see the options and choices that we have. One choice can be to unload that which is not working in order to make room for what will.

For the record, it's not an accident that some of these people are jobless. They are a nice group and I'm sure that familiarity will in time make me look past the more eccentric ones. For now, on the outside looking in, they seem to be picture dictionary version of the DSM-IV. As PeeWee would say, "I know you are, but what am I?"

Back to the theme of becoming unstuck, I have been on a cleansing and modified fast for the last two days. Fill in the graphics for yourself but Porkus was a toxic place and I'm literally getting unstuck. If Porkus had a motto, the business cards would say, "Porkus: The Kind of Place That Lodges in Your Intestines."

Tomorrow: Signing Up for COBRA coverage and planning a funeral ceremony for my old life


Day 4 - K-K-K-KOBRA

The world has moved on without me and I was left with merely a glorious Spring day, unnaturally warm for this time of year. I wanted to prune the apple trees, to lop off the unruly extra branches, to impose form and structure, to make them over into my concept of what they should be. I looked at the blue sky and saw the stirring of the branches. Today was not the day.

The house was quiet all day. There are barn swallows building a nest in the siding again and I heard them tussling in the wall cavity above my desk. It reminds me that I want to use this time to repair the outside of the house and paint it as soon as the warm weather is here for good. This will mean taking off a section of siding and clearing out the nest. Every year they get in there in the Spring before I can cover the hole and then I listen to them and curse them all season because I can't bring myself to destroy their home and hatchlings. Today, I appreciate their company. The cats sleep all day and can't even be bothered to rouse themselves to investigate the birdy noises in the wall.

Armed with a blank sheet and a blank day, I did what I was trained to do. I made a spreadsheet. The Porkus joke is that it should have been a flowchart. At Porkus, they draw flowcharts with the drawing tools in Microsoft Word; if they want the lines to attach to the shapes, they use the borders in Excel. Yep, proud of my employee ownership in a high-tech firm.

My spreadsheet had two categories: Must Do and Should Do. The latter encompassed the known world so it appears that scope creep may be a problem.

Must Do numero uno was to request an unemployment payment. You go to the website and it tells you that you must make a request this week. Then it asks you about last week. Since I worked last week, then I'm not eligible but it's very important to them that I file. They said so. They said so on the website. They said so on the phone automated attendant when I called to verify that I was supposed to be making a request that was going to be turned down this week and next week for the 'in lieu of notice' and the following week that is the 'waiting week.' The auto attendant collected my social security number, looked me up and told me that I was allowed to call at any time as long as it was Wednesday between eight and one. Have a nice day. (Mature Language Warning) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF2RYhNhBdw

Since I was basically having a nice day already, I filled out the form and submitted it and they can do whatever they do with it.

As my husband has had pneumonia for the last few weeks and the kids need physicals and dental exams and I haven't been to a doctor in five years and think that any twinge is something metastasizing, the prospect of no medical insurance is terrifying. Porkus has miserably low caps on coverage as befits a company bringing the third world sweatshop experience to middle America. I researched what was left in the kitty with the idea of dragging the family to doctors for the next three days in hopes of slapping enough health on them to last. Fortunately, it appears that the President just signed an extension to the COBRA premium reduction program to allow us to buy insurance for 35% of the normal COBRA price. What I don't know is 35% of what total but it's still got to be better than the alternatives ... band-aids, self-administered stitches, joining a religion that does a lot of prayer-based healing, etc.

Oh, yeah, and I looked at want ads and website and did a lot of that kind of thing, too. Needs a plan. Needs a spreadsheet!

Tomorrow: Job Support Workshop (Just like Santa's Workshop only the elves are unemployed)


Day 3 - Kollege Klowns

I will call this the Lost Weekend, with apologies to Ray Milland. I worked on taxes and financial aid documents almost the whole time. It will probably take a solid two days to get the rest of the papers picked up and filed.

It was good in a way to have a project to focus on, particularly something with a goal and a conclusion. Otherwise, I'm working on a project called "Fix Everything" and I can see where I could get lost quickly.

I seem to be missing the blotter from the leather desk set and my little tool box of inspection tools so I need to get those from my Porkus pals. Or is having them worth going back there? Not sure.


Day 2 - Uptown Klowns

Regrets? Recriminations? Dogged mental reconstruction of the past year in painful detail? Sniffling over missed opportunities?

Yes, I worked on my taxes.

And you thought this was another job loss whine, didn't you?

I interrupted my vision quest and general funk this weekend to do taxes. The deadline for financial aid applications for my daughter's college is March 29. She attends a highly-ranked liberal arts college where the tuition is $52K. Since we were barely able to pay the part left after financial aid and work-study before (Bless you, Mastercard!), getting this done was a necessity.

I wrote a nice little essay on the last page about the change in our financial circumstances. It's odd to think about writing something that someone will read. I wrote easily a thousand pages of procedures, reports, analysis documents and other corporate flotsam and jetsam for Porkus and I don't think most of it was read even by the recipient. I don't have any other explanation why I would be asked to tell the requester the content of a document so that they wouldn't have to read it. Maybe they liked my sonorous voice. It's like ordering a meal in a restaurant and then giving the plate to the waiter to save the pain of having to eat it.

Did I finish the taxes today? Noooooo. Did I enjoy it? Again, nooooooo. Every flat surface has a pile of papers on it. The 'get your life cleaned up' project seems to have gone in reverse.


Day 1 - Ups and Downs but No More Klowns

Well, that was a strange, off-kilter day. I tossed and turned until about 5 AM. Stress? Anguish? That second cup of coffee in the afternoon? ("Bob never has a second cup of coffee at home...maybe he's going to be fired.")

There were several supportive emails in the morning. Many of them were in response to farewell emails that I'd sent to individuals the night before. In a way, the nicest were the ones that came out of the blue from people with whom I had been less connected. There were two or three little shining jewels. The most disappointing were lukewarm seemingly dashed off lines from those that seemed close -- "Have a great life, now get off my porch." Well, not exactly, but you get the drift. And the silences from those who meant most. Are they wallowing in the change the way that I remember doing when the axe came down before and ripped away people that I cared about? Or are they just jerks?

Definite high point - I got an email and a lunch invitation ("Call me right away -- here's my cell") from a close work confidant. Hit all the right notes - I'm shocked, what are they thinking, what's wrong with management that they are intent on removing or driving away all the people who could help save the company... " Fantastic lunch. Shrimp tempura. Lesson for the day: The odd, different people are the ones that will come through for you. The extra effort is worth it to cultivate them.

Applying for unemployment. The online system is very slick and much easier than I had expected. I was fearing something more like: 1) List your flaws in prioritized order from 1 to 150 in the 1 inch box below. Attach extra sheets if required.

No emails in the afternoon. I'm yesterday's news. One of the most disconcerting things is to go from receiving an email roughly even three minutes asking for help or advice to ten solicitations for Viagra in a day. I walk over to my desk every few minutes to see what's there. Nothing? Hit F5. Yep, the nothing that was there before is still there. I can imagine myself squatting next to the mailbox looking like Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother.

My husband was complaining about our daughter's horrible behavior, saying, "You work so late and they are just like this and even worse with me every night and look what I have to put up with and {insert whiny talk here}" I absolutely snapped. "Well, I got fired. Your problem is fixed." The ferocity surprised even me and I'm not known to mince words. Apparently, I take everything "too seriously."

Regrets. I have a few, but then again too few to mention.

Sorry, Frank.

Did you ever think about the irony of Frank Sinatra's life? While I know that he didn't write the song, he strove to associate it with his view of the world. He should have had a ton of regrets, if not a bucket of remorse. While "it's hard out there for a pimp," I guess you have a clear conscience when you are a thug.

Regrets. If I'd only ...

Still probably wouldn't have made a difference. But you never know. Runs around in the mind.

But, a day without wondering what that glance meant, whether I'm being intentionally passed over, what truth to speak, when or if it will happen -- PRICELESS! There's a wonderful line in Camelot about Mordred: "There's something in his presence that makes his absence seem like holiday." And every Porkus employee knows just whom I'm talking about.

Day 1 Final Thought - I wasn't just paranoid. They were plotting against me.

But I'm paranoid now.


Day 0 - Send in the Klowns

I saw them coming toward me -- the Honcho, the HR VP and the Corporate Counsel. The lawyer looked as though he were being pulled along on a string behind them over rough terrain as though they were walking the dog in the yo-yo sense. Her Royal Highness of HR had the envelopes and the papers. I partially rose from my chair to greet them. "Is this finally it at last?" They started the script as if this were the standard response to this situation. I thought of yelling, "I'm going to Disneyland!" but something about facing a moving wall of the humor-impaired stifles creative impulse.

"It is with regret ..

(I should think that 12 years should get you "great regret")

... that I inform you that your employment with Porkus Computer Systems will be terminated as of the end of the business day, today March 25, 2010."

I was delighted to see that my boss had been represented as capable of composing a complete sentence in English for I'd never seen him actually perform that feat before. At Porkus, we had laid off so many people that there is probably a Word template with a fill-in text box for the date.

"This staffing reduction is based on a change of business needs and circumstances."

The change was that they decided that they had far too many employees with ovaries and/or an education when they could be spending their limited resources on those more easily bullied. In all fairness, they'd been peeing away money the last few years like a diabetic dog at a fire hydrant festival. The economy had not been good to Porcus since the target market -- small companies that don't mind paying more for crap because they can't get credit with good manufacturers -- was slowly moving back into their parents' basements until they could find a real job.

Apparently, I'll be joining them.

Follow me on my journey from soul-sucked middle management drone to ... well, let's find out, shall we?

Tomorrow -- Signing up for Unemployment