Wednesday, January 03, 2007

living the dream

Ginger and I were watching something on TV on New Year’s Eve when one of the characters said something that gave me my watchword for 2007. I told her I had decided that, when someone asked me how I was, rather than saying, “I’m fine,” or “I’m doing well,” I was going to answer, “I’m living the dream.”

We met at the gym yesterday afternoon and decided to grab a cup of coffee afterwards. In between the gym and the Au Bon Pain – about a three-minute drive – Chef called to tell me I had been laid off. The owner decided to let all of the non-salaried employees go without any notice. In a matter of moments, I joined the ranks of the gainfully unemployed. I was stunned.

I think I still am.

After fifteen months and some choices, on my part, to become a full-time chef, I’ve gotten used to the rhythm of my week and a life in the kitchen. I love what I do and I do it well. Now I’m not doing it. And I’m not making any money. Both things are significant issues.

I’ve spent most all of my professional life in vocations that had some sense of stability to them. If I was going to leave, I gave them fair warning; if my position was going to change, they gave me adequate notice. The idea that they can simply call and say to me, a full-time employee, so long and thanks for the fish is both foreign and shocking.

Here I am, living the dream.

I got up this morning and went to the Unemployment Office sign up for unemployment compensation. I got there at 11:00 and left at 1:37. I was not alone. The room was fairly full of folks filling out the same form I was. There were even a couple of families. I assumed they had nowhere else to leave the kids. While I waited, I looked through some of the want ads that promised good money for delivering phone books and stuffing envelopes, and I looked through booklet of jobs the agency had put together. Out of ten pages of possibilities, with about twenty entries a page, less than fifteen of them paid more than ten dollars an hour.

There were no restaurant jobs, other than an invitation to join the McDonalds’ management training program at $20,000 a year.

I heard my name called and looked up to see a small man with a long grey ponytail and a big smile. I followed him back to his cubicle, which was filled with stacks of papers, Zen books, and pictures of his daughter and felt welcomed there. He worked through the filing process, but did so with grace and humanity, making me feel like a person who had something to contribute. We talked about schools and music and history and books, as well as how to follow up on my application and make sure my checks start coming. He helped me.

Ginger suggested I wait until Monday to begin looking for a new job to give myself time to get over the shock and build a little bit of a thicker skin. On the way home from Plymouth, I stopped at a new Mexican restaurant that just opened (and we like) to see if they had any openings. They don’t. Ginger is right. Even knowing it was a long shot, the rejection was tough to take.

When I started going to spiritual direction about eighteen months ago, Ken said the questions I had to answer were what I wanted to do with my life, what it would cost to make it happen, and how to pay the bill. My passions are writing and cooking. I was doing both everyday, and counting on the second one to bring in at least a little money. These are the things I want to do. This week, I learned part of the cost is working in an industry that sees me as a “cost,” much like the cleaning supplies and the produce. What I see as relational, the owner sees as bottom line: I’m looking to make memories with our meals; he’s looking to make money. When he cut costs, he cut me, just taking care of business.

Though an anti-capitalist rant is tempting and maybe even appropriate, I want to do more with what is going on here than be pissed off. Though I trust that one day I will look back on these days and see lessons learned, I can’t get out from under the pressure to do something to lessen the financial burden that is quickly descending. We live in an expensive part of the world; I need to be working. That said, I want to find a good job, not just a job.

When Chef called, he said (after he apologized for not being able to stop the owner from axing me) if business picked up my job might open up again in anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, but I don’t think I can go back there and maintain my self-respect. I don’t want to feel owned. I, like anyone else, deserve to feel valued. To go back, for me, would be to say I was condoning the way he treated those of us whom he laid off and that I understood why I was cut so he could save a couple of thousand dollars. I don’t, on either count.

I also have to remember, according to the Global Rich List, Ginger and I fall in the top one percent of the richest people in the world, even without my salary included. 400,000 are dead in Darfur and another two million displaced who have never known anything close to my standard of living even in the best of times. I also think about the Brazilians I work with who got the same call yesterday and face bleaker circumstances than mine. I’m not the first one to go through this, nor am I at the bottom of the pile. Therefore, I must live in the creative tension between my privilege on a global scale and my personal problems. Both are very real.

Three days on, this is not what I expected from 2007. But what can I say? I’ve got to just keep living the dream.

Peace,
Milton

18 comments:

Joe is the Rafter said...

Wow, I am sorry. However, on the brightside, it happened (as you wrote) three days into 2007. That means you have 362 days to keep living the dream.

It's a dance, I don't like to dance when it comes to dealing with my own problems, other people's problems, and the status of others less fortunate. It's like yea...but.

It's not often at halfway to a hundred you get to start all over. Ride on Milton ride on.

By the way...I know you love writing and cooking. In fact I have used a few of your recipes. While your food taste good; your writing tastes soooo much better. ;)

Prayers with you.

goose said...

I am sad to hear the news, glad to read of your fine response to the situation. Looking forward to reading about where life takes you next. My best wishes and gratitude for all that you have given to us in 2006.

anj said...

Milton - I have been lurking on your site for a month or so. I find your writing and recipes feed me, soul and body, in many ways. I am sorry that you lost your job;that sucks. I will be holding you in the Light, as we Friends say, as the Spirit brings you and Ginger to mind.

zorra said...

Oh, Milton. I am so sorry. You know I am praying for you and Ginger. I wonder what God will do with this time in your life?

gander said...

This is shocking. It's also a reminder that we are all 'costs' to our employers. I worked for a Fezziwig type of employer once and had a great time. They were not in it to make (a lot of) money. Where I am now, we're all about the money.

That said, I can only conclude two things: your former boss is a moron who doesn't understand the value of the people he employed, and there's a restaurant out there that needs you, pronto.

Press on.

SpookyRach said...

"I will be holding you in the Light, as we Friends say, as the Spirit brings you and Ginger to mind."

I thought that was so beautiful, it should be printed a second time.

You have incredible talents and perspective. I'm hopeful you will be able to use both in your next job.

Anonymous said...

Milton,
I have found that living in the tension of "the already but the not yet" can be draining, but it can also be full of wonderful anticipation. What great adventure awaits! Your writing has flowered so much over the past year, so perhaps it is time to pursue that great passion. For months it has been sounding like your cooking, although an important expression of your life, has been serving the purpose of allowing you to pursue your first and growing passion: writing. Go for it, Milton. Make it happen. Immerse yourself in it. Write your fool head off. Work at other things to support your writing habit. You need to do it, and we need to read it. Grieve over the loss and the injustice of your dismissal, but then write.
Blessings for the journey.
Bill Hill

don't eat alone said...

Thanks to all of you for your encouragement. Bill, yours are words in particular that I am taking to heart.

Peace,
Milton

Tim Sean said...

Hunh. Alright. Shit.

Don't know what else to say. Is the boss that older crusty fellow creeping around the tavern when we we're eating?

You wrote "What I see as relational, the owner sees as bottom line: I’m looking to make memories with our meals; he’s looking to make money."

It got me thinking about how fortunate I am to workin an industry that by default leans to the former side that equation, though often out instituional anxiety it sometimes gets sorta of grouchy about money. I haven't had a raise in nearly eight years. Though everyone chooses not to say what they are proably thinking during those discussions I suspect that what some are wanting to say is, "get more people who give money to attend this church and you'll get a raise." And I don't want to live by those rules.

Being grown up isn't much fun.

I'm on your side, whatever that might mean.

beth said...

Well, that just sucks. I can't imagine why anybody wouldn't want you around, no matter how much it cost.

I'm with Joe - you're halfway to a hundred with a wide open space and a lot of days left. I'm with Bill - the nourishment of your writing is worth recompense, as was your cooking.

Go for it.

KQ said...

Dear Milton,
I've been reading you for a while now, ever since RLP wrote to his readers of you. You have been a light in my personal darkness (of surgical disability and sudden unemployment) this past Advent. Thank you for that.
I believe two things about your situation (and mine): The twins Danger and Opportunity are always present in the crisis of unemployment. You will prevail over the former and excel in the latter, no matter what professional path you chose.
Keep on living the dream (with thanks to Garrison Keillor, I presume),
KQ

Africakid said...

Hi Milton,
I always look forward to reading your blog. Writing reflective memoir/creative nonfiction is one of your special strengths. Hope you will continue that, no matter what! I know God is using you to communicate beauty, truth and love each week.

Anonymous said...

Sooo, their loss!! Can't say much for the way it was delivered.

That being said, I am looking forward to reading what you write and eating where you cook.

We're thinking of you.

The Flemings

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry. As an HR person I can't even imagine delivering that kind of news that way.

I'd say you probably need a much bigger blank piece of paper now.

Peace, muphinsmom

fishrock said...

Milton -
I am shocked and saddened for you and Ginger. Have faith that you will survive. Keep "a kind heart" to everyone, including yourself. Keep writing.

PS - Sandy loved the cookbok.

Tom

Lisa in Austin said...

Sorry, Milton. That sucks.

I was thinking just yesterday, though, about how much I enjoy your writing [I use something from your blog almost every time I have to give a devotional in Sunday school assembly and I'm thinking of using the blank paper thing next time] -- and I was wishing you'd write a book. Yeah, easy for me to say, since I'm not the one who'd have to do the writing.

So I'm sorry that you lost your cooking job; it's been clear how much pleasure you got from that. I hope something else opens up, and no matter what happens, I hope you will keep writing great stuff for people like me to read.

Grace and peace~

Anonymous said...

milton -

your writing has value. even monetary value. i would pay a lot to read what you have to say pretty much on any subject. you pull from your own heart in order to touch our hearts.

have you ever thought writing something - a book - on your depression? like chapter 4 of parker palmer's LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK? i have clung to that chapter many days. tons of stuff is written on depression - but you would do it differently. the spiritual - the communal - the cooking - the political - the realtional - the history - the literary - the musical ---- it would all be there. some of us are aching for such a book...something that validates our lives and feelings as woven into the tapestry of 'normal' life.

just a thought. my prayers are with you.

2007 is the year i am going to start intentionally writing. i've written quite a bit of poetry since i moved back to Texas. but - i'm feeling myself moving toward prose. thought about a blog. but i have an opening scene and some characters dancing around - so i think i'm going to begin on a novel. crazy. but nothing has excited me more.

words....what a sanctuary.

much love,

anne m. jernberg

Real Live Preacher said...

Milton,

I'm sorry to be coming late to this. I'm catching up with you, starting with this entry. And I'm going to read you every day while you are unemployed. Read and pray. Not being able to do anything to help, it helps me to feel like I'm walking with you in some way.

Please God find Milton a job, if you do that kind of thing. I hope you do.