Tag Archives: work

Unemployment Diary: Secret Handshake

A secret handshake is a series of hand gestures that indicate loyalty to a club, clique, or subculture. The purpose of the secret handshake is to identify exclusive group members, and consequently to prevent inclusion of outsiders. Also, the element of secrecy provides the necessity of loyalty to the exclusive group. To reveal a secret handshake would be taboo and would cause the offending individual to be thought of as a traitor.

From Wikipedia

March 5, 2009

I’ve always felt uncomfortable when I’m out in the world on school or work days; the streets and shops are a little quieter, the crowds sparser, and my sense of time is discombobulated. Even in graduate school, when I would have a whole day without classes and so would take care of groceries or other errands in the late morning, I half expected a truancy officer to come up to me and demand to know what I was doing out and about.

There are advantages, of course, to being out and about in the late morning, especially where errands are concerned. The greatest advantage, when it comes to groceries, is the samples. My usual grocery shopping routine calls for me to be at the store late on Thursday evening, after the kids are in bed. My wife is in charge of making the menu and shopping list–she’s a design engineer, after all, so she has a very efficient approach to the planning phase–and I take care of the implementation. Since she has the grocery list so well-organized, I can usually be done in less than 30 minutes; and since there are no samples out at night, there’s no point in lingering.

During the day, though, there are plenty of enticements. In the produce aisle, wedges of melon and dishes of guacamole (with chips); in the snack aisle, bowls of chips and crackers; and in the cheese aisle, the best place of all, little cubes of red Leicester, parmeggiano, and sometimes even a jar of a tapanade spread with tasty Melba toasts. The signs say you should help yourself to just one sample, but I get a delicious thrill out of making an extra turn around the store to take an extra elicit bit of cheese or melon.

Of course, I still try to avoid eye contact with the staff when I snatch an extra piece, even though I’m sure they have better things to do than to count the number of samples each person has taken. And added to the fear of my imaginary truancy officer, this can make grocery shopping a bit more stressful than it should be. It’s good that my shopping list is so organized.

It would be useful if, upon receiving your severance package, you were also taught a secret handshake. This handshake would have to change monthly to keep the freshly employed from taking advantage of the benefits that accrue from unemployment, and it would have to be sufficiently complicated to prevent casual observers from discovering it. But it would have advantages, not only against the imaginary truancy officer and grocery store employees (who likely have clear memories of some of the most recent versions of the sign), but with our fellow unemployed citizens. It would let us communicate more clearly than the raised eyebrows and quick nod, the courageous smile and thumbs-up that we have in our vocabulary now. It would be a way for us, all 8.1% of us, to say, “We’re in this together, through no fault of our own, and that counts for something.”

Solidarity is, of course, out of fashion, especially in the white collar world. And red Leicester, though mild and firm, is a poor substitute.

Unemployment Diary: The good grey guardians of art

The good grey guardians of art
Patrol the halls on spongy shoes,
Impartially protective, though
Perhaps suspicious of Toulouse.

Museum Piece by Richard Wilbur

March 4, 2009

I will not sit at home, idly searching for jobs or waiting for calls. That way lies madness, or at least grinding ennui.

Instead, I’m planning to take advantage of my new-found wealth in time to go to some places I seldom get to when I’m at work. My first outing was to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a first-rate museum packed with portraits, landscapes, an amazing collection of Chinese artifacts, and some very nice photographs (a Julia Margaret Cameron and an Edward Weston were in the rotating exhibit today, as well as a nice big gallery of Tom Arndt’s street photography from Home: Tom Arndt’s Minnesota).

Roaming the galleries, FED3 loaded with film (alas, 100 Arista.EDU, a bit slower than I would have planned for this outing, had I been allowed to plan), made for a relaxing afternoon. I found the sculptures–the big Buddhas, the Roman heads, the cool marble–especially soothing. Ganymede patiently serves the eagle, forever frozen in the moment before he is swept up to Olympus by the notoriously shape-shifting and love-lorn Zeus.

It wasn’t until I was on my way home, listening to the radio, that I learned that the MIA was performing its own round of layoffs, eliminating 6% of its staff. Sad as it is to have been cast out of the comfort of my programming job, it would be a fate worse than any the Greeks could dream up to be expelled from those lovely galleries. The eternal marbles feel a little less static now.

Unemployment Diary: Inertia and Momentum

An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force. An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force.

First Law of Thermodynamics, Principia, Isaac Newton

March 3, 2009

On Monday, March 2, I was “laid off” from the job I’d held for about five months. It wasn’t a huge surprise–there had been a round of layoffs before, and intimations of another one on the way, and I was the least tenured in my office–but it was still a blow. Up until I was called into my manager’s office, it had been a good day: I solved a thorny problem that had been pestering me for a week, checked in my changes and deployed the latest version to the test environment, and let the QA person know she could have another go at what I hoped would be the final version of my project. Leaving on an up note, with a nice chunk of functional code for my co-workers to take over, at least puts a positive spin on losing my job.

Still, I’m very sad to have lost this particular job. The loss of income is a hassle, of course, but so far not a crisis: my wife is still working, and we’ve always lived well within our means, so at this point we just have to be cautious–our basic standard of living is intact. And looking for a new job–going through the routine of resumes and cover letters and interviews, the whole ritual of selling myself and my experience–is a painful grind. What really makes me sad is that I enjoyed this job as I haven’t enjoyed a job for a long time. The work was good–challenging, interesting, and engaging, with room for creativity and discovery; the team was great–smart, funny, and talented; and the location was ideal, at the opposite end of the Greenway from my house, which let me bike in on a few nice Fall days, with plans to bike all Summer. I hated my commute at the last job, and my big worry now (besides being stuck in a large corporate job where my soul is slowly squeezed out in a series of meetings that result in more meetings and where I never get to look at another line of code) is that I’ll spend a lot more time in my car than with my family.

My first day of unemployment wasn’t bad. I managed to get an interview with a recruiter right away, had lunch with my former co-workers at Taco Taxi, and gave the dog an extra walk. I’m lucky that a big chunk of my day still follows the same routine as before–up at 5:30 to get coffee for my wife, out to the bus stop with the kids at 8:15; the same supper and homework and bedtime schedule as before; just a gap from 9 to 5 that needs to be molded into shape and kept rolling in some useful direction.

The Unemployment Diary Project

Mr. Pepall, every day is now casual Friday for you. In fact, you don’t even have to bother getting out of bed. If time is money, mazel tov—you are now a rich man.

Memo from the C.E.O. by Patricia Marx

I start this series with a bit of trepidation; we live, after all, in an age where anything said on the Internet can be found with a little bit of effort, and stories abound of prospective employees who’ve torpedoed their careers with unfortunate bits of digital flotsam. I’m far too old to have any embarrassing pictures of myself on Facebook, but I fully expect any potential employer to do a little Google search on me all the same. They’d likely turn up a few book reviews, my experiments in photography, my thoughts on programming and Scouting, and this: some thoughts on the recession from within the 8.1% (or 14.8%, depending on how pessimistically you slice the numbers). Still, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and this is an opportunity to do a little thinking and writing while I fill out job applications. That my thoughts are a little discomfiting to potential employers isn’t really much of a concern, I’ve decided; speaking bluntly should be a virtue in a technical worker.

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