Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Singing the home sick blues

If you don’t have a real job, and you’re too sick to work, are you still home sick? Or just sick?

That’s just one of questions I’ve pondered during what I’ll call the week of the Superbad Cold.

On day six and still feeling like a run-over dog, but with prescriptions and assurances that it’s not fatal, just a lingering, into-the-chest cold, today I took this picture of my bedside table.

I figured it could be the picture of the day for this week’s blog posting which would be a clever look at being home sick.

Then I realized being sick rarely lends itself to being clever.

So, I will just state the obvious that being home sick for me has meant that:

• Blank pages remain so.

• No Facebook friends are friended, updated, poked, tagged or status-checked.

• No job alerts are researched, and no jobs applied for.

• Little or no household engineer work accomplished.

• Three movies watched. Only one book read (I keep falling asleep)

• Family members just pat me on the back and say, you (sound and/or look) awful. You ought to take some medicine, go lie down and get some rest.

Desperate for a new blog post mid-week and still feeling unwell, I even considered writing a clever imitation take on Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues where I use his rhyme scheme to rap poetic about aspirin, tissues, coughs and snifflies. Since I’m home sick and definitely have the blues, I could write something to follow the line, “Get sick, get well, hang around the inkwell…ring bell, hard to tell, if anything is goin’ to sell….”

But, don’t worry, I am not clear-headed enough to even try that. Or maybe I am clear-headed enough to know NOT to try it.

So, instead, I will quote a Dylan understatement from the song of the day, sign off, take some medicine, go lie down and get some rest.

Song of the day:

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan

“You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows”

Monday, February 15, 2010

112 job applications and counting

It’s tough out here for job seekers. Trust me.

As part of the 15 million estimated unemployed in the U.S. -- which converts into an 11 percent official unemployment figure in Alabama – I can testify.

Most people now know multiple folks who have lost a job. In some cases, there is power in numbers. In the unemployment, job-searching case, numbers just mean more competition for the jobs that are out there. And, I can testify that the job market is crazy competitive, and I have the numbers to prove it.

During the 547-plus days of the continuing job search begun when I learned in mid-2008 that my job was one of 1,500 being eliminated by my former employer, I’ve applied for more than 110 positions.

Actually, as of today, when I applied for a media assistant position, the official tally of jobs applied for is at 112. That doesn’t count cold calls or cold e-mail pitches to companies around Birmingham that have corporate communications or public affairs departments. That doesn’t count completed, multiple tests to get on the state jobs register. That doesn’t count the job fairs or the registrations and job alerts set up on countless employer and job search websites ( is a good one). That doesn’t count attending how-to-get-hired seminars or the endless networking or pursuing contacts with friends or friends of friends or friends of my husband or friends of my aunt….friends of whoever offers a lead. Bless their hearts.

The 112 tally -- counted up on my trusty job matrix document (now 18 pages long) begun when I started this process -- counts just those jobs that I officially applied for. Sure, I made it to the interview stage for some of these and was a finalist for others. Some applications, I never heard from again (and that’s a subject of another posting). For some, I received automated regret e-mails. Some rejections came the old-fashioned way – written letters.

Regardless, there are many more mes out there, many people who look and look and look. I know and correspond with two other writers/former reporters/public relations professionals, friends, who were laid off and now looking for work in Birmingham, too. Often, we apply for the same, few jobs and wish each other luck.

Proof of the fierce competition for jobs in this tough economy comes not just in statistics but is backed by evidence. I’ve talked to human resources folks who say they receive so many applications for an advertised position that sometimes they have to cut them off before the deadline. In one case, the HR person in charge just took the best of the first 100 and went from there. The other two hundred applicants either got the automated “we regret” e-mail or no word at all.

In my previous position, I had a “big job” as a multi-state public affairs manager. And, now, as I apply for anything from entry level to “experienced manager” positions, I suspect I am sometimes painted with the overqualified brush, just based on my resume, accomplishments and years of experience. There are worse things, I suppose.

And, I won’t even talk about the challenge of an “experienced” and ”seasoned” professional like me (see older…) competing with eager, early-in-career writers and public relations graduates (see younger…). It’s a fact, Jack.

But, I also know that out there, somewhere, are employers who want the experience, knowledge and skills that come with “seasoned.”

I’m not whining here. Well, maybe I am a little bit. But, it is a whine of solidarity with my unemployed brothers and sisters. And, for me, it is a whine tempered with several “at leasts.”

At least, I have unemployment benefits still, but unless I qualify for some targeted, emergency benefits I’ve researched and will try, that small stipend (earned during my 30 years in the work force, thank you) will end soon. Congress: Want to help the unemployed? Extend benefits again, please.

At least, I am a writer and have this blog where I can do what I do and sometimes get props for it. This is thanks to my family, friends and associates (and I hope some others who have found this blog and just enjoy it). The self-imposed obligation to post something new each week helps motivate and keeps those creative writing synapses popping.

At least, being downsized (which hurts more than that euphemism implies) prompted me, as a writer, to write that novel all we writers say we want to write one day. I know writing it doesn’t mean publishing it, but the work, research and hard digging that have gone into the 75,000-words and counting that will become my first novel provide a purpose and determination invaluable to anyone struggling to deal with the changes and uncertainties that accompany losing a job.

At least, (and not least) I have a husband with a job whose patience, love and guidance have been essential and two adult children home and fighting their own job-and-economic battles while helping me in more ways than any of us can fully appreciate or articulate.

So, as I mark off job application number 112, I also have to mark off some positives about living as an unemployment statistic. I write, therefore I am….still viable and creating. I apply for jobs, therefore I am…going to keep applying and adding to my job matrix until I find a job and leave the crowded ranks of the determined and time-tested job seekers.

Song of the day:
Working on a Dream, Bruce Springsteen

“The cards I've drawn's a rough hand darlin'
I straighten my back and I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
I'm working on a dream
Though sometimes it feels so far away
I'm working on a dream
And how it will be mine someday.”

Picture of the day:
Two male cardinals pose in the bare trees during last Friday's snow. Photo by me, taken off our back porch in Birmingham.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Two Camden characters depart

Hollis Curl: Newsman, Era editor helped bring ferry back

The last time I read a column by Hollis Curl -- Camden, Ala.’s Wilcox Progressive Era editor and publisher who died last week -- I remember thinking, I ought to call or write Hollis to say “excellent column” and see how he’s doing. He’d been sick for a while.

But, I didn’t make the call or send the note. And, I learned, again, the lesson of doing that thing you think of doing when you think of it. That’s because now it’s too late.

Hollis, who I’ve known almost as long as I’ve been a reporter/writer, always wrote excellent columns. He named his “For What It’s Worth” and won many awards for his musings.

A straight-to-the-point newspaperman, Hollis Curl published The Wilcox Progressive Era for more than 40 years. His column and the newspaper’s editorials written by him ran side by side with the small-town news staples like club news, school honor listings, pictures of giant vegetables and, always in Wilcox County, sportsmen posing with big deer or youngsters with first-time game.

But it was through his column and the newspaper’s editorials that Hollis had his greatest impact on Wilcox County and beyond.

I had to smile when I read the story about Hollis by Tom Gordon of The Birmingham News. Quoting from an earlier interview, the story stated the editor/publisher never worried about complaints or disgruntled readers (and there were a few over the years). Rather, Hollis said it was a “mistake to confuse me with someone who gives a damn, because I really don’t.”

Classic Hollis. You could count on Hollis to say or write something controversial, sometimes because he felt so strongly about it, and sometimes just because he could. And often, what he said and wrote came with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

The years I worked in corporate communications for Wilcox County’s largest employer, I’d be at the restaurant in Camden with some visiting business person from the West Coast and introduce them to Hollis, our local newspaper editor. He’d smile at us and get that gleam in his eye, then he’d let fly some seemingly-innocent-but-definitely-not-PC-by-West-Coast-standards comment. Then he’d chuckle and say, “Nice to meet ‘ya." Classic Hollis.

But M. Hollis Curl – who probably could care less if most people agreed with what he wrote or not or if he ticked somebody off -- did give a damn about the things he gave a damn about.

These things include his family, wife Glenda, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And, he cared a lot, too, about Wilcox County’s J. Paul Jones Hospital, one of the few rural lifelines still serving Alabama’s Blackbelt. He promoted the hospital in every way possible in his weekly newspaper and as a well-cared-for patient when he got sick.

And Hollis was passionate about the restoration of the Gee’s Bend Ferry, which he wrote and politicked about until it finally happened in 2006. The newly-built terminal for the ferry, which continues to get attention because of its link to the getting-more-famous Quilts of Gee’s Bend, is named for M. Hollis Curl. His family held visitation there before services last week at the historic Canton Bend United Methodist Church.

There was just one M. Hollis Curl, as news-folks across Alabama know. His words, his attitude and his presence will be missed.

Miss Cleo: Years of hospitality and three tough sons

The Monday before Hollis died, folks in Camden gathered to remember another local legend, Cleo Holley Gaston.

Miss Cleo and her late husband Cecil ran the famed Bassmaster Inn and restaurant in Camden for years. Their sons, David, Charlie and Larry, continue the hospitality tradition. They own restaurants in multiple counties and can cook most any kind of delicious food for as many people as needed. And the burley threesome of brothers – and their children and extended families – loved Miss Cleo with a devotion to make any mother proud.

Their mother taught her sons about hospitality and giving in the best way possible, by example. If someone needs help, if there’s something these Gastons can do for those in need, it’s done. And that’s just one of the many reasons Camden cherished Cleo Gaston.

Picture of the day:
Twilight on the pier:
My family fishes from our pier on Pine Barron Creek in this picture from 2005. With all the rain, the pier last weekend was covered almost to the top of the solar light atop the pole at center of the picture And, the light's still shining!
Here's hoping for an early non-flooding Spring.

Song of the day: Ain't Talkin, Bob Dylan

"All my loyal and much loved companions
They approve of me and share my code
I practice a faith that's been long abandoned
Ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road

Ain't talkin', just walkin'
My mule is sick, my horse is blind
Heart burnin', still yearnin'
Thinkin' ‘bout that gal I left behind

It's bright in the heavens and the wheels are flying
Fame and honor never seem to fade
The fire's gone out but the light is never dying
Who says I can't get heavenly aid?"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Organize TOO MUCH STUFF one cabinet at a time

It took about an hour of sorting and throwing away – armed with my iPod on song shuffle for company – for me to “de-clutter” one set of basement cabinets last weekend. The completed task was a first tiny step on one of those hefty to-do items – CLEAN OUT GARAGE, which is part of greater goals of DE-CLUTTER and SIMPLIFY.

Now, in these cabinets where I keep my most-often-used garage-based items, we can find things because the STUFF is where it’s supposed to be. The tools sit by tools, and the light bulbs await use beside their fragile friends. The batteries are lined up, ready to bring some gadget to life. And, electrical and other assorted cords are tamed and wrapped around themselves, sealed with rubber bands. The masking, duct and shipping tapes are aligned, next to the glues and other bottles and cans, including my favorite fix-all, a can of WD-40.

One tiny section down, the rest of the mess to go.

The idea of simplifying and de-cluttering appeals to many of us, at least to those who are not naturally drawn to keeping all STUFF, like the folks on Hoarders, the television show that makes the rest of us think we don’t have that much STUFF at all, after all.

Being a stay-at-home, unemployed, job-seeking, blog-writing, in-progress author, I see my “simplified” job as household engineer is to make sure things run as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, so that we can save money and time. Hence, the all-caps DE-CLUTTER AND SIMPLIFY and the current CLEAN OUT GARAGE task.

Most of us have clutter in need of organizing, no matter if it’s a garage jammed with need-it-someday furniture and boxes supplementing the normal STUFF like Christmas boxes, outdoors and hunting STUFF, boxes of books seeking shelves and not-used-enough exercise equipment.  Also, if you know where specific STUFF is, you don’t have to go out and buy more because you couldn’t find the STUFF you already had when you need it.

The need to simplify, de-clutter and organize spawned an industry in itself. These include self-help books for the hopelessly cluttered and stores where you can buy all kinds of organizing STUFF.

No de-cluttering expert, I do know that organizing and simplifying and the de-cluttering that goes with it happens in the same way all things worthwhile do: one step at a time.

I preach the writing mantra to myself: One word at a time (and have it written on a post-it on my computer).

For the exerciser, it’s one foot in front of the other.

And for the person seeking to clean out and organize, it is one drawer, one cabinet at a time.

Take a few minutes, and start on that junk drawer in the kitchen, one cabinet in the basement or that corner, where daily STUFF piles up.

You’ll feel better (I know I did), and it beats the heck out of watching Hoarders on TV.

Update on Lucille, the new puppy:

Phrases most often said to Lucille during her second week in the household:

1. “NO! Chew on this….(chew toy, towel, stick) not (-fill-in-the blank-) my hands, my feet, my hair, the bedspread, my shoes, the furniture.

2. “Don’t go too close to the cat. She’ll show you the paw, again.”

3. “You’re such a good puppy!”

Song of the day:

Too Much Stuff, Delbert McClinton

“Too much stuff. Woo!
Too much stuff.
It'll mess you up,
Foolin' with too much stuff.”

Picture of the day: On Groundhog Day, Birmingham Bill, the official Groundhog in these parts, came out and did see his shadow. That points to six more weeks of winter, a disappointment as I hoped to be fishin' off the pier sooner rather than later.