The Truce: My venture with unemployment

I was let go from my past job.

Before you get all excited looking to eat up the latest gossip, you won’t find it here. I’m not writing to dump on my previous employer. I’m not posting this to get sympathy or rectify anything. This blog isn’t about forgiveness, throwing punches, or anything of the sort.

Even so, I have spent a good amount of time debating whether to keep my story private, sharing only with family and friends, or announce my vulnerabilities and victories to anyone who stumbles upon this blog. Well, you know my approach on things, so here I go.

I relate my past job to an unhealthy relationship. I poured a lot of energy into it, but it just wasn’t the right fit. Just like a relationship, you try, you fight for it, but ultimately, there are too many ups and downs. Too much struggle. Too many bruises.

The day I was asked to leave the company, I packed up my things and checked my burdens at the door. Driving out of the parking lot, I realized this situation would send most people into cardiac arrest. I knew I should feel the same, but simply didn’t. That day, my priorities shifted from the daily rat race to paying my mortgage and feeding my four-legged companion.

Doing some (very limited) number crunching in my mind on my drive home, I was going to be fine. I had a growing photography business to keep a bit of cash rolling in and had enough saved up to get by comfortably for at least six months. At the very worst, my wealthy sister lives two miles away. Making a mental note to remain in good standing with her, I was thankful for the freedom to spend a few days, weeks, even months away from the working world to explore where I fit in.

I pulled into my driveway and began unloading the casual collection my desk had accumulated over the past three years. My plant, décor, lamp, computer bag, favorite pens and pencils, notes from some astounding coworkers. I brought it all into the house and piled it on my kitchen counter. My dog knew something was up. I usually didn’t bring that much baggage home from work.

As with any tweak in my life, I called and gave my sister a report, who sounded genuinely happy for me. We hung up and I looked around.

Now what?

The emotions were revving up. Sheer joy. Incredible relief. Deep sorrow. Complete amusement. It was a mixture so scattered and so strong my heart felt like it might explode. At the same time, a sense of complete indifference washed over me. I stared at my junk collection and reasoned with myself. I was no longer an employee of anyone but myself. It was time to de-brand. I put away, hid, donated or tossed anything that I associated with my old company. Out of sight, out of mind, which was easier to do than I thought.

But I didn’t want to give myself too much credit. It was Friday, and I was sure to have a good weekend. But come Monday, who would I be? In a world where jobs define people, would I be okay watching the weekday morning hustle bustle from my window as I sat sipping coffee in my pajamas with my dog?

The answer is yes. Definitely.

There begun my venture with self/un-employment. And I’ve lost track of how many times people asked, burning with curiosity, what I spent my time on. Well, the first weekend was spent rehashing the scenario and making fun of myself at every opportunity. Seriously. Me, without a job because I got “let go”… Pretty comical.

The next week, I hopped into a car with my dad and drove to Pittsburgh to visit my 95-year-old grandma. Her health is fading and she isn’t super responsive, but the 1,100-mile drive was all worth it to see her react to the words “hi grandma.” I was also able to exchange those three little words with her, ones I may never hear her speak again. Totally worth it.

After that trip, I experienced – for the first time since pre-school – living life with no structure. Nobody and nothing to report to. Just me and my desires to get caught up on personal stuff. To stay in my pajamas until 4 p.m. To go entire days without putting on a bra. To stay up way too late and sleep in because there was no plan other than being me the next day.

I reconnected with a high school friend (who reminded me not to “should” on myself), amped up my dating life (still unsuccessful), and began networking (something I formerly hated). I organized all the closets in my home, a project I’ve wanted to do since I closed on my house five years ago, and donated about 10 bags of stuff I no longer wanted or needed. Hopefully someone finds something they love from it.

I spent a few afternoons hanging out with Harold’s Photo Experts, learning more about photography (and spending a lot of money). I mastered the lighting in my studio, upgraded my lens and learned the ins and outs of my camera. I also started a “People of Fargo” blog series to exercise my passions for photography and journalism. I ran a caption contest that I had horrible fears nobody would respond to (but they did!!), and found a perfect senior citizen to talk to and take photos of – something I had wanted to do for months. I also tried to implement a new business idea, which failed. Thankfully, it cost me nothing and was worth some hard laughs. Now I know why nobody else has done it.

I sweat my way through a trial week at a yoga studio and frequented the 10:00 a.m. Pilates class I had been dying to go to for the past three years but lacked the freedom. I spent several mornings in Beans Coffee Bar and enjoyed smelling like a doughnut for the remainder of the day.

I wrote the script for the ADDY’s, which consumed more time than I ever expected, but had a hugely satisfying end result. I got every pain-in-the-butt, renew-your-license, rotate-your-tires, file-your-taxes errand done that I could possibly think of. I visited a friend on maternity leave, began attending a Bible study and bought an executive desk for my home office, mainly because I deserve it. I also compiled my lists in Excel. So now I have a list of lists. Watch. Out.

I learned a lot about myself, too.

I learned that I was exhausted – physically and emotionally. I normally never nap, but I curled up for a snooze with my dog often on my practically unused couch. I slept in – a joy I used to deprive myself of. My body obviously needed rest. And, for the first time in a long, long time, I listened to it.

I also realized I was equipped for a yearlong grocery store strike. So, I temporarily banned buying groceries. This meant drinking the rice milk I had bought a while back (gross) and eating canned fruit and veggies rather than the fresh stuff. There was also a freezer burnt pizza or two in there – the ones with about a half inch of ice on the top of it.

So good!

I forced myself to cook from my cupboard and freezer, rather than jet off to the grocery store to stock up on more stuff I didn’t have room for. I reduced my trips to the grocery store from 2-3 times per week to about once per month for the essentials (milk, bread, men and Sharks fruit snacks). My grocery store ban led to crossing item #17 off my bucket list – make my own jars of jam – when I ran out and made my own from a Jello packet and a few cups of frozen rhubarb.

Basically, I embraced my desires for life and went after a few things. I spent some time recuperating. I took a break from the coffee-guzzling-induced excessive work weeks and stopped stuffing my own desires down a hole.

So what’s my point? Maybe I don’t know a lot. I’m just a baby in the working world. But I learned not to hide behind a paycheck. Shoulders back, chin up. It if doesn’t feel right, it’s not. If you have to pretend, it’s not you and it’s not for you. Be real. Get real and find the courage to do what you love. Then own it.

You deserve it.

Shootin’ the Wit is a sporadic blog about everyday life that should never, ever be taken too seriously.

Where’s my “Share the Wealth” Card?

I grew up playing The Game of Life with my family. Dad would grease the spinner (seriously), and the six of us would gather around the living room coffee table, spread out the board and fight over what color car was ours.

It generally took two nights to finish the game, but there was no opting out. We all had a spot in the game. Dad was always the banker, which was perfect. I hated math and keeping track of stuff.

Honestly, all I cared about was getting a good spin (think momentum, not landing on a good square) and trying to dodge having more than two stick people in my car (keeping them in the car was a hindrance). Naturally, top priority rested with collecting a very large stack of money and cashing it in for bigger bills. I would then spend downtime admiring it and imagining what I’d do if I had a million dollars in real life. All I remember is that it involved dresses, cameras and horses. Apparently a lot of them.

Anyway, during the game I remember being asked frequently whether I wanted to insure my house, my car, my kids, my business, my aunt, my farm… everything.

The answer was obvious.

“No.”

I wasn’t an idiot. I knew the more money I had in my hand, the better off I was. Why whyyy would I waste my hard earned G’s on something that would only come in handy for, like, one square of the game?

Being uninsured was my strategy for the game. Minimal risk and 100 percent chance of surviving – similar to the option to caulk the wagon and float across in Oregon Trail. If you had a half a brain, you risked it. Every time. Who cares if you lost Sally? The funerals were brief and face it, you didn’t even know she was there for the most part.

Anyway, my sister and I were recently hashing over the ins and outs of insurance (our lives aren’t that exciting). Our conclusion? Real life is a helluva lot like The Game of Life.

I mean, as a kid, you just have a riot playing the game. Then you grow up and realize it’s an exact replica of what happens in life itself, only without the “Share the Wealth” cards and “Lucky Days,” which is kind of completely annoying. My parents were forcing me to make adult decisions and I didn’t even know. And clearly I did a bad job.

Maybe this is why I struggle so much with decisions. I chose bad options without any repercussions as a young child. Now, when asked to insure everything in real life, I have the same tendencies. I turn down as much insurance as I possibly can without totally jinxing myself and going bankrupt. For example, given my current circumstances, flood insurance is a joke (I hope). Same goes for life insurance. It’s just not for me…. obviously. Dog insurance? He’s a brick wall. You don’t need to insure a brick wall.

Or do you?

Truth is, most people aren’t able to glide through actual life averting all disasters. There seems to be at least one horrific thing that goes wrong that makes you either a.) wish you had bought insurance or b.) wish you hadn’t blown money on insurance.

So when I found myself with a month-long gap in health insurance and needing some type of short-term (immediate!) coverage, I had a decision to make. “Ford the river” and (very carefully) live with the gap, or buy something temporary.

The first was option was ultra-tempting. But, keeping in mind most of my walking is done with my arm entangled in a leash with an excitable 110-pound dog on the other end, I signed up for some really terrible, super cheap temporary insurance with an unfamiliar company just in case I slipped on the ice, shattered a few crucial bones and dislocated my face. The insurance very well could have been a scam. Thankfully, I didn’t have to find out. Хорошая интернет аптека красноярск с низкими ценами на лекарства.

My sister shared a story of her own. Her and her husband noticed a “homeowners extra” addition on their policy this year. When she inquired, she was told it covered things like furs, pewterware, manuscripts and precious stones.

“In case things go wrong at the trading post?” I asked. Oregon Trail meets The Game of Life, perhaps?

My sister opted out of insuring her non-existent furs and manuscripts, but, as an attorney, took particular interest in the section of the homeowners extra policy that discussed slander and libel.

I’m not sure of the exact details, but what I heard was this insurance essentially covers the overly chit-chatty. The type who consistently tells bad jokes. The masters of offending people. Those with un-agreeable opinions who think their thoughts are worth publishing. AKA the freedom to run your mouth with no repercussions. All for the low cost of just $18 a year!

This insurance seems very worth it. Someone sign me up! Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s get that old Game of Life insured. The whole greasing of the wheel couldn’t have been safe.

Shootin’ the Wit is a sporadic blog about everyday life that should never, ever be taken too seriously.

Spilled Guts in Aisle 5

I had an interesting conversation last night. A relatively deep, caring dialogue with the produce guy at Hornbacher’s pills online.

He’s a real peach.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

But, seriously let me first explain where this is stemming from (whoops! There I go again.)

I’ve been struggling with small talk. Not making it or engaging in it. Mainly just the fact that I hate it.

“How are you?”
“Sure is windy.”
Or, in produce man’s case, “Finding everything okay?”

“Good.”
“Yep!”
“Sure am! Thanks.”

Barf. We’ve got more than that, don’t we? We aren’t robots yet, right?

I’ve been voicing concerns on the issue to my sister, who thinks it’s ridiculous that I’m bothered that nobody talks to each other. I mean, really talk. Mind you, I’m a self-proclaimed introvert (I test an extrovert), yet I’m bothered every day by the dumbfounded looks after offering words to a stranger.

“Nice hat!”
(Blank Stare).
(Hesitation).
(Awkward pause.)
“Thanks……”

Allllllrighty then. Bury yourself in your phone. Look at your feet. Stare at me until I look at you, and then look away. Isn’t our normal routine kind of… abnormal? A comment to a nearby stranger shouldn’t catch them so off guard.

Same goes for people you actually know. Don’t you just want to “trim the fat” on conversations? Skim it, skip it and get to the stuff that matters. Like, how do you really feel, because we all know “good” is the B.S. auto-answer. Is it really that great to see me, and why? And, hey, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you, and I don’t really know how to say it, but here’s my best shot.

Which brings me to last night’s conversation. I’d had a helluva week and the last thing I wanted to do on Friday was stay late at work, which I did. The next to last thing I wanted to do was the pain-in-the-butt chore called getting gas, which I also did. I really didn’t want to get groceries, so I got that over with too.

Big Friday night, here.

I grabbed my cart and started (quickly) maneuvering through the store, strategizing how I could get this done as fast as possible. That’s when I saw produce man. Head down, stacking fruit, hard at work in the middle of everyone’s grocery-getting, me!me!me!me!me! shuffle.

I had encountered this 60-something man about a year ago after noticing the organization of the oranges. I should have taken a picture. It looked like Mr. Hornbacher had contracted an architect who subcontracted a brick layer to be sure the orange display was a 10.

It was perfect.

Anyway, turns out this man was responsible, so back then I told him his work made my all-too-frequent trips to the store a pleasantry. (Have I mentioned I’m kind of a grandma?)

We’ve had a few run-ins since. One in particular was an evening last summer. The man was walking home from his shift and got stopped by my dog.

We talked. He seemed tired. I was too. Unlike other similar conversations of this sort, I asked his name with the intention of actually remembering it.

Jim.

Easy. I have an uncle named Jim.

So when I saw him in the grocery store last night, I debated whether it was worth saying hi. He looked busy and probably didn’t remember me. But, what the hell, I was walking right by, and while my outrageously flashy night was on the verge of capping out, there was still room for a little more pizzazz.

I double checked his name tag and called out over the avocados, “Hey Jim!”

It was clear he was happy to see me.

“Hey!” he said, pointing at me. “Ah, how are you doing… (pause), Laura right?”

Huh. He remembered my name, too.

“I’m alright,” I responded with a smile.

He shook his head, like a father would, crossed his arms and said, “Eh… What’s going on?”

Whoa.

So I opened up about a few of life’s current stresses and joys. He was definitely engaged, offering advice, again, like a parent would, listening to me, encouraging me, happy for me. Then it was his turn.

It didn’t take much prying and he was revealing how much he disliked this time of year. The darkness. The cold, and, sadly, the people. Specifically the abundance of grumpy people (yes, even in our “North Dakota Nice” little corner of the world). He shared stories of folks fighting over parking spots, ungratefully rude customers (my words, not his), and people who let the stress of the holiday season get to them. And then pass it on.

“Thank God for you,” he said, with a look that said it all. I had made his day. “You and your bright smile. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t see that all day.”

Oof. That’s some harsh reality.

He shared his winter travel plans. I tried to encourage him and he did the same for me. Finally, we agreed to have a beer on my deck this summer when I catch him walking by again. A few jokes about spring and summer being “right around the corner,” (it’s not even officially winter yet) and we were on with our nights.

But the conversation rang in my ears the rest of the evening. I’m not a terrible person, but to think that I’m a shining light in our community is alarming.

To me, joy isn’t about putting coins in a bucket out of guilt. It’s not about shopping to show someone you care, or hosting a Martha Stewart-approved Christmas. It’s about reaching out a hand, encouraging someone, even if you don’t know them. Pointing something out that’s funny just to get a smile and spread some cheer. Making even the smallest attempt to be a bright spot in someone else’s day.

I wanted to share the story in hopes that readers would think about this as they’re out and about this holiday season.

But it shouldn’t just be seasonal. It should be a year-long attempt to squeeze out as many corny jokes as possible. That being said, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a New Year that overflows with aisle 5 interactions.

See? Orange you glad…

Alright, I’ll stop.

Shootin’ the Wit is a sporadic blog about everyday life that should never, ever be taken too seriously.

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