four months is quite long enough, thank you: dftbl, day 98, the final day

Later this morning, I will be signing an offer letter to begin at my new place of employment next week. I’m finally off the bread line, and couldn’t be more excited to get started.

During this period, I said I wouldn’t compromise. Of course, I did. We all do to an extent: we do or we die. That said, life isn’t about whether or not we compromise, but for what we compromise. The job I was hired for wasn’t exactly the position I wanted, but it is the best fit for the time being within that firm with real opportunity to move up and around into something more suited to my talents and work-related skill set. Those things are already out in the open, almost mutually expected, and that gives me hope and drive to succeed.

The funny thing about this series of events is that I applied for a few positions with this company shortly after being dispatched from The Man’s employ. A recruiter was intrigued enough to give me a call and discuss other opportunities with the firm, and it’s been a four-month dance culminating today. At first, I applied here as a safety net, as we were unwilling to depart from Mecca, then as an anything-but-Plan-A, as we were unwilling to depart from Mecca to return to God’s Country. A recruiter and I went through something like seven or eight roles before settling on getting me in and seeing where we can go from there. And it’s a great company; a locally-based boutique subsidiary under the umbrella of a major corporation with an obvious values-based, employee-centric ethos. The pay’s not quite there, not yet, at least, but it will most certainly work for now, and the benefits are comparable to what the The Man provided. And clearly, they saw something in my resume package that was worth fighting for weeks over.

At one point, I had over fifty resumes and applications out, from Texas to Kansas to Minnesota to Ohio. Every single one of them either said no, or Ric Flair lowballed me with what they were offering. It’s nice to be wanted, and it’s nice to be treated with dignity.

While I’m here, it warrants mentioning that any talk of a real economic recovery is absolutely bogus, and there isn’t a single person anywhere on the political sphere–it’s a circle, not a line–who deserves to talk about working families or the unemployed. Many of the jobs out there right now are high attrition, meager pay, low ceiling positions, or, the very roles that were always there regardless of economic climate. The best jobs are taken by those with experience–there were more than a few responses from potential employers who loved me and what I had to offer, but couldn’t find it within them to pull the trigger on someone they had to fully train–and held on to by those who tacitly understand that the grass isn’t greener anywhere else right now. Markets might be booming, but so are gas prices, groceries, and other things that are exposed to inflation. Any talk of recovery is either from someone thoroughly punch drunk on their own kool-aid, or trolling for low-information votes from low-information voters.

I’m fortunate to have found work within 100 days of my dismissal, and I will never forget that there are some who have been out in the cold for a lot longer in far more desperate circumstances. If anything, my time here allowed me to spend lots of time with my twins and wife-mama, get the [J]PSTD out of my system, gain an appreciation for and real sensitivity to the needs of those who are down on their luck, and develop an awareness of just how out of touch politicians and powermongers are with reality, and how absurd their solutions are to problems for which they are ill-equipped to address.

We were also truly, actually, definitively blessed by more than a few people–some anonymous, some not–who gave us grocery gift cards, coupons, vouchers, utility assistance and, occasionally, considerable amounts of cash. These all helped keep us alive and our little family operation running. Literally. You may not realize it, but there were days, plural, where we were wondering what we were going to eat and on the verge of having the power cut off. In the middle of winter. In the middle of the worst winter flyover country has seen in a century. Thank you.

Call it God taking care of us, providence or people just being kind and generous with an exceptionally fortuitous sense of timing; call it what you want, but it kept us from complete disaster, and also from me turning the blog into a virtual intersection, me with a digital cardboard sign and a link to indiegogo. (It almost happened, several times, in fact.) I’m thankful for not having to pimp the readership.

I thank you for reading these posts and, as always, for being a part of sailerb.

PS–If you’re still in the bread line, my heart goes out to you. If you need to vent your frustration, you’re absolutely welcome to contact me privately, information on the About page. Not sure that’s a lot of help, but I do understand the simple need for the discouraged to get their angst out.

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Dispatches from the Bread Line were not-exactly-recurring blog posts until I was employed again. Which I am now, technically speaking.

briefly, hello again, sorry about that.

Things went dark here over the past few weeks, so I’d like to take a moment to bring all of you up to speed.

First, we left Mecca. We didn’t necessarily want to, but ultimately had no choice. Our money ran out, so we had to pack our things and return to God’s Country, though it may as well be a small-g god, because we abandoned a semblance of spring for perhaps the coldest move in recorded history. Advice: don’t ever try moving during a mini-polar vortex event.

Though it could probably be inferred from above, second, I’m still without a job. I had a puncher’s chance at the job I interviewed for about a month ago, but ended up being the third person in a race where the first two won. They were very complimentary of my resume and experience, and seemed to genuinely like me as a person and candidate; they’re also keeping me in mind for other comparable job openings should any come available. Not much of a consolation prize, but I fared well with one of the largest companies in America, and someone there wants to get me in there. Not all bad. In the meantime, I’m back to square one, with a few promising possibilities.

Third, One of our beans is crawling. Both beans are cutting teeth. This, right now, might be the most uninterrupted time I’ve had in front of a computer since January. (that is, about 20 minutes.) It’s hard to write, or think, when the pressing issue is making sure girlb doesn’t discover the stairwell, or discovering that girlb is trying to discover the stairwell, or wall sockets, or the cord to the floor lamp in the corner.

Number D: I have an entirely new disdain for anyone writing or otherwise talking about poverty. The matter is far, far more complicated than anyone would have anyone else believe. I understand the homeless post-graduate degree holder, the pandemic of underemployment, the fundamental indignity of both not working within one’s area of expertise, and not working at all. Most, if not all would-be pundits from every vantage point are better served to keep their traps shut.

V: The economy is incredibly weak, gas prices have once again strangled the consumer through the pump and trickled through to the grocery sector, the service sector continues to engage in shell game tactics to try to maintain sales, at least two major retailers I’ve visited in the past three weeks still have significant amounts of Christmas stuff (!) on their shelves. Yes, that crap is normally slashed down by 80% in January to get rid of it, and it’s still there. If you’re looking at the Dow, you’re looking in the wrong place for anything close to a real economic barometer.

What does that have to do with anything? Well, the two things that most directly damage people in situations not unlike my own are gas and groceries. It’s a good thing that we have policymakers who are in tune with market fundamentals and are working to…oh, wait. I can say this much, just by the eye test: Wisconsin’s job market is a lot more intriguing and appealing than it was when we left five years ago. (Feel free to draw your own conclusion.) Missouri’s is a lot less than when we arrived there five years ago. (Ditto.)

Thank you for your patience with me, it’s been a very crazy past few weeks. I’ll get back to normal soon enough.

the breakthrough: dftbl, day 57

Life just went from quiet to crazy over the past four days. And it’s only going to get crazier over the next few weeks.

I had one interview earlier this week, have another scheduled out of state next week and another pending, with other resumes outstanding and at least one other prospective employer seriously looking at me. It would seem that the breakthrough has finally happened. It’s nice to be wanted. And, while I’ve enjoyed this time I’ve been able to spend with my children and my wife, I’m ready to be the breadwinner again.

Not too long ago, I mentioned that I thought this season was drawing to a close. Now, it seems like a real probability.

you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here: dftbl, day 50

We will no longer live in our home in four weeks’ time.

Come the end of February, we will be in another city, possibly in another state. We’re not exactly sure where, that all depends on the promising leads I’ve stumbled into this week, or whatever might come up between now and the 28th. It’s an understandably anxious situation: things wouldn’t be so stressful if we knew where we were going to be laying our heads on 1 March, and if I were finally, mercifully delivered out of the bread line by then. (The prevailing sense I get is that this will be ending soon. Then again, my gut–with PG-rated apologies to Rob Gordon–has poop for brains.)

This home has been good to us, though it was clearly built as a rental for renters. It wasn’t exactly very well thought out, and previous tenants–some of whom I’m still daily discovering used to live here–didn’t care for the place the way we have. For the past two and a half years, though, it has been our home and, when the space is bare again in a handful of weeks, it will sting a little to pull away for the last time. Even returning home after signing the documents at the leasing office, I felt the disconnection starting to happen. I had forgotten this place wasn’t actually ours, we just bribed someone monthly to let us think it is.

We didn’t want to bid adieu to Mecca: we have wonderful friends here and love our church. Such is life post-pre-mid–it-is-recession, the things we’re supposed to really care–loved ones, causes, communities, etc.–about ultimately end up being the things that are optional. Nothing happens unless we are properly subsidizing ourselves. In fairness, this is the whirlwind reaped because of the all the wind that was sown for years. What went around came around. It had to. Still, it fundamentally seems unfair to be in this place, finally have some semblance of a social life, only to have the gainful employment piece taken out from underneath us.

So, it’s been a roller-coaster week, culminating in real job possibilities and real emotions that come with knowing that we’re going to have to say goodbye. Every new beginning is some other beginning’s end.

Hey, someone should use that line in a song.

Dispatches from the Bread Line are recurring blog posts until I’m employed again.

regarding the well-intentioned emptiness of lying through church music

You’ll seldom find better liars than during the song portion of your local Sunday morning church service.

Note that I abstain from referring to it as ‘worship’, because the act of musicianship and singing is not inherently ascribing worth to any noun. There are no ‘worship leaders’, there are only musicians, and whether or not they lead people into worship is entirely outside of their control. They sing and/or play and the congregation responds in kind (hopefully.) The most earnest stage musician may be engaging in worship while the congregants aren’t, conversely, the musician may be up there in full sanctified rock star vanity while the gathered truly worship (also hopefully.) Further, what constitutes worship is not and was never intended to be encapsulated within a musical idiom in the first place. Ultimately, it’s not up to them: if they seek to, as Jason Lee’s character Jeff Bebe in Almost Famous put it, find the one person who isn’t getting off and make them get off–as many of them, wittingly or otherwise, tend to–they are in the wrong line of work and should wait for [insert horrible reality pop star competition here] to host an audition in a metropolitan area relatively near them.

All that aside, when we sing the songs on Sunday, we join not only in the attempt to ascribe worth to God, but we necessarily assent to the words being sung. And, as a result, we lie, if for no other reason that we sing. More often than not, there are ideas within some of these choruses (and, to be even-handed, in some hymns as well) which are theologically problematic–and I refrain from singing them–or are just not honest reflections of where people are in their faith life. While it’s easy to sing about how Jesus is everything and we are nothing and all we ever want to do is love God and sacrifice everything to serve God, let’s have a moment of honesty: none of us really feel that way, and certainly not all of the time. For instance, that was me Monday afternoon and evening, in the existential death spiral of application rejections and building anxieties. I’m human enough to admit that, for about 16 hours there, Jesus was not my all in all…and beyond that, seldom is he. The deficit there is not a reflection of my unholiness, but the ready and available surplus of divine grace. It is truly amazing.

For most of us, it isn’t that we intend to lie in song, but because the music-as-worship paradigm is so entrenched in the West, we don’t think about what it is we are singing. As a result, we miss out on personal theological development, an opportunity to define an ecclesiology where, for most of us, it is utterly formless, and we by default show that we’re more interested in the sound of the song than the content therein.

We also miss out on the opportunity to make impossibly attainable lyrics a confessional prayer.

Today, because I didn’t want to go digging through boxes of CDs, I found David Bazan’s recording of an old Irish hymn, Be Thou My Vision. (The irony of Bazan being at least agnostic now is not lost on me. It is also proof positive that one may sing and play theologically profound material and yet struggle with belief and faith, or not have it at all.) It’s been done and redone a million times, after being buried in forgotten hymnals for decades, in the past fifteen years or so, and many of these new renditions of it are still done within a church music-based paradigm, meaning that the content is suited to be ignored or forgotten. This version, the one in the YT clip above, is arranged for guitar and loses the traditional ecclesiastical trappings until the end. While the song is sung, the music virtually disappears: one has nothing to fall back on, save to focus on the words.

Be thou my vision, o Lord of my heart;

Naught be else to me save that thou art;

Thou my best thought, by day or by night;

Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;

Thou my inheritance, now and always;

Thou and thou only first in my heart;

High king of Heaven, my treasure thou art.

I need to be clear: this is not where I am. At all. To assent to these words is to lie. That said, I do not sing them because I pretend to be someone I’m not, but I use them as prayer, to move me–from the uncertainties of my present state of affairs, the anxieties that are now plaguing me daily and the despair that hangs high overhead–toward an impossible ideal. It is a confession of my deficit of holiness–sanctity I never had and could never attain in the first place–and a collapsing into the surplus of divine grace. Resignation, not rejoicing.

Would that we would be more forthright in our gatherings. Sunday theatrics and stage antics tend not to lend themselves well to such vulnerability and opportunity for growth, which makes me wonder how our songs are little more than a vestigial part of a liturgy, formal or otherwise, devoid of the very purpose to gather in the first place: to grow. What is it we do on Sundays? We gather, we sing, we endure somebody talking, we smile and shake hands and we leave to go about the business of a day of rest.

You’ll seldom find a better liar than me.

Be thou my vision.

keep hope alive: dispatch from the bread line, day 41

When I set out to do these posts, I didn’t know what a burden they’d become on top of an otherwise stressful set of circumstances. That, and I didn’t consider how much they’d detract from the spirit of the blog. So, because it’s my blog and I’m otherwise afforded the luxury to do so, I’m changing the rules in the middle of the game and making DftBL a periodic feature than a daily feature.

With that in mind, a bit of bittersweet news from these parts: I’m finally finding some stronger positions and have a real sense of optimism about a handful of opportunities which have presented themselves in recent days. The downside is that almost all of them are not in Mecca, meaning that, in all likelihood, we will be moving before long. Yet another notch on the belt, getting out the boxes, loading everything up and finding a new place to live.

While I’ve lamented regularly about life here, it’s hard to imagine that we won’t be here. This is where our children were born, where for a moment we felt like real grown-ups, where we found a church community and friends who have been so gracious and supportive through our struggles, triumphs and trials. This is where I learned to be a father, a husband, a family man and a leader of a household. This is where my faith was renewed in dire circumstances. It drives me crazy, but I’ll miss this place when the time comes to pull away for the last time.

There is hope.

Dispatches from the Bread Line are week-daily regular blog posts until I’m employed again.

the redemption of sarah walker: in praise of chuck

Netflix is a wonderful, horrible thing.

It singlehandedly sent a wrecking ball through that strip mall staple, the video rental store. Then it unleashed all sorts of arcane, nerdy glory by streaming thousands of movie and television titles, allowing subscribers to revisit old favorite TV shows, catch up on series they might have missed, poke around series they didn’t get to see in the first run and, now, they’re jolting the TV industry again with their original programming. (House of Cards was excellent, even if I felt the need to take a shower after each episode, and the long-awaited return of Arrested Development was perfect for people like me, who didn’t get a chance to see it as it ran on FOX and could catch up on the series and then enjoy it with the rest of the long-suffering fanbase.)

So, about those series we might have missed…

Chuck.  The show that has helped make unemployment a bit more bearable.

It was the little show that could: five seasons, each one executed with a sense of spirited and self-aware urgency, mostly because they had to fight for their lives each season to avoid the Peacock’s indiscriminate, free-swinging axe. Chuck, an action-comedy about the adventures and misadventures of a computer nerd good guy and a femme fatale CIA agent, developed a cult following whose fervor almost singlehandedly kept the show going as long as it did. (There is inferential evidence to indicate that the show’s status was in doubt all the way back in the middle of the first season.) Of course, I wasn’t part of that cult then and, in later years, I preferred Castle on ABC to Chuck.

[EDITORIAL ASIDE: This season of Castle thus far might be the strongest of the past three, and is already superior to last season’s mishmash. I digress.]

Now I know what I was missing out on at the time. Chuck was a great show that never took itself too seriously, but wasn’t downright absurd: striking that balance of being enjoyably plausible while being plausibly enjoyable is a rare thing. Part of the show’s never taking itself too seriously  was the fact that Chuck‘s writing never became a set of weekly, ham-handed thought experiments in the way that some other series try to be. The circumstances in each season betrayed a more organic thoughtfulness than the type that was, um, lost on some other serial dramas on around the same time. Add in the Easter eggs that were lobbed up on a weekly basis for a devoted audience of pop culture geeks and trivia mavens and other dork-types, and there is really no reason I shouldn’t have been watching when it was on the air. Mea culpa.

Chuck, the titular character played by Zachary Levi, is the everyman, the representation of innocence and freedom–in fact, the name Charles means ‘free man’. He is given knowledge and ability that threatens his innocence, the Intersect, and with it, like Spider-Man, he becomes a man divided between his personal moral code–no killing, telling the truth, being an all-around decent human being–and the interests of his government–killing, deceiving, doing whatever it takes to protect Americans, otherwise just like him, from harm.

Then there’s Sarah Walker–‘princess’–the jaded, hardened, cynical CIA handler, portrayed by Yvonne Strahovski, with a nom de guerre assigned to protect Chuck from harm. She is drawn to his innate goodness from the start of the series, but being raised in the shadows only to end up spending her adult life in another, not entirely different set of shadows keeps her separate. She even goes so far to say that what attracts her to Chuck is his decency, and that’s what keeps them apart (for most of the series, at least. Ummm, spoiler alert?)

The show, then, is not simply about geek and a girl who save the world and fall in love, but it’s something straight out of Milton: the attempt to redeem the irredeemable, the attempt to reunify a person whose life and profession are necessarily fragmented for the greater good. Chuck is not only about the ascent (or, depending on how you look at it, descent) of the everyman into the morass of international espionage and all the concupiscence that comes with it, but it’s about a person neck-deep in the mire being given a chance to climb out through friendship and love with an everyman. Chuck isn’t necessarily so much about Chuck as it is the ongoing redemption of Sarah Walker.

She’s often the one saving Chuck’s neck, but it’s Chuck who is saving what’s left of her soul.

These kinds of redemption stories are nothing new; I did invoke Milton, after all. Paradise Lost is the touchstone for almost all modern Western drama. It’s the reinterpretation and the unfolding of the overall story that becomes fascinating (to me, at least.) And it helps that the characters are so well written and acted. It’s not Mad Men or The Sopranos or any of these other series hoisted up onto the pedestal for television par excellence. It is, however, clearly a series for which cast and crew alike really, demonstrably cared. That goes a long way, and certainly makes it stand out from a lot of ultimately crappy TV, especially when it was saddled with some heartless, inane program offerings along the way by a feckless network. On its surface, it’s a fun and compelling show about the geek unwittingly saving the day and getting the girl at $12/hour. Just beneath the surface, there’s a reverence for the history of drama and pop culture, and even philosophical, literary and even theological undertones the creative minds behind the series, Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak and their stable of writers, apparently understood was better to leave for fans and critics alike to plumb.

I walked out of the local grocery store the other night, and there was a couple in front of me I overheard talking about their plans for the evening. They agreed that they were going to go home and resume watching Chuck on Netflix. I had to resist the temptation to ask where they were in the series or congratulate them on a good choice. Netflix is, indeed, a wonderful, horrible thing.

Thanks again, Chuck. Hope your Kickstarter movie becomes a reality someday.