a wake up call: dispatch from the bread line, day 33

My one-minute-younger daughter, girlb, woke me up today, much like any other day, far too early in the morning.

She slept through the night–if by sleeping through the night, we mean to say that she had a bottle in the 11 o’clock hour and woke up again around 6. (Of course, any time infant parents refer to sleeping through the night, we’re speaking in the strictest of terms.) As she lay in the swing, plowing through her bottle, I found myself soaking in the moment.

On the one hand, I love that I have been able to spend the past month at home with wife-mama and the babies. Because of their time in the NICU and girlb’s extra time in the hospital being treated for the nascent stages of NEC, I felt like I missed out on the fun stuff early on. I’ve bonded with the twins in a way that I couldn’t before–certainly not for a lack of trying–and it’s been so gratifying to see them wiggle and squirm and grow (and finally grow hair!)

On the other, the reason I’ve been afforded this opportunity is because I’m without a job. And as we’ve lapped a month and are starting month number two, the anxieties of where, what, when and how are beginning to build in earnest.

As I picked girlb up from the swing, and she nestled her head against my neck and shoulder, I was reminded of how badly I don’t want my girls to grow up ever knowing or experiencing the angst of being part of a family on the brink. I only want them to know how much they are loved, how wife-mama and I will do whatever we can to ensure their safety, health and happiness. I only want them to know the good things in life, the fruit of the Spirit, if you will. Little children, don’t grow up.

Of course, these days, weeks and months of innocence won’t last: eventually, like the rest of us, they’ll succumb to a fragmented world and be indelibly exposed to just how crappy it can be. Not this morning, though: not today, not yet. And, with any divine grace and providence at all, they’ll never realize just how desperate we were to keep us in our home, the lights on and food on the table.

I hope they’ll never realize that I was here in the bread line, anxiously awaiting deliverance from it. I thanked God for being up at a most ungodly hour, and asked for the Spirit’s presence to sustain and keep us in the meantime.

My daughter woke me up today.

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


a half-truth is a whole lie: dispatch from the bread line, day 32

While I really can’t get into the specifics related to today’s title, suffice it to say that it’s poor form for a party to willfully misrepresent certain facts to ensure the result they desire. Perspectives will vary–the synoptic gospels come to mind–but facts do not.

A half-truth is a whole lie. And with that, I wrap up a very frustrating day.

Proper post tomorrow, hopefully.

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

applications as an artform: dispatch from the bread line, day 28

No one should get so familiar with digital HR platforms. Ever.

For the most part, they’re cumbersome, clumsy and illogical programs. And I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of them. I’m tired of modifying and rewriting cover letters, tired of having to correct the same, stupid errors the auto-populate feature makes on each submission (…but loving the fact that they can pull from a social networking page. That part is actually quite innovative and helpful.)

Really, there was a simple beauty in walking into an office, speaking with someone in personnel and having made a connection with a person. Try navigating most firms or corporations that way these days, and you’ll more than likely whip your phone against a wall. It’s as though the process is designed to be something less than human. Inhuman resources; talent acquisition, as though they are laying bait in the water and seeing what gets caught and what can be released back into the wild.

It’s a frustration I’m working through as I plow through application after application. Today has been a productive job search day, but I can tell within moments whether a job submission is going to be relatively smooth or a complete headache. It’s tough to keep a positive attitude whenever I upload my resume and know that I’m going to have to go into their platform and correct the mistakes they made with my information. And believe me, it makes a company look silly when they use a flawed platform as their gateway into their company.

First impressions are a two-way street.

Some of us after a while become pretty good at the application game, some of us become veritable da Vincis or Van Goghs of the process.

Some of us create entire worlds of opportunity, others end up driven to madness. Death by self-inflicted Taleo.

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

post 200: pop music as fetish property

I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days now, but on 3 January, The New York Times reported the top-selling record of 2013. Unsurprisingly, the return of Justin Timberlake–who himself is approaching a transcendent pop cultural echelon reserved for Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Michael Jordan–with the first volume of The 20/20 Experience topped sales with 2.43 million copies sold.

Nielsen, the firm which provided the results, also noted that Timberlake’s victory is somewhat Pyrrhic: that 2.43 million is the lowest highest total annual sales figure since SoundScan started keeping track of sales figures 22 years ago. For the sake of comparison, 2012’s winner, Adele’s 21, sold 4.41 million copies in 2012…and also topped the list in ’11 with 5.82m.

There are any number of reasons for the drop-off, three immediately come to mind:

1) The records that came out last year just weren’t that good. Top ten lists everywhere seldom include what sold the most, and of course, music is so subjective as to have little if any bellwether whatsoever. Timberlake almost certainly has more broad-based appeal than Lil Wayne or Taylor Swift, yet sold less copies of his most accessible and ambitious LP yet released. Which leads me to,

2) The economy in 2013 was weaker than most people either realize or are honest enough to admit, with what little disposable income people may or may not have going elsewhere than into retailers, much less into music sales. It’s plausible, in 2008, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III [inexplicably] sold 2.87 million copies; in ’09, Taylor Swift’s Fearless led with 3.2m, while Eminem’s Recovery at 3.4m won 2010. And, if teenyboppers, long the plum target market for retailers, are having trouble finding work–youth unemployment as of late summer ’13 was 19.7 million according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics–and spending more money putting gas in their cars or awful Star*ucks beverages or more expensive luxuries such as cell phones and mobile services, they’re not going to be buying CDs. Piracy is a red herring; statistics have shown in the past that leaked or otherwise illicit reproduction or dissemination of records actually may, counter-intuitively, lead to improved record sales.

We may also rightly ask what effect, if any, services like Spotify, VEVO or even YouTube might be having on sales-based services like iTunes or retailers both digital and B&M. Regardless, if consumers drive the economy, then what should we expect to happen when fuel tanks are perpetually at a quarter capacity?

And, 3) Pop music is no longer pop, as in, pop-ular music.

This might be the most troubling possibility because of the total landscape change that this represents and the ramifications it has on the flagship record labels and media and industrial conglomerates that subsidize them. The reason college and alternative radio formats existed for 30+ years because there was a dominant format from which there was to deviate. As Pop moved from being a general idea with a mainstream audience to a specific genre amongst others, and radio fragmented into genre-specific stations and ceded the Top 40 high ground by defaulting to a three-decade (the first oldies stations that launched in the mid-80s did 50s-60s-70s) or three-decade-and-today format (starting roughly in the late 90s with 80s-90s-today, because ‘today’ then apparently wasn’t the 90s) that specializes in absolutely nothing, it lost much of that aforementioned broad-based appeal. If you’re not 14-20 years old, and not stuck in a car or a shopping mall, there’s a good chance you’re not listening to Top 40 radio.

With the disintegration of Pop, cultural postmodernism dictates that it becomes one of many equal options: this is why Top 40 radio includes its own product as well as tracks from myriad genres from country to rock to EDM. This is to say that everything is nothing, and by embracing things that are not by or of itself, it dictates its own ultimate irrelevance. Whether or not this is actually a good thing, I leave to the reader to decide, but I would maintain that the bottom line is impacted when Pop is not made for a general audience.

Pop radio’s irrelevance, though, has ramifications for the rest: if alternative formats exist, they do so because there is the tacit acknowledgement of the relevance and importance of something else: counter-culture exists because there is a culture to counter in the first place. With the descent of pop music into the morass of alternatives, we have decided there is no culture. Alternatives to nothing are nothing at all.

And without that structure, without the behemoth, no one can claim the moral or artistic high ground. Katy Perry is no better or worse than The Flaming Lips; Pixies no more or less than DC Talk.

Pop music is now no more than a fetish property. Nerds in sequins, dorks in two-tone hairdos and fishnets.

I believe this, in a way, helps us to decipher what is happening with record sales overall: the pop record is becoming obsolete, unless there are enough singles to justify buying an entire record. This is why Adele’s 21 exploded over two years: one couldn’t escape ‘Rolling in the Deep’, ‘Rumour Has It’, ‘Set Fire to the Rain’, ‘Somebody Like You’, for the past two years. It’s more expedient to buy the record than buy individual singles. No one cares about the record, they just want the singles. Timberlake’s record might be really good, but all we hear on a broad scale is ‘Suit and Tie’: 99 cents for that single is more affordable and practical than $12 for a CD or more for vinyl (which, SoundScan notes, is making a notable comeback…and the prices have, as well.)

$12 these days needs to feed my babies, fill my gas tank, do anything other than line somebody else’s pockets. Believe me, I wish it were some other way. I’d love to support artists and their craft, especially smaller artists who toil and tour for a lesser payout, but I like many others have to survive. Makes you wonder how pop stars do, no?

If sales are down, how do they keep up?

dispatch from the bread line: day 26

Today was the day I was hoping to start getting feedback from the over dozen resumes I’ve submitted around the country. The holidays are in the rear view, the world was in a deep freeze yesterday: surely at this point, I should be hearing something, right?


I can’t imagine going much longer like this, but there are thousands who have gone years without gainful employment. I’ve been here about a month and it’s driving me nuts. And then there’s the sneaking suspicion that these [mostly] daily posts, something I hoped would be poignant and fun is, from your perspective, an exercise in tedium.

Yeah, I’m in a weird place.

There’s always tomorrow.

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

briefly, a: dispatch from the bread line, day 21

New Year’s Day came and went with the utmost nonchalance around here. I’ve long thought it to be overrated, now that I’m trying to find a new job, it’s downright irritating: a perfectly good weekday, um, wasted.

We’re beginning our journey back to the holy city tomorrow, and our Yuletide fortnight has flown by. The holidays become more and more of a blur as I get older, this year especially since we were thrown into a whirlwind. I’d love to be able to sit back and breathe one of these years, especially the next two or three years as the beans grow and begin to really get excited for trees and lights the holiday season. This year, it was all survival, all the time. My girls deserve better. I deserve better. I’ll get better.

Heading back and back into the unknown, I’m returning to battle with this attitude: not content, not settling, capable for any job I’m gunning for. The holidays didn’t stop me, they just slowed me down a little.

The old highway’s a-callin’.

courtesy cw.routledge.com

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

resolutions and resolve: dispatch from the bread line, day 19

The sun is setting on this 2,013th cycle of the Gregorian calendar, and our situation is growing more critical.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that The Man did me no favors by canning me when they did. The holidays have unquestionably slogged what should be an otherwise fast and furious job search. My concerns a week ago are being realized today, and I’m justifiably anxious as to how limited our options are becoming.

Here at the end of the year, millions of people set out to make changes in the hopes of the next year being better than the one that just ended. (Epilogomena manifested, perhaps?) Resolutions are for those who are tired of the status quo, and many of us are. That said, our resolutions are often in vain because we are enslaved to that state of affairs and, ultimately, prefer the stasis of ‘normal’ to the indefinable unknown. Our status quo got upended about three weeks ago, in this state of limbo, we are not afforded the luxury to resolve anything, we are only permitted to do what we can to merely survive.

If existence precedes essence, then what is this?

Once again, I am reminded that, like Penelope in the epic ancient drama, to wait is to defy convention. It takes a person of extraordinary resolve to hold out hope, even against all odds, for the best scenario to play out. Suitors came and went, easy outs presented themselves and exited accordingly. The strength to remain firm in conviction is extraordinary, particularly in our day. A resolution to maintain resolve, then, is perhaps the perpetual motion needed to reclaim our rights as masters of our own destiny.

Nothing really changes when the sun rises on tomorrow. New years are nothing new, winter will eventually give way to the warmth of spring and the cycle of life will keep on rolling. The persistence of existence contrasted to the machinations of supposed civilization show just how committed we are to the artifices of culture and normal. In vain we try to shape or renovate normal; Sisyphus will have a better chance at getting that rock to the plateau than we will to redeem normal. It’s still artificial, still a chasing after the wind. If anything, I’ve learned two lessons during a holiday season without an employer:

1) Truly, family and friends matter more than gifts or galas. Though the stresses of the job search have weighed on me, I have thoroughly enjoyed the blessing of being with family and loved ones, perhaps more so because our expectations were eliminated to begin with. The gifts we received were graces given and received in kind, and ultimately secondary to the fact that presence are more important that presents. (Feel free to groan. It’s OK–I lobbed that one up like a beer league softball.)

2) Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add [three feet to his height]? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” — Luke 12.13-34 [ESV, with selected recapitulation in brackets]

Long story short: Resolutions are overrated. Resolve isn’t.

We’ll make it through, and be better for it.


Dispatches from the Bread Line are week-daily blog posts until I’m employed again. If you must revel tonight, sip from the top shelf; you have 364 other days to guzzle from the tap.

My best wishes to you all for 2014. Thank you for making this one of my most gratifying years writing to date, and I’m excited for next year. Be back Thursday. –b.