Saturday, January 31, 2009

Enjoying the ride

On Friday last week, I was just heading out the door to a reception for one of my friends at the University who is leaving, when a student named Paige called and asked for help applying for a job with the Diocese of Cleveland—the deadline was of course the next day, Saturday. I said, sure come on over, with one eye on the clock, I figured I could still make the reception. So Paige rushed over from the coffee shop where she had thought to call us, and she hadn’t even taken time to print her resume, so we huddled around the screen of her laptop. She was a sergeant in the Army Reserves, a clarinet player in the Army band. She had held three jobs simultaneously, including one at Starbucks, and she was applying for a job as an office assistant at the Diocese.

What made her story especially compelling was the fact that she was in the RCIA program in a parish near Parma—the program that prepares converts to Catholicism for baptism. She wrote the sweetest, most touching paragraph in her cover letter about her faith journey, how her mother had not allowed her to be baptized as a child and how she was finally coming into the Church. At first I wondered if we should keep that in there, but she reminded me that the job description called for “knowledge and understanding of the Roman Catholic Church” , so we left the language in the letter. She was just so thrilled at the confluence of her religious studies and the discovery of this opportunity at the Diocese. She promised to let me know how it all turns out. Oh, and that reception I was in such a hurry to get to? I finished up with Paige, raced over to the building across snowy Euclid Avenue, only to find that the darn thing is next week.

Back on Jan. 3, I wrote about the phlebotomist, whose name was Tabitha, with whom I prayed for help for her troubles. On Saturday I went back to the same lab and asked for her and she was working, so she did my draw again. She reported that both she and her husband were back in church and that they had rededicated themselves to Christ. She looked much much happier than she had just a month ago.

So between Paige and Tabitha, I am just so excited about how God is bringing these people into my life, enriching my own experience. We closed Mass tonight with the hymn, "Seek Ye First", just a perfect ending for this amazing week. Laying up treasure in heaven is all well and good, but I'm enjoying these little dollops of joy right here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


In the wonderfully arcane public retirement system here in Ohio, there is a marvelous provision that allows you to buy time earned elsewhere in public service, thus resulting in an earlier retirement date. Having taught for a couple of years in New Jersey back in the 70’s, I filled out the paperwork and sent it off into the bureaucratic void to see what would happen.

I had gone through this exercise once before and had never heard anything back. This time I followed up with a phone call to my former employer in the Garden State. The woman I spoke to said that my records were stored off site in a trailer somewhere, and may have been lost in a flood (no—not the Great Flood. I’m not that old.) Buoyed by this cheery bit of news, I anxiously awaited her letter which would surely tell me that my paperwork had been washed out to sea some years ago.

Instead, imagine my surprise when I received a nice note with a copy of my application, saying that she had forwarded my records on to the Great State of Ohio. Then, another heartening piece of correspondence arrived from said State, requesting eleven thousand dollars for 1.8 years of service.

That may seem like a lot of money, but it’s really not. A friend of mine got a bill for forty thousand for six years. I can handle eleven.

But the strange part was my not so subconscious reaction to all this. My brain ricocheted around my head like a cartoon bullet as I struggled to get its smooshy mass around the idea that I can retire in a scant four years.

What does one do in retirement?
Will we have enough money?
Can I keep it together at work for the next four years?
Why do I suddenly feel so insecure?

I would be 63, not the 66 I had originally thought. This is good, right? So what’s wrong with me?

Jeepers! I just realized there are three operations I want to have before my health insurance changes! (The heart ablation my electrophysiologist wants to do, a new pacemaker and oh yes—a knee replacement as long as we’re at it.)

Like Steve Martin’s “Jerk”, all I need is this ashtray. This ashtray and this paddle game. That’s all I need. This ashtray, this paddle game and this ablation. That’s all I need…

Friday, January 16, 2009

Everyone's a critic

A little over four years ago I finished writing the textbook that we use for our job search classes. I was very excited and very pleased with myself for having completed such a project. Even now, people ask me how long it took me to write the three hundred page book. The answer is probably twenty years, since all I did was write the book I always wished I had had as an instructor, pouring everything I had learned over the years into it.

A few small schools around the country have adopted it; students at my own college buy most of them. Last year we actually had to reprint some to cover the demand, so that was gratifying. Naturally, I asked the publisher to help me out with a marketing campaign to promote the book, since people constantly remarked on how helpful it was and how much they liked it.

The other day the publisher’s answer came in the form of a spreadsheet put out by their marketing department grading my book on different factors. One item that stung a bit was the rating of “7” out of 10 for the quality of the writing. This struck me as odd, since in my world, people come to me looking for just the right phrase or for sharp edged editing. I have never gotten anything approaching a “C” for my writing, as this rating seems to indicate.

I received a zero for “Outside Adoptions”. This struck me as nonsensical, since it begs the question: how can someone adopt it if they don’t know it exists?

Worse, they had “comments”. Essentially, they said that the information was rather basic and should probably be sold to two year colleges. Nothing against community colleges, but I wrote it for use in universities. The information is pitched at a certain level, the whole book talks about Bachelor degree candidates and third and fourth year internships.

Enough about that, though. I am disappointed and that spreadsheet did knock the wind out of me, but it also woke me up to the fact that this is just a business transaction. Kind of takes the romanticism out of it for me; makes it less fun somehow. As long as they pay me, I’ll keep cranking out new editions, perhaps with less enjoyment and enthusiasm for the project.

This brings me to another story altogether.

Last weekend I spent my Saturday at a downtown church, working at a special career transition day. Dozens of people had been laid off at our big city newspaper, and one of the well known columnists organized the event to help them and other people in the business who were out of work.

I brought three other people from my office to help out, since the organizers expected a crowd of over one hundred people. We weren’t sure we would make it downtown safely, since we had to drive through a heavy snowstorm that dropped ten inches of frozen sunshine on us. A car in front of us slid right into a ditch as we navigated the on ramp to the interstate.

The day turned into a five hour career advising marathon for me and the other “career coaches” who had volunteered to do resume critiques and transition brainstorming with the participants. I was completely drained by the end of the event.

I talked with a crime reporter, a fashion writer, a cartoonist, even a PhD candidate who wanted to teach journalism and several other job seekers with the same sort of newspaper experience. These were people who had received numerous awards for their writing from the Associated Press and others, and you want to know something? Not a one of them had any idea of how to write their own resume. In fact, the phrasing was abysmal. I was so surprised. I went into this project feeling a little intimidated by the prospect of telling professional writers how to construct a resume

So how is my book “too basic” when people who make their living with words cannot even put together an effective description of their experience and skills designed to move their career to the next level?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Praying with your phlebotomist

This morning I went for my monthly blood test at the hospital. I go there because there’s no co-pay and no hassle waiting at the doctor’s office. I showed up a little later than usual and so missed the opening rush at the lab.

A phlebotomist that I had not seen before called me back to the bloodletting room. I wished her a happy new year, but she remarked that her year was not off to a good start, and something told me that there was a special sadness about her, so I took the plunge:
“Do I need to add you to my prayer list?” I asked her.

She responded that yes, that would be good. She wondered what church I was affiliated with and I told her. She asked if I was a deacon or a priest or something and I said no, nothing like that.

We went through the mechanics of the blood draw and as she finished, she said, “Can I ask you something?” and then posed this painful question: “What makes a man, separated from his wife, think he can sleep with another woman and that there is nothing wrong with that?”

I suspected she was talking about her own husband, but I didn’t explore that. All I could think of to say was that it was a selfish act of someone who had forgotten the place of God in his life. She considered that thoughtfully and allowed that that could be so.

Finally, as I was about to get up from the chair and leave, I was struck by how much pain she was obviously suffering. She had remarked earlier that this was a new job for her and even though she was so sad, she could not afford to make a bad impression on her new employer by calling off sick.

I took both her hands in mine and prayed with her briefly. Oddly, we were the only people in a normally bustling lab. So, I don’t know if I did any good, but I’m glad she confided in me and she is on my list—perhaps I’ll see her next month.