Humility

B-W meditationI started this just-past Memorial Day the way I start most Mondays — with my usual week-opening read: Peter King’s newest Monday Morning Quarterback on SI.com. Being a holiday week, and a light news time in football, King went heavy on other things besides the usual news: Memorial Day, a look back at Brian Urlacher’s just-ended career … and snippets of commencement speeches.

And one excerpt struck me.

It was from author John Green’s address to the newly minted grads at Butler University. His words, obviously, were meant for a few thousand college kids entering the work world at an awfully tough time to be entering the work world, not someone going through a whopper of a mid-life crisis after being discarded by the work world. But the passage that King ran with could easily have been written about my life:

” … You are probably going to be a nobody for a while. You are going to make that journey from strength to weakness, and while it won’t be an easy trip, it is a heroic one. For in learning how to be a nobody, you will learn how not to be a jerk. And for the rest of your life, if you are able to remember your hero’s journey from college grad to underling, you will be less of a jerk. You will tip well. You will empathize. You will be a mentor, and a generous one. …”

During my way-too-long struggle to find a full-time job these last four years — one that has brought me quite a few times to the brink of losing my sanity and/or pondering ending my life — I’ve often thought, in my most lucid moments, that maybe this is one of the big lessons I’ve had to learn these past four years: humility.

That’s way too simplistic, though. Or is it? And what constitutes humility and what constitutes ego and conceit, anyway?

The battle rages on.

*****

I feel as if I’ve been humbled many times over. Whatever ego I might have, or might have had, has been trampled so many times that it’s unrecognizable. Starting with the straight-A student in grade school who was, quite often, “You faggot,” or variations thereof, complete with the requisite beatings and other bullshit that kids who are deemed uncool are normally subjected to.

(Which, along with the hormonal imbalance I never knew existed until my gender transition and hormone therapy, led me to 35 years of chronic depression. Imagine a loop tape — a 12-million-inch industrial dance mix of “you suck you suck you suck you faggot you faggot you faggot you freak you freak you freak you freak not good enough not good enough not good enough not good enough” — going through your head from ages 13 to 48, and you get the picture.)

That extended into my nearly three decades of newspaper life, where I experienced enough yang to match the yin. It was as if I couldn’t enjoy something without paying triple for it on the back end. I was harassed for 2 1/2 years and union-busted almost to the point of a nervous breakdown by my first newspaper, the most heinous (and that adjective doesn’t do it justice) Waterbury Republican-American; then, despite doing a killer (and high-visibility) job covering music, was treated shabbily, like all my other colleagues at the New Haven Register during the tyrannical reign of one of the most evil CEOs in the history of the newspaper business, Bob Jelenic; and was eventually discarded — twice — by The Fresno Bee, the paper for which I moved across the country nine years ago. (Or, to be more accurate, by its parent company, McClatchy.)

Which led me back home to Connecticut last summer. Where, as the rest of my money disappears, my best efforts to find work have been met with dozens more unanswered resumes, along with two huge bites on jobs last fall. Both places left me on the hook for six weeks after my interviews before I was rejected; the second one, not long before Christmas, from a media giant, where I had a six-hour visit in November, came in the form of a voicemail that ended in “Best of luck and happy holidays.”

I guess she told me, didn’t she?

For the most part, I’ve seen the best of people over the last five years, between the transition and the joblessness; I’ve encountered so much generosity and concern and love and support that I feel extremely guilty because no way in hell I can pay everyone back.

But I’ve also seen — and been given — the worst treatment by the job world.

It could be nonresponses to about 500 resumes. Or the young executive at Sony Music who screwed around with me on a Web job I applied for, canceling interviews three times on the day of. Or the higher-up at Out & Equal, a San Francisco LGBT jobs organization,  strongly recommending me (after reading my resume) to apply for a position at her company — for which I was summarily turned away two days after I sent it. Or being left to twist in the wind for two months by the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco — after a stellar and engaging job interview that ran over the allotted time — before being rejected, not by the director or second-in-command with whom I interviewed, but in a form email from the secretary. (Those last two experiences have totally soured me on having anything to do ever again with any LGB and especially T organization.) Or the two experiences last fall.

And over the winter, two people I’ve known for a long time, who come from high-end corporate backgrounds, told me that they wouldn’t hire me if my resume came across their desks, either, because I’m older and I don’t have a job. (As if it was my fucking fault the CEO at my last company bought another company and put ours $2 billion in the hole, then made thousands of us fall on his sword while he kept his job and his millions and skipped off to even bigger and better. Failure has its rewards …) They also suggested I take a minimum-wage job, perhaps at a Walmart. As if the Waltons don’t crush and downsize their workers, paying them wages that ensure that they’ll still need food stamps or Medicaid. Or as if I’m not way overqualified already …

I get it already. I’m too old, I’m too overqualified, I’m too underqualified, I’m too smart, I’m too stupid, I’m too something. And the job world can twist things any way it wants to justify treating me like a dog turd on a sidewalk.

Simply, I’ve lost my purpose. Whatever purpose I have, if I still have one, I have no idea what it is. I just keep hoping it’s not as a cautionary tale.

If anything, the good thing that’s come from this extended vacation-that-sure-as-hell-isn’t-a-vacation is that I finally shed myself of this whole thing of your job becoming your identity. I mean, every journalist does that to some extent. I was a sportswriter, a music writer, an entertainment editor, an assistant features editor and a copy editor at newspapers for three decades — I was a journalist. I felt I was somebody. Now I’m a recovering ex-journalist. And I’m not sure what the fuck I am, really. Even if I do get hired again, it will be just a job; I think I can keep my identity and my work separate now.

But most mornings, my old loop-tape mantra of “you suck you suck you suck you suck” has been replaced with “You’re worthless you’re worthless you’re worthless you’re worthless you’re useless you’re useless you’re useless you’re useless …” I might be past the clinical depression phase of my program, but the stress and the constant nos and nonresponses for this long — no way I could suck this badly — have worn me down past anything resembling a nub.

A friend I sat down with over the weekend told me, “Just be. Sometimes that’s all you have to do.” I feel I should be doing more, not less. Be doing something good …

*****

Two notes off the previous segment. 1) I know someone will chime in, “You’re not useless! You’re not worthless!” after reading that. Please don’t. I’m not seeking sympathy and certainly not a scold. And 2) If anyone tells me “You know, you’re not the only one going through this! It’s a rough economy!” one more time, I’ll scream. I’m not a moron. I’m not that self-absorbed. I’m well aware of it; thanks for bringing something to my attention that I never would have guessed. And I feel terribly for anyone else who’s going through this. But if you’re telling me this, scolding me about this, you obviously haven’t been through this experience, or nearly as long as I have. And it’s your way of telling me to shut up; I get that, too. And I’m not shutting up. At least for now. You don’t like it? Just walk away.

*****

Over a long cup of coffee a couple months back, a friend suggested that perhaps it was karma for something I did in a past life.

God, I can’t imagine I did something that terrible to someone. At least in this life, it kills me when I learn I even unintentionally hurt someone. I hate to think this is all happening because, somehow, maybe I deserve it. But maybe I do. I might not be a moron, but I’m apparently not as smart as I thought, either, y’know …

*****

May is, traditionally, a terrible trigger month for me. It’s the month leading into my birthday. In the pre-hormone days, most years (and I had a couple of good ones in there), it would mean a month of descent into the rabbit hole, a flat-out blue period where I didn’t want anyone making a fuss over my birthday — I didn’t deserve one, I wasn’t worthy of one, and hell, I don’t even want to be around for it.

My first birthday in the hormone era, three years ago, not only did I embrace it, but I got roaring drunk for the only time in the last 19 years. Two years ago, I did have a 50th party. But six weeks before, on Good Friday — the day after I found out that a magazine job I had interviewed splendidly for in Santa Barbara wasn’t gonna happen because the editor resigned, hours after the above-mentioned Sony Music exec screwed me for the first time as I was driving down to L.A. in a car I had rented, and the day before my final unemployment check arrived — I stood in the water at my favorite West Coast beach, north of Santa Cruz, and vowed to be back the day before my 50th and walk in and not come out, because I’d be damned if I was gonna be useless and unemployed and a total failure at 50. Some angels, in the form of Fresno friends, intervened in the interim and convinced me to aw, what the hell, stick around. Last year, I was in a good place. I was working again at the Bee, and actually was on the job on my birthday — but I celebrated a few nights before, as a friend gave me money toward a ticket to see The Beach Boys one last time, in Berkeley.

This year, though, the dark thoughts returned, and with a vengeance — only this time, it would be my favorite East Coast beach, which I haven’t visited since before the move nine years ago.

Let’s just say I’ve had a few screaming matches the last couple months with whatever God is. It’s felt as if it just keeps pulling the old pulling-the-carrot-on-the-stick trick on me — “Just hang on a little longer, Frannie, and you’ll get that job, and all will work out for you.” And I’ve lost a couple of friends along the way. And I’ve found out some people in my family, who I thought were fine with me post-transition, are indeed weird with me. It makes me wonder “Okay, who else has been lying to me all along?”

At my worst, at the end of April leading into May, I was ready — I wasn’t even gonna wait around for the day before my birthday. Four things happened that have kept me around: 1) Mother’s Day was coming up, and I couldn’t do that to her on or near her day; 2) My dearest friend, Paola, was in Italy, and I couldn’t just sneak away on her like that (and besides, she needed my help for her current move); 3) As of last week, I’ve now had four friends die since Christmas; all of whom would’ve loved to have stayed around, plus other friends battling cancer, and I see disasters like the Oklahoma tornadoes and the people who certainly would’ve liked to have lived a lot longer, and the guilt is overwhelming; and 4) My younger niece’s 12th birthday was this past weekend.

Also, I do have a couple of balls juggling in the air, jobwise.

But yeah, it’s not been a happy time. And at this point, I’m convinced no one wants to hear it. Hell, I’m sick of myself! Very few people read the blog anymore, anyway — and to that extent, I’ve stopped working on the book I wanted to write. Hell, since no one reads the blog anymore, why write a full book no one will want to read? That would be the ultimate failure, and the little that’s left of my ego couldn’t take that. Also, the book was supposed to be about two huge life changes, not just one. And it doesn’t seem as if the happy ending to the job thing is gonna happen.

But at the moment, my screaming matches with whatever God is have subsided. I’ve gone from “I hate life” and “I don’t want to live anymore” a month ago to telling whatever this God is, “Yeah, I DO want to live. I really do want to live. But I need you to give me a good reason.” And this week — despite having to shell out nearly $400 I barely have just to get the brakes done — I’ve felt a sense of calm; I’m not sure whether it’s the calm before great things to come, the calm before the next shitstorm, a sense of peace and serenity, a feeling of acceptance that this is my lot in life, or a feeling of I just don’t give a shit anymore.

May, if anything, is a reminder that I have been humbled so often that I can’t sink any lower without diving gear.

*****

There’s something deep down, though, that tells me something good is gonna happen if I just hang on a little longer.

I had this brief vision — if you want to call it that, but I don’t know what to call it — about five or six years ago, when I was still in Fresno, a few months before McClatchy first launched a company-wide buyout program as a prelude to the layoffs. In it, I saw myself lose my job. The voice, or whatever you want to call it, told me I’d be wandering in the wilderness for five years, that I would build myself up from nothing, do something in a line of work I’d never done before, and that I would come out of the woods in an even better place than when I went in.

And until this week, I had forgotten about that. I mean, at the time, I dismissed it as a morbid daydream. I mean, I was working for the best newspaper company in the business (or so I thought), and I was on a good career track. It was incomprehensible that a company that had prided itself for so long about never having a layoff in a newsroom would do what it did.

But here we are. It’s been four years plus now. Maybe by next March? Maybe this is actually gonna happen. I just need something now to keep me in money until the time comes. Anything decent to pay the bills.

Meanwhile, I do little things to keep my sanity: try to see friends for coffee or pizza, dabble at a little writing, and do the one thing I really enjoy, which is radio. And who knows? Maybe one day, it’ll pay off financially …

Just need to hang on …

*****

But, to bring this all back around, where does humility meet conceit?

One of the many sayings my mom (who, if you don’t know, has been extremely supportive through the transition and the joblessness) drilled into me as a kid was “Self-praise stinks.”

I never did think I was good enough for anyone or anything, except in small doses. If I did think I was good at something, I kinda kept it to myself. The verbal and sometimes-physical beatdowns of your fellow adolescents will do that to you …

But there is a part of me deep down that tells me that yes, I’m scary-smart, yes, I’m a damn good writer, yes, I’m a good editor, too, and yes, since my transition, I’m good-looking. And I’m a good person — or, at least, I’d like to think so. And, despite the constant barrage of nos from the job world, there are times I still get up the confidence to send out a job application. And when I do, no one sees me sweat in my resumes or my cover letters. And on those rare occasions when I do go on interviews, I own it. I come in with all the confidence and body language and good juju in the world.

I’ve learned, as John Green told the Butler grads, to be a nobody. If anything, my unemployment has stripped me to the bare minimum. It has taught me to slow down, to be aware of others, to be sympathetic to the plights of others, and be good to others in the way others have been good to me. To be humble and grateful a lot, even at my deepest moments of pain, even when it’s absolutely embarrassing to be needing of others and asking for help. After all, to quote another saying ingrained into me as a kid, “God helps those who help themselves.”

So how does that humility mesh with showing your best and being confident? Where’s the line between “I’m nobody” and “I’m somebody?” Am I good enough to be here or am I not? Do I deserve to be here or not? Maybe the little bit of ego and self-worth I do have left is what’s been keeping me alive.

I’m really not sure. As I said, the battle continues on. But I certainly don’t feel heroic, let alone strong. Just humbled.

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3 Responses to “Humility”

  1. bob Says:

    dont you worry never fear robin hood will soon be here,,…,,,love garvin………

  2. Craig Says:

    Fran, all that come to mind are clichés or empty platitudes. I’ve realized in the last few years that, as a guy, I keep wanting to fix things, point people in the right direction, tell them where they got off track, etc. I realize that’s not what you want or need.
    I will tell you the two things I keep telling my two teenagers- “If you can solve problems you will always find someone who needs you.” and “The only way you can solve problems is to truly be silent and listen.”
    Overly simplistic yet universal.
    Please hang in there…..when it’s at its worse just go minute by minute. You have been through it, no doubt. I really appreciate your gift as a writer.

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