Tomorrow morning, I’ll get up a little after 4 (meaning I better get to bed soon), jump in the shower, then get in the car and drive the hour or so to Stamford to beat the I-95 rush-hour traffic and get a decent parking spot at the Metro-North station garage, catch a train to Grand Central, perhaps read the paper and find a place to get a decent breakfast bagel, then, at 9, show up at MSN’s offices in Midtown to begin my first steady job in nearly four and a half years, as a copy editor. (It’s actually the start of two weeks of training, most of which will take place in Manhattan; after that I’ll telecommute.)
The clothes aren’t laid out, but the adult version of the really cool pencil case with all the geegaws and gizmos — a new work laptop, which was overnighted to the house Friday afternoon — is ready to go.
And you know what this feels like? It’s the jitters and eagerness and anxiety the night before the first day of grade school all over again. Except a few things are different.
Well, for one, for the first time, I’ll be going to class in a skirt. (That shit wasn’t gonna fly in my goober hick hometown of Prospect growing up.) And unlike grade school, where I was the subject of much abuse, I won’t have to worry about that with my new classmates. I’ll wonder how I’ll get along with the new classmates and the new teacher(s), and what new and exciting surprises are in store for me.
And I’m going back as Frannie 2.0 — which, as I’ve learned, hasn’t been a problem. It hasn’t hindered me from getting interviews … and now, it certainly hasn’t hindered me getting a job, a contract job working with a major corporation.
It almost seems surreal to know I’m actually going to work.
Of course, what’s different is that, unlike the A student who came into the school year knowing I could ace most of my schoolwork, I’m heading into this new situation cautiously optimistic … and a little scared a lot a little shitless a little. I’m coming off nearly half a decade of unemployment hell, which will knock anyone off their game. (Don’t try this at home.)
And as a kid, I didn’t have to worry where my next buck was coming from. (It was a dollar-a-week allowance from my parents.) This is for real; not quite life-or-death, but it’s what’s giving me benefits for the first time in three years and keeping me from poverty. And I’m writing this on the day the Associated Press released this little chestnut: Four of five adult Americans have struggled with joblessness, near-poverty and a reliance on welfare at some point in their lives. As a kid, I feared for my physical safety; as a grownup returning to the work world in middle age, I fear for my financial safety, as many of us do. I burned through much of my safety net the last four years; I can’t afford to have that happen again.
And while, fundamentally, copy editing is copy editing anywhere — check spelling, punctuation and usage, check facts, make sure the headlines grab attention while being accurate — there’s always the apprehension that comes with using new tools and learning to use new software and hardware. My usual learning curve on new tools consists of a week or two of cursing and pulling my hair out and being hard on myself before it all suddenly comes together — all because I want to prove myself so badly, and now most especially, after being out of work for so long and never, ever wanting to be in this situation ever again, and — okay, I’ll admit it — afraid I’m gonna screw it up.
Yeah, of course I’m nervous! This is brave new world again.
Although as I write this, I’m flashing back to my first two weeks at The Fresno Bee nearly a decade ago, and my late friend and cubicle neighbor, Tom Becker, telling me in that easy drawl of his, “You’re doing fine. You’re learning a new system. It takes time. You’ll get it down.”
And logically, I know that. I just have to remember to be logical and keep my wits about me. Because, after all, this isn’t the old Frannie anymore.
This morning, before heading to the hospital to see my mom, who’s still recovering from pneumonia, I took a little drive up to one of my favorite quiet places in the world, Lourdes at Litchfield. This former altar boy (eight years) is an estranged Catholic at best — still believing in the spirituality but detesting the corporation. And I take the ride up into the Berkshire foothills, 20 miles north of Waterbury, a handful of times a year to sit at a replica of the famed grotto in Lourdes, France, and reflect among the trees, whether or not the weather or my disposition is stormy.
And I was kinda stormy as I pulled up on this gorgeous Sunday morning. I was apprehensive about Mom’s health, although she’s been steadily improving the past three days; and, of course, I was worried about this new job. I went up to the altar in the grotto, touched the stone actually taken from the grotto in France (and felt a surge of electrical energy rush through me), lit a candle for Mom and went back to sit.
And of course — silly me! — I forgot that Catholics hold actually Sunday masses on Sunday, and I got there a half-hour before one was about to start. One with at least a couple hundred people, including a busload of pilgrims from Brooklyn. So as I was getting deep into thought an contemplation, the terrible music (another reason to be an estranged Catholic) began, commencing the Mass and messing with my concentration.
But by the time I slipped out, just past the sermon, I was able to get most of the weirdness and worry out of my system. As some of my friends have reinforced the past few days since I made the announcement, I’m gonna be great. Or at least fine.
And I was able to get to the gratitude portion of the program.
If I’ve learned two things through both of my wild rides these past few years, it’s been humility and gratitude.
I can’t tell you how much the support of my friends — and some of my kinfolk — has meant to me these past four years. I’ve driven some of them absolutely nuts at my periods of deepest despair (which have been many), without getting too specific about it.
I have had so many people who’ve helped fish me out of rabbit holes and various and sundry abysses that it would take me year to thank them all. It might have been an encouraging word in the right place, a hug, a phone call, a dinner, a drink or two, a solid kick in the ass at the right moment, a cup of coffee, a PayPal payment to help me bankroll the rental truck that got me home nearly a year ago. In some cases, people have done wonderful things for me on the DL, and I’m not one to betray a confidence, but they know who they are. But it was something. And I won’t forget it. I can’t.
As independent as I was most of my life until this joblessness settled in hard, I hope I’ll never be in a situation again where I have to rely on the kindness of anyone just to get by. But if anything, one thing I have, indeed, learned over these past four-plus years, it’s gratitude. I can’t wait to be on my feet financially again and get myself to a place where I can do the same, because there are others who could use the support, just as I had. Let’s just say that, for starters, I owe a lot of dinners and cups of coffee …
Anyway, as I absorb all the well wishes of my friends and family, take deep breaths and start to cast away the baggage of this wretched unemployment ride — and come to realize that yes, at long last, some company actually wants me, and dwell on that — I’m starting to envision the girl coming into the big city to begin a new life, with limitless possibilities ahead. Except it’s not Minneapolis and I don’t have a beret to toss in the air.
At some point soon, I hope to say that the second of my Twin Towers of Anxiety — unemployment, on top of gender transition — has finally, officially been toppled. Maybe I’ll wait until I get hired full time somewhere. But I’m hoping this is where the story finally ends. Maybe it actually ends the moment I step into that office building in Midtown tomorrow morning.
Speaking of, I really need to get to bed.
You’ve been a lovely audience. Again, thank you.