Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The ride after

Date: Dec. 8
Mileage: 37.6
December mileage: 199.8

To start, I wanted to send out a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to the LIVESTRONG Challenge. Together we've raised $2,205 so far, which is simply amazing! There's still one more day in the raffle for a chance to win a sweet Olympus Stylus camera (just like the one used to take all the pictures in this blog.) Five bucks is all it takes. $50 nets you 10 times the chance of winning. And everything goes to the fight against cancer, so everyone wins! (Except cancer.) Donate here!

That's the very good news. The rest of this post is kind of a downer. You can stop reading here if you want to. It's just that sometimes it's cathartic for me to write it all out. I mean, that's why I keep this blog.

So I took my bike to work today. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. I already knew the roads were covered in 11 inches of slop and the bike paths weren’t plowed, because I had already gone for a 25-mile snow ride earlier in the day. During that ride, I took to the beach when the roads became too slippery and sloppy to navigate. The smooth sand felt nice but the streets were covered in goo, and to top it all off, the falling snow had switched over to hard, cold rain. I certainly didn’t want to go back out in the gunk. But when I couldn’t coax my car out of the slop-coated parking lot, I didn’t have a choice. I rushed around to gear up yet again and commence the ride/push to the office.

I had to jog with my bike through deep snow the last half mile on the bike path. I finally arrived at work late, soaked and coated in grit, sans any kind of brown-bag dinner (It was going to have to be old Power Bars again.) I thought I was having a bad day. Realtive to others, I really wasn't.

I was fresh from the restroom, still holding a wad of dripping clothing in my outstretched arms, when the message reached me. Mandatory meeting. Those two words, when said together, set heavy in the throat and only sink deeper, becoming thicker and more nauseating as the syllables resonate. A “mandatory” meeting is anything but. These days, in these times, everyone knows what gets said at mandatory meetings, and no one wants to hear it. I pulled my wet hair back into a ponytail and shuffled into the conference room.

In mandatory meetings, the hardest words are always blurted out first, followed by an eternity of condescending rationalizations. I often wonder why anyone bothers with the rationalizations. Nobody’s listening. Nobody. The hard words are out there. The white lights of shock have streaked through and blinded everybody with private, searing thoughts. As the rationalizations droned on, I fought the urge to get up and walk out of the room in anger, or solidarity, or frustration. I scanned the faces of my co-workers in a plea for levity. But there was no out-of-place humor in their expressions; only guilty relief. Some among the group had not been invited to the mandatory meeting. Those of us who had were grateful.

“This is reality,” I kept telling myself. “This is the real world.” I continued to grope for levity. It’s one thing to laugh at "Office Space" and “The Bobs” and corporate downsizing in your favorite movie from the late ‘90s. It’s quite another to watch your coworkers, people you know and like and respect, stiffly carrying armfuls of their personal belongings to the door.

“It should have been me,” I kept thinking. “Why not me?”

The hits keep coming and they’re not going to stop. I’m beginning to think it’s no longer a question of how long I’m going to try to hold on to the dream career I've wanted since I was a little girl — the life of a newspaperwoman. It’s becoming a question of how far into the North Pacific I want to ride the Titanic.

The air was steeped in silence when I left work, well after 11 p.m. Dim moonlight flickered through mottled breaks in the clouds, and the night looked bright, almost like dawn, as the light reflected off a blanket of new snow. Soft rain fell as I unlocked my bike and I breathed deeply, grateful for the solitude. I didn’t want to ride to work, but when the day was done, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more than to ride home. The quiet allowed for meditation, the winter twilight for clarity. My legs felt warm and close, but my thoughts were muffled, as though they were coming to me from a unknown distance. I focused but couldn't hear them. The whir of studded tires and the splash of snow-dammed puddles were lost to an all-encompassing silence. I focused harder. I whispered rationalizations. Still I heard nothing. There was nothing to hear. Even when you have already given serious consideration to changing your life, the approach of the tipping point is deafening.

“This is reality,” I kept telling myself. “This is the real world.” The miles passed, and the snow just kept melting, and melting.


  1. Jill, it is shocking the way people are treated when companies decide they would prefer to improve their profits than to behave well toward their staff. Watching round after round of redundancy does wear you down.

    Right now I'm halfway through your book and enjoying it tremendously. Thankyou for writing it and sharing your life. In the book I've been struck by your determination to find your own path, to be your own person. I think looking to those might provide the key for you in dealing with the dehumanising that surrounds your at work. Good luck.

    And it was great to see your magnanimous opening today; thanks for your wholehearted support for fatty and susan.


  2. I guess the only thing worse than losing the dream job would be never having the dream job in the first place.


  3. That is the sad realization in today's economic world. Unfortunately it will only get worse before it gets better. Be glad it was not you and always have plan B in your back pocket because you never know when it might be you.

    Our neighbor is layed off one day a week for a while and I asked his wife if he was looking for something new. Her reply is no we will wait this out. Better to be prepared with some options!

    Glad I read your blog because it reminds me to be grateful for what I do have and to not be so needy!

  4. In the course of my career, I've been on both sides of the table. When you are the one in a small company that is forced to give that speech, or in my case make the decision to cut, it is absolutely agonizing. Even when the owner and myself have forgone compensation to keep people employed. It is unfortunately the cold hard reality of life. But it is also just a job and I know my job doesn't make me who I am.

  5. Jill, you are a talented writer and even if it was you, I have no doubt that you would not have a problem getting another job. However, knowing that doesn't soften the blow of seeing friends/co-workers lose their job. A nice long bike ride does sound good right about now!

  6. Gosh!
    Downer for sure...I'm going for a ride now.

  7. Maybe the Universe is just forcing you out of your comfortable bivy and into the blizzard. It knows you can make it through to the other side.

  8. JIll, I am so sorry to hear about your coworkers. The comfort of having a job is sometimes overshadowed by guilt. I hope that things look up soon!

  9. "I didn’t want to ride to work, but when the day was done, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more than to ride home. "

    I am feeling that for sure. This too shall pass, ride your bike.


  10. How about a heaping plateful of steaming guilt:

    I've been the person in that room trying to figure out how to say what has to be said without blurting. Those penetrating stares and furtive looks are the hardest thing to confront.

    The face to face behind the closed door with the innocent victims is actually easier (for me). It is particlarly challenging when you have been promoted from the ranks.

    Guilty for not being among the fired, and guilty all the more for not having bargained hard enough to keep my whole crew in the boat. And then too, guilty for being the lacky charged with the task of pulling the rope on the guillotine.

    No one wins in the race to the bottom.

    Yr Pal, Dr C

  11. Glad you were made it through! It wasn't just luck. It's still tough even when you still have a job.

    I've been through at least 7 layoffs in the past 13 years. I was always left. Most of them were done as well as corporate America does layoffs. The one in July wasn't though. Then I also was left with the question, "Why not me?"

    The local office was closed and a few of us were left working from home. A couple weeks ago, I got an email from my boss saying he needed me on a conference call in 45 minutes. Somehow I knew what it was for. When I joined the conference and the HR manager's name popped up it was confirmed.

    The newspaper industry is being hit hard but so is pretty much everything else. I'm a software developer and things are tight too. On the positive side, I have more time to ride although job searching takes a lot of time.

  12. Jill,
    Beautifully written post.

    I am also feeling the weight of the world at my workplace. But stepping out one dark night, gazing up at a galaxy full of stars, EVERYTHING became clear.

    I look forward to the icicles growing on my beard on my bike commute home!


    my advice is not to be so attached to your work, or anything else in your life.

  14. you should go even more far out there. heck, you could live off the land in se alaska. become a technopagan, beat a drum.

  15. Jill, don't carry the burden of others. You cannot allow yourself to stress over others' losses. Be there for them, if they so choose, but do not carry that burden.

    My advice is to be grateful for what you have, TODAY. I've been in many interesting situations, and I can tell you from experience that stepping back and assessing the CURRENT situation will allow you to make appropriate decisions.

    Life goes on, and so will you.

    Now, as a cyclist, I have this gem to offer you: you own a Pugsley (I am jealous). As long as you can afford bike parts and repairs, as needed, life is good. It's about the bike. ;-)

  16. I've also been on both sides as well as in the middle of these. It's not easy for anyone and it can numb you. It's not personal and don't take it that way. Keep your spirits up, count yourself lucky, and honestly always keep evaluating your options for new opportunities.


  17. I just found your blog, you are an awesome photographer!

  18. Unemployment is sad, scary, and happening all around us. I feel sad for your co-workers. I think you are a wonderful compassionate person for feeling sad and worried about them. Life is hard right now. The economy is effecting everyone in some way.

    I am glad you got to ride home and ponder your thoughts, even though that wasn't a part of your plan.

  19. I found your comments on not voting to be odd coming from someone in the newspaper business. I find it even odder you haven't noticed the reality of the profoundly bad news that is all around and getting much worse. Multipily this year's layoffs by four and think of how much guilt 2009 has in store. I work for the police and I don't worry so much about being laid off, I worry more about becoming the 21st century equivalent of a Pinkerton agent in a world of poverty and despair. That will be a guilt trip.

  20. Conch,

    I don't really share your views. I do believe the newspaper industry is dying, and there is little I or really anyone can do to save it. I also believe the economy is in rough shape. But I have lived on very little (by choice) at times in my life - traveled around on a $300 bicycle, slept in ditches, ate beans - but I've never been impoverished. I believe poverty and despair are a choice, because poverty and despair are a state of mind. I know I'm going to be OK. Whatever happens, I'll be OK. I just hope I can help the people I know and love.

  21. Hi Jill, your a stong woman, you'll go your way!

    good luck

  22. i stumbled on your blog and love it. i have a sister who lives in southeast too. you're fortunate to live in such a beautiful place and have a job you love. i hope you can focus on the positive.

  23. It's hard to be one of the ones left on the life raft. You can't help wondering if it might sink, too. I agree that having Plan B always is helpful. And I would add that you have an awesome future in publishing, with the following that you have on your blog, the fundraising support you have garnered and probably your growing book sales. There is a way through all this.

  24. "Not all those who wander, are lost."

  25. What a shite day, Jill. Sorry. Not sorry because I could do anything, just sorry that you had to go through that and that more may be coming. Sending positive thoughts your way...

  26. The company I work for also recently had cut backs, it’s tough on all sides. What I love about your blog is that you write about the good and the bad. It’s real.

    I sometimes have busy weeks or months and don’t get a chance to read your blog. Then one day I sit back, scroll down, and catch up on everything missed. Then I get the motivation I need to continue my goals as well. Thank You!

  27. No time to read all the comments though I wish I did. All I can say is damn you're a good writer. I wish I could write that good.

    I've never sat in a mandatory meeting about downsizing... though sad it was a tremendously interesting insight. I'm glad I've been spared... albiet who's come home from out of town on a sunday night just to find registered mail??? I have. It was nothing personal, nothing to do with my teams largely successful run, just problems in upper managament and elsewhere. I always used to say, "that's what happens when you're the monkey's tail." but I'm not sure which is worse... board rooms or registered mail... not seeing it coming... or the immenent doom of a slowly sinking ship. I just realized I never really got to say good bye.

    As for spliting from work for a ride... I very much agree. It creates a space between work and home, which is really good after a bad day... or a good day. It's enevitable that you will leave all your problems at work. Especially in foul, cold, gritty weather.

    Perhaps this is why i love foul weather riding so much. It's simplicity and purity. There's not room for anything else. It's just you and mother nature. On good days your mind can wander... but in foul weather all you can do is take it in... and no matter what the conditions I just sort of enjoy that solitude.

    p.s. though a different thing you should try a motorcycle in the summer. Same sort of disconnect... only quicker. There's nothing quite like working late nowing when you're done you're out of there like a bullet... just done... not to the train... not for an hours drive in a car... but just pure immediate release.


Feedback is always appreciated!