Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Science of Horseshit

I got a C in my undergraduate journalism ethics class. The professor, a gray haired, pissy, old school coot, gave his class a speech on the last day of the semester explaining how the grades were determined. He preached the ole “you get out what you put in” saying and then said, “And, if you thought the class was horseshit, well, then I guess that’s your fault.”

Well, as you might imagine, I had checked the box next to horseshit a long time ago hence the C is for cookie, a letter I had never seen next to my name until then. The class was less about journalism ethics and more about a tired, close to retirement professor who didn’t feel like creating a viable plan for the semester and poorly disguised it by having a bunch of 22-year-olds argue about politics instead. My decision to not scream at my classmates about my arbitrary staunch political party loyalty resulted in an unsatisfactory grade even though I still wouldn’t have learned anything about ethics in the class if I would have chosen otherwise.


All of it. The class, the grade, the professor and his last day of class speech were all horseshit and it wasn’t my fault.  That’s the thing. While I actually am a believer in the professor’s tired, “you get out what you put in” speech, some situations (and people) are just horseshit all on their own despite all the effort and enthusiasm you can possibly throw into it.

This type of horseshit can now be applied to my former company and the grade to my recent layoff.

It was a job I put my heart and soul into – all of my knowledge, effort and energy. I worked my ass off, built something out of nothing by myself and produced good work, but never got anything in return. I never got a raise, a nod, an extended helping hand, support, equal treatment or even the most basic resources that were seemingly afforded to everybody else. I was set up to fail from day one as if I was some kind of circus sideshow (a woman at our company that isn’t a secretary, whaaat?!) for the all white male executives’ entertainment. There was probably a bet going around for how long it would take me to implode. But, I never did, not even when they told me this position I had created had been “eliminated” because I’m a scrappy bitch when it comes to my life, as I’m sure all that have met me or read here have gathered.

I don’t expect to be patted on the back…ever, really. I worked as a newspaper reporter for shits sake. The newsroom is home to some of best bosses, co-workers and camaraderie you will ever find. The pay more than sucks, but at least you’re all in it together. However, you’re more likely to get yelled at for your work than praised. If you get a tiny compliment once a year, you’re a top-notch employee and that was OK with me.

What I wasn’t used to in this company was it’s “culture,” if you want to call it that. I’d call it lack there of. I always thought that if I wanted to have my ass stared at and commented on freely by others, I would go to a frat party or a dive bar, not an office.  Things that are appropriate for your male boss (or female for that matter) to talk with you about:  Work, work, maybe something funny his kid did, an appropriate hobby you both share and work. Not:  My ass, my hair, my face, detailed accounts of his wife’s extramarital affair, my clothes, his personal agenda pushing political career and my body.

It got to the point where every time I went into his office to ask for advice, talk about a project, get his signature, ask him to perhaps take an interest in what I was doing, talk about things that were important to the company, my department and my career, etc., he couldn’t manage to pull his head out of his own ass or his eyes off mine, for that matter. After finally realizing he either didn’t have the answers or the knowledge or was just too lazy to put forth the effort, I stopped trying to coax him into being a decent manager and just did everything on my own like I was doing anyway – minus the bullshit. To say it was isolating was an understatement. It was just me, my brain and Google trying to build a department from scratch on my own.

Then one day, while I was wearing my new knee length, work appropriate as always, lavender BCBG dress with a cardigan, king of the elevator eyes emerged from his office and proceeded to eye fuck me as hard as he could in the most non subtle of ways. Even the male co-worker I was talking to gave me a wide-eyed look of disbelief. Oh yeah, because my bare shins and grandma sweater bring all the boys to the yard. Mmmm hmmm. *drool slips out of the corner of his mouth* Really dude? Fuck off. I simply looked at him and said, “Gross. Stop.” He gave me an exasperated look, walked off and proceeded to pretend like I didn’t exist for the remainder of my time there except to pop into the middle of a project I was working on that he knew nothing about and passively aggressively undermine me in front of other employees.

Why didn’t I go to HR? Because here’s the thing with HR:  They want you to work out conflicts on your own first. I did and the harassment stopped, but the backlash started and frankly the backlash was probably worse than the harassment. The last thing I needed was for HR to get involved, cause me to have an even more strained relationship with my boss and then have the good ole boys club that dominated the rest of the company join in on the backlash. He had already been called out for being a terrible manager and, as far as I know, was given a stern talking to, but still had a job. He was also gone for weeks at a time without telling his team, allowed his part of the company to hemorrhage money and worked on nothing, but his political campaign on company time for months and he still had a job. He wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I actually kind of felt sorry for the HR woman. She was a nice person who was good at her job, but was probably just as powerless as I was in the land of chauvinistic fucktards given that whole having a vagina thing. Pesky little bitches, those vaginas. Always trying to do the right thing, work hard and advance their careers. Damn them. *sigh*  Plus, I was doing my best to get out of there. I was getting interviews at other companies, including a Fortune 150 company, thank you very much. I figured I would share my concerns at my exit interview that was surely right around the corner. However, the good ole boys club beat me to the punch.

Speaking of good ole boys and conflicts, my most favorite conversation I ever had at that company involving genius conflict resolution was with the CEO:  A short sighted, arrogant man with a severe lack of people skills, whose breath constantly reeked of onions and who knew nothing about my position, my background or my function and why it had value – nor did he have any interest in learning. The guy had dollar signs for pupils and the uncanny ability to cut you down to the tiniest speck of existence with one withering condescending flick of his eyelids.

I sat him down one day to discuss the large branding project I wanted to launch. It was a positive step for the company with the hopes that it would spark the beginnings of some semblance of an inhabitable culture inside and outside the walls. Within this conversation, I was provided with the information that the company had been slapped with several lawsuits claiming gender and racial discrimination as well as hostile work environment. I couldn’t help, but smirk. He then went on to say that he was hesitant to put these marketing statements out there because when a lawsuit was presented, the lawyers collected all that information and asked specific questions about whether or not we were upholding those statements. So, rather than actually investigating the allegations within his company and addressing the problem that was so blatantly an issue, he just wanted to carry on doing the exact same thing and live in denial while also blaming marketing instead of his own ridiculous self for his legal problems.

Then I had the nerve to ask why I couldn’t just create these things then encourage everybody to actually DO them rather than sweep the issues the company had under the rug. He looked at me like I had two heads then asked if I thought those accusations were true. I had dreaded coming to work every day since I started there and it had grown into a full on depression the last 18 months. The Sunday night blues had run rampant. I had even been reduced down to crying in my car in the parking lot wishing I didn’t have to go to that toxic place anymore before going into the building on an almost daily basis because the situation was so bad. I gave him my best pierce your soul look and told him there absolutely was a gender gap in the company and perhaps an issue with hostile work environment in some areas.

He then looked at me like I had just told him the sky was magenta and proceeded to explain that there were jobs for women at the company – admin, HR and marketing – and that it was a male dominated industry where men got their hands dirty. Women just weren’t willing to do that. That wasn’t HIS fault. Ah, yes, the worst offender of all flaps his lips while remaining completely oblivious.

Apparently, getting your hands dirty had a different meaning for the flippant leaders of this company. Writing a giant check out of your personal account and donating it to charity with a loud announcement attached only gives you the fa├žade of being a good person. The fact that you’re financially able to do that because of daddy’s money and drive vehicles that are more than my year’s salary, but can’t seem to scrape up the cash to pay my minimum asking price proves otherwise. Oh, and also because your wives sit on the board of directors AND own the company that owns the headquarters building for maximum control and get-rich-quick wallet impact. Excuse me, YOU own the property company, but just use your wives’ names to cover up that fact. No wonder you don’t want to go public since the rest of the world that isn’t under your thumb would likely frown at this behavior. You make me sick.

What really chills me to the bone is how the whole layoff went down. A few months earlier I had decided to ask for a few simple things I needed to allow me to do my job better. They were essentially things that would provide me with treatment equal to that of other managers in the company. More money was not one of them, although my underpayment and lack of raises were more than red flags for me. I just thought maybe they didn’t know these things were lacking and the only way to get them was to ask. The two main leaders looked at me as if I had just asked them to wipe my ass for me. That was it. Almost immediately after that meeting my job hunt got a violent shove into aggressive as I was tired of being treated like shit.

A few weeks later they acted as though they were going to play nice by saying they were going to provide the things I asked for. Weeks and weeks went by without any of these things materializing. Then, the day before I left for my long European honeymoon, we had a meeting that sealed my fate.

The enormous branding project I had taken on had dragged on for weeks because the leaders just couldn’t wrap their heads around anything creative or make a decision. Their solution was to bring more uncreative engineers into the mix, which turned the entire creative process into an unnecessary clusterfuck. The last straw was when we were down to the wire and the brilliant leaders decided it would be a good idea to poll the entire company to see what they thought. This was a decision that was decided weeks ago by me and the professional branding company I was working with and reversed by these guys to satisfy their own egos. I’ve always just gone with the flow with these people because doing anything else just brought on constant defeat. This time I was exhausted and tired of being treated like I didn’t know what I was doing. So, I acted like a man, put my foot down and said, no, we’re not doing that. The branding company agreed, but the dictators went against expert advice and decided to do it anyway without my involvement. The stupidity astounded me and I seethed silently the rest of meeting with the smoke probably visibly coming out of my ears. When it was over, leader No. 1 left the room and said, “Not everybody sees the vision as clearly as you do.” How dare I defy the great king for the sake of smart choices and efficiency?

That was it. While I was gallivanting around Europe they were plotting against me and a week after I got back I was gone. I knew something shady was going on when a meeting with a marketing person from the company we just acquired was scheduled without my knowledge. A few days later I even said, “dead woman walking,” out loud as I was summoned up to the conference room to be informed that HR had some “tough news” and my “position was being eliminated” and “my job duties were going to be distributed amongst a couple of people.” PC talk for, you overstepped your bounds as a vagina in this company by being highly educated and experienced and therefore expensive (even though you’re grossly underpaid), wanting to do your job well and move up in your career. Oh, and we just acquired a company that has a younger, stupider person that can do some of your job for a lot less money.

The funny thing is, that younger, stupider person probably thinks she just stumbled upon a golden opportunity, but it’s anything but. They’re just going to use her all up like a tube of hemorrhoid cream. How sad.

It is also funny that the comments made about women by Microsoft’s CEO came on the heels of this situation. Satya Nadella told women not to ask for raises (or anything that resembles one, like I did) and to just trust the system to give them what they deserve. So, Mr. Nadella is saying that if I would have just sat quietly like a good little girl, I’d still have a job? But, if I would have waited for the system to suddenly become fair and just, I’d be stuck in the middle of a career ruining catch-22 for the rest of my life, so it’s a good thing I didn’t. What a bunch of horseshit. Screw you, Satya and your fake apology.

I registered no emotion and acted professionally that day despite the circumstances. I think it’s because I knew I was both better off and would be OK. I saw it coming, had mentally prepared for it and the bearded one and I had already discussed all the possibilities. I hated that place and those people and now I don’t ever have to go back there again while they continue to pay me unemployment. That company deserves every lawsuit that's thrown it's way and I only hope the people I did like, respect and reached out to will get out of there soon. There’s still that lingering sense of resentment, rage and failure usually attached to losing your job, but there’s something poignantly different about it this time.

The differences between my 2009 layoff fiasco and this one are a recession, a deep in-house support system and a savings plan. Companies lay people off either because their company is struggling like almost all of them did in the recession or they’re a bunch of out of touch, greedy bastards that will do anything to line their pockets with just one more dollar at the expense of the people that have dedicated themselves to making that company operate. I bet you can guess which one goes with which year. I was sad to leave my company in 2009 and they were deeply regretful to make me even though I was too angry about it at the time to see it. This year I was just in an abusive relationship and I was never treated like a human being the entire three and a half years I was there.

I had my family for support in 2009 and they were wonderful, but I still felt very alone, especially at night in my little apartment eating ramen noodles by myself. The deep support system of 2014 is of course my adoring husband that lifts me up everyday emotionally…and financially, I guess, now. So what if we just lost a good one third or more of our household income? We’ll just have to drink slightly less beer and I’ll have to curb my delicious shoe buying habit a bit. We’ll figure it out.

My finances were shit in 2009 and now, five years later, they are healthier than they have ever been. I have socked away money in stocks and savings accounts and while I’d rather use that chunk of change to pay off my student loans or buy a yacht, this kind of situation is actually exactly why you save money in the first place. I am prepared.

How’s that for take this horseshit job (and company) and shove it?

Of course, with any big change in your life, it is almost always immediately followed up by a series of other changes. I immediately got sick with the most wretched cold of my life after I was let go. Then, Andy decided it was time to have his yearly doggie seizure, despite his daily medication, at 3:30 in the morning just a few days into my illness. It was the longest one to date and they’re still scary and horribly unsettling to the humans no matter how many times you’ve witnessed them. Then, to top it all off, my husband’s company is now dangling another promotion and an inevitable move to Dallas, Texas in front of his face again like a carrot. All I can say is, at least one of our careers is going well. Ha! He’s more than deserving, of course.

I’m actually very open to change. It helps us evolve and grow and learn. Am I excited about the possibility of moving to Dallas? No, but maybe it would be good. I love Colorado and I don’t blame the state for the shitastic company that happens to exist within its borders, but there’s a certain amount of cleansing one craves after being submerged in such a poisonous environment for so long. Maybe it would be a helpful step in the process of scrubbing off all of the bad vibes and restoring some of the self-esteem I lost at that crappy place.

As for what I’m doing next:  Absolutely NOT jumping straight back into corporate hell. I’m a little gun shy after what just happened, but I’m not completely opposed to full time corporate work in the future. I don’t believe all companies are like the one I just lived through and it’s not about not liking to work for other people. I’ve worked for wonderful people before and enjoyed it. It’s about working for dickheads. My soul already had the side of its face bashed in and I’m not looking for some other dickhead to come along and finish off the other side. I’m done with being treated like a lap dancing secretary. Right now it’s time for me to pursue my writing career full time instead of dabbling it in like I have the past how ever many years. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and it’s about damn time I did it…for as long as the finances will let me. Maybe it will be a soul crushing experience in a different kind of way, but I have to give it a fair shot.

I’ve also signed up to be a volunteer reading partner at an area school. I wanted and needed something to counteract all the negativity. This way I’ll be actually helping another human being in a constructive way rather than throwing money at the issue. I start next week. (Oh, and the Royals are going to the World Series, so that brings a smile to my face.)

Well, like I always say, some people go to a therapist and I write on this blog. I figure I can either let it fester inside me and annoy my friends and family by constantly talking about it or I can write it down here, put it in a balloon and let it float away forever. I feel better now and that job and that company and those people and the anger and all the other shitty feelings are no longer allowed to occupy my time, my mind or my life. I’m letting go. Good riddance.

So, I put in all the effort I could muster and basically Pollyanna-ed out just hoping the circumstances would get better and the situation was still nothing, but horseshit. Oh well. The good thing is you learn journalism ethics in every journalism class and that horseshit professor, class and grade never actually affected my ethics or my success in life and neither will this. The way I see it, you can either continue to step and wallow in the putrid horseshit or you can step out of it, scrape off your sexy boots and keep on walking.

I choose to keep on walking.

"Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
(S)he is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.
This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, March 17, 2014

Missing Maryo

I remember feeling overwhelmed when I got a card in the mail from her this past summer asking if I would write her obituary. It’s not the kind of thing you expect to ever receive even when the person is clearly ailing and everybody knows the end of her life is near. Her and I wrote lots of cards back and forth throughout my life, so it wasn’t unusual to get mail from her. The only thing that was odd about this piece of mail was the content. I sat alone in my home office with the card still in my hand and cried about it, then told only about four people that it existed before I called her to clarify her instructions, trying to hide the tinge of “what the hell?” in my voice. Was I supposed to write it now and let her approve it? I wasn’t sure if I could handle that nor did I think she could either. Reading your own obituary is not exactly the most uplifting activity for the terminally ill. Then she said, “Oh honey, you just did such a good job with Pete’s that I wanted you to write mine, too. It’s just so you have something to go by when it happens.” It made me feel a little better about the rare relic I received. I tucked it under some notebooks in the top drawer of my desk that used to be Maryo and Pete’s and tried to forget about it, although I never did.

Today, about nine months later, I pulled the card out from its not-so-forgettable hiding place. My Aunt Maryo died this morning.

The little card has its usual greeting of "Hi Lara Loopers!" her little nickname for me, but it's funny in that it clearly states “No Birth Dates!” at the top with a squiggly circle around it, yet I don’t remember her ever being sensitive about her age. She was always this neatly dressed, vivacious woman with perfect pink lipstick and big red hair. I’d believed it to be her real hair color all the way up into my teens, until she revealed one day that it was probably all white now underneath all the dye – red AND black dye, as she sported a pretty awesome black beehive in the 1970s – and probably the ‘60s, too. Nobody’s hair was naturally that color – not even close – but it suited her and I loved it.

Even when she got sick, the hair color faded to grey and the 24/7 oxygen feed in her nose produced a little “puff” sound every few minutes, the vivacious stayed…at least around me. My favorite thing was to hear her not just laugh, but crack up. A ridiculous story and a little chardonnay (with ice in a proper glass, of course) could usually make it happen and man it was the best sound – loud and contagious.

She was actually not well most of my life. I’ve seen her in a hospital gown along with the inside of the Intensive Care Unit at Olathe Medical Center more than I care to admit. We called her the bionic woman because with all the chest pains, open-heart surgeries, blockages, metal stints, medications and injuries, she was given life expectancies by doctors and this tiny little lady shattered them all to pieces. When her illnesses progressed and she qualified for hospice as she wanted to stay in her own home, we all prepared ourselves, yet time kept marching on.

“I’ve been in hospice for over a year and a half!” She told me over the phone once. “They’re going to kick me out!”

She was pretty old fashioned, but always quirky and a bit feisty. She minded her manners, but was quick to let you know sharply when she didn’t like something. Things that everybody now considers wrong and probably racist used to fly out of her mouth from time to time as they tend to do with the older generations, which made us cringe and change the subject, but then there were always the progressive moments. One time I was staying the night with her to keep her company right after Pete had died in 2010 and we were watching the show, “How I Met Your Mother.” She said, “I really like Neil Patrick Harris, but why did he have to come out and say he was gay?” I said, “Well, Maryo, you really just have to be who you are.” And she said, “You know Lara, you’re right.”

She spent a good part of her life bouncing around the country from military base to military base with her beloved husband Roger (Pete) as a Marine wife, but also spent several decades at the same company in the Kansas City area helping to support her family and becoming a part of the family at the company as well. She loved her family, wine, ice cream and her projects as she was incredibly creative. Throughout the years she dabbled in wreath making, ornaments, miniature magnetic saws, painted rock animals, china painting and knitting, most of which she showed and sold at art fairs. She’d make a fortune on Etsy these days.

One of my favorite stories that she probably told me 400 times usually around graduation or the start of a new school year was when she had given college a “try” and stuck with it for nine whole months. She said she was dissecting frogs in zoology class and had to identify whether the frog was male or female. When the professor got to her he said, “Miss Hastings, you have mangled the frog so badly that you can no longer determine whether it’s male or female.” She said she was pretty much done with college after that. But, even though she had never finished college, she always encouraged my decision to get an advanced education as well as any careers or projects I pursued. Plus, she never even once asked me, “When the hell are you getting married already?” In fact, several years ago she said, “I think one of the reasons you have it together is because you’ve decided NOT to get married yet.” She was divorced when she met Pete who was 10 years younger than her, which was pretty taboo for the times. “Everybody cared except for us and we didn’t care about everybody else,” she’d said in a matter-of -fact tone giving a subtle and polite as possible middle finger to the world. I always loved that about her.

Since she didn’t want me to reveal her birth date, I’ll just say she was in her early 80s and to me, considering everything, she lived a long, happy life. Yes, my aunt, not my great aunt was in her 80s. Her and my dad were born 15 years apart with the Great Depression and WWII in between them. I always thought it was because my grandparents had trouble in the reproduction department, but as it turns out, they waited until they could afford another child like a lot of people did before the end of the war in the mid 1940s, hence the Baby Boomer generation.

Anyway, the age difference has always made for an interesting family dynamic. The first time Pat came to meet my family, I drew him a family tree on the plane to try to help him understand and he was still confused. My first cousins are in their 50s, while my second cousins are in their late 20s and 30s AND my third cousins are children. I never really had grandparents or at least the grandparent experience as they died before I was born or when I was very young or were just not very “grandparent-like.”

People take families for granted. They grow up a certain way and think it’s like that for everybody. Also, while I don’t usually talk about work, employer bereavement policies (and stingy vacation time) are absolutely archaic and maddening. Not everybody has the traditional definition of family. Bloodlines and labels don’t define relationships and those we hold closest to our hearts. Aunt Maryo and Uncle Pete filled that grandparent void as well as others in my life that most people don’t have to think about. Her and Uncle Pete never forgot a birthday or missed a milestone. They were always aware, present, available, encouraging and kind when so many others were not. They actually loved and CARED about me and me about them always and not only that, but they made sure I knew that with words and actions. And, it wasn’t because they felt like they had to or knew they were filling this void, but because that’s just they way they were and felt. The effort and connections elders make with you as a child and continue to foster into adulthood are something that shape you regardless of labels and blood. I may be sad about the relationships I didn’t get the chance to have and slightly bitter about the ones that could have been, but weren’t, but I’m so incredibly grateful and happy for the one really great one (or two) I got to have with my Aunt Maryo and Uncle Pete.

I’ll always remember the little things she did for me that made me smile. Every holiday and pretty much every time I came into town she made the “Sacred Sugar Cookies,” named after a particular incident when news that all the cookies were gone made my 3-year-old self burst into tears. She even made them when she was not exactly the most mobile person in the world with her oxygen tubes dangling dangerously near the open oven scaring any caretakers half to death. Instead of the typical check or cash, her and Pete took me shoe shopping for my college graduation. I’m not sure there’s a better way to satisfy a 22-year-old fashionista and they seemed to know that. I still have and wear all the shoes from that day.

Thankfully, I was actually in KC to wrap up some last minute wedding plans this past weekend and got to spend Thursday evening with Aunt Maryo. I always make it a point to visit her when I’m in town and I’ve spent the last couple of years knowing that it might be my last. Plus, it was really important to me for her to know Pat. Thursday was a great night in that Maryo was alert and talkative. My mom, dad, Maryo and I sat around her kitchen table eating pizza (with placemats because no placemats is caveman-like to Maryo) and talking about old memories of her job, her childhood and her parents. We also talked about my wedding that she so wanted to go to, but knew she couldn’t because she was too ill. I told her we would take videos and pictures of everything, then bring it over to show her the day after.

Later that weekend when she’d taken a turn for the worse and I made the decision not to go back over there because I wanted to remember her the way she was on Thursday, my dad said, “That might have been the last lucid conversation you just had with your aunt.”  And, it was. I feel like she saved that night just for me.

Today I’m nursing my grief with a day off of work, a box of tissues, snuggling with Pat and my dogs, eating a greasy cheeseburger (the good, old fashioned kind cooked on a flat top with crusty edges and lots of onions, my favorite, reserved only for victories and bad days), maybe a shopping trip later and of course, writing.  I’m also thinking about the changes I need to make in my life in order to live my best life. It’s funny how the death of someone close can make you realize certain things or light a fire under your ass as if they’re sending you a message. I made some really great decisions for myself after we lost Pete and now it’s time to reevaluate and continue on that path.

I’m honored to write my aunt’s obituary as those little blurbs are some of the most noteworthy pieces of writing I could ever create. Really capturing someone’s life that was so significant in your own in just a few sentences takes time, skill and a considerable understanding of who that person was and I’m even more honored that she actually chose me to write it specifically. I don’t believe in god and many of the things that go along with that, but I do believe she’s happier now with Pete and of course now they both get to go to my wedding together.

Thank you for your generosity and kindness, Auntie M. You were my family, my friend, my favorite, my fellow beauty, shoe and Coach bag loving buddy and you were so special to me. I’ll miss you so much.


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