Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The black hole that contains my thoughts

Disclaimer: I don't know what I'm saying. Please don't hold it against me.

In fewer than two weeks I will be returning to work. And that frightens me. So much so that I'm going to dig myself a hole in the taboo universe and write candidly about my day job, even though I know colleagues and (gulp) superiors read these ramblings from time to time.

As a second maternity leave draws to a close, I'm doing all the things that one might do to drive themselves crazy. I'm comparing the children, photographing them in similar ways at similar ages. I'm thinking ... This is my last baby; do I really want to miss this? And wondering why it is I work in the first place.

There's the insurance. There's the steady income. There's the independence. There's even a hint that I still enjoy the work ... which as the years go by, I must admit gets more and more defused in the scent of hopelessness.

See, folks, I'm not entirely sure what it is I'll be returning to when I go back to work October 1: Stock prices are in the toilet; A manager at my place of employment has left, co-workers who are already on the low side of the morale see-saw are worried about who will be the replacement; and my job description might change drastically as the people in charge scramble to keep the ship afloat.

I'm sure you've heard, newspapers everywhere are bleeding revenue. Readers are literally dying. Advertizing is going to online entertainment sites and Classifieds - once the bread and butter of periodicals in print -- have had thier obituaries published as Craig's List, e-bay and freecycle move into their old apartment. ... My little rag, just like all the others, is trying everything it can to keep its white-knuckled grip on viability.

There was a time when I loved my job. Well, that might not be entirely true. ... There was a time when I loved what I did. I loved my industry. Not to be a total shitheel, but I also ... for the most part ... love the people with whom I work. I may rail against the corporate skinflints and decry the industry's declining integrity, but I also call a spade a spade. I know if the industry was still in its golden age I'd never be hired to do what I do. For me to have a job as a "journalist" I needed the industry to lower its standards.

But be that as it may, gratitude can only last so long.

And this isn't an indictment of my industry, despite the fact that I have many complaints. This is just me thinking aloud when I would sound (and likely be) smarter silent. I'll begin at the beginning. The first job.

It was at a weekly. My boss was a person who mystified me. I liked her -- we all did -- but she never, ever seeemed to "do the right thing." We called her our layout stringer: a person who showed up in a whirl of activity on the days we put the paper together by hand -- yes I am that old -- and was virtually invisible at all other times.

When we lost a typist she informed us "we all" had to type press releases. Except she never typed a one. When we were drowning in dreck she just clucked in sympathy and then blew out the door in a puff of smoke from her Winston-Salems. When an office worker was reprimanded by off-site management for taking too many smoke breaks -- the perceived reason for underperformance (which was impossible as the dirty secret was that years after the smoking bans smokers were still puffing away at their desks) -- this boss didn't step up to save the woman's job. She didn't want to get in trouble, and she didn't want to have to leave her desk to light up.

There were many, many examples of such shortfalls. Every time the chips were down we thought she's come through for us, or at least attempt to lend a hand. But every time she found a way to cover her ass while we all stood around, mouths agape. And still we liked her. And still, like hopeful children of deadbeat dads, we gave her the benefit even though she never gave us anything but doubts.

You see, she was a person who was at one time fabled to be a bulldog. A full-steam-ahead go-getter. In the interim she had become a mother.

I think about her a lot these days as I'm looking ahead to long days of ferrying the children to daycare, dashing off to work and trying to get everything done -- not to mention replacement milk pumped -- before I have to reverse course. I know there must be someone or two or three out there who grumbles at my ability to keep bankers' hours in a newsroom but I don't let it get to me. I do my job as best I can. I no longer offer to do extra, but I don't hesitate if extra is asked of me.

But I have lost the fire.

I would like nothing better to rant about all the things I find wrong with our society -- one that claims to hold family values but only offers three months when babies are literally LIVING off their mother's tit exclusively for six months. But neither is this an indictment of capitalism. Someone is always getting a raw deal somewhere.

No this is about your head choosing to go back to work when your heart is begging to stay with your children. This is for every woman who wishes she could witness every smile, every laugh, every skinned knee while keeping a hand in her profession. This is about all the people who stop her in the street or the store at tell her to "enjoy this time." This is about every woman who's heart ever broke in a million pieces just thinking of how fast this time really does fly. Because in no time at all, she'll be going back to work and seeing her children at breakfast and bedtime. And in no time they'll be gone.


fifila said...

I'm sitting at my computer several thousand miles away in Australia and feeling so much for you and your beautiful family. I've been reading your blog for over a year now (found you via flickr). I fell pregnant just a few weeks after you did with Silas and now i'm the mother of an 8 week old boy, Harry. The thought of having to go back to work after a year terrifies me, let alone just three short months - indeed there is something wrong with that system. Over here in Australia we get one year unpaid maternity leave. Sure enough, whenever i complain about the lack of income (in the UK, where i grew up, i could have expected several months of paid leave), the response is quite often "at least you don't live in the States!"

Andrea said...

And there, so succinctly put, is the plight I can so identify with. As a working-out-of-the-home mom I feel all those things. Well, maybe not the journalism side because I'm not in the same industry, but I work for a very successful company that rarely has to cut jobs for budget reasons. And I still wonder if my little cog in the giant wheel is worth the 11 hours a day away from my kid(s) just to make a very rich man richer.

But we need my income. We have no choice. But I miss Gabe every day. And I know I'll miss the little one when it arrives and I have to say goodbye again to come back to my desk, and sit all day where sometimes, I go nearly 8 hours without talking to a single person.

And this doesn't even touch how stifled my dreams of being a published writer have become. Big hug, girl. It does stink.

Anonymous said...

This is a dirge. It is a beautiful dirge, with a constant low note, a wail, a solemn ache. It is so true in every way. I predict a whole new direction for you: life after. Just see.

Mrs. Chicken said...

Ack. I know this pain. It was what pushed me into a corporate job seven years ago.

A move I regret HORRIBLY. I would have been better off - personally, not financially - if I'd quit and started my freelance career then.

But I was scared, like you.

I hope you find some peace as you wrestle with these huge questions.

hugs to you

PS - I also did layout by hand. I have to admit, I liked it. Something about those bluelines ... I still have my sizing wheel.

Lisa said...

okay, I'm going back now to re-read your post; I was completely distracted by the BLUEST eyes I have ever seen in my entire life. SO beautiful.