– Pink slipped, again

"Model in a Pink Slip," Jules Pascin

"Model in a Pink Slip," Jules Pascin

Last week I had a meeting with my boss, and I learned that my job in the writing program at MIT is ending with this semester. Others in the program, too, have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.

Three years ago, a little later in the spring, I heard similar news from my boss at Simmons College, where I then worked and taught.

Here’s a reflection on how I felt then and how I feel now. And let me preview the conclusion: Yes, one gets wiser — and more determined — with experience.

In 2006, I was devastated by the layoff. I cried almost daily during my drive to the Simmons campus. As a silent protest (do silent protests ever work?), I made and carried out a commitment to wear black to the office every day. “I’m in mourning,” I told my poor daughter, Lydia, a witness. “Mom, you’re not making a point if no one KNOWS you’re making a point.” Touché, honey. That spring, my face hurt all the time from trying to arrange it, trying to look normal, trying to smile when I felt like screaming or gagging. Not only did I feel as though I were losing something, I felt as though I would be lost: to all my friends and colleagues, I would disappear; in effect, I would be dead to them. Gone. Evaporated. Not even memorable.

Yet, still, at that time, some deliberate part of me kept putting one foot in front of the other, applying for jobs, going from office to office and making small talk and asking for advice, for introductions, for references. M. in Career Services helped me with my resume; G. complimented my skills as a teacher; L. listened and, later, stayed in touch; and J. let me cry in her office over all my regrets, even though she, too, was laid off in that same round of budget cuts. Interestingly (well, now it seems interesting), I continued to act with intention, even though I did not feel hopeful and could not predict the outcome.

What happened? I really struggled, maybe more inside than out. And I also found a suitable position, at Mount Ida College. And I kept in touch with my Simmons College friends (the real blessing of that job). I met new people (James! and my Sarah), made new connections, was paid, taught students I loved and students who tested my patience, worked on scholarship and kept the fires of creativity alive, too. By connecting the dots, I can see that my activities got me to where I am now.

And when I first got to MIT, back in January 2008, I thought: “This must be the place.” Really: the students, ideas, ambience, location, coffee, and, not least, my lovely colleagues.

My position there, however, has always been somewhat tentative, even though there’s nothing tentative about my work. (I’m fully into it.)  I’ve signed no long-term contact; I’ve had no assurances.

Still, the hope that flows underground must have been a mighty river: I was stunned when I heard the news. I didn’t lose my cool when I heard it, but later, when T. innocently asked me, “How’s it going?”, I thought I might cry when I told her.

But, I didn’t cry. And I haven’t. And I won’t.

Maybe my experience at Simmons taught me important things about myself. I have resources; I am capable and productive; I know people; I can put one foot in front of the other, and this will make a path that leads to the next opportunity.

Not a magical thinker, I do not doubt that my job is a goner. And I also believed my boss when he both applauded my work last week and expressed his regret at letting me go. This is not personal; this is not even institutional. This is the national moment.

I also do not doubt that I can make something of this, and I don’t mean lemonade out of lemons. It’s possible I’m going to have to drink some crappy, off-brand lemon “drink” on my way to some place I really want to be.

Some place I don’t know yet.

All we can do in times like these is go forward. Do the next thing, and then do the next.

12 thoughts on “– Pink slipped, again

  1. Jane:

    SO sorry to read about your job. I can keep you posted as to the situation at MIC for next fall if you’re interested. I’ve missed you this year!–the other Jane

  2. Oh, Jane, I’m so, so sorry to hear this. It is indeed an indication of the “national moment” when MIT has a RIF, to overuse some acronyms. Still, knowing you’re part of a larger trend is cold comfort when it’s happening to you.

    I love your line about “possibl[y]…hav[ing] to drink some crappy, off-brand lemon ‘drink’ on my way to some place I really want to be.” That’s the perfect way of describing that gap between “irrational exuberance” and a more sober kind of optimism.

    I’m sure you’ll land well. But I’m sorry you were pushed, instead of choosing to leap. :^P

    Will be sending good thoughts your way…

  3. Thank you, Jane H.!

    And, Rosemary, I thought of using that acronym “RIF,” but I don’t know what it stands for. (My father was a career teacher, and, throughout my childhood, he and my mother were often talking about people getting riffed. I had no idea what it meant, but their tone made it sound bad.)

  4. Oh, Jane, I am so sorry to hear about this. I couldn’t believe it when I read the title of the post.

    You’re so right when you say it’s a national moment. This is what I’ve been trying to tell myself for months, when I have seen jobs cancelled in academia and have noticed a paucity of adjunct jobs and heard about schools trying to increase the course loads of tenured professors. If this is what is happening in education, which is often listed as one of the “recession-proof” career fields, then I can’t even imagine what’s happening to people in other fields.

    I also know the frustration of being so close to a job you want — maybe even having it — but not being able to get it or keep it. And having to do something you’re not crazy about on your way to really getting there.

    As you know, you’re certainly not alone. I’m glad to hear your optimism is winning out. (Though I’m a believer in a good cry sometimes, too.)

  5. I just got some bad news, too, today. A rejection.

    I’m so far not telling anyone (only typing it here). But your reflection on the past, and being even unknowingly intentional, and how it turned out, and how you’re reacting presently… it all makes me feel hopeful.

    And also, because I think you’re really smart, it makes me feel less, “not smart,” which is what I can’t help but thinking when I consider my own rejection. I also love the “off brand” metaphor. Thanks for all of it.

  6. “Reduction in force”: nice (?) way of saying layoffs. It’s never made much sense to me in an educational context: teachers are a “force”? One for good, I hope, but still–so militaristic. Either way, it all stinks. :^(

  7. Well, Damn it. I am very sorry to read this news. You are so good at what you do, and your essay about it offers powerful testimony to your dedication to students and the teaching of writing. The field needs you.

  8. I’m so sorry to read about this. FWIW, I love your blog b/c of the way you write, so maybe this respite will give you more opportunities to do just that. Anyway, so sorry.

  9. Pingback: - Sunflower folly « Leaf – Stitch – Word

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