Thursday, May 16, 2019

Sensitivity and the Fine Art of WFH

"WFH" is a kind of business short-hand for "work from home".

(Looking out my home office window)

I'll say it right from the beginning:  I don't like working from home.  As I may have mentioned before*, I almost never work from home.  At my former employer, I think I had WFH days maybe three times over almost 28 years.  I had opportunities, mind you, but I just don't like it.  There is something about driving to and from the office that I find mildly productive and, in a way, relaxing.  On the drive to work, I can think about what I want to accomplish first in the day.  On the drive home, I can use the commute time as a kind of decompression chamber.  What's more, I am far too comfortable in my own head, so it's a challenge for me to interact with others in an office setting.  Not working from home just seems to work for me.

Make that "worked" for me.

For the past few weeks, I've been WFH three days (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, to be precise) a week.  I'm doing my best to make it work (no pun intended), and slowly but surely I'm adjusting.  Why the need to adjust in the first place?  Well, there's the fact that I actually no longer officially support (by way of job/title/responsibilities) anyone in my office.  In fact, since last July, my team has been a virtual one, with none of my co-workers actually working out of a company office.  Then there is the sheer economics of it all, as in I save driving 48 miles a day by not trekking into the office. 

The above are some solid reasons, for sure.  They are, however, not the driving reasons.  To put it delicately, my current office location is a difficult place these days.  The company has been re-allocating resources, and with that, there is a fair amount of what I will honestly call despair.  It's a difficult environment for me to be in, in part because I can literally feel much of the negativity.  Granted that I am the last person on Earth to spout new-age stuff, but even the least sensitive person in the world could feel the negative tension in the air.  Yes, I get the need for businesses to change and adapt, and this isn't intended to be a screed about the corporate practices in 2019.  However, actions have consequences, be they the actions of a15-year-old boosting chocolate milk from Turkey Hill or those of a multi-national corporation shuffling jobs across the planet.  In the end, and merits of change theory aside for a moment, it's just not healthy for me to be in the office.

Why go in at all?  While I no longer have any direct reports, I still have 3 former team members in the office, so I owe it to them to at least provide some kind of moral, if not practical, support.  It may not be much...that is what I am able to give...but I owe it to them to give something.  Loyalty is important, especially in dark times.  We have nothing if we don't have each other.

Is there a bigger story in all of this?  Absolutely, and maybe I'll tell it one of these days.  Until then, I'm going to continue to craft some kind of WFH routine.  I'm not shooting to love the WFH thing, just maybe make it more palatable.



(*) It's hard to remember what I write here, in all honesty, as "here" is over two thousand postings, so you'll pardon me if I can't remember every word in every former posting.  Honestly, I am lucky if I remember what I had for lunch yesterday.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

May is Mental Health Month

(A small part of my library)

There are literally months for everything these days, so the fact that May is Mental Health Month probably escapes most people, including me (up until recently).  Not to slander other month-worthy topics, but I can think of very few things that we need to talk more about in this country than mental health.  I know I talk about it on this blog quite a bit; in fact, there are about 78 postings tagged to 'Mental Health' so far.  Make that 79 after this one.

In the interest of complete transparency, I will note that I think about mental health quite a bit.  That would be my own, family members, co-workers, friends and the subject in general.  As I've grown older, I've come to realize just how much mental health has been an underlying theme in my life.  I'm not going to get into any details that might compromise others, but suffice to say I have had people very close to me deal with significant issues over the years.  Part of my own struggle has centered around a central question: 

Why me?  Why am I (seemingly) okay when ________ isn't?  What makes me so special?  

The above are not necessarily pleasant thoughts.  Rather, at times I've suffered from a kind of survivor's (literal survivor...) guilt.  I know, I should be grateful for what I have in the mental health department, but that doesn't make the sting of dealing loved ones who struggle any easier.  On one hand, every time I've helped someone in some small way in this area I seem to get a bit more enlightened, a bit stronger.  On the other hand, well, I've had far more failures than successes when it comes to others, at least in my own mind.

"When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.*"

Part of the challenge, at least for me, is the fact that I try and process the world around me using logic and reasoning.  That's all well and good, except for the fact that logic and reasoning are of little help in an arena that is inherently illogical and at times unreasonable.  That's something I tell others all the time but yet I have to tell myself even more frequently in some circumstances.  Sometimes I hear that self advice but yet still don't follow it.  Maybe that's one of my mental health issues.

So what does all this mean, other than the intemperate ramblings of an exceptionally amateur person that writes?  Maybe the answer is as simple as this:  We need to talk about this stuff more often, regardless of whether or not you find yourself being the patient or the caregiver.  In point of fact, for most of us, well, we usually end up being both.  That makes the dealing with the whole stigma thing about mental health issues all the more important, as we can pretend these issues don't exist in our lives, managing to fool everyone in the world except the person that matters the most:  Ourselves. 

You can learn more about Mental Health Month by following THIS link.





(*) Grace Slick, White Rabbit

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Dual Posting: Notes for After Our Passing

What follows is a joint post by Ms. Rivers a.k.a. Chris a.k.a. Mom and Steve a.k.a. Dad.  After watching numerous YouTube videos of the Long Island Medium (Theresa Caputo) and developing a slightly unhealthy fascination with her spiritual readings, Ms. Rivers wants to ensure our wishes are known about a future time after one or both of us have died.  (On a side note, Ms. Rivers believes that our souls continue to an after-life, while Steve sees no reason to believe this in the absence of any evidence or proof.*)

Ok, here we go; please note, no firm decisions have been made about our final arrangements.  Should either of us pre-decease each other and once we have both passed, we do not want anyone including our children to do the following:
  • Place cremated remains in a cigar box until a decision can be reached about their permanent location, then lose the cigar box when moving.  [Steve here:  If you do this, I will haunt you, even if there isn't an afterlife.  I absolutely hate cigars!]
  • Place ashes in an urn/vase and keep it on the mantel (in lieu of burial).  Or strap it into the passenger side of a vehicle to keep the driver "company" on outings.  
  • Divide up ashes and place them in vessels as keepsakes for multiple family members.  In particular, do not fill up glass Christmas ornaments with ashes so that we can literally participate in each holiday season as decorations on your Christmas tree.
  • Scatter ashes outdoors (especially on a windy day!) in a body of water, where it's likely they would immediately become lunch for birds, fish, and other land-dwelling things.
  • Bury us in a cemetery without trees.  Or rabbits.  We want rabbits and other assorted non-human critters to frolic on top of our graves.
  • Have some kind of enormous, gaudy, "I want attention" headstone.  Neither one of us like show-offs, be it in this life or the next.
  • Putting anything plastic (flowers, crosses, etc.) on our graves.  We want to be buried in a cemetery, not a Dollar General.  
  • Unless you plan on taking care of them, no live flowers either.  But if you do put live flowers on our grave and you were to take care of them, then I [Steve] would like Marigolds, as long as they are the multi-colored ones.  But not the really big poofy yellow or orange ones. 

Lastly, and most importantly, don't be sad when you think about us.  Life is measured in countless ways, none the least of which is in the amount of love one gives.  In our case, we've both been blessed to have found each other and to have children that will help us live on in spirit, always.

* * * * * *

(*) Slight rebuttal from Steve:  It's not that don't believe (in an afterlife), as that would be far too easy, and by and large I've never been one to do things the easy way anyhow.  Rather, it's more like "I want to believe" and "if the universe would just churn up some evidence, well, all the better".

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Thank You

Thank you one and all for the birthday wishes yesterday.  Every expression made me smile, which if you know me you realize that just isn't anatomically my natural state.

Yesterday was something of a milestone birthday by the way.  It's achieving one of those ages where I can see the world being different in front of me, all be it a world that is still many years away.  In honor of milestones and such, here are a few random thoughts about life that I've learned while getting older.

The Grass Is Never Greener.
I know, I've said this before, but with each birthday this thought becomes even truer:  The grass is never greener on the other side.  For the most part, we are all equally dysfunctional.  Everyone...every family...is struggling in some way.  Be it substance abuse, mental health issues, physical health issues or something else.  The only difference between all of us is the fact that some are better at hiding the struggle than others.

You Become What You Surround Yourself With.
This is what our parents tried to warn us about we hung around with the "bad kids".  I never had that problem myself growing up, but my late brother Chris did; our mother would say that "if there was one bad kid in the room, Chris would find him and make him is a best friend".  Where I've seen this play out in my own life is when I tolerate consistent and institutional negativity around me.  Granted that we are all negative sometimes, as life is far from sunshine, kittens, and rainbows.   However, it's important to not let yourself be continuously immersed in negative stuff.  Literally, the clouds block out the sunlight.

Always Sign Your (Real) Name.
I am proud of the fact that I own my opinions.  Whether it's here or responding via comments to some news story, I don't hide behind pseudonyms.  I really think the world would be a better place without anonymous Internet keyboard commanders.

The Greatest Battles Are Fought Within.
I've found...make that "am continuously being reminded that"...the vast majority of the time in my life, it's not the situation that's problematic, it's my reaction to the situation.

Always Assume Positive Intent.
Everyone is born innocent; it's life and choices that turn us into who we are and what we become.  That noted, always assume positive intent.  Even the worst of us has the potential to be and do good.  We all have a daily shot at redemption.  By assuming positive intent, we may just open the door for someone else to turn a corner, to give them a small chance to make a small change.  What's more, assuming positive intent is less about others anyway; it's more about who we are as a person and the choices we make.  Now, this doesn't mean that we ignore threats to our own (physical/mental) health, but it does mean that we should set the default switch positive.

Always Be Heading For The Light.
Trust George.



Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter

What is Easter? 

For the kids among us, it's Easter baskets and more chocolate than likely anyone needs.

From my religious upbringing, I can certainly explain as well as any layperson (well, make that better than most laypersons) what the holiday represents.

None of that seems to work for me anymore.  Mind you, I do like chocolate, but quite frankly I need to eat less, not more.  Same goes for three-quarters of the other things I eat these days.  As for the theology of it all, well, I'm having a tough time the theology of most organized religions these days.  Strict adherence to rituals or literal interpretations of text written before there was even a printing press just don't seem to make sense to me.  Then we also have the manifest failure of organized religion on several fronts, well documented, it seems, on most news days.

Anyway, this isn't intended to disparage organized religion.  If anything, I truly do applaud anyone who has faith; if that comes from rituals, books or traditions, well, good for them.  Whatever works.

So, again, what is Easter?

Best I can figure these days, Easter is about resurrection; it's about coming out of the other side if you want to call it that, from a place where there didn't seem to be all that much hope.  That's an easy sentiment to write but a difficult sentiment to put into action.  Trust me, I know this for a fact.

I've been in need of a kind of Easter.  The specifics as to why aren't all that important.  What truly matters is that in some ways, it's been a bit of a difficult row to hoe over the past year or so.  I can't claim any kind of resurrection, but it does look like I am may be coming out on the other side of it all.  Of course, in the finest of Steve traditions, I haven't gotten what I wanted, but I do seem to have gotten what I needed.  Cryptic?  Damn straight it is.  Sometimes life is cryptic though:  We have some idea of what we think we need, but then the universe throws something else at us.  It's the kind of thing that David Foster Wallace once beautifully described as follows...



Here's to resurrections and truth and freedom.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Road Apples, #178

Dear News Outlets...You're not doing your collective jobs when, at any given time, half the content in one of your stories consists of copied Tweets.  I don't care what people think about a particular story.  I just want the story.  If I want to read tweets I will go to Twitter.  Please stop.

Culm Bank...I spent time recently wandering around an old culm bank.  If you don't know what a culm bank is, well, click HERE.  There's a longer posting in the works about my visit.  There is also a larger, cautionary tale in places such as this when we think about the natural gas extraction business happening throughout Pennsylvania.  More to come.

Work from Home...I don't like to work from home.  Well, I do sometimes work from home...in the evenings and over the weekend...but making it part of the Monday to Friday routine isn't something I have done much of in the past.  This is mostly because I need a kind of buffer between me at work and me at home, and a long commute does that trick rather nicely.  Anyway, that's going to change, at least over the short-term.  I actually had a decent work from home day this past Friday, so I'm going to do it again over the next few Fridays.  We'll see what happens.

Game of Thrones...I have never watched the show.  Ditto for Breaking Bad.  And countless other things on television.  I put television shows into four categories:
1) Educational - Shows that I enjoy because I can learn something.
2) Mindless Fun - Shows that involve unwashed Alaskans (for the most part).
3) Offensive - Anything involving "Sister Wives", "Breeders", and "Real Housewives of _______".
4) Other - Everything else that I can't be bothered with (for the most part).

Game of Thrones is in the 4th category.

Scranton School District...Follow-up from THIS posting...I heard back from one SSD Director who said that the family relationship I referenced in the posting wasn't known or disclosed during the vetting process (or lack thereof ) for the newly appointed director.  Add that to the list of things that the SSD needs to do better.  Rumor has it that Silicon Valley has invented a cutting edge new piece of technology to help the governmental bodies identify potential conflicts of interest:  It's called a CHECKLIST.

Spring...I'll admit it:  I feel better in a lot of ways when Spring finally arrives.  Part of it is the fact that I just enjoy being outdoors.  As a kid, we spent a lot of time outdoors, all throughout the year.  Another part of this is the fact that I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with working in the yard.  The grass is too high...you cut it...and there is an immediate improvement.  That kind of feedback is often times missing in my professional life.

Firefighter Under Investigation...There is a Scranton Firefighter under investigation for potential involvement in a recent multi-vehicle crash.  You can link to the story HERE.  I mention this because I was thinking the other morning about how we have to be very careful using the word "hero".  No one, in my estimation, is a hero by virtue of their occupation.  Not firefighters, not policemen not soldiers.  Someone is a hero because of what they actually do in a particular situation.  For example, a firefighter that risks his life to save a child in a burning building is a hero.  A firefighter than goes into a burning building as part of putting out a fire isn't a hero...he is trained to fight fires...that's what he does.  Anyway, The firefighter in this story shouldn't be held to a higher or lesser standard of conduct based on his occupation.  Judge him based on his actual conduct, not his day job.

Colonoscopy...Probably not the most pleasant of subjects, but what the heck, I'll go there anyway.  If you are over age 50 you should get a colonoscopy every 5 years.  If you have a family history of colon cancer you should have the procedure performed more frequently.  I started having the procedure done in my mid-40's due to some other issues, and now have three under my belt.  The test itself is a non-issue; the worst part is the IV insertion and the prep the day beforehand.  Those are but a minor inconvenience when you consider just what this test can do for you, as in it can save your life.  Seriously, talk to your doctor about this test.  You can learn more about the procedure at WebMD.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Scranton School District - "It's the expenses, stupid"


During Bill Clinton's first presidential run, one of his chief advisor (and dead-ringer for Skelator), James Carville, was famous for saying "the economy, stupid" as a way to keep the campaign focused on the issue(s) that matter the most.  I keep hearing that phrase in the back of my head whenever I read about the Scranton School District's (SSD) decades-long fiscal crisis.

By the way, it's less of a "fiscal" crisis than it is a crisis of ineptitude.

One of the things you read in the local press about the SSD's financial picture is the fact that the district is dramatically short-changed when it comes to state-provided funding.  That's actually true.  The reasons behind that are outside of my scope for this posting, but it's worth reading about if you're interested.  However, I think there is danger in focusing too much on the SSD's funding level. 

Now, should the state funding formula be changed? Sure, it should. But placing too much emphasis on the income side of the ledger is an enormous mistake. Ask anyone who ever had excessive credit card debt: Additional income sometimes just feeds additional excessive spending. 

Given the SSD's long history of horrible governance:
  1. Nepotism - Some things never change, even in the midst of a crisis.  A case in point is the fact that the most recently appointed SSD Director just happens to be the brother-in-law of the district's transportation director.  This would be the same person who, shockingly, also oversees the (twice no-bid) busing contract.  Why wasn't this family relationship disclosed during the selection process for the new director?  Board members should be on record as to whether or not they knew about the family connection prior to the appointment vote.  This is the same newly minted director who owed the City of Scranton over twenty thousand dollars in back taxes and garbage fees (citation HERE).  Why does this matter?  Simply put, the SSD has a long history of making appointments and hiring decisions based on political/familial expediency, not actual talent, which in turn permeates incompetence throughout the organization.
  2. Failed Fiduciary Responsibilities - The SSD has a horrible track record when it comes to creating and exercising reasonable fiscal (and other types of) controls.  Whether it's a twice enacted no-bid busing contract, poor information technology asset management or paying benefits to non-employee who just happened to fix select administration member's vehicles for free, the SSD has repeatedly violated its responsibility to prudently manage taxpayer resources (for more details, read THIS).  
  3. Inconsistent Labor Relations - The SSD and the Scranton Federation of Teachers (SFT) have an interesting relationship.  At times adversarial, for sure.  At times quid pro quo, as the SFT has known about the scourge of nepotism, but yet looked the other way when it knew that the best-qualified individuals were not always being hired.  There is also a history of the SFT endorsing grossly incompetent individuals for SSD director positions (see the above points).  The SFT has a bad habit of blaming the SSD administration only when it's convenient to do so and looking the other way the rest of the time.  As the old saying goes, "if you lay down with dogs, don't then complain about getting fleas".
...I have absolutely no doubt that more money would have either resulted in simply delaying the current crisis or perhaps spawning even worse decisions making.  Think about it:  Would the no-bid busing contract have been challenged if the SSD were flush with cash?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  What is certain though is that the SSD would be under far less scrutiny, which would be a very, very bad thing.

By all means, Pennsylvania's public school funding policy needs to change, but for Scranton any more funding needs to come only with significant oversight attached.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Shadows Falling & Running Out of Breath: October 14th through December 18th 2016

I've been on something of a writing lull lately.  It's not as if there aren't things to write about; mostly it's about just where my head is at the moment, in a kind of in-between place on two or so different fronts.  That brought me to what you'll read in this posting.  

Below you'll find a few paragraphs I wrote every week or so after I was "retired" from my last employer.  My intent was to eventually publish this as part of some kind of victory lap once the career gods smiled on me again.  That smile has been somewhat elusive, although I've obviously been busy enough in the 2+ years since.  The last entry was on December 11th, which wasn't planned to be the end-point.  However life, as it often times does, got in the way.  The life part in question was mostly related to my younger brother.  

So why resurrect this stuff now?  The best answer is that, well, the words now just seem to make sense.  By the way, the last time I read any of this was in early 2017.  It's been that long.

Anyway, here goes...

_____________________________________________________________________________

DECEMBER 18, 2016

"No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride...and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well...maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion..."
- Hunter S. Thompson

* * * * * *



A Warning (of sorts)

What you're about to read is...


...long
...visceral
...emotional
...unscripted
...at times sloppy

I make no apologies for the content in this posting, since, as much as anything else I've written in this blog over the years, it's truly how I have felt at the moments.  I wrote this for me, as a way to cope, as an anchor of sorts, as a testimony for a future date.  You can judge this to be a wonderful work or down-right horrible.  Honestly, I don't care.  

This is this dialogue inside my head during a difficult time.  It is me, blemishes and all.

* * * * * *

Day 1 - October 13, 2016
After 27 years, 10 months and 10 days, my employment with Prudential ended.  Not necessarily by my choice, but these things happen.  Call it a "confluence of economic factors" if you will; a far less artful but more direct description is "I was laid off".  In any event, it happened.

Like most big things in my life, I have a near compulsion to put my thoughts in writing.  Now given that I will be in the job finding phase, and since this blog is something of a public kind of thing, I'm somewhat conflicted as to how I can marry those two thoughts.  Put another way, I don't want to screw up a potential job on account of a silly blog posting.

So here's the deal...I'm going to chronicle my feelings, thoughts, and actions here in the blog.  When all is set and done, when a new job is acquired, well then maybe this will see the light of day.  Maybe.  If you're reading this now, then the obvious answer was a resounding "yes".

Seeing as though editing is not my strong suit and that this may end being a rather lengthy posting, I'm going to apologize in advance for the numerous typos that will be found in this string.  Sorry.  Time to move on.

* * * * * *

Day 2 - October 14, 2016
All told, I'm still in this fuzzy kind of, almost conflicted, place.  I know that in the grand scheme of life, this change...thrust upon me as it was...is still going to be good.  But yet, and at the risk of evoking unwanted pity, I can't help but mourn for this loss.  I've felt this way before when I was going through a divorce.  Complicating matter is the fact that I naturally just so very impatient.  I want this solved now.  My lesson from going through a divorce is that, to be blunt, "it just doesn't work that way".  I remember back then when others (who had been through a divorce) telling me that "it's a process", and feeling very discouraged, as I have no need for "a process"...I just want a resolution.  This is what impatience rearing it's ugly head actually looks like, and for me it's frightening.

Another difficult part is all of this is that it will require me asking for help.  I hate asking for help.  I hate that I've been put into a place where I now will need help.  I don't get help.  I give help, damn it.

Maybe, just maybe, all of this is part of the plan.  I need to be reminded and taught, whether it's about patience or pride.  These are hard lessons for me.

Something Positive - When a friend and co-worker spend an hour of their time talking to you...just because they are concerned.


* * * * * *

Day 3 - October 15, 2016
Another day and my head is still trying to wrap itself around this "thing".  Changing the dynamic is the fact that I've finished my school work for this semester, so I don't have the mental distraction of a paper to write anymore.  Then there is the anxiety, which really just sort of just grabbed me a few minutes ago.  This kind of empty feeling of non-specific gloom, lacking in substance but yet still substantial enough to make me think "this isn't right".  In the many blessings department, I am glad that I have the blog at times like this, as it's a kind of cathartic release that I come to rely on during difficult times.

I suspect part of the timing for non-specific gloom was the fact that we had a full day today, hiking with the parents of Ms. Rivers.  It was nice being outside and feeling the forest around me.  Ironic in a way:  I felt okay being out in the big indoors, but things shift when I'm left alone with my thoughts.


* * * * * *

October 20, 2016

I discovered that I'm terrible at counting the days ("Day 1, Day 2", etc.), so that's out the window.  Moving on.

It's a week since I lost my job, and I'm at a better place, at least for the most part.  I still do, every once in a while, come down with a general sense of anxiety about things, but those episodes are coming on a less frequent basis.  What's been helping is the realization of just how unhappy I was in my (now) former life.  I bemoan no one and nothing, but the fact is that I felt somewhat vacant at work for a while now.  "Vacant" in the sense that I knew I wasn't doing my best work because of not feeling connected or motivated.  I could, somewhat rightfully, claim that I was starved for challenging assignments, but that's at best an unfair statement; at my level, I shouldn't be waiting for assignments anyway.  No, as I've noted in others over the years, I allowed the events of last week to occur...I did indeed see it coming...but I made the choice to do nothing about it.  In a way, the word "choice" is interesting within the context, as my inaction was itself a choice.


So the here and now is filled with learning and developing, two topics that, according to my newly revamped resume, I should be good at.  Well, I am good at it, truth be told.  I enjoy learning, and there is, in fact, much to learn.  The outplacement folks, so far, have been wonderful as well.


Two final thoughts for today's one week anniversary:


1) Rear-View - I'm proud of myself for spending virtually no time rehashing the past or ruminating over "what if" statements.  The past is done, and unless it helps me with the future, well then it's best left in a personal history book...on a shelf.


2) I Choose - I'm also proud of myself for taking the attitude that I choose my attitude.  I, and I alone, decide how I feel.  I  give that power to no one else.


3) I Get Tough - Throughout my life, I have always been at my very best when things are at their worst.  When life gets difficult, I get tough.  The harder I get pushed down, the faster I get up.  In the end, I win.  

* * * * * *

October 24, 2016

How are things going?  Well let me count the ways:

...I still suffer from some seemingly random attacks of anxiety.  The good news is that the state is hardly the majority of how I feel.  In fact, "attacks" is probably the best description, as the feeling just seems to come over me like a kind of ground fog, only to dissipate later.


...I am getting the grove of the tactics suggested by the outplacement firm.


...My resume is taking shape.


Probably the biggest lesson to date has been in the area of teamwork.  I really do have a kind of team helping me.  It's an odd feeling, of sorts for me to have, as I've never thought about myself needing help like this before.  My assumption has been that I need to...and I would have to...do this alone.  However, in the arch that is this story, I'm wrong.  And I'll gladly be wrong.  So here's to "Team Steve".  

* * * * * *


November 3, 2016

When I think about everything that has happened over the past few months, at this point one thing stands out:  I seem to be okay.  In fact, I'm mostly and fairly happy.  It all, well, doesn't make sense.  Perhaps it's a testament to how I've grown as a person; perhaps it's a testament to the power and longevity of shock.  I'm not sure.

A few revelations that seem fairly certain:


...I was not always happy at work, likely for a number of years.  That has, surprisingly, helped a lot.


...I've (mostly) gotten by the feelings of pride-fullness that filled me early on.  Hopefully, that's a permanent thing.


...The moments of anxiety continue to be fewer and far between.


Is this how it's supposed to feel when you are laid off after nearly 28 years?  More to come.



* * * * * *

November 2, 2016

Vacation time in Orlando, Florida.  We've had this time planned for a long time and, while it may seem odd to be taking a vacation during this time of quasi-uncertainty, I'm never the less glad we did (besides, the big vacation expenses have already been paid for).  The place we are staying at, the Marriott Cypress Gardens, is nothing short of beautiful.  We're here for a week.

My plan, by the way, has been to work on my "Career Plan" (I dislike the term "Marketing Plan") and polish the resume a bit more, with the idea being that I'll hit the ground running with actually looking for a new job starting early next week.  I'm both anxious and excited about the prospect.


Ever since I started taking a certain medication for sleep...about a year ago...I've been prone to very vivid dreams.  Now I'm not some new-age "dreams are windows into your soul" kind of person, but every once in a while I can sort of sense the machinery inside my head turning in the form of what I dream about.  Last night was no exception.  What I remember was being at my (former) employer and seeing visions of things changing radically, mostly nonsensical things by the way, and for whatever reason, I was back to watch.  It was if I had turned a fork in life's road and I was given the opportunity to see what was down the other path for a just a brief moment in time.  It wasn't frightening or even disturbing, and I didn't wake up in some kind of panic.  It was, though, thought-provoking.



* * * * * *

November 11, 2016

Vacation time is nearly concluded, and I can say with complete and good conscience that I wasn't obsessing over career concerns.  I did think about the thing, but it never got the level of distracting anxiety.  I did happen to get a text from a former co-worker with a tip about an opening at a local university.  After pondering it for a bit, I did actually apply, doing so ahead of my plan for such things, but it's a great opportunity that matches up well with my skills, so who knows?  If anything, this will be my first entry into the realm of managing expectations.

* * * * * *


November 15, 2016
There are times when I just wish...and I really do wish...I could just explode in a fit of rage, alone in my truck, for about 30 minutes...and then be done with it all.  I'd yell out all the anger and disappointment I feel...in myself...and it would somehow be purged for good.  It would be a grand and glorious exercise.  It would be healing.  But that's not to be, because that's simply not me.  

This morning, driving back from my once a week breakfast out ritual, I felt as if I was "this" close to an emotional outburst.  It just doesn't happen.  It's as if I'm one of those World War II-era Jeeps with a governor installed on it, so that, in my case, I can't exceed an emotional speed limit of 40 miles per hour.  It reminds me of how I felt after 9-11:  I was angry and emotional, but I just couldn't get it out.  It had to stay bottled up inside as if it's exposure to the natural world would somehow cause a catastrophe of global proportions.  

In point of fact, I am angry.  Very angry.

I'm not angry at my former employer, or my former manager.  Heck, in all likelihood they've done me a tremendous favor, and at this junction, I just can't imagine going back, in spite of how I feel.  No, I'm angry at me.  Furious at me.  Livid.  I've seen this movie time and time again:  You get older, you get soft, you get complacent, and you get expendable.  Now for some folks, well it's just bad luck.  Bad timing.  Bad karma.  But for others, the whole thing is telegraphed over time.  I saw this coming.  I really, truly did.  And I did nothing about it other than wait.

Now maybe that last sentence isn't true.  Maybe going back to school, maybe a few other things I've been doing are in preparation for that fateful day.  Maybe I'll see that in the future.  Maybe I'll never see it.

One thing I do see is what a former colleague told me the Monday (or so) after I was "retired"...she said that, while I felt bad now, I would likely feel worse.  Fast forward a few weeks, and well maybe she was right.  The thing is that I felt the "worse" part would be associated with the inevitable waiting associated with a job search, which may still be true.  Maybe though the worse part is now, that moment when I stick my toe into the pool of anger I'm feeling, only to discover that I can't just jump in and get it all over with.

* * * * * *


November 18, 2016
Not a good day.  It started with getting less than six hours of sleep last night and progressed through hours spent looking for job opportunities online.  Nothing really popped out at me, but the truly difficult part is fighting through negative feelings about this whole situation.  Feelings of wounded pride and the notion that I'll likely have to deal with at the least the perception of taking a step backward career-wise.  Feelings of, well, self-pity...for lack of a more artful way of describing what's in my head.


Perhaps this is what Connie meant when she said: "it will get worse".  

I'm fighting the negative thoughts, by the way.  "Beware of darkness" is what George Harrison wrote once, and he was, of course, right.  My lack of patience creates an enormous doorway for the darkness I will add, too.  Ironic, huh?  I've done a few things in life that required tremendous patience, yet it's still one of those things that I struggle mightily with, especially during times of stress.  And this is one of those times.

I know (and I've written about...) that God talks to us in ways we don't always sense.  In whispers, if you will, and I'm trying to remember that all of this, all that I am stewing in, is for a purpose.  A reason. I am trying to listen, and trying to remember that this is the place I need to be right now so that I can be somewhere else in the future.  I am trying to remember that I will come out the other side of this better than when I entered.

I am trying to remember that faith, well, it manages.  I just wish it wasn't so difficult at times.

* * * * * *


November 20, 2016

It's worst when I don't have a lot of structure.  That's today's micro-revelation of sorts.  I need to work on creating more structure for myself, and clearly, my enemy is sitting here, just waiting for an email to arrive with good information.  

Another revelation:  I might be angry at myself, in a way, for all of this happening.  I know, I know, there is a ton of logic behind not being angry, least of all at myself.  This happens all the time.  It's just business.  It's not about me as a person.  I get it, all of it, but part of my deep down feels like I allowed this to somehow happen.  I've seen the movie before in others...they get soft, they get complacent, they get laid off/retired.  I clearly have plenty of work to do in the negative self-talk department.


I final revelation for today:  I am truly at my very worst when I am tired.  It's as if physical tiredness creates an opening for all manner of demons to enter into my head.  It really does feel like a kind of possession.


* * * * * *


November 26, 2016

The usual roller coaster of emotions has been on the menu of late, along with turkey, stuffing, and then the rest of the typical Thanksgiving fare.  I confess to a certain degree of worry going into actual Thanksgiving, as what do you say when someone says to you "So, Steve, how's work?" or "How's the job search coming?".  I don't have good answers to either.  Fortunately, I didn't get (much of) either on Thanksgiving.

As for the actual work of finding a new job, well, part of it has been a waiting game.  I've had three potential opportunities, but nothing near even a remote "sure thing" related to either.  I also have to work on the most difficult part of all, related to job search for me:  Networking.


* * * * * *


December 3, 2016

It's been a while since I've written, but in my defense, my intent here has never been to write simply for the purpose of writing.

There has been not much action on the job search front, other than my continued diligence at looking for opportunities and for people to talk with (a.k.a. "networking").


* * * * * *


December 11, 2016

There can be no better example of relativity than what is experienced by someone in the space between jobs.  Time just operates differently.  I'm sure there is a Genius Grant waiting for just such a study.

As Christmas approaches, I'm probably looking at something of a lull in the job search work, which is something of a misnomer in that it's not exactly a 9 to 5 endeavor to being with.  Yes, finding a job is a full-time occupation, but it's just that, for some folks, there isn't full-time work required for the task.  For me, I'd end up having to pick random people out of my high school yearbook for networking purposes in order to spend all of my time doing this work, and for what end?  I'm actually somewhat convinced that part of whole "networking thing" is primarily designed to give job seekers something active to do, lest they go completely bonkers while looking for employment.


Since it's nearly 11pm on a Sunday and I'm into revelations at the moment, here's another one:  I find this whole time, this space between jobs, to be somewhat humiliating.  If you've ever been in this position you will know what I mean.  It's particularly difficult for me, not necessarily because I have an outsized ego, but actually because of the opposite:  I don't have much of one, so things that do take away from it, from my identity, seem to hurt even more.  Very dramatic, I know.  But also very true.  I'm the kid from the housing project that made something of himself...that narrative changes if I, well, fail to make something of myself.



* * * * * * 

Ago Gratias | Team Steve
I've written this as a journal of a journey, and I can think of no better way to end it than with thanks.  Specifically, I give thanks (Ago Gratias) to all those who have helped me along the way, those folks who have been on my team, especially these wonderful individuals -

Allan, my partner in crime, for checking in on me early on & for his hospitality.


Connie, for helping talk me "off the ledge" (figuratively speaking) early on.


Jean, for her gift of time, key advice, and calm demeanor.


Luke, for being there at the very beginning when I needed help.


My daughters (Katrina, Korin, and Becca), for reminding me that the most important title I will ever have is "Dad", and no matter what I do professionally, my personal legacy of success lives in them.


Robin (and the rest of the staff at Lee Hecht Harrison), for being consummate professionals and wonderful coaches in this endeavor.


Sue, for the pep talk, when I needed it most.


...and Linda, Sean, Danielle, Mary, Jen, Nadine, and countless others who have reached out to me, simply because they cared.


And Most Especially...

...my wife & chief proof-reader, Chris Rivers, for caring, for standing by me, for being my biggest fan, for never doubting me for a moment (especially when I may have doubted myself).  You're the other half of my sky.






Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Buy Some Books!

I don't advertise any products on this website.  Now the stated reason for that policy is that I don't want to ever be in a position to seemingly endorse something by proxy.  Sounds nice and haughty, doesn't it?  One of the other (a.k.a. the "real") reasons is that I just can't be bothered setting things up, monitoring advertisements, etc.  I'm just not that ambitious for what that could ever possibly yield me in terms of money.  Regardless of the reason though, know for a fact that when I do suggest something, well, it's worth it.  That brings me to two books.



Beyond the Pink Ribbon
by Michele Orrson

You can read Michele's announcement about the book HERE on her blog.  By the way, I actually interviewed Michele for this blog in 2014; that posting can be found HERE.

I've known Michele for a long time.  We both started at our mutual (former) employer at around the same time and coincidentally ended up becoming surprised mock-retirees (we're both too young to be "actual" retirees) within a year or so of each other.  The word "smart" doesn't even begin to describe Michele.  I remember being in meeting with Michele back in the 1990s thinking "oh crap, I guess I need to be on my A-game because she's too smart to pull a fast one on...".

Michele has a compelling story from a health and life perspective, and I'm glad to say that I own 4 copies of Beyond the Pink Ribbon myself.  You should own a copy or two as well.

(Beyond the Pink Ribbon is also endorsed by my cat, Jean Luc)


Living in the Sky
by Elizabeth Rivers

I can't say that I've known Liz Rivers for nearly as long as I've known Michele Orrson, but I can say that I've known her oldest daughter for a few years.  That oldest daughter would be my wife, "Ms. Rivers", as referenced many times throughout this blog.  In addition to being my mother-in-law, she is also a published poet (see above) and the former Poet Laureate for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

As if being a poet laureate and producer of one of my favorite people in the whole world wasn't enough, Liz is also my partner for an annual hike up to Ricketts Glen State Park.

(October 2018)

If you're not impressed by the whole "hike up to Ricketts Glen" then you've obviously never been there yourself.  You will, however, be impressed by her writing.

You can read more about Liz Rivers HERE.  You can buy her most recent book HERE.



Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Poetry in the Scranton School District


Call this one something of a nearly perfect* avatar for an operationally and ethically challenged school district.  Yes, apparently the Scranton School District has a vermin problem, over and above that which currently exists at the Administration Building.

(photo from Wikipedia)
The commentary in this case basically just writes itself.

On a more serious note, this actually is a serious problem.  One of my first real jobs in life was working in a summer camp kitchen, where one of my duties was emptying and re-setting mouse traps.  From that experience I learned three things:
  1. Mouse traps DO NOT catch mice by their tails.  
  2. There is never a shortage of mice.
  3. Mice only stay when there is something for them to eat.
I really do hope that the SSD can manage to at least solve this one problem, which is arguably more difficult than finding a copy of a (no-bid) busing contract.

Finally, the idea of glue traps being used to catch mice bothers me.  It just seems like a very inhumane way to dispose of the critters.  I know that there likely aren't too many alternatives, but it still does bother me. 



(*) A more perfect avatar would be the Scranton School District having a rat problem.  Oh, wait, perhaps it does.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

As Irish as Paddy's Pig

When my daughters were younger, I used to tell them that everyone but them was Irish on St. Patrick's Day.  They knew that wasn't true, by the way, mostly because their great-grandmother was about as Irish as Paddy's pig.  Part of that was just a Dad trying to be a smart-alec.  That part they got, all too well.  Another part of it was the fact that, for a variety of reasons, I just wasn't really all that fond of being any part Irish.  I know, that's an unpopular thing to say in these parts, but growing up was tough (side note, you can read another growing up story, this time about my wife, HERE), and there just wasn't all that much to be proud of, Irish or not.

Fast forward to the present, and thanks to the miracle of modern genomic testing, well, I might have been really lying to my kids. 


Yeah, well, it gets better...


Now there is a bit of face-saving here in the fact that I also have a strong genetic link to England, specifically London...


The testing, at this stage, can't tell the difference between the British and Irish parts of my genetic code.  I know, that probably sounds like blasphemy to any green-blooded Irishman, but this stuff gets more sophisticated all the time, so who knows what they will be able to tell me in the future.

As a kind of final note, I do read where some folks have concerns about their genetic data being used by pharmaceutical companies and law enforcement.  To that I offer I following:  I don't really care.  Well, I do care in a positive sort of way in that if my bits-n-pieces of genetic data can be used to help identify disease treatments, well, I'm all in.  As for law enforcement, well, last time I checked getting in fights with your siblings wasn't something that was prosecuted using DNA evidence, so call me unconcerned at this stage.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Crime Pays (Scranton Edition)

Preface:  I don't normally mention people by name in this blog when I am being critical, usually referring to by their position or a pronoun.  That rule is being put aside for this very special case.

* * * * * *


As reported in the local media, the former Chief Financial Officer for the Scranton School District, (SSD) one Greg Sunday, recently entered into plea agreement related to acceptance of free automobile repairs from a pseudo-district mechanic.  The repairs totaled over $8,000.  Mr. Sunday is also implicated in similar repairs being made for others connected to the SSD. An article related to this story can be found HERE.

Details of the plea arrangement, agreed to by the presiding judge, are as follows:
  • He pleads guilty to a lesser charge 
  • He will need to make restitution for the amount of the repairs
  • He will receive probation for 3 years
  • He must continue to cooperate with officials who are actively investigating the SSD 
You can read a short piece of the plea deal HERE.

What's particularly important to note that Mr. Sunday will continue to receive his $70,000+ per year pension.

Details above noted, this whole arrangement is despicable.  Mr. Sunday is effectively getting away with fraud and theft with the smallest of slaps on the wrist.  He will no doubt move on after this whole sordid affair and relocate to Florida, where he will enjoy his publicly funded retirement (he is not even 60 years old) in anonymity. 

Mr. Sunday said that he was "lackadaisical and complacent" in his actions.  That's infuriating.  Is that what white-collar criminals call stealing these days?   The restitution he will be making basically amounts to an interest-free, multi-year loan for car repairs.  Go down to your local auto repair shop and see if you can arrange such a deal for yourself.  

Had Mr. Sunday been an 18-year-old who used a shank to steal $150 from a local quickie mart he would be in jail now.  

In theory, Mr. Sunday is cooperating with law enforcement to nab others who similarly received free car repairs.  I would call these "bigger fish", but the reality is that as CFO, there were few in the SSD "bigger" than he was.  What is the likelihood that these other "fish", once charged, will also cop to plea deals?  We shall see.  

In the interim, I offer the following closing thought: Greg Sunday got away with theft (the SSD paying for car repairs), conspiracy (his work in approving similar repairs for others) and lying (to the press, to Scranton taxpayers), and effectively pays no real, substantial price for his actions.  Justice has failed taxpayers in Scranton.  

Monday, March 4, 2019

Moving Books


Over the course of about three weeks, I've moved about 30 or so of my own books from my work office to my home office.  In the interests of not having to haul tons of stuff all at once, it was simply easier to do it in small batches.  I actually have some other of my own personal material to move back, but the heavy lifting, if you want to literally call it that, is mostly done.

There are a couple of "why's" behind this work.  The easiest one is also the simplest one:  My responsibilities at work have changed pretty dramatically over the past 8 or so months, and now I just don't need any books at work.  It's actually kind of sad to say that, as I've acquired a ton of books over the years, all in service of my own professional (and personal) growth as well as serving as a reference for my day job.  Nowadays, I would simply stare at the books at work, knowing that they were just taking up (work) office space.  I'm a firm believer that "book" should be a verb, as books are best when actively used, not sitting on a shelf as a reminder of past professional glory.  These days, well, my work is far more process-related than anything else.

By the way, some of the books (note Emotional Intelligence by Dan Goleman) represent almost pivotal moments in my professional development.  I look at that and immediately think of 2010.  Other books are like a kind of "spoils of war" from my graduate degree (Handbook of Employee Benefits, for example).  Granted that I don't necessarily reference these books all the time, but it's almost comforting having them near.

Anyway, there are other reasons for moving the books back as well, some of which just don't make for an interesting blog.  Maybe that will come to light in the weeks to come.  We'll see.  In the interim, it's nice to be surrounded by my literary friends at home.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Scranton's St. Patrick's Day Parade...


...is on Saturday, March 9th.  Nothing says "Family Friendly Event" quite like people getting drunk at 10am.  For the record, it's 10am because many years ago the local District Attorney had to request that bar owners not start to serve alcohol in the 7-8am range.

Just to get it out of the way, I basically don't drink alcohol.  I may have a glass of champagne on a special occasion, but that's about it.  That noted I'm not anti-drinking; the feeling of being drunk and then hung-over just doesn't appeal to me.  None of that's really relevant here though, because the real issue I have with the Scranton St. Patrick's Day Parade is the notion that it's touted as a "Family Friendly" event.  It's not.


I know people who enjoy the parade and related activities, and for them, the good out-weights the bad.  Let's just be honest about parade day though:  It's disproportionately about alcohol consumption.  For some that borders on cute.  For the guy who almost got run over by a pickup truck as he drunkenly waltzed down Mulberry Stree?  Maybe not so much.

If you're going to the parade next Saturday, well, enjoy yourself and be careful out there.  As I have advised out of town visitors coming for the parade, watch where you step, because you never know what (or who) may be in the gutter in front of you.