Thursday, February 25, 2010

Former Journalist Spent On Poverty -- Seeks Sales Job -- or ANY Job, really!

By Patty Maher,

Bring on resourcefulness -- austerity even. But this poverty thing, it's got to go. I'm just not cut out for it.

I used to report about poverty for the paper newspapers. Poor urban schools, coal miners' families -- specialty subject areas of mine. I just never bargained for this deep-background-up-close-personal-experience poverty.

Poverty has taught me a thing or two about prioritizing my values and respecting others. It's had its place in my life. But like many who landed upon poverty rather suddenly when the economy took such a sorry turn, I'm ready for a new gig.

Philanthropy would be nice! Yes, that's it. I can make oodles and oodles of money and use it to forward wonderful causes and promote peace and harmony all throughout the world!

Well, OK then -- a full time job with benefits would be a great starting place. Anybody got one?

Why is everybody so silent?

Oh, I get it. You're looking for work, too.

I have a part-time job at the University of Michigan and for that job I interview people from all over the United States about their thoughts and opinions on the economy. I talk to housewives, single moms and dads, laborers, farmers, executives, senior citizens. And it's really bad out there. But you know that. You've seen the foreclosure signs on your neighbor's homes. You've seen the people with the cardboard signs at every exit ramp on the interstate offering to work for food. It's especially bad here in Michigan where we are so heavily reliant upon the auto industry.

Looking at job-hunting websites I have sometimes thought I might have to join the military in order to earn a living wage with benefits. No kidding. That is one thing that I just can't do. No disrespect to our military. I appreciate all of our soldiers. But I could never do it. The military wouldn't have me anyway because of a medical condition. They are picky that way. Don't let it scare you, however, if you happen to have a job for me.

I am one hard working lady. I got my first job when I was 13 and have been working ever since. One summer I worked two waitressing jobs and at a hair salon to put myself through college. I come from a working-class background and although I was the youngest of seven, I was the first to get a bachelor's degree. I worked as an editor on my college newspaper and was editor-and-chief one summer. Shortly after college I landed my first newspaper job -- editor of a weekly in the far-west Chicago suburbs. Then it was off to West Virginia to work as a night cops and weather reporter. Lots of flash flooding that year -- and murders. I came back to Michigan when my mother was diagnosed with cancer because I wanted to be near my family and I worked full time at newspapers up until I was dismissed from the Ann Arbor News in March 2005 without severance -- a few months before my pension would have been vested.

Getting fired took the wind out of my sails. That's a cliche. But I am a sailor and I literally stopped sailing, so I think you'll pardon me. It was just alarming for me to suddenly be told I didn't spell well enough and I made too many little mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone misspells words on deadline. Honestly, it had nothing to do with me. We had a log of errors in the computer system and other reporters whose jobs were not in jeopardy were making far more errors than me. The paper just wanted to get rid of my $52,000 job. I covered the schools on the poor side of our county where the poverty rate compares to Detroit. Those people were not buying any advertisements. I had earned $54,000 the previous year with overtime and had four weeks vacation. The Ann Arbor News never filled my position. And in July 2009 the whole dang paper folded. Everyone is scrambling for work in Michigan. Unemployed and underemployed journalists -- we are the story. The paper newspaper tradition in my state, folks, is on life support wherever it is still existent.

Today I got on the phone and started talking to sources who I have communicated with quite a bit over the years. I spoke with a former Battle Creek mayor and recalled how he was one of the first people I knew who had a national cell phone plan. He would return calls from anywhere. Once I caught him in Arizona delivering food baskets to the poor with some priest. I can recall how he was apologizing for the oranges that were sliding all around when the car turned a corner during our conversation. Cell phones were new then and it was fascinating to have this personal glimpse into a public official's every-day life. Today on the phone the former mayor recalled the cafeteria at the Battle Creek Enquirer. It was in the basement, just in front of the smoking room. Ruthie, our southern cook, made the most outstanding pies and casseroles. Those were the days. The Internet and cell phones were new and fun and exciting. We never dreamed in a few sort years we would become obsolete because of them.

I'm facing the sorrow now. I'm moving forward. In a way, it doesn't really matter what I do. That's something the Buddhists taught me. All work has value. I just want to be skillful and prosper at whatever work I can find.

To be honest with you, I haven't been looking all that hard for work until today. I have been looking here and there but I haven't really been hunting. Somehow I hadn't had the heart to. I was like a child standing at the grave site of my mother, unwilling to leave after the last shovel of dirt had been dropped, thinking somehow my feelings could will the past back into being. Or maybe I was just unwilling to let go of the grief because even though it hurt, it was somehow a connection to a past that I had loved.

I hadn't, I guess, made a decision that getting back on my feet financially is my number one priority. Maybe there was a place in my heart where I just thought it wouldn't be possible. But I hit a wall today with poverty. I made a mistake in my checking account last week and bounced a few checks. $37 fees for each check. When you work part time for $12 an hour, that's a sure sign that something has to change and fast. I can't go on like this.

So today I started SERIOUSLY networking. Networking has been thwarted by my sadness up until now. It's been so sad for me to see amazing journalist after amazing journalist take a buy out or get fired or just quietly drift off into corporate public relations. I told myself I didn't have to do it because I didn't have a mortgage or children. I could just patch work together here and there and focus on becoming more spiritual. I convinced myself there was some sort of nobility in that.

But this whole poverty thing, it's just not cutting it today. I need the stability of a full-time income. Blogging can be sort of fun when the commentary doesn't get all mean-spirited (and that's hit or miss!). It's nice to read what other writers are working on and it's nice to have other writers comment on my posts. Some former journalists can make their ends meet as freelance writers. But generally, I guess they have a spouse's income or a little nest egg to fall back on when a lean month hits.

February ended up being my last straw. Maybe just two too few pay days. I'm spent on poverty. I think I could make an excellent saleswoman if anybody has anything for me to sell.

I am seriously ready to try ANYTHING new because, at the end of the day, this is my reality: I'm making a choice between paying my rent and making my car payment unless something seriously comes my way before March 1.

Got a job?

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