Category Archives: The Bad

My view from the unemployment line

The view from the unemployment line is the view from my kitchen table. My little office space I carved out in our home since I was laid off from the newspaper a few weeks ago.

When I’m confused over some bureaucratic issue involving the now-online claim filing process, the computer screen stares blankly back at me. Which is probably the same look I’d get if I spoke to an actual person. I’m basing this solely on my past experiences with the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles.

The process of filing an unemployment insurance claim is not that bad, though like most government forms these days, the main goal seems to be figuring out if I’m a documented citizen who is able to work in the United States. I can’t tell you how many different ways I was asked this question with little digital check boxes to assure them I’m indeed a red-blooded American able and allowed to work here.

God forbid one of my wonderful foreign friends working in the United States on a green card ever gets laid off. I just don’t see how you’d ever navigate the system.

Like most government entities, the single phone line at the Montana unemployment office is always busy. I’ve found that asking other unemployed people questions about earning freelance wages on top of what I get from unemployment insurance to be the best way to navigate the system.

And there is no shortage of people who have a lot of experience figuring out unemployment in this town and across the country.

I think the best thing about my view from the unemployment line is that my four-year-old daughter is sitting right next to me learning how to write her name while I figure out the claim and fill in my job hunting requirements for the week.

Bureaucracy is somewhat more tolerable when a cherub-faced little girl asks you to help her write her Gs, then the sustained sadness of a place synonymous with downcast men in fedoras and trench coats since the 1930s.

In some ways, the digital process makes it feel a bit more unreal. Lines are real, forms are real, bureaucratic-minded workers who are always five minutes from their next break are all too real. Telling a form that I’m American and can work here and have been laid off and where the next screen flashes your approved amount almost instantly still is a bit unreal.

But I’ll take it, process and all.

See you in the unemployment line next week.


Bottling 55 gallons of Belgian brown ale.

How I spent my Sunday

Beer waits for no man. And when we brewed this dark, Belgian beauty it was months and months before I  was laid off. It sat for a long time in a French oak merlot barrel soaking up tannins and wine acids, while we went about our business. Well, today was our date with destiny, a long and arduous destiny with what seemed like a million brown and green bottles in the Lewis/McBryde Casa. Sometimes I like the continuous and traditional aspect of beer and the process of brewing and fermenting. It’s unshakable and never changes at all, and yet you end up with something amazing every time.



Walking the wrong way on an escalator and "Red Dawn" dreams

I received my severance package today, though I don’t necessarily think that package is the right word for enough cash to get you through one month.

But I paid this month’s mortgage and put another mortgage payment in savings, which left us with enough to keep the lights and heat on for the same amount of time. Here’s hoping for a warm fall.

I’ll get into the nightmare of navigating the unemployment aid system in another post. I’m still reflecting on its vagaries and endless bureaucratic labyrinths.

There is something very terrifying about that remaining number on your bank ledger. Knowing that it’s fairly final, and you won’t see it that high again for an undetermined amount of time. But it also plays into the adventure side of things. I’ve often wondered about our resiliency in tough times.

Everyone talks about putting away six months of living expenses so you can get through those troughs in life. But every time you reach a big milepost, it seems to cost you your six month savings. Buy a new car or make a down payment on a house. Pay a large hospital bill or a surgery for a beloved pet, and poof, there it goes.

Out of everyone I know, I’d be willing to bet maybe one or two actually have the luxury of sitting on six months worth of living expenses. We certainly don’t.

I have “Red Dawn” dreams. Those end-of-the-world apocalyptic, the-Commies-are-coming sort of dreams where city slickers have to re adapt to the wilds and living off the land. Last year my wife and I did a caveman diet, where we tried to eat mostly meats, nuts and raw fruits and veggies. It’s almost impossible to do this anymore.

A layoff doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be eking out a living on mushrooms and goat milk with dirty faced children running around our mountain outpost, but seeing the remains of your working life summed up in a few numbers next to a dollar sign makes you think about what’s over that precipice that we’re trying to stay away from like kids walking the wrong way on an escalator.


A little righteous indignation goes a long way, and I don’t want a new career

Went for a run with my buddy Jon in the beautiful North Hills of Missoula this morning. It’s a great dumping ground for a lot of life’s problems. They just don’t seem to stand up against the early morning beauty of the trails, the cool air and the mountain vistas.

Jon is a good filter too. Letting the frivolous stuff fall through and managing to retain the nuggets that he often relays back to me in technicolor through his own rich perspective.

Today’s run topics were anger and how not to let go of a dream.

Anger because there is a sense of righteous indignation one feels when their livelihood is taken away, and it’s tricky to balance that anger and focus it into something positive as opposed to the naked anger of a bruised ego that might turn into a hatred of those individuals one perceives to be responsible for taking away one’s livelihood.

Executioners no longer wear masks, but it doesn’t mean we’re permitted to blame them for pulling the trigger. However, a righteous anger at a rotten situation can serve to build a fire of purpose under one’s rear end.

My complaint to Jon was that I want to make sure I’m a practitioner of a good and healthy anger rather than a hateful and vengeful anger. As in there is already enough destruction here, so let’s be a builder rather than a wrecking ball.

The second portion of our run, conveniently when I’m most out of breath, centered on the topic of how not to let a dream go, or more pointedly, how to politely tell people that while you appreciate their offer to go to work as a receptionist at their dog-grooming clinic, your dream remains intact.

This is a bigger issue than I imagined. From initial texts encouraging me to look at the bright side and all the new options that are available to “It’s a brand-new day for you!” I was a bit overwhelmed by the offers of employment from almost every vocational possibility.

My problem is that I don’t like to make people feel bad, and I find it difficult to explain to people that I didn’t study journalism in school for four years to take a sales job. That just sounds mean to me, especially in a climate where good jobs are so difficult to find.

As my resume has at times shown, I’ve worked a lot of jobs. From bus driver to barista and oil change expert to contractor, I hold dozens of certificates and a lot of forgotten experience.

But I view most of that as the proving grounds on which my writing career would rise or fail.

Journalism, aside from being the perfect solution to my life-long desire to watch people and catalog human behavior, was a great way to write every day and to learn to pay attention to details and grammar and spelling.

While only one of many writing disciplines, journalism fulfilled many of my desires in a creative and fun career.

This blog can’t possibly convey all my feelings about journalism, but I wanted to point out that all the job offers and promises of keeping an eye open for me are completely meaningful and appreciated.

And many careers are honorable and even desirable, but I’m just not ready to give up the dream yet.


Are you ready for the next adventure?

The phone call came at a little after 2 p.m. on the Monday before Labor Day. I glanced down from my computer screen to see my boss’s name flashing across my phone’s small display in large digital type.

It was at that instant I realized something was wrong. My boss often had meetings on Mondays and rarely came in. In fact, I realized she was in the office before I was that day. Like puzzle pieces falling into place or a mystery about to be revealed, I watched something flash before my eyes.

I picked up the receiver, and she said, “Can you come to my office, we want to talk to you.”

Sheer dread as I laid the receiver down.

I grabbed my notebook and a pen just for appearances, then everything went numb, the lights dimmed a little, and a sort of low-grade buzz developed in my ears. Probably high blood pressure, or so I’m told.

I didn’t hear much of the actual layoff. A few words. Your position, luxury, cutbacks, budget, sorry. Whatever.

Just tried to hold still and breathe through it like you do on the first drop on a big roller coaster.

It’s strange to just let go of everything you were working on, a load that is almost unbearable at times is now a pile of useless rubble, as there is no one else in the world who could possibly pick up where you left off. Or so you tell yourself.

Cleaned out a few things I wanted on my computer, handed over my key card and my company credit card and walked out.

A brief conversation with a former co worker in the parking lot got me thinking about this job as my past for the first time, and by the time I started the car and dialed in my wife’s phone number on the cell phone, I had a handle on the fact that I was just laid off.

Thanks God for kids, a wife and a mortgage. When you are forced out of a career that is so much more than a career, it’s good therapy to have to consider others over yourself.

My mind raced as I waited for my wife to pick up the phone. In those split seconds I was analyzing my reaction, the few questions my former employers asked and the future all at once. I saw it all go down again, but this time I was sitting on the window sill watching the boss and her layoff assistant struggle between pity and remorse. Or maybe I just thought that.

I found myself thinking about opportunities and excuses all at once. Some sort of apology I could give my wife for my failure before she would have a chance to think it.

I was beyond feeling sorry for myself and not once did I feel the embarrassment some thought I should feel. Bewildered but not surprised, I reached a conclusion that I had known this all along and that I had not planned accordingly. Whatever one needs to tell one’s self, I guess.

– Hi babe, how are you?
-Are you ready for the next adventure?

The Left and Leaving

“All this time lingers, undefined. Someone choose who’s left and who’s leaving. Memory will rust and erode into lists of all that you gave me: some matches, a blanket, this pain in my chest, the best parts of Lonely, duct-tape and soldered wires, new words for old desires, and every birthday card I threw away. I wait in 4/4 time. Count yellow highway lines that you’re relying on to lead you home.” ~ Jon K. Sampson of the Weakerthans

This song sums up journalism so much for me. Of course for Mr. Sampson it seems to sum up his experience playing a hometown venue or some such meaningful place. Songs are beautiful for the fact that they can produce so many different meanings and emotions for different people.

If I had to make a list of all that journalism gave me, it would look and sound an awful lot like what the soldiers had in Tim O’Brian’s “The Things They Carried.” Journalism, like few other jobs, packs an emotional wallop and leaves you both humbled and under the burden of a weight most would not choose to carry.

For the last five years I’ve watched those who left, those who are leaving and those who were given the boot reach blessed obscurity, though I know no one who’d actually call it that.

They were the best and the brightest, the innovators and the ones who would not, could not toe the line. Today they are blessing others with their prowess, their imagination and limitless ideas. I miss them.

Today I’m counting yellow highway lines and relying on them to help me find a home.