What’s Broken

On Cass Avenue in Detroit, the parking meter screen is dark, blank.

No city budget. No city democracy.

No parking tickets to be given, or attendants, anyway.

Some broken things, like this limping city, have their advantages.

In “Cadillac Place,” former GM World Headquarters, lives:

The Unemployment Insurance Agency Problem Resolution Office.

This is where poor souls come, when –

(1) hours of telephone holds, (2) weeks-unanswered emails, (3) and
plain old howling at the moon has not resulted in resolved problems.

The marble corridor opens up like a cold tunnel,

Ornate mosaics glittering down from the arched ceiling.

Only the state seems to take up residence here:

Secretary of State, and other places of slow, inefficient state business.

Broken, largely vacant paean to Motor City glories past.

A spacious relic of a more assured time.

12 golden elevators, lined up six on each side of the corridor.

Only two of them ever open and close, ding bells and flash lights for service.

Near the grand front entrance is the UIA PRO – as it likes to be called.

What a strange greeting at the front door of this glorious place.

Facing “Grand Boulevard.” At least in theory, everything about it is grand.

In the office, there are 10 service cubicles. Only one is populated.

One person on duty to help this roomful of out-of-work souls.

One security guard, one person of unknown duty also sitting near the front door.

Endlessly repeating video instructions on an overhead monitor.

“Now Serving” sign stuck at 512.

Placed in my hand, ticket 597.

For a full 30 minutes, the numbers on the red screen don’t change,

But the crowd continues to dwindle.

Odd announcements are made on occasion. It’s a weird, slightly criminal,

Highly surveilled kind of atmosphere.

“If you have to go to the bathroom, check the parking meter, make a phone call, go shopping, do it now.”

Suspicious scent in the air. People in waiting seats stare at the carpet, or stay mesmerized by smartphones.

The woman at the desk lifts her nose to the air every now and then,

As if to detect its presence.

“Last day of work?” heard over, and over, and over again.

For my own case, stuck in a familiar limbo:

“School Denial Period.” Could take months to resolve.

A statute intended for school bus drivers and crossing guards,

Who might sneakily try to claim benefits for a seasonal job.

Somehow, inexplicably, accidentally applied to college professors.

I’ve heard it all before. It’s an office mistake, but one I’ll have to accept.

No easy answers to be given or had.

“I’ve helped you with everything I can today.”

Helped?

Huh.

Okay.

I return to my Jeep,

Parked on the street,

Happy that, at least,

I don’t have a parking ticket,

From the broken machine.

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Growth

growth

Three days and some heavy rainfall bring bushy tomato plants, tiny peppers and tomatoes, and blossoms popping out everywhere.

I can’t believe it’s all changed this much since Saturday.

Petunias and moss roses spread and bloom over. I kneel at the side of my community garden bed, and deadhead the plants so more flowers can grow. The bursts of colors from those plants, the zinnia and nasturtium, lighten my sullen mood as I carefully part their leaves, pulling small weeds out here and there.

The sun cover is already getting so dense that fewer and fewer weeds are there every time I visit. Hardy basil sprouts are pushing fast out through the ground, trying to compete with the spreading tomato leaves for those precious shafts of sunlight.

I wipe the dirt from my hands, and look over at my two ecstatic dogs. Tethered together on the bench conveniently placed right next to our plot, they actually smile into the sun, panting out their curled-tongue approval of this lifestyle.

No worries here for them, they seem to say. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Save a few restless neighbors who come and go at all hours, the occasional squirrel, and that guy who hunts and keeps two howling beagles – they’re doing just fine, thank you very much.

My movement too, today, points out towards the sun. It’s June 25, and the summer solstice just passed, so the earth is as far-tilt towards the sun as it’s ever going to get. Sneaks up on you each year, it seems. This shift. Seems strange always that it coincides with the beginning of summer, rather than the climax of it, and on each day after, the planet tilts back. At tiny degrees for the next six months.

For us, a time for wandering. Going places and seeing things. Time to grow and thrive.

No watering needed today. One month in, the garden’s already looking overgrown. Lush and filling in like a good garden should.

So, I sit on the bench and place a call to the state unemployment office. Benefits delayed for no good reason. Administrative red tape, and a hold message. I take a deep breath, and feel lucky that this isn’t urgent yet. I’m good for a couple months, thanks to some frugal planning.

“High call volume … call again later … go online …”

Sigh. Again. I grow, just a little, with every small moment like this. Feel frustration, worry. Breathe. Find self-assurance and confidence again. Dial the pound sign one last time for today, get the same message, then hang up the phone.

A bonus, this temporary help. Yes? Yes. If you can ever pry it from their cold, phone-game playing fingers, that is.

Inching up, stretching. Growing.

With two hours to spare, I herd my two dogs back into the Jeep, and head for the beach.

25 minutes away = the Lake Erie shore.

The state park there has been a happy landing spot for me for almost three years, after rediscovering the love of it from my childhood trips. It’s open and free, it’s beautiful, and it’s a place I haven’t seen since last fall, when the pieces of my life seemed more comfortably in place. And each day was an easier celebration.

So, we go. Half a back-road trip, an impatient jump onto the freeway, and we are there. Snake crossing signs and boat launches, lagoons and great blue herons.

The dogs poke their wet noses out gaps in the Jeep windows. They breathe deeply the overgrown smell of vines and dirt and lake water that floats around this southeast corner of our state.

My two-year-old dog knows the place. He shivers with excitement, and scratches at the windows.

The puppy is here for the first time. He barks along with his brother and probably wonders what all the fuss is about.

I smile towards the high lake-line as it comes into view. Yes, there it is. Still there. So good to see it again. Been too long.

Gathering my thoughts from the drive, the dogs, my camera and notebook, I walk across the parking lot toward the beach.

I sit down at a picnic table and begin to write.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

Today I stumbled across a job posting for the Produce Station in Ann Arbor.

I’ve actually daydreamed about working there before. Hmm. Didn’t hurt to put in an application, anyway.

In case this whole “I wanna be a professor or journalist” thing doesn’t pan out.

One more electronic version of me and my skills, pushed out there into the world.

Huzzah!

Feels better every time I do it.

http://www.producestation.com/

Cover Letters (Don’t Have To) Suck

The decision was made: on a gloriously sunny and gorgeous Sunday afternoon.

I’m going to apply to the Louisville Courier-Journal. I daydreamed about it, all day. And it feels great. No matter what happens, this is movement. This is fun. And I am beginning to trust, step by step, that I’ll find something good.

Full Strawberry moon today. A super moon and the summer solstice.

A little bit of magic?

Maybe. I’d like to believe in that sort of thing.

Comments and critiques on my letter welcomed and encouraged. I’m going to send it out tomorrow. Think it’s too wordy? Too touchy-feely? Too .. whatever? Jump in and let me hear you.

THE AD:

“The Courier-Journal, a large metropolitan daily, in Louisville, KY, is looking for an Assistant Metro Editor to help supervise their Metro staff in Louisville. To plan and direct coverage, make assignments, edit stories and evaluate the work of reporters. Shift would be Tuesdays through Saturdays, including overseeing the Metro Desk each Saturday. Online applications accepted.”

THE LETTER:

Dear Michael:

I’m writing to you with the hope that the Courier-Journal’s assistant metro editor position is still open. Last weekend, I returned to Michigan from yet another week in Louisville. I’ve visited the city for 10 years running, for cultural events, academic conferences, and AP exam grading weeks. Each time I visit the city, I become more attached to the view of the Ohio River, varied and lively neighborhoods, and creative mix of urban grittiness and 21st century rebirth that Louisville offers. In these elements it bears some resemblance to my dear Detroit, and I’ve realized over time that it’s this post-industrial feel that makes the city already feel like another home to me.

It is in this spirit that I am writing to you, as I was pleased to find the Courier-Journal job listing on journalismjobs.com. With my current academic and teaching track here in Michigan coming to a close, I am excited at the timing and prospect of returning to my first career track in journalism, with a reputed and well-respected metro daily like the Courier-Journal.

While I do understand that seeing “Instructor” on the first two lines of an applicant’s resume might not convince you that the document belongs to the most promising candidate, please consider first how 12 years in the college classroom prepared me to meet the challenges of an energetic and eclectic writing staff. With weekly deadlines and regular assignments, personalities galore and new challenges every day, I found that classroom teaching brought the speed, accuracy, and responsiveness of my work to a new level over the years. In addition, my former editing and reporting experience would be a valuable asset if I were asked to fill this position. Truly, I’ve never stopped working as a journalist – telling stories through words and pictures. Since leaving my last writing/editing job at a monthly magazine, I’ve fed my inner reporter (without a paycheck) through regular writing and photography in many different genres. I’d be delighted to have the chance to work again as an editor at the Courier-Journal, and in a city that I already know and love.

Thank you for your time and consideration. For more specific information about my professional and educational qualifications, also see my resume attached to this application letter. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at ___________, or ___________.

Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?

startRestlessness.

Ah. It feels so … restless.

Profound, I am.

So, officially almost a week in, I am officially getting tired of thinking about where I will be in the near future, and what I will be doing. I go to sleep thinking about it. Wake up doing the same. Trust me, there are many much more interesting things I’d rather be thinking about as I close and open my eyes than my career. Really.

Time is coming to do, not think. At least, not quite so much. Just go. Do. Be.

However.

First, there’s some really big thinking to do. On questions such as, “Should I stay, or should I go?”

I finally let myself start looking at out-of-state job ads last week. The in-state ones were too flat and depressing. Anyone who knows what’s been going on in our state (as well as many others here in the U.S., unfortunately) can attest to a weak job market for anything remotely creative. And while I’m not opposed to landing a good solid job doing manual labor or whatever (shout out to blue-collar roots), I’m quite unlikely to land those jobs. My blue-collar roots are hard to see underneath years of education and professional experience (fortunately? unfortunately? depends on when and why you ask me).

Therefore, the question: should I stay, or should I go?

A quick preliminary list of pluses and minuses:

STAY: family

GO: job market

STAY: friends

GO: we’re all online all the time, anyway

STAY: love life.

GO: love life (have love, will travel)

STAY: beautiful Michigan

GO: deflated Michigan

STAY: comfort and familiarity

GO: ditto

STAY: Zingerman’s, Dominick’s, Mr. Spots, Michigan basketball, Belleville Lake, Huron River, the Great Lakes

GO: all other comparable outdoor, athletic, and culinary adventures

STAY: I’m committed to my home state

GO: sometimes commitments, honored too long, are not good for us.

To be continued. At the very least, doing that list was a bit fun and cathartic.

Back to not giving a damn about what’s to come. At least, for a bit of the weekend.

Courage

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.

It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.

You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

 

~ Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird