Friday, August 27, 2010

The Soundtrack of My Severance*

When something happens in my life of any significance - happy, sad, or otherwise - I cycle through the iTunes implanted in my brain and play snippets from showtunes to give words to my feelings. I never seem to know any whole song by heart so a few relevant (and remembered) lyrics start playing as a loop in my head. If I'm alone at home or in an elevator perhaps I will sing these bits out loud. I also would extract every recording I have of those songs from my computer to put them into active rotation on my iPod.

When I found out in mid July that I would no longer have a job, or that my job would soon cease to exist because of a pending merger with another company, lines from "I'm Still Here" started a rotation in my brain that lasted for days.

Good times and bum times,
I've seen them all and, my dear,
I'm still here.
Plush velvet sometimes,
Sometimes just pretzels and beer,
But I'm here.

Carlotta sings the song in Stephen Sondheim's "Follies." She's an ex-showgirl and a D-A-M-E. She's been around the block and - although her feet are tired - she is indomitable. She ends the song, which is really a "fuck you" anthem for indefatigable, with a defiant declaration.

I got through all of last year
And I'm here.
Lord knows, at least I was there,
And I'm here!
Look who's here!
I'm still here!

That mapped pretty well to my initial reaction to losing my job - rage. In fact, I didn't lose my job. That makes it sound like I misplaced my employment because I was careless. It was taken from me. Not that I loved it. It frustrated the hell out of me a lot of the time. I had gotten through re-orgs, product blunders, and clueless bosess and I still performed. I'd delivered.

To quiet that Eartha Kitt/Dolores Grey/Yvonne DeCarlo ranting in my brain, I came up with a simple mantra: Sometimes you have to be kicked out of something in order to leave it.

It's true in work and love. My last bad break up happened about six years ago. The guy dumped me. He was a tool but I would've stayed in that relationship and entertained delusions of longevity. So he did me a painful favor by ending it.

Sometimes you have to be kicked out of something to leave it

A couple of weeks passed between notification and the merger close date where I was still an employee although I had little to do except pack up my cubicle into boxes and shuttle them home. It was at that point that my accompaniment turned morose. That's when I reached out to Miss Peggy Lee and her version of a song that starts with a child's house burning to the ground.

I remember when I was a girl
Our house caught on fire
And I'll never forget the look on my father's face
As he gathered me in his arms
And raced to the burning building out on the pavement
And I stood there shivering
And watched the whole world go up in flames
And when it was all over I said to myself
Is that all there is to a fire?
Is that all there is?

I did not know that song very well and I didn't already own it, so I bought it. I made a Bloody Mary at the kitchen counter as I downloaded it. Then I played it. And re-played it. And re-played that song that was a lot like a dancehall dirge.

Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

One might interpret this song as a cry of help. I see it as someone who, like Carlotta in "Follies," remains defiant although depression has replaced the anger. Also a level of acceptance has seeped into the message. If that's as bad or good as life gets then fuck you and pour me another drink.

Word got out and people would come by or telephone to offer condolences, which I refused by repeating my mantra to them: Sometimes you have to be kicked out of something to leave it. I said it to them. I said it to myself.

Sooner or later, I had hoped, my mantra would convince my emotions that what had happened was a positive thing.

The merger closed and I got a short email - pick up your severance package from HR and drop off your laptop with IT.

Best thing that ever could have happened

A good friend asked if, considering that I didn't have to work, if I would be taking August off. It had never occurred to me that I had that option. Meaning that I had the choice of not worrying about finding that next job. Adding up my severance and payout for unused PTO, I had four or five months of income to use up before my unemployment turned chronic.

There gotta be endings
Or there wouldn't be beginnings —

These lyrics from "Now You Know" (from another Sondheim show - "Merrily We Roll Along") overtook the other songs running through my head. This was when acceptance met empowerment.

It's called flowers wilt,
It's called apples rot,
It's called theives get rich and saints get shot,
It's called God don't answer prayers a lot,
Okay, now you know.

Okay, now you know,
Now forget it.
Don't fall apart at the seams.
It's called letting go your illusions,
And don't confuse them with dreams.

That day, after considering the question of "taking August off," I began a "sabbatical." After 14-15 years of uninterrupted employment - including two recessions and surviving a half dozen layoffs, I took a break. I have been going to the movies, reading books, and finally watching those old foreign films on my DVR.

Because now you grow.
That's the killer, is
Now you grow.

This last bit reminds me to remind myself that it's the hard stuff that makes you better if you can accept it, learn what you can, and move on. The alternative it that you dwell on the unfairness and the misery until that bitterness calcifies making that sadness a permanent aspect of your thinking. I do not want to hang out with that person, much less inhabit that body.

So I got shit canned. That made me angry then sad. Now it is just something that happened to me that has given me the opportunity to rest, relax, reflect, and - soon - find some new job.

[*NOTE: A "soundtrack" is different than a "cast album." The former is for films and that latter for recordings of theater scores by the original, revival, or studio casts. I only bring this up, as this distinction is very important to some enthusiasts. To me it's the kind of esoterica that is only interesting to the person in the role of correcting another.]

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