Wednesday, December 13, 2006

“First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”
- Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glen Ross

Those of you who’ve noticed by absence from the blogosphere may have wondered where I’ve been and why I haven’t been updating Water Dissolves Water. The truth is, there’s been a lot going on, but frankly, I’ve been too timid to even talk about it, much less blog about it.

I’ve found it difficult to tell friends what’s happened. I’ve found it difficult to admit to myself what has happened. Hell, I’m even having a hard time now putting it into words, but here I go:

I've drawn third prize. I’ve lost my job.

Or, as the Termination Agreement puts it, my employer and I came to a mutual decision that it was in both of our best interests to part ways.

Not knowing who all reads this blog, I had initially decided not to talk about it here. After all, I might somehow jeopardize my chances for a new position by talking about it too publicly. I might add more grist to some imaginary rumor mill (a small part of my mind still imagines that all conversations at which I'm not present are somehow about me). But the more I looked at my motivations, the more I realized that it was just foolish pride that was keeping me from admitting what had happened.

As Tom Wolfe relates in A Man In Full:

“Let’s think about real life for a second. Let’s think about a situation in which you lose everything . . . you lose everything! You see what I’m saying? You lose everything, the house where you live, your income, your cars – everything. You’re out on the street. You don’t know where your next meal’s coming from. What good does a lot of high-sounding ideals mean then?”

The boy said, “Many of Epictetus’ disciples asked him that exact same thing, and you know what he told them?”

“No, what?”

“Have you ever seen an old beggar?” The kid’s eyes were boring right into him.

“You’re asking me?”


“Sure I have,” said Charlie, “plenty of them.”

“See? They’ve gotten by,” said the boy. “They’ve managed to get food to eat, 365 days a year, probably. They’re not starving. What makes you think they can all find food, and you wouldn’t be able to?”

“What kinda consolation is that supposed to be? I’d rather die than go around with a cup in my hand.”

The boy smiled, and his eyes brightened. “Epictetus talks about exactly that, Mr. Croker. He says, ‘You’re not afraid of starving, you’re afraid of losing face.”
And for me, that’s really what it came down to – fear of losing face. Embarrassment at admitting my unemployment. I’ve been continuously, full-time employed since September 1980, and have left every job during those years entirely of my own volition. For years, my profession was a large part of my self identity, until Zen finally got me out of that trap, but now I find myself in a new and somewhat uncomfortable position – out of work and looking for new employment.

There’s really nothing for me to worry about. I was given a most generous severance package – sixteen weeks salary plus six more weeks of unused vacation. It’s not like I’m going to starve anytime soon. In fact, if I find a new job within the next 22 weeks or so, I might even realize a financial windfall.

In addition, I’m now wrapping up some of my old projects on an hourly basis, getting paid at my old salary times 1.5. And yet my mind, conditioned to worry and unconditioned to not being in control, keeps fantasizing nightmare scenarios of the worse that could happen.

“Charlie closed his eyes and tried to imagine it. He’s out on the street. What street? Blackland Road? All he’d get there would be an occasional puff of BMW fumes or a piece of gravel dislodged from a tire tread. So where? Peachtree Street? Nobody even walks on Peachtree Street, and so who’s going to stop his Mercedes or Infiniti to give Charlie Croaker a quarter? Maybe he could take his tin cup into the parking lot at the Lenox Square mall. But they’ve probably got security personnel to chase hooples who come wandering in on foot out of there before they can hunker down on the pavement and set out their sign saying, “Please help me. Need $28 more so I can get back home to Mobile. No advice, enlightenment, or root-causes conversations, please.”
So there, I’ve said it, and I already regret the fact that over the last two weeks, when my life has finally gotten sort of interesting, I haven’t been documenting it here in my journal. Perhaps now I can change that.


jon Mayo said...


The fact is that I find myself in a similar situation. I am almost sure they are going to fire me one of these days.

But, isn't Zen exactly about kicking away habits, and concepts that keep us away from the true perception or reality and, in the end, of ourselves?

What better for that than being kicked from a job?

You are a new man now. Wandereing if its for the better or the worse is just dualistic thinking.


I might join you soon.

jon mayo said...


Just something I forgot asking you:

Has your blogging activity contributed in some way to your present situation?

It is important to me, because I keep a blog myself, and I want to know if it is a general trend among employers to see blogging by workers as a menace.