I Just Must Be the Wrong Color

Not a good day.

I had my unemployment hearing today, which I have been dreading for weeks. The highlight was probably being lectured by a state unemployment judge that “reasonable” assurance of teaching the fall does not have to mean a guarantee or a contract.

Then he said, at one point: “Well, what does ‘reasonable assurance’ mean to you? So after quoting the state code in my letter–apparently this all hinges on the way I FEEL about the situation?

The HR person from the college on the other end of the conference call during the hearing has never met me, although he apparently has read all my email. I can’t begin to tell you how hurt I was that several emails of me discussing next year’s scheduling with our department head were provided as evidence that I “know” I have a job this fall, even though I’m hired on a quarter-to-quarter basis and the job depends on enrollment. I hadn’t said anything inappropriate or wrong in the emails, but my face still burned with shame when I saw them printed out in the packet of “evidence.”

After I got the packet, I immediately went back through my work inb0x to find an email I’d received from the department head telling me that all the summer classes had been “taken”–and guess what, that email wasn’t there. Even if I had accidentally deleted it, it would’ve still been in my “deleted items” folder, because I have never deleted any email since I’ve been hired.

So I have learned my first lesson about working as an adjunct: never email any colleague about anything more important than where you’re going for lunch. And immediately print out any emails that you think you might need later.

Oh, and try not to develop severe paranoia.

Because I (barely) managed to keep my emotions under control during the hearing, I’m guessing the state will not find in my favor.  I could be wrong, but I got the distinct feeling that they were waiting for me to show desperation.

I thought today about how there are some things that my pride will just not let me do or say, even though it would be in my best interest to do and say them. “Is there anything else you want to tell me?” the judge coaxed at the end. “No,” I said, in a small voice, thinking, Well, my kids are having to buy some of our groceries right now, but I couldn’t make myself say it.

“No, sir, your Honor,” the smarmy HR guy replied, as if we were all on some TV show.

I sat here at my kitchen table after I hung up the phone and stared out the window. So now I know some other things, too, I thought. The quality of my work doesn’t matter. The sacrifices I made to get the seventy miles to work last winter–the times my husband had to drive me to school in his work pickup, the night I spent at a hotel, alone, because a storm was coming and I had a 8-a.m. final scheduled the next day. None of that matters to my employer.

Not that they know any of these things, of course. I never told anyone, because–guess what–I didn’t want to seem desperate.

It’s clear that all that matters to them is the money.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about a family who raised Appy horses.  I remember they didn’t seem particularly happy about the prospect of an interview, but that’s never stopped yrs truly before, and I didn’t think too much of it.  I figured that since I enjoy talking to horse people that I could just be my charming self and win them over.

You can see what’s coming, can’t you?

We went to the barn first, since the light was fading and I wanted the chance to shoot a couple of the horses without a flash. The first thing I saw was a black colt, probably less than a year old, stalled alone in a dark corner of the barn. He was frantically calling to the other horses and racing back and forth.

He was wearing a cribbing strap around his little neck.

When I looked at the colt, it was like my head was instantly filled with crashing noise. My fillies weren’t much older than the colt at the time, and it was quite apparent to me that he was desperately unhappy.  I had as visceral a response to the wrongness of the scene as I’ve ever had in my life. It was like watching a car accident.

The female half of the husband-wife duo was yammering on about their prized three-year-old gelding who was stalled further up in the barn. That horse, a spotted horse, had an airy open door that accessed early spring pasture outside.

She pulled my sleeve and led me away from the solid black colt in the corner.  My heart wasn’t in taking pictures of the prized gelding, although the light was perfect. None of the gelding photos were even were useable for the article, because I’d accidentally hit a setting on the top of the camera with my thumb (talk about karma). I could still hear the baby calling and thumping around inside the barn while we were outside.

At the house, somehow I wasn’t surprised to see show awards prominently displayed on a special table in the entryway. The woman’s daughter showed up as I was taking off my shoes, gave me a crusty look, and dropped her baby into grandma’s arms. She went out to “work with the horses” without waiting for an introduction.

I admired the statues and trophies in the entryway, gamely trying to limp through being ingratiating and charming, and the wife said, “Oh, these are just a few of our awards. They’re spilling out from the other room.”

The grandbaby hitched around on the floor of the couple’s family room while I completed the interview.  The wife laughed sourly at my lack of knowledge when I confessed I didn’t understand some of the vocabulary she was using to talk about the shows.  She waved a hand at the wall of photos and ribbons behind her, and made a comment about how she just didn’t have the time to teach me everything there was to know about the show circuit. I took that as a signal I needed to wrap things up, and asked my last couple of questions.

The little boy managed to pull himself up on my leg while I was scribbling notes. I smiled down at him. He had a nice big head and looked like he was going to be a bruiser someday like my guys. I reassured Grandma that he wasn’t bothering me, and that he reminded me of old times because I had three sons. No smile of recognition from Grandma, no polite “so how old are your kids now…?” just silence.

And damned if that kid didn’t also stare at me like I was an intruder. He didn’t smile at me when I grinned and complimented him on his grip.  I didn’t get one flicker of anything but cold hard evaluation from that little boy, and as he kept glaring at me, I thought, OK, now I really want to get the hell out of here.

As I drove by their fancy barn on my way out, I chided myself for judging the family too harshly. All of their horses appeared well-fed–and this was during the middle of the Recession when hay prices were through the ceiling and horses were being abandoned all over the Basin.  I told myself that surely the spot-less baby had turnout part of the day.

But I couldn’t ignore the knot in my stomach.

The woman called me after the article was printed. She was unhappy because I hadn’t included a picture of their prized spotted gelding that they had “gotten out just so you could take a picture.”

They had been hoping that the photo would generate some interest in the gelding, which was, of course, for sale. “I don’t know why you couldn’t have just used one of the horse,” the woman snapped. “That was the only reason we agreed to your little interview–because we thought it would help our business.”

The picture I’d wound up using was a shot of the husband gazing lovingly at his wall of trophies.

Talk about karma.

One of the things that I seem to have to keep re-learning over and over again is that money is just money. It is not kindness. It can’t give a distraught child a hug, or teach someone how to write an essay. It does not mean you have a good work ethic, or that you are a good person.

I applied for a secretarial job after the hearing today, trying to think of what to say that would make my application look a little less desperate. Because, of course, I don’t want to seem desperate…and there is that word again. And there, again, is my pride in the way.

I’ve had to pull a lot of things out of the fire with just a shoelace and a prayer the last 18 years of my career, and sometimes I get a little afraid when I look back on all the effort it took.  It’s not so much being afraid of getting older and knowing I don’t have the stamina to do some of those things now (which is true)–it’s the cold hard knowledge that nothing I did really made a hill of beans’ difference.

So even though I re-learned a big lesson today, I still feel a little like that solid-colored baby in a dark corner of the barn.

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9 Comments

Filed under Posty post

9 responses to “I Just Must Be the Wrong Color

  1. I am so sorry. Life is so very hard most of the time and especially for you right now. Know that someone you’ve never met other than via the internet is very impressed with your writing skills and insights. Wish that there was some sort of monetary reward for that. I am rooting for you.

    P.S. My heart breaks for that solid color colt in that barn.

    • Thanks Kathleen. I still think about that colt. There are some really incredibly stupid things that people do with horses, and this mindset that only horses of a certain breed or color are valuable turns my stomach.

  2. I’m not sure I understand what the upshot of your hearing was – I guess that’s the inevitable nature of bureaucracy – and obviously it wasn’t good.

    Add me to the list of folks you don’t know on the internet who think you’re a fabulous writer… who think you deserve a decent way to make a living – to use your considerable skills to support your family. I hope your situation gets better soon. I’m pulling for you.

    The part about the plain colt just made me sad, sad, sad. 😦

    • I’m not sure I understand what happened either, CFS. Thank you for your kind words.

      I can’t understand why cases like mine are considered on a “case by case” basis, because there are college teachers all over the state in the same position who are laid off due to lack of enrollment. The colleges like to pretend that we are in the same boat as a full-time, tenured prof who signs a yearly contract and therefore has a “summer break.” Unfortunately, we are only hired part-time on a quarter-to-quarter basis (so the college can save money on benefits) and none of us can make it four months without pay on our part-time salaries. We also have no guarantee that we will have work even if they say we do–they can tell us that we’re not needed up to the day classes start if enrollment isn’t high enough, or even if one of the full-time people decides they want to teach our classes.

      Teaching is good work and I’ve had a lot of fun, but the way adjunct folks are treated by these community colleges has astonished me. People who work sorting cherries can draw unemployment if they’re laid off due to lack of work–and if they know they’ll be employed again by a certain date, they don’t even have to prove to the state they’re looking for work. Why part-time college instructors are treated so differently I have no idea. I guess they figure we’re supposed to be resourceful enough to find work whenever we get laid off.

  3. I have been working for 35 years and I have seen what you have experienced, time and time again. It’s a sad realization that it really doesn’t matter to your employer that you have gone the extra mile in making it to work on time, met your work goals, etc. etc. It is all about money and nothing else. You are fortunate that you have supportive family around you to help during this time. You shouldn’t feel guilty….you would do the same for your sons if they were in a similar situation. That’s what family is all about.

    I know there is the perfect place for you; a place where you are valued, can work your passion and where you are happy. You deserve nothing less. I am sending positive thoughts your way.

    • Thanks so much, Wolfie. One of the reasons I wasn’t a very good business owner was because I could never develop that single-minded “what’s good for the business is what is right” mentality. Many times decisions based on money are so clearly NOT what is the right thing to do, and there has been much suffering in the world caused in the name of profit.

  4. I’m with you on that making money thing. My husband and I tried to start a business a few years ago, but we just weren’t the types to make it go. We lost ALL of our retirement and had to start over.

    In these times, it seems we’re all riding on a wing and a prayer most days. Maybe there’s a story in all of this that needs to be written and now is your time to do it. You have earned a strong voice through your efforts all these years, even if you didn’t earn $$$ or security.

    • Linda, I so agree. There are actually a ton of benefits to being underemployed, and as I once told a friend of mine, “One of the best things about not having any money is you don’t have to worry about losing it.”

      I spent a lot of time when I was running a business getting so swept up in things I thought “had” to be done that I was frequently a lousy parent and friend. The last couple of summers have been difficult, but I had a lot of mental “catching up” to do with myself, and I finally had the time to do it. When you work all the time it’s really easy to lose who you are.

  5. I had an idea, why don’t you offer online writing workshops? You could have different themes within each genre–keep the workshops small and offer several at the same time for like 4 or 5 weeks each. I took online watercolor that way. The instructor waited until she had a full class and then she opened up a blog that was private for us and we could get into it during the class, but then she made it disappear (removed us) when it was over. We put our work on the blog and then the classmates could comment. She emailed us our assignments every couple of days.

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