• Becky

What I Learned on my Summer Vacation: Pandemic Pontificating - Part 1

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

On April 8, 2020, my manager Slacked me, saying we needed to touch base. This wasn't uncommon: she lives and works in Portland, Oregon and I'm in Massachusetts. Our daily window for connection was limited and, hey, I was always happy to hear from her. Ten minutes before our call, she sent another message: The VP of marketing will be on the call. This was uncommon. My stomach flipped.

And so it began.

For the first time in my life, I was laid off. That month, my income (job + band) evaporated. A surprise? Yes and no. We were all in the middle of our no-good-very-bad-year, and the lay off statistics kept getting worse each day. Reassurance from the C-suiters initially gave me some hope. Our founder led an all-staff Zoom call and assured us we had funding through 2021 and we'd "get through this as a family." Ten days later, 15% of us were laid off. Meantime, our 2020 gigs -- all scheduled -- were uncertain by then. The local music business halted. It's still not clear when it will resume. Or how. Or if.

Three months later, it's all old news. I start a new day gig this week.

Here's how I spent my summer vacation - and what I learned:

Social Services Rock: Unemployment insurance is something you don't think you'll ever need - until you need it. It was a vague, slightly intimidating system I didn't quite understand, even when I made payments to the state as the ED of a nonprofit organization. How does this actually WORK? Does it work? I applied online, terrified of making a mistake. Bureaucracy freaks me out. The website was so overburdened, an error could take weeks to fix.Two weeks later, payments started depositing in my bank account. They allowed me to pay bills, purchase groceries and look for work without panicking. Thank you, Massachusetts.

Here's my take on this "entitlement." That chatter about extra weekly payments discouraging workers from seeking employment because they make more not working? Sounds like propaganda (and maybe furlough-shaming) to me. Waiting until the end of July to find employment doesn't sound like a strategy to keep food on the table in the future. Those "extra" payments end in two weeks, and the usual support isn't a living wage. I was grateful for the help during an unnerving time - it worked and kept our lives in tact.

Fight the Stress: Losing a job and health insurance during a worldwide pandemic that shows no signs of abating? Yikes. What to do when the future seems unknowable? Get outside. Right away, I purchased six yards of mulch and attacked the yard with beastly energy. My muscles ached for two weeks, and the creative yard work kept the fretting at bay. It felt good to feel good. The endorphins roared. I've said it for years: exercise is the magic pill.

I got social, but physically distanced. Our formerly polite and busy-with-life neighbors became overwhelmingly, charmingly friendly. We greeted each other like long-lost family members, asking about each other's gardens, kids, and friends, and starting conversations with the ubiquitous, "how are you holding up?" It was so good to see them. We couldn't always remember each other's names ("hey there... you!") but we all knew the names of the dogs.

Or maybe that's just me.

Time to think: Meantime, I worried about finding a job, any job, and seriously considered signing on as a UPS driver. Or postal carrier. Or whatever. We work to live. For the first time in my professional life, businesses actually need English majors (big thanks to my parents for supporting that career strategy!). So I looked for writing gigs, even though the idea of driving a truck wearing a tailored uniform - with my dog in a matching scarf (My fantasy. Don't mess with it) has appeal. Turn up the NPR and let's hit the road! Dogma and Louise!

Music: How lucky am I to say I missed the gig income? It was time to rethink our business model. How do we practice? Perform? How do I keep my boys employed? We started scheduling outdoor practices and invited our new best friends: the neighbors. I dusted off the cheeky nonprofit background and asked for sponsorships. To my delight, they rolled in. We started playing every other Sunday, encouraging Reasons to be Cheerful (a local ice cream maker) to bring their Chillwagon to the event. The Concord Cheese Shop signed on as a Total Bardiac sponsor. So many, many friends, neighbors, and colleagues signed up to support the band. Every other Sunday, people dance in the streets, eat ice cream, sing along, and socialize (all physically distanced and wearing masks). Some drive from out of state. It's pandemic pandemonium, and it makes me weep in relief and total gratitude just thinking about it. Thank you all so much.

We'll do it all summer. I think we'll do it next summer.

And so, on Monday morning, I'll get up early, take the dogs for a run, shower, sit my fanny in a chair, and start writing for pay again. I am newly grateful for the healthcare insurance, 401K, and other perquisites of full-time employment. Yet... I'm wary. The future is uncertain. I've learned to stay active, to be creative, to focus - and be hopeful.

These are Reasons to be Cheerful, indeed. Thank you all for your support.

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