Showing posts from February, 2009

Why you should care about the loss of the Rocky

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

Since I found out the news yesterday - that the Rocky Mountain News in Denver was suddenly closing - I wondered why it mattered to me. Why did it stick in my head all day and all night? Why could I not get the images of these people, none of whom I know, getting the terrible news out of my mind?

On Saturday, February 7th, I too got a call that I had expected for several months but was still surprised at how sudden the end came. My company was "ceasing operations immediately". We were in limbo. On Wednesday, I was called back to work, but barely made it home before receiving another phone call. It was over. I was released - along with around 2500 co-workers. If cameras had been in the bathroom, where I closed the door to take the call without my kids hearing my shock, I probably would have had the same pained look as the people in the video above. You know it is happening, but you tell yourself over and over that it cannot happen.

Of course, I got a rare second chance. One week ago today I got another call - I was coming back to work for the new owners. I have no idea what the future holds. Many of my co-workers are still gone (more left today). In the world of printed media, we are all just waiting to see if we will evolve into something sustainable or just vanish.

It ends just like that. The week before 2/7, I had multiple conference calls and a whole list of to-do's and follow ups. In a moment, it was all gone. The plug was literally pulled just like that and none of those items mattered anymore. When I returned, there was no need to restore all of my computer archives. Most of the people I worked with were gone.

There was a time in college where I wondered if I should be a journalist. I took some courses and survived one semester on the college paper. But, I convinced myself I had too many credits to start over in something new, so I abandoned it. I ended up in media through the distribution route and ended up still being a writer of sorts. I have always loved newspapers. Losing the Rocky Mountain News is a huge blow for newspapers. It's the biggest casualty in a long line of losses and it won't be the last. To think people are satisfied getting their news in generic, bland nuggets on the Internet is truly sad. Newspapers have long been the glue that unites communities. The internet is exactly the opposite - it is a solo endeavor. I can connect to my friends yet never see them. I read one line snippets of their lives and actually believe I know them. What is worse is that our kids will grow up not even seeing a need to doubt this type of connection.

When I was in elementary school, The Tennessean was in the driveway in the morning and the Nashville Banner was there in the afternoon. Very few driveways did not have the paper. There was no internet and only 3 or 4 TV channels. Today, I don't believe the Tennessean comes to one house on my street. I cancelled it two years ago after going back and forth over the decision in my head for months. I felt guilty. I felt sad. It was a terrible decision for someone who loves newspapers. The delivery person kept missing the house over and over. I called, probably 20 times. I was not worth keeping, I guess. Today, The Tennessean is in the death spiral. It is the same one the Rocky found itself in. Layoffs=less local reporting = more wire stories (which I can get free on the Internet). Then, back to more layoffs to deal with the loss of subscribers. And slowly, the paper falls in on itself.

We should all feel the loss of the Rocky. We don't need to wait for it to come to our town - it's already here. The Nashville Banner vanished over a decade ago. The Tennessean is a shell of its former self. So, more and more people are turning to the Internet - via laptops and cell phones. And, with each failing newspaper, America loses a bit more of its identity. Content (which is what the internet is full of - including this blog) does not replace journalism. We will continue to dumb down our society and we will continue to lose the skills to speak and write. This loss of communication will result in a loss of power. Are we not already seeing the effects on our economy and on our morale? Do we elect leaders because of integrity or do we now elect based on what they sell us - not much different than how items like detergent and toothpaste is sold to us?

Great ideas will go unshared - great ideals will go uncelebrated. Communities will not know what to rally around and will not know what to fight against.

We are strangers in our own neighborhoods - sitting in front of our computer screens fooling ourselves into thinking we are "connected". Our dying newspapers are a reflection of what is happening to each and every one of us.

Who will wake us up? Who will warn us before it is too late? Or, is it already too late?

Thank you!!

There is a new ritual at work now. Each day I get new goodbye emails. Some are from people I just bumped into once or twice and some, like one I got today, are from people who helped me grow as a person and not just as an employee.
Sharon Tyler (pictured above in 2004, flanked by "the candidates") was one of those people. When I hit the road and started visiting sites across the country as a trainer, I was pretty intimidated by the whole thing. The majority of the people we went out to train had been around for a lot longer than I had and many were skeptical about each new thing you brought to them. "Don't shoot the messenger" would have described how I felt over and over.
Sharon had the knack for training that I did not get with my education degree. She taught me to find the humor in it all and never take it personally when some people just couldn't be "reached". She always wanted the best for everyone around her (many times lobbying behind the scenes for improvements and changes) and worked many long and unrecognized hours.
And, she stayed self-motivated at all times no matter how crazy things were getting. That example is the greatest gift she gave to me.
My favorite memory was our dinner in Knoxville at P.F. Changs - right across the restaurant from Kurt Vonnegut (or, at least a guy that could be his twin).
Thank you, Sharon, for all of the good memories and lessons. I will not forget them.

Thanks, Charter!!

We have our internet, phone, and cable TV through Charter Communications. Needless to say, we are paying them big bucks each month (and still saving over what we used to pay AT&T). Today we got a flier advertising a new rewards promo where you accumulate points that you can redeem for gifts.
For 20,000 points, you can get a $50 AVIS gift card or a $50 Black Angus Steakhouse gift card. Don't want either of those? Well, you're out of luck then - unless --- you visit the Charter Store.
The Charter Store is where they go through trucks in the installation department and steal stuff to give away. Check out this fine selection of "rewards". Thanks, Charter!
I've got my eye on White RG6 Screw Clip for Christmas!

Monday Music Extra

A short entry the $3 bargain DVD bin at the Big Lots was a copy of "True Stories". This is David Byrne's (of Talking Heads) ultra weird movie about the ultra weird inhabitants of a small Texas town. It is strange and you get a slight feeling that he is a bit anti-commercial / anti-media excess. What's scary is that this was released in 1986. I can only imagine what he thinks now since it is much much worse today.

So, I guess I've drank too many Cokes or watched too much mindless television (he warned me!), but I had forgotted that the video for "Wild Wild Life" is actually part of the film. The song is great - the video is excellent - and the movie has the strangest mall fashion show you will ever see. For that alone, it is worth the $3.

Click here to see the video at I never could make the embedded video play here.

Survivor Guilt

Once upon a time, almost a lifetime ago (it seems), I kept a lot of journals. Several years ago, in some self-aware weird phase when I made the decision to "let go of the past", I shredded almost all of them. One of the survivals from my shred fest was a binder I kept filled with articles I had copied and newspaper / magazine clippings. Above is one of those clippings. I guess "Phone Call From a Stranger" freaked me out so much in 1989 that I cut the description right out of TV Guide. (Watching movies late at night can cause weird after effects.) The movie (I saw it again recently on TCM) is about a man who is the only survivor of a plane crash. He decides to personally contact the families of three victims he spoke with at length during a long layover in order to finish their unfinished business and give closure to the departed and their families.

It's quite a stretch to compare going back to work tomorrow to being the sole survivor of a plane crash, but the feelings are the same. Many people I've worked with for years are not as fortunate as me and did not get the call to come back. Two are members of the very team I managed. I know how easily it could be me not returning because after 9 days of waiting - I had about given up hope.

Blogging about being laid off and even posting it on my Facebook page was difficult, but necessary. Many people I knew were in the same boat and were asking if I was still around. Now, I am one of the very few returning to my job. If I didn't mention it here, I would feel guilty about all those who were wishing me well and saying to "hang in there". Now I feel guilty about being celebratory when so many are still suffering.

One of the people who was a true mentor to me at work told me "Don’t look for just recovery, look for an opportunity to do better." I don't think I was anywhere near prepared enough for anything more than recovery. There are things I am going to do now, including getting some real certifications (Project Management, for example) and not relying solely on bulletpoints on my resume to prove my skills to a new employer. I'm going to work to expand my side hobbies (computer work I do for basically everyone I know) to something I could turn to if needed. I'm also going to look into some freelancing in technical writing. The nine days (known around the house as 'my sabbatical') were a real awakening for me and I know how lucky I am to be returning to work tomorrow.

Obviously, layoff survivor guilt is a reality. It was written about in 2002, and again in the last month in Time and BusinessWeek. Tomorrow I start over - day 1 with the new owners and new leadership. And, day 1 to work with the bigger picture in mind - just in case this all happens again.


A short update to announce that I got the call this afternoon that I had been hoping for since last Wednesday when I was suddenly laid off: I am back at work in my old job with the new owners (from Canada!) starting Monday. Thanks to everyone for the thoughts, prayers, and encouraging emails during all of this. It has been quite a mess and I am sure there are additional challenges ahead. For now, I am just happy to know we will be able to eat and pay the bills. Whew!

Friday Music Flashback

In my free time (which is abundant lately), I hit the Goodwill looking for a book. Like always, I had to walk through electronics and a vintage 1980's Soundesign stereo caught my eye. It was marked at 14.99 but had a red tag (which is 50% off). I looked and wondered where I would put it. I finally talked myself out of it and left.

Two days later, I was back and I decided to see if it was still there. Yep. The two cassette decks and 8 track probably freaked people out. I plugged it in and it worked. Call it 1980's nostalgia, but I bought it.

I had a Soundesign stereo that I got for my birthday in 1986. It's still in storage with its super-huge speakers. This model is lights up more than mine did (Soundesign envy) and is probably a couple of years older than mine was. Gone is the turntable and the wooden shelf. And, the speakers are not original. These are Emersons.

It sounds suprisingly good. It will be great to have this summer plugged in out on the deck. And, it has aux in so it works great with the Zune. I'm not brave enough to try a tape since I only kept a few and I would hate to see one get eaten.

Check out the "intensity". I bet I was pumping at least 3 watts out of those speakers. The neighbors might complain.

Our Friday music flashback is a song I have on the Zune and hear regularly on the XM 70's on 7 channel. It's another Bob Welch classic : "Precious Love". Turn up the volume and step back to 1979.

"Reality Bites" revisited (aka My apology to Ben Stiller)

Thanks to the $3 movie section at Big Lots (you have to check it out - it's an amazing collection of stuff I like - YMMV) and to my ongoing unexpected sabbatical, I bought and watched this (pictured) 10th Anniversary Edition of "Reality Bites". Since this movie was released 15 years ago, I am guessing there is a 15th anniversary edition now and these "old ones" are getting cleaned out.

OK - enough explanation. Here is why I owe Ben Stiller an apology. On March 25, 1994, I turned in an movie review of "Reality Bites" for an essay in English 300. (And, yes, I saved most of the stuff I wrote since I was under the false assumption that I would actually end up being a real writer and not a technical writer, like Ambrose Monk, when I grew up.)

Today, after watching the movie, I read the essay again. I had not seen the movie since before I wrote the review. With 15 years of experience behind me, I realize now that I didn't "get it".

I get it now. In 1994, due to ego, arrogance, stupidity, inexperience, or a combo of all of the above, I thought that most of the choices these characters made were absolute cop-outs.

Note the following quotes from my essay:
  • "In the end, when the girl ends up with 'unemployed no-life butthead', you think to yourself "Reality?"
  • "Troy is such a one-dimensional character that it doesn't help when (Ethan) Hawke plays him as Holden Caulfied-intensified."
  • "If "Reality Bites" is indeed reality, then all twenty-somethings are poor people with no future who give up on everything at the slightest problem. Lelaina succumbs to her problems and runs up a $400 phone bill to Dial-A-Psychic. And, Troy just up and leaves town. This is not reality and hopefully no one will buy into it."
What have I learned?
  • I was full of crap when I was 20 and I tried to write in a manner where it appeared that I knew exactly what I was talking about (like knowing what being out of college was like when I was still there - reality was quite a shock).
  • I need to work everyday to not be full of crap at 35. Some days, I need to make not being full of crap a top priority.
  • Everything in my essay was a soap-box speech with the hidden theme "I am better than these people but I will be just like them, yet I will deny it."
  • The girl ended up with the unemployed guy - but the guy she actually loved. OK - that doesn't always happen but I happen to also be unemployed currently** and I now realize that I must have been an arrogant idiot at 20. Bravo to her following her feelings and not ending up in a cookie cutter relationship that she was going to resent five years down the road***.
  • Troy is still an "over the top" character. His sarcasm is too polished. He always says the things we wish we could say in those situations. When I occasionally get in the same type of sarcastic zinger, I am just as bad as he is. I have no excuse for that behavior and, in the end, I am no better than he is.
  • I wish the craziest and stupidest things I had ever done when the poo hit the fan was run up a $400 phone bill or just leave town. I had no idea what adulthood would bring since I was under the false impression that I knew it all.
So, I owe Ben Stiller and everyone involved in the movie a huge apology. Head down to Big Lots and plunk down $3. You'll be amazed. It's not a perfect movie, but it does capture life (which is not perfect either). When you notice little things like Ben Stiller standing in a phone booth but talking on a cell phone (and wondering why), you'll think the writer of the movie (Helen Childress) had some odd ability to see what the future was going to be like. And, you'll realize that they got it mostly right. And, if you're me, you'll realize what a complete knob you were in college and you'll be glad to be 15 years older and wiser.

** - Being unemployed is odd and scary. Luckily, we were somewhat prepared for it since the writing was on the wall for several months. Still, I never expected the outcome to be so swift and sudden. It's a lousy and scary place to be. On the bright side, I feel more creative and productive than I have been in years. I have so many different things I want to write about now. I am reading books like crazy. I've been so bogged down with the projects and the conference calls and the etceteras that I had really lost myself in the process. I have learned several things about myself during this time of unexpected free time:
  • My priorities were quite messed up.
  • The reasons I was so crazy and frustrated at work were more "Me-caused" than the job-caused.
  • If I continue to take time to read and write and just "have a life" aside from work, I'll be a better and more productive employee and a happier person.
  • Being happier, I seem to eat less fast food. This is a good thing.
*** - Somehow, I managed to not get into a cookie cutter relationship. I am coming up on 13 years of marriage. The downs have been downs - some in the first 6 or 7 years were like Death Valley downs. I could teach a relationship class based on two things I learned (1. As noted above, I was full of crap for a long time and need to work daily to not be full of crap. 2. Know when to SHUT UP.) But, the ups are way up. It's a lot of work, but it is worth it (and I keep repeating that to myself when I am vacuuming and folding clothes and cleaning up vomit and mowing the yard and walking the dog at 3AM, etc. etc. etc.)

Eyeglasses Update

Sara got lucky. 20/20 vision! She did not share the same fate I shared at her age (1980) - glasses. Also, glasses are so much more fashionable now. I was browsing through the kids section at the eye doctor and I was impressed by the selection. Back in the day, we had one style in kid glasses- serial killer. I believe I saw some grown ups in the mid 1990's on TV who ended up being serial killers and were still wearing that horrible style of glasses.

I found this example of "Glasses of 1980". This is some sixth grade class, but I had the exact same ones. Notice how they paired him with the one girl also wearing glasses. I guess they wanted the glare to be all in one place.

The entry where I plug "Perfect Fifths"

I rarely, rarely endorse products on the blog. Aside from an HDTV USB adapter and my Asus EEE 900A (my netbook which is quite literally the best friend I think a writer / professional web surfer could ever own), I normally share links to good blogs and tell a little bit about what I am reading.

Tonight, I am killing two birds with one stone. Megan McCafferty is not only a fellow member of the Class of 1991 (not at the same school. But, did I mention that Taylor Swift attended my high school? That is the only thing that impresses my kids about where I attended high school), a great blogger (click here), and an all around nice person, but she is also a quite accomplished author with a new book coming out.

Perfect Fifths is the fifth (obviously) book in her series and it will hit stores (and Amazon) on April 14th. You can pre-order now (click here or here) and you can catch up on the first four books (click here or here).

In the last couple of months, I shamelessly proclaimed my love for When Harry Met Sally and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist on Facebook, thus admitting to the world that I prefer romantic comedies over action adventure flicks. Now, I admit that I have read these books, thus you must also think I am into Chick Lit. I guess you could consider these books "Chick Lit" in some manner, but I think that minimizes what they really are. I am just really into good books, no matter how the "general press" might classify them. I discovered the books through Megan's blog and I am glad I did.

I feel that she captures the experience of "growing up" better than many of the other writers I have read. The series pulls you in and if you don't see yourself somewhere in there, you are not looking hard enough.

So, here is the trailer - done by a fan for a contest Megan had on her website. It is amazing that fans spent so much time creating so many great trailers - I watched many of them today (I have quite a bit of free time lately!!). It's a real testament to the quality of her books. And, if you read her blog, I think you'll get to know someone who inspires other bloggers (like myself).

(Disclaimer: Megan is having a contest right now for an Advanced Readers Copy of Perfect Fifths which involves linking to her on your blog. A nice promotional idea and a good way for me to get a free copy considering my access to advanced readers copies suddenly dried up last week when my company sank like a rock!! I would have "sang the praises anyway", so this is a 100% honest endorsement.)

Retail gets exciting!

It's like a carnival - it's fun to spend money!! Just check out our Ferris Wheel of Gift Cards!

Actually, it's quite calming once you stare at it enough.

The next emotion is...

...sadness. I think all of the momentum finally slowed down today and that gave me time to think about what I will really miss about my job. Hint - it will not be climbing around in the ceiling running cable or crawling under machinery or 20 hour shifts in the returns department!

Curtain Call

And, we're done.

I got "the call" tonight. It was a shame, since I was quite optimistic all day. But, they decided to let us all go and I'm not sure what the implications are for the rest of the company. I can only hope that the people I care about are taken care of and find a better situation soon.

I got to send out some "thank you" emails and made calls to the other members of my team. That was the toughest part, but I am hopeful we will stay in touch.

I do have the faith to know that all of this will turn out for the best. Good things will come of this. And, I will keep repeating that until it happens!

Riding the roller coaster

When I have nothing positive to write, I normally do not write. This has been how I have felt since I got the phone call Saturday afternoon which notified me that my job was immediately on hold.

Of course, I wrote a few entries ago that I felt that trouble loomed on the horizon but I never thought it could happen so quickly. I've been here nearly eight years and I am in a position I enjoy (even though it is stressful beyond belief at times) and I am fortunate enough to work with good people. To have all of that ripped away in a matter of hours was quite a shock. I'd say it easily made the top 5 list of "crappy life experiences".

Tomorrow, we return to work. I don't think any of us will be the same moving forward. It sounds like things will be OK and we won't be repeating this again in the coming weeks.

No matter what, I know I can't find myself again ending up in the terrible position that I have been in for the last four days of little sleep, lots of compulsive nervous cleaning and much worrying.

However, I'll have no choice but to continue looking for something different. Maybe this reprieve will buy me the time I need. At this point, I just see no way to move forward here without always being worried - always wondering what the next phone call or email will bring.

Friday Night Music Rewind

From deep within the vault...Bob Welch singing "Ebony Eyes" in 1978. This is one strange, strange video. The sound is a bit out of sync, but that's a You Tube deal. What makes no sense in this is, well - nothing makes sense in this. You'll see an 18 year old Valerie Bertinelli. You'll see her handcuffed to a man that looks like the rival cafe owner in Casablanca. You'll see strange dancers that made me keep thinking about Reefer Madness.

I am a Bob Welch fan and this is one of my favorite songs. He also had "Sentimental Lady" in '77 (his biggest hit) and "Precious Love" in '79 (another personal favorite). He was also a member of Fleetwood Mac from '71 to '74.

And, in this video he reminds me of someone. I just can't place it. Oh, wait....

Turn up your sound and enjoy...

Random Thoughts for a Thursday Night

My new favorite "The Office" quote:
"If I can't find a new way to relate more positively to my surroundings, I'm going to die."
"I'm going to die." - Stanley Hudson

Also, do you ever walk past a magazine rack and get cold chills? I do.

I don't say much about work on here, but working in this industry is real fun these days. Never a dull moment. If you go into your grocery store or Wal-Mart this weekend and don't see your favorite magazine, don't call me. It's not my fault.

Riding the Waves

It's been a fairly quiet couple of weeks here on the blog. That's mainly due to being distracted by my current work situation. In a matter of two weeks, I've changed departments (again - second time in a year), taken on a new project involving hundreds of users and tried to create the planning for that new project with only 10 days to do the work - all while the company is going through a major upheaval.

Needless to say, in the past two weeks, I've set new personal records in several areas:

- Coffee Consumption
- Minimum Hours of Sleep
- Amount of overnight web surfing completed
- Nervous cleaning (I've never been quite so organized and dust-free)
- Repetitive calls to co-workers looking for encouraging thoughts while really just satisfied that their phones haven't been disconnected unexpectedly

I may look back on this period in a few months and wonder why I was so paranoid or I may look back on this period in a few months with a different job - going down a new road. I guess only time will tell. For now, I've got some videos to watch on YouTube and some andirons to clean (and I don't even own a fireplace, not that you would know this).