Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Finch Finale

I know it's been quite a while since I wrote about life at Finch College. Though I haven't fully exploited all my adventures there, perhaps it's time to move on and share the closing chapter because  when one door closes, another opens.
Three years had gone by at Finch and graduation had come. I’d been invited to a classmate’s party at her parent’s apartment in Manhattan. I knew her father was a diplomat. She was smart, she sounded very British and had a royal European-sounding last name.  Though I didn't know her well, I liked her very much.  I was excited to be invited and worried about what to wear. The engraved invitation with its embossed gold seal should have been the tip-off. 

The elevator doors opened INTO the apartment and we were greeted by what had to be, butlers, real butlers in black waistcoats. I remember a dark beautifully wood-paneled room set-up with small round tables covered in pink linen cloths, with pink linen napkins, cut glass crystal stemware, and heavy silver place settings with multiple forks, knives, and spoons and beautiful centerpieces gracing the rooms. It was gorgeous. Simply gorgeous.

The butler-waiters were carrying massive silver platters engraved with the seal of South Africa. Stephanie’s father was the ambassador
  this was before anyone really thought anything about South Africa except that it was an exotic place at the bottom of the world. 

Those platters were sailing by piled high with lobster tails
  from South Africa. I sat at a table for four with Stephanie’s brother (Julian?) and his best friend. Perhaps they sensed my nervousness because they couldn't have been more gracious. I kept watching what they were doing  which fork or glass were they using?   I was in past my depth. It turned out that the four glasses were for white wine, red wine, water and champagne. Choosing the red wine was a mistake. 

Crowded by all that finery I reached for my water and promptly, clumsily knocked over my glass  and all that red wine spilled over that pristine pink linen cloth. A puddle of red. All over. Horrified, I righted my now empty glass and before I could utter a complete sentence of apology, Julian knocked over his glass of red wine. On purpose! 

“WHY did you do that? Oh my God!” I screeched. “Why would you DO that?” 

“To put you at ease,” Julian answered with calm coolness.

“And I should knock over mine as well,” said the best friend.

“NO!” I implored putting my hand over the top of his glass, “That’s CRAZY!”

“It’s the polite thing to do. If someone makes a mistake, you do the same. You don’t want your guest to feel uncomfortable.”

Now there was a twist on empathy.

At midnight the butler-waiters came out with those silver trays laden with champagne glasses filled to the brim
  with fresh orange juice. 

“Orange juice?” I asked. “At night?”

“It’s what we do In South Africa. It’s very refreshing.” And it was.

The clink of that glass signaled the end of an era for me and the beginning of a new time in my life.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Running Running Running

I did it again. Unbelievably, for probably the fifth time in my life, I locked my keys in the car  with the engine running.  This time it wasn't so terrible.  It was early in the day (unlike another time when I didn't discover until five o'clock that I'd locked the keys in the car with the engine running since one) Chris was able to leave work and drive over with his key.  Embarrassing but nothing compared to the first time  the very first time I locked the keys in the car with the engine running.

I'd just landed my dream job  starting off in a new program with endless possibilities and a boss who'd never been a boss before.    We were embarking on a wonderful adventure of building a program from the ground up, literally.  We started with nothing and needed to create it all.  I'd decided that before I could start anything I had to have a sense of my boss' taste and so I wanted to take her shopping to see what she gravitated toward.  We didn't have much time because she had to be at a meeting at 5 but I was happy to have any time together to get a sense of who she was.  We were liking the same things, pretty much the same colors, I had a clear sense of what she'd like and it was what I'd like too so that made me happy and hopeful about the road ahead.  Soon we needed to start leaving so I could get her to her appointment.  I gathered my things, opened my bag and started looking for the car key when I couldn't find it.  It wasn't there.  Not in my pockets either. 

It wasn't my car.  For some reason I was driving a rented 11-passenger aqua van, I guess because we had family coming to visit and our one car wasn't enough?  I went outside horrified I might have locked the keys in the car.  The car was on.

I sprang into action. I needed a phone (no cell phones), I needed a phone book (no internet). I leapt over the small gate to get behind the store counter where the wall phone was situated by the cash register and the boxes.  The small local car rental place (due to close at 5:30) was slow in responding.  Undeterred, I demanded that someone bring me an extra set of keys IMMEDIATELY.  Reluctantly, the manager agreed.  I paced until they pulled up and then I unlocked the door, checked the gas level, got my new boss into the car. and drove to her appointment. I was mortified.

For months, all I could think was that she was sorry she'd hired me.  That she'd made a mistake in choosing me. (She picked me against all advice about the qualifications necessary to fill her needs.I didn't have the experience others wanted but she held to what SHE wanted in a "partner.")  Before I even began the job I'd screwed up. Now she was stuck with me.

Years later, when the discussion somehow centered on that early meeting, I had the courage to mention it.  That I was sure she regretted hiring me after locking the keys in the car with the engine running.   

"I never knew that bothered you " she said, "In fact, I felt just the opposite.  You jumped in and resolved the problem so quickly that I was in awe; if anything it completely confirmed that I'd made the right choice."

GEEZ. I'd spent three years beating myself up for that mistake. Wish I'd known.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Full of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is always tough for me. It's the holiday my sister and I spent together — long distance. Me on the east coast and she on the west. Back and forth all day we'd call each other. After my turkey was in for a few hours she'd be up and putting in hers. When my turkey was done and we were getting ready to eat, her company would just be having appetizers. By the time my company went home — stuffed to the gills with all those carbohydrates — she'd be putting out the desserts and by the time her guests had left, I'd be finished cleaning up and ready to rehash the day.  Though 3000 miles separated us, I always felt she was with me. and now I don't.

Here is this year's menu — which is pretty much last year's menu, and the year before:

Turkey & gravy 
sausage stuffing (not me)
corn pudding  
peas (not me)
Picture-perfect, Not mine. 
green beans (not me)
mashed potatoes (not me)
creamed onions w/almonds 
cranberry-orange relish 

Pecan pie (not me)
Sweet potato pie (not me)
Caramel pumpkin ring 
   & Whipped cream for all

You had to hand it to my sister.  Her Thanksgivings (and Christmases) were shared with her ex, his two boys from a subsequent failed marriage and, at times, the girlfriend of the year.  My sister opened her doors, her table, and her arms to anyone she considered "family," and her family-network was wide.  She got along with her three sets of in-laws — she loved old people.  She loved our parents.  She was talented and funny, smart and generous-hearted.  Far more generous and forgiving than me — than I am, or will ever be.

I can't think of a time when I reached out to my sister that she didn't come through for me and oh-so-many times she came through when I never even asked.   Just when I was about to start 8th grade, we moved.  I was headed into a school where everyone knew everyone, for ever.   Sensing my anxiousness about it all, my sister spent her own money and bought me two Villager outfits to help me fit in.  An A-line skirt (lined, with a side-zipper) with matching cardigan (buttons on a strip of grosgrain ribbon). One set in heather mauve and the other in heather blue. (From Wikipedia: In clothing, heather refers to interwoven yarns of mixed colors producing muted greyish shades with flecks of color (e.g., heather green.), a white man-tailored button-down collared blouse, and to make the look total, a pair of cordovan penny loafers, complete with brand-new pennies.  Those clothes made all the difference in the world to me. 

Seven and a-half years is a big difference between siblings, at least when you're young. The difference between six and thirteen or thirteen and twenty is huge but then. slowly it starts to collapse.  Regardless of the gap, Donna was always looking out for me.   Me and about a hundred other people at any given time. 

I haven't got her here to call and talk to, to go back and forth  with— about recipes, guests, and what went wrong with the day (critics that we are).  

I've got a lot to be thankful for — great husband, two great kids, friends to share it all with — but I finally realize how full of thanks I am — for having had the sister I did.

Wishing you each enjoy the people who are family to you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Today is my friend Peggy's birthday and I wanted her to know what a gift she is to me.
Peggy was the first southern person I ever met.  She was from DAHL-lus, TEX-US and she was friendly and funny and fun.  Art was of great interest to her and she always wanted to go to a museum, especially the Whitney or the Guggenheim just within walking distance of Finch.  I remember my joy the first time I saw Calder's Circus and spiraled my way up the ramps of the Guggenheim.  These were new areas of exploration for me and opened my eyes to contemporary and modern art.

After graduating from Finch I took my first trip ever to Texas and what an introduction I got!  My first bluegrass festival in Kerrville on what I eerily remember as the KKK Ranch (honest) and under the blazing hot sun in the wide open was an 8-ft table set-up where they were selling the cassettes of the bands that were playing over the three-day festival. I stood in line waiting patiently for my turn and when I got to the front, one of the two guys asked me, "What can we get fur you lit-tle LAY-dee?"

"i'd like to buy your tablecloth."

The guy turned to his partner and then back to me, "S'cuse me?"

"I'd like to buy this cloth that's covering your table."  It was a worn and unbound patchwork of small squares arranged in a diamond pattern.

This guy pushed back in his folding chair, took his cowboy hat off, wiped his sweating brow with his red bandana and said, "You wanna buy WHAT?" 

"I'd like to buy what you're using as a tablecloth — what will it cost?"

They looked at each other, leaned close to whisper back-and-forth, and then leaned back in his chair with a big wide grin and said, "TEN dollars" and without a moment's hesitation I reached into my bag, gave him a ten-dollar-bill and started clearing the table so I could claim my cloth.  The people in line behind me were looking and whispering but I had my prize.  Back in New York City, my friend Dan built a wooden frame, stretched and stapled my find to this large rectangular frame and then suspended it over my bed so when ever I was lying down I could stare up at the beauty of the pattern and see one after another of those stitched squares.

On that same trip Peggy introduced me to fried okra and Emma Randolph.   

I'd gotten interested in quilts and when I was living in Ohio had bought two patchwork tops that I wanted made into quilts.  

" I know someone who can do that." she told me with a smile, "Miz Randolph, she used to sew for our family."  And we went to visit Emma Randolph in her home with a garage that had been refitted as a sewing studio with some kind of loom or stretcher in the middle and open wooden floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with fabrics and quilts in various stages.  It was amazing.

Ms Randolph told me what supplies I'd need to buy and send her with the tops.  The two I'd bought in Ohio (for $6. each) were Log Cabin and Bear Claw and the patchwork I'd bought at the bluegrass festival was known as Trip Around the World or Sunshine and Shadow.  I asked if there was one I could buy of hers.

"Well, most of these are being made for my customers but I do have one you might like." and slowly she moved to one of the shelves, leafed through the stack and pulled out a patchwork of yellow and white.  "It's Wedding Ring and it was the first quilt top I ever made when I was eleven but I never finished it off and made it into a quilt."  

It was a quilt she'd lovingly stitched together piece by piece to make this intricate design with scraps of fabric from her clothes and her mother's sewing basket.  

Months later when she finished the quilt and sent it to me there on one corner she'd embroidered her name — there it was ... 

BORN 1893

I always wondered if she missed a letter in her name or if I had it wrong.  

I'm a hugger and a kisser. Peggy didn't like to be touched. When exuberance would overtake me I'd throw my arms around her and she'd stiffen up, giggle, and through her clenched smile say, "I don't do well with hugs."  and from then on I tried to remember to restrain myself whenever I felt the urge to embrace her. 

When Peggy and Dave got married it was a five-day extravaganza like I'd never seen.  There were brunches, lunches, cocktails and dinners.  A whirlwind of social activity that didn't seem to fit with the Peggy I knew — but it was Texas.

Just two years ago I went to visit Peggy in Texas for the first time in decades.  Her home was filled with art, art, and more art — wonderful art. There in my room was this little stack of boxes of Texas-style animal crackers — I thought it was an a small art installation until Peggy told me, "NO, those are for you to snack on!"

This is a gift Peggy gave me and this is what is typed in red on the back.

Woodcut print on rice paper

December, 1971

"The Gingerbread House"
by Peggy Flaxman, and a friend, whose name I have forgotten.
One other copy exists.

Its value is determined by all the effort and love which
went in to making the picture.  And there can be no value
placed on the love which it holds, as I share it with you.

I called her Pegatorie and today — especially on this birthday — I'm sending her good karma, best wishes, and a GREAT BIG hug filled with loads of love.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Baking. Or Not

I think baking is over-rated.  While I enjoy the results, it's just not in my skillset to bake.  Take banana bread.   I had the overripe bananas. I couldn't throw them out (my father would be watching). I thought, "Why not?"  I dug out a recipe I've had for 30 years.  Seemed simple enough. 

Right away there was a problem for me.  "Cream the sugar and butter."  Cream it?  CREAM it when there's no cream?  

Then it said "1/2 tsp soda" and I knew this wasn't real soda but baking soda and that brought me back to something I've always wanted to know  what IS the difference between baking soda and baking powder?  Baking soda is everywhere  down the drain mixed with white vinegar, in the frig to absorb odors, added to the laundry, mixed with lemon to scrub copper pots  but baking powder?  What is that ever used for?

Next the recipe said "beat well" but not HOW. Does it mean beat with an electric mixer or beat well by hand?  Cause when you hear people who are bakers talk about baking, they (I have a lot of friends who ARE bakers) always mention over-beating OR under-beating making it too leaden or not light enough. I mean which is it?  It never said.  It just said "beat well." So I did.

Two cups of flour.  Should be a piece of cake except that there are so many kinds of flour!  TOO many kinds of flour.  
Self-rising, pure, stone-ground, better-for-bread, cake, and more and more.  It's overwhelming.  It's almost ridiculous.  But still  I wasn't prepared for the royalty of all flours  King Arthur.


And these flours are not to be confused with...

I mean really  why would a person need all these flours?


Because according to King Arthur   flour matters ... and clearly to many people it DOES.  

Well, with or without durum, first clear, King OR Queen (and truthfully, I didn't even sift), my banana bread couldn't have been all that bad because after two days  this is what's left.

Still, I think my baking days are behind me.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Own Mount Rushmore

William C Friday
Rushworth Kidder
                     John Medlin Jr
                     William Raspberry
This year these four men died.  Each had as part of their public and private persona that which I greatly admire — individual responsibility and integrity.  

Rushworth Kidder was the first of these men that I crossed paths with.  I was getting ready for an important job interview and searching for materials to educate me.  It was a job I really, really wanted but I did NOT possess the expected qualifications. I came across an article written by someone with an unusual name in a newsletter for — of all things — county managers.  It was entitled "Shared Human Values" about the common ground we share and can build on.  When I read it, I thought, "Hey, this is what I believe and have been doing versions of all along in my K-12 work. This is something I know and can contribute to."  The article was by Rushworth Kidder.  I got the job.

As a journalist for The Christian Science Monitor, Kidder was the first western reporter allowed in to Chernobyl and what he learned astounded and changed him.  He referred to Chernobyl not as an accident, but as a human "moral meltdown" and it led him eventually to create the Institute for Global Ethics, where he lived his ethics for the rest of his life.  He was famous for the "right vs right" dilemma — the way he explained it to me: "People know the difference between right and wrong and they don't always choose to do what's right.  But what keeps us up at nights is when there are competing "rights" — do you tell the truth? or are you loyal and stay silent to protect someone?  These are real dilemmas: truth vs loyalty, justice vs mercy, short term vs long term and the individual vs community."

The job led me to meet John Medlin who was always gracious and helpful to me in every way.  The first time I was on a local educational talk show, I was horrified when it aired on TV.  The entire time I was nodding my head in agreement with everyone — I looked like a bobble-head doll.  When John saw it he sent me a note that said, "The show was great and by far, you were the STAR."  His kindness made me feel so much better about my awkward performance.  John was a well-respected finance CEO who was a straight-shooter and a gentleman; some of his business maxims will acquaint you with his character.
  • Answer your own phone by two rings.  Clean out your in box everyday.  
  • Don’t let the sun go down without responding to a customer inquiry.  Even if you don’t have the answer, tell them that. [This is known as the sundown rule.] 
  • Don’t let the urgent always crowd out the important.
  • It takes a century to build a great reputation it can take a second and one wrong decision to ruin it.
Also through the job I was fortunate to meet Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, William Raspberry, a straight-talking no-nonsense practical commentator on life who called it as he saw it, in spite of what others might think.  What he wrote often ruffled feathers and he continued ruffling right up until the end.  Here are some excerpts from his final column in 2008: 

The schools black children attend don't work as well as they should — but most often for reasons that have less to do with white attitudes than with our own. Many black children — and too many of their parents — don't value education. If they do, they see it as a debt owed rather than a prize to be earned ... [Obama's}  ascendancy to the most powerful political position in the world does not mean an end to black problems — including the problem of racial discrimination.  But it may allow our children to begin to see life as a series of problems and possibilities and not just a list of grievances.

In the meetings I was in with ill, he didn't say much, but what he said cut to the heart of the matter in the most direct and understated way.  After he retired from teaching and writing, Bill Raspberry started a foundation Baby Steps, in his hometown of Okolona, Mississippi, focused on engaging parents of very young children to get involved in their education.

And last but never least, William Friday, an icon of the southern gentlemen who promoted education and philanthropy through an ole-boy's network.  Soft-spoken in voice but solid-steel when brokering a deal, Bill Friday moved the state's college education system toward integration and help drive a seismic shift from an agrarian economy to one targeted on education, high tech, research and development  not an easy feat.  He was founding co-chair of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and worked relentlessly to promote integrity in college athletics.  I felt he was disappointed that after fifteen-plus years, the college sports machine didn't fully embrace their responsibility for building character along with athleticism.  When I went to him for advice on my character development program he made me feel as if what I was creating was the most important and valuable thing in the world.  The The William and Ida Friday Continuing Education Center, named for Bill and his wife, was where I took my writing class Write Your Life.

I am grateful for the lessons I learned from each of these men (yes, I realize the figures on my Rushmore are all male).  These are the faces today's MBA candidates should be learning about and looking up to.

I wanted to acknowledge the passing of these four men...who would be on your Mount Rushmore?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Was It the Fabulous Fifties?

There were things about the 1950s that I'm glad are far behind us.  Certainly the limited-identities allowed to women.  And even though the rights of women have come a long way on all fronts in this country, still there are equality and access issues. [Some of the issues this election season were appalling.] And in spite of the fact that since the start of the 20th century over 60 countries have had a female president or prime minister elected — the United States has not.  We certainly aren't leading the world in that arena.  

But during the fifties and sixties it felt that people were more connected with the political.  That it was a more informed citizenry in those days. Families sat in front of the same television watching the news. Parents discussed issues at the kitchen table while the kids listened and ate.  On holidays the grown-ups argued about politics over cocktails, dinner, and dessert. And that conversation was continued in school.

Not so much that way any more, I think it's fair to say.

My friend Maria recently wrote about her earliest memory of a presidential race in 1964, walking to school and kids chanting "I'm for Johnson!" (she) or "I'm for Goldwater!"  I will date myself by saying MY first presidential race was the one between Kennedy and Nixon.  It was fourth grade and we had to choose a side.  I chose Nixon. Because he was the underdog and I felt sorry for him.  He seemed to be trumped at every turn by the young, good-looking, exciting Jack Kennedy.  When I was watching that televised debate, sitting cross-legged on the floor, inching ever closer to that black-and-white screen ("Move back you're going to ruin your eyes!" was the constant parental cry) I was worrying because Nixon looked awful! He was sweating so much I thought he might have a heart attack.  Even then I was worrying. [But don't you worry, later on I got over Nixon.]

When I was growing up, elections were a part of everyday life.  Nowadays, I doubt that elementary school students are asked or encouraged to get involved in political campaigns because it's not politically correct— there's irony in that phrase.  We've gotten so correct that we've sanitized civic engagement in the political process right out of the curriculum. As Maria's teacher told the class in 1974 while he had them watching the Watergate hearings on TV,  "This is more important than anything I could teach you." 

If we want young people to exercise the hard-fought right to vote and be participatory in this democracy, then we've got to be educating them all along the way — at home and at school.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What REALLY Matters Most

Whenever I’m writing, my natural inclination is to ask, “Is this fair?” but I've been working hard to allow myself to only focus on “Is this true for me?” because the point of this blog was/is for me to be true to myself and tell my story and not be pulled into telling anyone's story but mine.  And I am doing that.  I have inched my way into my truths, some truths — but there are entire areas of my life I have yet to write about and share because, well, because.

"What Matters Most" was difficult for me to share because it revealed a painful and humiliating piece of the past and my present.  When the assignment was given, I just responded and what I wrote surprised me but I went with the gut instinct to dump that which was buried inside and bothering me — still. 

The place I went in the summers (when I was lucky) was Belmar, New Jersey where my Gramma had a house four blocks from the ocean.  Four blocks from the boardwalk and the arcade — where I played Skeeball for hours on end until my money ran out, trying earnestly, religiously to win those tickets.  Tickets that you could redeem for prizes.  Those prizes that at the time, seemed so incredible.  Spent all summer trying to save up for some big prize.  Years later you realize those prizes could have been purchased for far less than those quarters and quarters and more quarters inserted into the slots of those machines.  

That boardwalk — with all its garish pleasures — is no longer.  The cars in my uncle’s driveway were flooded to the trunks and the water rose up the brick steps, over the porch and climbed further into the first floor.

As a child, sometimes I visited Seaside (south of Belmar) where my father's family rented for decades. Seaside — Heights or Park — the draw for me was the boardwalk. And on that boardwalk most memorable was a roller coaster that I was terrified but drawn to — the Wild Mouse — roller coaster of immense size, perched on the edge of the boardwalk and perilously close to the water’s edge.  When I did summon up the courage to ride that coaster, it was non-stop horror.  Throughout the ride I was terrified — that I would be flung from my seat and go sailing out over and into the ocean — no matter how tightly I gripped the bar that was supposed to keep me in my seat.  I only survived those rides by squeezing my eyes shut and praying to God that I would NOT be propelled through the air into that ocean.  I saw the Wild Mouse on TV the other night.  Still visible but now sitting in the water. 

And though you haven't been hearing much about it, Broad Channel.  Since she was seventeen, my mother-in-law has lived on a block in Broad Channel, Queens on Jamaica Bay in New York.  The only island in Jamaica Bay.  A block where her parents lived and then later, with her husband, bought a small summer house in 60s. When her parents died, her younger sister continued on in that house and then their brother moved across and up the street and raised his family in a year-round house.  Another sister and her husband bought a summer house on that road, and her nephew moved in across the street with his wife and two small children. This is a community of year-round and summer homes of tight-knit families. City workers, ship and tugboat engineers, firefighters, police and tradespeople who had their homes engulfed with three-four feet of water pouring in through their living room windows — overturning refrigerators and televisions; ripping air conditioners out of windows, slamming them into walls and doors.  Torrents of water soaking the furniture, floors and walls, and floating the possessions and memories of their lives long-lived in these homes out of those rooms and into the streets.  Broad Channel and so many other communities in NY and NJ will never be the same.

Governor Chris Christie must be applauded for publicly voicing the emotional damage caused by this disaster.  He spoke to parents about the importance of calming their children's fears and then he reminded us that for most of us, home is a placed filled with what we love and it's the place where we escape the world, shut the door and feel safe.  When you lose that — the feeling of safety and security — then you feel lost, bereft, and that too is what this storm has done to so many, on top of the physical and monetary damage.

I am glad I posted the three-parter "What Matters Most,"  but in light of Hurricane Sandy I needed to say I know what’s important is family and friends — not an office or a job, or even my beloved thrift-store art finds.  The devastation of this storm has left families without the essentials of life food, clothing, heat, hot water, even a roof.   Worse may be the loss of what is valuable to all of us — our memories.
A personal note: Before posting today I hit over 10,000 pageviews — in just under eleven months. I am congratulating me — thanks to you.  Thank you for reading. Cause for me, writing is another thing that matters most.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What Matters Most - Part 3

Finally the assignment was:  whichever you didn't write about “before” or “after” those five minutes — write the other.
I don’t know how accurately I’ll remember that meeting. I went in to the conference room thinking about how awkward this was going to be; I had my frustrations. With a successful (so far) educational program that more schools were wanting and my new boss NOT allowing me to move forward, frustration was an understatement. I kept thinking I was going to convince him that not pursuing these leads was bad business in more ways than one.

The news that I was being laid-off blindsided me.  I hadn't even thought that was a possibility; in hindsight I don’t know why. Guess I was just being clueless about my own fate and the circumstances I found myself in.  Perhaps somewhere in me, buried deep, I’d known it was inevitable, nothing had been working lately and still — I never saw it coming.

While I was sitting at the table I looked down at the letter and it said something politely definitive that they would no longer be needing my services. I don’t recall if it was “moving in a different direction” or “shifting the allocation of resources” or “we just don’t get along” but there it was — the end of more than a decade’s worth of work.  My blood, sweat and tears (literally).  For a moment I was stunned. Then I got mad.  Really mad.

“You’re firing me?”

“No, laying you off.  You’ll....”  I didn't hear the rest.

“And this is because of what exactly?” I snarled.  Still the roaring in my ears prevented the words from entering.  While he was explaining what would happen next, all I could think of was my kids. My job entitled me to a huge college tuition benefit and they were just about to head off to college that fall!  What would happen now? What would we do?  That tuition benefit was why I came to work at this institution in the first place.  

We needed that money. My kids deserved that money. They OWED me that money.

While I was listening but not hearing, my eyes scanned the room and took in all the details: the unusual and elegant frosted glass Scavo pendants (each with an exotic name) from Italy I’d discovered and ordered through a broker in New York (“scavo” means “excavated” in Italian; the comfortable, arm-less dining room chairs surrounding the huge conference table — chairs that I’d found, had recovered in a fabulous autumnal basket-weave fabric, and had castors added so you could easily move the chairs around; the carpenter-built mini-kitchen wall with its decorative shelving — even the emergency red-lit “EXIT” sign I’d insisted the workers move so that it wasn't the first thing you saw (an ugly focal point) when you first walked in to the room.  Even crafting the argument that got us the space from the university FOR this conference room — I had done all this. 


The space, the programs, the stationery, the website, the events, the outreach, the reputation — I had poured myself into building all that at this program in this office.   

Now I was being shown the door.