Friday, March 25, 2011

Are Bullies Just Babies?

I find it ironic that our daughter, Elizabeth, is dealing with bullying at school around the same time I was getting pushed around at work. First, she had her hands full with a disgruntled ex-friend who acted out feelings of anger on the internet, and then, most recently, we had a go round with an adult bully; one of Elizabeth’s teachers.

Now that I’m home, I’m more tuned in to my family. Elizabeth has always shared her day with Leslie after school, but by the time I got home tired and stressed, it was old news. Elizabeth is sharing more with me, usually over homework or projects. She has one teacher (of course, I won’t get into names) who has created a confrontational environment in the classroom, and as a result students are afraid to ask questions. It’s clear this teacher wants to consider herself sarcastic, when in fact her students perceive her as a bully.

A few weeks ago Elizabeth told us about how this teacher frightened a very shy student in class by asking rapid fire questions aggressively and then continuing to prod for an answer when the student wouldn’t or couldn’t. This and other issues with rude teachers prompted us to share unsolicited parent feedback with the principal via email. Then, just last week, this same teacher turned her fiery consternation on Elizabeth. Liz asked a question in class (after being out the previous day), and the teacher answered by leaning right into her face and yelling at her so loud Elizabeth could smell her nasty breath! She was intimidating and threatening, and everyone in the class heard her shout, “NO! We’re not gonna do that yet! We don’t even have what we NEED to do that yet!” Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to say, “We’re not there at this time”? Obviously, not yelling would be preferable. So, Leslie and I made a formal complaint to the principal and asked how it would be handled.

We attended a round table meeting just a day or so ago with the principal, the teacher, and Elizabeth. This is apparently part of the formal complaint process. Prior to our meeting and after having personally confirmed our claim by interviewing more than a handful of students who witnessed what happened, the principal shared our email message with his teacher. In our meeting, she responded with what I thought was slightly genuine, albeit definitely well-rehearsed sincerity. I’ve conducted many meetings around staff conduct at work, and I find often times they know when they’re crossing the line. This kind of person may take immediate responsibility for what they’re hearing, and claim they didn’t mean it, but it’s usually to cool down the heat. To them, it’s a calculated risk.

Judging from the principal’s direct communication over the table on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in a teacher, I’m wagering they had an off-line discussion. The teacher shared that she had a group meeting with her classroom prior to ours and gave them a “safe word”. She asked them to call out the word “banana” each time they felt threatened or intimidated. Isn’t this putting the responsibility for her conduct on them? I’m pretty sure safe words are reserved for bondage and discipline or S&M games more so than for school. Also, in our meeting, the teacher was open and verbal about needing Elizabeth’s approval. “Didn’t I use your work as an example, Elizabeth?” Ha. Ha. She wanted everyone to laugh it off, but it was clear to Leslie and I that she needed the strokes, even from a kid. Leslie wanted to make some salient points about teacher's ethics, which she did with grace and intelligence.  I wanted to make sure we were heard and was satisfied.  Elizabeth knew we had her back.  In the end, we all felt better for having met.

I’ve discovered that bullies are a curious bunch whose modus operandi is to make their bad behavior your responsibility. It’s happened to me at work and in friendships. It can happen in loving relationships, parents do it to their kids, it obviously happens between classmates, and now we’ve experienced it with a full grown adult and student role model. Of course, it also happens for tragic reasons such as sexual or physical abuse, when young children are robbed of their empathy and compassion. But that is a much deeper topic. Currently, the television show “Glee” addresses this with both humor and pathos, and I’m just so impressed with what they’re doing. Take Sue Sylvester, for example. She is a role model for brazen bullies hiding a golden heart. They’re also addressing bisexuality in students, homosexuality, and with the character Karofsky, they’ve taken on what can happen when an individual is personally conflicted about these things. It explores how that confusion can be acted out as real threats and violence.

The average bully wants your attention, expects that you will agree with them, and will go to great lengths to make you when you don’t. What motivates this behavior might be a fear of feelings like inferiority, unworthiness, or sexual ambiguity. I find that beneath the crusty exterior of a bully lies an intense childlike desire for attention.

It is the nature of a bully to make their problem your problem, and to belittle your efforts, actions or experiences, in order to make theirs feel superior. Whether or not we choose to take on that burden is entirely up to us.

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Read more about cyber-bullying here and here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reflecting on 2010: Dragons, Demons and Dilemmas

© Donna L. Faber

I wrote and posted this originally on April 25, 2010, almost a year ago. My work experience had begun its determined uprooting of personal demons signaling the commencement of a major life lesson.  Anticipating Amma’s 2010 visit, I was focused on the resultant inner work and heeding esoteric signals in the world around me.  As I address my feelings and pursue healing after what I experienced in the workplace and as I process my most recent visits with Amma, I find this extremely helpful.  It’s as though this specific personal lesson has almost come full circle.

At last.

The one line in this piece that speaks to me the most is this one uttered by Gregor, "This fear is crippling, Ssssister, and must be conquered."

I hope you enjoy reading this combination of fact and fiction as much as enjoyed writing it a year ago.

Amma’s visit is less than a month away. She is scheduled to be at the Hindu Temple in Sunnyvale in mid-May. This year I’ve minimized my involvement in preparation because I need to focus on myself spiritually. Her approaching visit has taken on a surreal approach; however, one that snuck up on me. As usual, She ensures all my hot buttons are pushed so I know what to focus on. It is exhausting!

Last night, I was up for three hours after 2:00 a.m. thinking. I watched Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in “Helen Keller”, and thought about determination. I wondered where my self-confidence and resolve had gone. From the corner of my eye I saw my deceased cat, Remos, strutting down the hallway. His presence typically ushers in a new lesson or point to be made.

The last few days have been brutal. Wracked with worry about work, I’ve failed miserably at juggling the demons rising within me, the feelings and insecurities … the hot buttons. My emotions ran unchecked. Hunkered down with my family, where I feel safe and good, I rifled through these issues, and began breaking through the blockage.

My eyes closed. The television faded into the background.

© Donna L. Faber

This was my prayer.

I called my dragon.

The great and mighty dragon, Gregor, my spirit guide, emerged from the shadows. Although in astral form, I beheld his shimmering scales, the immensity of his wings, and heard the crack they made against the wind. He was all around me. Our astral selves entwined together, and I felt immense relief.

“Where have you BEEN?” I cried and felt him smile down at me.

His answer was honest and somber.

You have not called me, Sssssister.

But his response was heartfelt, full of compassion, almost indulgent.

He knew my quandary immediately.

And then he spoke.

The Goddessss approaches and Sssshe is the Queen of Swords, The Remover of Masks. She turns over ssstones in her path with her razor sharp blade. Under each stone hides one of your coveted habits. Ssssecrets and desires must be exposed to the light where you see them, recognize them, and acknowledge them. No more can they be hidden away, cloaked. They tempt you with the sweet taste of delusion and pull you away from the true path. No. These sssshiny glamours must be irradicated no matter that your perspective feels less sssparkly for that, too, is delusion.

Under one ssstone hides false friendships, or people thought to be kinship sssspirits. These children harbor an investment of something other than who you are. They were kindred once, but as lifetimesss passss, this is forgotten. The astral cord, that which keeps you bound to one another lifetime after lifetime, sssspeaks to both of you, coaxing memories, feelings, and love.

Possssibilities seems endlessss for such a partnership renewed! Yet fear prevents full ascendancy. The astral cord is broken, and you are no longer dealing with kin.

He paused to breathe deeply, and I could hear the dragon’s coals rumbling and burning in the depths of his massive chest.

This, too, was an illusion.

Is nothing real, I thought?

But he ignored me and went on.

The Lady’s ssssword flashes again to unearth a stone beneath which hide both fear of failure and fear of disssapproval.

Arousssed by career uncertainty, these demons, present since you were a child and prone to reinvention, rose up to provoke deep sssseated inssssecurity. They are the sssame demon in a different form, mirror to one another Ssssister, and their inky black tendrils are entwined so one is barely discernable from the other.

Remember, Ssssister, fear is the mind killer … for everyone.
The Queen of Wands (Click on image to learn more about this piece)
I began to understand the double edged sword I dealt with. I still felt the pain of loss, the emptiness of the broken silver cord, but I understood more.

He went on.

This fear is crippling, Ssssister, and must be conquered. This is my task, as well. I will help you.

I felt relieved.

Seek the lessons in these discoveries, Ssssister. Ssseek the Earthbound Mother for your answers and know that understanding is the first step toward healing.

He meant my spiritual mother, Amma, of course.

This morning as I wrote this blogpost, I got my head in order, and a shimmering, green hummingbird paused to sip from a flower just outside the open sliding door. It was directly in line of my sight.

It felt like the Great Mother telling me everything would be alright.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Amma 2011@ Individual Blessings: Bless Me Mother For I Have Sinned

© 2003 SMVA Trust
This year, Amma will be back in the Bay Area for Guru Purnima, a celebration open to the public, from July 15 - July 17, 2011. Keep an eye on her website for details.

I was at the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple most of the day Thursday and Friday enjoying the first public programs of Sri Karunamayi’s 2011 US Tour.  Many of us call her Amma, which means “Mother” in Her native Telegu, and I’ve seen her for 10 years mostly in the Bay Area.   This visit was important to me.  I’ve recently lost my job and find myself at a crossroads.  What do I want to focus on going forward?  I thought intensely about my health, my relationships, how I manage stress and my creativity in the days prior to the program.  I’ve also been able to help more than usual, though I’m careful to balance the needs of my family, as having more time is a beneficial side effect of unemployment.

The first of Amma’s no cost public programs was individual blessings, during which any person can approach her with a list of private concerns or needs.  It’s a carefully orchestrated event that may last up to a full day and include 400 or 450 people.  She asks for silence or our best efforts during this program and gives each of us her undivided attention when we approach her.

Aside from many spiritual aspects, and simply from my perspective, of course, there are two very important points to smoothly facilitating this day.  I mention this because it seems that people need Mother’s reassurance more than ever, and I can’t help that it rouses the meeting and event planner in me.  The first point is preventing the front door from becoming a bottleneck, and the second is gently controlling the crowd, which implies addressing everyone’s concerns sensitively and compassionately as they wait in one line or another for their time with Mother.  Seekers must enter the hall without shoes and remain silent.  There is considerable activity around this, and because the front table is the only thing that stays in one place, questions tend to land there.  With a crowd of 400, the front door can become a bottleneck quickly, and as a result seekers get worried and anxiety mounts.  As luck would have it, Thursday’s program was intimate with a little less than 200 people in total.  The door didn’t turn into a problem, and I was relieved because I was working there!

The second important component to this program, from my limited view, is what I would lovingly refer to as crowd control.  The responsibility for this falls upon the ushers, also devotees and for the most part local volunteers (aka sevites).    Most attendees are indeed very serious about their one-on-ones with Amma, but Thursday’s group felt more intense than usual, which is no surprise  given the state of the economy and our world in general.  Many people juggled personal challenges like limited time off from work, responsibility to their families, and a lack of funds, much of which we heard about at the front desk; but still many were generous with donations.  As activity happened around lining up to see Mother, their agitation grew, I felt, some even bordering on desperation.   To their credit, the ushers kept it organized, addressed each and every concern, knew when to make an exception and allow someone to step ahead in line, and then did gentle damage control around those who noticed and didn’t approve.  I thought they were awesome.

Amma was, as ever, a picture of harmonious serenity.  The relatively small size of the crowd meant She could take her time with everyone, and so she did, stretching the morning time period well past 1 p.m. before she left for a very brief break.   She never, ever reacts to any of the noise around her, and rather focuses her attention completely and totally on the individual in front of her.  It’s quite uncanny, but her attention never wavers.  

I got in line for my individual blessing at about 1:30 p.m.  and the first thing I noticed was the ruckus.  This crowd was loud and active.  The ushers worked very hard and very patiently, but people were demanding, asked questions,  and tried to cut in line for no particular reason again and again.  It was all very distracting, but like at the front desk, to me it demonstrated how upset Her children are at this time.
My Altar Space
Finally, I had my chance to approach Amma and lay my concerns at Her sacred feet.  She was lovely, and gave me a big, big smile.  Oh, how I needed that.  She also noticed my hair.  I got my hair colored yesterday, and decided to redden up the blond in the front which took the color differently, way differently!  The back is a deep red, but the front is like a Lucille Ball hair-do on fire, harkening me back to another visit with Amma in Chicago almost 10 years ago.   Is this my subconscious effort to be noticed?  Some things never change.  After giggling affectionately for a moment, She looked me right in the eye and asked me a very personal question.  And that’s when my tears started.  Suffice it to say the subsequent moments with  Amma were powerful.  There are times when she doesn’t say a word, but during this visit she addressed me verbally and very directly.  I left her feeling shaken.

Each time I see Amma, it is a successful visit; even when our contact is minimal. This time, however, I spent a number of days reflecting on my needs, and then a day in silent reflection.  Doing so left me open and receptive to the power of Mother’s divine love. 

What I considered a successful individual blessings program is a testimony to the enormous amount of work done by the Bay Area Coordinator and volunteers before, during and after Amma’s visit.  Smriti, the Coordinator, has a clear vision of what she wants, and puts love into every detail out of a strong desire to make the program as good as it can be for Ma.  In my 20 year career, I’ve done parties of up to 2,000 people, small cocktail parties, sit down dinners, community service events, and themed office parties so I can confirm it’s a lot of work under normal circumstances.  However, staying on task when Amma is present, when all we want to do is space out on Her energy, is a major accomplishment.  The way Smriti cares about the quality of Amma’s programs takes it to the next level for the benefit of every person who may connect with Sri Karunamayi during the Bay Area Program.

The two days spent with my Spiritual Mother were personally impactful in ways I’m still fully realizing, still processing. I know this is the case because my family keeps asking me if I'm preoccupied with something.  I guess I am on the deepest levels.  I want to get my impressions down in writing, but I continue to make emotional and intellectual connections, and so my perceptions are mercurial.  Even as I wrote this, I found myself getting long winded or changing my mind.

What I do know for certain is that my personal urgency and the issues in my life are no more or less important than any one person in the crowd on Individual Blessings day.  It’s true that the Divine Mother helps those who help themselves.  Yet if we’re meant to have a certain experience no matter how difficult it seems to be, I know that we are meant to learn from it in the end.  I wonder if perhaps I've gotten a bit better at going with the flow, or a bit closer to surrendering the illusion of control.

It’s taken me a year a half worth of hard core life lessons simply to get the hang of being right here in this moment.

I'm happy with that for now.

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You may be interested in more posts and information on Amma, Sri Karunamayi, as follows:

  1. See more photos and a brief video of Friday’s homa (vedic fire ceremony) here.
  2. View Amma’s website including tour information.
  3. Enjoy a meditation video featuring the Sri Mrutyunjaya Mantra by Karunamayi here.
  4. Read about my family's visit with Amma in Fremont here.
  5. And search my blog for posts on Amma's visits in past years including 2008 and 2009.

Jai Karunamayi!

Guardian Series 1: Ganesha
© February 16, 2011 by Donna L. Faber

Monday, March 14, 2011

The White Swan of My Spirituality

© Lorcan Keating

This photo is by Lorcan Keating, who lives and works in San Francisco.  Lorcan successfully captures the vast subtleties of the world around him with his lens, focusing primarily on San Francisco neighborhoods and wildlife.  He can be found on Facebook.
Swans are revered in Hinduism, and are compared to saintly persons whose chief characteristic is to be in the world without getting attached to it, just as a swan's feather does not get wet although it is in water. The Sanskrit word for swan is hamsa or hansa, and it is the vehicle of many deities like the goddess Saraswati. It is mentioned several times in the Vedic literature, and persons who have attained great spiritual capabilities are sometimes called Paramahamsa ("Great Swan") on account of their spiritual grace and ability to travel between various spiritual worlds. In the Vedas, swans are said to reside in the summer on Lake Manasarovar and migrate to Indian lakes for the winter. They're believed to possess some powers such as the ability to eat pearls. They are also believed to be able to drink up the milk and leave the water from a saucer of milk adulterated with water. This is taken as a great quality, as shown by this Sanskrit verse:Hamsah shwetah, bakah shwetah, kah bhedah hamsa bakayo? Neeraksheera viveketu, Hamsah hamsah, bakah bakah! (Source: Wiki)
It’s been a long time since I was completely stress-free.  I’m convinced that when stress is turned up high, it blocks any good vibes from getting through, particularly when you need them the most.  It took almost a month after leaving the office, but I’m feeling much better than I was previously, and just in time, too.  Sri Karunamayi begins her U.S. Tour in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Leslie, Elizabeth and I were fortunate enough to be one of the first people to see her here today, on the first day of the first city in her tour. She landed in San Francisco International Airport, direct from India, after being in the air for 16 hours, and made her way to the family hosting her in Fremont.  We were there with about 25 of other devotees to meet her. I want to be as open and relaxed as possible so I can absorb as much of her positive spiritual energy as I can.
Sri Karunamayi is revered in India as an embodiment of divine motherly love, due to the love and affection that she showers liberally on people, animals, and even plants, the spiritual knowledge and guidance that she gives freely to all of humanity, and the humanitarian works that she has undertaken. "Amma," as she is affectionately called by her devotees, is simply the Telugu word for "mother," Telugu being Amma's native language. (
I’ve looked forward to this visit for weeks, and it was precipitated by several days of intense and deep thought. Everything I’ve had rolling around in my head, along with residual sadness, came to the surface to be inventoried. This has happened before.  I re-evaluated by work experience, current relationships, and what I’d like to do with my life, where I’d like to focus my attention, going forward.  I thought about the people I love, my creative efforts, and the current state of our fragile world.  All this and more then bounced into my dreams last night.  First, I was in a giant ashram full of different rooms and women wearing spiritual whites and sari’s running around getting ready for Amma’s visit (an obvious corrrelation).  Then, I was in an office in a new, temporary job working for a woman who clearly didn’t like me (deja vu).  Granted, I’ve had this particular dream more than once since being laid off.  I was doing a Power Point presentation for her and couldn’t get it right no matter what I did.  She fired me finally, and I left the office building carrying a queen size mattress (an awkward burden, much like rejection), dragging it, down a large, dark woodland road (an unknown dark place).  As I walked, a tall blonde woman I didn’t recognize crouched by the roadside to nurse her baby (nurturing new ideas and directions).  A long parade of white domestic cats, all shapes and sizes, padded ghostlike across the road and into the woods behind her. They were on their way to Amma’s program, too.  I’m no expert on dream symbolism, and I usually have little interest in white cats, but I can guess on much of this.

I don’t insist my family attend Amma’s programs.  I get wrapped up in it on the days I can be there, but Elizabeth is usually in school, and Leslie is usually busy running everyone around.  They end up in the background, waiting and watching.  I figure a person doesn’t have to directly participate to benefit from the wonderful vibrations of Amma’s positive spiritual energy.  It’s like a contact high.  You don’t have to smoke the peace pipe to get the buzz. However, this home visit, outside of her programs, is special and typically for devotees who help.  I don’t feel like I did much, not compared to The Bay Area Coordinator’s efforts, but I was invited for the third time.  It is a unique opportunity to have special time with Amma outside of individual blessings and before more structured programs focus her attention on the hundreds of people (typically thousands in India) who bring their sorrows, wants and worries to lay at Her feet, revered as She is as the Divine Mother's earthly representation and Saraswati.
Amma in Fremont on March13, 2011
The family that hosts Amma is a traditional Hindu family, and so are many of her devotees.  When we entered their home, one of Amma’s bhajans (spiritual songs) played.  The house was decorated in Hindu fashion just for the ocassion and filled with a diverse blend of people; some traditional Indian, some hippy looking types, and others completely Western in appearance.  There were white sheets spread out all over the floor.  Color is of particular importance, although I don’t know the details.  Amma asks us to approach her in all white at programs, as well.  She arrived with traditional fanfare, looking no worse for the more than 24 hours spent traveling, and spoke to us in her sweet voice, as people clattered and chattered in the background.  Her children were anxious this day, nervous even.  Thank the heavens She’s arrived because Mother Earth is shaking all to pieces.

In her brief darshan, Amma focused on planetary influences and was very sad about what's happening in Japan, indicating that human greed and selfishness is at the core root of these disasters. She reminded us about the Sri Mrutyunjaya mantra, an ancient vedic healing mantra, and told us about the many homas they’ve performed in India, focusing on this month specifically.  Check out the mantra here. You don't have to sing it.  Just play it, and it works by healing and warding off negative energy whether you believe in it or not.  She mentioned that human beings are struggling psychologically with depression, anxiety, and confusion. Yet, she also laughed easily with us, assuring us that San Francisco is a very spiritual place.  Then, she blessed the Prasad, and it was passed around.  Candies, nuts, and other treats infused with her spiritual energy were given to everyone.  By the time she wrapped it up, I was completely buzzed, thoroughly high on her pure, spiritual vibration.  I watched her walk through the small crowd toward her personal room for the night, and noticed that her braid, the tiny tip of which peaked through the bottom of her shawl, was almost down to her knees.  

She is the white swan of my spirituality, and when She glides quietly and gracefully away from those of us who want and need her attention so very much, I miss her immediately.

Due to my personal disdain for modern day religion, these spiritual experiences are the closest thing to “religion” my family and I have. My love for the Divine Mother resides in my heart, my devotion or bhakti is personal, and as far as I’m concerned the Goddess is everywhere and for everyone.  She has many faces so Her children can find one to identify with. The Holy Mother, Virgin Mary, Athena, Hecate, Saraswati, Durga and even Kali are all aspects of the same to me.  I believe very strongly that we all have the right to our personal faiths without persecution, and I don’t appreciate it when others cram their experience down my throat.  This has never happened to me in the 10 years I’ve seen Amma.  The Hindu trappings, like the ancient religion itself, are not prerequisite to being in Her presence. I take what I want and need from the experience and leave the rest.  It was unnerving initially, but I’ve noted that some people who return learn to release that intimidation and adhere to the Hindu practices in programs when it’s spiritually necessary or done out of respect.  Like taking yours shoes off at the front door.

No matter what the guidelines are, and no matter if I do or don’t adhere to them, what matters is that Amma has made an enormous personal impact in my life; greater than my parents, my grandparents, and all my relatives put together. With the exception of Leslie and Elizabeth, She has been a singular most positive influence.  She helped me access and realize my worthiness, and gave me spiritual and emotional healing at a time when I was drowning in my own broken nature. She’s also been there in very tangible and somewhat unexpected ways.

Now, as I sort through the feelings accumulated over the last year and a half, I’m relieved by the certainty that my Spiritual Mother is here to help … just as She helps all her children.

Learn more about the upcoming Bay Area Program here.

Jai Ma …

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tsunamis, Global Fear, Gift Baskets, and Mid-Morning Tea

I'm enjoying this period of time I have fondly dubbed my career sabbatical, and I'm filling in the spaces with intense creativity.  My spiritual mother, Sri Karunamayi, visits the Bay Area next week, as well.  One of her programs is on March 19, coinciding with the “supermoon” and the day prior to the first day of Spring.  Just like so many buds waking up as the weather changes, my personal issues bloom reminding me of what I should focus on when She is here. 

This visit, I’m thinking about a lot more than myself.

It would be simple to say the morning started with a bang, but it was more like deathly silence.  My family and I woke to news of the devastation in Japan and discovered ours and other coastal towns were in a lockdown position, waiting for a tsunami.   There was an official warning here which closed the schools, and had people hunkering down to gather their emergency supplies.   Although Elizabeth hoped to get a day off, she didn’t because her school is in a different district.  We drove down the long road that leads out of the valley, to the top of the hill, and then down to the ocean, and it was quieter than an average Sunday morning.   People congregated at the hill’s top, their cars parked, and eyes peeled on the water in the distance.  The news coverage had citizens fleeing their homes, even the people who didn’t need to, seeking higher ground, and blocking the main roads.  It reminds me of the earthquake in 1989 when I motored home on a Muni bus while watching San Franciscans gathered outside with portable televisions and cases of beer.    Today, the big wave never arrived on the Pacifica coastline, not like it did in Hawaii and Santa Cruz, but it didn’t matter.  People were scared to death, regardless.

Spring Mini-Basket
Still the day marches onward, and after dropping off Elizabeth at school, Leslie and I searched for a good place to photograph my latest project.  I’ve been up to my eyeballs all week in custom gift baskets purchased by an extremely supportive friend here in the area.  Leslie and I found a wonderful spot at the public library and took photos that seem staged with a backdrop.  She channeled her inner site scout for this project and nailed it down perfectly!  Next stop was our friend’s place of business to drop off the baskets.   I didn’t expect her to be there as her schedule is unpredictable, but she was, and we enjoyed mid-morning tea and lively conversation.  It was good to see her.  She’s a lot of fun, tells great stories, and is an inspiration to me in many ways.

While we were enjoying our tea, I received a voicemail message from my former counterpart in Houston. She got her pink slip today, making it official: the company riffed (aka layed off) every single one of us in the West Region, with no exception.  This virtually confirms there was a plan over a year ago not only to eliminate the position, but each of us personally along with our demographically appropriate annual salaries.  I know it’s business, but it still feels personal, more so now because it’s happened to all the people I worked with and still care about.   I hoped at least one of us might be an exception.  More than a month after being let go, I’m reluctant to return to Corporate America, and I’m still not sure if this is because my confidence took such a beating or because I’m ready to move on to something else.  For example, it’s obvious gift baskets won’t pay the mortgage.    Leslie thinks getting my real estate license is a great idea (and something she and I can partner on), but I can’t imagine absorbing that much information and deploying it effectively in this complex market without an experienced mentor. I know if that is what I'm supposed to be doing, that's what I'll do, and I think it would be super to have something Leslie and I can do as a team.  I'm just not sure it's the right thing yet.

Family Movie Night Basket
It’s hard to keep up with the amount of information on the web regarding astrological inclinations around yesterday’s disaster, our emergence from the age of Pisces into Aries, and how Uranus is ushering in a long period of intense change and transformation, the hard way.  The devastation in Japan, grouped with civil unrest and revolution around the globe will make the American stock market and consequently our economy and job market more unpredictable than ever.   To this potpourri of uncertainty, we must add the numerous leaking nuclear reactors in Japan, and the miasma they are casting into the air around them.   Someone on Facebook referred to this as an isotropic tsunami and recommends everyone on the West Coast supplement their iron intake with kelp.

I know I’m standing on the precipice of intense personal change.  I don’t know where I’ll land when and if I jump.  I ask myself repeatedly, “What is my destination?”  I don’t know the answer to this, but this I do know: 

Whatever my destination is, I refuse to arrive there scared to death. 

I want to be informed, but I won’t be crippled by what I’m hearing. 

This great orchestration of global change, is out of our control, and in the hands of The Great Mother.

I'll keep creating, and I won’t live in fear.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Liberated by a Legacy Firm Drone

This morning, I woke up thinking about the dungeon that was my previous job.  I worked with some terrific people, and while the thought of that place still irritates me immensely, and I’d much rather never have to think of it again, I wonder about them from time to time.

Coincidentally, a colleague and my former counterpart in Los Angeles called to check up on me earlier today.  She’s a nice, genuinely caring individual.  Like me, she did not get the job she applied for, but the company kept her on an additional six months to do real estate work her replacement isn’t qualified to do.  Her replacement, by the way, is a secretary from the other side of the merger, and she has no operations experience.    My previous counterpart informed me that my replacement is an employee from the other side of the company, too.  So, I looked up this successful candidate on LinkedIn, and it seems she has no operations experience either.

Our perky colleague and former counterpart in Houston, a real firecracker, is still being strung along.  She began the interview process just after Christmas, about the time I did, and was informed a few weeks ago the race is on between her and one external candidate.  A man.  That external candidate was in the office she manages interviewing yesterday with a high level executive.   My perky colleague, however, was not invited to do the same.  This high level interview happened in her office, behind a closed door she could see from her desk.  It lasted about 45 minutes.  When I spoke with her today, it sounded as though she were one Tinky Winky band-aid away from flying into a billion tiny pieces.

Leslie and I were sitting in front of Peet’s coffee when I got off the phone.  I was drinking the usual afternoon latte, a habit I haven’t tried to break yet, as I considered what I’d been told.  The general consensus might be that across what was “our” geography, the position my counterparts and I applied for and didn’t get has been filled with outrageously unqualified candidates from the other side of the “merger of equals”.  In fact, the entire action looks perfectly premeditated. 

It took a moment for this new perspective to sink in.  At first I sat there, my head racing, feeling irritated and stressed out all over again.  To date, I’ve considered this a learning experience, which is what I tell myself when I’ve been intensely fucked and can’t find a hidden benefit.  Then the tears fell.  If they knew all along they would replace us with legacy firm drones, what was the point of all this?  Why tell me I’m a strong candidate only to shoot me down later?   Was it so we wouldn’t miss the pleasure of banging our heads against the confusing ambiguity they called change management or so we could enjoy being de-valued as our responsibilities were stripped slowly with little explanation?  Oh wait.  It was so we could fully imagine the terror of being unemployed in what is undoubtedly this century’s most dramatically publicized and fear inciting recession; thereby being scared shitless enough to do whatever they asked us to do and willingly overlook the strong possibility our efforts might be for absolutely nothing.

Suddenly, I realized this lets me off the hook.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve worked on living with the learning experience theory above, and wondered how long it would take my confidence to bounce back.  My outer Donna, the big girl, was aware of the set up and knew it was not to be taken personally; but inside … well, that was another story.  My inner Donna, the little girl, fretted and even obsessed over the certainty of what I did wrong.  The job was only a quarter of its previous responsibilities, and would be surrounded by rude and inconsiderate peers, but this seemed inconsequential.  What did I do that made me inadequate for this job?  Suddenly, that little, red head, freckle face Donna, the unconfident girl with buck teeth and a dorky pom-pom hat, was liberated from the burden of her self-imposed unworthiness by the knowledge that the firm hired people who weren’t even close to qualified, and probably had plans to dumb it down all along.

A company that treats support services with disdain and utter carelessness is a nightmare to work for in a post-merger environment.  The professional staffs who don’t meet their numbers won’t hang around long.  But because support services don’t generate revenue, those staff might as well wear targets and wait to be picked off, terminated due to cost savings.  As the new firm approaches its utopian state, this will increase with the integration of real estate locations and sophisticated self-service human resource, benefits, and finance systems.  Finally, the end result will be a largely automated and highly sophisticated internal services function that sits just one hop, skip, and a jump away from complete and total outsourcing.

If I were still working in the Shared Services dungeon, I'd start mustering up what dignity I have left; because if the process of elimination doesn't wear you down, the ferocious job market certainly will.

Good luck.

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