Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I got back from Wiscon Monday evening.

When I do in-town cons these days I spend only one day, usually Saturday. I get too tired. It's not parties. I rarely do parties anymore. It's a combination of a lot of input and too much coffee. I can drink a lot of coffee when I'm not dealing with people, but the combination of input and caffeine is way too much.

There should be a simple solution: drink less coffee, drink decaf, drink tea. But that cup seems so comforting in my hand; I don't like decaf; and I am out of the habit of drinking tea.

Wiscon is a special problem for two reasons. It's out-of-town, which means I attend for three days; and I do a lot of thinking at Wiscon, and that is tiring.

On the other hand, I get to spend time with a lot of really nice and interesting people, which gives me ideas and energy for a year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


It's overcast right now, and the temperature is supposed to be more than 90 today. Too hot. None the less, we are still in the perfect May week, when the lilacs bloom.

It's 10:30 a.m. and I have not yet made my bed. I wonder if this a sign of the kind of degeneration that happens when one does not have a job.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

St. Paul Workforce Office

Today I went to a workshop at the St. Paul Workforce Office. It was less attractive than the suburban office I went to a week ago, mostly because there were almost no windows, just beige walls. The conference room was much smaller, and they had no coffee. The suburban office had free coffee in the conference room.

There were three people in the workshop with me, all unemployed: a customer service rep, a nursing home administrator and an engineer who had switched to IT in the hope of finding more job security, but hadn't.

The women leading the workshop said she'd been an employment counselor for 20 years and never seen an economy this bad.

Hardly cheering.

I see articles saying the worst is over, there are signs of revival, the economy will start turning around before the end of the year.

I wonder.

A Visit to the Doctor

I had a medical appointment yesterday. On my way I stopped at a coffee shop where I am a fairly regular customer.

"What is going on?" the shop owner asked. "I was in downtown Minneapolis yesterday, and there were hardly any clerks in Macy's, and hardly any customers either."

I decided not to mention the economy, collected my coffee and went on my way.

The doctor wants to see me again in three months. So I went to the front desk to make an appointment.

The intake person said, "I can't make an appointment for you in August." It turns out their department is being consolidated with three other departments in the multi-clinic system and moving to a new location. A third of the staff is being laid off, including some doctors. They don't know yet who is getting laid off.

"We're all just waiting," she said.

"Doctors getting laid off," I said. "This is some economy."

She said, "I think most of the patients coming in now are unemployed."

We talked a bit about unemployment -- my friends who were out of work, and her friends who out of work. Then I left.

She told me I'd be getting a letter about the move and layoffs, once they were public knowledge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


On the plus side, we are entering into the two perfect weeks of spring that the Twin Cities get in May. The daffodils and tulips are blooming; the apple and other fruit trees are blooming; the French lilacs have just opened.

Pretty much all the trees have leafed out; and their leaves are still that light, fresh, spring green.

It;s been partly sunny the past two days. I like rain, but right now I want clear blue skies.


I exercised this morning, looked at a bunch of online job lists, sent out two resumes and signed up for three workshops on how to get a job.

I planned to get some writing done. Instead I took a nap.

As I mentioned before, Patrick and I took a workshop on looking for work after 40 last week. The engineer I met there warned me against depression and giving up.

He said when he first lost his job, he got up at 5:30, the way he always did on a weekday, and looked for a new job the way he had worked. He seemed like a determined guy, and it sounded as if he'd been looking hard. But after four months of unemployment, there were mornings when he slept till ten.

He was planning to go back to school and get recertified. He said he was a little worried about being in college with a bunch of kids. But all the schools he talked to said there were plenty of guys in their 40s and 50s back in school, trying to get new skills.

Right now, I feel as if I'm just getting used to being unemployed, still letting go of the job I left, still trying to figure out -- what next?

Sunday, May 10, 2009


My last post was a little glum.

Yesterday afternoon I went over a story, making revisions. I think it's about as done as it's going to get, until I have comments from my writing workshop. Now I have to input the revisions, print the story and make copies before Thursday. That seems doable.

Yesterday evening I ran our roomba and dusted the living room.

So that's three things off the to-do list.

I've been working on cleaning out unfinished stories.

Right now, I have two stories with my workshop, one almost ready for the workshop, and two more awaiting awaiting a final, post-workshop polish before going out the door to an editor or my agent. (I may have the only agent left who handles short stories.)

Patrick and I are planning a drive down the river today. Tomorrow I get back to looking for work.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Unemployment in April

The official rate is 8.9%, getting close to one person in ten. U6 is 15.8%, more than one person in seven.

The average workweek is now 33 hours.

My own bet is a continuing decline in the economy, as people struggle with lost work, mortgages they can't afford, debt that has to be paid down somehow. This means reduced consumption. You aren't going to buy a new car, when you don't know how to pay for your house.

If consumers aren't buying, then businesses are not going to be investing and will probably be laying off. Income of every kind declines; tax revenues go down; and state and local governments lay off workers.

On top of this contraction is the financial mess. Many pension funds, private and public, have invested in the fancy financial instruments that Wall Street invented and claimed were safe, triple and double A rated. Many of these investments are worthless. Once they are written down, the pension funds are going to be worth far less than they thought, and this means retirees are looking at smaller pension payments. This means less consumption and a further contraction of the economy.

The only thing we have going for us is the federal government's stimulus plan, which many economists think is too small.

Unemployment Workshop

Yesterday Patrick and I went to the Bloomington Workforce (aka Unemployment) Center to attend a workshop on Looking for Work after 40, 50, 60 years of age.

My memories of Workforce Centers date back several years and are of the one at Lake and Chicago in South Central Minneapolis and the one on University in St. Paul. These are used by working and poor people. They may have changed, but the last time I was in them they were crowded, dark and dreary.

The Bloomington office, in a southern suburb, is spacious, with nice furniture in a good state of repair, lots of computers and lots of windows that look out on parking lots, lawns and trees. The staff is friendly and efficient and do not appear to be overwhelmed. The unemployed are middle class.

As far as I could tell by looking, Pat and I were the oldest people in the workshop, except for the two workshop leaders, who were both 73.

I found the workshop interesting and energising, though some of the advice sounded wrong to me. The economy has changed so much in the past 12 to 18 months that lots of information is out of date. Still and all, I got some new ideas, both from the workshop leaders and the guy sitting next to me, an engineer who's been out of work since January. Patrick said it was not as useless as he expected.

We both applied to the displaced worker program, which offers a lot of additional resources.

It was an actively pleasant office, and I'd like to go back there. However, it's a one and a half hour bus ride from where I live.

The other suburban Workforce Center that sounds interesting is much closer and easier to get to by bus. I'm going to try that one next and the St. Paul office, which is just off University Avenue now. Maybe it has improved, though it only offers four workshops. The suburban office offers 14.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Daily Report

I stayed in all day yesterday, using email, the Internet and the telephone to look for work and deal with some issues left over from my former job.

(My ex-boss filled out my termination form incorrectly, so I had to spend time talking to the insurance agency that handles the former job's COBRA. Fortunately, I used to handle COBRA for my former job, so I was used to dealing with the insurance agency, and its excellent COBRA specialist. Everything got fixed, and I had a pleasant chat with the lady in question.)

Anyway, staying in turned out to be a mistake. The lack of exercise and being indoors left me mildly depressed.

Today I am going to the Y, then sending out a resume, then going down to the local coffee shop with my computer to work there.

With all the people already unemployed, and more to come, we need clubs for the unemployed, unions for the unemployed as they had in the 1930s, unemployed picnics and hiking groups, unemployed street festivals, handbooks for the unemployed...

The State of Minnesota does have a handbook. I can buy it, but I think there's a way to get one free, which I will investigate tomorrow. Patrick and I was going to the Bloomington Workforce office to take a workshop and sign up for more workshops. As I mentioned before, the interesting sounding classes are in affluent suburbs, which are difficult or impossible to get to by mass transit.

This creates a separation between the unemployed poor and the unemployed middle class, since the poor are not likely to go to an affluent suburb, and the middle classes don't seem to like the core Twin Cities much. The classes I am interested in -- looking for work after 40, career exploration, self employment, resume tips -- are all offered in affluent suburbs. As I mentioned before, I already know how to speak English, use a computer and write a basic resume.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

This is from Yves Smith's wonderful economics blog Naked Capitalism. Most economists put in charts, when they want visuals. Yves intersperses economic news (often dire, these days) with enchanting animal photos.


Patrick has much better dreams than I do. This is one of his.

He had a deep blue plastic card with a hole, so he could wear it on a key chain. If he took it off the key chain and laid it on a flat surface, it became the ocean.

If he set laid it on one side, he was standing on a rocky shore with the ocean in front of him.

If he turned it over and laid in on the other side, he was standing in a harbor town.

If he grew tired of both or either, he could pick the card up; and once again it was blue plastic card with a hole, which he could put on his key chain.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Daily Report

I had an appointment over in Minneapolis this morning. On the way back, I stopped at the downtown Barnes & Noble and bought the new novel in C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series, also a copy of Poetry magazine.

It's a sunny day. The trees are leafing out nicely. Lawns are green. I've seen dandelions, crocuses and some flowering trees. Most years, there are a couple of perfect weeks in the Twin Cities, when the sky is blue and clear and the lilacs are blooming. We are not there yet, but we are getting close.

In about 45 minutes I will take off to the Y for a meeting with a fitness trainer, which will be demanding, but satisfying. Then a nice shower and new clothes and an afternoon spent reading, while sunlight pours in around me.

Well, not quite. I should dust and get out the Roomba and check the various online job listings. But then I can read; and because it is spring, the sunlight will still be there.

I keeping remembering how lucky I am. I can pay my bills with unemployment and some extra money I have in the bank. I can still afford to buy books and magazines -- in moderation, anyway. There is some pressure, because I would like to find a job; and and Unemployment requires that I look seriously. But it's not the pressure of a mortgage to be paid and kids to feed.

I feel pain and sorrow at losing my job, but not terror. Something will turn up, as Mr. Micawber always said.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


When I got home last night, I had a message on my home phone from the Executive Director of the job I'm really interested in. He wanted to talk about the job and left a number.

It was eight at night on a Saturday, which didn't seem to me like a time to talk business. But Patrick through I should call back immediately. So I did and left a message saying I'd home all day Sunday, and otherwise I'd call on Monday.

I was startled because the person I had talked to previously said they weren't going to be interviewing for the job until late in May.

Anyway, no call back today. I stayed next to the phone, though it was bright and warm outside, and today is the May Day parade in Minneapolis. I'm not complaining. I had planned to stay home and clean, though I might have gone out for a while.

As it was, I cleaned the kitchen and one bathroom, prepared raw vegetables for dipping, hard boiled eggs, and am thinking of either cleaning silver or getting out the Roomba.

The desk in my bedroom is starting to look like an actual workspace, rather than a place to heap stuff. I have it almost entirely clear. I plan to buy some modular shelving next weekend and use it to make a hutch for the desk, where I can put the rest of the clutter -- staplers, pens, pencils and erasers, paper clips, the usual suspects.

The up side of unemployment is I have gotten a fair amount done.

At the moment, I'm listening to Mindy Ratner on Minnesota Public radio's classical station and drinking spiced Darjeeling tea from Harney & Sons.

A pretty good day. It could be worse. Sunlight is pouring in my living room, which needs dusting. Maybe not right now.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


The James Barker, a thousand foot lake boat, was due in Duluth early this afternoon. Patrick and I went up to watch it come in through the shipping canal.

The day began sunny and then became partly cloudy as we got close to Duluth. The trees around the Twin Cities are leafing out. When we got about seventy miles north, there were buds but no leaves.

It's a drive I always like, even when we take the Interstate, as we did today. The highway comes over a hill, and all at once you can see Lake Superior, the harbor and the long sandbar that separates it from the lake. It's the longest freshwater sandbar in the world.

The shipping canal cuts through the western end of the bar, and a hundred year old lift bridge stands over the canal.

I like the sight a lot: the Aerial Bridge and all the docks, almost all for bulk cargoes -- iron ore pellets, coal, coke, limestone, grain -- though wind turbines are also coming in from Europe for the windmills going up in western Minnesota and North Dakota. Beyond the sandbar is the huge, wide, beautiful lake, blue and calm today.

As it turned out, the Barker anchored outside the harbor. We could see her clearly, but she was too far out for decent photographs. So we wandered around Canal Park, which is an old industrial area which has been toured into a tourist attraction with a number of quite nifty shops.

Since I am out of work, I was not inclined to buy anything. But window shopping was fun.

I did buy a book at the Northern Lights bookstore: Native American Fiction by David Treuer, who teaches at the University of Minnesota.

Not much in the way of bird watching: an egret just north of the Twin Cities, vultures over the highway coming into Duluth, Canadian geese as we came back into the metro area, a lot of crows and a lot of small and medium sized birds I was not able to identify. It's not easy to bird watch from a car going 70 miles an hour.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Pete Seeger

I began to wonder about the Pete Seeger story, when I realized that Seeger was 20 in 1939, something very simple math could have told me. I checked his biography in Wikipedia. He was politically active as a young man in the late 1930s. However, per Wikipedia, he met Guthrie in 1940.

Maybe the story took place in the 1940s, though Seeger was in the Pacific during the war.

Maybe the story took place in the later 1940s.

May Day

Because it is May Day, the traditional workers holiday, and because there is a big concert in New York this weekend in celebration of Pete Seegar's 90th birthday, I will tell my favorite Pete Seeger story.

It seems that Seeger and Woody Guthrie were doing some union organizing in Minnesota's North Woods in the 30s; and they were doing a show for a bunch of Scandinavian American loggers in a logging camp.

They played some music and told some jokes; and the loggers just sat there with stony faces. So they played some more music and told some more jokes; and no one even cracked a smile. And so it went. No matter what they did, they could not get a reaction from the loggers. Finally they got nervous, and they wrapped the show up early and got off the stage before people began throwing things.

The next morning at breakfast, the camp cook said to them, "The boys really liked your show. You could have played all night."

I've always thought this was a funny story. But it's also sad. The guys did not get the full concert they wanted, because they were too tired and too Minnesotan to react.

I hope Pete and Woody stayed another night and gave them another show.

Happy May Day, and Happy Birthday to Pete.