a little bit more about me

My name is Beth and I accidentally have found myself living in Arizona but I'm originally from Tennessee. My education is in history and anthropology, which means that I know a little about a lot of things and can hold my own at a cocktail party in mixed company. I work in museums, doing all sorts of things ranging from researching and writing exhibits to cataloguing absolute wickety wak. I love comedy, baking, photography, my daughter, dogs, and above all else, napping.*

* 2013 edit: Oh yeah, and my new son too.

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    This section is a compilation of my blog posts from 2010-2011, when I was both pregnant with my first child and laid off and looking for work. You will probably want to start with this post.

    Sunday
    Nov072010

    Laid Off and Knocked Up

    Note: Because I relocated my Laid Off & Knocked Up posts from another blog to my regular blog, I have deliberately assigned the wrong year for this entry - 2010. The events below actually took place November 7, 2011 but in order to keep all the blog posts in the correct order, I had to assign the wrong year to keep this entry first in the series. Okay? Cool. Read on:

     

    Exactly one year ago today, we found out we were having a baby. 

    In one singular moment, you go from envisioning what it might be like to be a parent to having a ticking time bomb until you will become a parent. No matter how prepared you think you are for the moment when you find out you’ll be a parent, you just aren’t. Sure, logically, we're no dummies. We could put two and two together - or, rather, one and one together to equal three. And sure, we sat around thinking, “it would be nice to have a baby someday,”  but, especially after years of living in that mindset, it’s still startling to discover that “someday” has just been recalibrated to mean “in less than 9 months.” 

    I had often found myself wondering in some daydreamy way, “I wonder what it would be like to have a baby.” But when that became “Uh, so I have exactly how long before there’s a BABY?!” I found myself living at the intersection of exhilaration and panic attack. Especially because I had only 10 workdays left before I was getting laid off.

    Like the pregnancy, that wasn’t exactly unexpected either. My boss had already tipped me off back in August that I’d be losing my job at the end of my contract in November.  It was nice of him to give me some warning so I could have a jump start on looking for work, but my efforts to land a new job before my last day hadn’t panned out. I had spent the last 10 years trying to make it in the museum profession…and had largely failed. With this layoff I was determined to make a break from museum work and try something new, but I didn’t have a clue what I could or would want to do.

    I was starting to panic. If there's ever a time to stanch the flow of money out the door, it's when there’s a new baby on its way. I needed a job, fast. So while I was beyond ecstatic about finally getting the chance to become a parent, that exhilaration was dampened by my nausea at being unemployed at one of the most critical times to have a steady income. Or was that just the morning sickness kicking in?

     

    Monday
    Nov152010

    Now What?

    Next Friday is scheduled to be my last day at the museum. And, not coincidentally, in museum work.

    After my boss told me a few months ago that my contract was not going to be renewed, I did a lot of soul searching. I’ve been working in trying to work in museums for more than 10 years. Every career move I have made was with the goal of securing a stable, long-term position in a museum, but no matter how hard I’ve tried to make this career path work for me, it just hasn’t. I stumbled on the notion of working in a museum as a college student, and thought it was my dream job. I thought it would be fun to study artifacts and research the past. I thought that my work would have greater meaning – that I would get to make contributions to a larger body of knowledge. And I thought it would be more creative and therefore, more engaging than your typical 9-5 office drone work.

    But what I found instead was that the reality of working in museums never aligned with what I’d envisioned. Studying artifacts? Hardly! In order to study any artifacts, you have to be able to find and identify them, so my task  more often than not always ended up being cataloguing the artifacts. Read: mind-numbing repetitive data entry. Hour after hour. Day after day. Week after week. Ad infinitum. I guess I could take comfort in the fact that my work was making contributions to a larger body of knowledge, but, after a few months hours of tedious data entry (and let’s not forget printing, cutting out and applying tiny, tiny catalog labels to the objects), I started to realize that unless I got additional tasks that would use something other than my lizard brain, I was going to lose my mind. So museum collections management wasn’t for me. I wanted to work on developing exhibits, but it turns out that kind of work is nearly impossible to find, nevermind get. Building the exhibits themselves was out of the question – at larger museums, those are done by outside firms, and even in smaller institutions, you need someone who has, at bare minimum, carpentry skills. And if you could see me with a drill, you’d now be laughing so hard you’d be pissing yourself. So while the execution of a vision isn’t my strong suit when it comes to museum exhibits, concept development is. And those jobs in exhibit development? At least as scarce as…no, I would argue scarcer than exhibit design jobs. So when I finally landed one, I found myself in a tiny, understaffed, woefully underfunded museum where, sure, I got tasked with thinking about and planning the big picture of our museum exhibits. Along with just about everything else, leaving me almost no time to do any of the work that I had come there to do. The only other time I found myself in my desired role was, well, now. I was hired to write the permanent exhibits, which I did, and now that they’re done, I’m laid off.

    Let’s do the math. In the 10 years since I finished my M.A., I’ve had a grand total of just over 5 years of gainful employment in my field of museums. If this were baseball, I'd be in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, that meant that for 5 of the past 10 years, I spent just as much time stubbornly chasing down a foolhardy vision of a career as I did working the short-term positions that I successfully pieced together in my chosen field. I've been working at making a career out of a dying career path, one that is over-credentialed and woefully underpaid, all for the sake of fulfilling some childish vision of a “dream job.”

    In my experience, it’s called a dream job because it is some romanticized fantasy – a reverie. Now that I’m waking up, I find myself in a daze, having given over more than a decade to something that just wasn’t really there. I have worked in positions that had advertised the need for advanced degrees and specialized skills when the day-to-day responsibilities turned out to be manning the front desk cash register and answering the phone. I took short-term and contract positions with the hope that they would turn into more, but inevitably each would come to an end as funding ran out. All along the way I found myself thinking , “If only I [fill-in-the-blank]” [had a Ph.D., knew more about ancient pre-Columbian textiles, became an expert at HTML5 applications for web-based exhibitions…you get the idea], I would at long last achieve the dream job I’d always hoped for. I finally ended up with a great title (exhibit writer) and overlooked the teeny tiny minor detail that it was a short-term contract position.  I have given it my all. In the end, my 10 year pursuit has come at a high opportunity cost: the chance to have had a decade of better pay, retirement benefits (paid by someone other than me out of my meager take home pay), and professional growth and advancement in a career path that offered continuity instead of the punctuated equilibrium that has been my ‘career.’ I’m taking this layoff as a sign: that it is time to move on.

    To what? I don’t know. I fear that I have over-niched myself to such a degree that I wonder if I can identify, nevermind market, any transferable skills to move on to something else. All that I've learned is that museum work isn’t what I want to do anymore, but I haven't gotten any closer to figuring out what I do want to do.

    Tuesday
    Nov162010

    The End is Near. Or Is it?

    As I said in my last post, I am scheduled to be laid off next Friday. But it turns out I need to revisit what I said there. As it turns out, I *was* scheduled to be laid off.

    The head of the museum’s registration department came to me, and said that her department was working on a collections management inventory project and could give me some hours until the inventory was complete. Meaning I could delay the arrival of the inevitable final paycheck for a few weeks. Despite me being completely and utterly out of give a sh*ts about museum work – and museum collections management work specifically, not to mention working for this museum in particular - I need a paycheck. So while I said that yes, I would take her up on her offer, I also sensed that this was one of the first of the many, many sacrifices I would make as a new parent: my pride. My work in my position as exhibit writer is over, I will now (effective tomorrow) be reporting to work as a member of the museum’s registration department. A temporary employee, but an employee receiving a paycheck for a few more weeks. And that’s all that counts right now.

    Wednesday
    Nov242010

    What was I Thinking?

    Overnight I’ve gone from being the exhibit writer to, um, well, I don’t have a title anymore. Moved from my cubicle to, well, um, I don’t have a workspace anymore. I just show up at the museum collections storage room door, knock, and, once admitted, stand around until the tasks for the day are doled out and divvied up. Then we scurry off to unpack boxes, take empty boxes to recycling, hand off objects to and from the photographer, do data entry, and shelve the unpacked objects. I don’t know what I was thinking, but when I was told about this collections inventory project, I pictured a whole lot of data entry. And there is that. But, since I never worked in this museum's registration department, my login doesn’t give me the ability to enter or modify data into the database. Made sense when I was in the exhibits department. Now? Not so much. But they won’t change it because I’m just temporary. So while I envisioned that I’d be maybe sitting around in a cubicle, doing a ton of data entry with this inventory project, instead I find myself being asked to help unpack giant boxes, haul objects up and down ladders, and vacuum using the world’s clunkiest vacuum cleaner. Even when we’re all standing around waiting for the next task, I’m standing around. All of it requires a lot of energy and it’s making it hard for the newly pregnant me to stay awake past 6:00 4:30 p.m.

    Though I'm trying to stay focused on being grateful that I'm still earning a paycheck, all that I can think of is that I left museum collections management to go into exhibit development. And now I find myself having taken a step backward at just the moment when I’d made an agreement with myself to take a big leap forward out of museum work altogether. Not to mention that since I’m pregnant, this is exactly the wrong time to be moving into a role that literally requires heavy lifting from time to time. (I mean, I haven’t been asked to help move a piano or anything, but if and when that happens, I’ll have to figure out how to decline.) But that’s not even the biggest of my worries. It’s that I am on borrowed time. I am hurtling inexorably toward motherhood and, even sooner than that, unemployment. (For real this time.) By all measures, I need a (more permanent, long-term, benefits-eligible) job as soon as possible. The longer I wait, the more I’ll be showing, and while I see the baby bump as a deal-sealer for any potential employer: ‘I’m a sure-fire bet because I got another mouth to feed!’, apparently what potential employers see is: ‘NO chance she’s gonna stick around and work here after the baby’s born.’ I need to (1) find a job I’m even remotely eligible to apply for, (2) craft a cover letter that demonstrates that my years of experience in museums is directly applicable to cookie baking, dog catching, or what have you, and (3) land an interview, all before I start showing. And any one of those takes time. Precious time I’m running out of while I stand around in my new post hoping nobody asks me to help move a baby grand today.

    So while this new gig is keeping unemployment at bay, it’s also coming at a cost of not getting me any closer to answering “Well, what’s next, then?” (Not to mention taxing the very little energy that I have.) Time spent on the clock is time not spent trying to nap figure out what I can do with my life. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

    Tuesday
    Nov302010

    Sickness, Yes. Mornings? No.

    It’s such a cliche, but morning sickness is around-the-clock for me. After I wake, I lie there motionless, hoping that if I just don't move, maybe my stomach won't sound the alarm yet. I try to eat something to calm my stomach before I have to leave for work, but nothing seems to help. Once I get to work, it takes half my energy to not throw up and the other half to try and act like everything’s normal, to get through my day without seeming too distracted by the morning sickness, the being pregnant, and/or the looming unemployment, take your pick. On top of the morning sickness, I’m beyond exhausted but supposed to report to work an hour earlier than I had to in any of the previous 18 months in my old department, and even though they say caffeine in moderation is okay during pregnancy, coffee and Diet Coke are up there with cigarette smoke on the nausea-inducing richter scale.

    I haven’t told anyone at work that I’m pregnant. Why would I? I was laid off as a writer last Friday, and I’m on borrowed time working in the museum’s registration department on a project that’s wrapping up in just a few weeks. Around New Year's I’m getting laid off (again). For real this time. I report my hours and any time off to my “old” supervisor from the exhibits department, but I never see her or any of my friends from that department, and I no longer have a workspace or a computer. I report to duty in the museum’s collections storage room, where I work with and for folks I don’t know at all. I work different hours, I do different tasks, and I wasn’t about to tell HR I’m pregnant when I’m losing my job (again) in just 6 weeks anyway. Suffice to say it’s more than a little awkward – I don’t want my new, very temporary unofficial supervisor and coworkers to know what my official supervisor and friends don’t yet know.

    I also don’t want them to suspect that I’m some sort of slacker whiling away the hours napping in a bathroom stall, though I don’t feel like I owe any of these people any explanation. But the morning sickness is becoming increasingly difficult to conceal at work. Until now, I’d had small, occasional bouts of nausea but now it’s unrelenting. Wave after wave hits me, resulting in a complete inability to keep anything down. And I mean anything - water, Ginger Ale, 7-up, Gatorade, rice, saltines. Sometimes I worry that everyone’s noticing that I’m running to the bathroom every 20 minutes. Then I realize that after I’ve worked here more than 18 months, I’m now reduced to being no more than a guest worker on a very temporary visa, and I could give a sh*t if I get “fired.” I’m losing my job one way or another – what do I care?

    Last Friday was scheduled to be my last day at the museum. And, not coincidentally, in museum work. After my boss told me a few months ago that my contract was not going to be renewed, I did a lot of soul searching. I’ve been working in trying to work in museums for more than 10 years. Every career move I have made was with the goal of securing a stable, long-term position in a museum, but no matter how hard I’ve tried to make this career path work for me, it just hasn’t. I stumbled on the notion of working in a museum as a college student, and thought it was my dream job. I thought it would be fun to study artifacts and research the past. I thought that my work would have greater meaning – that I would get to make contributions to a larger body of knowledge. And I thought it would be more creative and therefore, more engaging than your typical 9-5 office drone work.

    Once I became enamored with this idea, I got my M.A. in 2001 so that I could work in museums. Mission. Accomplished. And what did it get me? In the 10 years since, I’ve had a grand total of just over 5 years of gainful employment in my field. If this were baseball, I'd be in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, that meant that for 5 of the past 10 years, I spent just as much time stubbornly chasing down a foolhardy vision of a career as I did resenting the short-term positions that I did successfully piece together in my chosen field. I've been working at making a career out of a dying career path, one that is over-credentialed and woefully underpaid, all for the sake of fulfilling some childish vision of a “dream job.”

    In my experience, it’s called a dream job because it is some romanticized fantasy – a reverie. Now that I’m waking up, I find myself in a daze, having given over more than a decade to something that just wasn’t really there. I have worked in positions that had advertised the need for advanced credentials and specialized skills when the day-to-day responsibilities turned out to be manning the front desk cash register and answering the phone. I took short-term and contract positions with the hope that they would turn into more, but inevitably each would come to an end as funding ran out. All along the way I found myself thinking , “If only I [fill-in-the-blank]” [had a Ph.D., knew more about ancient pre-Columbian textiles, became an expert at HTML5 applications for web-based exhibitions…you get the idea], I would at long last achieve the dream job I’d always hoped for. I finally ended up with a great title ( exhibit writer) and overlooked the minor detail that it was a short-term contract position, foolishly thinking that this would be my career salvation, only to find that it, too, would chew me up and spit me out into unemployment.  I have given it my all. In the end, my 10 year pursuit has come at a high opportunity cost: the chance to have had a decade of better pay, retirement benefits (paid by someone other than me out of my meager take home pay), and professional growth and advancement in a career path that offered continuity instead of the punctuated equilibrium that has been my ‘career.’ I’m taking this layoff as a sign: that it is time to move on.

    To what? I don’t know. I fear that I have over-niched myself to such a degree that I wonder if I can identify, nevermind market, any transferable skills to move on to something else. All that I've learned from the past 10 years was that museum work wasn't what I wanted to do, but I haven't gotten any closer to figuring out what I do want to do. In the meantime, as I said in the first sentence, I *was* scheduled to be laid off last Friday, but it turned out that another department at the museum was working on a collections management project and could give me some hours, meaning I could delay the arrival of the inevitable final paycheck for a few weeks. Despite me wanting to tell them to go F themselves (and being completely and utterly out of give a sh*ts), I sensed that this was one of the first of the many, many sacrifices I would make as a new parent: my pride. So I dutifully reported to my new department and this awful, repetitive, tedious soul-sucking inventory project this morning. A project that will have me on my feet 40 hours a week, by the way, and climbing up and down ladders. Because everyone knows that pregnant women have boundless energy reserves in that first trimester. Though I'm trying to stay focused on being grateful that I'm still earning an income, all that I can think is that it’s time to close this museum chapter. This project is not just reinforcing that this museum work is exactly what I don’t want to be doing anymore, it’s also not getting me any closer to answering “Well, what, then?” It’s also taking up more than 40 hours each week and taxing the very little energy that I do have, keeping me from trying to nap figure out what I can do.