Stuff about me
My name is Keith Michaud and this is “Letters From Away,” a blog written by a Mainer living outside the comfortable and sane confines of New England. The blog is intended for Mainers, whether they live in the Pine Tree State or beyond, and for anyone who has loved ’em, been baffled by ’em or both. Ayuh, I am “from away.” Worse still, I live on the Left Coast – in California. Enjoy! Or not. Your choice.
Search for stuff
Stuff on TwitterMy Tweets
Stuff by date
September 2019 S M T W T F S « Mar 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Stuff by tagAcadia National Park Afghanistan aid Aroostook County Augusta Bangor Bangor Daily News Bar Harbor barista Baxter State Park brew caffeinated caffeine California coffee coffeehouse coffeehouse observation coffeehouse observations Coffeehouse Observer cup o’ joe donations DownEast.com DownEast Magazine earthquake Economy empresso Energy Environment espresso exotic java fishing Fort Kent Gov. John Baldacci Gov. Paul LePage Gulf of Mexico Haiti Haitian Haitians Iraq java jobless joblessness jobs joe L.L. Bean lobster Maine Maine Department of Environmental Protection Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Mainer Mainers Maine State Police medical marijuana moose Mount Katahdin National Weather Service New England oil spill pastries Port-au-Prince Portland Portland Press Herald Presque Isle relief Rockland snow Stockton tea turbines unemployment University of Maine University of Southern Maine wind energy wind farms wind power
Stuff I’ve posted
- March 2018
- February 2018
- January 2018
- November 2017
- October 2017
- September 2017
- August 2017
- July 2017
- June 2017
- July 2015
- June 2015
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- November 2013
- February 2013
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- April 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
Stuff people write
- How Maine Became a Laboratory for the Future of Public Higher Ed | The Chronicle of Higher Education
- Angus King Urges Interior Department To Reconsider Offshore Drilling Proposal | Mainepublic.org
- Maine Voices: Higher education, employers must work together for bright future | Portland Press Herald
- Stunning reversal: McDaniels turns down Colts’ job to stay with Patriots | The Associated Press via the Portland Press Herald
- Kennebec River water levels could stay high into next week | Bangor Daily News
Category Archives: Journalism
OK, so nearly two weeks ago I vowed – yep, VOWED – to be much better at posting new content on this blog. Promises were made, intensions brushed off and polished up.
But what happened?
Well, not quite “nothing.” I caught a head cold that, while low-grade in nature, has been sticking around for a while. There were several days running that I simply could not manage to hold me head over my keyboard.
And that put me behind in other vital things such as searching for a job.
But the fog is lifting. The head is less stuffy. The nose is less runny. The cough is less annoying.
So, I’m back. (I know you’ve all been waiting for it.) And I have a few entries planned in the next few days.
Until then, have a very lovely day.
I seriously thought when I started “Letters From Away” that I would be able to update the content every day – something new every single day. I mean, how difficult could that be?
Pretty difficult lately, it seems.
It truly was my intention to update this blog daily with Maine news aggregation, commentary on Maine happenings – at least through the filter of newspaper websites, blogs and hearsay – and stories from my childhood growing up in Maine’s North Woods. There is plenty to write about.
Maine was in the middle of the same-sex marriage debate last year, its two U.S. senators are experiencing growing influence in Washington, the Maine Troop Greeters were the subject of a great documentary film, there were pretty exciting political races, and Maine continues to be a leader when it comes to alternative energy, especially land-based and offshore wind power generation and wave power generation. The scenic beauty – and the effort to keep it that way – also has given me fodder for this blog.
And that does not even touch on lobsters, lighthouses, moose, bears, mosquitoes, Moxie, weather, whoopie pies and Stephen King.
So, yeah, there has been plenty on which to write. Too much, in fact.
Two things have stood in the way lately – the continuing job search and the holidays.
Returning readers will remember that I have been a journalist for more than 22 years and that I was laid off in March 2009. I have been looking – so far unsuccessfully – for work ever since. I continue to search in the newspaper field, but from the start I also branched out to hunt for a job with nonprofits, green industries, government, and elsewhere.
Still nothing. Yet.
But I keep looking. And sending out cover letters and resumes and references and filling out applications. Even for jobs for which I am not exactly qualified and for jobs for which I am overly qualified.
Scanning dozens of job websites and bulletin boards takes time. Crafting cover letters and massaging resumes takes time. And with the way the congressional debate was going on the extension of unemployment benefits tied to the Bush-era tax credit, it seemed time really, really was running out. I felt the pressure to churn out more and more cover letters and resumes.
And that did not leave much time for blogging.
I still am not completely sure I qualify for the extension, so I have a despicable option in mind – cash out every piece of “retirement” funding I have left. Even at a 30 percent to 40 percent cut for taxes and fees, it might give me another couple of months for finding work. And there will be no retirement at all if I cannot find a job soon.
Holidays always jam up things a bit. I did not get presents for my family last years. There just was no money to spare.
There was even less money to spare this year, but I did not want to go without getting presents for my family for a second year in a row. That would be just too demoralizing for me. So I did what I normally do not do – I pulled out a credit card for my holiday purchases.
So there was time spent shopping for Christmas gifts. And there was time spent standing in lines that were longer than normal. And there was more time stuck in holiday traffic. And time spent wrapping gifts. And time spent standing in line at the post office to ship Christmas packages to Maine.
And around major holidays, job websites do not post jobs nearly as frequently as they do normally, which hampers the jobs search. It is a tale with twists and turns.
But the holidays soon will be a memory. And the job search should settle down to the same brain-numbing grind that it has been for nearly 22 months.
And hopefully I will be more diligent in updating this blog on a daily basis. Let’s make that my No. 1 resolution for 2011 – be a better blogger.
OK, make that 2011 resolution No. 2, because getting a meaningful, suitable job is the No. 1 resolution.
So, until the next time I see you in the blogosphere, see ya.
For as long as I can remember, I knew that I would be a writer. I just did not think early on that I would ever make a living at it. I thought it was something that I would do on the side, for myself and no one else.
And, now after 22 years as a professional writer and editor, I may never write and edit for a living ever again simply because of the economic atmosphere in which we live.
Such are the circles of life, I suppose.
As a youngster, I wrote stories in a form that most resembles storyboards, sort of a cartoon or graphic representation of a tale. Storyboards are used to outline television commercials, TV shows, movies or other video presentations. My fictional stories – which included plots and characters plucked from the latest adventure television programming – were for fun and to pass away the time during long, cold winters in the North Words of Maine or long, rainy days during summer vacation.
Later on, my high school English teacher, Janice Webster, occasionally encouraged me to write beyond the journal entries she assigned. But a high school boy more interested in sports and girls was embarrassed by the recognition and I mentally shoved aside the idea of writing beyond regular English assignments. Continuing a private journal was one thing, but being a professional writer on any level was out of the question.
Besides, there were far more practical pursuits on which to concentrate – studying for a profession or vocation – but writing was not one of them.
But college professors at the University of Southern Maine where I attended from 1980 to 1983 also were encouraging in critiquing my written work for courses in various areas of study, including English. It was comforting, but it still was not enough to spur me to write more than what my college courses required or what I cared to jot down in my personal journal.
I still have some of those early journals and marvel at how utterly terrible some of my writing was then. There are times I have considered finding an open spot and torching a pile of those journals so that they do not fall in the hands of even mildly intelligent people who will recognize the writing for what it is – dung.
While I loved the University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine in general, I felt a bit adrift there after three academic years. I was not sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, let alone what I wanted to study to get there.
So, almost reluctantly, I took the advice of several fellow USM students just returning from the National Student Exchange program. The program allowed students to attend courses for either a semester or complete academic year at other universities throughout the country, and then return to the home university. I picked California State University at Chico in Northern California.
Chico is north of Sacramento, but still well within the state’s prime agricultural area. Besides agriculture, the economy was centered on the university, a nearby community college, a major regional medical center, retail outlets, and, because Chico is the county seat for Butte County, social services.
Modern-day Chico was founded by Capt. John Bidwell, who in 1841 travelled to the West and for a time worked for John Sutter. After the discovery of gold, Bidwell tried a hand at gold prospecting. He eventually bought and sold a couple of land grants, eventually buying the Rancho Chico, the basis for modern-day Chico. He became one of the state’s largest landowners and wielded his political influence running for several offices, including for president of the United States.
Bidwell’s mansion is a state historic park on the edge of the campus. He also gave the city land for what was then – and very probably now, as well – the third largest municipal park in the country. Bidwell Park is a lush sanctuary that starts near downtown Chico and meanders along either side of the Big Chico Creek into the lava-formed foothills. Bidwell Park has a couple of swimming holes, bike and running paths, horse trails, ball fields, a fairy tale-themed children’s playground, nude beaches, hiking trails and more. The city’s municipal golf course is in Upper Bidwell Park.
I have not been to Chico in years and that is a shame since it is a fantastic place.
I originally planned to attend Chico State for a semester and then return to USM to finish out my college career. But, as such stories go, I fell in love with a woman. The problem was, of course, she was not interested in me. So, I arranged to stay for the entire academic year, I suppose in the hope of winning her heart.
I did not win her heart, but Chico won mine. I fell in love with the university, the city, and the outdoor activities in and around Chico. So, I settled in and became a wildland firefighter for the summer following my first academic year at Chico State. I was a wildland firefighter for two more summers while attending Chico State, rising from firefighter/sawyer/swamper to squad leader to crew leader my third year.
I very nearly made firefighting my career and still occasionally feel regret that I did not give the idea more thought. By now I would have nearly 30 years in the fire service and would be planning my retirement, whether as a transition into another career or as a transition onto a tropical beach. That – and the fact that I did not really pick a major until they forced me to – might indicate how conflicted I was in trying to pick a career.
Picking a path
Yes, they forced me into picking a major. They forced me because I could not seem to do the deed.
My academic adviser John Sutthoff, a professor in the school of communications, finally put down his foot and insisted that I pick a major. He asked what I enjoyed doing. I thought about and said I enjoyed writing, because I did enjoy writing in my personal journal and enjoyed the positive feedback from professors when it came to writing for my coursework.
He said that the school had public relations and journalism majors and both required much writing. Not wanting to be a public relations practitioner, I said I would try journalism.
I was not sure even then that I would end up being a professional writer.
With several of the basic news writing and editing courses down, I ended up on the staff of The Orion, the campus newspaper. There was only a part-time staff writer position available, but I was able to get full credit because I also became an assistant to the production manager. That meant that I was able to learn a bit about being a reporter and a bit about physically putting together the newspaper, which was much different than it is done today.
Then, the story was reported, written, edited and outputted on a strip of photographic paper. That paper as developed, trimmed to the width of a newspaper column, waxed and then put onto a blue-line grid sheet matching the newspaper page. Headline, cutlines, photos and ads were done separately, waxed and then attached to the grid sheet in the appropriate places. A photo of the page was then taken by a large camera, the negative transferred to a metal plate that was processed and then placed onto the drums of the printing press. Pressmen, who to this day keep secret the exact manner for placing plates on the press and for weaving the web – the rolled paper magically threaded through the press that will become the newspaper – then run a section of the paper. That was taken by conveyor belt to the circulation department where the various sections were combined – either by hand or by machine – to form the complete newspaper.
Now, software allows for stories, complete with headlines, subheds, cutlines, photos and ads, to be placed on an electronic page and output to plating as a single page before converted into a plate, saving much time and effort on the editorial side of the production.
First big story
Even as a part-time staff writer, I ended up with some exciting stories. I was interviewing the campus police chief one day about crime stats or something as banal, when a campus police sergeant came in to update him on an upcoming operation. The chief introduced me and the sergeant asked if I was coming along.
I was stunned, really, because they had been talking in police-speak and I was not clear on what they were talking about. The chief told me a bit about what was going on and said it would be OK if I wanted to come along with a photographer.
As it turned out, there was a ring of Chico State and Butte Community College students who were going onto the Chico State campus and elsewhere to steal coins from vending machines. They also were stealing other property, as it turned out, including stereo equipment and bicycles. (Chico is a big bike town, especially for college students. There used to be an annual road trip to Davis, another bike-friendly college town, to, um, borrow bicycles from University of California, Davis, students. Davis students would return the favor, of course.)
One of the members of the ring, Chico State football player Steven Crittenden, was nabbed doing something else and he pretty much gave up his crew. Officers went to the apartment of the gang and found a pile of coins, bicycles, stereos and other stolen property.
That was my first big story. Front-page of The Orion with photos. It was fun, especially since I believe we beat the local newspaper, The Chico Enterprise-Record. I sort of caught the bug then.
[But the story goes on a bit. Crittenden, the guy who tipped off police about the vending machine thefts, later was arrested in a rape. And then charged, tried and found guilty in the January 1987 double torture homicides of a prominent Chico physician and his wife, Joseph and Katherine Chiapella, in their Chico home. Crittenden’s trial was moved to Placer County, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. He remains on California’s death row. Here’s a link to a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals response to a filing for an appeal in the case with a description of the homicides. WARNING: The descriptions and other factual information are fairly graphic.]
I was the editor of The Orion the next two semesters. I wrote columns and editorials, mostly, and made sure we had enough stories to fill the pages. It was an eventful two semesters, but I think I would have been better served if I had been a writer for a full semester instead of being the editor. Some of the other writers from that time went onto great things, from working in journalism to writing and producing television dramas.
The Real World
After graduation, I hung around Chico for about a month before getting a job as the editor of The Mendocino Beacon. That began my professional career as a writer and editor.
From Mendocino, I went on to be a staff writer at The Ukiah Daily Journal, The Woodland Daily Democrat, and The Reporter in Vacaville. I stayed more than 13 years in Vacaville, moving up to copy editor, assistant news editor in charge of special sections, columnist, and opinion page editor. In a desire to make more money, I moved onto The Record in Stockton to take a job as an assistant city editor.
I stayed with that a couple of years until a newsroom reorganization resulted in me being reassigned to being a staff writer on the newspaper’s website. I was disappointed. There was no other way to look at the reassignment except as a demotion, a demotion not because of my work, but because of someone else’s inability to lead.
However, the year or so I spent working on the website was very beneficial. My main duty was to update content on the newspaper’s website, send out news alerts to mobile subscribers, and write breaking news. It gave me many new skills and helped me refresh old skills.
It was going well – or so I thought – until I was laid off March 5, 2009.
As past readers will know, I have been looking for work ever since. I have been looking for employment in conventional newsroom settings and online news services, and writing and editing opportunities for the federal government, nonprofits, and green industries. So far, a couple of interviews, but no offers.
I know I will find a job – eventually. I just wish it would happen already, especially since I’m quickly running out of unemployment insurance benefits. For that reason, I may have to take any job, whether it is in writing and editing or not.
And that is why I feel that I may not write as a professional ever again. It just may not be in the cards for me.
Irony is wonderful, isn’t it? I wrote this mostly string-of-consciousness blog entry after starting to re-read Rene J. “Jack” Cappon’s 1991 version of “The Associated Press Guide to News Writing,” a manual on how to best write clear, concise news stories. The irony is, of course, that I wrote an entry that is more than 2,000 words; there is nothing clear or concise about that.
Today marks 20 months since I was laid off.
There are times it feels as if it happened just yesterday. Or a million years ago.
And there are other times when it feels as if this is all part of a very, very bad nightmare from which I will awake.
Eventually. Soon. … Anytime now.
In those 20 months I’ve sent out hundreds of resume packages, filled out countless applications, and uploaded my resume onto dozens of websites. I put in at least six to 12 hours every day seeking suitable employment. I look and look and look. I network. I blog. I lament.
And, so far, that effort has resulted in a handful of face-to-face interviews, a couple of phone interviews, and a few thanks-but-no-thanks rejection letters.
But no job offers.
As it has been for so many Americans – still nearly 15 million Americans, in fact – finding work as been elusive – frustrating, maddening, demoralizing – and it doesn’t seem as if things are getting much better. The national unemployment rate is stuck at 9.6 percent and I live in a county in Northern California where the unemployment rate hovers at 16.6 percent.
I blame the Republicans. I blame the Democrats. I blame Wall Street bankers. I blame greedy industrialists.
I blame everyone, including myself.
After all, I should have peered into a crystal ball and seen coming the collapse of the newspaper industry – and the housing industry and the automobile industry and every other industry that isn’t Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft or … . Well, you get the point.
I blame myself because while I was working for a living, I neglected to take time off from work to train to be proficient in the latest necessary skills I might or might not need sometime in the distant or not-so-distant future.
Of course, “the latest necessary skills” fluctuate every couple of years so I suppose I could have worked for a year and taken more time off for training in “the latest necessary skills” and continued that cycle.
But no. I worked. For 22 years. In an industry that continues to undergo convulsions.
And now I have little to show for those 22 years of hard work. No income. No health insurance. No prospects.
And dwindling hope that I will find a new job before my Unemployment Insurance benefits expire at the beginning of 2011.
In the past 20 months people have told me “You have to reinvent yourself,” “You have to be entrepreneurial,” “You have to start your own business,” “You should write a book,” “You should …”.
You get the point. All great ideas, but reinvent myself into what? I don’t even balance my checkbook, how could I be an entrepreneur or start a business? And don’t people realize how many books are written and how very few are actually published?
But even after all the disappointment, all the setbacks, all the failed efforts, I still believe I can contribute in some way. I continue to seek suitable employment in newspapers or using my skills working for a nonprofit or in green industry or government. I keep seeking any escape from the way things are now so that I can get my life back on track.
I continue to follow the mantra – one step forward every day. One step forward today, tomorrow and the next day.
[This is what MaineToday Media probably should have done from the beginning rather than eliminate the comments all together. Close monitoring is essential. I was part of the online team that monitored comments on recordnet.com, and some online users simply are looking for a way to be anonymous bullies. That should never be allowed. One more thing, this flip-flop move by MaineToday Media simply makes them look as if they lack the abilty to make carefully consider decisions. That is never good for a business, especially for a newspaper. — KM]
[Author’s note: This entry is on general journal writing, the kind of writing everyone can do and should attempt at least once in their lives. This entry is the result of an email from a reader who asked my advice about writing and how to get started. Writing a journal is the easiest way to write in a disciplined way, to practice the craft of writing, and for a person to get a feel for whether they would like to pursue writing as a profession. Below are some of my thoughts on journal writing and a few tips for those who have not written a journal before. – Keith Michaud]
A journal is more than a mere diary. A diary tells about what happens in a person’s life and how they feel about it. A journal is different in that it is constantly evolving as a document. It can do for a person what a diary does, but it can do much more.
Allows a person to recall, rethink and analyze the events of the day, week, month, year, and lifetime;
Allows a person to work out decisions by providing a place to list pros and cons;
Allows a person to work out problems by providing a place for an internal discussion that is written down and analyzed;
Allows a person to express views they might not feel comfortable expressing in a more public forum;
Allows a person to draft letters – letters to family and friends, letters to the editor, letters to companies, etc.;
Allows a person to draft passages, poems, essays, etc.
Allows a person to doodle or sketch;
Allows a person to plot goals and aspirations;
Allows a person to plot the progress in achieving those goals and aspirations;
Allows a person a place to keep photos, papers, movie ticket stubs, postcards, letters, newspaper clippings, etc., that are personally important;
Allows a person to keep track of books read, movies seen, wine tasted, places visited, and more;
Allows a person a simple reminder to write, write, write.
To me a diary is written by a person about what has happened in their life. A journal is that, but more. A journal can be a place to put down on paper a more analytical view of things going on in a person’s life and around them, to add perspective to events in a person’s life. A journal can be used to work out drafts of passages or poetry, or to work on writing exercises, and to outline longer, broader works. Really, a journal is what a person decides to make it.
Keeping a journal can be incredibly cathartic and there are many reasons and motivations for starting and maintaining a journal. A traumatic event in a person’s life might spark in them a desire to put down on paper or on a memory stick feelings about that traumatic event. A person wanting to express themselves in words – prose, poetry, lyrics – might use a journal to organize those thoughts. A person setting goals or documenting accomplishments or jotting down information to be used later can do that in a journal.
I’ve written in a journal off and on for more than 30 years. And for that I blame Janice Webster, my high school English teacher. She had students in her class write in journals. She was supportive of my writing efforts and I just kept it up.
It wasn’t until I attended California State University at Chico, however, that I had an inkling that writing might actually be a career for me. It was there that I changed my major to journalism, it was there that I joined the campus newspaper, it was there I earned a journalism degree, and it was from there that I went on to work for more than two decades in small- to medium-sized newspapers in Northern California.
There’s quite a bit about journal writing on the Internet. Some of it is good information. Some of it is unnecessary for a typical journal.
Where to start
My personal choice is to write in a journal rather than tap out journal entries on a computer. I have a couple of blogs and do enough tapping on the keyboard. So the tips I’m giving are more related to old-style journal writing.
- Picking a journal is a personal choice. It can be as simple as a composition notebook. It can be as elaborate as a leather-bound tome. I would recommend for someone just starting out in journal writing to go with an inexpensive composition notebook. I’ve used them before and work well for the task. If you take to journal writing – or if it takes to you – consider investing in a nicer journal later and after the composition notebook is filled. (The big bookstores – Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc. – often have journals on their sale tables. Look there before spending a lot of money on a leather-bound journal.)
- The writing instrument is often overlooked when journal writing. It should not. It is incredibly important equipment in journal writing and some time should be devoted to selecting the writing instrument that is just right for you. Make that writing instrument your journal writing instrument. Do not use it to jot down a grocery list or things-to-do lists. It is for the journal only. I highly recommend black ink over all others; it’s the color of ink that writers use. I also recommend an instrument that deliveries the ink smoothly. I would go with a smooth ink delivery system over a flashy pen, unless you have the money for a flashy pen that writes smoothly. I use a simple black and silver Parker pen with black gel ink. It is not flashy, but it writes beautifully. (Some might think that fountain pens were made for journal writing. I have used fountain pens in the past. Two large problems: 1. the ink smudges easily; and 2. water can wash away the ink quite easily.)
- Find the right place to write. It should be quiet, either a quiet corner in your home, a quiet corner of the coffeehouse, a quiet corner in a park. Find a place where you can concentrate on writing.
What to write
- What a journal writer writes about in a journal is up to journal writer. There are several suggestions given above. But there are also several websites that provide ideas for writing. It might be as simple as describe a person’s earliest memory. It might be a list of goals for the next five years, 10 years, 20 years. Then write, write, write. Write about what’s going on in the world; write about things that bother you; write about something overheard in conversation; pets.
- Write, write, write may be the best piece of advice. Writing will help improve your writing. Write, write, write.
- Read, read, read may be the next best piece of advice. Writing is improved by reading what others have written. It does not mean reading Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Mailer … unless you want to read Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Mailer. Read about history and popular culture; read about philosophy and entertainment; just read. A person who reads a lot can write better than the person who does not read regularly.
A couple more tips
- Always date each entry. Multiple entries on the same day might include a time or “Later” to help give context later. (One online article about journal writing suggested that the first few pages of a journal could be devoted to a table of contents complete with headers and page numbers. That seems a little much. If having a table of contents is so critical to a journal writer, using a computer and a writing software that allows for a table of contents seems a better way to go.)
- Set a goal to write at least something every day. It can be a paragraph, a page, something. But write every day.
- Journal writers should not become frustrated – especially when they first start – because they feel what they write isn’t very good. It will improve with time. And bad writing can be rewritten. Keep writing.
- Go back every so often and scan earlier entries. The journal writer then can update progress made on goals that were set or update a life circumstance or simply update progress made in writing.
- Find a special place for the journal and pen. A desk drawer or book shelf should do for most people. A more private person might want to lock the desk drawer or put the journal in another secure place. But put it in the same place each time and return it to that place after each use.
Really, there isn’t much more about journal writing that a new journal writer won’t learn along the way. Writing in a journal will lead to better writing and the germination of new topics on which to write. Just write, write, write. It will be worth it in the end.
Labor Day is set aside to honor the working men and women who built this country with their brains, their brawn, their ingenuity, and the sweat from their brow.
It is a time to recognize those workers and their accomplishments, grand and not so grand.
But I really don’t know how to feel about Labor Day.
The past few Labor Days have been different for me and many more Americans. There are 14.9 million Americans who are not working, who are not laborers. For the past 18 months I have been among the unemployed. Is Labor Day a holiday for those of us who have no work at which to labor?
Sadly and unfortunately, this day is not for them. The only thing a long weekend does for one of those 14.9 Americans is take away one more day for searching for a job.
I have written about my own personal struggle to find work since I was laid off 18 months ago – the frustration of few jobs and even fewer interviews, innumerable rejections, the agonizing struggle simply to pay the bills, the demoralization.
Those who know me have been kind and supportive. The reaction from others has been mixed. Some are going through the same struggles and have voiced support. Others take on a tone that much of my struggles are of my own doing.
I take comfort in the former because from the beginning of this journey I knew that I was not alone and that being laid off was not my fault. I ignore – mostly – the latter because they don’t know me and don’t know what I’ve done.
Like most American children of the time, there were chores at home and a first “job” mowing lawns. It wasn’t a big operation, mind you, just me and a lawnmower. No need for business cards.
A few years later – I must have been 16 or 17 at the time – I was hired to work at a local sawmill pulling green chain. Pulling green chain means pulling and sorting green lumber of all dimension and length as it is sent out of a sawmill on a chain conveyor system. Mind you, pulling green chain comes before the lumber has been dried in a kiln. The lumber contains a very high water content and is several times heavier than it will be once it has been dry kilned. It is hard work, trust me.
I was a carpenter’s assistant the summer before heading off to college. Once there, I sold athletic shoes part time and went to school full time.
The following year, I took on two more part-time jobs. I was working three part-time jobs and going to classes full time.
Later, after I had transferred to school in California, I worked part time busing tables for a time and at a fast-food restaurant. I also was a member of a firefighting crew for three summers rising from crew member/sawyer-swamper to crew leader by my third season. I also received a stipend for working as the editor of the campus newspaper.
In other words, I’m used to working.
There was about a month after graduation before I found my first professional journalism job – editor of a small weekly on California’s North Coast. For the next two decades I worked hard to do the best job possible and continued to advance my career.
Granted, it was a career in the newspaper business.
Unfortunately, newspaper executives failed to see soon enough the Internet for what it could be – a portal to vast profits and ever-expanding readership.
But that’s for another rant.
I continue to be hard working – from the beginning I made finding a job my job – and in the past 18 months have sent out hundreds of resume packages and filled out countless online applications. No one who has launched anonymous criticism of my past published commentary would have done more or done it better.
The problem, of course, is that my hard work is not being compensated. I am not receiving currency for my efforts. I am not receiving the satisfaction of a job well done and much appreciated.
I really don’t know how to feel about Labor Day.
But I know I will continue moving forward. Each day, another step forward; each day, a chance for a brighter future.
And by next Labor Day, I will be working again and looking forward to a three-day weekend to rest from the week’s labors. Next year Labor Day will be a holiday for me.
The Reporter was gracious enough to again print something I wrote. It’s a bit more personal than the last piece they published.
If that link doesn’t work, try this one.
Or you can simply read it here:
Anger, frustration from longterm unemployment | The Reporter, Vacaville, Calif.
Posted: 08/08/2010 01:04:20 AM PDT
By Keith Michaud
There is no feeling quite like the one that comes from long-term unemployment, especially for a person willing, able and hungry to get back to work.
Thursday marked 17 months since I was laid off after 22 years in the newspaper business, working as a writer and editor for print and Web sites.
At no time in those two decades – actually, at no time in my life – have I felt this demoralized, this useless, this much a burden on society. Never before have I felt such a void of confidence. Never before have I been without health insurance.
What? You don’t care if I’m demoralized, lacking in confidence or have no health insurance? Well, then be uncaring enough for every one of the 14.6 million unemployed Americans.
I know things will improve. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote so in a New York Times op-ed piece on Monday. But how much longer will it be before the economy really, truly turns around? How much longer will corporate America turn an uncaring shoulder to hard-working Americans who have no jobs?
Corporations are holding onto trillions of dollars, some say over concerns about possible future federal regulations. It is hard to believe that U.S. firms can be so callous, so shortsighted.
Meanwhile, those millions of Americans – of which 6.8 million are considered long-term unemployed – go without work. Members of that latter group are endangered of becoming unemployable because corporations insist on hiring Americans who are already working or who were only recently laid off and whose skills are considered sharper.
I am frustrated and mad that I was laid off in the first place. I am frustrated and mad because my job search has been protracted. I am frustrated and mad because corporations – mostly Wall Street bankers and the like – received huge federal bailouts and then turned around to pay executives millions of dollars in bonuses for finding innumerable ways to charge consumers new fees. I am frustrated and mad that Congress took so long to extend unemployment insurance benefits. Democrats and Republicans alike let down Americans across the land.
I am frustrated and mad that the U.S. Federal Reserve is failing in one of its main objectives, zero unemployment. I am frustrated and mad that my next-best option is to clear out a meager personal retirement fund, lean on credit cards, and depend on family and friends who themselves are struggling.
Long-term unemployment does more than demoralize the unemployed. It demoralizes their families, concerns their friends and causes worry even among their former co-workers. Long-term unemployment hurts the economy by eliminating consumer spending and making a downsized economy the norm. Long-term unemployment undermines this country by impeding economic recovery.
Without care for the unemployed, without job creation, without bold effort by politicians and corporate America, we can expect the economy on all levels to shrink and for unemployment to rise.
We 14.6 million unemployed are frustrated and mad, but we lack a focused voice. We, too, must be bold. We must shame the Obama administration, Congress, the Federal Reserve, and especially corporate America to get Americans back to work. There should be no comfort, no vacations, no getaways until the unemployment rate is halved.
The author, a journalist for 23 years and Reporter employee from 1993 to 2006, lives in Stockton, Calif.
[I was in journalism for 22 years and much of that was fueled by caffeinated beverages. This is a blog post on the Poynter website about how journalists are camping out at coffeehouses to get closer to the community and let the community see just what is it that they do. Frankly, some newspapers have been doing this sort of thing for years, at least on some level. I like the idea, but I seriously doubt the experiment will last very long. – KM]
This cracks me up just a little bit. I have “Letters From Away” on two platforms – WordPress and Blogger – because when I first started the blog I wanted to spread out the reach a little bit.
Anyway, one of the features on the Blogger metrics is a list of countries in which visitors to the blog are located. What strikes me somewhat odd – yeah, “odd” is the word – is how many visitors are from countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore.
I know one person who is currently in one of those countries. She’s working at a newspaper in Beijing.
The only other person I knew who regularly traveled to that part of the world no longer travels there. At least, as far as I know.
I’m guessing visitors from those countries are merely stumbling on me via a search engine. I seriously doubt I have an international following. I don’t have the ego to believe that.
But it is proof – as if we needed more proof – that the world is a pretty small place.
Here’s the list from the past day or so.
[A friend of mine – a photo editor for a newspaper in Northern California – passed along a link to a wonderful denverpost.com photo blog. Check out photos nos. 4 and 5. — KM]
“These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. The photographs are the property of the Library of Congress and were included in a 2006 exhibit Bound for Glory: America in Color.” — Lead-in for the blog entry
Photo No. 4
Photo No. 5
[The newspaper where I worked for more than 13 years and where I served as the opinion page editor for several years was gracious enough to publish a commentary I wrote in the paper’s Sunday Op-Ed section. There is a typo at the beginning of the second sentence of the online version of the piece, which I’m guessing happened when they converted it for the website. Please ignore the X. Thanks. — KM]
Unemployment takes a toll – The Reporter, July 11, 2010.