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Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

Edward and the EDD Monster

In Employment on December 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm

In order for any of the following to make sense to you, I need to make something clear: job happiness is very important to me. When I am unhappy in my job, I get deeply despondent. Being underpaid, undervalued or anything along those lines causes a sadness so deep in my soul that I can barely function. This would be why I can never work for, say, Restoration Hardware, ever again. Deep, deep sadness. I’m talking two martinis with a club sandwich on my half-hour “lunch” in order to numb my soul. That kind of sadness.

Where I currently stand: I’ve been unemployed since May.  Last time I was unemployed (2008 / 2009), it was more Funemployment, because I’d been working more regularly, and the labyrinthine calculations EDD uses to figure out how little they can get away with giving us worked more in my favor. This time, however, I’d been working at Solano College off and on, sometimes well-paid, sometimes not. If what I have been told is true, then EDD calculated my checks based on what I’d made 18 month before I applied.

A little clarity: if one is teaching a single class that meets twice a week for two hours, that’s only going to pay so much. To be honest, it’s barely enough to make my rent; gas and food are not part of the equation. So, driving from Livermore to Fairfield twice a week for a two-hour class? Not really worth the gas expense.

When I was teaching Musical Theatre Audition Technique as part of SCC’s now defunct Actor Training Program, I was also either directing something or preparing to direct something there at the school. In one case, I was playing Daddy Warbucks in the adult cast of Annie while simultaneously directing the Vallejo Youth Cast of the same production, using the Lead Director’s staging. This was under an ambitious — but ultimately WAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY too expensive — project heading called a Hybrid Musical. I believe the original notion was that adults would play the leads with a rotating cast of children in supporting roles. This idea was unpopular, so the team in charge of these projects decided to have one Adult Cast and two Youth Casts. Same set, same props, similar costumes (though it was clear, upon watching a Youth Cast of Bye, Bye, Birdie, that they first tried to get some, if not all, of the actors — youth and adult — into the same costumes. Oh my God, what were they thinking?!), same music, staging and choreography.

A McDonald’s of Musical Theatre.

The conceit being that their Youth Actors were just so darn good that, with the excellent guidance of the various teaching artists they’d hired, no audience would be able to tell the difference. Because it’s a good idea to assume that your audience is stupid, and to try to fool them into being happy watching Youth Theatre when they thought they were paying to see Grown-Ups. So many disastrous decisions were made during the planning process of these shows that I am amazed we got them on their feet and they did well. In some cases, we had multiple sold-out shows. Which is what happens when there are two Youth Casts and one Adult Cast, and both of the Youth Casts go to see each other and the Adult Cast, bringing their entire families, for multiple performances.

But I digress. Let it be sufficient to say that feast and famine were occurring within months of one another during my time at Solano College, and that the gas expense traveling to and from those jobs was ridiculous. (There are buses during the day, but no way home at night.) So it appears to me that EDD has calculated my checks based on the times when I was teaching one class, directing nothing, and barely surviving on what I earned.

There was one other snag: the first day I was in front of students at Solano was in late February of 2010. But the College had been calculating my pay as having started on February 1, 2010. This I did not know. And for those first few weeks, I was still collecting unemployment. Oddly, Solano doesn’t pay a dime until, like, your second month of employment. So you can work all of February and they won’t pay until March 1, and that first check is tiny. So if I had known in advance and cut off my unemployment benefits on February 1, there was no way I could have bought the gas to get to and from the production meetings, etc., that happened all month prior to my first day directing. (To say nothing of auditions and callbacks, for which I was not paid.)

The instant I realized what was going on, I called EDD.

They were not nice at all. Confusing and unhelpful. It seemed that the people to whom I spoke were deliberately unkind and trying to provoke a verbal altercation. I had to then schedule an interview for several weeks later. In the interview, the woman I spoke to was even worse. It was baffling.

The result was that because I didn’t know I was being paid before I began actually working, I had to pay a rather large fine. Even though I called them voluntarily. So I started paying it off a little at a time. And then I forgot about it for a long time. And then I wasn’t working at Solano College any more, and I applied for unemployment (June, 2013), and I suspect that perhaps the final unpaid $57.00 of that fine was haunting me. Because I get a miniscule amount of money, particularly compared to what I was making during my last employment at Solano College: directing an incredibly successful production of Charles Morey‘s The Three Musketeers.

Yes, I should have paid that $57.00 sooner. But I’ll be honest: I’m absent-minded. Driving back and forth every day, 120 miles round-trip, my focus was on the show and applying for the Full-Time Theatre Faculty position at the college. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while or paying attention to this installment, you know I didn’t get that job. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that once I got that job, I could start to pay off all of the debt (medical and otherwise) that’s looming over me like some mythic biblical sword.

Which brings me to my current plan. EDD sent me a notice in early November or late October saying my benefits were about to run out. So I stopped looking at their website (the creaky, clunky CalJobs), which I may have already been avoiding for weeks due to the almost complete absence of theatrical work listed therein, and focused entirely on jobs listed elsewhere. It was at this point that I paid that $57.00, embarrassed that I hadn’t done so yet, and figuring that my time with them was done and I’d better crank out my NaNoWriMo project super-fast, get it edited and published so’s I can get some money asap.

Out of the blue a notice arrived from them that my benefits had been extended. I was about to mail it back with all the appropriate boxes checked, when I saw that they wanted proof that I’ve been applying for jobs.

Back into my e-mails I dove, scrambling for information until I could get the form filled out.

Back into CalJobs I dove, adding resumes and skills and eagerly searching the job openings that CalJobs sees as a likely fit for me.

None of them are likely fits. Well, maybe one or two. I’ve applied. I’ve heard nothing.

Then it hit me: in order to get EDD to keep sending checks, I need to apply for jobs. They think I’m a potential Warehouse Foreman because I worked in Shipping & Receiving for Staples #84 in Boston in 1999. I would rather be writing than working as a Warehouse Foreman, but in order to keep getting checks, I should apply for every single job they send me.

And … wait for it … at every job interview for employment in which I would be utterly miserable … wait for it … I will pretend to be categorically insane. Boom. If it’s a big corporate job, I’ll go Sadistic Sociopath. If it’s a warehouse job, I’ll go Fancy Evil Mastermind.

I will record every interview and transcribe them herein.

If I get hired for some big corporate management job, I will maintain my persona the entire time, blogging furiously until I am discovered and my employment is terminated. Step One: Make sure that severance package is cush! Or at least make sure it’s Nimrod, son of Cush.

What do you think of this brilliant plan, O Avid Readers? I’ll be honest: I haven’t gotten a single non-theatrical job interview at all, in years. So we’ll see. This plan may not work. But tell me: are you interested in reading about my exploits in the Land of the Terminally Unemployable? Would you want to hear the recordings?  Are you a Rhinoceros? Why? If not a Rhinoceros, why not? Have you considered alternatives? Please explain.

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NaNoWriMo WINNER!

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm

As of sometime between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm on Wednesday, November 20, I passed the goal of 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. I did this at a blessedly quiet write-in at the Livermore Public Library. It was at this write-in that I made some other writers laugh for the first time, won a lobster (who even now is nesting in the left hand pocket of my vintage French military greatcoat), and met a NaNo who is the embodiment of the human incarnation of the Last Unicorn. I also learned that there was a write-in the following Thursday — as in, the very next night — at the Panera in Dublin, CA.

Now, everyone in my region had received messages from our NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons about these things, but sometimes an event doesn’t quite seem real until one finds others who are planning to attend. So I frothed myself up and attended the Panera Write-In the very next night.

I think I got one sentence written. It was not an evening of writing. From what I understand, these Panera Write-Ins are perhaps more dedicated earlier in the month. And apparently they’re also year-round. Since that night, I have attended one more Panera Write-In, and the majority of the group was playing Munchkin. That’s an awesome game. I was entertained as I ate a tasty sandwich.

No writing done.

Clearly this is an issue of self-discipline. I should go to these and sequester myself behind a house of cards. Perhaps adding a team of trained sea otters who will cavort at my command and distract the other writers. Blah, blah, blah. It would distract me, too. Only a few of these writers seem to have the discipline to write while a game of Munchkin is going on. I must find a way to do this. The two most obvious assistances are music and headphones; I have headphones and a superb playlist on Spotify. Unfortunately, the WiFi connection at Panera in Dublin seems spotty at best.

My computer does not like having a lot of sound files in it, as I learned when I produced an audiobook through ACX.com. So I’ll have to tinker a bit. And none of this should really matter terribly much, because I won NaNoWriMo. I still need to finish my novel and edit it, but I am a winner. In spite of the fact that of my grand plans to get a bunch of extra writing done on specific days didn’t really come to any form of juicy fruition.

Here’s why:
1) Between Day 3 and Day 4 I jumped from 8,000-ish words to 12,000-ish words; by Day 6 I was holding steady at 15,000-ish words; on Day 9 I jumped to 25,125 words.
1a) Here’s why: on November 6 I started not mowing lawns for nothing resembling a living, as well as never helping out with the cleanup and prep of a house here in Livermore that needed to be put on the market asap. So on 11/6, 7, 8 I wasn’t tearing shelving out of a garage, mowing lawns, using a leaf blower for the first time (fun!), and doing all sorts of other stuff that has blended together in my memory as a gasoline-scented montage of hunger fumes and Red Bull. So when Saturday, November 9 rolled around, with its all-day Write-In, I was at the computer by 7 am and wrote until we stopped to watch some Dr. Who around 7 pm; when the show was over and my lovely fiancée went to sleep, I wrote until just before midnight.
1b) Having lost entire days, you see, to not working outdoors and prepping that house for sale, I was very worried that I would not make my goals. So the days when I leapt forward by several thousand words were days that followed periods of exhaustion and near inactivity. Turns out I have a smidgen of self-discipline, as long as I make it clear to certain people (Maxwell and the fiancée) that I need an entire day, and that there shall be no Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on the television during that time. The leap to 25,125 words kept me well above my goals for the rest of the month. By Day 16, I was over 42,000 words. (This should have been exhilarating. However, it became clear to me at that juncture that I was not going to finish the novel by the time November 30 rolled around, and I began to freak out a little bit. I wanted to finish the novel, not just meet the goal. Alas, my story does not fit into a tidy, tiny 50,000-word format. And when I realized this, I felt like a complete failure. Ridiculous, no?)

Even though I had surpassed my goals and had the beginnings of something fabulous on my hands, I was convinced I had somehow failed. I posted embarrassing things on Facebook, along the lines of: “I’m already at 42,000 words halfway to the deadline, and there’s no way my novel will be complete by the end of the month! WAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Laughable as it is, I was seriously distraught. And the root of my distress I found buried in a box of confusion at the crossroads of the NaNoWriMo Goal and My Personal Yardstick Of Success. I was trying to write 150,000 words in 30 days. And that’s quite possible. I may have done so if I’d not been not mowing lawns. But my unemployment checks are tiny — well under Minimum Wage, if one calculates the amount of time I have been putting in to job searches [prior to NaNo] and considers the checks payment for that time, which is how I like to think of it — and without my work outdoors last month, we’d have been short my half of the rent. So the work I was doing was useful. And what I realized was this: people who are fully employed and / or in school and still manage to get 50,000 or 30,000 or 20,000 or even 5,000 words written in a month are the real winners.

An unemployed actor who occasionally doesn’t mow some lawns and has oodles of time on his hands? Meh. No big surprise.

By mid-November I was getting notices from EDD that they were going to cut off my meagre supply of money. I started putting more things up for sale on Craigslist.

Nothing sold. I stopped applying for jobs and figured I’d just keep mowing lawns and writing.

Then, sometime around 11/24-ish, I received a notice from EDD that they would still be paying me. I filled out the form and was about to put it into the envelope when I noticed an X in a box with a phrase near it, the gist of which was: bitch, you’d better offer proof that you’re applying for jobs! Because we watch, motherfucker, and you haven’t been on our shitty website searching for jobs in weeks!”

Commence frantic search of e-mails for proof of jobs applied for: company, contact info., person contacted, etc. Results: many applications, no responses. Even though in my mind I had utterly stopped, the difference was this: I had stopped signing onto CalJobs to look for work, because their website is creaky and clunky and counter-intuitive. I am pleased to have found enough applications made during November to fill in those early weeks.

However, I didn’t get any responses from several of the places to which I applied. Some of them should have been automatic, given my resume (big fish) and their overall talent pool (shallow). I’m not being conceited here, friends, this is actually something I’ve done in the past and have revived of late in order to keep my chops up: audition for small companies who can’t afford to pay me a living wage.

It may be kind of a dick move when one considers the torment to which I will possibly subject some of the directors, but here’s the thing you don’t know about theatre companies: in order to be able to survive at all, just about every established small / community theatre company has at least one person to whom they can go when they need the money for an emergency expense. If the director wants an actor badly enough, and the actor can’t do the job without a living wage, there is occasionally a secret agreement reached whereby the actor appears to take the same piddling $250 stipend as the rest of the cast, when in actuality she is getting a living wage.

This doesn’t happen everywhere. But it’s how I’ve made much of my living since 2007.  Of course, if the director is not impassioned in her argument, and if the backer is a dick, and if the theatre company is poorly managed, and if there’s a butterfly in a rain forest who hates Sondheim, I probably won’t get a living wage from the small company for which I auditioned this past Saturday.

That audition only happened because I sent a second e-mail with headshot and resume attached, along with a polite post-script inquiring about the earlier e-mail. So I have sent several similar e-mails in the past week or so, and have learned that many of the missives I sent in the early weeks of November just did not arrive.

Mercury Retrograde much? Maybe not. You’d be surprised how many butterflies hate Sondheim.

In the meantime, I am signing up for general auditions galore and looking at a local Masters Program in Holistic Psychology. We’ll see what happens. Auditions and rehearsals take time away from writing.

[Did you read this? Are you a human being? Consider commenting below. Many thanks!]