Archive for January, 2016

24
Jan

“But How Do You Feel?”

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Well, the layoff finally took place last Friday. It really hasn’t registered in my head just yet; since it was at the end of the regular work week, it’s felt more like an ordinary weekend the past two days. The coming morning will certainly change all that. I sat down and did some simple math this past afternoon… since I graduated from high school in 1980, I have been totally unemployed a total of one week. Yes, that’s right – one week in over 35-1/2 years. That one week was in 1987 between leaving my co-op student job at IBM and starting a temp job at Coca-Cola. I surprised myself with that one. While I’ve been looking for another position since I was notified about the layoff, it’s going to take on an entirely new meaning for me starting tomorrow.

The first question people have asked me, and continued to ask all through the past two weeks is, how do I feel about what’s happening? That’s a fair question, but it seems so cliche at the same time because it’s usually the “only” question anyone seems to want to hear. Why is that? I suppose it’s because people want to find some sort of connection with the person being questioned, some way of sharing the emotions of someone who may be a total stranger but for that one thin line of feeling. I don’t really have a desire to establish emotional connections to people I may have never met before; to me, most emotions are personal – something to be shared with family and close friends who won’t take them and twist them around or use them in some distorted way for their own amusement or personal gain.

But for those who are still curious, let me respond with the message I sent to my manager and as many of my now-former co-workers as I could on my last day (the subject line of my e-mail was “Happy Trails”, and I’ve removed the name of the company to avoid any conflicts):

All,

In less than an hour, I will be walking out of the Plano office for what may be the last time. Before I do, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank each of you for the support and the good wishes I have received regarding the end of my position with ___ and the hopes for my future. I have no bitter feelings over the decision that was made, and I will be leaving the same way I arrived – with a smile.

I have to say it’s been quite a ride over the years, but it’s been made all the more pleasant and memorable thanks to the people I’ve been honored to work with. There are many more co-workers I wish I could include here, but most of them have already moved off to other places. If you happen across any of them, please pass along my best wishes.

I still don’t know yet where I will be going or what I will be working on next; I will continue to check for available internal openings as long as I’m allowed, while searching elsewhere as well. My hope is to land on my feet quickly and continue my career, be it with another group in ___ or elsewhere. Any suggestions or leads you might come across would be appreciated.

Will our paths cross again? I would like to think so. But in case they don’t, or you’re just wanting to chat a bit about how things are going, here’s how you can reach me:

[here I listed my personal contact information]

In closing, again I wish to say “thanks for the memories” and I look forward to hearing from you again in the future.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out what my feelings were at the time.  And when you do, there’s no need to share – you’ll spoil the fun for everyone else! LOL

13
Jan

A Door Is Closing… Where’s The Next One?

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

I was officially notified on Monday (the 11th) that my position at work had been eliminated and that I was being laid off. My last day of working for my employer will be at the end of next week (the 22nd)…if…

if what?

…if I can’t find another position within the company between now and 60 days after my last day. During this time I’m in what they call a “preferential rehire status” which means I can be hired into another position without any special conditions. My application for any open positions will be considered before they look at established employees who are just looking to move into a new job. Or at least, that’s what I’m being told. In the past it’s taken as long as three weeks to hear back on a position I’ve applied for; I applied for four positions in the last 24 hours, so we’ll see if it’s any faster now that I’m in this “preferential” status.

When I met with my manager to discuss this, I received assurances that the decision was not based on a lack of work, or my job performance, or through any fault of my own or of anyone else on the team. It was good to hear that I hadn’t done something to cause this to happen.

My job position may have been eliminated, but the work hasn’t gone away. Someone still has to be around to do the things I do, but it won’t be me. Instead, a seemingly forthright gentleman located in a Central America country will be picking up the work…and I’m spending my remaining days on the job training him. All I can promise is by the end of the two weeks he’ll be able to find where things are and have a rough idea of how things work. I can’t really pass along the intuition I’ve learned, the experiences I’ve had, and the techniques I’ve developed for solving the unique problems that come with the job. Some of those come from being on the same client account for 15 years, and based on the photo I’ve seen of my replacement, he was probably in middle school when I joined the account. I’m not saying he isn’t talented – not by a long shot – but in a team as small as the one I’m in, sometimes long-term experiences can be critical to keeping the work moving. But, I suppose the folks who came up with this layoff plan didn’t think about that…

In the meantime, while I’m looking for another job I’ll be getting severance pay, which is a good thing. What they’ve offered me is pretty decent compared to what I’ve heard some people were given in previous layoffs. It doesn’t beat having a full-time job with full benefits, something I’ve enjoyed for almost all of my adult life, but it’s better than nothing at all… especially when you have things to pay for like a mortgage, utilities, car payments, groceries, a kid in college, etc. But, I suppose the folks who came up with this layoff plan didn’t think about that either…

So, what exactly did the folks who came up with this layoff plan think about?

Numbers. Strictly numbers.

Numbers, as in how much does it cost to have an employee in the U.S. to do the work compared to an employee in a Central American country to do the work? I don’t know the details, but my guess is the cost of living down there is significantly lower, and given the age of my replacement he’s probably at a lower wage level and benefit costs than me (at least I would hope so!). Looking at those points alone would be plenty of justification, especially if you multiply that by the thousands of employees that my employer plans to lay off in the near future. The savings in terms of numbers would be substantial – millions upon millions of dollars each year once you roll in all the ancillary costs like benefits packages.

And just to add some extra points to ponder, consider this last little tidbit: Remember that “if” I talked about back at the beginning? Well, there’s another part to it: if I am unsuccessful in being hired for another open position by the end of those 60 days after my last day, their current layoff rules say I can never work for them ever again.

Never, like I don’t exist.

While I was searching through their open job list, I saw hundreds of open positions. Imagine for a moment that there was a large pool of people who are trained, willing, and able to take on every single one of them… but they can’t be hired because they used to work for the same company just a few years ago. Seems like quite a waste of valuable resources available for the picking. But, I suppose the folks who came up with this layoff plan didn’t think about that either…

So, now what? Well, as I alluded to in the title of this entry, the door to my old job is closing, and as the saying goes another door should be opening. I haven’t seen it yet, but I sure hope it opens soon…and I hope that whatever is behind it is better than what I’m being asked to leave behind.

6
Jan

What’s in a (Pen) Name?

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Writing

Like most of the other members of the Shared Words writer’s group, I have had aspirations for many years to be a published author. And, in fact, I am – did you know our group published a book in 2014? You can learn more about it by visiting the following link — Shared Words: Volume One

I’ve worked on several writing projects on my own, with encouragement from the rest of the group, and even have one completed book. Well, okay, it’s in draft form, but it’s still a complete story. And one of these days I’ll get around to editing the dialogue and polishing up the text. And then maybe I’ll see about getting it published.

But…

…one of the things I’ve gone back and forth with is whether publishing something under my real name is a good idea. I decided to do a little research into this to get a feel for what other published and want-to-be-published writers are doing. After checking with several sources and reading through some interesting discussions on the topic, I found the opinions about evenly split and the reasons fairly consistent. These two stood out the most to me:

Avoiding conflicts. Many writers who decided not to use their real names did so to avoid creating conflicts with family, friends, and even their employers. Their concern was the subject matter of their writings might not sit well with family or friends, or could cause unacceptable disruptions in their place of work (and from what I’ve seen so far, most writers need those non-writing jobs to keep food on the table until they can get established).

Protecting privacy. When you stick your name out in front of the world, and people start to notice your work and you get more popular, eventually someone’s going to want to learn more about you and/or your family. And in today’s age of instant access to information, it’s not difficult for someone who is determined enough to find out where you live, the kind of car you drive, or the names of your children. There were more than a few women in these discussions that said they chose not to use their real names in order to avoid having an abusive ex-boyfriend or ex-husband hunt them down, which I found very disturbing.

There was one more thing I looked into, and that was to see if there were any other published authors out there that share my name. Now you might think with a last name like Bernier that we’d be few and far between in the literary world, but it’s not the case. In fact, I found published works under the names Mike Bernier, Michael Bernier, M. Bernier, and M.J. Bernier, which are the only versions of my name that I would have considered using (there are two other variations but I use those mostly when signing official/legal/contractual documents).

With my “rare” name not being so rare after all, that pretty much ended my deliberations — a pen name it will be.

But now, what name do I choose?

 

2
Jan

A Writing Prompt to Share

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Writing

I’ve found that a lot of writers like to use “prompts” to help them develop ideas for new stories. My writer’s group does this too, usually in the form of posting a word or phrase and everyone tries to write something that incorporates the prompt, either literally or in an implied way. It’s usually a lot of fun, and we take turns reviewing and critiquing each other’s work, which in turn helps us all become a little better as writers.

Every once in a while, I’ll come across something else that strikes me as a good prompt to use in writing. It might be a sentence, a photograph, something I see while driving down a road, and so on. A few days ago, a very dear friend posted an animated GIF image on her Facebook page, and when I saw it the idea of what to write immediately popped into my head. A few minutes later, I had posted my thoughts in a comment below the picture. It’s not so much a story as it is a description of the scene, which is just as important because it sets the tone and the mood for the story.

Here’s what I wrote. Read it first, then have a look at the image. How well did I do in setting up the scene in your mind? What would you expect to see next? I’m definitely keeping this piece of writing in my collection. Who knows? You might see it again someday…

“New Year’s Eve 1898, Springfield Illinois. A narrow road, its ruts from carriages passing earlier in the day filling with the light flakes of new-fallen snow. Overhanging trees, their leaves long lost for the winter, painted in the icy whiteness of the season. The gaslight’s glow brings the stillness to life, inviting her to walk down the lonely path…”

(Link to image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/09/6e/97/096e973023df1543114b0c3107b32109.gif) I do not own or claim any rights to this image; it is reproduced here for illustrative purposes only.

 

Happy New Year!

Wow, it’s been four and a half years since I posted here — where did all the time go?

There are a couple of reasons for my long absence:

The first reason is, I got busy with other activities both inside and outside of work. In March of 2011 I joined the local Civil Air Patrol (CAP) squadron, and I gradually became more and more involved in the group’s activities. I became the squadron’s Information Technology Officer (ITO), then its Public Affairs Officer (PAO), and a lot of my creative energy was spent building a new website (which you can visit at http://www.captexoma.org/), writing press releases and articles, and eventually taking on a Facebook page as well. Two years later in 2013 I was asked to become the squadron’s commander, a role I didn’t think I was ready for but all of the other members have been extremely supportive and helpful, allowing me to take on the responsibility and not look too much like an ignorant fool in the process. It’s a 3-year commitment that I’ll be stepping down from later in 2016.

Work has taken some twists and turns as well. The client contract I’d been working on for 10 years was not renewed, and I was pulled into a new project to close it down. This took an amazing 2-1/2 years to complete, and really pushed my skills in designing and managing databases and performing complex data analysis to new levels, resulting in saving our company a lot of money. I was very proud to have been recognized for all the hard work, but saddened that many of the people I had worked with over the years were either sent off to new positions or laid off from the company. I did manage to hold on to a position with the tiny piece of service for the same client that we were still providing, but the type of work is something I hadn’t done in many years – production support. If you don’t know what that is, drop me a note and I’ll be glad to explain it to you…it’s not the most glamorous of jobs, but it pays the bills.

The second reason for being away so long is, I needed to take a step back. Anyone who reads my blog posts from July 2010 through July 2011 will see that I spent the entire year after Stephen’s death writing about him and little else. My writing seemed to swing back and forth from happiness to sorrow, and I’m sure many people were wondering at the time if I was going to spend the rest of my life writing and living that way (and for a time, I was asking myself that same question). So, I backed off most of my writing (except for a few smaller projects here and there) and spent a lot of time looking at what I was doing and where I was going. Some of the major things I focused on were:

  • Taking time to grieve. In spite of my resistance to it, the psychologists were right: I needed time to grieve over Stephen’s death. Time that was spent in the ways I felt they needed to be spent, which might have been different from the way some people might have expected.
  • Establishing a “new normal.” What does that mean? It means adjusting to all the changes that came about because Stephen was no longer alive. What would my relationships be like with family, friends, and co-workers? What would I say to people who ask to “hear the story” about his accident? How would I respond when someone who knew him wanted to talk about their memories? And most of all, what would I need to do in order to get through the daily routine of working, eating, sleeping, and just being alive?
  • Securing Stephen’s legacy. He touched so many lives that it didn’t seem right to let his memory fade away after his friends and classmates moved on. So, following that first year after his death, I worked to ensure the honors established by everyone else would continue going forward. Each year since then I’ve presented both the “Super Steve” award at the year-end band banquet and the Stephen Bernier Memorial Scholarship during Senior Awards night, and I’ll continue to do both for as long as I’m invited. And at last year’s banquet I presented a display case filled with memorabilia including his trumpet, a project that was almost three years in the making; this case is now on display at the high school where students from now on can see it, learn about him, and ask questions.
  • Finding a new direction and purpose. The day Stephen died, a part of me died inside as well. The changes were enormous: the road my life had been following up to that time wasn’t working any more, and the goals and dreams I once had didn’t fit in with the new world laid out in front of me… so trying to continue down that path was pointless. I started searching for new goals and reaching for new dreams, which in part led me to volunteer work with CAP and the local Amateur Radio community (I’ll talk more about both of those in future posts).

But even with all that, I still felt something missing. My writing… somehow I needed to get back into my writing. There are still plenty of stories floating around in my head, ideas waiting to be shared with the world (or maybe just a few close friends). And so I decided to start up this blog once again. I don’t know how often I’ll be posting just yet, but at least I’ll be writing.

Wish me luck!