Sunday, April 6, 2014

No. 60 – Big Log

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: Robert Plant, Robbie Blunt, Jezz Woodroffe
Original Release: The Principle of Moments
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: None.

I always loved this song, from the first time I saw the trippy video of Robert out in the desert. Big Log plays a part in one of my two favorite endings to a nonfiction book—Hammer of the Gods.

If you aren’t familiar with it, at the end of the paperback version to the infamous expose on Led Zeppelin, the author tells the story of a woman and her 12-year-old daughter who meet Robert Plant walking the beach in some remote locale. The girl was excited to meet him—the guy from Big Log, which she knew from MTV. The story goes that she asked him what he’d done before Big Log, whereupon Robert smiled and said, “it’s a long story.”

Speaking of long stories, today’s is one I’m passing along second-hand somewhat. It’s the story about the job Laurie got after she was fired from AHA in 2009. Technically, she was let go, but that’s euphemistic nonsense. She was fired. Yes, it wasn’t for performance per se, but the result was the same.

At first, it was as though nothing had happened. Laurie got four months’ pay and full benefits as severance, so it was like she had a paid summer vacation, and she took it. After a fall hangover, she tried to launch a freelance writing career, but the jobs were few and far between in 2010. Besides, she still was more comfortable in a full-time setting, so she started looking for work.

Unlike, say, me, Laurie has a valuable and marketable skill in journalism—a health-care background. It didn’t take long for her to turn her marketability into employment.

We went to Torch Lake for a long weekend in July 2010. While we were there, Laurie was called by SG2, a health-care consultancy that she interviewed with a week or so before. When she saw the number on her cellphone, she went outside to take the phone call, and I watched her the whole time. She seemed to be smiling. Good news.

Laurie was one of two finalists and was given an assignment. I don’t remember the nature of the assignment, but she had to write something when we got home. Laurie, of course, didn’t want to hear about it, but I knew she was going to get the job, which she did.

The only drawback for Laurie, was the office was in Skokie, so she’d have to drive, but the job went well the first year. She loved her boss, her work and her desk by huge fifth-floor windows in the cubicle farm overlooking the Edens (and the Chicago skyline in the distance).

Things changed her second year. A reorganization put Laurie beneath a different boss, and the job expectations changed. Technically, Laurie was managing editor, in charge of writing and putting out the company newsletter each week. Before long, however, her new boss wanted her to do more search-engine optimization and data tracking.

That wasn’t Laurie’s skill set, nor was it for what she signed up, but she was willing to learn. Unfortunately, no one was willing to teach her. A lot of jobs at SG2 had been cut, and, suddenly, no one had the time to teach Laurie anything or help her with her duties.

Laurie knew it was going badly and seemed to have some bad thing or another happen every week. The first shoe dropped at her second anniversary. Basically, her new boss and the boss above her—also new—put Laurie on double-secret probation. They gave her a list of things she had to accomplish in two months, or they’d “have to let her go.” Laurie felt she had to sign the agreement.

When she told me what happened, I knew it was part of a paper trail, lest Laurie sue for unlawful termination. She thought that if she lived up to her end of the bargain, she could keep her job. We agreed on one thing though: She wasn’t going to quit.

To me, it was a simple matter of pride. I told Laurie, they want you to quit so they don’t have to pay severance or unemployment. I’m not going to let you quit. You have to make them fire you. Laurie agreed: She couldn’t afford to quit. She had to be eligible for unemployment, at least.

So she buckled down, coming in early, on time, as directed. She didn’t bother anyone for help but figured things out on her own, as directed. She posted on her own, learning rudimentary HTML in the process. She did everything asked of her and met every goal. I’ve never been as proud of Laurie as how she completely kicked ass when she had been set up to fail.

At the end of her probation, they did nothing, like the cowards they were. Again, to me, it was simple: Laurie fulfilled the dictates of the agreement. They either have to take you off probation or fire you.

When Laurie brought that up, the other shoe dropped. They fired her after all, but she was able to leave with severance and unemployment intact. Her boss agreed that the job had changed, and through no fault of Laurie’s, she was being euphemized.

So Laurie has been freelance since, and it’s going much better than the first round. Laurie has thrown herself into it, and she’s starting to build a base of regular clients. It hasn’t hurt that for the past two months, she’s been working a temp copyediting gig that I arranged for her through old colleagues of mine from the Daily Herald.

All along, Laurie and I knew that, because of her acting, she was better suited to freelance than full-time work, and now she’s on the right path after spending a lot of time wandering around the desert like some guy who ran out of gas by the side of the road. Better late than usual.

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