Saturday, September 08, 2007

you just never know......

a view of the CN tower from our seats at the Skydome,
aug 2007

Twenty years ago this week, my future husband and I packed the car and a borrowed van and along with the help of our good friend Robin, moved east from Hogtown to Freddy Beach. All of our belongings fit inside those two vehicles. Most of the space was taken up by books and music tucked around a futon, a stereo, a couch, Ikea shelving, suitcases of clothes, dishes and a black and white TV. The last thing to go into the mix was a picnic basket which my Mom filled with spices, tea, coffee and special goodies she knew we wouldn't be able to afford. I still have the picnic basket and it has journeyed with us everytime we have gone away for the weekend or on vacation.

Our move to the Maritimes was intended to be a temporary stopover while Sir James, master of the pan flute studied history at the university and I began my career as a Psychometrist. I was ready willing and able to jump into a job working with kids, in a counselling and assessment kind of environment.

A couple of years at most and then we'd return to Toronto to resume our lives where we had left them. I guess. We talked of settling in a smaller town north of the city, or possibly returning to our shared hometown too, but we never really spoke of settling in Fredericton for the long haul.
Home was in Southern Ontario. New Brunswick was just a chapter.

The first year was difficult in many ways, but it also helped solidify our relationship and subsequent marriage because we were all we had. We were on our own figuring it out. Though I surely didn't know it at the time, our first year finding our way was also a year of learning many lessons which ended up being the foundation of a career path I had no idea I would end up on. Looking back on it now? It makes me shake my head in wonder.

I had never had a tough time finding employment in the past, so consequently wasn't prepared for the struggles I found landing something in my field or at least something which paid the bills. Not knowing a soul, every call I made while walking the employment beat was a cold call.

Many days I felt like I had shed another layer of skin as I continued to build a network while taking any jobs thrown my way. I tried to look at every job as a chance to meet others who may be able to point me in the right direction. Our timing with respect to the launch of my career couldn't have been worse given that we had just moved into a "two horse" town --government and university. If you didn't work for one, you worked for the other. Unfortunately, we arrived right in the middle of a provincial election which ended in the McKenna Liberals not only winning but annilating the incumbent Tories by winning every seat. Frank McKenna's first order of business? He froze all civil service hirings with the plan to review all programs and services to see what could be cut.


The university? As tightly shut as a..................... you can fill in the rest. It's still that tight if you ask me.

So, I grabbed everything and anything and juggled it all. I took on 25 kids age 5-10 in an afterschool program and entertained them for just above minimum wage. I worked at a crappy jewelry/luggage/travel items store for minimum wage. I completed a workplace analysis for a bar/club where I got to hang out one Friday night with the bouncers at the front door, and then close things up with the bartender/manager only to find we were the only sober ones in the whole place which was filled to the rafters with people. I also did a stint writing copy for a local radio station, which I quite enjoyed doing, but the guy who hired me knew my situation (desperate to work) and turned around and paid me minimum wage.........and then boasted about it to my future co-workers.

In the meantime, I continued my pursuit of finding the right job. I met with politicians and civil servants, business people and university professors. I talked with the parents of the afterschool kids, interacted with the shoppers at the crappy jewelry store, I chatted it up with all the staff at the bar/club. I kept lists, read the news to find out about any announcements or possible job opportunities. I tried to find out about grant money or projects and I learned how this captial city worked. I talked and walked and sqwalked. By the time the year was up, my resume was floating up and down the Saint John River Valley.

Stressfully mind numbing, the job search ate away at my confidence daily. For some reason however, I always had hope. I don't know whether it was naivete or a over zealous sense of entitlement, but I always felt that I would land on my feet..............that I would find the job I was looking for. One day, I would meet someone who would tell me I was a breath of fresh air. The next day, I would meet another who would tell me I was over qualified and too specialized to fit in this city. Over and over again I would be asked............."Why would you move here? How long are you staying?" Thank God that attitude has come and gone since then.

There was a point when I thought I was going to completely crack. It came in the middle of winter that first year when my then new husband, Sir James ended up in the hospital with acute appendicitis. I was angry, upset, exhausted, relieved and feeling all alone trying to cope when I returned to our apartment late in the night after his operation. Determined to succeed and knowing I had talked to every person and their sister and no one seemed to be able to help me, I decided it was time to call the Premier office to make an appointment to speak to him.

What gall eh?

The next morning, I tracked down his office phone number and called.

Secretary: Good morning/bonjour, Premier McKenna's office. How can I help you?

Me: Hi. My name is __________ and I would like to make an appointment to meet with Mr. McKenna.

Secretary: Can I ask what you wish to speak to him about?

Me: Yes, employment. I would like to talk to Premier McKenna about employment.

Secretary: Oh, so you have employment opportunities you wish to speak to him about?

Me: Not exactly, no. I want to talk to him about my own employment. I need a job and I want him to help me. I have tried many avenues and I'm having no luck whatsoever.

Secretary: Have you spoken to your own MLA?

Me: Yes, and a dozen other MLA's. I've also talked to our Federal MP.

Secretary: What is your phone number? I will pass your name onto the appointment secretary. She isn't in the office right at the moment, so I will get her to call you back when she returns.

Me: Great thank you.

After the exchange of information, we hung thinking I just got the brush off. And for the first time in what seemed like a month, I laughed. Who calls the Premier's office looking for work (well I know now that MANY call ........ at the time I had no idea)?? Not in a million years was I going to hear from the "appointment secretary." I figured the person didn't even exist. At the time, it didn't matter because just the act brough levity and humour back to the situation. And that is what I needed more than anything...........a good loud long snort!

Later that afternoon.................the appointment secretary called. Not only that, this woman had done her homework and managed to somehow get her hands on my resume. She asked pointed questions........whom have I talked to.......did I know about this grant and that initiative.......where have I formally applied....... etc. Then, she told me to give it another couple of weeks......I was on the right track............something would happen. AND if it didn't, she would be more than happy to make arrangements for me to meet with the Premier.

I never had a chance to sit in his office. It turned out the appointment Secretary was right. I just needed to hold on a little longer.

Though it would be a full 8 years of working from one contract to another before my job evolved into a permanent position, I have never been unemployed since.

It was a trying year, most definately. In retrospect, what did I gain from it? Well, it turned out I ended up working with adults on social assistance who were trying to seek a new life through upgrading and employment.......trying to make the leap across the great divide from welfare to financial self sufficiency. My first year of struggling with paying the bills, with providing for another, with maintaining my self confidence helped me see, feel and taste what it was like. As well, I developed many contacts through the jobs I had and through the job search, some of whom became colleagues, some of whom I continue to contact on behalf of one of my clients, and most importantly some of whom became my closest friends in Fredericton. These friends I have now known for 20 years. The bartender/manager I spent a sober evening with at a bar doing a workplace analysis? She is my closest dearest friend. She and her family have grown with us and have shared many Thanksgivings and Christmases with us in our home and in theirs. They are our Fredericton family.......a family which continues to grow and thrive.

Yes, this is home. I have no idea when the transfer happened in our thinking......year ? It surely was solidified when we brought our baby daughter home from the hospital almost 14 years ago now. We will always have strong familial ties to our childhood home, but I look around tonight as I finish this long piece and all I see is the comfort of my home.

You just never know..........

ps. I did eventually meet the Premier through his wife whom I had worked with at the Community College. It was in the aisle on a flight from Toronto to Fredericton as he was trying put his luggage in the upper storage and I was trying to manoeuver my swollen pregnant hot self into a seat. All formalities were forgotten when I was introduced to him as "this is my husband, Frank." "Hi Frank," I say smiling.......Nice to finally meet you."
pps.......Anne? I'm so glad I took that job at the Cosmo. Not only did I hear some hilarious bouncer stories, I met you. :)


BreadBox said...

Nineteen years ago last month, I had help packing stuff up, moved with the assistance of a moving company from Ontario to the US, moving south again three years later, and just a little north-east six years after that; I ended up here, far from any other homes, hearts other than LOML: I am now settled, after a fashion: I dream of moving back to Canada, or to the UK, or,... but I don't know now that we ever will.

It's trite to say that home is where the heart is, but it is just as true: at least if we are to be happy, we need to find and make those connections, regardless of the difficulties.

Michele sent me again to say this.
The rest will wait, for tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Leigh in Atlanta said...

michele sent me over to read your amazing story of employment

Teena said...

It's hard to pack up and move across the country. I moved from Nova Scotia to Toronto 20 years ago. Toronto is home now ... I love it!

Paul Giamatti is awesome in "Shoot 'Em Up". He's so funny and nasty!

Thanks for stopping by :)

Awareness said...

breadbox.....admittedly there have been times when I've wanted to move back. As you know, job opps in this neck of the woods are few and far between and I've had to compromise to some extent my career path...or at least be very creative about seems this will be a theme throughout my work life. When the kids were very little, it was more difficult not have family around, as I'm sure you can relate to. But, those are minimal compared to everything else this place offers.
If your career path brings you back to this neck of the woods? I'll introduce you to the folks at the Happy Baker :) OH, and I know a man who teaches origami at Science East. He's also a kite builder. He'd love to meet would I.

hi leigh thanks for stopping by.

teena.....looks like the Maritimes got me and Toronto go you. I wonder if we pass eachother on the TransCanada during our moves? funny thought.
ps. I love Toronto too and ALL it has to offer. I was lucky to get a "fix" of it a couple of times this year.

Gypsy said...

Good for you Dana. You had a lot of determination and endeavour in your search for employment and eventually you reaped the rewards.

Now when will you and the wine be at my house because the glasses are icy cold now and we can sit outside and enjoy the sun on our faces :) You've no idea how much I would enjoy a good chat with someone like you right now.

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

This post reminds me of all the reasons I admire the heck out of you :)

I wish I would have met you 20 years ago and got to "be" in your life for all your adventures.

paris parfait said...

I love these fascinating stories of serendipity and opportunity. Calling by to wish you a Happy Birthday on Tuesday, in case I am too preoccupied with my daughter's pending departure to get in touch then. Hope you and yours enjoy a wonderful celebration! xo

Rainbow dreams said...

you just don't ever know do you, the twists and turns and serendipity, determination and trust that find us exactly where we are supposed to be...

a lovely story, thank you for sharing - I find it curious how some places can feel like home almost immediately yet others take time to settle into, have a lovely week, have noted the birthday - thanks Paris :) Katie,x

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

This is a GREAT story!
For me, the best part, (well, almost) was finally meeting the Premiere and by first name, yet!
You have incredible perseverence and courage! BRAVO to you!

andrea said...

Riveting reading!

Awareness said...

hey gypsy....i wish i could join you for a glass of wine and a long talk. lots to talk about.....a bit of an understatement, I know.

layla....when I started writing this last night, all I had in mind was the fact that it had been 20 years. I didn't have a clue where this post was headed. And it kept going on and on and believe me it could have continued....I was in one of those writing moods. When I hit the post button, I didn't know if it even made sense or if it was even worthwhile posting. So, thank you for your feedback and kind words. You always make me feel like I must be on the right track with what I'm posting here.

Tara...thank you. I will be by to wish you a happy birthday too! :) It's funny how serendipity works. I think it floats all around us and most of the time we are completely unaware of it. It wasn't until last night when I started writing this that I fully saw how connected my first year here was to the career journey I ended up on.....kind of goofy that I never figured out how I was able to answer all those interview questions about Career Counselling since it wasn't something I formally studied.. Doh!

Hey Katie. I agree about some places feeling more like home than others. I remember feeling that when I was travelling through Europe. there were a few places when we arrived that had a completely different feel to it than others....a sense of home or belonging or something. Fredericton has always felt that way.....from the very first time I stopped here on a trip with Jamie to Nova Scotia when we first started dating. I had no idea we would end up here.....but when the option came up, I was more than willing to move here.
Completely accepting it as home took longer simply because our family and old friends all lived in Ontario....whenever we went back "home" there was always talk about when we were moving back (it still gets asked by at least one person every time we visit)....

Our dwellings have the same feel or not too, don't you think? My house I live in now? It truly feels like home. We both knew it was ours the moment we set foot in it when it was for sale. Interesting how that is.

Hi Naomi....welcome. Glad you enjoyed the story. I actually have a few Frank stories like that tucked away in my back pocket. This is a very small province. Everyone seems to know one another and you tend to bump into many people over and over again. Consequently, though there is decorum and formality, there is also a sense of friendliness and informality which I thoroughly enjoy. Less pretences. I like it that way.

Awareness said...

Hey andrea....welcome. I'm glad you enjoy my story.