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Shift Happens

I survived the Loma Prieta earthquake that leveled 10 city blocks of downtown Santa Cruz, CA in 1989. We later wore tee-shirts that said "SHIFT HAPPENS." It was an apt phrase for the survivors of an earthquake, and it particularly applies now as we all speed to the end of 2012.


Wednesday, June 6, D-Day. At 10 this morning a person from Personnel called to tell me the offer of employment with her state agency had been withdrawn. She could not tell me the reason why, simply that her Director told her to make the call and break the bad news.

I was stunned. I had already quit my job, and on Monday evening I emptied the contents of my desk into a box and walked out for the last time. Just yesterday, Tuesday, I went to an auxiliary agency location to have my fingerprints taken and submit my paperwork for a criminal background check.

It was a little over two weeks ago I had been notified that the position I applied for was mine. We exchanged documents over the next few days and my start date was to be a week from tomorrow, Thursday, when the State of New York begins its bi-monthly pay period.

This morning I was looking forward to settling into a nice week-long vacation, the first vacation I dared to take in the past four years.

And now, suddenly, with a thirty-second phone call, all that was kicked side-ways and my fond hopes for an overdue vacation tasted like chalk. Why? Why did they change their mind? I aced the interview, and was perfect for this position. What could possibly have happened? And what do I do now?


I am doing what I usually do when I need to sort out a situation: I write. I am writing this for myself, to keep calm and rational while my pulse strives to find its regular beat, but you are welcome to read over my shoulder, if you wish. For this is not the first major shift to roll through our lives lately. And I think the shift is happening to all of us, one way or another.


The most dramatic and undeniable shift is happening right now, about thirty yards away. As I write, the roar of gigantic earth-moving machinery is rattling our windows. A huge swath of forest right behind the house has been knocked down and chewed up and is now in the process of being bulldozed away. And we don't know why.

They came without warning two weeks ago, three giant tractor machines equipped with rotating teeth that can grind through a tree trunk two feet in diameter and knock down the sixty foot stalk. And then move on to do it again, and again. They came on a Saturday, and every house that lines the shady private road in back awoke to the roar of the massive double engines, the savage sound of wood grinding, the crackling collapse of falling trees, and the beep-beep-beep of commercial machinery backing up to assume another attack on an adjacent patch of forest.

They cleared an area the size of ten football fields, maybe larger, leaving the old growth that lined the private road that had only been used by hunters in deer and turkey season. But this past weekend they came for the old growth too, a more ambitious undertaking, needing even larger machines, and leaving broken chunks of ugly wooden rubble in its wake. They are still rooting out stumps and clearing away the debris as I write.

The suddenness of the attack and the swiftness of the transformation leave Allison and me breathless. When they are through each day we take Pax for a walk on our now completely transformed path, examining the day's work. We look out across a field littered with splintered branches, cracked boulders and shards of root and trunk. We feel like the Navi witnessing the destruction of their home tree in the movie Avatar, tinged with a bit of guilt as well, for we wear the same skin as the humans who have done this damage to Mother Nature.

At least they could not touch the old growth trees that line our side of the private road, and they provide a certain amount of screening from the huge patch of churned earth. Nonetheless, we can see right through the trunks and hanging vines into the devastation beyond. A neighbor was told the field will be used for farming, and we hope this is true and won't become another housing development. We had always valued not having neighbors behind us. Either way, there is nothing we can do about it. Frustrating. Vulnerable. Sad.

Now we walk the no-longer-shady path and look out across the expanse that once began at arm's reach with green leafy stalks, and we see - Change. In a remarkably short time, our neighborhood has experienced a major shift. What will come next? We do not know. Another future scenario that appears to be beyond our control. And if we let ourselves run with it, the unknown future can be scary, even a little maddening. We want to face the days to come with confidence… but how do we maintain this confidence consistently?


Most people know that the Mayan calendar will end its 5125 year cycle on December 21 of this year. Many assume this date heralds the so-called "end of days," or the apocalypse. Many in the spiritual community suggest humans are now experiencing a major paradigm shift in how we relate to our world and one another. If anything, the end of the Mayan calendar cycle represents a long-expected spiritual transformation. The old ways are coming to an end, but a new way of living may be right around the corner. Many theories of what this looks like.

Allison has learned a great deal about this shift from a wide variety of sources, and she suggests that we are all seeing evidence of this on many levels all around us (not just us, but you too, and everyone else who has retained some sensitivity to the subtle nuances that pulse through their lives… many, alas, are too calcified to notice anymore, or care).

One could make a case that the unusual weather we have experienced this past year - the flooding in the wake of Hurricane Irene, a winter without snow in the Northeast, Southwest draught and fire, the unusual number of tornadoes in places that rarely if ever saw a tornado before, etc. - is but a physical manifestation of the shift. We are also experiencing the shift in our emotions, our level of stress, our relationships with others, the peoples movements in Egypt and Libya and Iran, and even in the state of the world economy. Or so some propose.

I don't know if the shift is real - the coincidence of the Mayan calendar notwithstanding. But doesn't it feel like everything is in flux these days? Cloud computing and social media like Twitter and Facebook seem to produce a constant background chatter. People spend as much time texting as they do driving. I don't know many people whose routine lives are not increasingly peppered with stresses and fractures. We are hanging on, hoping for the best.


A family that has been stable and harmonious for decades suddenly starts to splinter apart, all within a few months, and things are still not right among certain family units. I can acknowledge that the catalyst for this shift was the sudden death of the family patriarch due to the swift onslaught of leukemia (less than two months between diagnosis and hospice). Still, emotionally, a source of happiness and security has been lost in a relatively short time, and nothing has come to replace it. For the family members this has felt like a major shift, indeed.


It was less than a year ago I was working for that same state agency who withdrew their offer of employment this morning. I had been working 39 months in the Communications Office attached to the Commissioner's Suite as a contractor employee. But due to budget difficulties (Bernie Madoff and his ilk did more than bankrupt private individuals - they also devastated the New York State Employees pension fund) my superiors could not find an open "item" to be brought on board permanently. And then one day in July I came in to be told my services were no longer needed. No reason was given. The budget? Probably. I was home a half hour later, and Allison's surprise was no less than mine at this sudden turn in events.

I have learned since this morning why my current offer for regular, permanent employment was withdrawn. The person who interviewed and ultimately hired me told me Personnel advised against hiring me for a department as sensitive to public nuance as Quality Improvement, the department that sets and enforces the standards established for the care of the developmentally disabled. A few years ago I was quoted in a newspaper article, without my permission and despite my insistence that my boss was the official spokesperson for the agency. This tiny unremembered relic from the past, so subtle I could not find it again in a Google search, had enough weight to sink my chances for employment with this group.

At least I learned the reason why. Not knowing was far worse. I had tried to hold it lightly, but upon such simple decisions a whole life depends, and I could not help but wonder what had happened to change things at this late hour. It had to be a misunderstanding - but what? And what could I do about it? Nothing, of course. Impotence to change the situation only feeds the desire to control the course of our lives. But much occurs beyond our control. We can only trust there will be more signs and help than we can manifest for ourselves alone.


Yes, I could still go back to my last job, if I wished. In the days leading up to my last day (was it less than 48 hours ago?!?) I was told several times that they would welcome me back if I changed my mind. I knew they needed me; it was why I stayed so long. But it was a very stressful job, and I had been wrestling with whether or not to continue working in such a high-stress environment since the beginning. I continued because I really liked the people I worked with, and it gave me the two aspects I defined I needed in my next job when let go by the state: security and appreciation.

But their designed-for-maximum-corporate-profits business model has a serious flaw: it requires two people to do the work of four. I know from direct experience there is enough work in the back-office to employ two people full time doing the payroll, posting service tickets, preparing the deposit, any number of reports, and many other tasks related to collections and backlog. A variety of typical office tasks that I enjoy doing, and doing well.

And there is enough work on the frontline for two full time people to handle very busy customer relations, scheduling service calls, and writing contracts. But the current model requires the same two people to do all these tasks at the same time, and it becomes quite stressful to be responsible for the back-office duties, while constantly interrupted by customer contacts. Sometimes six or seven lines are going at the same time. And the customers are often unbelievably nasty and caustic. In consequence, two people working as fast as they can with minimal breaks cannot keep up with the demands, and nothing can be done well. It is impacting the health of everyone who works there, especially the management. I knew I must leave or eventually I would suffer stress related health consequences, too. I can't go back.


Pax is a fourteen and a half year old shepherd-labrador mix. She has a gray muzzle and moves slowly on unsteady legs and joints that sometimes stiffen with arthritis. But she is happy and attentive and loving, if somewhat deaf, and we are doing everything we can with food and special herbal tea and supplements to keep her healthy and active. And we hope to keep her healthy and active for several more years. But this particular life shift, the unavoidable one, is not far from our thoughts, and we are very conscious of making every day as loving and satisfying as we can make it for our baby. She gets anything she wants. Period.

This illustrates yet a different way in which life takes unexpected and uncontrollable turns. We are in our fifties, still healthy and active. But our friends are aging, and two of our friends have cancer; and increasingly our parents are requiring our assistance for their care. Many feel age and decline are inevitable, but Allison feels we might have more control over our ultimate fate than we guess, and I believe her. Our spirit, and practice, affirms life. Period.

The recurring pattern running through these pages is change, impotence to fight it, desire to control it, acceptance of what presents, and trust that what is coming may be made more palatable by our faith in a better outcome than we can orchestrate with our minds alone. What I seek is a blueprint outlining how to proceed/what to build, as we move forward. As an agnostic, a practical man who believes in the scientific method, I seek to blend fact with faith, and upon this I am asked to determine the future course of my life. And Allison's and Pax's.


This is an interesting idea: Allison suggests that there might be an underlying intelligence in how these recent events in my life have manifested. "Intelligence" might not be the correct term for what seems to be directing these events, but as Allison asks, "Do you believe the Universe has your back?" And I have to answer, "yes" - just look at our lives so far! The unexpected turn has always led to something better. She also asks, "What if this is unfolding perfectly?" I accept this as a premise. What have we learned so far?

She suggested I would not have left my stressful position with the corporation if I had not secured a position with the state. And the position with the state came to me with very little effort on my part: a canvas letter arrived in the mail, and because this one was from my old agency, I answered it with a killer cover letter citing my prior experience, which won me an interview, which won me the position. (I scored 100 on the civil service exam and canvas letters from many state entities arrive regularly, but being employed I never answered one.)

But, though there are many things about this new potential job I wanted, I also knew from prior experience that there are many things about working for the state that are, shall we say, less than desirable. So, if we assume a Universal guidance, the offer for the state position had to be offered in order to get me to let go of that stressful corporate job, but it had to be withdrawn after I had quit in order to save me from that path and allow me to be available for the next opportunity; an opportunity we cannot view from here and now.

The current shift for me personally is that I must trust this opportunity is indeed in the queue, shepherded by the Universe - or whatever entity might be guiding the shift and all its current manifestations - but I can't make it happen from my current action-creates-results mind-set. What I wrestle with now is what I must do physically, and with my mind, to affect a positive change and bring about a desired outcome, within the matrix of this current (new, proposed?) paradigm. I know (vaguely) where I want to go - how do I get there?


So…what comes next? Well, I (we) still really need a vacation. And I have spent the greater part of a day just composing these five short pages. So Allison and I are taking a long four-day weekend, to relax and renew, and come Tuesday I will see what I have to do to earn an income. Maybe the Universe will meet me half-way - wouldn't that be nice.

I made money designing websites when we first moved here, and wrote a book that I marketed with other e-books on the internet. Maybe that, or something equally unexpected but fulfilling, will present itself when the time comes. Allison and I have always carved out a wonderful life, and I trust we will continue to have more of the same. I trust. I must.

Dramatic changes keep coming, and I must learn how to ride the wave, not fight it. The analogy of the surfer feels right in our discussions today. Allison tells me it's all about being aligned with the flow. I can go with that. Now I hope I know when to jump on the board and follow the flow into the calm eddies, and not wipe-out by standing up before I find my natural balance. Winning the Lottery would help a lot, too!