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Sunday, February 5, 2012

One door closes. Then two.


Change.  Or die.  Will the Detroit Science Center close for good?
It was front page news: 243,000 new jobs were added to the economy in January and the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.3%.  If you’ve been looking for some indication of a change or cause for celebration, perhaps there it was. Perhaps not. 
Change. Or die. Seems that’s the motto of work today. 
Let me begin at the end of my story -  happy to report that my son returns to work this week, barely missing a beat between his severance pay and a paycheck.   I, too, have returned to work, after a hiatus mercifully brief.  
Back to work, I like to think that my son and I represent a ray of hope, a micro-microcosm of our so-called economic upturn.  We are among the fortunate: landing new jobs.  
Creating new positions.  
   
Congratulations, I would say in the midst of our hunt for work. You haven’t lived until you’ve been terminated. Here’s your chance to spread your wings and start anew.”  
Change.  Or die.  
Back to work: ours is a tale of two cities: Detroit and Cleveland, under duress, both hard hit by the Great Recession we have yet to call a Depression.
On two ends of the spectrum of the workforce, my son and I both lost our jobs in the fall.  I can’t say which lay-off hit me worse, his or mine, but together we went through the mill, with the usual shock and awe, commiseration and encouragement, flurry of resumes, phone calls, first impressions, second guesses, good days and bad, each to our own,  bearing the weight of uncertainty, displacement and time on our hands.     
All things said and done, I’d say we did okay.  Our recovery didn’t take months: it took weeks.  I’ve been back to work since November. And my son - a new dad, a lawyer six years into his practice, young and hungry enough to be snapped up quickly -  has just taken an offer at a new firm. 
Back to work.  Can’t look back.  And yet I do. In a gut-wrenching turn of events last September, the Detroit Science Center closed its doors - a last resort in a perfect storm of mounting debt, frozen credit and the waning trust of funders. Locked and shuttered from our offices, with not a day’s notice, the entire staff was sent packing home. Laid-off in a desperate but “temporary measure. ” 
To stem the tide. 
To set things right again. 
To reorganize.   

With each passing week the meltdown and shutdown of the Detroit Science Center breaks the heart, rips a hole in the city and continues to make the news.  Will the big, uh,  Two now step forward?   There were rumblings of support from Ford and GM.  There was talk of an appeal for federal funding.  And there’s always hope, against wild hope. That things will change.   


Change or die.  


Seems clear that the Science Center will not reopen - without reinventing itself.  The question to raise is not "when" . . . but how  and what if . . .  what if the Science Center were something entirely new?  A multi-theater cultural center? A living laboratory for informal learning?   The building still houses a vibrant new charter middle school - it sits in a strategic location in the heart of Detroit's cultural center on the campus of Wayne State University -- there's got to be something more there than our museum under water. 

In all the years I’ve been working, (and it’s been a lot of years) I’ve never flat-out lost a job.  Never even moved from one job without another.  But jobs are changing.  Entire careers choices are vanishing.  Like dinosaurs.  Just look around at what industries have disappeared.  Steady, hard work isn't enough anymore.  
Change or die.  Retool. Reinvent. Rethink. Rework. Adapt.  Evolve or die. 


As a woman of that “uncertain age” (which I still defy), I’m grateful to be back to work- albeit “underemployed” part time.  I’ve got my hand in a project that will keep me writing, on my toes and stretching as far as social marketing goes these days.  Social marketing.  That’s new for me.  Fact is: it’s new for just about everyone  in business whose name is not Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Dick Costolo or Larry Page. 
My new job is a reinvention of work in familiar territory.  I’ve been fortunate to be welcomed back on the staff of a former employer.  Not many get a second chance like mine. I’ve been hired as a writer, specifically as a social media writer.  Two days a week, I’m all theirs.  Three days (not counting the weekend) I’m still a free agent, out and about on my own, open to all possibilities. Really it doesn’t get any better than that.
So goody good for me, for my son, and for the 32 people on my LinkedIn page who have moved to new jobs over the past year.
It’s astonishing to me how many people I know who are out of work.    
As I said, this is a tale of two cities, and it’s not all that pretty.  Most telling this past week were two Facebook “memory pages,”  -- posted within days of each other.  The first page - entitled DSC Alumni -- is a repository of memories from the virtual staff of the Detroit Science Center - now relegated to musings and pictures and wishful thinking on the web.  The second group page, the real shocker to me -- is entitled You know you worked at LS if you remember... billed as an “online reunion” a gathering of friends who once worked at a Cleveland ad agency called Liggett-Stashower “back in the day.”  


Ah, my old haunt: Liggett-Stashower where I worked for 14 years.  Back in the day, as they say, LS was second largest ad agency in Cleveland.  Lots of history and good memories there. I opened the Facebook page last week with no clue in all that friending, posting and hypertexting that we were bidding a collective farewell to the agency.  Little did I know that LS was making its own headlines in Cleveland -- with undisclosed numbers of layoffs,  closing its doors “on hiatus.”   So they say. 
Liggett-Stashower logo outside their office
Now that’s two places where I’ve worked. . . closing doors. 
Change or die.  
For the longest stretch of happy years-at-work in Cleveland (an entire career by some standards of measure) I was an advertising copywriter, mindlessly minding the business of fashion retailers, paint companies, museums and amusement parks. I’ve had my fun.   It was creative work.  Nice work if you can get it.  
Change or die.  
Eleven years ago - long before unemployment was the trend -  my husband lost his job as a physician exec, CEO of a multi-specialty clinic.  A volatile and changing business.  Risky work if you can get it.  
My husband recovered. Found a new job.  We moved.   And I came tumbling after - searching for work at the age of 50 in the city of perpetual change and constant sorrow - Detroit, of all places.  
Change or die. 
But I’m no writer, I’d say, not like that, I’d say.  But I took a job in public relations and became “the voice” of a large fundraising community organization.  The job was steady, purposeful meaningful work, nice work if you can get it.
Then four years ago - there was a  job that chose me, and how could I say no to the Detroit Science Center?  It was a chance to create again, and to dream and to help build something of substance and benefit to a city hard-pressed to change. It was an opportunity to work downtown, in a city I had grown to love. Challenging work. If you can get it.




One of my many labors of love (now lost) at the Detroit Science Center: "Diabetes: A Deeper Look," a national traveling exhibit launched in December 2009. Thirty interactive exhibits housed in a 40-foot "blood vessel." 


My specialty: exhibits on health and nutrition.  Above: giant BMI Wheels to show young visitors (and their parents) how they measure up. Below, the "Nutrimat" (inspired by the old fast-food automats) prompts visitors to choose a balanced breakfast.  




I had no idea I could be a medical science exhibit developer -- that is, until I became one.
Above: visitors explore a section of my 20-foot Junk Food Wall -  discovering how do read food labels. 


"Do not be afraid; They are cocoons, The butterflies have flown away."  The culture and science of the "Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato" - face-to-face, and hands-down the most bizarre and possibly the most fascinating project of my career. Showcasing the life and times of  36 Mexican mummies, our rare and beautiful national traveling exhibit, last seen in Dallas. 
And now?

Well, now... I’ve been moving words across a blank page for as long as I’ve been working and that’s been for decades, and I mean four decades. I’m no writer, I’d say, not like that I’d say, but well now, what have I here: a new business card with my name on it, and a new title.  Writer.  Lo and behold.  


Guess it's finally time to earn that title. 


Like Jello... there's always room for a writer. In almost any field. 
One door closes, as they say... and your WINDOWS jam and the server goes down and the printer’s out of ink.  (No excuses. Keep writing) 
One door closes, as they say. . . it slams shut and you find yourself:  in a new place, a new state of mind.  Time to turn back to the craft, to look ahead,  to stretch and search, to scrape, to patter, to banter, to think, to tinker, to blog, to spatter, to cook,  to scribble, to take a shot, tap-tap-tapping words on a keyboard across the  page. 

Oh yes, there it is.  Every day. The new job begins.   
Photos: VHenoch
Thanks for your visit. 

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