We are Not Alone

But I do hope there are a few who find inspiration in my authenticity, connection in my vulnerability,  and value in my narrative, for this is how we, as humans, understand each other. This is how we, as humans, recognize that we are not alone.

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For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read.  When I was a kid and would spend weekends at my grandmothers, my cousins would give me a hard time for having my nose stuck in a book.

“You’re such a bookworm,” they would razz.

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Remember Sweet Valley High? I read a few…

It’s true.   I can’t stay awake long enough to read an ACTUAL book these days, though.  Instead I listen to audio books I borrow from the library.  I have listened to hundreds of them.  Audio books are an even better choice for  me since they feed my need to multi-task.  I can listen and drive, listen and fold laundry, listen and paint…It is so satisfying to do something you love while you do something you hate–listen and clean, for example.

I  also really like quotes.  Inspirational quotes or funny quotes, sports quotes…it doesn’t matter.  There  is always a quote out there that communicates whatever message I want to send.  I used quotes to send messages of inspiration when I worked with students in my old job.  I had a student who was in jail at one point and that was our thing; I sent him a special quote, one I thought he would identify with and encourage him to hang in there.

Also at my old job,  I would get a quote a day from this website called Values.com.  If I got a quote I particularly liked, I sent it out to the rest of the colleagues in our department.  You know, I thought it was a nice thing to share.  One day my supervisor was like, “So what’s up with the quotes anyway?  Who do you think we are, Hallmark?”

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One of my favorite quotes by Nelson Mandela

I stopped forwarding them after that.  Clearly, he didn’t appreciate my inspiration.  Ha!

When my goal of being a teacher crashed and burned–that was during my senior year of college  (a  story for a later blog) I got to experience a fifth year of college.  I’m sure many of you can relate to the 5 year plan, right?

For me,  a 5th year of school was one of the best things that ever happened.   I played another year of basketball, I met my husband, and I enrolled in a bunch of writing classes.

I wasn’t interested in writing, but my  life had just blown up.  The only career choice I had ever known was off the table.  And I was an English major!  The only classes  left in my major were writing or communications classes.  So writing it was.

I also spent extra time in class with my basketball teammate and now world-famous, Andrea Gibson.  If you don’t know who she is, you should google her.  She was awesome in college and I am glad the world knows her now, too.  Granted, we had no idea she was such a talented writer and performer, but we were not surprised to learn of it.  She is pretty awesome.

The discovery that I actually enjoyed writing  wasn’t a HUGE  surprise either.  College was the gift that kept on giving.  I was finding out more and more about myself and I just added writing to the list.

So far, I discovered that on the court I could, in fact, play defense in addition to shooting a helluva 3-point shot.   I sucked at teaching. Not really, but you know, long story.   I was really an extrovert (who knew?!).  Boys kinda dug me, in fact there was even this one boy who really, REALLY dug me (except he was shorter than me), I was going to have student loans for the rest of my life, and I STILL had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

But hey, at least I could write.  *sigh*

Well, flash forward 20 years later and here I am,  married to that short boy with 2 kids,  both of whom, at 12 and 18 are taller than he, a topic which is also a fun discussion in our home.

That short boy (he will love reading about himself being called this) also led me to something else I love: My Etsy Shop.

My Etsy shop is something I have grown to love more than I could ever begin to write about.  Maybe that’s because Andrea and I skipped the class that focused on emotional descriptors.  Or, more likely it’s because the description has become way more than words can describe.   Andrea and I only skipped one class and we got in trouble for it. The nuns at my college did not appreciate skippers.  Especially skippers who were on the basketball team.  Welp.

I have told this story before, but pre-Etsy life, Corey (that’s my husband’s actual NAME), was working at the one casino we have in our community.  He  worked there for a number of years. He had been promoted several times, was making decent money, and earned himself decent bonus checks each year.

The money was nice, but the bonus checks, ROCKED.  We used those for our extras.  Paid off a car, went on vacation, remodeled our house… But Corey hated the job.  It was really stressful.  He worked long days.  He was on-call when he wasn’t working.  He worked weekends and holidays–holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He put on a lot of weight because he would stress eat.  He wasn’t healthy.  He wasn’t happy.

I encouraged him to look for another job, but he was reluctant because the pay and the benefits were so good.  He was the provider, after all.

Finally push came to shove and Corey had a choice.  The casino was downsizing.  He could take another position or he could be laid off.

He chose to be done.  It was the best choice.  But that left us a little out of control.  And that’s not good for me.  I like to fix, remember?   I’m a fixer.  I am the Olivia Pope of the Smith family.

Side note:  Except I am not this season’s Olivia Pope.  I am not Command.  I wear and will always wear the white hat.

My fixing brought me to Etsy.  I had done a little research.  Quotes and words on signs was just becoming big; there wasn’t much of it being done by hand.  I had done a little painting here and there.  I had nice hand writing.  I figured, what the hell?

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One of the first 8 paintings I put up on Etsy. No one ever bought it. Hahaha

And I launched WorDSMITHstudios.

The first paintings I did were horrible.   I look back at them now and I can’t even believe it.  I think Corey was thinking I was a little crazy, too.  Crazy like, whothehellisgoingtobuythatshit, crazy.   Even still, I sold my first painting the very first day I went live.  And I have been painting ever since.

The biggest surprise, and I continue to be surprised, is that I expected Etsy sales to be a transaction on a website, a sale between 2 people who never meet, talk, or interact. However, it has been so much more than that. 

Etsy is about relationships.  It has been about sharing stories about loved ones or about love lost.  It has been about connecting over children and the challenges we have in raising them, about being moms and feeling guilty when we work, or when we don’t.

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Some of the work I am doing now. MUCH better.

Etsy has been about supporting each other in our craft, looking out for each other and the work we do to create  a community of talent and sharing it with others across the world.

I am not going to get rich off my art.  That’s ok.  But I will be rich in my soul from the tremendous amount of fulfillment the love of this craft brings me.

It’s the same kind of fulfillment writing this blog brings me.  I won’t be a famous writer.  Thousands of people won’t read my thoughts.  I certainly won’t be going on tour with Andrea any time soon, sharing her stage with my spoken word.  But I do hope there are a few who find inspiration in my authenticity, connection in my vulnerability,  and value in my narrative, for this is how we, as humans, understand each other.

This is how we, as humans,  recognize that we are not alone.

This is how we create relationships and relationships are where we find meaning in our lives.  It’s where we find love, happiness,and hope.

Because life is about relationships.

Did You Even Know? It’s a Crisis!!

I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.” Until it was.

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Friends, I have been struggling with  this blog post!  I try to post something once a week.  I would love to do it more, but I just can’t pump stuff out that often and still maintain the rest of my life, which believe it or not, is incredibly busy for someone who is technically not working a full-time job.

Corey calls it the Type A personality in me.  “Denise, you have already gotten yourself into Type A mode again.  You’ve stressed yourself all out and this time, you’ve done it TO YOURSELF.”

True story.

Be that as it may, I have been working extra long on this post.  When I made Corey read it the first time, it was 2500+ words.  Most of my  posts are around 1000-1,500 and many out there are less.  When he finished reading he looked like I had smacked him around a little.  His eyes were all glassy and he was blinking a lot.

“Wow,” he said.  “I might need a little time to absorb this before I can comment on it.  I’m a little overwhelmed.”

Welllll…  Major changes and here we are.  I’ll get right to the point.

Maine, what is happening to us?  Here are some facts about Maine I bet many of you didn’t even know.  If you were aware already, you probably didn’t think much about it.  I know, I am making some assumptions, but frankly, I wouldn’t have thought much about it if I hadn’t been in workforce development for the last 15 years.

The Numbers

 Maine is in crisis.    We are the oldest state in the nation and more people are dying than being born.  So many people are dying that the birth rate can’t keep up with the death rate.  The baby boomers  are nearing retirement age, so we have more older workers in the workforce. As the baby boomers retire, employers can’t find  employees to fill their jobs.  We have MANY great colleges and universities in our state, but those graduates are leaving the state upon graduation.   They are heading out of Maine to pursue what they think are better jobs for better pay.

And they might be right.

Why would new businesses come to Maine without employees to fill their jobs?  Why would a business STAY in Maine without employees to hire?

We need to talk about it because Maine is such a great place to live and raise  a family. I am not alone when I say I believe in our communities and I care about our state.  There is unlimited potential we have yet to tap, potential living within the nooks and crannies of our mountains, along our rivers,  in the valleys, via the highways and byways that make up this state.

Here’s part of the problem and what prompted this post.  The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Grant.  It is a $9 million, federal, job training grant.

WIOA focuses on disadvantaged populations and dislocated workers seeking education, training, or employment.  It can fill in a lot of gaps for people that financial aid or other grants can’t always provide.  There are support services for childcare or transportation.  It pays for books.  It can also pay for adult ed courses like C.N.A or welding.  Classes that can help those who need a boost or aren’t ready to commit to college.  WIOA is the funding that pays for re-training for  dislocated workers; many of the laid off paper mill workers benefited from WIOA training funds.

There is a lot to the grant.   I don’t need to bog you down here (remember 2,500 words? ) If you want to learn more, you can google it.  I will also put a link at the bottom of this post.

I worked under the youth component of WIOA and focused on youth ages 16-24.  Anyone who knows me knows I loved my job, my team, those with whom I worked.  I did damn good work and was recognized for the various contributions I made locally, regionally, and even nationally.

Our organization did great work under that grant.   Everyone I worked with LOVED what they did.  They worked incredibly hard to serve a challenging population and busted ass to do it.

The problems arose when Governor LePage wanted control of that grant, then refused to disburse the funds.  It is why many people who worked under WIOA were laid off, both at my organization and throughout the state.  LePage was later ordered to release the funding and the service providers are now in the process of rebuilding their programs.

My initial draft of this post tried to explain the account in detail; it’s what made it so long.  The moral of the story is Governor LePage has no right to control the WIOA funding because it is a federal grant.  He was ordered to disperse the funds because holding them was illegal.

Why is WIOA and Maine’s employment crisis linked?

The goals of the WIOA grant line up quite nicely with the needs of our state: Work with employers to understand the job market.  Get people trained or get them  credentials that employers say they need. Get people hired.   Make sure they are hired at a livable wage.  Make sure they stay working.

Our  job was to work with individuals, assess their needs, remove their barriers, and  find them viable employment.

ULTIMATELY: Move disadvantaged populations off of state systems.  You know, like welfare?

Anyway,  last Monday I read in the newspaper that Governor LePage is  targeting WIOA funding again.

I get so fired up every time I think about it…About the time  we spent prior to being laid off, working to PROVE our worth to someone who, as our “leader,” should already know what we, as WIOA providers, were doing to work with employers, industry, and individuals.  In some cases, we were doing ground-breaking work.

Yet, he didn’t care.  Instead,  we wasted capacity to run reports and provide the same data over and over.  Internally, we analyzed data, asked questions, reviewed information, double checked files.

I remember our organization hosted this really great economic development conference with fabulous national speakers and great breakout sessions.  It was really well attended and just so freakin’ awesome!  I left that day and thought, “my GOD.  This cannot be over.  We are on the brink of so much greatness. This cannot be the end of my story here.”

Until it was.

Shame on you, Governor LePage

We just can’t lose sight of the most important aspect of our state: the people.  We can’t lose sight of what has made Maine  so great.

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Is it really?

Having worked with youth for so many years, I am also empowered by the amazing voices young people have raised over the issue of gun violence in the schools.  The march in D.C. and across the U.S should be a wake up call and a reminder that

OUR YOUTH ARE OUR FUTURE.

We cannot afford to let one single youth slip through the cracks of the system.  WIOA is a bridge and a lifeboat for many of those youth.

We need to do everything we can to empower  individuals to develop educational awareness, to learn to navigate systems, and to engage in their communities to become leaders and champions of their own lives and their own futures.

We need to train Mainers.  We need to re-train them.  We need to educate them.  We need to EMPLOY them and keep them employed.  We need to keep them in Maine.  We need to bring people TO Maine to stay.

We need to be helping people reach their potential.  We need to do the right thing.   Perhaps doing the right thing is holding our leaders accountable.  Perhaps it is holding our friends accountable.  Maybe it is listening to our subordinates.  Listening to our co-workers.   Maybe it is just working to keep our kids in Maine.  Or maybe it is organizing a million person march across the state or across the nation.  I don’t know what your right thing is…  But we all need to figure out how to make our contribution because our state, and so many other things,  is spiraling.  And that might sound a little melodramatic, but let it be so.

It is my story after all.

……………………………………………………………………………………….

For  statistics and percentages that back up my facts or for more info about  state, visit these websites:

www.maine.gov/labor/cwri       www.northeasternwdb.org

For the articles I refer to about Governor LePage and the job training funds, please go to:    bangordailynews.com

For information about WIOA, check out:http://www.doleta.gov/wioa/