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Filling in the Shell

By Mandolin Cafe - Special for the Mandolin Cafe
March 27, 2009 - 2:30 pm

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Bill Graham
Bill Graham is a freelance outdoor writer, photographer, bluegrass musician and singer-songwriter.

I've found a new benefit from playing the mandolin: it helps me escape the feeling that I'm a hollow form since I lost my job a few days back.

"Welcome to the club," many of you are saying.

The fact that I'm part of way-too-large and ever-growing pool of the unemployed is little solace. And I've begun to understand more deeply the costs of corporate greed and recession.

It's far bigger than money, although money is a throbbing fear.

I'd worked for the same newspaper as a reporter, editor or columnist for 25 years. I liked the paychecks coming like clockwork, as I knew what it was like to be without regular pay while working in tough fields such as the music business. And I liked the tasks of reporting and writing in a community that I've come to love.

But there was also comfort in how my role in both the present and the future was well defined, and how my personality was expressed. I knew what to do when I got to work everyday and what I did was how a broad public knew me.

All that went away when I became part of a mass layoff at our paper, similar to other newspapers around the nation that are shrinking or going under due to recession, corporate ills, technology changes and a public that now goes to the Internet to get for free what they used to pay newspapers for.

I suddenly became somebody doing almost nothing meaningful during my day, but for the feeble steps of tying up loose ends and trying to figure out how to get new paths started.

My purpose became uncertain.

Have you ever seen those empty, fragile, paper-like brown shells that a cicada leaves clinging to tree bark after the adult emerges from the larvae stage?

That's how I feel.

My heart goes out to those of you who feel the same for the same reason, and to those sitting at an office desk perusing the Cafe on company time and praying that it's not your fate, too.

We can read all manner of facts and figures about unemployment rates and stock market dips.

But what isn't measured well is the tremendous emotional toll this takes on people who were doing what they were supposed to do well and still found themselves without both the pay and the satisfaction that a longtime career job provides.

I'm here to testify that the toll is huge.

I've read in the past little morale boosters for when work gets stressful, phrases such as what you do is not you, it's just a job. That's not true for many people.

Who was Bill Monroe without bluegrass music?

And if I hear one more time "when one door closes..." it will be the 400th time too many.

This is when playing the mandolin helps.

Faith and family are the number one supports in these times. Both will stand with you no matter what, if you're lucky enough to have strong connections with both, and I do.

But they don't fill all the empty places inside the shell. Some you have to refill piece by piece yourself.

Taking a pick to my F5 mandolin and letting the emotions flow out while satisfaction brews within is one way to move forward.

Since the morning I was called into a grim meeting and told that my services were no longer needed, I've played one band job for tips at a coffee house and I've been to two band practices. They're a bit more important to me now. I only made $7 at the coffee house, so a hobby player like me isn't going to be paying any bills with music.

But applause from an audience or an atta-boy grin from a picking pal for playing a good lick is meaningful and reminds me of the other parts beyond a job that define who I am. Music has purpose and it's something no layoff from a day job can take away.

When there's no money to get up for in the morning there's at least music, hopeful music, and any hope is welcome light on the new path, wherever it will lead.

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