What I learned from my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad summer

alex1The joke goes that if you play a country song backwards, you get your dog back, your truck back, your girl back and your job back. If I were to play back the song that was my past summer, the joke wouldn’t actually be too far off.

To say I learned a lifetime of lessons in the span of three months is not an exaggeration. It was mostly one blur followed by another blur followed by another blur, but in order to learn and forge ahead, I’ve had to shine a spotlight on my shortcomings and misfortunes.

Elizabeth Bishop has a poem titled “The Art of Losing” that often comes to mind when I look back. We lose things every day — keys, phones, hair ties, hours to “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” — so the art of losing shouldn’t be hard to master, right?

It all started with a pain in my side on Fourth of July weekend. I thought it was food poisoning or too much beer the night before. But it lingered and did not get scared away by the Tums, Pepto-Bismol and leftover pizza I threw at it. It seemed concentrated on my lower right side, so I Googled my symptoms like the professional doctor I long to be and ended up at an immediate care center. Then to Jewish East for a scan. And then to Jewish Downtown for emergency surgery.

I learned family and friends are invaluable, and they’ll be by your side when you wake up in a hospital room for the first time. They’ll drive across town for old-school KFC mashed potatoes (sans skins), they’ll watch your dog and they’ll check on you nonstop. And I learned it’s good to have health insurance, even though bills are still rolling in from my less-than-24-hour hospital stay.

The rest of July wasn’t too bad; I recall the bliss of Forecastle mixed with a few Catholic picnics. I even have a plant that is still alive to this day (a miracle if you know me) that was won with many, many dimes at St. Agnes.

And then came Aug. 1, when I got let go from my duties as editor of LEO Weekly on the 15th anniversary of my hiring.

Many people still ask about it, usually prefaced with an apology — “I know you probably don’t want to talk about this, but …” I don’t mind in the least, because I’ve never had anything to hide, and the outpouring of support was something I’ll never forget.

alex2Truth is, I had no idea my position would be eliminated when new ownership took over. I would never have posted a thank you to John Yarmuth and other former editors on my Facebook that very afternoon if I knew it was in the cards. Most of the editorial staff was excited by the new ownership potential and eager for the deal to be done.

When I was told I wouldn’t have my job after that day, I went into a quiet shock. I gathered some knickknacks, matter-of-factly showed coworker Peter Berkowitz how to do payroll and texted my girlfriend.

The second person I texted was former LEO editor Sarah Kelley, who now worked at Insider Louisville, probably because she could relate — the same thing happened to her just a year before. My impenetrable front began to collapse and emotions rushed in. I felt sad, angry, betrayed, relieved. We met at Please & Thank You for a few minutes, and she reassured me that things would be OK and it was no doubt a blessing in disguise.

The next few days, maybe weeks, I went through the motions. Facebook and Twitter were abuzz with hundreds of people who stood up for me when I couldn’t muster the strength. Insults and jabs were thrown around, but I remained quiet. I never wished ill will on the new regime, and I certainly would never want LEO to fail.

Do I think they could have handled it differently and should have learned what each of us does before letting us go? Absolutely. Our responsibilities were a whole lot more than a fancy title etched onto a business card you throw into a glass bowl at Applebee’s for a free lunch — there were four of us putting out a quality paper each week.

Looking back now, it was time for me to go, as my life became more and more intertwined in a vicious, unending cycle of intense stress on Mondays and Tuesdays followed by a few days of reprieve. I’d start dreading Mondays on Sundays and become preoccupied with deadlines, freelancers, readership numbers — things I couldn’t control but would take me out of the present moment.

Unfortunately, being unemployed and not knowing where I might land put me into a state of depression mixed with anxiety, self-pity and self-doubt. I was now in a limited job pool with three of my former coworkers, and the future didn’t look so bright. As a person who loves routine, everything was tossed to the wind.

It wasn’t much longer that my relationship fell apart as well, and if I could play that country song backwards, it would be the only thing I’d want returned. It didn’t end because I was now a sad sack of unemployed mess — our problems started long before any of that. But I do realize for months, I put my job before her and us, and that everything I deemed important revolved around my work. I was more interested in getting a story than in learning her story, and if there is a silver lining to it all, it’s that I recognized this and will strive to never let it happen again.

It’s people, not stories or newspapers or drinks or deals, that make my world a better place. It just took a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad summer to realize that.

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