The Friday Poem ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ by Bob Hicok

The Friday Poem this week captures a moment when a telephone rings and life changes for two American workers. ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ is poet and English professor Bob Hickok’s intimate portrait of the effects of economic downturn.

Written at a time when Detroit was the epicenter of job losses in manufacturing, the words continue to resonate today, as we address income inequality and the impermanence of the ‘gig’ economy.

Calling Him Back from Layoff 

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones


Bob Hicok  ‘Insomnia Diary’ University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004


Listen to Bob Hicok read the poem for ‘Poetry Everywhere’


The week@work – end of summer, Wells Fargo issues an apology to artists, start-ups adapt, cycling is the new networking, and the August jobs report

In news this week@work: Wells Fargo placed advertising in advance of ‘Teen Financial Education Day’ implying the worth of career aspirations in the sciences rank above those in the arts, Silicon Valley start-ups are adapting  to anticipate a market downturn, networking has moved from the bar to the bike (that’s a good thing), and the U.S. unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.9%.

Late Saturday morning I checked my Twitter feed and found this from novelist Caroline Leavitt. Forget post-tropical cyclone Hermine, this was the Labor Day weekend’s perfect storm.

According to Forbes contributing writer, Emily Willingham,“Wells Fargo rolled out an ad campaign this week that it almost immediately withdrew following on Internet outrage from a lot of angry artists and humanities professors. That may not sound that scary, but these folks know how to use words and emote.

The ads, using images depicting teens engaging in sciencey things, urge us to “get them ready for tomorrow” by ensuring that the aspiring ballerinas and actors of today become engineers and botanists of the future…

The message here is, of course, that the future is science. That becoming a ballerina or an actor is a dreamscape fairytale that has no place in a real world of cold hard cash and sciencey-sounding things like botany. Imagine if some parents buy into that ad’s message and try to push their budding ballerina into botany instead. The world loses an artist and gains a mediocre, uninterested botanist who’s given up her life’s dream? Lose–lose.”

This was not just a ‘business section’ story. Olivia Clement reported on Broadway’s reaction on

“A new advertising campaign from Wells Fargo, an American banking and financial services company, has prompted outrage from the theatre community. The ads imply that it is more valuable for young people to pursue a career in the sciences rather than the arts.

A Wells Fargo brochure depicts a young man in a science lab. “An actor yesterday. A botanist today. Let’s get them ready for tomorrow,” reads the accompanying text. Another, depicting a young woman in a lab, reads: “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”

Among those to express their disappointment and frustration at the campaign on September 3 were Alex Brightman, Ann Harada, Cynthia Erivo, Heather Headley and Benj Pasek—who took to Twitter to call out the company directly. “Apparently @WellsFargo doesn’t think that an actor or ballerina require any work at all. Shame!” read Erivo’s tweet.”

Wells Fargo apologized via Twitter late Saturday.

Anticipating the end of the boom, Katie Benner delivered a tech industry status report, ‘Warned of a Crash, Start-Ups in Silicon Valley Narrow Their Focus’.

“Last year, many tech executives, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs were convinced that a multiyear boom that had propelled young companies to great heights could no longer sustain itself.

The worst fallout may yet come, but many of the start-ups have hung on. Across Silicon Valley, engineers are still commanding annual salaries that average $136,000, according to Hired, a recruiting firm. Demand is brisk for $4 buttered toast, and office space rents remain near record highs. The biggest start-ups, like Uber and Airbnb, continue to land billions of dollars in funding. And investors are shoveling money into venture capital funds, which raised so much cash in the first half of this year that it rivaled the amount raised in all of 2015.

For all of the hand-wringing, “there just hasn’t been much of a downturn,” said Paul Buchheit, a managing partner at Y Combinator, a prominent start-up incubator that nurtured companies including Dropbox and Airbnb. “I don’t even see many companies going out of business.”

Wondering where you might meet one of those tech execs or VCs? This past week Sarah Max covered a story that has been growing globally over the past year, ‘Cycling Matches the Pace and Pitches of Tech’. In other words, cycling is the new networking.


“Thinking he needed to take up a “California sport,” Greg Gretsch started cycling in 1988, when he moved to the Bay Area to work in marketing at Apple after graduating from the University of Georgia. He bought a 10-speed road bike and joined a group of other Apple employees for a standing noon ride.

Today, Mr. Gretsch, 49, is a founding partner with San Francisco-based Jackson Square Ventures, which makes early-stage investments in fledgling companies, including a social network and performance-tracking app for athletes call Strava. He rides an average of five days a week on paved roads in the Bay Area and on trails near his second home near Lake Tahoe. Cycling is primarily for exercise and escape, he said, but it has also been good for his career.

“Connecting with people is important to what I do, and you can learn a lot about a person, and from a person, on the bike,” said Mr. Gretsch, who founded three companies before going into venture capital in 2000 at a firm called Sigma Partners.”

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department released the August jobs report. Camila Domonoske summarized the data for NPR.

“The U.S. added 151,000 new jobs in August and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Both those metrics fell short of expectations: Economists were expecting about 180,000 new jobs, and a slight dip in the unemployment rate, to 4.8 percent…”

Finally, this week@work, we celebrated the last weekend of summer.



Photo credit: Boulder cyclists, Cliff Grassmick, Daily Camera


It’s Labor Day #LetsTalkAboutWork!

It’s Labor Day – the last barbecue of summer, the ‘final’ summer sale on everything, and the traditional late evening travel crush. What if we reimagined this holiday as a day of national conversation on work and workers? #LetsTalkAboutWork!

You need not look further than the USA TODAY headline: “Labor Day by the Numbers: Americans Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Working” to realize we are spending more time @work and less time considering why. Here’s just a sampling of stats journalist Ashley May reported: 41% of workers did not take a single vacation day in 2015, 55% ended the year with unused vacation days, and 41% of employers require staff to work today, Labor Day.

Out of necessity we maintain a laser focus on our own career goals, spending most of the 365 days a year securing our future as best we can in an ever changing workplace. What if we just took one of those days to consider the workplace issues we face as part of a larger context?

The Labor Day holiday was originally conceived as “…a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

What better way to offer a tribute to the American worker than to engage in a national discussion that restores respect and considers the reality of today’s workplace?

Politicians will parade and hold forth at Labor Day gatherings, but will not solicit ideas, or listen to the voices of workers who don’t share their agenda.

Access to education and a right to work are fundamental American values. It’s how we define ourselves when asked ‘what do you do?’. Imagine the despair for those with no answer.

It’s time to reestablish the voice of the American worker and address both the barriers to workplace entry, and the challenges @work once you arrive.

Share your ideas #LetsTalkAboutWork!



The Saturday Read ‘Rome 1960:The Olympics That Changed The World’ by David Maraniss

For the last weekend of summer 2016, the Saturday Read takes you to ‘Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed The World’ by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, David Maraniss.

In the summer of 1960 only 15 years had passed since the end of World War II. The superpowers were angling for global influence, and the XVII Olympiad in Rome provided one more stage to showcase the benefits of competing forms of government.

“History is replete with moments that ache with misplaced optimism, and that seemed true of the period of the 1960 Summer Olympics even as signs of a troubled world riddled those days of late August and early September. The Games were bookended by the Soviet spy trial of American U-2 pilot Frances Gary Powers and Khrushchev’s threat to stir up things at the UN, while in between came increasing tension in divided Berlin and violence in the rebellious Congo. Whatever Avery Brundage’s wishes, the Olympics were in no way isolated from the eruptions and disruptions of the modern world. Rome had its share of spies and propagandists looking to turn every situation to their advantage. Yet those days in Rome were infused with a golden hue nonetheless. The shimmering was literal – emanating from the autumnal sun; the ancient coloration of the streets, walls, and piazzas; the warm angles of refracted light – but it was also figurative, an illumining that comes with a moment of historical transition, when one era is dying and another is being born.”

The reader experiences the eighteen days of the Rome Olympics through Maraniss’ chronicle of events, athletes, coaches, sports writers, and a few nefarious government players. The narrative introduces us to the Americans and their competitors. It’s quite a cast of characters including then Cassius Clay, Rafer Johnson, C.K. Yang, Wilma Rudolph, and Abebe Bikila.

“The pressures of the cold war played an underappreciated role in forcing change in culture and sports, all much in evidence in Rome. At the opening Parade of Nations at the Stadio Olympico, the crowd was stirred by the sight of Rafer Johnson marching into the arena at the head of the U.S. delegation, the first black athlete to carry the American flag. Johnson’s historic act reflected his unsurpassed status as a world-class decathlete, but it also served as a symbolic weapon at a time when the United States was promoting freedom abroad but struggling to answer blatant racism at home, where millions of Americans were denied freedom because of the color of their skin.”

The author is at his best when sharing the story of Coach Edward Temple and his ‘Tigerbelles’ women’s track team from the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University in Nashville. We time travel to an American South before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when women’s sports were viewed as unimpressive adjuncts to the men’s competition.

“When Temple was named head coach at Tennessee A&I State after graduating in 1950, it was because nobody else wanted the job. His starting salary was $150 a month, which when added to his pay for teaching social science courses, brought a yearly sum of $5,196…By the mid fifties, even after Temple had established his program and led it to a national title, the athletic department still would not give him a desk, let alone an office. “

In Rome, as Olympic coach, Temple could only see a segment of the track from his position at the opening of the tunnel. One of his runners, Wilma Rudolph, who had overcome polio as a child, was competing in the 100 meter race. The day before, ‘Black Tuesday’, the U.S. men’s track and field team suffered its worst losses in the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4×100 meter relay.

“Wilma won! Wilma won!” someone shouted at Temple in the tunnel. “You’re joking,” he said. Then he stepped into the golden late afternoon sunlight, and “they flashed it on the big scoreboard and put the time, the new Olympic record, ‘Wilma Rudolph, USA.’ and I said, ‘Hot Dog!’.

Earlier in the competition, Ed Temple’s greatest hope was just to get one of his runners on the medal stand. A bronze would do. But in the four days since Wilma Rudolph  won gold in the 100, all of that had changed. From a relative unknown, Rudolph had risen to international stardom, belle of the Olympics, the favorite in anything she did.”

Her success resonated with other athletes, including Anne Warner, a gold medal swimmer.

“I had read the stories about her fight against polio and what she had done. She was really a hero for a lot of us. It didn’t matter that it was a different sport. She was just such a beautiful runner. And I think that polio was such a part of our lives then, too, because we were swimmers. A lot of times your parents were nervous about going to swimming pools in that era. And there was no Salk vaccine yet when we were starting out. So the fact that she had polio meant something special to us.”

Maraniss’ command of the story places the reader ‘on location’ as events unfold.

Rafer Johnson was student body president at UCLA and a member of the track and field team along with CK Yang. On September 5, 1960 they met as competitors for the title of the world’s greatest athlete; Johnson representing the United States and C.K. Yang, Formosa. At the end of the first day of decathlon competition  Johnson led Yang by a slim 55 points.

“Few Olympic athletes know one another as thoroughly as Rafer Johnson and C.K. Yang. It was not that both had trained at UCLA for the same event under the same coaches. A deeper sensibility seemed at work in their symbiotic relationship, a spirited blend of admiration and competitiveness that pushed them to greater accomplishments together than they may have achieved apart.”

Across town, Cassius Clay was the unanimous winner in his bout with Zbigniew Pietrzkowski of Poland.

“Everyone seemed up and about early Tuesday morning. Cassius Clay paraded through the village before breakfast, gold medal dangling rom his neck. “I got to show this thing off!” he kept boasting…He was on his way to signing a professional contract, earning serious money, and becoming even more famous as the heavyweight champion of the world.”

Tuesday was day two of the decathlon.

“After back-to-back fourteen-hour days, ten events, draining humidity, evening chill, rain delays, unbearable tension, and the accumulation of an Olympic record 8392 points, (by the scoring system in 1960), Rafer Johnson left the Stadio Olimpico for the last time at eleven o’clock that night, retracing the steps he had taken nearly two weeks earlier as the captain and flag bearer for the U.S. Olympic team. As he trudged, relieved and exhausted, along the moonlit Tiber and over the bridge, C.K. Yang, now just a friend, no longer a competitor, walked once again at his side.”

The marathon was held on the final full day of competition in 1960. It was to produce one of the most remarkable stories in Olympic history.

Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia waited at the start, barefoot.

“Marathons traditionally were held during daylight and ended with the runners entering the main stadium…In the heat of Rome, the race began at twilight and proceeded into darkness; the finish line was not inside the Stadio Olympico but at the Arch of Constantine amid the Roman ruins.

The British writer Neil Allen, from his seat jammed amid his fellow journalists, feeling “the sudden chill of the night” and looking “dazedly at the floodlit Arch of Constantine,” could not believe it when the loudspeaker crackled the name of the leader, Abebe Bikila…”A completely unknown athlete from Ethiopia was going to win the Olympic marathon…Journalists and officials edged forward in their wooden stands, peering along the darkness of the Appian Way hoping to be the first to spot this last and most unexpected hero of the Games.” At last the lights of a convoy could be seen…There was a brief tussle with one of the persistent Lambretta scooters before it was bundled our of the way, and then – here he came!

The Rome Olympics were the first commercially televised summer games in history. In New York, Jim McKay was beginning his career in TV sports from a small studio in New York.

“It was all so minimal in Rome, with McKay in that little studio in New York, tapping our his own scripts on a portable typewriter, drawing information fro the Encyclopedia Britannica; and with Peter Molnar’s crew of fewer than fifty in Rome filming and editing on the fly, literally trying to beat the clock every night with their canisters winging west toward New York City in the bellies of commercial jets. The televising of the Olympic games grew from that infancy in Rome to an extravaganza, expanding every four years into an ever-larger enterprise that eventually entailed a broadcast army…”

As Rome prepares it’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics, enjoy David Maraniss’ account of the  first time the world came to compete for gold in ‘The Eternal City’.



The Friday Poem ‘Labor Day’ by Joseph Millar

Part of the year I live in a ‘swing state’ where the economy has not yet recovered, and politicians fill the airwaves with promises of transformational ‘greatness’. The Friday Poem this week is from Pennsylvania native, former telephone repairman, commercial fisherman, and poet Joseph Millar. ‘Labor Day’ captures the quiet of a national holiday, first celebrated in New York on September 5, 1882.

“The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”

Labor Day

Even the bosses are sleeping late
in the dusty light of September.

The parking lot’s empty and no one cares.
No one unloads a ladder, steps on the gas

or starts up the big machines in the shop,
sanding and grinding, cutting and binding.

No one lays a flat bead of flux over a metal seam
or lowers the steel forks from a tailgate.

Shadows gather inside the sleeve
of the empty thermos beside the sink,

the bells go still by the channel buoy,
the wind lies down in the west,

the tuna boats rest on their tie-up lines
turning a little, this way and that.

Joseph Millar  from ‘Blue Rust’ Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012


What are you going to do with those energy reserves you stored this summer?

As the sun sets on summer 2016, use the upcoming Labor Day weekend as a catalyst to recalibrate you career trajectory.

Why Labor Day? Timing is everything. This weekend marks a transition between seasons and a sense of ‘starting over’ as a new school year begins.

When you arrive @work on Tuesday morning your plans will collide with the competing interests of colleagues returning to work, equally energized and motivated. If you have a plan, and a schedule of activities already on your calendar you will be in a position to maintain the momentum, moving you closer to your ‘dream’.

Start with two questions:

What do I still want to accomplish?

What is one thing I can do move forward?

Your answer to the first question asserts your priorities, and the second sets the first item on your agenda.

When thinking about priorities, consider feedback you have received from managers, colleagues, mentors and friends. What skills need fine tuning? Is there additional expertise you need to acquire to advance in your current position or transition to a new workplace? Who can help you achieve your goals? Is it time for additional training or an advanced degree?

The ‘still want to accomplish’ question hits at the fundamental essence of who you are, who you want to become, and the legacy you want to leave behind. It has a workplace component, but also addresses work/life balance, and your role as a contributing member of your community.

The next step is to schedule a meeting to set your priorities in motion: coffee with a mentor to review your career direction, an information interview to establish a new professional connection, a visit to a local non-profit, or a meeting with an academic advisor to explore educational options.

Your priorities dictate your agenda.

Before the weekend comes to an end, take a few minutes to review your calendar and block out time for ‘summer energy reserves expenditures’. Send at least one email requesting a meeting and try to find time each week to sit down with folks who can expand your career horizons.

Effectively managing your work/life is an ongoing energy expense. It will keep you moving forward, recalibrating as needed.