Sunday, July 12, 2015

Written In The Stars: My Journey to Loving Space Again

I've been debating whether or not to talk about the location that laid me off by name (on a wider platform than just my Facebook page and my interpersonal friends) because I was worried that it would be mean. However, it's important for the context of the story and I'm pretty sure they can handle some negative press, so sorry Adler Planetarium in Chicago, IL, except I'm actually not sorry at all.

Growing up, I fell in love with the night sky. In fifth grade, I wrote a poem about the planets called "Our Solar System" and I spent much of my time in junior high searching for UFOs in the sky (it was a phase). Whenever I went up to cabin at Shing Wako resort with my family, I'd stay out late on the dock on the lake and stargaze. When I went to Camp Unistar on Cass Lake, I'd be outside until 1:00am watching the moon rise over the horizon. I geeked out whenever there was a lunar eclipse and would hang out in the middle of the street in front of my house so there wouldn't be any trees blocking it (not a strategy I'd recommend, by the way). I even saw a meteor shower in 10th grade and counted up to 120-something shooting stars. In college, I fell in love with Neil deGrasse Tyson and devoured his books and his radio show and I loved it. But it all began with a trip to the Planetarium...

The Como Planetarium in Saint Paul, MN was my favorite field trip destination as a kid. I have vivid memories as a first grader watching the sky shows and seeing the show operator change the stars to starbursts, or turning the constellations into Toy Story characters. As I got older, the field trips became more serious, like learning about the underground railroad and the "drinking gourd" during Black History Month or learning about various planets. I have a very vivid memory of the sky show operator saying "oh, we're actually ahead of schedule, let's take a break and talk about meteor showers" and he showed my class the difference between a meteor shower and a meteor storm. It was this love of the Como Planetarium that made me drag my parents to the Adler Planetarium in high school and that got me to apply as part of the Museum Services Staff last August. When I got the job, I spent the next week with an extra bounce in my step.

I loved my job. It wasn't perfect, but I loved being part of the Museum Services Staff. Everyone was always in a good mood, and even on super busy days, we were a pretty tight crew that got things done. I adored my coworkers, I loved watching the sky shows, we had super cool jackets, my hours were good, and I worked for a company that I believed in. When they restructured the floor staff and I became a Facilitator instead, I was excited, but nervous. Museum Services Staff was a straight forward job and it was very clear what to do and how to behave. As a Facilitator, despite my camp counselor experience, I was having trouble striking a balance between too much control and not enough control. For whatever reason, it was less clear to me and it was spiking my anxiety. Not to mention, despite my pay raise, my hours were cut, I saw two supervisors get laid off, and I saw coworkers get their hours cut down to just barely 10 hours a week. But I thought despite all of this that I was making progress, that I was a good employee, that I would be at the Planetarium for a good long time and be promoted to sky show operator.

At the end of my "probationary period" for the Facilitator position (when they restructured the floor staff, they put everyone back in a probationary period... of course it was right after I just got out of my first one), I was called into the office of the main supervisor. No worries, I thought, everyone is having these meetings and she said that "it's not about being a perfect employee, it's about seeing if you're improving quickly enough..." so I thought I was safe. Then I was told I was too focused on customer service and that was the end of my employment. I was told to sign a contract stating that I had been met with, to pack my bags, and I would be escorted out the back door. I had basically shut down and was working on auto-pilot as I was gathering my backpack and my coffee cup (though I squeaked out a "is there anything I could've done?") and I exploded into tears on the Redline home as I was calling my parents and boyfriend trying to figure out where to go from here. I had not only lost my income, I felt like I had lost a family and my life path.

Fast forward, I am currently employed (though not in a position I would like to be), I've begun seeing a therapist for my anxiety, and I'm mostly doing okay. However, I would look at the night sky, and instead of feeling joy, I'd cry. It's one thing just to block your old co-worker's posts on Facebook, it's another thing when reminders of your job are literally everywhere because it's about the sky and because it's advertised everywhere. I can't imagine how people who get fired from Disney feel, seeing those reminders everywhere of what you've lost. I had "Planetarium Dreams" after my lay off and I still do occasionally.

However, my love of space came not from the Adler, but from Como. My love of the stars was part of me and had been for a really long time. The Adler may have taken my job, but I wouldn't let it ruin me.

I joined my family at Shing Wako. I brought along the knee socks I bought at the Planetarium gift shop and my NASA t-shirt in the hopes that I could make it okay for myself to wear them again. On the final night at the resort, I played "Awesome Mix Vol. 1" on my phone, went on to the dock on the lake, laid down, and just stared at the sky for 30 minutes. I head and felt the waves from the lake beneath me. I found the big dipper in  the sky. I just listened. I began to felt that joy again. I began to love space again. And then, towards the end, I saw a shooting star shoot across the sky. While nonsensical, I like to think it was the cosmos saying "we love you too, Katie."

It still hurts, and it's going to be a long, long time before I ever go near the Adler Planetarium again (I'm still hiding posts that mention it on Facebook because I am an immature fuck). However, take my job, take my pay, kick me out, say "go away", I don't care, I'm still free, and you can't take the sky from me.

I know that some of the people who have read this may be somehow associated with the Planetarium. Please note that I do not have any resentment towards you specifically, nor do I care if you go to the Adler, perform at the Adler, do whatever the hell it is you do at the Adler. I still love you, I just will never join you there. Have fun without me.

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