Guest Blog: Turning a Layoff into Creativity

Shore of Lake Superior with bright sunlight, waves, sand, and sandstone.
Shore of Lake Superior with bright sunlight, waves, sand, and sandstone.
Going with the flow is part of the daily work coordinating student accommodations to build inclusive research and scholarship spaces.

The pandemic’s impacts on our campus research ecosystem are many and varied. In her guest blog, disability services coordinator Christy Oslund shares how getting laid off and returning part-time opened creative opportunities.

I knew the layoff calls were being made.

I’d already gone through the first round of HR and supervisor phone calls and been told I was being reduced from full-time to three-quarters. As a single person, there is no other income to help support my household, but there are still many of the same costs that a family has: house, heat, car, insurance, phone. Losing part of my income was tough; I was hoping to be spared a layoff on top of that. By the time 5:30 p.m. came around, I thought, “The workday is over — I must be safe.” Of course, that’s the point when the phone rang.

About the Researcher

Challenge: Getting Laid Off Sucks

As the coordinator of Student Disability Services, I work with students, families, faculty and staff, ensuring that more than 300 students a semester who need services get them. Whether it's working with my colleagues in IT or faculty to ensure real-time captioning of lectures, or adjusting lab assignments, or ensuring my colleagues in Housing know what to expect in this year's round of emotional support animals, the range and depth of my job is considerable. I think the flexibility required in my work, and how I’ve learned to navigate systems, being on the autism spectrum, kept me somewhat prepared both personally and professionally during the pandemic.

It was still hard to take that call.

Undoubtedly there were concerns regarding security or legal issues that required HR/supervisors to treat the phone calls as surprises. There were no emails requesting that one be near a phone during the morning or afternoon, which would have mentally allowed those receiving calls to steel themselves. The phone ringing was like finding a bomber overhead while out on a pleasant walk in the countryside.

I knew The Call would reveal one of two possibilities: being temporarily laid off for the summer or being let go, fired. After the phone rang and I found out I was laid off, my thoughts were torn. Suddenly I had a free summer in front of me, and I reminded myself to be grateful I would be called back to work in the fall. What of my colleagues who were getting calls letting them know they were unemployed during a pandemic?

At least I pretty quickly knew how I would fill my time. I was going to kill people.

Solution: Murder She Wrote

I’ve been a writer for longer than I’ve been a disability specialist and I wanted to write a murder mystery that took place in the Keweenaw. During the summer, I set out to complete a first draft of my manuscript. Partway through the season, I also ran into another furloughed worker who was doing odd jobs and yard work. We talked about our concerns for those who were trying to reinvent themselves for longer than the summer. We agreed that the only way to live through something as surreal as a plague was to keep putting one foot in front of the other and focus on day-to-day survival. Maybe one day it would all be over and there would be space for reflection. Maybe this was the new normal.

It is incredibly easy to get so wound up in our professional lives that we lose sight of outside interests, hobbies and activities that nurture our nonworking selves. Without my writing, I think that summer would have been crushing. The stress of pandemic life takes a toll on everyone, and the atmosphere was thick with anxiety and depression. As someone who already has to take medication to manage a biological predisposition to such things, suddenly being laid off left me standing at the precipice of a cliff. Writing saved me from falling over.

It also seems to me, by casual observation, that since the pandemic began, more people are working on their “side hustles” — and I think that’s a good idea, not just because we have been reminded that we cannot count on our employers to guarantee employment, but because we need to maintain interests outside of the work we do to live. Most of us will not go to the grave doing what we’re currently employed doing. We owe ourselves the maintenance of other things that feed our soul, and perhaps our bank accounts.

As for the murder . . . like most writers, I’m revising it. An editor at an independent press is interested in seeing the revision and, just as with a pandemic, there is no predicting where things will go from there. I fully intend, however, to keep killing people.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.