The Blog

The Gift of Being Laid Off

You never think it will happen to you, but after a quarter of a century in the book publishing industry and having worked on countless bestsellers, I am now among the millions of unemployed Americans.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

December: You think about decorating your home, giving and receiving gifts, and spending quality time with your family. Well, this holiday season I've been given the gift of a lot of time to spend with family, since I no longer have my job to go to.

You never think it will happen to you, but after a quarter of a century in the book publishing industry and having worked on countless bestsellers, I am now among the millions of unemployed Americans.

Tuesday December 6, 2011 was a soggy day right from the start. My stomach churned all along the gloomy Metro North train ride from Fairfield, CT to Grand Central Station, New York City. I felt increasingly nauseous as I made my way to the McGraw-Hill office on Sixth Avenue. I was about to call my boss to tell him I had the flu and was going to head home. As I was about to pick up the phone, I saw that he was calling me first. An odd coincidence, but I shrugged it off. "Gary," he said, "Please report to the Executive Conference room immediately."

I thought I would throw up as I hung up. I knew on my way to the elevator I was going to be fired or laid off. Sure enough, when I entered the Executive Conference room and saw my boss with our HR Director and all the open folders, it became clear it was the former, and I was part of the company's massive restructure.

I felt dizzy and feverish as I returned to my office. All kinds of panicky thoughts hit me: What do I say to my wife? What do I say to my staff and colleagues? What's better, Mylanta or Pepto-Bismol?

Somehow I managed to convey the bad news to my wife and make the long trek on Metro North back to Fairfield, CT. I arrived home, threw up, and passed out under the covers. At some point later in the afternoon, I was awoken by a ringing telephone. It was my wife informing me that the car had broken down and she was stuck in the rain with our two cats, who had just been neutered at the clinic.

"What else is going to go wrong!" I shouted as I drove out in the rain, "Whatever it is, bring it on --why not?!"

The next day couldn't have been more opposite. The sun was shining, my fever broke, and my stomach was feeling better. I actually slept later than I had in years -- unbelievable, seven o'clock instead of my usual five a.m.! Two extra hours, yippee! The world suddenly seemed like it was filled with incredible opportunities. I felt hopeful, optimistic -- and relieved. No more neck-stiffening commute, no more corporate pressure, no more making budget. Finally, I would have some time to devote to my lifelong ambition: screenwriting. And hey -- now I could spend more time with my family, what a blessing around the holidays.

I opened my personal Inbox and saw an email that had been sent to me the soggy day before. I didn't recognize the name of the sender, but in the subject line he said he was a friend of a friend. I opened it and read the words: "I am a TV and film producer... your script... is easily the best written screenplay I've read in ages. If you have any time before the holidays, it would be a pleasure to meet you!"

Wow -- talk about timing. I hadn't felt that inspired and elated since I had received a scholarship to the Dramatic Writing Program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts years earlier. Someone with major Hollywood credits had validated my work -- and on the same day I was laid off. What are the odds?
I did speak to the producer, who since then has been incredibly generous with his time, advice, and contacts. Now I am in wait-and-see mode as my script makes its rounds. I'm working on another screenplay. And, of course, I'm putting out feelers in the industry for a job... all options on the table.

What will be next for GMK? I don't know... hopefully it won't be a twist-ending holiday gift from the Unemployment Magi.