Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Time Off

I didn't quit my job on Monday. Not that I was necessarily planning on quitting. Let's just say that if certain circumstances arose, I was mentally prepared to quit. As it turns out those circumstances did not materialize. In fact things worked out quite differently than I expected. They often do.

All last weekend I was pysching myself up for a confrontation. I spent all day Saturday working on one of the two scripts that I have promised to finish sometime in the next two months. I actually got through the end of the first act by Saturday night and was pretty pleased with myself.

On Sunday I was completely burned out. My back was aching, my brain was fried, my eyes were bleary. I decided to go for a long walk. I had some breakfast at a place on the Strip, stopped in at Radio Shack to buy some gadgets and spent some time in the park working on the crossword puzzle. I needed to recharge my batteries. But all the while I knew I was using up precious time. Time that I could be writing. If only I didn't have that stupid day job. That's why I decided to ask for a month off.

When I took this job, the understanding was that I would be able to take time off to work on my outside interests. I actually did take a week off one year to shoot my short film. But other than that I only take time off to visit my family on the east coast, or spend time with them when they come out here. And even then, it has always been a struggle to arrange the time -- since there is usually at least one crisis brewing at work on any given week. It's kind of a catch-22: you can take the time off if it doesn't conflict with the needs of your department, but there is always a conflict.

But this time I really need it. I have been working on a script with my friend Glen for about two months. We have outlined the whole story and now it's up to me to crank out a draft. Meanwhile there's the producer from Canada who wants to make a movie of October Fury, my friend Peter's book about the Cuban missile crisis. I already wrote a story outline for him and then he was going to pay me to write a screenplay. But he hasn't come up with any money and Peter thinks we need to get a draft out to help him sell the idea. The same night that Peter called and I agreed to write a draft by April, I got another call from Glen who had just pitched our movie idea to a producer who is very interested and really wants to see a draft asap. Oh, and I have this band that has just put out a CD and is rehearsing for gigs and trying to hire a new bass player and sending out promotional material to record companies, radio stations and managers...

I need some time off.

I decided it was time to break the vicious cycle and take a month of unpaid leave. So I went in on Monday ready to do battle. I started off with a meeting with HR, where I explained my situation and reminded them of the original agreement that I would be allowed time to work on outside projects. They replied that as long as my department OK'd it, I could take the time. Then I spoke with Susan, the lawyer who is the kind of second-in-command in my department. She has always been totally sympathetic to my situation, but she doesn't really make the rules. She warned my that the boss and I have often clashed on this issue in the past and not to let my testosterone interfere with my reason. It was good advice.

I stopped in my office where I had a message from HR. It turns out I can't take unpaid leave since I have so much vacation stacked up which I would need to use up first. That changes my strategy somewhat, since I would be responsible for making up the lost "billable" hours that accrued during a vacation as opposed to unpaid leave. We have to bill a certain number of hours each month and even if you are sick or on vacation you still have to reach your goal. Otherwise, as happened to me one year, you may not get your raise. Or worse, you may get fired.

Finally I went into see the boss -- it wasn't until after five that I could get a few minutes with him. I had checked with some other lawyers who had already met with him to get a read on his mood: grumpy but not stormy. I went in with a positive attitude, determined to be diplomatic and reasonable no matter what happened. I took a deep breath and made my case. Then, I waited for the bomb to explode.

But there was no bomb. He was totally cool. He was supportive and reasonable. Basically he wondered why I was even asking him since I was allowed to take off the time if I gave them adequate notice. I reminded him that there are often events on the horizon that I am unaware of and so I wanted to run my plans by him before submitting my request. It occurred to him that we would indeed have a very important motion to file near the end of March, so it might not be a good idea for me to be away for the whole month. Given that I would be responsible for making up the hours I miss, I agreed to a compromise of a two week paid vacation instead of a one month unpaid leave.

I don't like compromise. Seeing as how the very fact that I am here in the first place is a compromise, the idea of compromising on top of that doesn't sit well. I went back to talk to Susan. She convinced me that I had done the right thing. She said "start there" and then see what happens next. I like her, she's very smart, very reasonable and apparently doesn't have this pesky testosterone issue to cloud her judgment. O.K. so now I have two weeks off. That's 16 calendar days! That's more time off than I've had in six years -- not counting jury duty. I'll just have to make the most of it.

If it's not enough, I can always quit my job.