Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Not Blogging

After 7 months of not posting, it's hard to even circle around the idea of posting on this blog again. In some ways, it can be seen as a spectacular failure, or another example of how I can't commit, can't follow-through, don't have the drive to succeed. A great idea that remains mostly that -- an effervescent thought, a lone feather buffeted by the breeze, a wisp of smoke disappearing into the atmosphere. The truth I've been able to ferret out, away from doubt and self-flaggelation is slightly less dire and less full of condemnation: it is too terrifying for me to try and write about my life from right in the middle of it. A dear friend and wonderful writer once confessed to me that writing about her life is how she sorts it out and makes sense of it. And I suppose, when I started this, I imagined myself dutifully typing out my trenchant insights and witty observations about the state of joblessness every few mornings, and that writing about this would lead to more writing about other things. In my mind, the spoonful of sugar crystals spun themselves into a giant, fluffy cloud of cotton candy with endless possibilities. Reality was the moisture that wicked all that lively, boastful volume back down into a sad, soggy thread of sweetness. Bitter sweetness, perhaps.

It was too hard for me to be engaged and in the moment to also have the critical distance necessary for me to write about being jobless. And though I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted this blog to be, I most certainly did not want it to become mere note-taking jotted for an audience, inelegant who/what/where/when's and why's more suited to a journal. Nor did I want it to be an attempt to coerce a crowd into cheerleading for me as they tracked the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys of my job search. If I do write more about being jobless later, memory will have to serve as my source material, and perspective will be my filter, my lens. Blogging about the now (and more specifically, the now that scares the pants off of me sometimes) is like constantly peering through a magnifying glass at my own hands, and trying to read meaning in the craters and valleys, mold a new terrain from the ridges and valleys.

So what have I been doing? It feels like not that much sometimes. I've done some substituting, but it started to pick up more after I got a temporary job at the US Census Bureau. I stopped getting up every morning at 5:45 am and being depressed about not working. I celebrated unemployment benefits being extended another time. I worked in fits and starts for the Census, and enjoyed working there, and being in a work environment again, despite the capricious nature of their hiring staff. I was depressed about not being picked up for another phase of the Census operation, and saw another upturn in substitute assignments, though I haven't worked the 7 weeks needed to be eligible for another year in the system.

I've done some volunteer work, I've joined another networking group, and I have watched an unanticipated amount of tv. I have on occassion printed out a large sheaf of job opportunities, only to get too emotionally bogged down to send off a single submission. I have felt shame and guilt for not doing enough that has then further weighed me down into another rung of inactivity. The last few months, though, have been incrementally picking up, giving me more and more energy until I'm really doing more of everything.

This past Monday I was ready to write. The 24th was my eleven month anniversary of being laid off. 11. 11. E-lev-en. ELEVEN. MONTH. A fact that would have seemed impossible, inconceivable to me a year ago. Hell, eight months ago. Once the new year came and went, I somehow had it fixed in my mind that April was my cut-off date for being ok, that I would definately have a job by April, that there was no way possible for it to not happen. April came. April went. No job, and suddenly it's the end of May, and the school year ends on June 3. And someone, still, I'm ok.

I was a little more ok on Monday when I got an email in response to an application I turned in the previous Friday morning. I had an interview. My first interview in months, the first weak beam of light. And that light made it possible for me to pull the magnifying glass back from my palms, let my eyes focus on the possibility of whatever this last 11 months has been, and sit down with a little perspective. And write from a critical distance, with the ability to not sink under the weight of my own words, but to drift along with the current.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

7 am and still not working

Last week I was tempted to make an anniversary posting, since my regular blogging here as fallen by the wayside. It was a junior-high school romance anniversary, the type counted in days and weeks, and should it get to actual months, plural, indicates that the relationship is now officially serious. So last week marked the three-month anniversary of my now serious case of unemployment.

I was feeling a little positive though, and didn't want to bring myself down, so skipped writing. I've been trying to skip doing things that make me feel bad. Trouble is, my feelings have been rapid-cycling along the up-and-down spectrum, and so the prospect of feeling, period, is bad news. So avoiding feeling things has been my new method. And writing is one of those things one simply can't do and be emotionally distanced from. Actually, DOING much at all is too risky; feelings might pop out anytime, demand attention, and overcome me. Being overcome with negative emotions is a sure route to big-time depression. So the route I've taken has unwittingly led me into a low-level depression where shit isn't TOO bad, which causes me to mis-identify the state I'm stuck in. Sneaky stuff, this.

I did work last week, for the first time in three months. I mean, work for someone else, for money. Work that will be direct deposited on a bi-weekly schedule, that involved filling out forms, presenting id, going to a three-hour training class, and gave me something to talk about when asked what is going on with the job search. Actually, this work involved fingerprinting ($46) and a one-year state license ($25), so my one day of work has actually just paid for the money I laid out to get it. I'm officially a substitute teacher for a big, urban school system.

Since that first day, I've been getting up every morning at 5:45, taking a quick shower and starting to get ready in case I get a call-in. I've had no call-ins the past five days, and I've been calling the automated system and searching the web-based site for assignments. Nothing. So work, right now, is on an hourly countdown. The whole cycle of expectation, hope, awakening dread, and ultimate disappoinment that makes up the job search is distilled down to its essence, played out over the course of ninety minutes. By 7:15 the probability of even getting an elementary school gig is almost nil.

Strangely enough, this art of losing out seems to be somewhat ennervating. I've been more active, more able, more present to myself this past week than the past month combined. I've gone swimming, taken a water aerobics class, gone out with a friend for tea, visited an alpaca farm with my parents, read three novels, and well, written again. So I hold out hope, the big hope, the hope that rises above all the little wishes and wants, that by mastering losing out I'll win big. I have faith that I'm on a path, learning, and won't know the lesson plans until after it's over. I have faith that learning to lose and still perservere will pay off, and that the depressions along the road are necessary slow-downs rather than personal failings. I have faith.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Whenever I'm working at my desk at home and the cats start bothering me, a good way to distract them is by crumpling up a piece of paper and tossing it out into the hallway. Hours of fun: first batting it across the floor, skipping it over the wood like a stone hitting the surface of the water; chew on it when tired, working apart the wrinkles and digging in to the center of the ball. Left alone, the ball will slowly lose the tight shape my gripping fist forced it into, slightly springing back, at rest.

Monday the call didn't come, but I didn't expect it then. Tuesday would be the day I'd hear -- if I was going to hear, of course. Tuesday came and went, and I thought maybe Wednesday would be the day. The hiring manager I'd interviewed with had told me the decision would come mid-week, and there was Wednesday, smack dab in the middle of the week, full of possibility. Wednesday wouldn't get done quickly enough. I melted down at 8:15 in the morning, after realizing that I hadn't renewed the $60 license on the computer security software. After the sobbing on my pillow subsided and my boyfriend left for school, I dressed, ate, watched tv, and tried to motivate myself out of the house. Left the house twenty minutes late because I decided the refrigerator door had to be scrubbed clean today. Couldn't find parking downtown and was rushing up to the 28th floor where the state administers civil service tests. Held everyone up in the parking garage writing an eight dollar check; I only had two singles and eight quarters in my purse. Dropped off a resume in person, thinking that would make a better impression. The HR guy pulled a face at me. My reflection in the elevator showed a big new snag in my three dollar thrift store slacks. The cats have evidently been climbing the clothes in my closet. I cried over a part in my book in which a dog gets put to sleep, reaching over the side of my bed to pet my own dog. Imagining her old age and death, my tears turned into choking sobs.

By Thursday, I know I've been passed over. It wasn't the right job, I tell myself. It would have been miraculous, getting a job from my first interview after less than two months after the layoff. I'm going to have to keep doing this, over and over, dragging myself back and forth. Smiling and shaking hands, never letting terror or desperation show. That night, I make spinach and cheese rolls almost from scratch, marinate the steaks my mom gave me, cook corn with plenty of butter and pepper, sear the meat, wash the dishes, watch t.v. Stay up too late finishing the book with the dead dog. I'm tired, have been up since 7 am. I walked two miles, training for a fundraising walk I'm in. I've been up all day, kept busy, but haven't done a damn thing.

I was wound so tight when I was working. I would run and skitter from place to place in the store, bouncing back and forth endlessly, set in motion by the commands, list of duties, expectations, desires of others. Left alone, I was at first set free from the omnipresent tension, dropped the sense of dread I carried around. I mistook this feeling for freedom, only to come to the realization that I was still a crumpled-up ball, deformed from my original shape, retaining the marks of being in a tight vise grip for so long.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Short But Sweet

I had a job interview last week. I prepared well, was even over-prepared, and spoke with the hiring manager for an hour. I'll find out this week if I got the job. While driving home from the interview, I realized that if I get the job, it won't be the end of my problems. I'll just be handed another set.

See, I know this, intellectually. Know it in my head. But there's this sibilant whisper that fades in and out that tells me that all I really need is a job. That'll fix everything.

I also had a moment of panic that I don't want this job. That I'll get stuck, make a bad decision. That I'll be, as a dear friend told me, settling, when instead I could shine. My placement specialist at the career center told me that if I need to take a "survival job" that I should do it -- it's hard out there, right now, duh! But that we will still continue to work together to get me my dream job, whatever that may be. Which is great, and exactly the mindset that I need to keep, because I noticed how easy it is to settle.

The next two days after the interview were a struggle -- I couldn't stay motivated to get more applications out, to re-write that goddamn resume another time for another job that would get no reply whatsoever. . . . I was already investing in The New Job. The New Job that I don't yet have. The New Job that I don't really want. The New Job that could dull the polish of my shine, if I let it. I was putting the eggs all in the basket. I've done this before, and been crushed when a rejection came, crushed enough that I didn't want to try.

All you need is That New Job. Trust me, sweetie, it'll all work out; The Job will fix everything. That voice is numbing, dumbing, seductive, hypnotic. I can't drum it out of my head. It holds me in its cloying embrace, soothing, sticky-sweet, with a fakey-bitter aftertaste.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Writing is always the first thing to go when I'm stressed. It's been two weeks since I've written, and I've given up on either berating or encouraging myself. Even my bargaining has been half-assed, insincere. I know it's a matter of I'll do it or not. Writing helps me think, helps me slow down, gives a direction to my errant thoughts during the day. When I'm writing regularly, there is a certain part of my brain that is activated, and it keeps buzzing, nourished by the small jolts it gets when my fingers tap out over and over on the keyboard. A window in my soul opens up, and something within wakens, stretches out and waits. Left alone, and the erratic buzz flickers, the bulb in my brain dims, the window in my soul darkens, airless, unmoving curtains at the window limply idle. If writing is so great, then why do I ever stop?

Ususally, what stops me is fear, my eternal answer to the "why not?" Being that open invites vulnerability, leaves my heart unlocked which feels unsafe. Stress sends blood shooting through my veins, pumping harder, heart racing. Clamping down and shutting out is soothing.

Sometimes though, what stops me from writing is simply this: life gets too big to handle, and there's too much to put on the page. I get overwhelmed.

In my currently jobless state, I've been happy with how balanced I've felt. Each day has been a struggle, but the net result has been positive. There's been time to look for a job, take classes at the career center, go swimming in the afternoon, walk the dog, spend time with my friends, play with the new kittens, update my resume and even engage in some dreaded networking. I didn't realize how unstable this jenga pile of responsibilities was, how all I needed was one big, blocky, ugly shaped piece to bring it all down around me. That piece was my grandmother's death, and all events associated with it. I wrote a rememberance for her that I read at her funeral, words that weren't appropriate for this forum. People praised me for reading what I'd written, and while I appreciated their kind words, it made me profoundly uncomfortable. I'd written it as a penance of sorts to her, conjuring up the very best of our relationship, the parts that were easy and lovely and wonderful. What I left out was why I squirmed under others' praise. I didn't visit or call her enough, wasn't kind enough or forgiving enough, didn't give her the care she'd given so many others. I had chosen not to engage on some levels, and was now bereft of that opportunity. So my words, fucking words that she would never hear, felt meaningless and small. How could I come back here and whine about not having a job?

So I fell into a small hole of inactivity, worrying about how my living situation might change, as the property that I'm renting belonged to my grandmother, and might be sold. I spent two days not talking to anyone, watching tv, eating too much ice cream, and worrying my boyfriend. And then I got back up and started looking for a job again. I'd lost a week of productive job-related activities, and needed to catch back up on life, looming huge in front of me, a stark white billboard in front of me, brightly lit, reading: UNCERTAINTY in black capital letters.

Life will always be bigger than writing. Writing sometimes feels like a weak attempt to corral the unmanageable and give it shape. Other times, when it works, when it's real, when it matters, it transforms the raw data of life, shining a light into the darkest places and illuminating the day to day of living.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Last week I stopped by a department store to exchange a pair of shorts my boyfriend had gotten for his birthday. He was studying, and I had nothing to do in the few short hours before bedtime, so I took my time and wandered about the store. Last time I was at that particular store I'd found a $60 pair of pants for him marked down to $6, a bargain even if he never wears them. I was hoping to find a duplicate of a short-sleeved sweater that I'd purchased at the beginning of the summer, back when I was still working and had treated myself to a new summer wardrobe. I've worn that sweater several times a week, and was hoping for a spectacular markdown that could help me justify spending a little money on myself.

The week before I'd found a pair of grey dress trousers for $3.50 and a $4.00 pair of black flats at the Goodwill, both good for any interviews I might get in the future. I hesitated slightly before trying on the shoes. I'd never bought shoes at a thrift store before. I rarely shopped at thrift stores since getting out of high school, back when it was an exciting excursion rather than a budget-conscious shopping choice. They were perfect on me though, and the bottoms of the soles, upon further examination, hardly looked new. Serviceable, comfortable, nearly new, and only $4.00. I got the shoes. I left the Goodwill store energized, pleased that I could find nice things and delight in a simple pleasure. These days, I've been trying to cultivate simple, low-cost pleasures. My new shoes were a triumph in fact, the best possible way I could have possibly spent that $4.00. Infinitely more satisfying and practical than blowing it on a frozen white mocha. I could get a quart of Edy's cookie dough ice cream on sale for less than $4.00 if I really wanted a treat, doling out that pleasure in a the evenings over a week or two.

I was not finding any spectacular bargins at the department store on this Sunday evening. I did find two pairs of adorable flats that were on sale, but still too expensive. My $4.00 flats seemed suddenly less satisfying; they were black and boring and obviously out-of-style compared to the cute, round-toed black and silver plaid flats I was trying on. Sighing, I left the shoe department, heading over to the women's clothing. The clearance racks were nearly empty, and no cute short-sleeved sweater was in sight. I tried on a few dresses that were 50% off -- still $24 each, but both so cute and work appropriate. Well, appropriate for whatever my new job would be. The job I was laid off from was a wardrobe disaster -- I frequently had to wear an electric blue tee shirt that matched nothing with our logo on the front. Most often, I wore it with a sweater or hoodie to downplay the bold color that only seemed to go with jeans. My new job would help me break out of the old uniform. I'd get fun flats and stylish dresses. I tried on pants, jackets, blouses, and skirts. I found the perfect black shrug that could be layered with anything -- over a dress or blouse or even dressing up a knit top. Glancing at the price tag, I put it back on the rack. $38 for a piece of stretchy cotton? I could feel my jaw tighten and my lips purse. God, I wanted it. I wanted it all. Everything I tried on today had miraculously fit. It looked good. Most of it was even on sale. I felt a keen ache deep inside my belly. I wanted to take it all and charge it on my store credit card, sliding the plastic and signing my name. I'd worry about it next month when the bill came. Hell, maybe I'd have a job before the statement even showed up in the mail. I should think positive. I should dress for success and put the crappy cotton tee shirts of my under-employed years behind me. I should at least get the perfect black shrug. I could use the credit slip from the shorts I'd returned and it would only cost me $17. I could call my mom and tell her about it; hope she'd stop by her branch and buy it for me. It was the last one in my size; I could hide it in a different department and come back next week. I could buy it now and return it later, keep it in the closet as an incentive to stay positive. A reward for a future good deed. A tonic against the anger that was swelling in my chest. I'd buy it now and return it when the anger fermented into guilt and worry. All of the sudden, the air in the dressing room seemed thick and stale. I felt sweat prickly at the back of my neck. My fingers clenched and my jaw trembled as I pulled off the the perfect black shrug and slipped my black flat on. I left it all there in the dressing room, unevenly drooping from the hangers.

As I drove home, I felt the flush of shame staining my cheeks. I turned up the air conditioning in the car, the car that my parents lent me. I have so much already, I have everything that I need. I will not go hungry, I will not become homeless. I have clothes, and shoes, and credit cards, and a family who supports me. I have so much. And still, I'm aware of the deep twisting ache inside me, the urge to take, to consume, to covet, to collect, to have, to exceed my needs, to swallow it all up.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


After the shock of being laid off wore off, fear was the next identifiable emotion. I encountered it upon waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. I tried to shake it off, moving faster on my morning walks. I tried to cleanse it from my consciousness by filling my time being busy; industriously leaning into the tub with a can of comet, scrubbing food off pots over a soapy sink, drowning out my thoughts with the gentle glub-glug of the washer filling, or the high persistant whine of the vacuum as it whirred and spun, sucking up dirt and hair from the hardwood floors. But I couldn't cram it away neat and tidy like my winter linens, neatly moved from piles in the laundry room to tidy stacks in the closet and rattan chest at the foot of my bed. It wouldn't be ordered into neat rows like the sneakers, sandals, and flip-flops organized in the back of the closet. The acrid stench of it wouldn't be covered up by the sweet, hot vanilla smells of the raspberry vegan cookies, blueberry muffins, brownies, cupcakes, or layer cakes that I baked. Fear was there, waiting for a loose strand of thought to clasp onto, climbing up until it was firmly nestled in my brain. Fear planted itself in the fertile soil of my recently churned-up routines, sprouting and vining its way into each path I started down, snaking ahead of me to wait just around the corner.

The truth is, fear had been with me all along. It had been more or less corralled into managability, each work day providing a fencepost beyond which it couldn't run wild. I steered it into the ring along with insecurity that what I was doing at work was meaningless, locked it up in the ice chest where I kept each small misery or unhappiness about my job. If it was ugly sometimes, it was tidy, neat, and contained. Fear had been a good friend to me over the years. It kept me from doing much on impulse, like moving to New York City after college. No way would I make enough money; more sensible to move back to Ohio where I could afford to live AND pay the student loans that were even higher than my monthly rent. It kept me applying for jobs that were similar (but maybe a little better) to the last one, comfortable in the ever-narrowing box of experiences. It lent me legitimacy,each time I aligned my worth and identity with where I worked, rather than with who I dreamed I could be. I'm a manager, I run this store, I balance budgets, I hire and fire, I have value, I commute back and forth, I am this thing that I do and no more.

Being laid off set fire to the warehouse of my fear, tore up the fenceposts, stampeded the gates, and dismantled the scarecrow, the strawman of my work identity. I was naked in a dusty field, fears scattered around me, sliding off into the tall grass to wait like sun-warmed snakes, leaving me unable to pick a path that was safe. So I sat there and waited. Quiet, cautious, listening. When I stopped running, and stopped trying to stuff each minute full of activity, I stopped feeding fear. When I sat and watched rather than watering it with my blood, it withered a little on the vine. When I breathed deep and slow instead of panting my shallow energy into activity, fear deflated. When I kept fear close, it was a boulder on my back as I ran. Standing still it was a pebble in my shoe. When I ignored it, it hollered louder at me, a deafening roar trying to get my attention. When I talked to it, acknowledged it, and asked it questions, fear stopped screaming and let me lay it down. When I opened my eyes, the dark shadows of fear were chased away by the dawning light of acceptance, the bright still peace of morning sun. I was ready to get back to work. Not just be a worker, but work at living my life. I had a shed of rusted tools, I had friends to lend me advice. I threw my fears on the compost pile, watched them break down into the fecund darkness of experience that would enrich the new soil I churned up, as I ploughed ahead into each new day.