‘Galatea’ is a columnist writing about her experience looking for work after her recent downsizing. Previous entries in her series can be read here.
When I first lost my job, one of my old writing professors—a reclusive Famous Person who didn’t particularly like people—got in touch with me. Or rather, I got in touch with him by sending a numb email, which ended with something along the lines of “I don’t know what to do next. Just tell me something to make it better.”
In the interests of maintaining his privacy I won’t reprint the email verbatim, but here’s a condensed version of his story.
Once upon a time he had a great job at a large publishing house, when all of a sudden, he’d lost his job. To say that the event shook his self-confidence would be an understatement: he wrote to me, in vivid detail, how he skittered into his apartment, cut off all contact with the outside world, and emotionally withered away inside an exoskeleton of irony in a matter of years.
Of course, he eventually became a Famous Person through his writing. But put him in front of a real, live human being, and that brash persona with the venomous voice suddenly turned into a graying, mumbling man who could barely look you in the eye.
It’s been about two months since I lost my job—nearly nine weeks.
The average length of unemployment in the United States, according to last month’s jobs report from the Labor Department, is 40.5 weeks.
If you look on the bright side, this means that I’m better off than 78% of all my unemployment brethren, which I guess means that I have to be super duper positive. All I have to do is wait around for another seven months and three weeks before I have the right to start feeling bad for myself.
I’ve got about two months of rent left in my account. Three, if I really cut down on expenses, drop my gym membership, and change my diet to ramen and lint.
I feel like I’m bothering my friends, especially the ones who have jobs at this moment. I don’t have much to talk about with them anymore, when I do see them. Each time they tell me to stay positive and optimistic, I’m torn between either bursting into tears, or plastering on my biggest fake Julie Andrews smile and bellowing the most angry, sarcastic performance of “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music while stomp-dancing around the nearest fountain.
The more drafts of cover letters I send, the shorter the responses and edits become. It’s a correlation tied, I feel, to how annoyingly unconfident I’ve become. The last response I got back from a friend who read my cover letter: “Sounds good.”
I forget where I read it (maybe I read it everywhere), but I heard somewhere that generations who come of age in economic crunch times are far more risk-averse than everyone else: they stick to safer jobs, they avoid investing in stocks, and—it is hinted—they avoid the type of bold, out-of-the-box thinking that could pay off either in debt or in a vast fortune.
I’m breaking out everywhere and getting a rash on my face. I’m still on my mother’s health insurance, so I could technically see a dermatologist. I don’t even think I could afford the copay at this point, though, and I’m starting to be embarrassed about leaving the house.
And the last time I had a job interview (holy crap I landed a job interview) I found myself stuttering and sweating, to the point where the interviewer paused, looked at my flustering, and asked softly if I needed a glass of water.
(Holy crap, I blew it so badly.)
A few weeks ago, one of my friends who retreated into law school (a gamble, he admitted freely, based on whether he could land a corporate job) suggested that I move home to live in my mother’s basement. “God no,” I retorted then with a blind ferocity. “I’ll stick it out and make it happen. I’ll find something.”
I’ve got about twelve more weeks to do so, but after that I won’t hit the national unemployment length average for another four months after that.
He’ll visit DC in a few weeks, but I don’t know whether I’ll be able to hang out with him. I can’t afford it. I don’t even know what we could talk about.
Lately I’ve been feeling a little bit anxious.