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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vomiting into the Bermuda Triangle: Five Lessons in Unemployment

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2012 at 8:30 AM

Because unemployment can be bleak, here's an unrelated but uplifting photo of a kitten with a mustache. - HTTP://CUTESTUFF.CO
  • Because unemployment can be bleak, here's an unrelated but uplifting photo of a kitten with a mustache.

I have been unemployed for the past seven months. During this time I've discovered that applying for jobs feels a lot like vomiting into the Bermuda Triangle: Every day, countless resumes, applications, and cover letters -- and the hours spent working on them -- vanish without a trace, seemingly swallowed by a rift in the space-time continuum.

I learned the unfortunate truth of this conspiracy theory after I quit my job last September. My family and friends all responded to my decision to wing it by saying, "Recession, rabble, rabble, rabble." But I figured a few weeks browsing Career Builder is all it would take to land a shiny new career -- right after I took a well-deserved vacation to South Padre Island, of course. But like I said, that was more than half a year ago. Now reality has settled in, and each day I become a little less certain that I will ever again be gainfully employed.

Here are five other things I've learned about long-term unemployment.

1. You need a new way to define yourself.

Once we humans reach a certain age, we tend to define each other primarily by what we do to earn money. Just go to any party where most of the attendees are over 25, and at some point someone will ask you, "So what do you do?" To which you will respond, "I am an accountant," or "I am a tattoo artist," or "I am a powdered sugar sifter repairman at a marshmallow factory."

Aside from indicating that we might need to re-evaluate our priorities as a society, this conversational exchange is not typically problematic until you stop having an adequate reply. When you find yourself wanting to rant to someone you've just met about how you slept until noon, were too depressed to go to the gym, and ate peanut butter and jelly in bed for the third time this week before finally accepting that no one is going to respond to your resume again today, you know you've been unemployed for too long. (And if you're still calling it "funemployment," you haven't been jobless long enough, and also fuck you.)

2. Spam e-mails become devastating bearers of false hope.

My BlackBerry Torch is rarely out of my line of sight. As a result I have become accustomed to a real-time feed of e-mails, text messages, and Facebook updates going directly from the Internets into my brainmeats. (Oh, and voicemail too, but if you're leaving me voicemail and you're not my mom, I will say two things: "why" and "stop it.")

Under normal circumstances, being constantly plugged in is at best convenient (I always know when someone is running late), at times unnecessary (I probably didn't need to RSVP for that fashion show, like, right this second), and at worst annoying ("Limited time! Half off our sexiest pushup bikini EVARRR!!!").

But when I'm waiting for something like 10 people to reply to my job applications, smartphone interaction takes on a whole new devastating dimension. If it doesn't light up, I still don't have a job. If it does light up, though -- OMG, I might have a job! Until I open the message, and it's spam about wrinkle-free trousers from Banana Republic, or a 5k sign-up even though I fucking hate running so much that I can't talk about it without frothing at the mouth and cussing, or a desperate plea for money -- aka "RED DRAGON ALERT" -- from this cat shelter I donated to once that is actually run by crazy people.

In normal times, I would quickly delete these messages and get on with my day. Right now, though, each one chips away at my soul just a little more.

3. You learn the importance of timely correspondence.

Anyone who has been job hunting for longer than a month or two knows that when someone tells you they will contact you in two weeks, it typically takes twice that long. My longest wait after an interview, though, is four months. During that slog toward eventual rejection, Torch and I had daily staring contests that I almost always lost.

When you're mired in the daily grind, it's easy to forget exactly how long four months can seem to someone who is job hunting, so here are some helpful reminders: It is longer than of all of winter. It is nearly half of a pregnancy. It is enough time for ketchup to expire. And it is exactly long enough for me to move to a cheaper apartment, try everything in the Trader Joe's freezer section, and decide once and for all that "in bed" is a reasonable place to eat, because fuck it. Which brings me to my next point...

4. You can't get rid of the "fuck-its."

I was going to write this blog two days ago, but I fell asleep. That seems to be my excuse for everything these days, such as why I'm 45 minutes late, why I didn't call you back, and why my friend's son is being re-gifted a Barnes and Noble card for his first birthday.

When I still believed a promising career was on the horizon, it was exhilarating to sleep as late as I wanted and work in my underwear. But then I kept bombing job interviews by slipping into "first date" mode: "I think most of my former co-workers would say they liked me. I mean, I'm generally pleasant to be around. Except during a certain time of the month, amiright?" (Note: I'm not very good at dating, either.)

Now as my unemployment moves into "long-term" territory, research indicates that I'm way more likely to become depressed, and every day the "fuck-its" are getting harder to shake. I wake up, and my brain says, "World = cruel. Here's a thought: Cat videos." So I stay in bed with Torch and watch a fluffy calico play the theremin, and suddenly it's 2 p.m., which is practically bedtime again.

5. And then there's that whole health-care thing.

Anyone who thinks the status quo is A-okay and that the current health care system isn't in dire need of reform needs only a trip to the emergency room while unemployed and/or uninsured to gain some valuable perspective. Even assuming you don't need any specialized care or tests -- which, let's face it, if you're in the ER you probably do -- the ambulance, doctor, and hospital bills alone can easily total more than two grand. Mitt Romney can probably afford that; his car elevator repairman probably cannot.

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Thunder Lutz


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