March 18, 2011

Being Unemployed is a Hard Job

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What is the issue?

I don’t know why everyone is up my generation’s ass for being unemployed. Calling it “funemployment” is completely inaccurate. I should know; I was unemployed for an entire year.

After graduating from Eugene Lang College with a degree in Creative Writing—the equivalent of a smiley face scribbled on a cocktail napkin— I started an internship immediately at Jezebel (as in I graduated Friday and started on Monday). I found the immediate segue to be of major good fortune. While all my friends were going home for Christmas in a post-grad fugue, I was going to be working for my favorite blog from a coffee shop in Los Angeles. Yay! Take that cynics! I’m going to be getting a stipend. Jealous?

So I did that for a few months and it was great, fabulous, obsessed. From there I interned at a major magazine which I mistakenly thought would mean major things for my soon-to-be-major career! Except it didn’t. Even after I befriended everyone in the office, got published on the blog, and was bestowed the special nickname “Rye” by my employers, I was still an unpaid nothing. You see, I missed the giant memo that magazines had no money and were essentially run by interns. In fact on my first day while I was getting a tour of the office by an editor, someone came up to her and said, “We need a magazine rack!” To which my superior responded, “We can’t afford a magazine rack.” Um, what? What happened to glamorous town cars, lunches at Pastis, and Soho lofts?! Now you bitches can’t even afford a magazine rack?! #DARK

By the end of the summer, I was so over the whole “working for free” thing and also completely terrified about my future. I was staring at a seemingly endless road of unemployment with no prospects. I spent the last four years writing short stories about orange groves and boys. WHAT HAVE I DONE?!

I was completely unemployed from September to January. For those months, I woke up with an overwhelming sense of dread, and my days were mapped out like this:

9:30 a.m- Wake up. Realize my wish of “sleeping forever” had not been granted and I will have to face another day.

10:30 a.m.- Go to a coffee shop and send out cover letters to jobs I wasn’t even sure I could do. “I can be a marketing assistant! I love to go to the market and buy hummus…wait….what’s this job?” My cover letters would be the right amount of quirky (ex: “I think I could be the peanut butter to your jelly!”) with a solid dose of professionalism (ex: “The way your company has branded itself and dominated the new media is….”)

12:00 p.m.- This is around the time I would feel like such a cliched failure. In my writing classes at school, everyone would bitch and moan about never being able to find work, but I was always the optimist. “I WILL work as a writer. I WON’T struggle at some soul-crushing job and drink whiskey!” But here I was, putting away with the rest of my defeated chums. I never drank whiskey though. Only Skinny Girl margaritas.

2:00 p.m.- Something would happen that would be both life-afirming and devastating. For example, I was turned down for a paid internship with The Huffington Post, but a week later, they published a blog post of mine. “Yay! Wait, what? Can you just give me a job? No, seriously. I don’t even want this clip. Give the piece back! Help!”

4:00 p.m.- I would think about the divide that exists between my unemployed friends and the ones who actually had jobs. Having nothing to do was no longer something people were envious of. This wasn’t like summer between junior and senior year of college. You couldn’t call up a friend on a Tuesday afternoon to go swimming because they would be working, and you would feel too guilty. That’s one of the major bummers of being unemployed. You feel like you’re not entitled to happiness. It’s the opposite of “funemployment.” Any fun activities are soured by the fact that you should be working, you should have a job. Until you do, you are only allowed to suffer and feel badly about yourself. Those are the implicit rules. I don’t know anyone who’s unemployed right now and loving it. Living in America and especially New York, a large amount of our self-worth rests upon what we do for a living. That’s why when you meet people, it’s the first thing they care to know about you. “Why are you here? What do you do? Who do you know? Oh, here’s my card. Bye!”

5:00 p.m.- I would send emails to any and all editors, asking them to please consider my piece. These emails would border on harassment. It was like I was ringing doorbells over and over again and being like, “Peek a boo! Is anyone home?!” It made me feel so pathetic and lame, but it also inspired me to write that much more and work that much harder.

6:00 p.m.- I would stop “work”, and experience one hopeful moment, which was brought on by a promising email or lead. Mostly though I would feel dejected and fatigued. Whenever I would get exhausted, I’d be reminded that being unemployed is its own job. The ultimate fuck you is that you don’t get paid to feel like shit. Some people might have a job and hate it, but at least they get money. Unemployed folks get a cover letter and a computer screen.

So please stop telling me and my friends that it’s fun to feel like you’re nothing. Please stop telling us that it’s fun to apply for 8,000 jobs a day, jobs we don’t even want, and probably still can’t get. It’s the antithesis of fun. It’s “nofuneverohmygodihatemylifeemployment.” TC mark

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