In Defense of Various Poor Decisions I’ve Made

I left Boston in September of 2011. I left because I felt like I’d done all I could do there, and that Boston had done all that it could for me. It turns out that cities don’t owe their inhabitants shit, and I EASILY could have done a lot more. Like find a job, for example. I probably could have found a job. Back in 2011 I thought that I was brave for moving to a new city where I didn’t know many people and where there were no job prospects for a woman with no experience in the service, medical, or financial industries. I felt like a pioneer moving to a place where there was no subway and no GrubHub.

“I’ll not only make it” I thought as I packed my life into various poorly organized Banker’s boxes “I’ll make something of myself!” I pictured myself as Mary Richards throwing her beret into the welcoming arms of the Minneapolis skyline.

I am not Mary Richards, as it turns out. I’ve spent the last few years trying to justify my reasoning for leaving a place where my life was much, much more stable from a financial standpoint. I looked so good on paper back then: I worked for a well-known internet institution. I co-hosted a weekly trivia night, I showed my art and (pretentious) performance pieces at a local gallery, my extended circle of acquaintances boasted various well-known personalities. I just wasn’t happy. All of that shit had gotten tired, and Boston and I needed to have a clean break.

I was defiant for my first year in Portland. “I made the right choice!” I would proudly declare to anyone who dared to suggest otherwise “I’d do it again!” I’d shout every time an abusive employer yelled at me in front of a customer. “This is the happiest I’ve ever been!” I’d proclaim every time I got rejected for a job I really, really wanted. I wasn’t lying, not exactly. I did make the right choice, and I would totally do it again. It was the happiest I’d ever been. I was making friends, good friends. And I was falling in love.

Time wore on, and those words of defiance started to sound a lot more hollow, and the endless rejection started to weigh on me. I stopped looking so good on paper, or in reality. I stopped spending as much time with my friends. I stopped playing music. I stopped making things. I just stopped in general. I became sour and full of self-doubt, and it cost me.

That just about brings us up to date. So what have I been up to? Well, working weird and constant holiday hours at a local box office mostly. Every weekend brings a new Christmas themed show with a lobby full of happy families holding hands during the matinee, and elderly couples doing the same for the evening performance. In short, it’s a soul crushing nightmare for a recently dumped 31 year old. But I like my co-workers, and one of the promoters gave us a giant block of cheese this week, so I can’t complain.

I’m starting to feel that old defiance creeping back though. I’ve been watching a lot of Buffy The Vampire Slayer when I’m not at work. Fans of the show will be very familiar with the climatic battle at the end of the second season finale “Becoming Part II”. Buffy must fight her former lover, Angel (now Angelus, having lost his soul during a moment of “true happiness” with Buffy on her 17th birthday). He taunts her, and it appears that he has the upper hand until

Angelus: Now that’s everything, huh? No weapons… No friends…No hope. Take all that away… and what’s left?
Buffy: Me

She then proceeds to hand his ass to him and then Willow’s spell works and Angel’s soul is restored. He becomes the person Buffy fell in love with once again, but she still has to send him to Hell to save the world. You know, pretty much exactly how every bittersweet break-up works.
I’m not Mary Richards, beloved sitcom heroine full of pluck and spunk (I hate spunk). I’m Buffy. I’m flawed, I’m not always everyone’s favorite character, and when shit gets real, I get tougher. No job (pretty soon), no money, no boyfriend… and what’s left?
Me.
Sometimes the worst thing we can imagine has to happen in order for us to see the monster we’ve become – and to see all of the good that remains. I made a series of unwise choices that led me to this city of misfit toys. I’ve been struggling ever since. I made the right choice, and I’d do it again.
This is the happiest I’ve ever been.

Like Being Low

I got dumped. A few weeks ago, maybe a month now. Wow, a month. Huh.

We were different people, it’s very sad.

Except, now that I’ve spent a month rattling around this giant empty apartment (you know, except for his random junk I keep finding in corners I forgot about ages ago, and cat-fur-tumbleweeds that will NEVER go away, even though he took the cat when he left) alone with my own weirdness, I’ve come to terms with various things.

1. The world is full of infinite possibilities. OK, I’m going to be this asshole: T.S. Eliot said “…The end is where we start from”. It’s completely cliche, but also completely true. In fact, I’ve been taking solace in the painfully obvious. For example, it’s just me now. My future is wide fucking open. There’s some alternate reality out there where I have a house and a dog and fifty more years with this guy. There are infinite alternate realities that spread out from that reality. And on and on. But that’s not the one I’ve got anymore. The reality I have now is one where the bottom fell out and it’s just me here on a Friday night contemplating life, the universe and everything while I listen to the hits of my youth and burn incense, And quote T.S. Eliot. Oh god, I’m that guy. But at any rate, the future is wide open, and I can do whatever I want with it.

2. It’s hard to see myself as an individual when I’m in a relationship. I work in a box office now (again) and I had a young woman come to my window yesterday. I asked her how many were in her party. “Six” she said. “There are two couples and they need to sit together, but the two regular people can sit wherever”. She didn’t call them “single” people, she called them “regular”. For whatever reason that stuck with me, and I found it comforting. “Single” sounds lonely, but “regular” seems sturdy and balanced and complete. It made the term “couple” seem like an affliction, something kind of gross. At least to me. She maybe saw it in the other way which is that “couples” have some magical couple-power that makes them stronger and better than the “regulars”. Dunno, don’t care. I’m regular now, and I’m doing OK.

3. Man, it really sucks getting dumped because of being sad. But on the other hand, I also recognize the sadness as being a part of my operation, my day-to-day, part of what makes me who I am. It’s the thing that drives me to create things, to tell jokes, to hope that things will get better, and to TRY to make them better. Nothing is more tedious than someone who is convinced that there is no good in the world, and that we are all doomed, and that all is lost. Hey, I know it seems like the world is fucked and it will never be UNfucked, but we only get one life, we should at least try to get what we can from it. Sad things happen pretty much every second (like, he gave me a nickname, and I’ve never had one and it made me feel amazing when he used it, and now he’s gone because I made him unhappy) but see above: Infinite Possibilities.

4. It’s time to do something about it. We’re supposed to try to learn something from every failed relationship. Well, this was some honors level shit. Thanks a whole bunch, universe! What I’ve learned is that I’m happier when I don’t have to answer to anyone. And when I don’t have to explain my jokes. And when I’m not anxiously waiting for someone else to come around. I know that we’re all searching for that person who makes us feel like we’re not alone. Hey, I have that person. I have a few of those people. They’re called friends. They were there before I fell in love, and they’re still here. And I don’t have to explain my jokes. So what do I do with that? Make stuff. Write more. Be a better friend.

5. We had a good run. I fell in love with another loner. Someone who challenged me on a daily basis. Someone who’s different perspective fascinated me and drove me crazy. Someone who treated me with respect until the last fucking second. In the beginning our differences brought out the best in us. In the end they killed us. But it had to happen, and honestly, we’re better for it. Or, at least, I am.

6. I don’t even want to THINK about dating. Yeah man, I think I’ll get a cat.

On The Topic of Depression

You are not an authority on suicide. You do not get to theorize or make statements about why or how people you do not know choose to end their lives. You do not get to claim whether or not another human being is a “coward” because they have succumbed to an illness for which there is no known cure.

So before you take to social media, to your blog, to your bar stool pulpit, to your editorial column or to your news program, be sure to remind yourself that you are not an authority on what it is to be anyone other than yourself. 

But please do talk (and loudly) about your experience with depression. Please share what it is to live with this stifling thing that constantly forces you to be silent. I truly believe that the more we talk about this thing, the less power it will have, and the more understanding there will be. 

There is nothing shameful about depression. The truly shameful thing is how we treat people WITH depression. We glorify the “tragic artist” (see Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, etc), and we quarantine the rest because they “bum us out”.

Depression doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense at all that I took two hours to get dressed in order to go around the corner to buy a slice of pizza today. What did I think was going to happen to me if I didn’t look the “right” way? I have no clue. Why am I telling you this in a very public way? Because part of me thinks that it is funny. People are weird. I AM VERY WEIRD. This is a strange way to be, so please laugh, because I am OK! I am, aside from the fact that I have some messed up chemicals that tell me that everyone hates me (on the real, I KNOW they don’t, but nature of the beast when you have the winning combination of depression AND anxiety). I am OK because I have an incredibly supportive network of friends, and parents who have always spoken openly about depression and anxiety. I am OK because I know that I am loved, and that no matter how shitty things look right now, there’s always something better. Also: I can laugh at the absurd aspects of my particular affliction. Maybe me telling you about my pizza struggles will remind you of your experience, and you’ll feel more like the human being you are.

I wish that this was enough for other people, that a supportive and loving community was the magic cure-all. But it isn’t. Not always. I lost someone to this disease that we can’t find with an x-ray or a blood test. It took me a long time to get to a place where I could see them as something other than “selfish”. Seeing someone who chooses the path my friend did as “selfish” is (in my opinion, please note the emphasis because it is very important) myopic. It has been IMPOSSIBLE not to think of my friend and my own personal experience with depression for the past 24 hours. For me, it is a relief to see so many people speaking openly about topics that are generally taboo. I know that many prefer not to talk about this for personal reasons, and that is valid and should be respected.

In closing, many of us feel a connection to this that we can’t fully explain. But we are only an authority on our own experiences.

 

 

My year, pretty much.

I’ve been unemployed for (roughly) a year.
Or really, “underemployed” is more accurate. I have had two very brief contract positions.  But otherwise I have not had work.

I have applied for well over fifty jobs. Probably more. I’ve lost track. I used to worry that writing about my experience would deter potential employers, but now I’m not entirely sure it makes any difference.

This is what it is like to be unemployed, really:

I have learned that my family and close friends are amazing, giving, and very tolerant people. Really. I don’t qualify for unemployment benefits because I left my last non-contract job voluntarily (for a contract job that I thought would turn into permanent work. I was very wrong). This means that I am always broke (except for when I have contract work, at which point ALL OF MY MONEY goes toward food, rent, bills, insurance, and, ugh, interview clothes). This also means that I am generally bored and/or sad which means that I’m not always a joy to be around. It is also occasionally hard to convince the people closest to me that, for real, my cover letters are a lot more positive than I sound right this second…

Depressed is the exact opposite of what employers are looking for.  This probably seems like a no-brainer, but no lie: Try to feel motivated, focused, and like serving the public when the most common answer you hear is “no”.

When someone asks what kind of work you are looking for, have an answer other than “anything”. I have no experience in the service or hospitality industries which means that it is extremely hard to find anyone who will even grant me an interview in my metro area.  So when dozens of well-meaning people say things like “you know, you can always work at Starbucks/Whole Foods/ Trader Joe’s” that just isn’t true. Those businesses are not looking for people with extensive special collections experience. In fact, they are looking for people who are highly skilled in the customer service industry, and I find it condescending that people assume that these jobs are “easy” or somehow always available to whoever.

You will spend hours perfecting a cover letter and/or application for a job you really want and never hear a thing. It is soul-crushing.

You will spend hours perfecting a cover letter and/or application for a job you really want, and get an interview.  You will then be granted a follow-up interview and believe that you have really made a connection with the people conducting the interview. You will start making arrangements for your new job. You will receive a polite form rejection letter on really nice paper stock.

Experience is absolutely not necessary when you know a guy. “Knowing a guy” is basically the best thing that can possibly happen to you in this economy. Make a point of knowing and staying in touch with as many “guys” as you possibly can. Which brings me to:

Don’t burn bridges. If you leave a job, don’t talk shit. Ever. It will bite you in the ass. Negativity isn’t flattering.

It is supremely hard not to talk shit when you are depressed about being unemployed. Just don’t talk shit. You don’t know who is listening.

People do not know how to make casual conversation with you when you do not have a job. I learned pretty fast that telling people I don’t have a job really bums them out. So I tell them that I’m a contractor. This is good because then I can tell them more about digital preservation. I used to say that I was a “stay at home cat mom” which made them laugh, but the truth is…

The cat is more mentally stable than I am. I spend almost all of my time alone because leaving my apartment means spending money I don’t have.

People assume that I must have all the time in the world to work on my art. I do. But see above, “depression”.

I am not taking advantage of “the system”. There is no “system” for formerly middle class, college educated thirty-year-olds with wildly specific work experience to take advantage of. In fact, should you seek any sort of help, the nice person across the table from you will look at you in a very confused way and say things like “I see that you have a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and that both of your parents have advanced degrees as well…” This person will secretly wonder if you have a drug problem. Sometimes this person will flat out ask you if you have a drug problem. You do not have a drug problem.

The people who care about you will send you job postings, constantly. It will suck. It will suck because you have inevitably already applied for this job. Twice. Or, alternately, the company in question is ALWAYS hiring/is actually a temp agency looking for recruits to boost numbers.

Temp agencies also suck. Unless you do really well on the intake exam. If you do, awesome, you’ll probably/maybe get some temp work. If your typing/accounting skills are lacking (which, let’s face it, if 90% of your professional experience has to do with photographing books that once belonged to long-dead dignitaries, you probably don’t know what “collate” means). Join a temp agency anyway. Call them every week. They are more fun to talk to you than your student loan company.

You will hate every person who frustrates you on a daily basis because they have a job and you don’t. That means YOU Healthcare.gov lady who told me to “just start a new account…”

The Office will make you deeply and profoundly sad in ways that you can’t quite articulate. You know, because they have JOBS.

Breaking Bad will give you ideas. You failed remedial chemistry. Don’t bother.

You will feel guilty every second you are not looking for work.  And every time your boyfriend comes home and asks what you got up to and the answer is “I stared blankly at Buzzfeed and waited for the day to end.”

You will not deviate from this routine: Non profit job website, Indeed, Craigslist, regional job website, regional government job website, specific to your experience job website. You will also obsessively search for new job websites you have not considered. You will try various apps (they all suck).

Your LinkedIn will look AMAZING. Pro-tip: No one actually USES LinkedIn.

It is really hard to plan for your future when you can’t like… plan on anything. Five year plan? L.O.Fucking. L.

But there are things that aren’t terrible about being unemployed. For example, your resume will be FLAWLESS. You’ll always be caught up on world events. Hey, I finally beat Myst, Riven AND The 7th Guest!

You’ll develop a certain gallows humor that will keep you reasonably sane while you navigate the Kafkaesque Hellscape that is now your world. And deep down you’ll know that this can’t last forever.

Because something has to give.