My alarm is set for 8 a.m., but instead I wake up at 7:06 a.m. I consider ignoring my body clock, and going back to bed, but I decide to embrace the display and get up. I lift up my phone and surf through my Instagram feed, listening to NPR. The radio hosts are discussing unemployment, which is perfect timing. They’re talking to me.
With one ear I listen and with one finger I scroll. They tell me that unemployment claims have dropped, which is a good thing. I’m unemployed, but not collecting unemployment––did they count me in that number? Adam Davidson, from Planet Money, goes on to tell me that the U.S. economy is showing a healthy amount of “froth.” Froth, he reports, refers to short-term contract jobs, and the people who fill them. He describes the creative types who typically fill those jobs. Like artists, or actors, or writers. Me, me, me.
After cleaning for an hour, I ride my bike to the gym, the only place I go five days a week. It’s almost like a job. Or elementary school. The ladies at the front desk register my attendance, my teacher corrects me when I do something wrong (like bad posture), and they tell me to have a nice day. It’s too bad I can’t sleep there. I shower and change into clothes that don’t make me look like a personal trainer. I ride to my favorite coffee shop for a decaf Americano. I drink it slowly, savoring my big purchase of the day ($3.50) along with my snack of ten almonds.
On my ride home I think about what to have for lunch, what to do with my afternoon, about the jobs I have not heard back from, the internships I have not heard back from, and the editors I have not heard back from, regarding the pitches that are languishing in their in-boxes. I think about all that not hearing back and puff out my cheeks with a sigh. I remind myself I am doing what I want to be doing. I remind myself that I changed my career for my own personal fulfillment. I remind myself that what I am doing is hard. Really hard. I sit down at my desk and open a new Word document.
I have been out of graduate school for almost three months. I have been looking for a job for two months. I didn’t think it would be easy, but I didn’t think it would be difficult. People tell me it’s because it’s summer. Why, is everyone at the beach? I think it’s because I’m 40 and I’m trying to change my career. I consider stripping every past job off of my resume and pretending that I am twenty-one and just out of college.
I begin to write.
I do an internet search for “What to call someone from Seattle?” I know the answer, I just don’t know how to spell the answer: Seattleite.
I hashtag friends’ photos on Instagram. I get shout-outs regarding how clever my hashtags are, like when I added #inbed to a friend’s photo of her fortune cookie. Can I get paid to do this?
I sign up for gym classes to attend later in the week. I surf Meetup.com looking for weekend hikes. I listen to NPR.
I look at my notes. I look at my to-do list. I begin to write. My mom texts me: Austenland is just opening. I saw it in preview…Do not see it, it’s stupid.
I text her back and ask her if she’s seen, In A World… She calls me. This is the downside to texting Mom. Texting leads to calling. She’s the only person I know who does this. I wonder if it’s because she doesn’t like to type, doesn’t like to talk in short sentences, or if she sprained her texting finger.
We talk briefly, I tell her I’m not in a chitchat mode. That’s what we call it, and it’s an easy way for one of us to get off the phone.
I go to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of seltzer. I consider lunch. I usually try to resist as long as possible, at least until 1p.m. It’s 12:56 p.m. I make a kale salad with chickpeas, dried apricots, avocado and cherry tomatoes. I allow myself thirty minutes of watching television on my computer.
I respond to an email from a marketing guy with an outlandish name, like Willy Wonka, but different. He writes to invite me to be a judge on a food review site. At first I am intensely flattered. And then I start to look into the website and I consider the option that it might be a scam. I click on a link that is written entirely in Japanese. I go back to Google and try again. This time I click on the .us link. It takes a very long time to load, not a good sign. I read his email again. It still seems suspicious, but I write him back:
Thank you for reaching out to me. I would absolutely be interested.
Let me know more details when you can: timeframe, work involved, etc.
I decide to look for a job. I do this once a day, for an hour, two tops. The listings on Craigslist fall into a Times New Roman blur of sameness: freelance writing for sites I’ve never heard of, an unpaid blogger for a NEW entertainment site, and ads for dog walkers. There are so few actual real, worthwhile jobs that it takes me just a few moments to scan the day’s new jobs. I close the tab and type in Mediabistro. The jobs here appear much more official and legit, however I have yet to receive a single response to any of the resumes I’ve sent out. Does more legit equal more competition? Then I recall that I also haven’t heard back from most of the questionable freelance writing ads from Craigslist.
I close the tab and open up New York Foundation for the Arts. Every job here sounds fascinating. I click indiscriminately on links to jobs I am qualified for and those I am not: art handler, scenic carpenter, cataloguer, and gallery guide. Turns out that in museum language a “gallery guide” is a security guard. My mid-click-internet fantasy of discussing the James Turrell light installation while I lead groups up the famous Frank Lloyd Wright ramp at the Guggenheim is replaced with a blue polyester suit and a heavy black belt. There are an inordinate amount of internships on the NYFA site. Have there always been this many unpaid jobs? I’m already writing for free, now I have to work in an office for free?
I can’t even get an unpaid job. I’ve sent my resume out to several internships. One website wrote me back and asked me to provide specific writing samples, which I did. That was over a month ago. I recently wrote them to check in. Crickets.
I stop looking for jobs.
I think about making coffee. I make coffee. Though it’s August, I make hot coffee, a leftover habit from summers in San Francisco.
I drink it. I sweat. I continue to drink it.
It’s 4:31 p.m. I tell myself to keep working until 6 p.m. I’ve overdosed on NPR. I change the station.
It’s Thursday so I dig into my boxes of old photos that are printed out, yes, on actual paper. I choose a photograph of my best friends and me from our high school prom. I’m wearing a strapless black velvet gown with a giant purple bubble skirt. My hair appears to be as wide as the skirt. I take a photo of it with my phone and upload it to Instagram. I tag it with #throwbackthursday, #purplebubbleskirt, and #ouch. I shake my head in recollection of that night. My date’s name was Jeremy. If I remembered his last name I would search for him on Facebook.
My days go by in a similarity that is frightening. The components identical, with slight variations to when they appear on the agenda: computer, desk, NPR, gym, seltzer