“Before I started comedy I used to work at McDonald’s making minimum wage. You know what that means when somebody pays you minimum wage? What your boss is tryin’ to say is like ‘Hey, if I could pay you less, I would. But it’s against the law.’”
— Chris Rock on Saturday Night Live
I have more than 1,000 messages in my e-mail’s Inbox.
The good news: the majority are from prospective employers. The bad news: all but a few are automated reply e-mails sent to acknowledge that my resume was received. Given how long some of them have been there, it’s likely that most of them have never even read my resume.
Being without a job is a lot like not being in a relationship: your body suffers, your mind collapses, and you get angry at everyone for having one. I’ve been unemployed since 2008 – four years now – and my last job was a crappy-paying part-time thing for which I was criminally overqualified and seemed to be always scheduled at times that prevented me from acting. I’d gladly trade in the month-or-so of working with the world’s worst director earlier this year for working at the greasiest restaurant in The City.
This is by far the longest I’ve spent unemployed. I’ve never collected financial unemployment benefits, despite encouragement by friends who have been out of work for just as long (if not longer). At first I resisted because I felt as if that would be “admitting defeat”, but I’ve since seriously reconsidered. One can only go without regular money and work for so long before the realisation finally sets in that the magical “perfect job” won’t simply fall out of the sky one day. I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent the past four years under the domestic and financial support of family. Not everyone is so lucky, especially in the San Francisco area.
The idea that anyone who is out of work is either too prideful or simply lazy is an idea that offends me with its myopia. I recall a recent short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, about a woodcutter who suddenly loses his business and is supported by a magical “Gift Fairy”. So long as woodcutter looks for new work, the Gift Fairy will support him. I won’t spoil it, but this winds up having last repercussions for both the woodcutter and his family.
I also recall a recent Facebook post by a conservative friend of mine. She recalled how more than a decade ago she was an unemployed single mother that refused to survive off of government assistance. She ended her story by saying that people who lash out, verbally or otherwise, against The Rich are merely envious; envious at seeing hardworking people reap the benefits of their success whilst the slothful exert all their energy lashing out when they could be using that energy to work. She’s now a housewife and mother-of-three. As clearly as I can see where she’s coming from, she’s never had to be the woodcutter. We all should all be so lucky to me the Gift Fairy.
Even when assistance does come in the form of friends offering to forward my resume – and their word of assurance – to their employers, I’m hesitant to accept. Not so much out of pride (though that does play a small part), but moreso out of the idea that if I’m not hired or the job doesn’t work out, my friend would be made to look foolish in the eyes of his/her employer. Would you want to be the poor schmuck who recommended your bestest pal to be an ice-spotter on the Titanic?
Having written, rewritten, submitted, re-submitted, and rewritten again my resume, I gain both more clarity and more confusion as to why I’ve yet to be hired. As listed on my resume: I have a great deal of customer service experience, just as much retail experience, can type 70 wpm, can use 10-key, am experienced in Microsoft Office (particularly Word, Outlook, and Excel), and have received recognition for my on the job performance. At the same time, I don’t have a college degree (though I did attend) and more than half the businesses listed on my resume have gone out of business. So too have the people I once listed as references now find their names next to phone numbers that don’t function.
I spend a large portion of my day submitting my resume via employment websites such as Indeed, Idealist, and – when I’m really desperate – CraigsList. The situation is so predictable rote that I fail to be surprised anymore: I click the link; it sends me to the job site; I’m forced to fill out an employee profile, as it’s my first time visiting the site; I manually fill in my particulars and resume details (the more generous sites allow you to upload your Word or .pdf resume which automatically fills out the on-line form); I click “Submit”; seconds later I get an automated e-mail informing me that my resume has been received and I’ll “be hearing from [them]” if they like it. Did I mention that I have so many such automated messaged that my Inbox count is at 1,000? Oh, and that’s just from submitting since this February.
As you may have guessed, this sort of thing can greatly discourage a fella from seeing the light at the end of a veeeeeeeery long tunnel. Toss in the fact that there’s a bit of a residential “crisis” (for me, anyway) in the house where I’m staying with my parents, and I begin to wonder how much profit there is in crawling under rocks and dying.
Yet, I remain optimistic. Cautiously so, but optimistic nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because I’m not the only one struggling through this? Perhaps it’s because my other struggling friends have problems – marriage, children, etc. – on top of this struggle so as to pale mine in comparison. Perhaps it’s because all the bullshit my parents told me about a degree being the be-all, end-all solution to life’s problems has been proven false? Perhaps it’s because I drink a lot?
Or perhaps it’s because I’ve been able to maintain my sanity, relatively speaking, by focusing my energy on my art. This is not the ideal scenario I envisioned for myself at this age, but I’ve found, for lack of a better word, contentment. I’m realistic about life and my prospects. I don’t expect anything to be handed to me for free, but I’ve learned to be humble and accepting of help. As I noted in my blog about depression: acceptance of help is not a sign of weakness; it is a reassurance of one’s own strength. Anyone who tells you otherwise is someone who doesn’t realise how hard it is to go “without” for so long.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why I don’t try to make a living at acting? I have tried. We’ll get to that in Part II…
PS: here’s my friend and fellow actor Kai, pondering a life of unemployment through song.
Categories: Long-Form Essays