Staying Sharp for the Unemployed

Whenever I make a stupid mistake or common sense fails me, I like to joke about my advanced degree. Forgot to turn the water off an flooded the bathroom? It’s okay, I have an advanced degree. Drove the wrong way down a one-way street? No problem, I have an advanced degree. Used the word “percolate” in the wrongest way possible? Advanced degree. Used wrongest as a word. Advanced degree.

You get the idea.

Really it’s just a defense mechanism. If I feel stupid, I can always fall back on the fact that I have a Masters Degree, and stupid people can’t get a Masters can they? Sadly I’m sure there are plenty of stupid people in this world with a Masters Degree and probably even more than a few (million) stupid people who managed to get a PhD, an MD, a JD, and whatever else D there is out there, but I couldn’t possibly be one of them. Right?


If you’re unemployed though, whether it’s by choice or not, you know that it can start to feel like your brain is melting a little after a while. All that surfing the net, all that TV watching, video game playing, napping in the hammock or whatever your pleasure is, can start to lose it’s shiny luster when there isn’t anyone to talk to and there isn’t anything to keep your brain sharp. Truth be told, I’ve tried to have an intellectual conversation about the state of the American food supply with the checkout girl at my local grocery store, and it just didn’t happen.

So to stop my brain from melting, and try to stay sharp in whatever way I can, I’ve taken on a few different tactics.

1. Read. Not just celebrity gossip, but actual books. Fiction and non-fiction. I also suscribe to the The New Yorker, and I read every article. Even if they are BORING. Because it’s new information entering my brain. Reading is good and it makes you think.

2. Lean something new. This can also include finding a new hobby. For me this includes both gardening and cooking. I’m learning how to keep things alive! And then kill them by making them into yummy bread. This is a challenge for me because it doesn’t come naturally, but taking the time to learn something new definitely has its benefits.

3. Volunteer. This spring I mentored fifth graders at an elementary school down the street. Talking to kids makes your brain work in a totally different way than it does when you’re talking to an adult. I simultaneously dreaded and loved hanging out with those kids, but it certainly kept me on my toes.

4. Take care of yourself. I know it can be tempting to sleep all day and sit around in your underwear eating Doritos, but that just isn’t conducive to keeping those synapses firing. I try to maintain regular sleeping patterns, eat healthy food, and get enough exercise. A healthy body equals a healthy mind.

5. Don’t stress out. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to find things to stress about. Well don’t. Take a yoga class. Get a massage. Or just take some deep breaths. Anything you can do to reduce stress will help keep your mind calm, happy, and sharp.

For me, keeping a mental edge is an essential element to my confidence, so I do everything I can to stay sharp. If not, I guess I can always fall back on that advanced degree.

One Car Family

As a one-income family, we’ve done a number of things to cut back and try to spend a little less. As of yesterday, one of those things was becoming a one-car family. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while; selling the nicer car and maybe replacing it with something four-wheel drive, something mountain-friendly that we can beat up and “haul wood in.” Apparently John sees a lot of wood hauling in our future.

Anyway, the plan was, sell the car, put some of the money back into a cheaper vehicle, and then save the rest. But, after selling the car this week, we’ve decided to maybe hold off on purchasing that new vehicle and see how we fare as a one-car family. John works from home often, and, in my current jobless state I’m pretty flexible when it comes to my driving activities, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem right?

And in theory, it should save us money, not only on gas, but on insurance, maintenance and the like. It’s better for the planet, and hopefully it will be better for the size of our butts, because we’ll be forced to ride our bikes when the other person has the car.

Today is my second full day at home without access to a car though, and I have to say it is not going exactly the way I planned. I did get up and ride my bike to the gym and even stopped off at the grocery store for a few items we needed, but pretty much ever since then, aside from a quick walk with the dog, my butt has been planted firmly on the couch. That’s mostly okay though, because one of the hardest things about being jobless is the tendency to want to go out and DO something. SEE people.

And inevitably, DOING things and SEEING people involves spending money, whether it’s on coffee or lunch or a trip to the mall, and that is sort of missing the point, so I guess sitting at home on my butt is okay for a little while. I think it’s mostly just the psychological issue that I’m dealing with – it’s feeling trapped in my house without any way out. My bike is nice, but it doesn’t allow me that feeling of freedom that getting in the car and just driving does. The radio blasting and the wind in my hair and the feel of the open road and all that.

So will it be worth it, or is this just another sacrifice I have to make as a rank and file member of the unemployed? I am dedicated to giving it my best shot, and if that means I have to sit here and watch Top Chef all day, I think I’m okay with that.

Free Time

For me, today is pretty much the epitome of why it sucks to be jobless right now. So much time on my hands, and so much mundane shit to fill it with. And yes, yes I know I am one of the lucky ones. Well that’s what they tell me at least. I’m lucky, we can get by on John’s salary. I’m lucky, I have so much free time to pursue my dreams. To find out who I am. What I want to do. What is my calling. All those things. And I don’t have to worry about scrounging for food or etc. And that’s all nice, in theory. But it doesn’t make the current problem any easier.

And that problem is: I don’t think I have a calling. I have been jobless for 18 months. EIGHTEEN MONTHS. And what do I have to show for it? Well, not much. My house is clean, the sheets are freshly laundered and the dog has been walked. Yes, we lived in Singapore for six months and yes, I’ve traveled to six countries in the last year, but in terms of day-to-day life, I haven’t got a lot to show for myself. And everyone thinks I must just have so much time on my hands.

In a way, I do. That’s true.

But people, it is easy to fill your day.

Job searching for one, takes lots of time. Since the job search began in earnest in Februray I’ve sent out dozens of resumes. Maybe even hundreds. I should have kept track, I even tried at one point, but it got depressing so I quit. I do know that I’ve gotten three phone interviews. From those phone interviews I was three for three for in-person interviews. From there I was 2 for 3 for second interviews. No job offers have resulted from those interviews, but my interviewers keep assuring me that I’m a great candidate. Just not great for them.

Anwyay, lots of time has been spent. Researching companies. Rehearsing interview questions. Buying a new suit. And networking, keeping up with old coworkers, following my industry on Twitter, Facebook, etc. And somehow we’re back to how much time I waste on the Internet.

So there’s the time I spend job searching. Then there’s the time I waste getting distracted by the Internet. And there’s the time I spend making breakfast. Because don’t get me wrong, I value the fact that I have the time in the morning to get up and make steel cut oats. I know lots of people are rushing around in the morning to get to their jobs, and they don’t have that kind of time. Well I do. So I make good use out of it.

And aside from the time I spend making breakfast, there’s going to the gym. There’s showering. There’s walking the dog. Making lunch. Reading books to better myself. Seeing what’s on Oprah. Going to the dentist. Meeting my sister to shop for wedding dresses. Going to three different grocery stores (don’t even get me started on that, whole different post). Tending the garden. Watering the lawn. Trying to find a recipe to use up a million cucumbers that we have grown in the garden. Going to Home Depot to look for cheap chandeliers since John almost electrocuted himself changing a lightbulb in our current ghetto one. Keeping up social relationships. Even with people I’m not sure I like.

These are the things. Yes, I realize they are completely mundane and everyone, even people are lucky enough to have jobs right now, has to do most of these things. But I’m telling you they take up my time. They do. There’s just no way around it. And maybe if I knew what my calling was, if I already knew, then I could be dedicated to spending the time on that calling. But right now, I have to check Monster and then the laundry needs to be folded and then it’s time to dry my hair and make lunch and meet a friend for coffee. So right now, my calling is probably on the back burner.

That is until someone says, oh you’re so lucky, you have so much free time on your hands. What are you doing with it all? Have you found your calling?

My Unchosen Profession

I’m not sure when it was I decided I’d become a housewife. It wasn’t when I got laid off from my job. It wasn’t when we moved to Singapore, because we lived in a service apartment there and the most housewife-y thing I had to do was the laundry, and oh yeah cook, and sometimes clean but not all that often, but I mostly thought of myself as a lady of leisure. I wanted to be a tai tai, which is a Singaporean woman who spends all of her husband’s money, but we didn’t really have the kind of money you needed to be a tai tai, so I couldn’t really take it that far even though I wanted to. I was eyeing a Gucci purse though, let me tell you. I was eying that thing hard.

When we were back in the States I thought oh, I’ll get a job, and just go back to my life as a career woman (or a fake career woman because I’m not sure I ever really felt like a career woman either) but the problem was, there was no career.

Something about the recession? I’m sure you’ve heard of it. 2008, stock market drops dramatically, housing something, something about insurance companies, etc. etc. and all of the sudden the only thing on CNN is some blond woman telling me how I’ll NEVER FIND A JOB AGAIN.

Okay I think, maybe this applies to some people, but surely not to me. I mean, I will find a job. I mean, do you know who I am? I am a success! I look good in suits! I make jokes (appropriate of course) in interviews!

But fine, maybe it wasn’t so easy. So in the meantime I thought, I’ll just do things. You know, things around the house. At first I hated it. Actually I still hate it. But now, I think I’ve embraced it. I never made the conscious decision to go, okay, today’s the day I’ll be Betty Crocker, or whoever the hell the model housewife is – oh wait isn’t it June Cleaver? Oh I don’t know. Anyway, I never sat down and said to my husband, to John, okay John, since I don’t have a job job, like a real job where money comes in, I’m going to become the perfect housewife.  You know, a real June Cleaver.

But for some reason, maybe it’s my type A personality or maybe it’s just because I still feel like I’m kind of a phony in my own life, I’ve taken it upon myself to start to do housewife-y things. And I’m not even sure what the definition of a housewife is, although I’m sure I could find it on the good old Internet. Because if there’s one thing I do well, it is read things online.

I love reading things online. Blogs where the authors take pictures of every single meal they eat. Every day. Or celebrity gossip sites that detail who slept with who, what movie sucks that who is in, and why her plastic surgery went horribly wrong, and how are they going to make it work for the kids. Or reviews of restaurants that I might think about eating in but then never actually go to. I mean I could go on and on. There is so much to read on the Web. I spent an entire morning reading about fledgling baby birds back in June because we had a few in our garden. Now that’s the kind of thing June Cleaver could never do.

Anyway though, so regardless of the definition of a housewife, I decided to become one at some point in time. I even found a web site that gives me DAILY and I mean even hourly instructions on how to keep my house clean. Today for instance, I’m supposed to wash the baseboards in the bathroom with a hot soapy rag. You know, just to keep up with it all. I don’t think I’m going to though. I think I’ll skip that one today.

And that’s the joy of being a housewife, it’s that you are your own boss. I mean really, if I decide, as the head of house or housewife-y things, you know, that we’re having peanut butter and jelly for dinner, I mean that is what we are doing. But it’s kind of sad in a way, because I guess I have a tendency to abuse my own power. Over myself.

You wouldn’t think that would be possible, but it totally is. Back to the baseboards in the bathroom with the hot soapy rag – I’ve got that on my calendar. It is a scheduled item. Meaning in order to be what I would consider “successful” in my unchosen profession (that of housewife) I should complete this task. But as BOSS of myself in my unchosen profession (that of housewife) I have the power to veto that task and sit around and read The New Yorker instead. So I’m abusing my power as boss, but inside my own head I’m also railing against myself for not doing the things I’ve decided I would do as a housewife.

I mean is that a struggle or what? A sad, sad struggle. But that’s what happens to you when you’re a 29 year-old, married female with no kids, no job, and nothing to do with your time except pretend you are June Cleaver when really you see yourself as more of an intellectual, career woman (phony as that may be) who dresses like she just walked out of In Style but really your wearing pajama pants because you haven’t been out of the house all day and why bother, except to walk the dog and should I put on heels to do that or no, that would be crazy but I should dress like who I want to be and oh WHO DO I WANT TO BE AGAIN?!?

It doesn’t matter. Not right now at least, because my profession, my career, it chose me. Now I should really go wash those baseboards.