The Therapeutic Effects of Bar Trivia (January 6, 2011)


 

It is no secret to anyone who checks in with my blog from time to time that I am going through a rough patch, to make a huge understatement. Long term unemployment and the psychological fuckery that goes along with the job hunt process, family troubles and insomnia have conspired to sap me mentally and physically. I paid a second visit to my doctor yesterday, in the quest to get a good night’s sleep, and she asked if I thought I might be depressed. Um, yes.

I have been doing a lot of withdrawing and avoiding lately. I don’t feel like explaining to people why I look so awful, and often stare off into space during conversation. However, there are still some invitations that prove too irresistible for a zombie to decline.

Along with my good friends Timbo and Di, I am the third member of a roving bar trivia team known as Three Dimes Down. Timbo borrowed the name from a song by the band Drive-By Truckers, which incidentally, would also make for a great trivia team moniker. Although three is a small number for a typical group, we are streamlined, which makes for quicker, less argumentative decision making. By contrast, check out the tables of 10 on a crowded night sometime. Drunkenly shouting and shoving each other is not an effective strategy. The members of Three Dimes Down all have their own unique category specialties, which is another recipe for our usual success. Di is the subject matter expert on music, art and philosophy. Timbo takes on sports, geography and a good chunk of the history questions. And I of course bring up the intellectual rear with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things pop culture.

 

My teammates and I played quite a few times this past Fall, but as I am certainly not at my sharpest these days, I have been loathe to suggest a rematch. But when Timbo sounded the call last night, I found myself experiencing an excitement I thought dormant.

I am a VERY competitive person. One of my worst qualities is that I want to be the best at everything, and if I can’t be, I sometimes don’t want to engage in said activity. Vain and childish yes, but my intensity can also be a huge asset when fully in charge of my faculties.

I arrived at little after 7:00 last night to meet my friends. We usually have a drink and some eats before the trivia starts, and that allows us to get all the personal catching up done away with so we can fully focus.

I won’t bore you with a lengthy play by play, but it was not Three Dimes Down’s night. After screwing us twice when we had narrowed the options down to 50-50, my teammates and I have decided that we now hate Brazil (ah Carnivale, I barely knew thee!). The round involving state nicknames was likewise a total bloodbath. On our worst days, Tim, Di and I typically finish in the top four. Last night we didn’t even crack tenth place. I need to study an atlas, like yesterday.

Anyway, the poor performance, which would normally cause a solid day’s worth of second guessing and rumination, is beside the point. It’s the strangest thing, but for the first time in an entire month, I slept like a lamb. I conked out around midnight and woke up just short of 11:00 AM. I almost forget how wonderful it is to be rested, so long has the experience been removed from me.

And I think I know why. I have been unemployed for some time, and though I have been interviewing a lot, I have yet to close a deal. My confidence has taken a huge hit. I used to be the girl who knew that once the face to face round arrived, I was unstoppable.

But now? Just this week, I had what I thought was a great conversation with an HR Manager at a travel outfit. She was so enthusiastic about my background, and assured me that I’d hear from her no later than the following morning about returning to meet the VP. Well the morning arrived and instead I received an email informing me that they had “decided to pursue other candidates.” A part-time media writer position I interviewed for two weeks ago? The CEO emailed me from Florida, where he was vacationing for the holidays, to say he enjoyed me and my samples, and would definitely be in touch when he returned to Chicago. Of course I found that same job re-posted on Craig’s List yesterday.

All this bullshit, the lack of integrity, especially when putting forth all one’s effort and very self, can be tremendously debilitating. It’s an employer’s market. They know it and we can suck it. All the rejection can lead you to question every strength and talent you once believed you had.

It may seem silly, but last night’s camaraderie with my teammates demonstrated that my competitive spirit has not been broken, just badly wounded. And just as soon as I can find a venue for my skills with Sex and the City trivia, 80s television and music, and the filmography of Jennifer Jason Leigh, I’ll be all set.

 

Hope in 2011 for the Unemployed? (January 4, 2011)

http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/careers/job-growth-hiring-employment-surge-ahead-2011-forecast-prediction/19778318/

As a long-suffering member of the long-term unemployed community, I look for any sign that career fortunes are about to change, and grab on with the tenacity of a starving rat. So when I encountered articles late last week, like this one from Daily Finance that claims “Signs on Wall Street Point to Job Growth Ahead,” I couldn’t help but get a little excited.

Yes, I realize there are risks in attenuating to the predictions of a group of money changers who wrecked our economy in 2008 while running off unscathed with the gold, but dammit, I need to believe!

The article states that “Internet job listings surged to 4.7 million as of Dec. 1, compared to 2.7 million from the same period a year ago, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. Many of the new jobs are in the retailing, accounting, consulting health care, telecommunications and defense-related industries”

Well I don’t work retail, am not an accountant or doctor and want nothing to do with defense, but bully for those sectors! And I am just chipper enough today to assume that a 50% increase in available jobs over a year must necessarily be good for almost all of us on the government cheese. More accountants will need up-to-date tax pamphlets, which will require more writers. I can buy into trickle down economics in this case. Why not?

So what we’ve got is quite a few more job openings, but are companies actually hiring? This is where the situation grows a bit murky. I have been on no fewer than seven face to face job interviews in 12 weeks, including one this afternoon for a travel outfit, and one on Thursday for a major player in the banking industry. In almost all of these cases, I am confident that I looked professional, spoke eloquently (for me anyway), and performed well on the myriad pre-employment assessments and writing tests that have become a de rigueur part of the process in the 21st Century.

But for all that work, I have little to show for it. In other words, I remain jobless. In some cases, I didn’t speak enough Spanish, in others my rate (twice minimum wage without benefits) was way too lofty for managers who knew they could take advantage of less experienced, cheaper labor. In a few cases, I am outright confused as to why I was not hired, but try getting answers from an HR department once they have written you off.

I have numerous friends and colleagues facing similar dilemmas. My question is then: are employers really ready to hire, to fork over a reason to get out of bed in the morning to the jobless and depressed, or is this just an illusion designed to create enthusiasm in the stock market? I said I was ready to believe again if presented with the right evidence, but that doesn’t mean I was born yesterday.

Consider this quote from the lead paragraph of Daily Finance’s article, “Still, with corporate profits booming and the stock market rallying, signs are piling up that employment may finally be poised for a comeback, too.” Oh, so after a full 12 months of hoarding stock piles of cash and the meteoric rise of the Dow, companies “may” finally feel benevolent enough to create some jobs for those who helped build these same companies, only to show them the door.

It’s a testament to the continued emasculation of the middle and class (male and female members alike) that we are forced to wait, and wait with smiles on our faces, for these dangled carrots to materialize.

Another Job Interview (December 7, 2010)

This afternoon I will suit up and take the train downtown for yet one more job interrogation. I know precious little about the opportunity except that it’s some form of copywriting contract work that will not get underway until after the first of the year. At 2:00, I am to report to a downtown Chicago office building and ask for Deborah. It is reflective of our desperate times that I am even making the trip on such a bitterly cold day with bare information. For all I know I am walking into a mob hit (and I can think of one recent ex-friend who’d have the motive), but on the slight chance that this conversation could lead to employment when so many others have not, I’ll take the risk.

This may sound arrogant and smug, but I assumed I’d have the last laugh over my former boss by now. Fired for having an opinion and a voice, I consoled myself with the absolute certainty that I’d land somewhere else before she hired my replacement. Yet I heard through the grapevine yesterday that her fresh victim has arrived, while I continue to file a bi-weekly unemployment insurance certification and waste time providing writing samples for part-time jobs I don’t get offered. Yes, I know what the unemployment numbers say, but I figure someone has to be the exception right? Why not me, especially after such an episode of karmic injustice? I am relatively young but have a decade of experience and an advanced degree. Somehow this makes me too green for mid-career jobs, yet too institutionalized for entry level positions.

If this is my story, what are the prospects for a high school educated individual in a smaller market? I am ok. I am surviving. I don’t have any children to provide for and my husband has a stable career. It would be nice to be able to start saving again. But I wake up at least once a night wondering about families with scanter resources.

This is a rhetorical question that obviously can’t be answered with an easy sound bite, although politicians from both parties are sure doing their best to try: what is being done about this crisis? How can corporations post record profits, while the middle class worker posts record decline: home ownership, employability, personal savings? The math doesn’t add up at all, and I for one am ready to declare that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. We can’t turn on CNN and hear about “good days” on Wall Street without looking around and wondering where the hell that run is for the regular guy.

Last week, network anchors were positively gleeful about the “93,000 jobs” added to the economy in November. Except that we need to be adding upwards of 300,000 every 30 days to even begin to recover from the employment hole blown in the economy from 2007-2009. The unemployment rate is now estimated at 9.8%, although many of us are aware that the true figure is closer to 20%, when you take into account the underemployed and those who have simply given up trying.

With so many depressing figures on the horizon, it is tougher than ever for the average job seeker to keep morale up, yet those of us on the dole have to try. The alternative is to take to the bed and wait for the repo man. So I will wear a hairstyle that meshes well with a winter hat, dust off a smile and the scattered remnants of my personal charm and have another go.

The Bipolar Job Seeker (November 9, 2010)

Bipolar

Yesterday, after four straight weeks of sending out oodles of resumes, using networking contacts, and applying for low paying internships without so much as a blip of interest from any employer, I scored a potential hit. Realizing that four weeks in this DOA job market isn’t a long wait, I immediately celebrated my good fortune. The position, a 6-12 month contracting role in internal corporate communications for a large firm in the Chicago suburbs, manages to marry several attractive elements at once.

In the first place, it’s a paid writing gig and when I found myself laid off almost two months ago, I didn’t set the bar for my next role any higher than that. But in addition the pay is good, the company is doing well, and I even like the transient nature of the position. One of the many reasons I have failed to succeed long term in the corporate world is the tendency to feel trapped and helpless at around the two year mark in a given situation. Once I have mastered my work, I want more, but the cubicle environment is famous for stifling ambition. However, were I fortunate enough to be offered this contract, the fear of claustrophobia is inherently removed.

At 5 PM yesterday, after I set up a time for a phone interview and logged off the computer, I decided to treat myself to a glass of wine. I knew better than to count my chickens. I hadn’t been hired yet. But the opening up of the employment channels at all was a vindication of sorts: my decision to invest fully in a writing career, rather than clinging to operations or administration (the old safe standbys) would eventually pay off. I am good enough, smart enough and doggone it, at least Erin, the recruiter who found my resume on CareerBuilder, likes me.

Therefore, as close to buoyant in mood as I ever get, I waited for my husband Eddie to come home so I could share the good news: plan my interview outfit, strategize about what experiences I should highlight with my interlocutors and which I should save for second string. Though the looming threat of disappointment always hangs around the edges of an interview experience, it is important to enjoy that sweet spot, the precious moments before the interrogation when anything seems possible. You are your smartest, most capable, most positive self. There is so much that is debilitating about the unemployment cycle, so it is vital to enjoy these fleeting moments.

And so it was that when my husband’s first piece of interview advice turned out to be “don’t fuck it up,” I crashed as quickly as I had ascended the emotional heights. Disbelieving my ears and wanting very badly for him to vindicate himself, I asked if he believed this was the right choice of words for instilling confidence. His reply: “well, it’s a genuine concern.”

I have written honestly, and at length about my battles with social awkwardness and volatile self-esteem. I am well aware that I do not always perform as I wish in front of a crowd. However, when it comes to interviews, and anything related to survival, like landing a job, evading police or patching up drunken injuries without a trip to the emergency room, my success ratio is darned close to impeccable. As we writers are sensitive types, is there anything more painful than hearing our deepest fears verbalized by a loved one? I had managed in the last month, to lull myself into the secure state of belief that if I could just secure a face to face interview, I’d be unstoppable. Yet here was my own spouse disclosing the uncertainty that I might screw myself out of opportunity by being a nervous loose canon.

Upon reflection after an evening spent wounded on my part, and groveling on my husband’s, it is apparent that Eddie stepped in a pile of unintended verbal diarrhea. Somewhere in my heart I know that he was awkwardly trying to advise me not to let nerves get the better of me, to have the confidence in myself that he has, to understand that I am qualified for this role, and even if I don’t get it, another like it will come my way. I just wish he would have stayed quiet until he knew better how to frame the discussion. Red wine doesn’t go very well with tears.

Unemployment Week Three: The Numbers (November 4, 2010)

unemployed

I have been out of full-time work for 21 days now, and as I can’t sit here and ruminate over the mid-term elections anymore (no Sharon Angle!), I thought I’d compile and share my vital statistics to date.

Unemployment Insurance Dollars Received: 0

At first, due to my employer’s failure to report third quarter payroll to the State in a timely fashion, my claim was outright denied, the government believing as it did that I hadn’t worked part June 30. Once that little snafu was rectified, and I filed my first certification for benefits, I was again rejected. The reason? I had the nerve to have been laid off mid-week.

Per the Claimant Notice of Possible Ineligibility (sexy verbiage!): “You earned X dollars which is greater than your weekly benefit amount of X.” Ok sure, for that one week don’t send me any funds. But how about the second? This is a bi-weekly filing. I’ll be damned if I am going to that dimly lit, sad IDES office again. I am due to certify again this coming Monday, which means I might finally get my meager slice of government cheddar on Friday, November 12 – a month after my last day of work. Needless to say, without the support of my still employed husband, I’d already be up shit’s creek without well, unemployment wages aren’t really worth the label of “paddle.”

Resumes/Applications Submitted: 21
Interviews: 0

I have been a writer in some form or another (corporate, nonprofit, freelance, etc.) for over 10 years. In this particularly jobless recovery, I have discovered that at 32, I sit in that awesome sweet spot where employers feel I am too experienced to pay 25k a year without benefits, yet too young to have had the experience of the major media/ad agency heydey. Which basically means that I have an advanced degree and a solid work history that leaves me unemployable. The really sought after writing positions in Chicago have their pick of candidates with a list of bylines longer and more impressive than mine. The entry level positions in publishing, media and the like want hungry kids with no lives. I have no problem dismissing my vanity and letting HR people I fall into the latter category despite my age. I have no children to raise after all. If only I could get them to talk to me.

Bottles of Red Wine Consumed: 480 (give or take)

See above statistics and ample time on my hands to lament my own failure.

Wrestling Matches: 1

A great friend of mine, a trained military assassin and Jiu Jitsu black belt, offered to to school me in the ways of self-defense. This topic came up innocently enough over a delicious lunch of Subway sandwiches ($5 Footlongs y’all!) and degenerated into a sweaty afternoon of me sitting astride an attack dummy and practicing a variety of chokes. Truthfully, I never knew there were so many.

I am always game for novelty and a chance to better defend myself in these mean Chicago streets, but I became perversely afraid of my dark side when my friend ordered me to choke him to a level of unconsciousness in order to “become familiar with it” and I did. I was following orders. Yikes! Did I just say that?

I left for home that day with a mildly bruised trachea, and a newfound terror that I possessed the ability to disable grown men with one sleeper hold. Maybe I could find work as a body guard?

Exercise Related Injuries: 2

See above windpipe lacerations.

I am using as much of my free time as I can reasonably afford without feeling like a dilettante to get in better physical shape. Right now everything hurts, and I guess I kind of like it that way. Symbolic, tangible pain is easier to cope with than the inner tumult. I have been hitting the Russian kettlebells hardcore with my trainer Rob. In addition to a long running battle with right foot deep tissue tendonitis, and the throat crushing, I am now nursing a right bicep that needs to pop itself in a pretty loud yet satisfying way every couple of days. Does the WWE hire female wrestlers in their 30s?

Petitions Signed to Get Candidates on the Chicago Mayoral Ballot: 2

I know I said I’d leave politics alone, but the midterms are so earlier this week. The Windy City has already moved on. As a frequent rider of Chicago’s public transit system, it is now perfectly usual to be accosted by volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 80, asking me if I am a registered voter of the City. For the first time in over two decades, urban citizens get to be a part of a major regime change as King Richard Daley of the Treasure Looting gracefully makes his overdue exit. The City is atwitter over who will fill those big, Bridgeport steel shitkickers.

In addition to the star power of potential candidates like former Illinois Senator Carol Mosley Braun, it seems like every regular Tom, Dick and Harry wants to throw his or her hat in the ring. And why not? Chicago has a pool of 10% unemployed individuals to select from, and none of them could make worse decisions than Daley. I have received several requests to sign the Rahm Emanuel petition. During the first of these, the outgoing Obama Chief of Staff was actually present. May I say, though I never noticed on television before, Mr. Emanuel is quite sexy? I direly wished I had brushed my hair before venturing to the gym that morning.

But I digress. I have also signed a petition for Mitch Newman, a local builder who wants to focus on Chicago’s failing schools and gang plagued streets. I have seen several very low-budget television ads for a variety of other potential race runners. Beautiful! Democracy at it’s finest. Suck it Tea Party!

Maybe I will run. I’ve got nothing else to do.

Let Them Eat Bitterness (August 12, 2010)

frenchrev3

I live in a nice building in a not always so nice neighborhood. Two nights ago, an intoxicated member of the “99 Weekers” club took it upon himself to smash the exterior intercom unit of my residence with a baseball bat. “99 Weekers” is a cute name for a tragic situation facing growing numbers of Americans, who have exhausted the maximum unemployment insurance benefits available to them, 99 weeks, without the end result of finding new and meaningful employment.

These individuals don’t want a handout, they want a job, but with increasingly anemic private sector growth, face the prospect of finding themselves permanent members of the new underclass. Without income and with dwindling marketable skills, the disenfranchisement of these former members of the middle is slowly turning to misplaced anger, directed not at the government or corporations, who are ultimately responsible for the nation’s tailspin. Instead we are witnessing the beginning of a modern day class war, waged between the frustrated and desperate “have nots” and the perceived “haves.”

Let me be clear: I am not a “have.” I experienced a childhood of abject poverty marked by abuses and neglect of the most harrowing kind. Be that as it may, I get that my comparatively fancy rental can offer an easy target to a drunken individual who has spent another fruitless day looking for work. On his way home to face an expectant family, knowing he must check his ever diminishing manhood at the door once again, I can understand the urge to displace on an inanimate object. Intercoms can be repaired and I hope that this hasty act provided some form of comfort.

In discussing this incident with a co-worker, the subject of the palpably rising anger of ordinary Americans came up. My office mate astutely observed that we appear to be on the verge of a modern day French Revolution. Only viewed through the cracked prism of America’s toxic partisan politics “holy war,” we are miscasting the players with dangerous consequences.

For example, Michelle Obama is being pigeonholed by the right as the 2010 understudy to Marie Antoinette. The chum being tossed to the public by members of the Republican party, are the images of Michelle’s lavish private vacation to Spain that made the viral rounds last week. Mrs. Obama is a private citizen and does it come as a surprise to anyone that the first family has money enough? Before moving into the White House, both of the Obamas had thriving legal careers and a beautiful home in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. If the First Lady can afford some time away from the relentless stress of being Barack’s wife, why should we draw erroneous conclusion that she is somehow ignorant of the suffering of normal Americans? This is a logical fallacy being peddled by those who would love it if we could be distracted enough to take our eyes off the real problem: legislative paralysis enabled by corporate kowtowing.

The real Marie Antoinettes in our story are people like former Nixon speechwriter and TV personality Ben Stein, who was quoted recently as saying “The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities…I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work.”

Out of touch much Mr. Stein?

Or how about GOP Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who called a $20 billion victims’ fund negotiated by the Obama administration for those who have been put out of work in the Gulf, and funded by BP, “extortion.”

No wonder our most currently beloved pop cultural hero is former Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater, who assumed his rightful place in the media zeitgeist this week by engaging in the most flamboyantly fabulous resignation of all time. After being hit in the head with a piece of overhead luggage one time too many, Mr. Slater decided he couldn’t wait for the plane to taxi to the gate before telling passengers and co-workers where to stick it. Instead he grabbed the microphone and a beer, saying his piece before deploying the emergency slide – sailing out of the plane and into the hearts of millions of Americans – who applauded Slater’s actions with enthusiasm that only be described as wish fulfillment.

However what really crystallized the idea that we may in fact be headed toward a massive, violent populist uprising was a recent article I read by David Stockman, President Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. Yes, the following words came from a disgusted member of old guard, “true” and fiscally conservative Republicanism:

“The day of national reckoning has arrived…we will see a class rebellion, a new revolution, a war against greed and the wealthy….It’s a pity that the modern Republican party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach – balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline – is needed more than ever.”

In other words, my building’s intercom box is only the beginning…