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Broken November 12, 2013

Posted by craftlass in life lessons.
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I kind of want to die. Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal or planning to take any risks (above the risks that we all take by eating and walking around and using the bathroom and such). I just can’t see a way out of being such a burden to people right now and be alive. I know, rationally, this is incredibly stupid, and these same people would be miserable if I was gone. I despise this feeling that I’m a vortex that sucks everything good out of the people around me.

I’ve been job hunting for a few years now and it’s the most demoralizing experience. Worse, it’s my fault that I’m difficult to hire. I have a very weird work history, not the kind that screams “reliable!” It’s probably hard for anyone in HR to parse out what my skills really are, especially as a lot of my skills are difficult to get into a resume and absolutely impossible to get onto a job application. I don’t have good excuses for gaps, I’m not a mother who took time off to raise kids (and we all know that returning to the workforce after that break is difficult at best) or someone who took time off to go to school. I prefer working for small businesses and that leads to a lot of instability. I took opportunities to travel when I could instead of getting some crappy job just to make sure these gaps didn’t occur. I don’t regret those choices at all, my life has been extraordinarily full of wonder and love and excitement. Unfortunately, it left me in a really bad place financially. I took things a little too far. I can’t change that.

People don’t understand broke. College kids always talk about being broke, but it’s a sort of broke that usually includes a roof over your head and access to cafeterias and no worries about how you will survive the next month (I said “usually”, there are certainly truly struggling students as well). That’s not broke. That’s not having enough fun money. Broke is worrying about being evicted and homeless, 24/7. Broke is realizing you can’t renew your driver’s license because of the fees, which then cuts down on the jobs you can apply for. Broke is your clothes falling apart yet still being worn because holey clothes are better than no clothes. For many people, broke is starvation. I’m lucky on that last part, my partner keeps us stocked with food, but then I feel terribly guilty eating it except for the one meal we share each day. This is bad, because on my best days I’m incapable of consuming the amount of calories I should to maintain my weight. Guilt is an appetite-killer for me as well.

I know why people don’t understand, because I really didn’t either. I remember friends telling me they were too broke to grab a pint and thinking, “That’s just $5 or so… Anyone can afford $5.” I can’t. I get it now and I apologize for dismissing anyone’s reality so cavalierly, I truly did not understand. I also spent years offering to pay for friends to come out and do things with me, and genuinely did not consider taking a friend out for a night a burden at all. So why do I feel so rotten every time a friend takes me out? Or buys me a gift? Actually, I didn’t feel bad until recently because I was sure that something would work out and I could reciprocate soon. That last bit of hope is long gone.

I haven’t even tried to do anything on the music front because I can’t support other musicians, the bars that still have original music, or the community as a whole right now. I believe in supporting those who support you and don’t like one-way streets at all. Between some serious personal problems and Sandy I lost my way in music and I don’t know how to find a new path at this moment.

The insane thing is that my preferred jobs right now would be the crap that most people supposedly don’t want. Well, ideally I’d work from home, but that’s an insanely high goal right now. I’d rather work nights if possible, and that means things like waitressing, bartending, and even retail are fine by me. I’m applying for lots of day jobs, too, but it’s very strange to now live in a world where the “crappy” jobs are extremely competitive. I don’t have 2 years’ experience waitressing, I just don’t, and I can’t magically have that. I haven’t worked in a retail store since I was in high school and that was only a temporary holiday job. It’s one thing to hear about how bad the job market is, it’s another thing to live it.

I’d be an awesome bartender. I know how to make a slew of tasty cocktails, pour a perfect pint of Guinness (a skill that very few in America have), and I’m basically an amateur psychologist anyway to both friends and strangers. I’m good-looking, too, not beautiful but charmingly petite in a way that disarms people and gets them to open up their wallets. That shouldn’t be a consideration, but I know that there aren’t too many bartenders around here who aren’t fairly good-looking, so it’s a bonus trait at the very least. I just don’t have professional experience. How the hell does someone start bartending? I haven’t a clue. Oddly, neither do the bartenders I’ve gone to for advice, except one said the path is though bar back. No one is going to hire a 5′ tall woman who weighs under 100 pounds as a bar back anyway.

If I was alone I could bear even the worst consequences, but I don’t live in a vacuum. I live with a man who deserves someone way better than me in every way. I’m terrified that I’m ruining his life and he’d be better off without me in the long run. He has never given me a reason to feel this way, this is all my take on things. He’s amazing and I’m ridiculously lucky in this area.

I’m definitely ruining friendships. The rare instances when I’ve made it out I’ve become this shrill person that I can’t stand to be around, let alone expose others to. Stress is changing my external personality. So, as I do, I retreat into my hole, turn off my notifications on social media and “fun” email, and just escape the world. Again, I know this is really freaking stupid but I’m just not pleasant to be around or talk to right now. I don’t want to catch anyone else in my web of misery and fear and trying to act like things are okay is exhausting.

The worst thing of all is that I’m not living up to any of my ideals. My life plan never included marriage because I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone. Turns out that you don’t need that piece of paper to feel dependent. Who knew? I never really had a specific career in mind but I sure thought that I’d have one by now. I did have one, once. I don’t miss that career but I miss the drive that created. I don’t do well without a goal to strive for, it’s just the way I’m wired.

The irony is that I work very hard, I’ve been designing web sites that I’m exceptionally proud of, especially the Danger Comics site. I tend to work better to deadline than I do to hours and I’ve fallen madly in love with working on these sites. My clients are an absolute delight to work with, creative geniuses who also happen to be the truest of friends. They just don’t pay enough to make a dent in my expenses. It’s okay, I offered to do these sites for low-cost because I hadn’t designed a site in years and I know what my clients can afford. I’d rather have some work than none, and I’d rather support people I admire than let their work suffer due to a lack of a good tech person. I stand by those choices and really have learned a lot that I didn’t know a year ago in the process. I’ve gained confidence as a designer and that’s priceless. I’m just not sure how I can expand on this in a way that will get me cold, hard cash in the quantities that life in the NYC metro area requires.

I’ve taken some advantage of this time in super-positive ways, too. I’ve finally started learning to play guitar, really play, not just strum some basic chords as I’ve been doing for the past 22 years. I’ve almost doubled my singing range in the past year. I’ve developed a great workout routine that has me feeling (and looking) great. I’ve been sort of giving myself a full makeover, inside and out, trying to stave off overwhelming depression and create something good out of adversity. My face (which has been covered in acne and psoriasis for the past couple of years, plus the beginnings of lines and wrinkling) is starting to clear up because I’ve made a point of taking better care of it. I’ve learned to apply makeup well and play the feminine game better (I may hate the game, but I still have to live with it and want any advantage I can get). The last two will fall apart if I can’t replace my dwindling products soon, but I’m really glad I’ve gotten this far. I taught myself to sew to finish off my Halloween costume and hope to learn more so I can eventually make my own clothing. I’ve been doing exercises to improve my brain as well and can feel them making a real difference. I’m working on my first novel and writing songs that I’m exceptionally proud of. In many ways, I am at my peak right now.

Some peak.

I keep having to remind myself that I have things to offer the world. I know how to do many, many things and they were almost all self-taught. I’m great with lots of pro-level software, from ProTools to almost everything Adobe makes with many stops in-between. I taught myself web design 3 times over at different points in tech history, using various technologies and languages from hand-coded HTML back in the day to fully-customized WordPress sites now. I’ve played both team and solo sports, which taught me how to be very competitive myself without forgetting to play nice with and support others. I’ve organized great events of various kinds from tiny to huge. I’ve made mistakes (who hasn’t?), but I’m a very determined person, and I will work on something until it is as flawless as the time frame allows, even if that means learning something entirely new to me to accomplish. At my one big corporate job I regularly fixed the tech issues that our IT department couldn’t or wouldn’t fix at the request of superiors, even though it was not even vaguely in my job description. I hate down time at work and will always try to find something productive to do before I’d consider, say, watching YouTube videos or browsing social media unless I’m seriously overworked and tired. I’m at my happiest when embroiled in a project. I live by Tim Gunn’s motto, “Make it work!” These are special qualities, in my humble opinion. I’ve seen how many people who make good money spend the whole workday posting to Facebook and Twitter…

But how do you get any of that in a resume or application? And if you could, it kind of looks like something trite you’d say to get the job, not the truth that it is. Remember in the 80s when the big buzz phrase was, “I’m a people person!”? It became a joke even though being a “people person” is key to succeeding in many arenas.

I’ve never been invited for an in-person interview without getting the job offer. I just can’t get in the door anymore. I’m willing to do anything but take my clothes off (which I’m kind of old for anyway, no matter how young I look), as long as it won’t kill my back (basically, as long as I don’t spend all of the day lifting very heavy boxes, but I can do some with no problem. UPS is out but retail stocking would be okay, for example). Friends who have offered to hook me up with jobs live at least 3 hours away, and I can’t relocate. I live right next door to one of the greatest cities in the world, a city known for being full of opportunity, and it just seems to have no place for a clever, creative, hard-working, unusual gal like me. Granted, I would much rather work on this side of the river, but I’m not silly enough to hold out for that possibility.

I have a few really good business ideas as well, but after trying to be a solo entrepreneur I’m aware that I need a partner, not just to complement my skill set (which does have gaps, as everyone’s does) but because collaboration is the only way to stave off tunnel vision and have a good sounding board. I don’t know how to find one on purpose, my former partners were all involved from conception. Also, you do need a little seed money and credit for any new business, even if it is a very little bit, and I’m tapped out in every way. I’m not embarrassed to say that I would need help to get something new off the ground, it’s actually a mark of how much I have grown since my early endeavors. Life is a marvelous teacher if you listen to the clues it provides!

I don’t want to be a part of this world if I can’t contribute to it. I don’t want to drag down the people I love. I don’t want charity or a handout. I just want to work. I just want to pay my damn rent on time again. I think that’s how the vast majority of people feel and right now there are millions of people in my country alone who probably could write large parts of this piece. I wish that was comforting knowledge but it just makes me sad and angry.

As I prepare to sell everything that means anything to me in an attempt to keep our home, things that are utterly irreplaceable, I am astounded at how little it all amounts to. What’s priceless to me is cheap to the rest of the world, even things that cost a lot when they were new. It feels like a metaphor for my own value.

I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I need to get this stuff off my chest for myself, but I also find that people really need education on what it is like to be unemployed. It’s so easy to claim that those without jobs are lazy, but that is the rare exception. The more I talk to people in similar situations the more I see how innate our desire to contribute is. The entire reason the human race has succeeded is our social predilection, it allowed us to develop these big brains instead of, say, getting faster or physically stronger than all the other animals. We get satisfaction from participating in our tribe, and the modern form of that is being part of the active workforce, our equivalent of being a hunter and/or gatherer. It’s the most natural thing in the world to value yourself by your contributions to society.

There are far worse fates than death.