Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Clubbing

There are enough balls in the juggling act currently masquerading as my life that I may soon be qualified for a position with the circus. The major variables in the air are: 1) a job to facilitate 2) my own place in which to live, 3) travel, and 4) a social life. For now, I live with my Mom and stepdad, and although I have a valid passport and plenty of time to travel, I am far too sensible (frugal?) to spend what money I have on travel, a situation I will deeply regret once I find a job and no longer have the time for it. Plus, I don’t have any travel companions, and there are certain things, like jetting off to a foreign country, that I refuse to do alone. Dang, I don’t even enjoy going to a local museum alone.

In between stalking the job listings and crafting customized cover letters worthy of a literary award (depressing), and flirting with the real estate listings to monitor current prices (more depressing), a meager amount of continually diminishing energy is directed to reconstructing a social life in a geographic area from which I was absent for 12 years. I considered ordering these stressful searches sequentially, but the logical first step is a job, a search that is going so poorly I’ll likely be eligible for Social Security before I find the next step in my career. If only I could be paid handsomely to just show up places and act aloof and snooty. You know, like Paris Hilton. Then I could be knocking out the money, travel and social scene all at once.

The whole life rebuilding thing isn’t exactly easy. It’s reminiscent of the square peg / round hole feeling I had all through school. And college. And most of my adult life. At least there’s consistency. And familiarity. I feel like a fish out of water, gasping for air on a dock, unable to commandeer my own life.

At Mom’s, we each seem to feel the need to entertain the other. We go clubbing (BJ’s Wholesale Club) and visit antique shops. We cook dinner together. There are Scrabble matches almost daily. She still has regular activities away from home that I have conscientiously remained out of, because she needs her own space as much as I need mine. I don’t get much writing done when she is home, because I feel like I’m ignoring her, which feels rude. Plus, she likes to watch the morning chat shows, an endless stream of crime dramas and the game show classics “Let’s Make a Deal” and “The Price is Right” which are intrusive to my focus, especially when she starts talking to me about what is happening on TV. It’s super fun when I’m trying to write cover letters and send resumes.

My trajectory into the social scene has been pathetic, to put it delicately.  There have been a handful of social outings in three months -- a lounge concert and a bar, a coffee date, patio cocktails, three book club meetings, and a ballet recital. There have also been seven dance classes and two workshops.  Sprinkle in a couple hair appointments and the sum total is the rough equivalent of one week’s activity in my previous, mostly-fully-formed-adult life.

My life is so small right now I don’t know how I have managed to not slip through the cracks in the front porch. Perhaps the extra 15 pounds of lard presently adorning my physique has spared me such a tragic fate.

It’s one thing to be a pathetic adult loner living independently and sulking after work in one’s fortress of loneliness, surrounded by cherished belongings and without witnesses, but it’s kind of horrifying to be a middle-aged, unemployed loner (by which I mean LOSER) living at your Mom’s and having her see you on the computer or on the sofa watching TV all night every night.

My most “interesting” outings so far, if they can be called that, might be the book club meetings. It is glaringly obvious that I don’t read books like other people in book clubs read books. While other members reference sentences, phrases, and incidents in the book with startling clarity and detail, I sit there frantically flipping through the story in my head trying to grasp something, anything, upon which to comment. I guess I need to postpone my reading until the last minute, instead of devouring the book three weeks in advance to increase my chances of recollection. 

When other readers are commenting on the “darkness” of the story or something that happened to the central character, I’m wondering just how that “darkness” was conveyed and how it managed to completely escape my attention. Instead of revealing my state of obliviousness, I bite my tongue to hold back the “Huh? What page is that on?” that is eager to burst forth from my lips.

Heck, even when I read Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” the classic depiction of depression and breakdown, it seemed like the chronicle of a series of normal days to me. Perhaps my own inner life is so dark and twisty that someone else’s mental breakdown reads to me like just another day from my own journal.

So while my book club members wax eloquently on the importance of the gold scarf that was not discarded in one book, the abusiveness of the father in another, or the symbolism of the tail gate party in a third, I sip my beverage of choice with a smile upon my face that I hope is concealing the utter emptiness residing in the cavity behind it. Maybe I need to check for Cliffsnotes or published reviews before my next book club meeting, so I can participate with confidence (and a clue).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Red Line

After submitting painstakingly prepared cover letters and resumes in response to 30 job postings within a couple months, there was finally an interview. In person. At an official office. It wasn't for a specific position, but with a placement agency for the potential of future contract jobs of varying duration. Work I'm not convinced I even want, but an income stream needed if I ever want to be a grownup again, with my own residence, bills and lifestyle.

Since selling my house and leaving a full-time marketing job in Tennessee to move back to the family home I lived in from age 10 to 23, I've wondered how long it would take to become bored with not working. At 2.5 months into it, boredom has not yet come to ring the doorbell, just the postal carrier and FedEx guy (eBay!) and a bedraggled young woman trying to “win points for a trip” by “meeting people” which turned out to be code for “selling magazines.”

Episodes of unemployment in Tennessee were periods of self-discovery (and de-evolution) as the woman who once vowed to never be seen outside the house without mascara, combed hair, and wearing an actual "outfit" began sprinting the driveway in pajamas to fetch the mail. I learned it was possible to plan, shop for, and prepare a decent dinner in 1.5 hours and power clean major areas of the house in about 15 minutes, leaving lots of time free for sulking and playing online word games with strangers in faraway places like the UK and India.

Having achieved something fantasized about for years -- time to write, do photography, make art, (and a husband to pay the bills) -- I had no idea how to proceed. Most days were occupied with thinking about all the things I *could* do, until it was too late to actually do any of them. Too many options led to total paralysis. The big discoveries were that I function better when expected to report to a workplace on a regular schedule, and that the busier I am, the more that gets done.

My small circle of Tennessee friends and acquaintances was comprised of people who had nice, grownup day jobs like journalist and museum worker, or retirees with spouses and a routine of joint daily activities. It eventually required Herculean effort to haul my own arse out of bed for the long, lonely days, and I’m pretty sure I nearly lost my mind during those poorly executed June Cleaver phases.

This time unemployment would be different. I'm older and wiser. Well, older anyway. And I didn’t plan on being unemployed for very long. I was scoping out apartments and job postings and applying for jobs in New England two months before I even left Tennessee -- a productive way to avoid the actual packing of the house. Daily emails with multiple job openings in marketing, writing, museum work and public relations, coupled with government propaganda proclaiming an improving economy were promising signs. By my initial calculations, it would take a couple weeks, maybe a month, to find a job, move into a great place of my own and dive headfirst back into whatever was left of the social scene I left a dozen years ago. This uncharacteristically optimistic (ridiculously naive?) view felt exciting. Refreshing, even. Nobody could accuse me of being “glass half empty.” Not this time.

Now that the dark cloud of reality has descended, it's more accurate to say that I'm an unemployed schmuck sitting around a different house in a different state. At least I have Mom for company and to inspire a level of self-regulation. To exhibit I'm a grownup, I don't lounge in PJs all day, like I would most assuredly do without a witness. There was a time when the idea of hanging out with my Mom all day, every day would have been more than either of us could bear (or survive). I'm referring, of course, to that period of my moody adolescence, when I knew absolutely everything and no matter what my Mom suggested, did, or didn't do, she was wrong in my eyes. I was a miserable bitch. There is no point denying it, as there are far too many witnesses. It’s different now. I’m a bit less cranky, and I see my Mom with mature, more respectful vision, greatly improved by a dozen years spent 1,200 miles away.

While in Tennessee and seeing friends with their families, I really came to miss, appreciate, and understand my Mom -- the woman who worked full-time and put herself through college while managing a difficult marriage and raising three kids. She transformed herself from low-wage retail clerk to well-paid accountant with a major computer company. Mary, the financial adviser we both utilized in the late 1990s, referred to her as "One of the funniest women I know." My Mom? Really? That was a major clue that Mom had a facet or two or ten with which I was unacquainted, and that I had probably sold her short for the past, oh, lifetime.

Mom is retired from the now defunct computer company, and I presently share her retiree life as I search for a new job (some days more diligently than others). We visit antique and consignment shops on a rotation loosely linked to grocery runs and dollar store visits and spread out to avoid entire days bereft of activity. There have been two trips to Maine -- first in April to look for a beach rental house for a vacation with my sister and nieces (yes, I’ll be taking a vacation from unemployment), and again on a gorgeous 80 degree day in Mid-May to deliver the rest of the payment, calculate the best walking path to the beach and note directions and landmarks. We lunched in the little beach town just beginning to awaken from winter. On the way home, we visited an outlet mall and an antique mall. I could really get used to this.

The day after the second beach visit, I was encamped at a Dunkin Donuts in Boston’s financial district, an hour early for the appointment with the placement agency. Like Mom, I'd rather be wicked early than risk being even a little late. Plus, I’d dreamed the night before that I kept changing outfits and engaging in delaying tactics until it was 30 minutes late for my appointment and I hadn't yet left the house. The disturbance of the dream launched me out of bed without hesitation, a solid two-and-a-half hours before my usual leisurely arising.

Pre-trip planning involved exploration of three options: the Fitchburg to Boston commuter rail ($25 round trip with inconvenient return times); the subway (one hour drive to Cambridge, then a 20 minute subway ride and five minute walk); or driving all the way into Boston (potential traffic nightmare and search for parking). Plan B won -- drive to Alewife Station, park for $7, ride the MBTA red line to South Station, then walk a few blocks. The return trip could include jumping off the red line at the Kendall/MIT stop to visit a nearby vintage/used clothing store.

The brief visit at the glamorous offices on the 20th floor with a view of the harbor hardly seemed worth the 1.5 hours of multi-modal travel. The purpose of the appointment seemed to be establishing my validity as a legally-employable worker by photocopying my driver's license and Social Security card. The agency representative said most of their writing and marketing placements are in Boston with practically none in Worcester or anywhere near my current (temporary) residence. It’s doubtful temp work will pay enough to relocate closer to Boston, so commuting may be a necessity, seeing as I didn't win the massive Powerball lottery drawing, and am too young to draw on my still insufficient retirement plan and too broke to swing it otherwise.

The visit to the vintage store included wandering lost around the MIT campus upon exiting the subway station and scrutinizing the throngs of skinny-jean clad men for lookalikes for Howard Walowitz on Big Bang Theory.  Some things are really more fun with a companion. After retrieving the car from the Alewife Station and exiting the garage, an unintentional and circuitous driving tour of MIT, Harvard University and Lesley College reminded me how much I prefer to be a passenger.

Now it’s back to plowing through dozens of daily job ads. Most are seeking someone with the skill set of three people from three different departments at my old job (graphic design plus account management plus production management? Really?). The highlight of each day is “Scrabble o’clock” when Mom and I start our daily round of games while multi-tasking the preparation of dinner and watching crime dramas and Judge Judy. Seriously, I can get used to this.