My old firm, the one I got laid off from almost exactly two years ago, has had another round of layoffs. I’ve lost count how many that is (over ten I think), but since it included several principles, I’m guessing that this is either a death knell or time for a major restructuring of that office.
And that got me thinking about my own situation. Again. Because if there’s one thing that triggers intense feelings when you’re unemployed, especially when it’s been a really long time, it’s hearing other people at your old firm have suffered the same sad fate.
I began thinking about a lot of things. All the interviews, for one. Which, it turns out, was not so many. The real ones can be counted on two hands. After months of working contacts, I discovered that this route is not always as vaunted as one might imagine. Many people just don’t have the power to help you out. Then there were all those pseudo-interviews. Why bother calling me in and getting my hopes up when there aren’t any openings? As for the “real” interviews, I was either obliquely informed that I was overqualified (i.e. they knew they couldn’t offer me $12/hr) or under-qualified (i.e. I haven’t lived, breathed, and eaten architecture my entire life).
And then I began contemplating all the things we’ve done without over the past two years. Turns out the whole Western notion of living simply is actually a choice made by people who have enough money to make it. When you’re poor and “simplicity” is forced upon you, it’s not so great.
Brooding, however, is not good for the psyche. So I began writing. In fact, during graduate school (not architecture, but in the Humanities at UCLA), one of my goals had been to write on architecture and the arts. Being unemployed has made that a reality and for a while, I thought that would be my main profession. Along with being a stay-at-home father.
Well, that all changed some weeks ago. In the space of three days, I interviewed for and was offered a position. Even more amazing is that I didn’t get the ginormous paycut I was expecting. And the benefits, both in and out of the office, were also too good to be true.
I celebrated. For about two days. Until I realized exactly how, let us say, strained, our financial position was. Because while I was offered a position, it didn’t start until two weeks hence, and in the meantime, still no income. So technically (and in real practical terms), I qualified for and needed my unemployment benefits. And now three weeks into working at this new position, the California EDD still has to evaluate what I should receive. And as everyone knows, you don’t get paid when you begin a new job. Depending on their policies, you may have to wait up to two pay cycles.
That said, I am inordinately happy and grateful. Even giddy. I cannot believe my good fortune. Because while there are things worse than poverty and unemployment, it does rank as one of the most pernicious and enduring global problems.
So I returned to thinking about all you who are just or still unemployed and what you are dealing with. I came up with some simple mathematical expressions that sum up my own experience that you might relate to:
Period unemployed in months = 23 Period unemployed in weeks = 97 Period unemployed in days = 684 Period unemployed in hours = 16,416 Number of days I was acutely aware of being unemployed = 684 Number of days I had to remind myself I wasn’t “fired” but laid off = 684 Number of days I felt invisible = 683 Number of days I looked for architecture jobs online = 489, with weekends off Number of interviews I went on that were not real interviews = 15 Number of panic attacks = 20 Number of job-search related emails sent = 6000 Number of checks bounced = this really should be kept private Total amount of overdraft charges as a result of insufficient funds = this, too, should probably be kept private, but as a warning, $33 a pop adds up really, really quickly Number of times my former office has RT’ed something I wrote = 1 Number of times my former office has checked my Linked In profile = 5 Number of former office friends who kept in touch = 3 Number of days I could watch my daughter grow up = 684 Number of days spent at the beach = 223 Number of expensive coffee beverages purchased since layoff = 5 Number of times I bought a full tank of gas = 2 Number of times I experimented with facial hair = 12 Number of other professions I considered trying = 0 Number of complete books read during unemployment = 150 Number of non-architecture books read = 90 Finally, number of times exhorted self to save, save, save when I finally got a job = innumerable
The list-making could go on endlessly and there are times when it artfully diffuses and takes the edge off the experience over the past two years. In many respects, being unemployed has been my war, my own personal war with the economy, my chosen profession, and first and foremost, myself.
Like all wars there are tabulations and statistics. The absurd balance sheets of irrational outcomes. The folly of making sense of it all. Mostly, there is nothing to make sense of. There is just the was-ness and is-ness of my post-unemployment stress disorder…and for you, maybe your continuing unemployment stress disorder.
Sherin Wing writes on the social, cultural, and political aspects of architecture and design for Metropolis Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in The Huffington Post. She is co-author of the forthcoming book, The Real Architect’s Handbook: Things I Didn’t Learn in Architecture School. She received her PhD in the Humanities from UCLA. Follow Sherin on Twitter.
New book out soon! ‘The Real Architect’s Handbook: Things I Didn’t Learn in Architecture School’, by Sherin Wing and Guy Horton.