Searching for an Inhabitable Place

You keep the alarm set on your phone because if an alarm goes off in the morning, even if you turn it off and remain in bed, you feel more productive than you do if no alarm at all had been set for you to ignore. You wake. You look at your phone. You turn off the alarm. You go back to sleep. These are activities, whereas simply sleeping without interruption is not really an activity. Well, it is, but it is only one uninterrupted activity when one definition of working, it seems to you, is “to be interrupted.”

When you do wake, lying in bed and staring at the growing light behind the blinds, you think first about the thousands and thousands of new job openings that will be posted today, like cards being dealt endlessly onto the table and the best you can do is sort them by color or number or suit. You know that the likelihood of a job waiting for you among them is slim. You will sort through them because although there are other ways of finding your next job, and this is the least effective, you must do all the things, leave no stone alone.

As you read one job description after another you will ignore the job requirement that you don’t have because, maybe, they’ll be so impressed by the rest of you they’ll ignore this tiny flaw, even though you know they have many applicants who meet every single requirement and the people, or non-people, who sort through the applications and cover letters and resumes are so overwhelmed that they need some way to winnow it all down, any excuse, and that one missing requirement will be the thing that puts you on the no pile without further consideration.

You press the submit button anyway because there are only so many hours in the day and you must fill them doing something that looks like looking. You have already looked at all the places you would like to work and submitted resumes whether they have openings or not, and you have already reached out to friends and family and colleagues and acquaintances and friends of friends and distant relatives of acquaintances and friends of colleagues and family of people you only pretend to know and all the business contacts you never deleted.

This is not you complaining, not what your whining or your feeling sorry for yourself looks like. These are only your observations and you remind yourself often that so many people, more than you can imagine imagining, not even people in far away places but just down the road, maybe, have struggles that would make curl up into a ball if they belonged to you.

You miss the want ads, those days. You miss opening up the newspaper with a ball point pen in your hand and making wet ink circles around this job and that job, then going back and labeling them A or B or C. You would have to pick up the phone, dial a number, and tell the person who answered that you were calling about the job. They would ask you a few questions and then they would offer some reason why you were not right for the job or they would move their own ball point pen over the time slots on a day-at-a-time calendar and offer you an interview. If required, you would bring a cover letter and resume to the interview and hand them to the secretary or office manager or clerk who would take them back to someone who would review them for ten minutes before bringing you in for an interview after you completed an application.

It wasn’t easier, this way of finding a job, but it was more visceral and it felt like real work. You could spend days working on one clean version, two clean versions, three clean versions of your resume and then you would take these to the copy store and ask them to make ten copies of each on resume paper. They would pull a notebook out from under the counter so you could choose the paper. There were books that told you which type of paper was best.

Cover letters were trickier and nobody really expected your cover letter paper to match your resume paper unless you were highfalutin’ and executive in your aspirations, which you weren’t back then. You just needed a job. That’s the part you really miss. It’s not the want ads or the newspapers you miss most, it’s the just needing a job, not any job, but almost any job. You miss just needing a paycheck, nothing fancy, just enough.

Just enough is okay now too but just enough is something other than it was long ago. And now you are older than the people who also want the jobs and though nobody will ever admit it the gray hair gives people pause.  You stack the chips on your experience but you remember when your unencumbered youth got you jobs, when the people hiring wanted Botox injections of youngness in their office or on their sales floor. Your pockets are empty of Botox now.

You are too old to be afraid of interviews but you are afraid of others things. Like the freeway sign in Steve Martin’s LA Story that declares, “ALL I WANT TO DO IS DIRECT,” you’re afraid you will blurt out, in the middle of an interview, “All I want to do is write.”

While this is true, it is also true that the number of people, at least as a percentage of population, who do nothing but write creatively full time and earn as much as you have been earning for half of your adult life is almost indescribably small. Tiny small. And if you happen to blurt out “All I want to do is write poetry,” well then you are the wish of a wish floating on a vanishing vapor of forgotten things. So many writers you admire lived on much less than you make doing things you love only a little less than writing.

So you hit the submit button again.

When there were want ads, there were also rejection letters. Hard to imagine now but there was a time when if you submitted a resume and were not selected for an interview, you received a letter… in the mail. Now, if you are not selected for an interview, you eventually figure it out based on the fact that you never heard anything from anybody. It’s like tossing seeds from a speeding car and wondering if any will ever take root.

You remind yourself that it is very unlikely that you will find your next job, which everyone has agreed to call an “opportunity,” by tossing seeds into the wind, so you think again, have you contacted all the people you know or can pretend to know? Have you checked the career page of every company you admire? The answers to these questions change every day because you remember and forget new things every day. But every day, without fail, there is the submit button. And every time you click it you feel like you’re attempting to communicate telepathically with someone on a planet far away.

“It is lonely here, but I have skills.”

When the sun goes down it feels safe to start writing. You write for free. You write things that surprise and delight you and things you delete, and for moments here and moments there you do not really care if anyone else ever reads it or not. Your fingers are skipping like children who have forgot how to walk. There is nothing in it for you and everything. Sometimes you get out of your chair because you fear ghosts are in the room and sometimes your cheek sinks into your palm because you’re not sure you can ever write another word.

The submit button seems so far away, as if forgotten and rumored dead for no other reason than you haven’t given it any thought for hours. When you finally think about it, you think about it as a painting, the submit button in blue against white, the button that pushes all your details into a black box and spits out computer punch cards which all fly away in the wind. Seeds.

The alarm goes off in the morning because turning it off is something productive you do every day.