Down But Not Drunk

I am sober person who struggles with depression. When Robin Williams killed himself yesterday, I felt compelled to write about just how similar the two are for us. I have spoken openly about the fact that almost every single sober person I know has battled depression if they stayed sober long enough. It usually occurs later in their recovery, ten years plus. It happened to me, to my sponsor, to Julio, Nick, JulieAnn, that girl who got electroshock therapy, just about all of us. Bear in mind, I am nothing like Robin Williams. I have not found my purpose in life. I have not been of service through comedy and the Special Olympics or the USO. Koko never saw my movie and then spent an afternoon signing for me to tickle her. I never got married, had a child, lived in a swanky area like Marin. I flounder to this day trying to discover what to do with my life. I have given up on ever finding a decent boyfriend in Los Angeles, much less a good husband. I’m usually broke, have crappy family relationships and am woman. Mr. Williams and I were connected through something much more basic: our brains.

When I drank, I thought I was having a good time and a lot of the time I was. A rip roaring good time that made me forget my life, the good parts and the bad. Drinking was a trip to another galaxy for me. It had meaning and depth. Like rolled oats into hot water, booze changed my texture, shape and size. It was how I was meant to be. It was an intimate relationship that I really could never explain to anyone, except another alcoholic. And they didn’t need me to explain. They got it. They were having their own trip with their own life partner. Sometimes I drank to relieve stress. It didn’t occur to me that my drinking actually created stress. The careers I wrecked, the people I alienated, the opportunities I didn’t just miss, but blew like a stick of dynamite were a direct result of my drinking. But if you had tried to tell me that, I would have thought you were nuts. Alcohol was the cause of my hangover, my boyfriend being stupid, my parents totally not getting me, it eased my worries, not caused them. I didn’t put two and two together and come up with drinking for me meant putting my life in the hands of a substance that my body craved in a unique and priceless way. The part alcohol focuses on is your brain. And it’s a depressant. While in the throes of alcoholism, your brain is scrambling to survive with all the liquor it’s swimming in. Once you stop drinking, it starts the long road to recovery, but its a road you don’t know your brain is on.

I went down a rabbit hole so dark and so convoluted, that by the time I got sober, I didn’t know why I kept drinking. I couldn’t remember why I started because that girl was so far gone from the woman I’d become, it was like she wasn’t ever there. I was baffled not only that I couldn’t stop, but that I wanted to stop. It was like someone else was living inside my brain, not just instead of me, but alongside of me. We wanted totally different things, but we wanted the same things. We wanted love and success and laughter and friends and meaningful work and sex, travel, art, music, dinners out and sunsets at the beach and… all of it. We both wanted all of it. But I wanted it without drinking and she wanted it soaked in rum. By the time I got sober, I didn’t know how I was going to get her out of my head and I wasn’t sure I could live with her just shoved to the side. I was in trouble. I couldn’t imagine a life without drinking and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to live much longer with it.

So I got sober. People say that like it was a hair cut. You know, I just wanted it short with bangs so one day I took the plunge! It wasn’t like that. It never is. It’s a long climb to your biggest fear: the edge of a cliff, the bottom of the ocean, thousands of spiders crawling over your face, a man in the dark with a knife. Whatever your deepest fear is, that is getting sober. And the worst part is, you are making this decision. On your own. With no help. Sure, there are meetings and now it’s super popular to go to rehab and there’s therapy and dry out drugs, but the decision to give. up. drinking. is yours and yours alone. And it happens in your head. With that other girl. And she’s pissed. I mean really, really, really pissed because first you made her a cripple and now you want her to function like none of this ever happened. And no one knows she’s there but you and any other alcoholic who has ever truly gotten sober.

So I did it. And it was great. I got over the initial hump and I didn’t get kicked off the island. Whoo-hoo! Yay, life! I regained some sanity. My work performance was better. My skin, my sleep, my shits. All better. My parents were happy. I got a normal boyfriend. I went to Burning Man and Arco Santi. I went to Europe, the East Coast, Seattle, San Francisco, the desert and the beach. I was living, brother, living large.

And then I got depressed. To say I was surprised is an understatement. I was shocked. Why had this happened to me? I was sober. I shouldn’t be having these problems. I went to meetings, I worked the Steps. I was of service. I’d given up coffee ~and~ cigarettes. I did Bikram yoga for god’s sake. My life should be getting continuously better, not worse. And it went on. I didn’t just have a “few down days” here and there. I went down like a lead ballon. And I stayed down.

It occurred to me that this was just like drinking. That the girl was back. But now we were having these discussions about how it was normal to sleep in the same grubby sheets for three or, you know, four weeks. Because depression is like that. It tells you it’s what everyone goes through now and then, but you find yourself fumbling to know not just the name of the day it is, but the number, too. Sometimes, you don’t know the month. You start to think it’s fine not to leave the house, to the point where you can’t remember the last time you did. You wear pajamas until they are sticky sweaty gross and you throw them on the floor with all the other stuff you don’t want to wear anymore. You wash the pieces you need out of the pile of dirty dishes no one came to deal with like you’d hoped. You stink at times. You drag yourself to the grocery store and sit on the sofa eating out of boxes and bags. You cancel appointments and lie about why. You are just as much a hostage to your brain sober as you were drunk. And you just don’t get it. That girl is still there telling you it happens to everybody.

The same way she told you that the problem was you didn’t eat first and that’s why you threw up or to never drink Tequila Slammers again or just stay away from that Chrissie girl and her a-hole boyfriend, now she tells you your not depressed, you’re just tired. You’ll feel better after a little sleep, which turns into fifteen hours in a dark room. She tells you you’re not depressed, you’re just not hungry right now. It’s hot out and you’ve never liked to eat in high heat. Or the cold. Or the rain. Or the morning. It’s good for you to skip a meal or two, you’re cleansing. You tell yourself you’ll talk to your friends soon, when you have something great to report, then you cry because you’ve never had anything really great to report ever, it’s all been a lie. And you’re going to get it together really soon, but for Christ’s fucking sake, everybody shut the fuck up and leave me the fuck alone. I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling well, maybe you could come back another day. I’ll text you some good times. And then you turn off your phone and lose it on the cluttered bedroom floor.

Because depression, just like drinking, is an illusion. It’s a lie. It’s your brain so altered by chemicals that you don’t know it’s an illusion and a lie. You think in the beginning that it’s just a little, temporary condition, then you think it’s bad but kind of universal, then you think it’s hopeless and it is you, you and only you. Just like your drinking.

There are two reasons I have never owned a gun:

1. In a fit of justified rage, I would kill someone.

2. If I got depressed enough, I would kill myself.

In sobriety, we do a lot of laughing, much of it highly inappropriate. We try to take it easy and not sweat the small stuff. We try not to trigger a craving. We stay positive, remembering how incredibly bad our lives were drinking. We try to not take ourselves too seriously. We keep hope alive, just like a Hallmark card. Depression rips that hope from us the same way drinking did. We watch as depression takes the laughter away, we angst over anti-depressants. Should we take a pill to make it all better? Does a pill lead to a drink? Haven’t our poor brains had enough for one lifetime? Maybe we just aren’t trying hard enough. Maybe our friends are right, we just need to get out more, increase our endorphin levels, take a vacation, eat raw foods. But Robin Williams could have done any or all of that. He had a fantastic life. He had love and variety. He had millions. It’s not like too much Top Ramen got him down or he was going through a horrible divorce. It’s not like he was a failure at his job and hated his boss. And he was sober. Okay, he’d had a relapse, but that was almost a decade ago. He was doing everything he was supposed to do and he still killed himself as a direct result of deep, hideous depression. He got on top of the alcohol and was left with the resulting depression.

At eight years sober, I lived in a great house in a hip neighborhood. I had a running partner I adored and gave the best dinner parties in town. I was sexy, thin and happy. I made good money, had savings, insurance, a nice car, friends. By the time turned ten I was barely able to get off the sofa.

Because during depression your brain is going without end, like a terrorist abductor. It screams humiliation, shame, blame and failure like an air horn right into your face. It whispers in your ear, stroking your filthy hair while it mocks you, speaks frank logic you can clearly see, carefully explaining that this is your fault and your fate. You did this. You got depressed, you drank, you gave up. You are weak, the naysayers were right all along, the motherfuckers. Your brain wears you down like pencil lead, grinding away at you with a relentlessness you didn’t know you had in you. You begin to retreat further into a world inhabited by you and your brain, endless hours of thoughts of nothing. It is exhausting. Your only relief is sleep. In stunned moments of blankness, it occurs to you that in fact, you are thinking what some might call suicidal thoughts. You know enough not to tell anyone because they come get you and lock you up for saying that shit. But you start to doubt you will ever get over this. You start to see how you are dragging everyone around you down. You think about meds, but then you think about those you’ve seen take them, how you watched them become dullards with eyes like acorns. Or blow up like dough balls. Or lament the end of their sex drive, which frustrated a partner already pushed to their limit. How much more can we put people who love us through? Can’t they see they should just leave? Just leave before it gets any worse. And so your leaving seems like the humane thing to do. Instead, you do nothing and soon, people give up. You find yourself telling strangers how depressed you are, as if they are your bosom buddy. You find your real friends are at a loss for what to do. Everybody loves a party girl, nobody loves a wet blanket. There are only so many stories about how sad you are, so many crying jags and mid-afternoon door openings wearing a robe your friends can take. They just don’t know what to do. So they do what normal people do, they go live their lives.

Getting out of depression was just as baffling as getting into it. For some reason, as completely out of the blue as I started telling myself what a hopeless disaster I was, I stopped. I sat up. I got up. I said out loud, “If I don’t sell this sofa, I am never going to get off it.” So, I sold it. I sold my arm chair, my dining room set, my rug. I gave my tv to some elementary school teacher on Craigslist. I threw out clothes and old shoes. I quit my job, much to everyone’s relief, including my own. I threw myself over the side of the boat, into unknown waters and I swam. I did any part-time job that would get me out of the house and into a paycheck. I said yes to all the slobs who asked me out, gritting my teeth through dinner after dinner with the finest boring men LA had to offer. I started to pray. I prayed my ass off. To what, I have no idea. Why? Because I didn’t know what else to do and I was still too self-destructive to exercise.

And life changed. Not overnight and not in miraculous ways. I didn’t dig the second spring of Lourdes, but I did start to get up when it was light and go to sleep when it was dark. I got a boyfriend, albeit a broken one. And we had sex. I told jokes. I laughed. I stopped telling everyone and myself what a loser I was. And, surprisingly, my brain had nothing much to say about all this. The criticism was still there, but the volume was so much lower. The tone was no longer vicious. It was, in fact, kind of whiny. I felt shaky and frail, words no one has ever attached to me in my life, but I was clearly getting around a corner. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know why. All I knew was for almost three years, I was a hostage, kidnapped by my brain. Demands were made of me I could not meet. Expectations were too, too high, the code my brain was speaking to me in was excruciatingly complicated. I was lost, as a child gets lost in their own neighborhood. Everything felt so familiar and I kept waiting for someone to come find me, to put me back where I was sure I belonged. The longer I was depressed, the less hope I had. No one was coming and I was clinging to a ledge that grew ever thinner as time passed. I don’t know how I got off it.

They say addiction is like sex with a gorilla: you’re not done with it until it’s done with you. Depression is the same. It has broken my heart, my bank account, my reputation, my sanity. I am grateful to be alive today. I still struggle with depression, but there is light at the end of this once seemingly endless tunnel. I don’t know why I am still sober when so many, who tried harder than me and for longer, are drunk or dead. I have no idea why my depression was shorter and less potent than Mr. Williams’. I suspect it has to do with his cocaine abuse, but I couldn’t say for sure. I can say I understand why Robin Williams’ brain talked him into killing himself. I just wish it hadn’t.

When Your Old Boyfriend Gets (Happily) Married

Okay, so first off, when I say “old” I mean actually old. The old boyfriend in question is forty and when we dated he was twenty. This is old-old boyfriend material. This is not some Lena Duham we-dated-in-college-cand-broke-up-last-month-in-Starbucks old boyfriend scuttle. This man and I have grown, though not together, and been in one another’s lives two decades. Old, man. Old.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all had that ex who we hear is getting married and react with, “Oh thank god. I mean, that poor woman” or, “That’s a divorce waiting to happen” or some other “Bullet dodged, The Universe spared my ass” thought. Twenty years ago, had I heard Mr. Not Mine was getting married, that would have been my sentiment. In fact, even five years ago, I would have felt sorry for the new Mrs. Grumpy Pants. But today… not so much. Today, my old boyfriend is actually a kind of a good guy. Yes, he is still prickly and self-absorbed and shallow and loves, loves, loves money! but he seems to have worked off the sharper edges he once had that caused him (and everyone around him including me) problems. He seems to have grown up. And she seems great. It’s weird.

Naturally, the successful coupling of your ex turns one’s mind to oneself. And this one’s self unfortunately turned fifty a few weeks before The Newlyweds wedded. This one’s self did not wed before her ex. This, along with the surprise nature of the marriage of Mr. Used To Be My Twenty Year Old Boy Toy got me reflecting. Have I grown as much as my once socially retarded ex? Why don’t I have a boyfriend? (Even a crappy one. Like, why don’t I even have a lame boyfriend?) And why am I not married? What’s he got that I haven’t got? I mean, other than a wife, which I am pretty sure I would just about kill for. Someone to help with the chores is worth her weight in gold. More than gold. Platinum, she’s worth platinum. Even if she limits her contributions to picking up dog hair and telling me I look nice, I would marry that woman in a heartbeat.

And this is a man who was a bad boy and I mean a bad boy by anyone’s definition. No one’s parents thought, “Gee, I hope they stick it out and end up having kids.” No one’s. He was violent and drunk and abusive and nasty and punishing. And I loved him with all my dumb heart. When we separated, I cried for a year. I left the state just to get away from the mess we had made. None of my friends were sorry to see him go. Half of them never got why we were a couple to begin with. His parents hated me. My parents couldn’t wait to forget him.

And now, he’s a home owner. With a boat. He’s thinking about running for office. He got a second degree and has an obsessive hobby that he is very good at. He’s lost some hair and gained some weight, but he quit smoking and drinks like a gentleman. It’s impressive. When I heard he had gotten married, I thought back to that time of loud bars and cheap apartments, that time when everyone seemed free and nothing was a big deal so we milked the drama out of everything we could. It’s like he walked out of the night and into the day and that transformed every part of him. He is, for all intents and purposes, unrecognizable.

Your fourth grade math has held you in good stead if you’ve figured out that when he was twenty, I was thirty. Meow. It was a problem then and a sore-ish spot now. Shouldn’t I be the more together one? I certainly was when we were living at my house and his dad paid all his bills. I was happy and on My Path. I had friends and looks and a career that mattered. Somewhere along the way, I fell back and he surged forward. It’s not that I begrudge him happiness, I don’t. He had two crazy ass parents and who coming out of that doesn’t deserve to be happy? But I had two crazy ass parents and have ended up not happy. I have ended up isolated and kind of lost. While Sir Personal Growth went on his Jack Kerouac journey to self-realization (funded by Mommy and Daddy), I went down the rabbit hole of sobriety. I turned my life around, quit drinking, became a respectable member of society. I own a house and an apartment. I have two dogs and grey hair. I buy health insurance.

Along the way, though, I lost my dreams. I lost the essential part of me that made me tick. I lost Art. When I was thirty, I was cool. I was an actor. I took to the stage like I was born to it. I made tv commercials and had small parts in films. Photographs of my hands were used on the cover of books and my portraits hung in art shows. I drove a 1964 Corvair. I smoked Lucky Strikes and drank Pimm’s. I always had a jar of caviar in my refrigerator which was painted fire engine red to match the cabinets in my sunflower yellow kitchen. Hell, I had a Chinese silk settee in my kitchen and it looked like it grew there it fit so well. My friends were writers and painters and vintage clothing vendors and musicians. My friends were artists. I was an artist. And now I am just confused. I moved to LA to get away from him and failed to see I was moving away from everything that made me me. The blood supply of my hometown was more essential to me than I ever knew. He stayed and I forgot to go back and now he has spouse and I have a Schnauzer. It doesn’t seem fair. Although this is a very good Schnauzer, I have to admit.

When he called to catch me up on Life Post Wedding (it was a City Hall affair) I almost didn’t want to talk. It’s not like he doesn’t know I’m floundering, but there was something so league shifting about his marrying his girlfriend and me still not having it figured out. Married people do Married People Things. Single people wait to fit into their schedule. I’m sure they’ll have a kid and the chasm between us, will grow wider, the marked differences in our lives more profound. They’ll take a honeymoon someplace fabulous, like the Dalmatian Coast, and I’ll worry about the fat on my thighs. I’ll think about where I should bury the dogs when they go while they buy this year’s Christmas ornaments. It’s embarrassing. Not for him. For me.

So, what is a woman supposed to think when her long ago ex gets married? How is she to shear off the times she spent with a man, albeit a young man, who had her time, her body and the key to her house and be happy to see his current life, which is completely removed from her, be a life fulfilling and enviable when she sees her own as lacking and small? It’s odd to see him as someone’s husband when he was a partner I wouldn’t have let take care of my plants. It’s like watching the sun set: it’s spectacular and yet it’s going to happen no matter what I want or feel. I have no control over it, it has nothing to do with me. What am I supposed to think? Is it bad to just think about the nice gift I have a year to get and wonder what in the hell happened or is that not normal?

Fish Face

I’ve recently started swimming and it’s hard. A few times a week I struggle into my little black sport suit with the neon yellow stripes and the thin, white straps. I’m cranky on the way over in the car and I’m essentially a bitter old person the whole time I’m there. It’s hard to believe I once held a Junior LIfe Saving Certificate or was on the swim team. Just about everything jiggles when I walk so I try not to think about what it looks like when I swim. I think of Shelly Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. Inside, I too am a very skinny lady.

 

I usually do breast. It’s the easiest and that’s why. I cheat and count once across as a lap instead of the regulation once and back is a lap. If I do ten cheater laps, I call it a day. If I do twelve I feel like someone should give me a parade. The lap lanes are surrounded by riot-like kid areas and they are usually populated by only a few grown ups. The whole place is next to a college so there is pretty much always a young person or two barreling up and down the lane, total freestyle all the way. When they go by me, I get my one taste of what it must be like to swim in The Olympics. The water boils around me, making rushing, chopping waves that create drag on my already dragging self. The sound charges at me, helicopters seeking landing pads. I think about Michael Phelps, before the world knew he was a bong smoking pothead, and Mark Spitz, with his tiny suit and gorgeous neck full of medals. I think I can almost imagine how violent the water was when they swam, how the sound of the crowd was drowned out by the sound of swimming. I think about Diana Nyad, the water nymph who can’t stop swimming. I feel like a moron. I can barely make twenty minutes and Nyad swam fifty-three continuous hours just to get to Cuba. She’s not even Cuban and she swam through some of the most hostile water on the planet to be greeted by complete strangers. And she’s sixty. As a paddle along, I realize I have nothing but poor excuses.

 

The pool used to be free. Today they had a sign up, $3.50 for adults. I was pissed and told the woman that that’s over a hundred a month if I swim every day. I realize, of course, that if I actually did swim every day, I’d be so full of endorphins I probably wouldn’t care that the pool is no longer free and I’d be fit like a Marine. Then again, if the time ever came when I swam every day it’d be a miracle to rival the second coming of Christ so there’s not even a real reason to talk about it. As I try my hand at a lap and back of free, I think about how this is the last straw, I am no longer going to fantasize about swimming every day because it’s close and saline and free. Now my whole un-acted upon plan is ruined. I blame the three fifty.

 

I come home exhausted. I lie in the hammock under the grape arbor and think about the total train wreck that is my life. I think about the almost entire lack of love I have schlogged through, decade after decade of having it “not work out” with the once endless stream of lousy boyfriends. I think about the eternal poverty, the just keeping my head above water, the periodically getting the shoulders and chest up, too, only to fall back into the inevitable abyss of missing out on most everything cool or creative or social because I can’t afford it. I think about the disastrous family and how almost none of us are really well-adjusted. Or happy. I think about women who get facials and spa treatments, people who go to the doctor whenever they want because they have insurance, how vacations are supposed to increase your health and longevity. I reflect on how my body has been affected by my income. I eat Red Flame grapes off the vine and look at the birds flying into the fountain for their end of day bath. I swim at night because I am too lazy to swim during the 6 – 8 am time slot. If I had a boyfriend, or even a girl friend, I’d swim with them. But my one non-attached female friend in LA is entirely non-athletic. She came with me to the pool once. While I tried hard not to drown out there in the lane, she hung on the side and did a few leg kicks. She is at least fifty pounds overweight. We will never be running partners. Or hikers. But she sews like a garment factory. And embroiders. And quilts. She just doesn’t do sports. Of any kind.

 

I know I should self-motivate, meditate and stop eating meat all together. I know that doing so will solve all my problems and I will suddenly have the day job of my dreams, leaving my nights free to eat dinner out and go to concerts and plays. I know these changes I fail to make every day will keep me from dying a horrible death. I know they will take away my wrinkles and make my butt a firm two sizes smaller, which it seriously needs to be. I know the result will be infectious happiness and an overabundance of cash. I know all this and yet, I eat carbs before I swim and carbs after I swim. I watch every episode of Nurse Jackie, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Nashville, True Blood up until mid-way through season six and The Colbert Report. I have my first grade teacher beat me mercilessly at Facebook Scrabble, game after game. I bitterly remember the past so often there doesn’t seem to be much point to my future. It’s exhausting, though, so I do sleep well.

 

As I lie in the hammock, under the fat, colored light bulbs that some poor slob made for me in China, I realize that middle age truly is inconceivable when you are young. I mean, you see it, you get that it has happened to, say your mom or your aunt or a million other people you know. You can do math and take in the hideous details of a wrecked face or dimpled, saggy body. You know the difference between old, yellow teeth and your shiny white ones. And yet, your brain really can’t make the connection that one day, that will be you. And you will turn fifty only to realize that you are, beyond the shadow of anyone’s doubt, going to die. Your body will work less and less. Even more less than it does now. It is shocking. You think back at how incredibly beautiful you were when you were young and how you took that for granted. You are stunned by how much of your shot you wasted, how you just lagged at the back of the pack: an extraordinary potential that waited for someone to pick you and that that never happened, and that it surely won’t at this age. You realize that you just aren’t going to take any shit. Period. Those that are with you, great. Those that aren’t, sayonara, palsie. You learn to cut bait and not be sad when you throw it over the side of the boat. You give into the bitter reality that you knock things over, kick things inadvertently and drop things because your vision is permanently deteriorated and you don’t always wear your glasses like you know you should. You wonder what life will be like when, after almost four decades, or roughly five hundred months, you stop getting your period. Forever. You wonder what life support is like, what your mind does to deal with it. You look at your flabbed up arms, long guns that used to be toned like a puma’s ass, and wonder how far they could get you in a wheelchair. You think about diapers and all food tasting the same, or not tasting at all. More than any other clock your body may have heard in the past, it hears the ticking of the clock that will one day stop permanently. And it’s scarier than anything I’ve ever encountered.

 

 

I think about my mother, now dottering and fat. I wonder what she thinks about death, about her life: wasted? not wasted? I wonder if there are things she would like to say to people, face-to-face or in some letter, things she knows she is not going to say. I wonder if that bothers her. My hair is frizzy and making a big soak spot on the cushion and I don’t care. There is no one here. There is no one to know if I wash out my suit or let it dry with the pool water in it. There is a solitude that has come with my age that I do not mind, but there is a terror that I know, I just know, as sure as I know I do not want to drown in open water, is only going to get worse.

 

A life not lived is possibly worse than a young death. But this is a luxury only a living person would be arrogant enough to believe. I think about Melinda Mitchell, who went to high school with me and was killed in a car crash when she wasn’t even twenty-five. I wonder if she would be angry at me, for all this wasting. I wonder if she’d want to swap or if my life is so boring and under-involved that she’d rather stay dead. I wonder what my mom thinks about me being so old. It’s not a conversation a lot of people want to have. People want to tell you how young fifty is, but that’s bullshit. Twenty is young. Fifty is death’s walkway. You’re off the sidewalk and on your way to the door. It really is kind of like falling. There just isn’t a way to stop the forward motion. I can’t honestly imagine the final moment, but I don’t think it will be pleasant. I worry that so much has been wasted, lost and squandered that it will actually be awful. So, next week, I’m going to ride my bike to the pool. I promised myself all last month I would. I worry about getting hit by a car.

 

Tap, Tap, Tap.

Not having a job is a very strange thing. Sometimes I feel like the lack of any meaningful contribution to society, focusing of my time or responsibility to others has drained the very substance that makes one alive right out of me. Not having a job means not having an identity: I am an architect, I am a mother, I am a writer, I am a teacher. Anyone can say, “I am a person” unless the utterer is a dog. Or a pony. Having a job shoe horns one into an entire life of routine, co-workers, schedules, goals, achievements, rewards and cash in the accounts. Not having one leaves one adrift: a sea of opportunity sloshes against your hull waiting for you to master and command it. While the toll economically has been great, the toll emotionally seems to have been greater.

 

Looking for work used to be fairly easy and pretty fun, actually. You’d wear appropriate clothing and meet a manager or someone close to a manager, face-to-face. You’d get a feel for them, they’d get a feel for you and sometimes, you’d even get an interview on the spot if your timing was right. Either way, you knew what you were dealing with. A phone call within a day or two was the sign you’d either hit it or swung and missed and that was that. An entire day of applying would put your hand in the hand of ten prospects, sometimes more. It was invigorating; you could check things off your list.

 

Now the unemployed get up in the morning and face applying for jobs online. You log on. You subscribe to job sites that funnel you industry specific jobs. Each click on a link takes you to one of a dozen sites, all of which require you to register. Welcome to your thirty new login names and passwords, all of which are variations on a theme as not all sites allow the same criteria for registration. Oh, joy. Next you are invited to upload a resume, which seems like the solution to all your problems. You select one of your twelve unique resumes and upload with confidence. Custom-made resume in the inbox of employer in need. You feel great.

 

Until the next screen pops up and you are faced with a scrambled egg version of your uploaded resume wherein most of the information needs to be reentered into a series of different screens all asking for the information that is on your resume, leaving you to wonder why they would ask for your resume in the first place.

 

You schlog through another fifteen minutes of inputting information and hit submit. You are rewarded with an auto-reply thanking you for submission and letting you know that they will contact you if your qualifications match their needs (wasn’t that the genesis of the applying in the first place; that they placed an ad and your have the qualifications?) You generally hear nothing, although I was recently told in an auto-reply from a retirement housing facility that my qualifications, which include a college degree, matched their need for a dishwasher. While I am not opposed to being a dishwasher, there must surely be something at a retirement housing facility for which I am better suited. At least they led me to believe so in college.

 

Of course, you also go to Craigslist, home of the great cheap stuff. Also, home to scam-o-rama on the job front. Liars, cheaters, identity thieves and thieve thieves all invite you to work for them in their amazing new business that has its finger on the pulse of the hottest new trend and is looking for eager, young, smart people to make things happen. They just need to use your PayPal account to make the sales. It’ll be exciting. Or they require fifty different skills for their fantastic nine dollar an hour job that regrettably can’t pay benefits at this time. Craigslist ads often ask for photos to be submitted with resumes, further instilling confidence that this truly is a fine, legitimate job. Getting work through Craigslist is surpassed in its lack of success rate only by its getting a boyfriend through Craigslist lack of success rate. Stick to buying used furniture there. Your financial planner and your roommate will thank you.

 

There is the occasional walk-in application, where you are usually thanked for your resume and then directed to, you guessed it, their website to fill out an application. More tapping on the keys, more registering, more uploading, more scrambled eggs. More waiting.

 

But the real answer is temp agencies! Everyone rallies around the temp agencies, most of whom are struggling to stay alive in this economy. Why go through an agency that is going to ding you 15% on top of salary when you can post with Zip Recruiter or Indeed or The Ladders or Simply Hired dot com? Why? And temp agency reps should really be toothpaste ad talent. The smiles! The awesome smiles when they meet you, greet you, sweep you off your feet you and then fail to get you even an interview. This does not stop them from sending inspirational emails asking you if you are ready to take your game to the next level, are really competing as well as you should, are on the cutting edge. Are we at the Olympics or the office, I’m confused. Do we want a long jumper to arrive at the front desk or a mature, educated person who can do her job without a babysitter or buddy? I am smart, reliable, competent and pleasant, and believe me, this is not enough. It’s not even close to enough.

 

It. Is. Exhausting.

 

“Who am I” is not a new question. The touchy-feelies will say, “It’s not what you do, it’s who you are”. And then most of them either go to a job or lead a life funded or supplemented by another person. They don’t get it. Millions of people used to be this or are hoping to be that, but in the interim, are simply un-categorizable. If you don’t have a category, you can’t fit into the Internet. It’s hugeness requires your narrowness. When you don’t have a job, there is only one reason to get up in the morning: to look for a job. When you don’t know what you want to do, you might as well stay in bed and wait to die.

 

Everyone says, “Go for your dream!”. The question is, what if you don’t have a dream? What if your dream requires a day job to fund it for a bit? What if you just want to hard work and you’re not all that particular about what it is you do? What if you can do a panacea of things? The answer is, “You’re screwed.” The time for that person has passed. The place for that person is Burma Shave. The chances for that person are slim at best.