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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Perspectives in this unemployed world

I have a long-time, dear friend who has hopped from job to job throughout her life. She and I differ in that she has had no real ambition to "further her educational degree" or "establish a career." Her jobs have been with delis and diners, cashiering and slicing cheeses and meats. In talking to her about it, and even encouraging (okay, pushing) her to go back to school for some kind of degree, she has always been politely steadfast about her lack of interest to go that route. The minimum wage she received for the hard work she performed was enough.

Sometimes I thought her decision was not really conscious, and wondered if a low self-esteem or a lack of any belief that she could do better (i.e., make more money per hour at a job that held more meaning for her) was holding her back. In all honesty, I think there is some truth to that. But 90 percent of it is something else.

My dear friend's son and his wife gave birth to their first child, a beautiful little girl, about four months ago. Mom and Dad, and now Baby, live with my friend and her partner. They have a small modular home snuggling up to the foothills of the Cascades in Washington, south of Seattle. They and their community enjoy the quiet, deeply dark nights of the forested mounds, the wildlife (elk included), the predictable elements of Western booted life around them. Their gas-guzzling pickup is a rusted relic (that nowadays can't be sold even if they wanted to), but she sighs and says it's fine, they'll find the money for enough gas to get around somehow. She always has, so I believe her.

She has been out of work probably as often as not. It doesn't seem to bother her too much. Each day goes by like any other and I wonder at the monotony and lack of,...well, what is it? I wonder. Or have wondered, until recently.

Recently I caught up with her on my cell phone (pausing for the weird cell phone echoes and odd lapses in connection that have become common-place so acceptable, but that's for another time). We live on opposite coasts so timing has been a challenge. But now that I am out of work my flexibility (and energy) has increased. I have time to indulge.

As we recounted what has been going on since I last saw her in June, I heard a coo and giggle and interrupted with, "Is that your granddaughter?"

She gave a short laugh and her whole tone changed when she said, "Yes." In this new voice that relayed what felt like love, comfort, pride, happiness, and peace she told me about her and that Mom and Dad go off to work so she watches Baby. That's her job. Mostly I heard contentment come through, and like so many times before when talking to my friend, I wondered.

I wonder about the completeness of a person, particularly a woman, who can find fulfillment in taking care of her children and children's children. It probably depends on the person and their path in life. There is so much controversy about this, from valuing the stay-at-home mother to discrediting her work ethics when she returns to the job fair some years later.

In France the birth population diminished so much that the government began offering substantial subsidies to entice women to have French babies. Stay at home and have a baby and make an income this way. Sounds good to me.

Back home, women juggle a lot. Look good, be the business professional, the excellent mother, the sexy, caring wife, the home-maker, organizer, blah blah blah. You've heard it before. The point of this blog is that I am trying to be content the moment I wake up in the morning without an office outside my home and a paycheck from somewhere else (and benefits, did I mention that?). I struggle with my ambition and sense of purpose, feeling lost without stacks of cataloged books and databases and patrons to help. I am working on a novel and that is good. I write these blogs (I have three) and network, and that is keeping my mind going. I'm applying for jobs as they come up, and I'm beginning to find appeal in areas outside librarianship but in the widening circle of education and social services. Not retail, not yet! Argh!

Help me, Mr. Wizard, I think sometimes and then berate myself (pounding my fist on my forehead) since I know, I know I am the one that will help me. And I am no "Mister."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unemployed Librarians

The economic turmoil has touched every household in some way and in varying degrees, from the price of oil affecting gas, heating costs, food prices, and other commodities to the job situation. I'm talking about employment figures.

I've been without a paycheck for almost two months now. Although I can still afford to feed my family and take martial arts classes and get my hair done, I have pared back in other ways. As most of us have done, based upon the "shopping stats" and the effect of a cooling consumerism trend.

I am a librarian, and although I am out of work I still qualify to keep that title. I've earned it and I'm proud of it (no matter what E. says). A librarian without a library is not a comfortable picture, though. I've been trained and have dedicated years to helping patrons in many ways, and I'm out of that mainstream, up the dry creek to search for a new position. Jobs are scarce, especially where I live. (Moving is not an option.)

Experience the jobless world sometime. It can make people crazy, I'm sure. I am fortunate to have a way to comfortably get by, but my family is now without health/medical insurance. I've been used to this padding and when it is shed it makes me feel exposed. If I was dependent upon my salary to feed my family and pay the bills, I think I would do like a half-sister of mine did - that is, give up library work and find something. She works in retail.

Lucky me.

There is a strange tang when I meet someone and am asked, "What do you do?" When I say, "I am a librarian and a mother," I am usually met with, "Oh? Where do you work?" Then it gets awkward. "Well, up until recently..." But what happens is the behind the scenes judgment -
unemployed
becomes the label. And our culture values employment like a piece of our identity in society. It is a standing, a statement to our credibility and how much we are respected (or should be). If I state I am a VP of a bank, I would get seven stars, I believe. If I said, "Teacher," I'd get three or four, depending on the school. "Unemployed," and I get maybe one because I am a degreed librarian.

I'm sure you understand this rating system. In America, we use it everyday to qualify and set us apart, as well as to establish the cliques and memberships.
"I belong"
is a powerful feeling. Being outside that circle is a difficult place.