August 07, 2009

Out of work in America?

Statistics aren't what they seem: for example, Alice has no employer save herself. For a long time, she had a tidy little business as a financial planner. The hours were minimal; neither early rising nor heavy lifting were involved; smoking in the office was a matter of desire, not law; all her colleagues were virtual. It was a good life.

Then came The Big Awful, with the economy blown to smithereens, and financial planning clients in increasingly short supply, and Alice's interest in the subject, at least as a career, waning considerably. Once again comes the question: what are you going to do with the rest of your life?

See, Alice and some of her friends, those who play psychopharm roulette along with her, never expected to age beyond, say, 30 or 35. However we have, which leaves us with far more time in our lives than we had anticipated. What to do, what to do? The answers are not coming fast and furious.

Alice would like to be an unemployment statistic, but she has failed to consider one critical connection: first, Alice would have to be working, doing the 9 to 5 and receiving a weekly paycheck. You can't collect unemployment without having put in 20 weeks working for someone else.

Last time Alice was eligible for unemployment was 1990, after her last staff magazine gig collapsed. Since then, as a so-called sole proprietor, she hasn't paid a dime into NYS's unemployment coffers. Hence, she is not eligible to receive, though she is working just as little as those who are collecting.

In truth, Alice's vocational calling is sleep, a minimum of 10 hours a night, every night. Without slumber, she is not-ready-for-prime-time functioning. It's been close to 20 years since Alice commuted to an office, and all she really knows about workplaces is that overhead fluorescent lighting, sealed windows, and recirculating air would be major contributors to an increase in migraine headaches.

Thus, Alice would prefer the office come to her, not that she go to an office any more substantial than the one that doubles as her dining room. Comfort first is her rallying cry. Alas, to answer FB's eternal what's-on-your-mind question, by saying will work for food, health benefits, and a really nifty retirement plan does not, in this po-mo world, constitute an active job search.

Is it time for another career? Alice exited magazine editing shortly before the demise of the printed page; she is looking to exit careers that require her to dress in heels, a good dress, a blazer and pearls in order to have her body language say, trust me. I am a good planner; it's just that our Brave New World requires too many economic projections that may well not hold.

So, now what? Alice's skill sets are mostly 20th century. She is a creative thinker whose techno-knowledge acquisition seems to be on overload. It is all she can do to burp out 10 words in a single sentence to communicate on FB, where Alice has been summering. (She is betting FB will kill whatever remaining productivity U.S. workers have pretended to retain.)

What Alice would like to do, thankyouverymuch, is retire. More specifically, she would be just as happy not to work another day in her life if not for the financial fallout. Give her a free day, and she will fill it, or not, depending on her mood.

Particularly difficult is the segue between vacation proper and back-to-some-facsimile-of-work.

A week away with a friend's family on the north shore of Massachusetts makes Alice realize how much better off we were without cell phones, computers, PDAs and the like. We could actually get away, and, unless we are filled with an unhealthy sense of self-importance -- narcissism run wild -- we need some time untethered.

Ma Bell used to say "reach out and touch someone." She meant, pick up the telephone. Alice is all in favor of the telephone (never text Alice; while she can receive messages, she can't send them and doesn't want to learn how. Texting strikes Alice as the best way to ruin her thumb joints, already fussy, forever. Not going to happen.)

She also likes to receive letters via snail mail -- just something personal from time to time. A postcard or two would be nice. Even a personal email -- coming back from vacation, Alice was greeted with 250+ emails, most of which are deletable without thinking.

Yesterday's cyber headlines are like yesterday's newspapers of old: we used to say that yesterday's news is today's fish wrapping. Difference is, now the fish wrapping is words on a screen.

And stopping the email flood would mean trying to remember what is important to bring back into the inbox. This in itself would be more work than Alice deems necessary. She gets emails she never meant to sign up for, and can't figure out how to disengage.

If you want to go ask Alice, please keep the correspondence lively. If you have a job for Alice, please send particulars. Meanwhile, in Alice's mind, she is on vacation until after Labor Day. Not only does she want no heavy lifting in a job, she doesn't want her synapses to struggle either.

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