Ed. note: “The Miss Jobless Chronicles” is a weekly series written by Caitlin O’Toole. Read all the posts in the “Miss Jobless” series here.
Today I worked out. I walked from my desk to the kitchen. Distance: 10.8 feet. Then, I walked back. Distance: 12.8 feet (I dropped my pen and went back for it, gaining approximately two feet. Maybe three.)
Like approximately one in ten Americans, I have become a walking statistic. I am unemployed. Er, under-employed. A writer.
Ever since college, I’ve made my living working in print, TV and at .coms—FOX News (oh, hush); Star magazine (oh, hush); The National Enquirer (seriously, stop!); People.com; Parade.com. But I’ve been out of work—well, under-employed, anyway—since July ’08. I was laid off from Parade.com—or “downsized,” as we’ve all come to know it—quite suddenly. I was one of several. My exit was dramatic—there was blubbering and hyperventilation. I made a pitch to keep the paintings on my wall. But they belong to the company. Yes, but I picked them out! I was clearly grasping at straws, splitting hairs over David Hockney posters when what I really wanted to do was go to HR and try to convince them to give me my job back. I knew it was just the beginning of very bad times in the workplace, but I didn’t really know how bad. One of the other people who was laid off that day—July 15, 2008—fainted in the hallway. I was kind of jealous that his exit was more memorable than mine. As I hyperventilated, I sent emails to select co-workers, cleaned out my hard drive, stashed a stapler and hole punch in my knapsack, and hailed a cab home. I called my parents on the way, they could barely understand me. Cait, SLOW DOWN, what’s wrong? I wanted McDonalds. Things would be clearer post-Nuggets, I thought. They weren’t.
I got a decent severance, which I immediately put in the bank and I’ve fortunately saved most of. And I got on unemployment right away. Numerous extensions tided me over, but when I began to get sporadic freelance writing work with Sesame Workshop—not certifying for unemployment benefits for those weeks I worked—my rate was recalculated. Now, I get below $200/week. ($173, to be exact.) It seems like “they” punish you for working at all. They.
I try to supplement my “earnings” any way I can, including pitching ideas, and answering ads for anything ranging from window-washing to dog-walking. My severance and unemployment will run out in the next few months. If I’m not working by then, I’ll have to get even more creative. Tollbooth attendant? Rotisserie operator at Boston Market?
The freelance work has been a godsend; it’s just that god doesn’t send it enough. It fuels my need to create. It also means I have an answer for that all-too-annoying question that some people feel so free to ask: What do you DO? In those instances, it’s nice to say that I write for Sesame Street.
Most days, though, I’m on the phone—trying to drum up any kind of work, figuring out pressing issues like what to do about my health care—for which no one has an answer—tracking down unemployment payments, and networking. OK, and downloading music (Kajagoogoo is my latest re-discovery). Throughout all of this, I’ve also been trying to stick to my Jenny Craig diet, but I feel that I may be losing ground. Today my counselor busted me buying a Quarter Pounder. Whoops.
Sometimes time just flies by. Today I spent 43 minutes on hold with unemployment. I guess they know I have the time to spare. I called to inquire about my account, which was suddenly not yielding any money. “Oh, I see what happened,” the voice on the phone told me. “Someone just forgot to hit the ‘release’ button. It’s fixed now.” I thought to myself, can’t I have that person fired? Then I realized at least I can go buy that organic spinach tomorrow.
I’ve gotten a nibble from a company that auctions off medical supplies. Kind of like eBay, but instead of writing about Prada knock-offs, I’d be writing about gurneys. They are willing to arrange an interview but warned me that the editor of the site is a very difficult person to work for, and that I need a thick skin. Oh joy. Everyone I talk to tells me I should forget it.
I’ll be reporting on my journey through unemployment and under-employment for the indefinite future. Many of you will undoubtedly relate to some of what I write. If you can’t relate, maybe some of you will be entertained.
In next week’s episode: I take a stab at showbiz.
I’m Caitlin, and I’m under-employed. And this is my blog. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Caitlin O’Toole is a New York City-based writer and editor. A native of Washington, D.C., she began her illustrious journalism career as a Washington Post paper girl. She has since written and edited for Star Magazine, The National Enquirer, Glamour, People.com, Parade.com and Washington’s City Paper. Her work has also been featured on Fox News, ABC, MTV and VH1. She lives in Chelsea with her two cats, Lucy and Ethel. She can be reached for work at her LinkedIn page.