In Theodore Ross’ “A Beginner’s Guide to Unemployment”, he encapsulates this experience as “surreal”. I remember my initial response to my work hours being cut from 40-20 hours a week, which lead to my unemployment as ‘intolerable’. Not only could I not fathom a 50% reduction in wage for a two-hour a day commute, I wondered how my employer expected me to provide the same services in half the time and this was what they wanted to discuss when I wandered into work the next morning.
I say wandered, as I did not go directly. At intersections where I’d turn, I went straight. At the traffic circle, I went around and around before chosing the exit. I then, headed north, not south toward the destination that had scorned me. At each turn or not, I’d corrected my errors, kicked myself for wasting gas. It wasn’t that I was hallucinating; I was protesting.
It was a sting, having not heard the buzz or seen the swarm, it stung nonetheless. What would be their next move? What game were they playing? Did they actually think I would quit?
Although I left cool and collected the night before, I arrived a bit disheveled the next morning. I immediately engaged my clients in program, as that was my job: it was my vocation. My employer positioned themself, as far as I could see, to be a monumental inconvenience to my delivery of services.
Upon the conclusion of my first program of the day, they demand to know my intent of service under the constraint of four hours daily, indicating service that would continue to go beyond my paid hours, in addition to the planning and programing, state documentation, and then the total revamping of the programs I provided. Although they were successful, now upon the ticking of eighteen hours they became insufficient for the same population I’ve been servicing and catering to the past year and a half. On the spot they needed to know how I would compensate for their irrational demands.
Have I mentioned the word intolerable? Well, I mentioned it to them. I said, “You are making this intolerable! I can’t possibly reorganize my schedule of activities and create new programming without thought, processing, and the creativity that it demands.” I told my administrator, “I feeling ill and I’m going home.”
“Put it in writing!” She demanded and repeated her demand tossing blank sheets from the copy machine onto my desk. Gathering my things, I wondered: Was there a deadline for my resignation that she was required to meet?
Did she expect me to spew the words “I quit.” on the pages as I swallowed my vomit.
I’m a single mother, a home owner, and until then a stable employee. Did they really think she was going to crack me?
This predicament was anything but surreal. This was war and I was on my game. I told her I would put it all in writing and mail it to her. This was a battle of wits and the law. It was Christmas Eve 2009, two days after I left sick, that instead of mailing, I faxed my reply; the continued negotiation of hours for services.
So, although they claimed I quit the morning I left sick and posted an advertisement for my position, the faxed negotiations that were sent back and forth were enough when the feds audited my unemployment benefits denied by the NY State Department of Labor.
I went back to school. I enrolled for the spring semester, this girl took action not a retreat into a ‘virtual’ world. In studying French Sociologist, Emile Durkheim‘s On Suicide of (1897), I found his response to sudden economic change to be timeless.
“…it is not possible for society to subject them to this new life instantaneously, and teach them to exercise this additional restraint on themselves when they are not accustomed to it. The outcome is that they are not adjusted to the condition that they occupy and the prospect of it is intolerable to them. Hence the suffering that detach them from a diminished form of life even before they have experienced it.” p.276.
I had immediately perceived this projection of a “diminished form of life”. I felt this without being one who lived paycheck to paycheck. However, I was angry, very angry and depressed that other individual’s had this power over my economic and emotional well-being. This Durkheim defines as anomie, unemployment is certainly a breakdown to the individual’s social norm.
Theodore Ross identified a sense of social isolation and as an advanced beginner, having passed my first year anniversary of unemployment, I want to tell him, this doesn’t get any easier. I still miss the Monday-Friday interaction and comradity with my colleagues and clients. I miss the sense of satisfaction I felt engaging clients with mental illness. And like, I’m sure, the majority of the 9% unemployed nationally, I miss going out to earn a paycheck. However, I want to wish Mr. Ross my best regards in the pursuit of his writing endeavor from his “virtual office.”
Theodore Ross Article: A Beginner’s Guide to Unemployment – NYTimes.com