26 July 2010

The Road to Nowhere... Leads to Me

Ozzy would probably kick my ass for snatching his talent off YouTube, but I could totally outrun him now. 

Facebook is a dangerous place. Not just because it opens a whole universe of stalking, snarking, bullying, and Doocing oneself, but because it's a vessel for all my worst fears. One of these fears is doing nothing with my life.

Why is this embodied in Facebook, you ask. Well, I shall tell you, oh avid reader of blogs. Because by its very nature, Facebook allows users to filter exactly what others see. That means as a friend, I see how wonderful your life is. And it probably is! And I'm not jealous of this. I am a bit ccovetous of your job, however...

One thing I find difficult is seeing how many of my friends have gainful employment, in their chosen fields (or at least with stable benefits packages!), and how this is providing so many new and continuous opportunities. I don't want their jobs, certainly; I want my own. And I apply. Oh! I apply. But it's been six months. And I am depressed about it.

Honestly, when I quote Ozzy (side note: I'm really not a metal fan, this is seemed appropriate. For my next act, I will be biting heads off of Barbie dolls), I am doing so out of desperation. Desperate frustration and that sinking feeling that things will never get better.

Platitudes from friends and strangers alike are not enough to get me through these job-hunting doldrums. And even suggestions don't seem to help, regardless of how many times I apply to suggested positions. The problem, of course, is not simply the never-ending hunt-apply-get rejected cycle. What it really is involves my self-esteem, pure and simple. 

Facebook is like a daily facing-down of my ten year high school reunion. And I graduated high school in 2002! What do I tell people I do? For a long time I was cheeky and laughed about being unemployed, cracked a wise-ass comment. After all, not only do I revel in gallows humor, but being silly helps me stay positive. Making other people laugh makes me happy, this is part of the reason many say truly funny people are often really sad - why else would they try so hard to elicit laughter? Even the sound of it warms the cockles. I said cockles, you perv. Anyway, I digress.

I don't joke much about it anymore. My other post, about how much it fucking sucks to be unemployed and have to talk about it all the time, was a little cathartic. I mean, the conversations about my job hunt have certainly been cut down in number and length. What it didn't do what shut my brain up about it.

I wish my brain had an off switch. Or a mute button. Or that I could buy an at-home lobotomy machine off late-night television for seven easy payments of $75.99 (be one of the first hundred callers and get a free barium enema with each purchase!). I recently found out that the average American job-search takes 35 weeks these days. Thirty-five weeks! That's almost 9 months. I could gestate a human being in that time. Or like 40% of an elephant. Or a whole shit ton of mice. (Well, I couldn't gestate those animals, but I think you catch my drift. Hmmm... mouse army.)

I've been jobless for six months. This means I have 11 weeks to fix my shit or screw up that statistic. I just can't help but think how infuriating this is. Why can't I get a job? Am I looking in the wrong places? Am I being too picky? Or really, and this is the insidious part, am I just not good enough?

Ever have a friend offhandedly (possibly accidentally) give you a backhanded compliment? You know, one of those accidental-by-way-of-asshole insulting phrases that you don't necessarily initially register, but later they start eating your brain? I will give you an example.

"Oh, wow, that's a really cute dress for someone your size."

Initially, you're all, "Gee, thanks! I love it, too." And you go about your day, maybe your week, but then, hours, days, maybe even weeks later, you're sitting down to read some Jane Austen or William S. Burroughs novel and you just blurt out, "... for someone of MY SIZE? What the fuck does that even mean?!" And by now it's way too damn late to say something snarky or corrective back, and you just feed your starved self-esteem with negative thoughts. And sure, when your brain needs to be fed, the first thing to get consumed is never pleasant. Like the rice of self-esteem nourishment, these negatives are plentiful and readily available, but they lack nutrients and flavor and only make you worse off in the end. (And garnishing them with shit like soy sauce and ketchup only makes you thirsty.)

I've been chewing on the stale-rice-negatives of unemployment for far too long. Mostly, they are self-developed. There seems to be an endless supply of New Ways to Hate Me in my head these days. I fixate on my weight. I pick fights with Adam. I throw minor temper tantrums when I lose at chess. I skulk about like Miss Havisham on a bad day (sans wedding cake, of course. That said, I do love me some cake. Donations appreciated.)

It's the uselessness that starts it, but it grows fed by something worse: self-doubt. Of all the adjectives that people have used to describe me, the one I always thought and hoped was true was "intelligent." Often, it is the only thing that has gotten me through some really tough times in my history of self-esteem bullshittery. Thoughts like, "I may be a fatty lumpkin, but at least I'm smart" and "They're paying me borderline poverty wages, but I know so much more than they do!" helped keep me going for a long time. Am I embarrassed or ashamed of my mentally-driven conceit? Sometimes. I don't know everything. I don't even know a lot. But I always knew I was, at the very least, smarter than the average bear. So why am I reduced to stealing pick-a-nic baskets these days? Hey, Booboo?

19 July 2010

I Was Born To Love You

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From my earliest memories of riding in the back of my father's beloved early '70s Pontiac Lemans with BigD 103 (America's First FM!) blaring, to my brother's pre-teen obsession with Billy Joel and my mother's insistence on ambient Celtic music during Christmas, music has been thankfully flooding my eardrums.

This post, however, is about Queen. Queen taught my eight-year old self about queerness, and throughout the years about musical drama, about fuck-yeah-you-can-have-terrible-teeth-and-be-sexy, about seriously shredding it, about you-can-never-wear-too-many-sequins, and about knowing yourself and not giving a shit what others think.

Okay, so maybe I'm giving Freddie a whole helluva lot of credit here, but I will say this: I don't trust people who don't like Queen. All the same, I'm not joking when I say Queen taught me about what it means to be queer.

My dad gave my brother Classic Queen (1992) on cassette (hey we're old!) that he played on a loop for, well, years. Who could blame him?! I remember looking at the band in the flyleaf and wondering why the hell anyone (Freddie) would wear an electric blue silk shirt with cats all over it, but that was beside the point. (Mind you, this is only my recollection of his outfit, I may be mistaken.) It wasn't just because I listened to the album non-stop without any control over it (our bedrooms shared a wall. If you'd like me to recite all of "We Didn't Start The Fire" I can do that, too) that it is so ingrained in my memory. It's because Queen truly changed my appreciation of music.

Sure, I had listened to The Beatles since, well, birth, and had passing familiarity with The Who and The Kinks and even Frankie Valley. I liked music. I loved Queen. Between the two of us, my brother and I destroyed the cassette of Classic Queen. I mean destroyed. We listened to it so often that the tape stretched and distorted. We paused, fast-forwarded, rewound and otherwise mangled the damn thing from over-use. I wonder if it's still around here somewhere, long ago replaced by a now very scratched CD...

I was moved by the music. It made me want to dance like a maniac (and at eight, you are 100% allowed to dance like a maniac), it made me cry and laugh and hurt and can't wait to fall in love. And therein lies my discovery - my understanding - of queerness.

My brother had told me that Freddie Mercury was gay. He then had to explain what gay was. While certainly not upset by the information, I was thoroughly confused. I thought, as many children who are raised by heterosexual parents, that love is one of those very restricted things. Restricted in the sense that certain criteria had to be met before love was achieved; as if it were some sort of algorithm. Hey, I was eight. I loved my family, I loved my pets, I loved Jem and the Holograms (perhaps a little too much, but once you're a Jem girl, you're never the same! Actually, I preferred her arch enemies, the Misfits, but whatever), and I loved QUEEN. It didn't much understand love outside of these narrow contexts.

I was in the car with my mom and had pushed play on - what else - Classic Queen that was in the tape deck. Having recently been informed about this gay stuff, when "Just One Year of Love" came on, I asked my mother what is was like to be gay and how that love compared to "regular" love. (What? Moms know everything.) I think I surprised her with the question, I mean, a trip to the town pool with your eight year old doesn't usually include conversations about sexuality as far as I can gather.

My mom just looked at me, an expression of mild surprise (okay, her eyebrows were attempting to become one with her hairline) across her face. She just said, "Love isn't something that is the same for everyone. Two men or two women can love each other just like a man and woman." (Side note: the physics of love were not discussed. I remained naive to those for quite a few more years, and by then, it was a different story.)

I chewed on that for about three and a half seconds before saying, "Oh, okay." And that was it. Is there really anything else to say? No, except that Queen kicks ass.

Shortly after this, Wayne's World came out, and thanks to Mike Meyers, everyone was singing "Bohemian Rhapsody." I felt like the biggest bad-ass in the fourth grade when I already knew the song and everyone else was running amok abusing the word "bismillah" in their most offensive Freddie-inspired falsettos.

And we all know the arena-Queen, the "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions" medley that is a sporting event staple. (Odd to think that of the few songs Americans actually enjoy during their sports, they were almost all written by Brits, who tend to prefer singing Gerry and the Pacemakers and such during their arena sports. That was almost entirely a non-sequitur, but I felt it was important to make the point.) This isn't the Queen that I know and love, however.

My Queen is singing "Don't Stop Me Now" and "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy" at the top of my lungs in Tanya's car on the way to pick up her friend in Vermont. The two of us dancing as best we could while still buckled into her Dodge Neon., murdering Freddie's stellar singing with our own adrenaline-fueled ridiculousness, totally high on the music and life and maybe the fumes form the car.

My Queen is realizing that the best part of the entire Highlander film is "Who Wants To Live Forever" (honestly, a Spanish ghost with a Scottish accent? WTF?) and Queen's other contributions to the series.

My Queen is being told in no uncertain terms that "Fat Bottomed Girls" are as sexy, if not more so, than any skinny supermodel. It's thinking that I should be an international assassin or spy, not because of James Bond, but because of "Killer Queen."

It's listening to "Breakthru" until I laughed myself to tears after a friend's death. 

It's singing "Khashoggi's Ship" or "A Kind of Magic" into a hairbrush in the bathroom in my underwear at least a few times a year for my entire Queen-filled life ("Who said that my party was all over?"). It's knowing arena-rock at its best, and feeling like Queen was playing just for me in some of my worst moments. It's understanding that Freddie Mercury will forever be the only man I think acceptable in a mustache.

Sure, there are other bands I love as much for various reasons, but there's nothing like turning up the self-aware, silly, excitable, operatic, sweeping, shredding, soaring music of Queen. It can change my entire day from absolute shit to totally survivable and maybe even enjoyable. It can elicit laughter and tears, stinging nostalgia and deep fear. And even as I write this, I seem to be falling in love with Queen all over again.

P.S. Happy birthday, Brian May.

09 July 2010

No, I Don't Want To Talk About It

Photo from Scrapetv.com

The world of the Job Search (capitalized, you see) is an odd one. It is made up of the Haves and Have Nots, a stark distinction that is not unlike a class division. And while many of the Haves were once Have Nots, I imagine that they quickly forget what it was like to look for gainful employment. Or, at the very least, I often suspect that they were Have Nots in another, kinder economic climate.

I've mentioned this before, but I have a great education. I have experience. I have brains and drive and a sense of humor. I am not unemployable, I am simply unemployed. Moreover, I know what I need to do to get a job. The horrible cliché "getting a job is a full time job" isn't too far off. I wake up every morning and start my search. (Today, Monster.com suggested I look into managing my local Sunglass Hut.) I apply for jobs, I tweak my resumé constantly, I follow up on applications, interviews, business cards I pull out of the "Win A Free Lunch" fishbowls at restaurants.

As I sit here crying from utter and all-consuming frustration, I realize that one of my most challenging struggles is not just my inability to find employment - it's having to talk about it.

The Haves seem to look at me with the same expression - one of pity and concern and relief - when they ask how my job search is going. Yes, relief. I know that every time I mention how hard it is to find a job, how I've only had a few interviews, how it's been almost six months, they thank their lucky stars it isn't them. And I don't blame them, really. I would probably be making the same face if I were in that position. But then comes the unsolicited advice...

I know people are trying to help. Really, I do. Or, they're trying to remind me that they're employed. Sometimes, I honestly can't tell which it is. Either way, I cannot express how tired I am of the following conversation:

Employed friend/acquaintance/stranger: How's the job hunt going, Court?
Me: Oh, you know, it goes. I've had a few interviews, and I apply to jobs every day, but it's tough.
Employed individual: Have you tried...? OR What about...?
Me: Oh yes, I have. OR I'm looking into it.
Have: Well, I'll keep an eye out for you. I'll see what's out there.
Have Not: Oh how grateful I am to you, as I am a lowly peon with crap morals milking the State for unemployment benefits. Without you, I would starve!

Okay, so not really. I am actually grateful that there are some folks who are keeping an ear to the ground where they work. My friend Kristin, for instance, has been amazing in sending me job openings at her company, and I actually got an interview there upon her recommendation. Incidentally, it was at an insurance company, and they went with someone with underwriting experience (can't blame them), but at least I got in the door. 

On the other hand, I'm tired of that conversation because there seems to be an underlying assumption that if I just tried their advice, if I just did the one right thing, I'd have a job. I just haven't been told what that thing is yet, but THIS PERSON HAS THE MAGICAL INSIGHT, damnit. They just know it! 

The thing is, it's all the same advice. I just had to stop my dad from spewing more a minute ago when he asked why I was crying. 
"I'm just so fucking frustrated with my job search!" I said.
"Well, have you tried...?" He started.
"I don't want to talk about it. I just don't!" I interrupted him. He left the room. I feel bad.

Really, it's been six months. There is no more wisdom to impart to me as far as how to look for a job. I have heard it all, I promise you. And the one conclusion I draw is that is isn't what you know, it's who you know. Yes, it's that horrible n-word. No, not that one, I was talking about networking.

"Networking," as far as I can tell, is code for "my dad/aunt/friend/neighbor/former babysitter is in middle management and will get me a job." I shouldn't poo-poo networking, but I don't have connections. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which being I went to grad school overseas and the limited experience I had in my field was for a non-profit - a dying sector if ever there were one in this economy. (Word is they haven't even outsourced my position at my old organization yet. That means this non-profit has gone six months without any communications team. If you can't communicate your mission as a non-profit, you can't garner donations!) 

But it's more than that. Networking is all fine and dandy once you're in the network, whatever network that may be. It's getting in that's the hard part. And how do you get in? You become a Have. 

Just as I stare, dumbfounded, at job openings that require 5-10+ years of experience, wondering how I can get a job without that much experience, but I can't get experience without a job, networking is a Catch-22. I can't get in without being in. Networking is like the Sopranos or something, though with presumably less fire power and T&A.

So, I'm tired of telling people I'm unemployed. I am sick to death of the pity/relief stare. I am tired of smiling through the same dead-end conversations and suggestions when I just want to talk about anything else. I hate basketball, but I will talk to you for six hours about LeBron James if it will keep you from reminding me that I don't have a job.

I don't want to sound ungrateful. Really, I'm not. I'm just frustrated and scared and angry. I'm not jealous, per se, of those with jobs. I don't want to take anyone's job, I just want one of my own (preferably one with benefits, but I'm definitely getting less picky these days). I do appreciate the sympathy and empathy that people offer, because it is really hard out here in Joblessville. I just can't talk about it anymore, especially with the same people. I don't have anything left to say, and there really isn't much new to hear.

All the same, I know the conversations can't stop, because who knows? Maybe the next person I come across will know of the exact position I will fit, and I'll suddenly become a Have. (And by suddenly, I mean after slogging through the seemingly endless application and interview process.) I just want to put it out there that this isn't easy. And it's not just the search that's hard, it's that it is never-ending. There is no respite from the reminder that I am unemployed, that I need a job. Even when I'm out trying to relax, I have a nagging fear that I may never find a job.

Adam keeps reminding me that of all the times to be unemployed, now is it. So many people will have a gap in their resumés during this period that it will be understandable. Regardless, it's hard not to feel defective and less than because of my joblessness. It's difficult to wake up every morning and question whether or not I'm worthy, intelligent, or friendly enough to get a job... or to keep one. I realize I was laid off due to the financial shit-show that was my former employer, but sometimes, on days like today, I really wonder. 

Maybe I just need a little Stuart Smalley in my life today, because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggoneit, people like me.

Al Franken as Stuart Smalley. Found it here.

All the same, even Stuart Smalley once said, "whining is anger coming through a very small opening."

So maybe I've been whining my way through this post. Or maybe, just for a little while, I don't want to talk about it. Just for a little while. I need time to regroup.