Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Insecure Writer: One Year in the Wilderness

Tomorrow is a sad anniversary: It's one year since I last had full-time employment.  In the media they talk about people who have been unemployed for a really long time and people who have "dropped out of the workforce" by pretty much just giving up.  When I was laid off a year ago I hoped I wouldn't be one of those people and yet a year later I'm still looking for work.

I guess if you want to be harsh maybe I shouldn't have spent September and October gallivanting around the western half of the country in Grumpy Bulldog Does America.  But I doubt it would have made a difference.  I did spend a lot of November applying for jobs in Phoenix and got pretty much the same reception as in Michigan, which is to say nothing good.

That's not to say the job market completely blows.  A lot of it is I'm just not a good interviewer.  Besides not being very pleasant to look at, I always have a hard time with all those BS questions they ask you.  I don't even understand why they ask you questions when they know you're lying, like, "What are your weaknesses" and of course you're not supposed to say your actual weaknesses.  Just like when you're supposed to ask questions you can't ask the questions you really want to ask, ie about money and benefits.

What I'd really like is the stopwatch that stops time like in "The Twilight Zone" episode that was later remade into "Clockstoppers."  Then I could stop time and go research an appropriate answer.  Of course if I had a watch to do that I'd just stop time, steal a shitload of stuff, and then start time again and not even need a fucking job.  And don't say you wouldn't do that; it's like the Force where if you got it you know in five minutes you'd be frying people with lightning and choking the barista who gets your name wrong at Starbucks.  With great on and so forth but I'm getting off track.

The last time I was long-term unemployed was in late 2001-early 2002.  It sucked that I got laid off at the end of August and 11 days later was September 11th and that just seemed to fuck everything up.  Anyway, probably the biggest change from back then is that every job you have to fill out these applications online.  You can't just send them a resume; you have to fill out this form that basically says all the same junk as your resume does.

Then there are "phone screenings."  They always seem to call me at like noon-12:30 when I'm either at lunch or at a coffee shop writing.  Then they get all pissed off because you're not sitting at home by the phone waiting for them to call, not that I have a land-line to call anyway.  But it's better to ask me stupid questions on the phone than it is to drag me 30 miles into the office in my suit and tie at 10am.  I love those ones, especially when the interviewers are so unprepared they ask like three questions and then ask if I have questions.  Um, yeah just one:  why the fuck did you drag me here if you weren't prepared?!

And so many places now make you take tests as part of the process.  Before it was just temp agencies that might do that, but now it's all sorts of places.  The thing is, I've actually had to take pretty much the same tests with some of them!  It gets to the point where I wish I could just take one set of tests like a SAT or ACT and have those scores for anyone who wants them instead of having to take the same tests over and over again.

The worst was this one I had to take for a part-time accounting clerk position.  So it's not even a full-time job and yet it's like you're taking the SATs.  You had to be there by 6pm exactly or you couldn't be let in.  And you had to bring two No. 2 pencils.  You couldn't have a cell phone on the table, not even to use as a calculator, so you had to bring your own calculator.  Which it's nice you could use a calculator because the one where I had to do all that basic math on paper was pretty annoying.  Despite the overkill of security the room was still full--for a part-time job with no benefits.  I guess that's a good indication of what the job market is like.  Then a couple days later I get an email saying I have to take another test, a typing test this time. 

Really annoying was when I applied to this community college and they had me go to Dearborn (like 30 miles) to take tests in this little room.  For whatever reason you weren't supposed to look at the results that printed out; why shouldn't I be able to see how I did?  Not like they were going to tell me.  Anyway, I get home and they call that they want me to take more tests because they forgot to put some on there.  Ugh, so I had to drag my ass back to Dearborn because you can't take these tests at home because then you might cheat!  As a writer I should probably be dismayed I didn't do so hot on the proofreading test.  But come on, every program has spellcheck now!  My Firefox is flagging misspellings even as I type this!  But I did get to advance to the lightning round (interview) where they asked me a bunch of inane questions.  "Name a time when you set a personal goal and achieved it."  Because I remember every single moment of the last 13 years to think of stuff like that.  I guess as a writer I should just make shit up, right?  Write some fiction with my mouth.

As a writer I'm familiar with form rejections and a lot of employers use the same things now.  My brother says he likes those (I mean not LIKE like) but as with agents and publishers I really don't want them.  I'd prefer they just let me forget about it, which I will 9 times out of 9.  I mean most of those they send it's like, "Huh?  When did I apply for this?"  Especially if it was one of those on Indeed where I could do the "quick apply" which is basically just hitting a button and sending off my resume.  But see that's for jobs I've just applied to.  If I've interviewed then you should send something.  And you should actually put your fucking name on it.  Last Wednesday I had to go to an interview and they made this big deal of giving me a packet with business cards and saying, "If you have any questions, let us know!"  Then the next morning they send me a form rejection with no names even.  Why'd you make this big stinking deal of giving me a packet and stuff if you had obviously already made up your mind?  And hello, I already met you in person and shook your fucking hand (twice) so I already know your fucking name.  You gave me your fucking business card!  So sending an unsigned generic email seems like a slap in the face.  Like, "You're not important enough for me to even compose a two-line email."  Rude!

Mostly I apply for accounting jobs because that's what my degree and experience is in.  But I have applied for other jobs too.  I applied to two different video stores.  The first one they actually asked me, "Where do you want to be in 5 years?"  Um, not working in a fucking video store.  Because video stores won't probably exist in 5 years.  The only reason they exist now is for Luddites and because Hollywood makes it too expensive for Netflix, etc. to obtain the rights to every movie ever.

They also gave me crap because I didn't have "customer service" experience since like 1998 when I worked at Burger King.  As if customer service has greatly changed since 1998.  To paraphrase Kevin Spacey in "American Beauty," I would sarcastically say, "I'm sure the industry has changed a lot in 20 years but that doesn't you should assume I can't learn." I mean how hard is it to swipe a fucking membership card (or take a phone number) and scan a couple of fucking DVD cases?

I also applied at a Holiday Inn.  I thought since the title was "Night Auditor" it was an accounting job, but mostly it was a desk clerk job.  The guy who interviewed me was completely clueless about accounting.  He thought I only worked during tax season even though my resume says "Payroll Accountant" among other things.

That one and this clerk job with a district court they really had a bee in their bonnet about handling customer complaints.  It didn't make me too sad I didn't get those jobs.  I mean if they're that worried about complaints then they must get a lot.  But really if someone is pissed off, what are you supposed to say you'd do?  I mean I say I'd just try to listen and be reasonable and stuff.  It's not like I can grab the nearest blunt instrument to bludgeon the customer to death, right?

I think I should say the hell with a real job and just go to comedy clubs.  Do a whole Jerry Seinfeld routine on unemployment.  And what's the deal with all these stupid tests?

Something I worry about now is that if I even find a job it might be like Morgan Freeman in "The Shawshank Redemption" where he gets out of prison after decades and can't fit in with modern life on the outside.  I mean when you've spent most of the last year getting up at 9am-noon and just throwing on a T-shirt and jeans/shorts how do you get back into that whole corporate grind?

If I hadn't been writing books most of this time I probably wouldn't have done anything since I got off the road.  I probably would just be sitting around watching TV and playing Deer Hunter on my tablet.  I tried to come up with some kind of work-like routine for writing, but it hasn't really taken.  I guess because it's so easy to roll over when the alarm goes off.  I try to do more writing at home, but still I find it's a lot harder than going out to do it.  It's so hard to write when the TV and stuff is right there; it's so easy to turn on HBO and say, "I haven't seen this movie!  I'll just watch this and then get to work..."  And before long the whole day is gone.  Still, I've managed to get a lot of writing done, so there's that.

I suppose at some point I'll have to start applying at McDonald's or something like that.  The writing has paid better in the last year, but not enough where I can live on that alone.  Mostly since January I've been living on money from cashing out my 401K, which Offutt would say to not do but it was either that or live in my car since I had less than $500 left to my name.  I also inherited a little bit of money, so that helped, but rich(er) relatives don't die every day (thank goodness) so that's not a dependable source of income either.

Anyway, enough about me, what's up with you?  I bet your "crappy" job seems a lot better now, right?  It's funny when they had me do a temp stint at the company that laid me off I thought, "Geez you guys don't know how spoiled you are!"  Honestly there used to be days in the 2000s where I'd go into work and have no real work to do so I'd just write and dick around on the Internet.  Or I'd take a vacation day because I had extra vacation days and not a lot to do.  So I was literally getting paid to do nothing.  Don't know what you got until it's gone. 

So yeah, life on the outside is pretty fucking hard.  Now to go find a beam to carve into it, "Grumpy Bulldog Wuz Here."


  1. I got divorced when the economy collapsed, and then had a really hard time finding a job. I ended up job hopping (not by choice) a few times, which was rather stressful as well. Perhaps you could go back to college and take a class or two to update skills? The IT field is always in demand and combined with accounting could make a good mix.

  2. I've gone through long periods of unemployment before. It really sucks and sometimes you get depressed, but sooner or later I'm sure you'll find something. Best of luck!

  3. Long-Term Unemployment is a real problem these days Pat and it does suck. A lot of employers are trying so hard to automate the emploee selection process and those tests are one way to do it. It doesn't make sense. My wife was out of work for over a year and we tried googling the answers to those personality tests like "when did you set a goal and achieve it" but no one really knows what the right answer is. Numbers of long-term unemployed are pretty high in some states like Washington D.C. (50.0 percent), New Mexico (45.3 percent) and New Jersey (41.4 percent), according to Governing Magazine. So I guess sometimes it does pay to move. I feel for you man.

  4. Hi Pat,

    The job market is a ruthless place these days. I totally empathise with your plight. It can takes it toll on your self-esteem and your mental health well being,. Yet, keep plugging away, good sir. Things will turn around, you will see. Wishing all the very best in getting a job.




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