I read Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America because it was recommended by talktooloose, and I'm so glad I did! It's a non-fiction book about the World's Columbian Exposition, more commonly known as the Chicago World's Fair, that occurred in 1893. Larson focuses on the story's of two men: Daniel Burnham, the chief architect of the fair, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer (in the FBI Behavioral Science sense of the term) who was murdering people before, during and after the fair. It's a fascinating story that provides a glimpse into late nineteenth century life in so many ways and interweaves historical figures and trends that I never realized were connected. The style is not at all novelistic, much more journalistic, but it's as exciting as any novel. And it leaves me thinking: how is it that I never knew any of this before?
I came across Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch in the library while looking for something else. It was written a few years ago, before the latest economic downturn but well into the trend towards downsizing, rightsizing, outsourcing, etc. Ehrenreich has written a lot about the struggles of the working poor in the past. With this book she tries to see what it's like to be a middle class white collar worker looking for a job. She impersonates just such a person, legally changing her name and manufacturing a fake resume and references who are willing to lie for her, and goes out looking for a job. She has a time frame (up to six months looking and landing the job, three months working), a budget (she plans on spending up to $5000 on job coaches, materials, resumes, etc), and a plan - to write what it's like to look for and land a job in corporate America. She has no scruples (she'll take any job, even for a company her real self would hate to work for) and no restrictions on where she'll live. It just has to be a professional job and making more than $50,000.
The resulting book is surprisingly funny, in a wacky kind of way. She has a detached, dry humor that she brings to the task of dissecting job coaches, recruiters, professional networking groups, image consultants, etc. She's very aware of how unscientific the methods of the professionals who say they'll help her get a job are (and she notices how all of these job coaches and resume writers and so on seem to be looking for jobs themselves). Ultimately she not only doesn't get any job offers, she doesn't even get a single real interview. She does have some serious things to say along the way about private enterprise, employer-based health care, over-reliance on market forces and the like. And this reader, at least, was very aware that the humorous, lighthearted tone of the book comes in large part from the fact that this isn't a real job search; it's a game and a book idea. When her time is up, she knows all along that she'll go back to her real life as best-selling author.
I've been trying to do some part-time, freelance work since I haven't come up with full time employment yet. I've done some tutoring, some editing. Now I got a gig through rpics, writing a Business Continuity Plan for the non-profit organization in Massachusetts that she works for. I went there last week for a couple of days and did initial interviews with managers and got started. It will be several weeks of part-time work, probably the rest of it done from home.
It felt good to be doing it. It's a kind of work I've done a few places and enjoy. It feels great to be working, even if part-time. And the money will certainly come in handy. Plus it was fun to stay with rpics and hang out with her family. I've never been on a business trip where someone packed me lunch, where I helped a kid review for an English test (did you know there are four kinds of irony?), or where I went to a middle school band concert before.
I'm continuing to actively look for a job although, like Barbara Ehrenreich, I find many of the resources available useless or worse. I get regular emails from a resume writing company telling me that I'd be getting interviews if only I paid them big bucks. I've had my resume reviewed (without pay) by a variety of people, gone to resume writing workshops, read up on current trends in resumes. I feel like it's likely as good as it's going to get and that these resume writers just prey on desperate people. And I'm still tempted every time I get one of their emails.
I continue to look for openings in a variety of places and send off resumes regularly. I've also gone to some workshops: the aforementioned resume writing, Job Search for Geezers (they called it something more discreet, but I forget what), using LinkedIn in your job hunt. I've joined a Job Loss Support Group. I've been to job fairs. None of these activities are actually bearing fruit, but they make me feel like I'm doing something.
I have gotten interviews for two positions in the past couple of weeks, but both were through connections rather than any of the above. I have been doing the tell-everyone-you-know-you-need-a-job thing, and that's how I heard about these two. The first one - a QA job at a software firm - didn't go anywhere. The second is a job I really hope I'll get: Business Manager at a special ed school. They're looking to grow and want someone with a mix of skills who can do grant writing, financial stuff, some IT, etc. It seems like just the kind of job I love to do - varied and interesting and kind of build-your-own job, and in a field I feel connected to. The Head of School said encouraging things at the first interview. I'm not counting on anything but I'm very hopeful.
Thanks to all who responded to my query for information on Jews and comic books. I'm reading all sorts of interesting stuff on the topic and should be ready for my lecture in May.
I've got a financial plan that will take me through 2010 without a job, should it come to that. I hope it doesn't. I was one of the folks caught in the delay in renewal of unemployment extension, or at least I would have been if I hadn't done some freelance work. Since I did, and declared it, I had a cushion of a couple of weeks and never had any weeks without unemployment. Now I've hit the end of my initial allotment, but I have 20 weeks of extended benefits if I need them.
That's pretty much what's going on with me. No change in the home situation, and I don't expect any. I am, of course, open to talking about a settlement but I don't expect my ex will be willing to talk, given that she hasn't been willing to all the time since we broke up (9 years ago next month) and even during the past 6 months when I've been living here. But that's okay for me, at least for now. I've been able to make a good 65-70% of the apartment livable, even really nice. It's more room than I had in my rental, a lot cheaper, and my ex mostly stays away and when she is here holes up in the 30-35% of the place that is Hoarding Central. So it's fine for now.