I’ve been at the job hunt for four months now. I only started in January, after the boys’ visit was over. We decided I’d take some time after we got here in September to orient myself to the new surroundings, to help Sophia with transportation and university tours, and I needed every minute of those months to get my feet on the ground. Financially, it wasn’t easy, but we did it.
The job hunt has been murder. Being in a completely new environment really affected my ability to make connections. I don’t have a built-in social group like I did when I was a school mom, so I set about making new social groups in my volunteer efforts. To a person, everyone I’ve met has been kind and friendly, and I have found some kindred spirits among these enthusiastic outdoors-people. Turns out my kids were right all along; I am just an old hippie.
One of my volunteer connections, to whom I confided my difficulties finding legitimate job postings, generously shared her professional listserv contacts, and I’ve rooted through those like a pig for truffles. Some of the postings were very exciting, and I eagerly applied for everything that looked remotely possible. Every evening, I’d report to Tim my day’s job-post explorations, thrilled and hopeful that someone would see how perfect I was for their position. Well, nearly perfect. I recognize that I can’t be perfect for every position.
Weeks went by. Months. I received some perfectly lovely rejection letters–yes, Chicagoans! In Portland, sometimes you receive a note back when you apply for a job! I was SHOCKED!–thanking me for the time and effort I put into my application, but informing me very politely that they had chosen a different candidate.
I began to get discouraged. My excitement over new job postings morphed into nausea at the prospect of being rejected yet again. A trusted confidante advised me to look at the job hunt as a challenge, a puzzle to which I had to figure out the solution. I tried to apply that idea, and it helped my mental state, but did not help my success. I continued to receive gracious but firm rejections from all sorts of agencies.
I started hearing from long-time Portlanders that the job market here is seriously depressed, a hirer’s market, each position flooded with qualified applicants. Having met a number of unemployed biologists, ornithologists, chemists, cartographers and graphic designers in my multiple volunteer trainings, I started to put it together. People come to Portland much like I had, with a reasonable expectation that their education and experience would combine with networking to land a job in a field remotely related to their own. Everyone I met was volunteering with a purpose; to find a job. And they had good reason to hope, because most of the people who work at the organizations with which I volunteer had begun as volunteers themselves.
One evening, Tim came home to find me mourning yet another rejection, another day of fruitless job searching. Between the demoralizing hours of form-filling (if they require that you upload your resume, why do they also require that you fill out 8,000 boxes repeating the information that’s on your resume?), the endless tailoring of cover letters and resumes (seriously, no one wants to hire an editor as an administrative assistant…so I’ve got two resumes, each highlighting different, authentic work histories), and the realization halfway through an application that you already applied for this job two days ago, I started to lose hope.
It was all downhill from there.
I curled up in bed for the afternoon and just let the tears flow. All the horrible things we all secretly think about ourselves started leaking out; I’ll never find a job, there’s no place for me here, I’m no good for anything, we’re going to be homeless.
My husband, proving that he’s changing in ways I haven’t even seen yet, gently lifted me out of my fog, saying something I never in a million years expected him to say.
“Stop applying for jobs.”
To understand the impact of these words, you must realize that I have worked in some capacity for most of our marriage, either as a freelancer or a full-time, out-of-the-house employee. I taught piano lessons for eight years while I was working full or part time. Before Tim and I got together, I was the sole support of my family. Save for a few periods when the inability to find childcare prevented me from working, I have *always* had a job, even if it hasn’t earned much. Sometimes, me having a job was the only thing that kept food in the cupboard. Sometimes, it didn’t make a whit of difference. For my own sanity and for the feeling that I was contributing to our household, I have worked.
And now, Tim was releasing me from the responsibility of looking for a job. He did so during a period when, financially, we’re still not on completely stable footing. We’re still recovering from supporting two households for nearly two years. The cost of the move has yet to be fully absorbed. According to Tim’s meticulous accounting, we are very close to resolving these outstanding financial problems, but we’d get there a lot faster if I were working.
“That’s okay,” he says, “We can either be broke and have you miserable, or we can be broke and have you happy again. I’ll choose happy Meg.”
We talked at length about the risk. About what we’d have to do to muddle through the next tight several weeks. About all the frugal, gluten-heavy recipes we’d have to employ to squeak by. With each item on our how-to list, my heart got lighter. We could do this, I know we could.
And then he said something else I’d never expected him to say. “You have to promise me one thing,” he looked very serious, “You. Will. Write.”
For years, I’ve been pecking away at short fiction while I worked paying gigs, sharing my work with a select few. My checklist-adoring husband has never understood how I could leave my work unfinished, unsubmitted. As I look at my path littered with school battles and soccer games and hospital visits, I know the reasons, but will not argue.
This is my chance. I have the freedom and the mental space to devote to the one task I feel compelled to do. Tim has given me a profound gift. His linear, exacting nature may sometimes be at odds with my creative temperament, but the fact that he is able to see how important this is, that he can acknowledge who I am in this very impractical, potentially difficult way is a true act of love.
There may never be monetary gain from the work that I do. I’m familiar enough with my sister’s struggles in the art world to be aware of the vagaries of competing financially in a creative field. I don’t expect instant–or even eventual–success.
But I know I have to do this. I have to pursue this work to the fullest extent I can muster, and maybe a little beyond. This dream has flickered since I wrote my first story at 8 years old, tucked away with an old Royal typewriter in the alcove of my childhood bedroom; it has withstood the discouraging efforts of a university degree in creative writing; and has even managed to stay alive through a career in editing. I’ve never stopped wanting to do this every day, all day.
For Tim, who continues to surprise me. Thank you.