What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

What unemployment feels like

You ever get that feeling of defeat deep within the caverns of your body's core?  That sinking feeling, of utter emotional despair that rises up from the depths of your lower abdomen, consumes your chest and drops your neck and head, overtaking all other emotion?  I've felt this before.  I was so competitive as an athlete, I took defeat really hard.  Losing a football game that every ounce of your body gave something to, picking your defeated self up off the track after your dive at the finish line was too late, even sitting with someone you care about knowing you've done something unwittingly detrimental to your relationship.  But these sinking feelings only last for a moment, an afternoon or two.  The pain that I feel right now lasts.  It lasts through the summer, the winter, the days, the nights, the weeks and the months.  It's not just that utter feeling of defeat that you feel deep down though.  Its the anxiety you start to feel in your chest, the adrenal reaction to the despair emanating from your core.  Your soul is touched by it, it moves throughout your body; up into your throat, raw and tight, around towards your back where it pulls your shoulders closer to your spine like a winch being slowly cranked and knotted up.  Your legs tingle, your arms lose luster and feel listless.

The physical manifestation of pain and despair, of hearing back from another job that you didn't get, of putting in another job application only to be told you are overqualified, underqualified, or nothing.  The hopelessness of hope.  This is what it feels like.  Everyday you put in another application or two, and every day you hear nothing back from an ever increasing number of "hopes" - the essence of what every cover letter essentially is.  You read through the want ads, you get email notifications, your friends send you things.  You slowly weed through all these options to the ones that really grab your experience by the jugular, you've done this! you can do this! this could be the one!  You prioritize them all, the "perfect" ones come first  then the good ones, and then the ones that you know full well that you can do without even batting an eye but might be a bit out of your expertise or the experience you can show on paper.  You slave and slave over the letters, free writing, drafting, copy pasting from other letters, proof reading and proof reading.  Every time you reread your resume.  Is there anything that you can change or tweak to help on this application?

You're applying to lots of stuff, none of it is the same.  Just anything you think you can or would do.  Yeah, of course there is always that perfect one that you bump up to the top.  But those are the worst.  Those are the ones that you do extra research on.  Extra hoping!  You read around and Google the specifics of the industry, maybe even talk to people.  Searching for the way in.  You slave and slave, hope and hope.  but end up again in despair and despair.  You are capable of doing all of these things you are asking to do, but incapable of getting the chance to.  This is where the pain comes from.  Each effort is a test of your capacity to hope and your will to succeed.  Interviews make it even worse.  You look someone in the eyes, you shake their hand, develop a moment with them that you hope will turn into many moments.  You feel this immense pressure writhing across your back and scalp, penetrating deep down into the complexities of your heart.  You know that your life hinges on every word you say, every expression of your face, the slightest glimpse into even a singular fear or doubt residing within you.  You slip up, you don't, what does it matter at this point anyway?  You feel so much pressure either way.  You've been trying for so long now, have so much riding on this.

You won't know anytime soon.  At least not for sure.  You walk out of the interview with a hunch though.  It is usually easy to feel the energy in the room, the demeanor of the interviewers.  You know it, they know it.  Either you have it or you don't.  Sadly, for the unemployed, you have less of it each time you stretch out your welcoming palm and make that manufactured smile and piercingly assertive gaze.  Everytime you sit down in that chair and accept that glass of water you are setting yourself up for the pain of hope.

It never ceases to go away.  For every time you stand up and are escorted back to the elevator your chances are less and less.  Thanks for coming in...  (Your over qualified, your underqualified, you won't stay, you don't have this precise experience).  It hits you when you get home and start waiting.  You hope and hope, living within it even.  There is this chance, and that one, maybe even in this case you're right.  But hope fades to despair.  You didn't get it.  You didn't get it.  You didn't get it.  Is that an echo, or just reality?

How long do you hear this before you start hearing this?  I mean hear it in your throat, in your chest, your back, all the way down to the depths of your core, your self worth?  How long is it until you start learning from it?  Reacting to it.  Feeling the despair take control of you, eating you from outside in and back outside?  There is no escaping it.  Your meals get smaller, your appetite wains, your passions become listless pursuits that don't mean as much.  Then comes the roof over your head, when will that go?  How much time do you have?  What else is going to break, to wear out?

And there is no help, no one to work with or stand by you.  They all try.  You reach out more and more, become needier and needier.  Your soul needs help.  Words akin to advice and surefire ways at getting jobs morph into sympathy and solace.  They want to help, they even start feeling your pain.  Which is getting sharper now.  It runs the whole length of the right side of your back.  You wish someone would stick a knife in the knots just to release them.  What else could possibly slice through them?  Your throat is openly closed, your neck seems stiff, like you've already broken it.  Yeah, your support network doesn't feel that though.  Not to that extent.  They feel their pain for you, they care.  But they don't feel the knife.  They don't feel the intensity of the weight you feel.  They have a place to live, something of worth everyday, palatable meals to come home to.  Nothing tastes the same for you.  Its just nutrition at this point.  You know in your mind you have to eat, but you don't feel the urge to.  Not like you used to, at least not enough to go to the store.

In fact, you are wholly depressed in the worst of ways.  You are completely conscious of it.  Watching the train wreck without being able to pull away or react - fully cognizant of its happenings and even solutions.  There is no internal condition, no genetic abnormality manifesting itself somewhere deep within your psyche, not even a long standing personal trauma subtly undermining your esteem.  No this is the pain of overt confidence mixed with surreal destitution.  You know you are capable.  You've done this work so many times before, but there is no outlet now.  The world has no interest in you and your skills, even if you do.

The confidence of despair is the only thing that keeps you going.  But it dissipates ever so slightly, ever so daily.  Ups and downs mix within the cycles of applying and waiting, hearing nothing or hearing something.  You try to get out, to network.  But how do you talk to these people?  Don that fake smile while you know deep down inside you are decaying?  Looking them in the eyes without your soul.  How can they not see your desperation?  How do you not start to beg?   

The pain is transcendent.  Deep hopelessly hopeful pain.  Eventually though, that hope fades into hopelessness.  Eventually though, the despair outweighs the aspiration.  You sink.  You sink further into the depths of your mind and into the internal physical manifestations of economic catastrophe and personal solitude. You want to escape, to run away, but instead you stay at home, confined in pain.  You need people, you need a hug.  The only thing that seems to bring any ounce of life from you now is applying for more work.  It is both the cause of and cure for your pain, the only way out of this destitute cycle of agony.  Will it ever come?  There is always hope.  Which of course brings us right back to where we started...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why Yesterday Sucked.

Right, so yesterday sucked.  Yeah, I know I'm repeating the title, but it really did suck.  You'd think on the surface that it could have been a pretty promising day.  I had this NY Times political roundtable discussion on the economy surrounding the electoral debacle we're in the middle of right now.  It's been on my radar for a few weeks and I was pretty excited about it.  But I realized that despite my delushions of grandeur about how it could somehow knight in shinning armor my job prospects forward, that concept was just plain absurd.  The program was a half hour discussion.  I spoke three times, one of which had some technical person chatting in my ear.  I mean, not that it didn't go just fine, but in my head somewhere the thought that - really?!?! - this was somehow going to solve the jobless issue!?  Ha!!  You know, thinking that someone is going to take a peak at this show and say, hey, that guy's got some talents that might be helpful.  Lets get him in here.  Or maybe that I would put the link up on my resume with the smattering of other media appearance I've had with Occupy and that it was going to be presenting some rock star type video appearance that would bring everyone running to hire me.  Yeah, delusions of grandeur!  haha!!

I mean, I'm not sure I even believed any of this.  I don't even remember really thinking about that consciously before hand in any concerted way.  But it felt like I had afterwards.  I got out of the discussion and it was so anti-climactic.  It was just done, and the lady said; "ok, so the exit's over there, thanks."  Away I went.  I was on the sidewalk literally four minutes after It was over.  I didn't really get to talk to anyone about it or get any feedback.  In and out.  Why was I expecting more? 

Oh well, I walked back down to the village to pick up my bike and drop my keys off at the old place I was staying this past year.    That was depressing as well.  As if I thought maybe they'd let me keep them so I could check in on the place when they needed it.  I love those people and somehow want to be able to stay involved with them.  Giving keys back changes things, means something. 

I of course was struggling by this point.  I didn't get halfway from midtown before I was taking a shot in a liquor store.  What!?!?  Do you put that one out there for the public?  I guess I just did... unemployment isn't a fairy tale, nor should it be air brushed.  Not sure why.  It was there, I was feeling unemployed and unloved?  One little nipper.  "I don't need a bag, it'll be gone by the time I get to the door!"  I don't even really drink that much, but it seemed like medicine yesterday.  It didn't help though. 

The day's lesson was much deeper than my emotions at that moment.  The key to this day's was that I learned something much deeper: that I am smart.  I have so much to offer people and the world.  People keep telling me this, yet the establishment doesn't corroborate it.  But I am, and I mean that.  I get into these settings, talking to people, talking about the world and politics and society, offering knowledge, experiences, a critique, challenges, and possible solutions, and I feel like I'm alive and have purpose.  But I still have no work. 

I felt empoweringly dismal.  Like I'm this hidden gem that needs a little polishing.  I'm not an executive assistant, I'm not a retail worker, I'm not a 9 to 5er.  I'm a thinker.  And yeah, all of those positions can use thinkers, but they are not what's best there it seems.  My mind is in a different place from these jobs I'm applying for and the employers know it.  I talk about ideology and meaning in work at interviews.  I speak about intrinsic motivations and ways to make things better.  I talk about things that are above the position's mandates and requirements that are not as productive as it seems others want. 

So what do I do?  It'd be like taking the wild out of the lion's eye to tame this.  I don't know where I will find freedom.  But right now, I truly feel caged.  I'm trying to fit myself into a world that I could be completely happy with, but that others don't seem ready to believe that I could.  Why can't I be both the uncaged thinking beast and the efficient productive worker?  I can.  I have been.  I'm smart.  I'm passionate.  I'm capable.

Oh, and the Giants lost,
my phone died,
and if I had a dog,
someone kicked it! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I give up.

[warning parental guidance: explicit language]  At the depths of despair - even if just for a moment - words fly like the wind, and they shouldn't be tempered.  This post will probably prove to be my most blatantly raw, controversial, and even aggressive.  Never mind angry.  But this is real.  This is real emotion, and this is the world we live in.  People feel these things every day.  We just chose not to cover it, express it, or engage with it.  We pretend it does not exist.  Well it does, and on that day, and at that moment, this is the way I expressed how I felt about life, society, and the pursuit of 'happiness'.

Fuck it.  How long can I do the exact same things over and over again and expect different results?  I have been looking for work for over three years.  I have virtually nothing to show for it.  The only thing I can is when I left this country and went someplace else.  It's a disaster.  I have put in application after application and have gotten nothing.  Now today, I just got official word that I did not get the job at this second hiking store which shall now be named:  REI.  I mean REALLY!?!?!?  Read through this blog.  I am a former two sport division I athlete, I played professionally in Europe, I've hiked all over the Appalachian trail, central Europe and Italy, not to mention Sierra Leone in Africa, and bike the city over.  I also have three years of athletic retail experience with running specialty stores.... and I can't get a job at REI!?!?!  WHAT THE FUCK.  This is unimaginable.  I go into that store and I have conversations with the people working there where I end up teaching them about their gear.  Camping, footwear (which I interviewed for), biking, whatever.  I know this stuff, I am completely and totally personable, I've got retail experience, yet I still can't get this job.  They are hiring 14 people for their store right now.  14 people, and I am not good enough to be one of them!?  There is no way that the people that they are interviewing and have hired have the knowledge and skill set that I do - especially if the people in the store already don't.  I am livid.  I've had enough.

I just want to yell and scream at everyone on of those people that thinks this shit is all simple and that the world somehow is easy.  That the unemployed are that only because of themselves.  That they should have no help.  That there should be no unemployment, no social safety nets.  That everyone should just be on their own and work hard.  Fuck you.  I've worked my ass off.  School, graduate school, two years working for a later to be known criminal that trapped me in a position to work endlessly for him while he did nothing, withheld pay, stalled my visa, etc.  I lost twenty pounds because I paid an organization in Prague I was managing first before I paid myself.  I did it again at Occupy when I went all in to try to raise awareness of the plight of so many people struggling.  I sold running shoes, officiated girls lacrosse, volunteered in local government, tried to fundraise for a political party, worked at a hiking store that is still yet to pay me.  I tried to start internet businesses, retail business, a non-profit - all require money and financing I can't seem to get.  I've worked 101 hour weeks at one time doing two jobs, I've burned the candle at both ends working and reading to get better.  I've done school after school, applied to PhD programs to no avail, traipsed all over the world trying to make myself a more marketable job candidate, lay alone nearly dead in a hospital bed with malaria just because I needed to have Africa experience on my resume to be marketable.  None of it has worked.

I have no permanent place to live, am living week to week and no money to find something.  I am stuck with a car I can't sell because when I had to buy it for a job, unbeknownst to me it needed a new transmission.  So now I owe $4500 on it and its worth $5000 minus a new transmission.  I'm behind on payments, but can't sell it, it could get towed any day for a couple of parking tickets.  I have student loans that I haven't paid in years.  When is it all going to end?  For how long do I keep doing the same thing and expecting it to be different.  I have no help, only no prospects.

To say, "I've made choices, I've put myself here".  Bull shit.  That is true on so many levels, but not even remotely all of them.  Yeah, I chose to go abroad when I was 24.  I chose to follow an atypical path, but I've had good jobs since then, but now there is nothing.  What's different.  The economy, the country.  And yet here we are whining about taxes and entitlement programs.  You know what.  How many people out there are like me?  Desperate, at the end of the rope.  How many people that can't stand are you willing to look in the eye and say, pull up your boot straps and work harder.  You tell me that to my face right now and I swear I'll tear every piece of that bull shit rhetoric apart.  That unemployment, food stamps, welfare, and the such are just a bunch of people looking for hand outs.  FUCK YOU.  I need help.  And we live in the only industrialized society of any merit that doesn't offer its citizens that.  A civilized society cares for itself and its community.  The United States of America is failing its citizens.  I can't get any help.  I applied for food stamps but need proof of address.  So if you're homeless you can't get them?  And they need a place to mail the forms to, whoops I can't get that because to get a PO box you have to be legal a resident somewhere and show them a lease or something official.  I don't have that.  I can't get mail, I can't get help, and I can't get a job.  I've put in over 500 job applications which I am apparently overqualified, underqualified, or differently qualified for.  But I'm sorry this is the last straw.  REI?!!?  I'm perfectly qualified for this job in every way except what?  YOU think I may not stay?  Huh, no one thinks I'll stay, yet I'm not qualified for any jobs that think I would stay.  My experience is specific and maybe not focused on the local issues other people might have experience in.  But I can't get a job.  I can't get an entry level job.  It's been so long.  I just can't keep doing this.

What do I have to offer to the world right now?  I'm an intelligent, educated and motivated man with sooo much to offer.  I just want to settle down and find a steady career, find someone special to share my life with and maybe have a family.  But what do I have to offer them?  Sorry, honey, I'm chronically unemployed, at the end of my tether, and about to lose it and go live in the woods.  I don't have the stability I need and want to offer the world.  How do I get it?  Everyone else has a solution, but no one an answer.  I can't change my resume or my history.  I won't lie.  And if this is my crime then our society is truly lost.

I don't know where else to turn.  I don't have the skills to be employed here it seems.  Entry level and retail won't hire me because they don't think I'll stay, yet I don't have the specific skills to get work I'm on a level to do.  Basically, I'm fucked.  It's been happening for three years and I can't take it anymore.  I need help.  I need something to stabilize me while I keep trying.  And for all of you libertarians and keep your hands of my money, don't tax me, figure your own shit on your own, I only care about myself people out there:  Fuck You.  I need help and I'm not too ashamed to admit it.  To bad you don't care about people in my situation.  You only care about yourselves.  After all, you were good enough to make it happen, to make yourself successful.  Well you know what?  We're not all as good as you.  We're not all as capable of doing the things you've been able to do.  I'm not good enough.  And apparently, given my experience and the job market, it looks like it's a little bit too late.  I can't start over and all of a sudden have those other things - whatever they are - that I apparently don't have right now.  So I'm the guy that falls through the cracks.  I'm the guy that our system - you - don't care to help.  It's not that usual one 13 baby having welfare mom that lives somewhere in the midwest that people always point to, it's the army of people like me that are dieing to just get some meaningful work.  I've pieced together a life for years now.  I can't do it anymore.    

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A new home

So it's not actually a home per say, but I'm gonna make it one.  I had to move out of the place in the West Village that I've been staying.  It was a great time and place to be, but leaving has been interesting.  Seems there was so much more baggage there than I thought; the desperation following the eviction from Zuccotti Park; actions in the streets and actions in the mind, and months of occupying anything and everything; Phd applications, their rejections; job searches, interviews, starts and failures; and the ups and downs of a relationship upon unsteady foundations.  When I moved my stuff in to this place here in Bed-Stuy and got back on the road to finish it off I didn't want to go back to the village.  I was quite happy to be moving on and starting a new.  Granted, I don't know what I'm getting myself into, but I'm getting myself into it. 

So I'm again in "Bedford-Stuyvesant, the livest one!"

I love it.  The neighborhood, the people, the climate of it all.  And I'm staying in a building that has a solid community feel to it.  It is with the people that I mannyed with.  I mean, it is not permanent at this point.  I am mixing barter with cash for some this month's rent.  Who knows what will happen next month or even as this one gets closer to the end and I need food and to pay bills.  But I have a place to live and I have decided to move in like I'm there for the long haul, grow myself into it!  Find ways to pay rent and make a home out of it all.  What else can you do but get after it?  Ok, good night...

Why there is no money in changing the world

It's simple and systemic.  We live in a world based on power and the accumulation of capital as its principle means of expression.  Power does not want the world to change.  The powerful, like it the way it is.  The Romney's, Goldman CEO's, Bush families, Koch Brothers, and such (yes, there are plenty of lefty rich people out there to include here as well) that are just fine with their lives.  The rest of us sadly though struggle to become more of them, less of ourselves.

I have a friend right now that splits time doing real work trying to keep greedy businessmen from stealing land from indigenous people in the developing world, with editing food and cooking publications.  Seemingly one actually matters to people's lives and the other does not matter as much.  People being dispossessed of their land, their livelihoods, and their power, in the name of someone else's profits, somewhere else's appetites, and somewhere else's energy or mineral needs is abominable.  But it happens - last year to the tune of land the size of France.  Recipes and tasty tidbits of the 1st world are well... not important.  I mean, yeah, I like a good meal.  But the fact that there is plenty of money in editing gourmet cook books and so little in saving people's lives and livelihoods is to me the cornerstone of the problem in the world today.

This is the same situation I am in and have been in for years.  There is no money for changing the world, thus so many fewer jobs.  She wants to work full time and support a life doing food and agricultural justice work, yet it doesn't pay enough.  I want to do similar things with economic and social justice, but I'm not getting anything there either.  The labor market is simply too tight with too many people applying for the same positions.  The powers that be don't want the world changed, and the powers that be are the ones with the money.  Thus they have no interest in funding change in the world.  So the non-profit and activist community scrapes by.  There are just never enough jobs, never enough money, never enough help for those around the world (and in the US) being dispossessed, having their land stolen, their lives stolen, trafficked, killed, raped, whatever.  It is these crimes in far away lands that allow us in the "1st" world to have enough food and time to buy cook books and experiment with new types of food, as opposed to using what food is available, eating as nutritionally as we can, and trying to simply maintain enough human security to live happy productive lives for ourselves and our communities.

The problem is simple, for all of us to find economic and social avenues towards success we need to change the power structures affecting us.   That is just exactly what my friend and I want to do, but we can't commit ourselves fully every day to it.  The greed and feeling of entitlement to power those with it have is so entrenched as to never allow us enough money to change it (I'll write more on the entitlement component of that later).  This hold has lead to all sorts of outcomes.  At the behest of this power, governments are cutting grants and funding programs, corporations have become people, private individuals are driving things with their agendas, and the average everyday person can't find the means to fund or work full-time towards true change, nevermind food and shelter in many circumstances.  So what do we do?   How do we bring change without the tools needed to change?  What is the power of the powerless?

Make Plays

I had a football coach once in college that probably doesn't realize how influential he and his one mantra were on my life.  He was my position coach for a year and he beat into our unit's heads and bodies everyday to "make plays".  If the ball was in the air, don't wait for it - go get it!  If you needed to block someone, don't sit on your heals, dictate the situation, make the block.  Running pass routes, lifting weights, studying the playbook or the text book - make plays, make things happen, don't wait for or allow things to be dictated to you! 

This has stayed with me my entire life.  I used it when I was a coach, I've used it in my personal life, and I've had no choice but to use it since I returned to this country and have been trying to set up a life.  You have no choice here.  There is no one here to help you, and despite what the "anti-entitlement" crew thinks, there is no real safety net helping me do much.  There isn't anyone helping me get a job and there isn't anyone really creating or even working to create jobs.  The politicians just bicker and politic circles around each other and the country.  Business owners are looking out for themselves and a bottom line that doesn't factor in all the stakeholders their collective success - managers, workers, communities, consumers, etc.  This country is in as much of a cultural downturn as an economic down turn.  I see a lot of that as systemic and am struggling to stay hopeful that it will change and go anywhere or help people such as myself anytime soon.  So we have to do what we can to try to make things happen.

This may sound simple, pull up my bootstraps right?  Ok, so I wear vibrams, they have toes and there are no straps - sorry, times have changed since we were out on the frontier and had straps on our boots....  Making things happen these days requires more than just one person.  I can't do this all on my own, and everyone who know me knows I've tried!  I've done all sorts of things from packing a bag and going to Africa to fill a resume and create opportunities, to trying to start small businesses, to volunteering in local government, to starting a non-profit in Africa and making a life out of taking risks aimed at making things happen.  But starting businesses, non-profits, and your own things require money, financing, partners, know-how and expertise.  Tough things to find for free in America.  It is one of the things that I love about the Occupy community.  They work together using principles of mutual aid and community.  It is tough to find that throughout the rest of my world right now: people working together selflessly to try to make profound things happen.

Sadly though, it will not help things immediately for me.  I have to create an opportunity here in New York City.  I have to make plays here.  I have to apply for jobs, I have to network like my life depends on it, I have to go up and get the ball.  We all do. 

The saddest thing right now though, is that there is only one ball in the game.  And where it used to be eleven people vying for that ball or job, now it is 500 players vying for the same ball.  It's almost as if we went from playing on the field, to sitting in the stands and betting our lives on the chances of catching a foul ball at a baseball game.  Slim to say the least.  So what is left to do but go out and make plays?  The question is, what plays do you make.  Do you sit in the stands with everyone else hoping to be in the right place at the right time and hope you can out-jump everyone?  Or do you try to go to the source?  Think strategically, ahead of the game, to innovate and change the game?

"Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation causes your worst fears to come true."

At least we can try....