Sunday, March 1, 2009

Gainful Unemployment

I have never had a hard time finding a job.

Of course, the kinds of jobs I've wanted have included mopping the floor at Waffle House and scrubbing other people's toilets, but still. Work has always materialized when I needed it. I have never, ever found a job through the classifieds, but just peeking makes me want to fling myself from the closest window. Because my BA in Creative Writing does not qualify me to run a group home or sell insurance or assist in brain surgery. Nor do I want to be an office administrator for the Marijuana Policy Project (this job can be YOURS if you check Craig's List today) or supervise 37 kids for $8 an hour. No, my degree qualifies me for those really special jobs that usually don't get printed in the paper. Stained Glass Maker's Assistant. Cruise ship stewardess. Dude Ranch Cabin Girl. Freelance Writer.

When I got laid off from my desk job at the local alternative weekly last September I felt- in a sad way- part of an historic movement. The downsizing of print media. The big recession of late 0-8. The first job I was ever asked to leave. Historic, yes. Convenient, no.

Because answering phones and greeting people for 20 hours a week provided me with 2 invaluable necessities. a) Health Insurance and b) the unambiguous knowledge that I had "a job." If someone said "do you have a job?" I could answer them without having to think about it. If there was an argument in my home about who was actually employed, I was above reproach. Now- even though I'm writing articles here and there and teaching an odd ball assortment of classes- I don't always know the answer to any of those questions.

Do I work? Yes. I wash the laundry and then throw it in the general direction of the dresser. I scrub the dishes. I pack my son's snack and take him to school. Then I interview dominatrixes and try to come up with witty introductory sentences to reviews of their memoirs. I check facebook and debate about what, who and when to update my status. Then I run out and teach a class across town for an hour and a half, come back, cook dinner, decide not to vacuum and put my child to bed. Does that count? Yes. But is it succinct? No. And does it provide health insurance. Hell no.

Which brings me and every other writer/artist/musician/creative type I know to the same harrowing debate. Is it worth it to risk gazillions of dollars of unpaid hospital bills in order to stay home and fulfill our life's desire by creating art? After a moment of tortured reflection, I think yes. But is it worth it to put my child at risk to stay home and create my art? This one isn't so easy. This is the question that has tortured me for the weeks and months since I have been laid off. Because at the same time that the market is saturated with thousands of people looking for work, I have been picky. I have wanted health insurance, but I haven't wanted it at the risk of a mind numbing, soul eating, blood sucking vacuous 40+ hour a week job copy writing credit card ads. (Anyone out there who does this, hats off! I admire you for your stamina and power of will! REALLY!) But the very thought makes my insides shudder and wilt. I'd rather wear rags and learn how to plant carrots in a front yard victory garden than succumb to the likes of that.

So, today, as I apply for state funded health insurance for my son, finish my article about the teenage dominatrix and revise (again) chapter 2 of my book, I will for now, quiet the inner beast that has raged with doubt and confusion. We might not be able to go out to dinner, but tonight I will revel in the luxury of staying home and eating my words.


  1. get a job and don't ask me to pay for your kids insurance

  2. Being a dude ranch cabin girl doesn't sound half bad. But of course, I don't really know what a dude ranch cabin girl does...

  3. That last line is incredible. It is mind-boggling that there are something like 45 million other Americans having similar internal debates. You explained the conundrum so clearly and beautifully. Hang in there.

  4. It's interesting that anonymous dickheads are always bad at spelling and/or punctuation, and thinking.

  5. Economic value does not equal moral worth. Valley's friends know the hard work she does helping so many people, all without pay. On top of that, she takes care of a child, which IS a full-time job, and an important one.

    Also remember that providing government-sponsored insurance for children is, in the long term, less costly than not providing it.

    What people need is not INSURANCE, but TREATMENT. There's a huge difference. Most of our grandparents could afford to pay their doctors without insurance. Our system's reliance on insurance companies since the 1970's has caused prices for even basic treatment to be so high that the non-insured can't afford them. We don't have a free market for healthcare, we have a codified market failure. So if you support the system as it stands today, you're not "paying" for anyone's government-sponsored health insurance so much as causing them to need it.