Monthly Archives: April 2013

Developmental milestones

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This adulthood thing is giving me fits. I can’t seem to get the hang of it.

I had a promising start. While I was not voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school (that honor went to my best friend who, as far as I know, is busy succeeding), I was voted Most Intelligent, which seems like a bright enough portent.

Then I went to college, and did really well there, and then I went to grad school and did really well there, and then I started a career and was doing really well.

ImageNow I am thirty-two. I can’t find a job. I’m living below the poverty line. I have no health insurance. In its place I have a constant, persistent worry about money and the future.

I am thirty-two and single. Healthy, satisfying romantic relationships are things that happen to other people.

I am thirty-two and childless. This is the only developmental milestone I am unequivocally happy about missing. No complaints there.

I am thirty-two and socially maladjusted. My interaction with my peers is limited to commenting on their facebook posts. I hang out with my parents, my cats, and my roommate. My desire for social interaction is abnormally low. I’m not actually upset by this, but I’m pretty sure I should be.

An employee at the homeless shelter had to stay at home for a few weeks due to a sports injury. He was going crazy after a few days.

I would have relished it. Cabin fever is not a condition that affects people like me. I don’t normally need or even want stimulation from people or movies or television. Lock me in a room with books for a month, and I’ll come up for air at the end of four weeks — but only to make sure the world hasn’t yet been consumed by fire, not because I’m restless.

I wonder sometimes if I have a mental illness or abnormality regarding my social interactions — apart from just being really introverted, I mean. I’m definitely not on the autistic spectrum. I’m definitely not a sociopath. I have astonishingly low social needs, but I enjoy close friendships when they happen. Popping into the grocery store for bananas is a stressful experience filled with strangers, a.k.a. enemies, but I regularly volunteer with several hundred chronically homeless people and I’m pretty decent at that.

My people issues are sufficiently complicated that I’d love to have a hotshot psychologist examine me, which maybe I’ll do if I ever get health insurance again. Ha.

Part of me thinks it would be neat to have Hannibal Lecter for a doctor, which perhaps underscores my point about having people issues.

Of the people I went to school with, and of the extended family members who are more or less my age, almost everyone seems to have latched on to the adulthood milestones of relationships and career. Many of them also have kids, which I don’t want, and a house, which would be neat. I’m probably just being myopic, but I feel like I’m lagging further and further behind.

I did not expect to have found the cure for cancer by this point. Science was never my forte.

Poverty, though: couldn’t I have cured that by now? I always enjoyed social science. Or couldn’t I have written a novel by now? Though I have to say that writing for pleasure — or doing much of anything for pleasure — is difficult when you’re out of work. Time spent reading or writing or killing video game zombies is time not spent applying for jobs or writing for pay.

ImagePossibly some unemployed people don’t grapple with that dilemma, but I do. I had exactly the same problem when was writing my reference book and struggling to meet deadlines. I felt overwhelming guilt when I stopped to read.

Even more than wanting money or security or the satisfaction of solving world poverty, I want a job so that I can have free time that isn’t laced with guilt.

George Orwell described the predicament better than I’m doing, though he was George Orwell so I suppose that’s okay. I’m currently reading, guiltily, his nonfiction book The Road to Wigan Pier, a work of social criticism about class in England that would have made Dickens proud, though without the precocious and lovable children you get with Dickens novels. At any rate, Orwell had this to say about writing while unemployed:

Once or twice it has happened to me to meet unemployed men of genuine literary ability; there are others whom I haven’t met but whose work I occasionally see in the magazines. Now and again, at long intervals, these men will produce an article or a short story which is quite obviously better than most of the stuff that gets whooped up by the blurb-reviewers. Why, then, do they make so little use of their talents? They have all the leisure in the world; why don’t they sit down and write books? Because to write books you need not only comfort and solitude—and solitude is never easy to attain in a working-class home—you also need peace of mind. You can’t settle to anything, you can’t command the spirit of hope in which anything has got to be created, with that dull evil cloud of unemployment hanging over you.

Preach it, George.

Now I hope that no one, no matter how well-intentioned, chirps up to tell me that I’ll find a job or a house or a healthy relationship soon. Nobody knows the future, and more importantly, I don’t like to be patronized.

Nor am I fishing for compliments about how I’m doing a fine job of being an adult. Let’s all be honest here: just at the moment, I’m sort of a loser. Probably won’t be permanent, and anyway I know it could be worse: I could be a criminal, or I could be a substance abuser, or I could be watching reality shows all day long. Plenty of worse schmucks out there than me.

I’m just ready to start being a grownup again.



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The Peace Corps is out of the running for now. They pushed the departure date back till January 2014 at the soonest. If I were already employed, the delay wouldn’t much matter, but as a strategy for ending my chronic unemployment, the Peace Corps is not panning out.

It’s been eighteen months, for those of you playing along at home: one and a half years of odd jobs, contract writing, one multi-month temp job at a factory, and no health insurance. That I have managed to stay afloat ought to tell prospective employers about my resourcefulness, but they tend to miss lots of important clues, like my work history and my education and the part where I wrote a book. Prospective employers can be a bit dim, honestly.

I am still applying to all manner of jobs, professional and semi-professional and drooling, in libraries and out. Here’s one thing I’ll say for the employers, regarding me: they’re consistent.

The Foreign Service is not out of the running quite yet. In about a month I’ll find out if I’ve advanced to the next stage. I doubt it, though. Last year 22,000 people took the Foreign Service exam. Four hundred and twenty-five were hired.

A likelier prospect would be taking a position with AmeriCorps, which is like the Peace Corps, but only for a year and you don’t get to go anywhere. That’s part of the point, actually. I would get to stay in Asheville. Intentional locations appeal to me, but Asheville is a top contender stateside, My living stipend would amount to a whopping $12k, but as that’s in the ballpark of what I earned last year, it doesn’t sound so bad. And I would have health insurance!

I’ve applied for seven of these AmeriCorps positions, all with local organizations dedicated to environmental conservation. I am not entirely sure what career I want, but my best guess involves something ecological. This might prove to be a stepping stone.

In late May I’ll know if anyone from AmeriCorps wants to interview me, and if so, I’ll know by late June if I have a job offer.

And then I have the wildcard option: moving to Wisconsin. I would be a live-in companion and mild caregiver for my grandmother.

In the pro column, I would earn a gazillion karma points, and I wouldn’t have to worry about rent or expenses. I like Wisconsin. I would be further from my parents and western North Carolina, but I would be nearer to both sides of my extended family.

In the con column, I would further jeopardize a career that is already looking sickly. And — possibly even worse — I would have to give up my cats. (That would have been true if I’d joined the Peace Corps, and will be true if I join the Foreign Service.)

Companion animals are the number one argument for getting out of bed in the morning. Even with companion animals as demonstrably wicked as Goblin and Gremlin, my life is so much richer for having them.

Also in the con column, I can’t shake the suspicion that living with my grandmother might damage my social life, which has never been what you’d call robust.

I’m going to visit her for a week next month as a very miniature trial run. I’ll compare that experience to any AmeriCorps (or other) positions I might be offered, and make a decision from there.

Meanwhile, if I continue to be as distracted as I have been lately, I hope to recompense you from my neglect of this blog with recent photos of downtown Asheville. If you climb the mountain behind my apartment and cajole my roommate to dig out his camera, the following four pictures result.