Day 42 – What Happens When You’re Unemployed and Working Too Hard

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Thursday – October 9, 2014

These are not the tools of my trade.

These are not the tools of my trade.

I’m excited to report I put in a full morning of writing the penultimate chapter of my next book. This is one of the most difficult chapters because it has so much to wrap up and so much to comment on at the same time. Good stories are a circle, thematically, but I find with a book length memoir project I don’t really know how I’m going to circle back until I’m actually writing the end. Themes emerge for me. Planning them is pretty pointless because I don’t know my story well enough until I’ve told it. After a long three years, I can hardly believe I’m at the point of ending this first draft and truly discovering just what the crud I’ve done.

Because of all of that, the writing process was utterly torturous this morning until the last half hour. Sometimes, the words just do not flow and the big ideas and themes do not emerge. Not without great difficulty, anyway. There’s some tricky material at the end of this book that I can barely wrap my head around, but that’s been true throughout the writing process. I’ll figure it out.

* * *

We met with Elora’s math teacher in the middle of the afternoon to discuss her grade, because that’s the sort of thing we have time for now. It was a good meeting. I noticed the teacher had some materials in her classroom that I had illustrated. Always cool to see my stuff “out in the wild,” but also, of course, it’s a reminder of what I don’t have anymore.

Elora’s teacher did not ask “Why are you both here?” I know it’s an odd thing to have both parents show up, especially in the middle 0f the work day. The teacher may not have even thought it, but every time I’m out and about I can’t help but wonder if people question why I’m not at work, earning a living, and making some contribution to society beyond creating more midday traffic. It feels like I’ve got a big, sloppy t-shirt covered with Cheetos crumbs that says, “I don’t have a job.” I don’t, of course. They’re Baked Cheetos. Healthy dieting is important.

* * *

Erin and I had to come to terms again today. We have to do these check-ins now and again because, while we’re both enduring the same trial, we each handle it very differently. And sometimes, by failing to recognize that difference, I handle it badly.

In her view, I’m just not pulling my weight around the house. I spend a lot of time working on this blog and writing my book and I’m saying things like “in a minute” a lot. Meanwhile, she isn’t able to work on the things that are important to her and take advantage of those opportunities that have come her way to make a little extra cash. I feel bad about the imbalance. I agree there are some changes I need to make about how I use my time when the kids are around and the house needs attention, but I’m also working hard on things that I think are important. I feel torn because it seems like I’m never able to get ahead on anything because I have so much to do (some of which, admittedly, I bring on myself). So the idea of backing off to allow her time to work on her stuff? Yeah, that freaks me out a little. It’s a selfish freakout, but there it is.

The most damning accusation–and the one for which I did not get super defensive–was that I’m operating my life as though being a writer is my profession, like I’m some sort of neglectful, stay-at-home dad who writes for a living I hope to make one day. She’s probably not wrong about the writing part of it, but I don’t know how long this unemployment thing is going to last and I want to take advantage of every second of it. I’m disciplined. My balance is out of whack, but I’m disciplined.

The idea that I’m neglectful though? Yeah, that hurts. I don’t want to do that.

We didn’t really reach a solution, but I’m determined to pay more attention to how I’m using my time and trying to take some initiative with the house. Erin made a good point about not wanting to be my boss, but by continually waiting for her to tell me when to get off the computer and what to do, I’ve made her into the worse kind of boss: a nagging one. I don’t want that.

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4 comments

  1. Ah, the bits and pieces of being unemployed a deux. Awareness is half the battle they say, so I’m sure you will make great strides in handling your time better (you are very disciplined I know!) Exciting news that you’re so far on the book now! Fingers crossed for you! Who knows…you might “come out” of this whole unemployment thing and find out you actually are a professional writer!

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  2. Well congratulations on your mornings work and your self discipline and also it’s so good that you check in with each other as to how each is feeing about the situation. It is so easy for resentments to build up in this kind of situation.

    Oh I have sympathy with Erin. My husband has been at home through illness and old age but he gradually stopped doing hardly any household chores. Fair enough he was very, very ill but now he is getting better and stronger I find I am STILL doing all the household chores and I find I deeply resent it. but at the same time I feel selfish because he is not as well or as young as he was and has enough emotional stuff to deal with, plus life is too short and we may not have much time left etc.etc. … . So I don’t say anything, just get on with it but then the frustration builds up and I will explode over something silly and he is completely bewildered!… maybe you have shown me something that we too should “check in ” with each other. too.

    I suspect from your statement “I can’t help but wonder if people question why I’m not at work, earning a living, and making some contribution to society ” and “like I’m some sort of neglectful, stay-at-home dad who writes for a living I hope to make one day. …. that a manly role to go out to earn a living to provide, is very important for a male in your value system, and maybe the household chores are not as valued for a man.

    I wonder how Erin feels about her role as a provider and as a houskeeper?

    Love Denise

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    1. I think the passages you quoted from the blog arose less from any kind of need to be “manly” and more just from having shifted my contribution so fully away from the job and not being used to that and feeling slightly out of my element.

      I do believe in the importance of gender roles–that women are more naturally equipped to raise children and nurture and all of those things–but I also see the responsibility we have to our home and our children as equal. I’d have no problem being a Stay-at-Home Dad if that’s what I needed to do–I’d probably really even enjoy it.

      I don’t want to speak for Erin, but I can tell you that, initially, staying at home with the kids was quite difficult. Even now, there are things about it she doesn’t love, but she also would very much miss it if it were gone.

      I’m sorry for your own struggles in this regard. I do think a check-in is super important. When the relationship becomes unbalanced–and that happens when even just one partner is feeling it–that’s when we have to put on the brakes and take stock to fix the problem. That’s what we do, anyway. I know everyone has to do what works for them.

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