Goal #1: Find a New Job

I’m not unusual in that I work in retail. I’m not unusual in that I have a college degree (covered in dust in my office). Since I’ve worked in a capacity that utilizes my degree, however, I do feel the need to at least scream into my pillow from time to time and share my frustrations with a supposed “you.”

So here’s a little background info: I have a BA and an MA in English. I taught college composition and other related courses for about two years. I wasn’t able to secure a full-time, tenure-track position; however, I taught up to seven different courses per semester (well beyond the four that are standard for full-time professors). Despite the grueling schedule and itty-bitty paychecks–I earned less than $5 per hour–I was happy teaching and willing to pay my dues until sunlight broke through the clouds, and a chorus of angels announced the offer of a full-time job.

In the meantime, my husband was attending college full time, and we were living rent free at his parents’ home. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. We built an apartment on their property–yes, we did it ourselves. And yes, dry wall is fucking hard to put up, especially on the ceiling. We also paid for all of the materials ourselves while we were still working full time at good-paying jobs, prior to becoming full-time students. Why on earth would one leave a perfectly good job to live with one’s in-laws? My husband and I had different reasons: I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with my life until I’d earned a college degree in a field I loved, and this goal had been hampered by my financial independence from my parents. My husband’s body decided it had had enough with manual labor, and he basically had no other choice than give college the old college try.

With all my energy focused on school, I became a stellar student. My GPA was fantastic, I won an award for a paper on “The Wasteland,” I joined student-led groups on campus, I co-founded one of my own, and I loved every grueling moment of it. I loved it so much, in fact, that after earning my BA, I decided I wanted more and went to grad school. I excelled at that, too, and my professors urged me to pursue a PhD. I envisioned a wonderful, academic life for myself. I had found my calling.

As my husband still had a ways to go before completing his degree, I had to postpone applying to grad school–I wanted to be able to go anywhere. I also needed time to think because I’d attended a talk at the MLA Conference in San Francisco, during which the panel all seemed to agree that family life and academia were not well suited for each other. Without going into all of the details, I had to make a choice: Either give up another 5 years of my life and risk my marriage and sanity for a PhD and a small chance at finding a job in an obscure college in North Dakota, OR teach at a community college. Although the latter seemed infinitely less glamorous in a weird way, I felt that my choice was clear. I wanted a family, and I’ve never been satisfied with doing things half-assed. So I’d be Super Mom and a stellar community college instructor.

But where were the full-time jobs my professors implied were everywhere, like the brightly colored lollipops growing right out of the ground at Willy Wonka’s factory? They didn’t exist. By the time I’d finished grad school in May of 2008, the U.S. was experiencing a sort of Economic Diarrhea. Budgets were cut everywhere, especially so in education. Full-time teaching jobs disappeared in favor of numerous part-time jobs with lower pay and without benefits. But I had my part-time teaching gig, as I mentioned before, and my husband and I were living rent free for the time being, so I really wasn’t worried. Then I started having health problems, and suddenly my inability to afford private health insurance became much more worrisome.

Rather than re-hash what happened next, I’ve included a link to another blog where I go into all the gory details. http://insurgentsink.blogspot.com/2010/03/living-with-lupus-seeking-well-endowed.html And just in case you have any difficulties finding the second half of this two-part article, here’s the other link:  http://insurgentsink.blogspot.com/2010/04/part-2-living-with-lupus-seeking-well.html

With all of my health crap going on, I started to seriously rethink my career choice. What good was it doing me to teach if it didn’t offer health insurance and didn’t pay well enough to pay for insurance privately? When I was in grad school, I was torn between two fields: education and writing. I had to choose, and at the time I felt that education was a much more stable field. Whoops. The problem was that I’d spent most of my time and efforts on preparing for a life in education, so trying to switch fields was a little tricky. Add to my lack of direct experience a complete vacuum in the job market, and you have yourself a wee bit of a problem.

And then my husband was ready to transfer to a four-year college. He was accepted into all five schools, and they were all over the state of California. For a while, we were convinced that we were going to move to Irvine because he’d been offered a full scholarship. But UC Berkeley sent him an acceptance letter at the eleventh hour, and being that they are No. 2 in the nation for my husband’s program, he decided to go there. We were thrilled. The job prospects were drool-inducing; there were pages upon pages of job listings.

Ah ha! The clouds were breaking! The sun’s rays were shining through! Angels were sing–wait a minute–rather than finding my dream job in the Bay Area, I discovered that there were a hell of a lot of other people desperately searching for work there, too. A friend of mine who teaches at a high school in Richmond convinced me that I needed to teach there, so $400 in testing fees later, I passed the CBEST and the CSET in English. I filled out applications, sent letters of recommendation, and interviewed for a position. Nailed it! They loved me. I even convinced myself that maybe I could handle teaching at-risk high schoolers. Ah, but education is education, and budget cuts are budget cuts. Another school in the district laid off a dozen teachers, and they all found their way to the school I was going to teach at. My job was filled by one of them, and I was without a job again.

We moved to Oakland and lived off of our savings. I found a weekend job at a bakery where I arrived at 5am to pack crates full of bread and pastries for farmers’ markets. I wasn’t earning enough money, and we were almost out of savings. My mom had the following advice for me: “Forget your pride. You can’t afford it.” She was right. I went through my mental list of past employers, and only one fulfilled the dual criteria of Hiring and Locally. And thus I found myself back at a job I’d left nearly ten years before in order to become a full-time student. Damn.

Although I’ve had random spurts of motivation, I haven’t looked for work very consistently. Last October was my one-year anniversary. One of my co-workers took a photo of me next to my celebratory cake, and I couldn’t bring myself to smile. So I did the next best thing: pretended to vomit on it.

During this year and 3 or 4 months, I have done quite a bit of self-analyzing, and my analyses revealed to me a Dorothy-Good Witch Moment–I always had the skills to get a good job, I just had to figure out how best to apply them. In short, I discovered that I LOVE copyediting. I mean, it’s sick. I’ve even changed my license plate so that it proudly proclaims that I’m a word nerd.

But as with my previous job hunts, I don’t have quite enough direct experience to snag me that amazing, cloud-clearing job. Therefore, I’m building my portfolio, painstakingly. I’m not just good at what I do, I’m really fucking good. Now I just have to convince prospective employers of this expletive-laden skill.

By the end of this week, I’m determined to apply for at least two jobs. I’ll post on my progress next week!

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