As I sit here contemplating what to write about my road through unemployment during the pandemic, it seems odd to focus on myself when the world is experiencing such challenges. Many people are facing harder times than my own. The virus as a health crisis has affected people around the globe. I have friends who have lost parents to this horrific disease. It has made the lives of many health care workers a living hell. Small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and non-profit organizations, including those focused on issues such as environmental protection and animal safety, must re-invent ways to pursue their critical missions. Some families are having difficulty keeping their homes or putting food on the table. My lay-off experience seems to pale in comparison.
My husband and I are (knock on wood) still healthy. He is still working. We are not threatened with the loss of our home, and we can afford all the basic necessities. Yet I still find myself acknowledging that I’m going through something and searching for meaning in that something. That’s what writers do — we look for meaning in our lives and try to find ways to express that meaning.
The fact is, this moment in my particular life is a challenging one.
I have been a writer for as long as I can remember. I was brought up to respect the creative process and the rewards of living a creative life. Marrying my desire to pursue artistic endeavors with the need to earn a viable income has been the central challenge of my professional career. The activities that have brought me the most personal fulfillment — writing my personal essay collection, Message From a Blue Jay, and my children’s books focused on compassion for stray animals — are not activities that have brought in much income.
Unless prose writers are independently wealthy or have spouses who can support them (or are among the well-known authors who have penned numerous best-sellers), they usually have to work at additional jobs to remain solvent. So, for years, I’ve applied my carefully honed writing skills to a variety of professional positions.
I’ve pretty much done it all as a professional writer and communicator, from working in media relations at environmental organizations to being a full-time staff reporter at a Denver weekly, a senior account executive at a PR agency, a scriptwriter for videos about skiing and snowboarding, a blogger for a marketing agency writing about carpet cleaning and high-end appliances, and a freelance writer for a mobile app startup. I’ve learned to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram and have drafted hundreds (probably thousands) of posts about orthotics and LED light bulbs and solar panels. And I have taught all of the skills involved in the above — writing, editing, and communications skills — to undergraduates at two universities.
Teaching was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career, especially when I taught creative writing. I hoped teaching might turn into a longer-term endeavor, but as an adjunct professor with two master’s degrees (but no PhD), the institutions where I taught wouldn’t consider me for a full-time job. As a result, the compensation didn’t match the exhausting time requirements.
When I couldn’t sustain my teaching job any longer, I took a full-time job working remotely as a corporate writer. For the past two and a half years, I held that job and made good use of my experience and skills. I basically helped the marketing managers get their jobs done by providing whatever copy they needed, whenever they needed it. My specialty is writing quickly, accurately, and with solid grammar, and this job required all of that in spades. From blog posts and flyers to e-books, newsletters, and scripts for marketing videos, the general consensus was, “Call Faye.” I was especially pleased to be writing about something I believe in — the adoption of solar energy.
Then COVID-19 arrived, and one day I heard the words that so many people now dread hearing: “This isn’t an easy call to make…the industry has been affected…it has nothing to do with your job performance…we have to lay you off.”
What I’ve shared here are the details of my personal trajectory. Everyone’s road to unemployment in the time of coronavirus is unique. Each person’s path through it will be unique, too. My story is one of millions — yes, millions — of stories.
But stories are what I do best.
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts... - William Shakespeare
As hard as this is (and I admit it is hard), when I take time to reflect, I still feel excited about this chance to be my own playwright. I can’t put my fate in the hands of the next company or marketing agency owner or HR executive. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve given all I had to every one of my employers, but I’ve still landed here — laid off.
It’s time to figure out who I am once and for all, and to show what I really have to give.
I’m going to envision and direct the next scene myself.