December 31, 2009

A title of some yet-to-be-written work popped into my head last night: “Mourning the death of the artist within.”  It’s ironic that I would have such a thought at the end of the year in which I received my second Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

But despite the honor and my excitement about the project I will be paid to pursue because of it, I feel a little part of me dimming.  I have spent the past year trying to redefine myself and my capabilities in an ongoing attempt to make this blog moot and to shed “Pink-Slipped Girl” from my identity.  (I don’t know what I would change my Twitter name to, though.)  In the process, I have accepted assignments from business publications and begun a monthly column in a life and leisure magazine.  I have jazzed up my LinkedIn profile, taken classes in internet marketing and website design, redesigned my business cards and promoted myself at networking events as a do-it-all woman who can crunch your numbers just as well as she can write television commercials for you.  I have created an e-newsletter for one non-profit, written grants for two others and written one for myself.  I have received advice from seasoned business professionals on valuing my time and skills, pricing my services at their worth and dealing with clients who don’t pay.  I have proven my ability to stay focused and productive while working independently, I have met strenuous conflicting deadlines and I have been rejected from countless full-time positions that asked for any or all of the very skills or experiences I have just listed.

I’ve had one copywriting assignment for the whole year, four if you count the assignments I completed as part of the application for a job for which I was interviewed for over two hours but didn’t get.  Dialogue for scenes that may or may not eventually become full-length plays still runs through my head routinely, and sometimes it’s original enough for me to write it down, but to turn such words into a radio or television commercial seems like an assignment so far from my life that it’s almost as if I never held the job from which I was laid off.

I don’t bemoan the work that I was given in 2009.  I’m grateful for every byline, and the corresponding checks have helped the unemployment insurance continue past the point at which I had calculated it would expire.  Also, I can’t underestimate the potential value of every connection I make in the professional world by writing the business stories.

But I am more exhausted than I remember being at the end of 2008, and the more leads I follow, the fewer hours I spend in creative output.  This blog may be the best example.  Started in January as a cathartic tool to prove that I can write, blog and play alongside everyone else is this crowded internet space at least once a week, it has lied dormant for over one month, the longest I’ve ever gone without updating it.

In part, I blame my own boredom with the subject matter.  When things start to get old, it’s hard to revive them, and I’ve known marriages that were shorter than my employment hiatus has been.  But I also blame the break from the blog and the general feeling of creative famine on the constant hustle of always pursuing the next opportunity and on the burden of always having to say yes.

To never be sure when your state is going to go bankrupt and send out IOUs, to never know if the job sites you check most frequently will have anything you can tolerate posted, to never know which assignment or connection will be the one that changes your life is to be bound to an incessant hamster wheel whose speed changes but whose destination doesn’t.

Not that it’s impossible for business and creativity to coexist.  Every ad agency owner I know was in the creative department when s/he struck out on her/his own.  But eventually they all hired a creative department to be creative while they ran the business.  Since I haven’t been the creative being hired, I’ve had to do all the running.

I admit there’s a great sense of accomplishment in DIY employment, and I don’t miss the drama inherent in working in a place where there are other people around.  I just miss clocking out at 5:30 p.m. and remaining downtown for a nearby rehearsal at 7:00.  I miss having a work load that allowed enough time in the day for script ideas to interrupt the “real” work for 15 minutes or so.  I miss the ability to be so unconcerned about where clients/checks might come from the next year that I could spend all of December writing and revising in creative overdrive.

And so explains my Twitter updates from December 29th.  If freelance journalist, independent contractor or grant writer is to be my title for an even more extended period of time, where does the playwright go?  Does she flee to a grad school in a snowy land free from distractions and full of stages for two years?  Does she choose a low-residency MFA that promises to show her how to integrate creative writing into her daily life?  Or does she devote all of her energy to the hustle to make the sporadic work so steady that she can stop herself and others from living life laid off?

The year 2010 will tell.

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Think – don’t feel – before you buy

Image credit: Roger Dodger: Everett Collection

(Sorry I couldn’t find this on video anywhere.  Instead, you get to read the transcript of a scene between awkward and innocent teenager Nick and his womanizing, clueless — but here, very insightful — uncle Roger, from the movie “Roger Dodger.”)

NICK: What do you do all day?

ROGER: What do I do all day?  What do I do all day?  I sit here and think of ways to make people feel bad.

NICK: I thought you wrote for commercials.

ROGER: I do, but you can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad.

NICK: Why not?

ROGER: Because it’s a substitution game.  You have to remind them that they’re missing something from their lives.  Everyone’s missing something, right?

NICK: Well, yeah.  I guess.

ROGER: Trust me.  And when they’re feeling sufficiently incomplete, you convince them that your product is the only thing that can fill the void.  So instead of taking steps to deal with their lives, instead of working to root out the real reason for their misery, they run out and buy a stupid-looking pair of cargo pants.

Nick looks down and shifts his hands inside the pockets of the pair of cargo pants he’s wearing.

NICK: So … is it fun?

ROGER: It can be.

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In the ultra-good bargain days between November 28, 2008, and January 31, 2009, I behaved badly.  I spent $283.62 on stuff I’m now sure I didn’t need.

A total of $156.34 went to stores in my neighborhood that were going out of business.  I don’t feel the least bit guilty for the $81.90 I spent on gospel CDs and bible study guides at a Christian bookstore that was closing, and I’ve made excellent use of the hand mixer and bed skirts that Linens n Things was practically giving away.  The DVDs from Circuit City have kept me entertained on my many nights spent inside, and they have assisted me in the film dissection and script analysis I’m supposed to use to improve my own screenplays, so I guess about 90 percent of the going out of business sale purchases were worth the money.  (The curtains from Linens n Things haven’t worked out so well.)

I spent the remaining $127.28 on a DVD from a store still doing great business, especially now that Circuit City is gone, a pair of sexy green suede boots, a related green purse, a comfy pair of loafers perfect for ushering, the biggest, warmest, most comfortable fleece sweatshirt in the world, a pair of yoga pants, and about $31 on some other clothing items I couldn’t point out in my closet today.

I can’t even recollect those items now, and yet they and the rest of the items in my shopping season shopping spree seemed so important at the time.  I think about them now because, while I don’t long to be among the throngs of shoppers in Black Friday lines or among those clicking a Cyber Monday mouse, I wish I could do more than what I currently can.  I wish my 20-dollar moisturizer hadn’t run out the same day my mom gave me $20 to do something enjoyable.  I wish I weren’t dipping into my savings account to cover the expense of overdue repairs on my car.  I wish I were finished paying Sallie Mae, or that I had the guts to default on my student loans like most people do.  I wish premiums for health insurance plans that don’t cover pre-existing conditions cost the same amount that they’re worth.

I don’t know why I had extra cash this time last year, and even if I hadn’t spent any of it, life probably would have happened and I would have spent the money in a different way.  Another “why” is more important: Why did I feel the need to purchase anything?

As I said, I can justify almost all of it.  But the sexy green boots and related purse bother me to this day.  (I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the boots were the most expensive single item that I bought this time last year, or perhaps even for the entire year – other than furniture.)  I remember waking up one morning obsessed with green boots.  I instinctively knew what store would have them.  I instinctively knew that they would be on sale.  But what makes a woman who doesn’t go out that often think that her life is incomplete without a pair of sexy green boots?

Now, I have nothing against enjoying material things or against supporting the people who have to endure this great season as retail employees.  It’s just that I think Time writer Barbara Kiviat made a good point in her recent critique of big bargains.  She “realizes that part of what got us [into recession] was overspending, and that that overspending was fostered by a shopping culture that uses cheap goods to hook people on feeling like they’re winning at something.”

Maybe if I had spent more time in the books and study guides I bought, I wouldn’t have felt the need for anything else that came after it.  Perhaps if everyone “took steps to deal with their lives” or “worked to root out the real reason for their misery,” fewer of us would (still) be living life laid off.

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Filed under Economy, Lifestyles, money

New cancer screening recommendations suck

I’m not even going to try to link this to living life laid off.  It’s my blog, and I’m going to use the space to vent.

Maybe if the new recommendations for the frequency of mammograms and pap smears hadn’t come on the heels of the Stupak Amendment, or if I weren’t a feminist or if I weren’t a black female, I wouldn’t feel like women, and especially black women, were under attack, but that is the order of things, and that’s my feeling.  Limit women’s access to abortion, have them cut back on the frequency of tests that could save their lives and send the over all message that they should pay less attention to their own bodies.

The message is archaic and ridiculous, and its juxtaposition against the health care debate is highly suspect.  A report on Good Morning America Friday morning said that insurance companies have already received a barrage of calls from women concerned that their insurance providers will no longer pay for the tests they’ve been used to getting annually.  For now, insurance companies have said they will follow the old guidelines and keep covering the tests every year.  But what about a year or two from now?  The cost of health care keeps going up in the U.S., and if you’ve ever had a pre-existing condition or been dropped from your insurance coverage after you get sick, you know insurance companies are looking for ways to cut costs.  But if prevention costs less than treatment, cutting the costs by cutting measures used to detect disease in its earliest stages doesn’t make sense to me.

For women in general, the new guidelines are dangerous because they narrow the gate by which we enter the doctor’s office.  I don’t see my doctor very often.  I have a pap smear every year, and unless something else is wrong within the year, I don’t see her in between pap smears.  But as she talks to me before I strip and put my feet in the stirrups, other issues come up.  They could be about my physical, emotional or sexual health.   The issues could be about fatigue, diet, relationships, exercise, vitamins, unusual patterns in urination or problems that I’m having with other health care providers who aren’t as informative as she is.  When I saw her in 2008, just before I lost my job, she and the billing department in her office were able to tell me what they knew about what to do for insurance while unemployed.  Each year, we cover a lot of ground in about 15 minutes, and if there is anything unusual, I get tested for it.

The problems I bring up to her are usually minor and easily traced to changes in circumstances or diet.  But the point is I bring them up.  If I follow the guidelines released last week on getting pap smears, I probably won’t see her but once every three years.  And those minor concerns that come and go and that are probably nothing but that could very well be something that will slip through the cracks.

For black women in particular, the new guidelines are dangerous because we’re more likely to die.  Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society estimated that about 192,370 new cases of breast cancer would be diagnosed in American women in 2009.  There’s a higher rate of breast cancer among white women over age 40, but a higher incidence of the disease among younger black women and a higher rate of death from breast cancer among black women, which may be because black women tend to get more aggressive forms of breast cancer.

Also, black women tend to be poorer, have less access to affordable health care, go to the doctor less often and have higher incidents or death rates of almost every disease than white women.  To now have guidelines that instruct black women to wait even longer to see their doctors makes it too easy for us to put our health on the back burner.  How many times does, “I’ll do it next week,” turn into next month, next year, and finally never?  How easily can not until you’re 21, not until you’re 50, every three years, every other year, I don’t have to do that until, or I’m too young to be worried about that, turn into death?

My issues with the new recommendations continue in a related article.

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Love while living life laid off 2 – Is looking for love worth it when you’re unemployed?

By Mariam Williams

Last week, as I was deleting my inactive profile from an online dating website I hadn’t visited in almost a year, I noticed this poll in the top right-hand corner of the page:

poll on dating in recession

And here are the results:

poll on dating in recession answers

It should be no surprise that 46% of respondents said, “It has no impact on my attitude about dating,” given that the poll was posted on a dating website.  It was, however, something of a relief to me.  Sort of.

As you could probably tell from the first screenshot, I checked, “I would be less motivated to date.” My situation could be an example of karma in action.  For as long as I can remember, even several years before I actually started dating, I had a deal-breaker in my selection criteria: whatever he brings to the table must be equal to or greater than what I bring to the table.  As a teenager, that meant that at the very least, he was goal-oriented, had a 3.9 GPA and had college aspirations.  In college, the criteria was similar, but I learned that terms like “growing Christian” and “godly leader” had to be at the top of the list.  That decreased the prospects somewhat, but still, I was surrounded by potential mates.   And yet, the only man on campus (and maybe even in the whole city) who ever asked me out was one serving food in the buffet line of the residence halls’ food court. I didn’t bother to ask about his faith.  Top-tier-private-school-educated woman that I was becoming at the time, I wouldn’t date him.

If you’ve kept up with this blog for a while, you know I haven’t had much full-time work or made very much money since I graduated from college. And by living in a state where only about one-third of the population has a college degree, demanding equal to or greater than is unrealistic.  But I still want it.  So much so that even this recession hasn’t affected my belief that giving my number to someone who is unemployed is a waste of breath.  So much so that within the past year I have said, “I wouldn’t date me right now.”

I’ve been incredibly industrious in the past year and by no means idle.  I’m a woman of noble character, a loyal friend, a multi-talented artist, and a fine example of God’s interest in beauty, and none of that has changed due to my employment status.  But despite that last sentence, my confidence has waned a little.  I’ve had to ask myself, “What can I really bring to the table?” And I’ve had to reevaluate what I require of someone else.

Unemployment has struck people in all occupations, at all levels of education and at all pay levels.  The maximum benefit in Kentucky is $415 per week, so everyone’s income is closer to equal than it was when we were full-time employees, but does that mean I should accept the advances of the high school drop-out who was laid off from the city government’s street-sweeping staff?  And if I meet an attorney who’s still making six figures, is that now too much greater than?  I’ll be his intellectual peer, but what happens when we go to a party and his friends ask, “What does your girlfriend do for a living?”

I’ve been told that men don’t care about such things.  When I began my subscription to the dating website, I lived in my mother’s house, and I dreaded having to disclose that information.  I was told not to worry about it, since that scenario is always tolerable for a woman but never for a man once he graduates from college.

But it bothered me, probably a little bit more than my employment status does now.  See, I at least want to look like I can take care of myself.  The Proverbs 31 woman is, after all, an investor and merchant who has her stuff together.  I want to be able to be the 21st Century woman who offers to pay, but what if he’s okay with that?  For one of my aunts, that means he’s not getting a second date.  For me, it means I’m short 30 bucks that I need, and I mean need, for something else.  And if he’s also unemployed, where do we go for a date anyway?

It’s not just the money.  It’s the uncertainty that comes with unemployment that makes it difficult.  That feeling of not knowing when things will get better.  That thought that maybe you’re not doing all that you can to help your own situation.  The frustration with the pile of rejection letters.  The burden of worry, the daily grind of job-hunting, the need to concentrate on your own needs, right now, that makes you self-centered.  The self-centeredness that makes you a bad mate.

If I meet that attorney, will I start to feel worse about my own situation because he’s so successful?  Will my resentment come out as mistreatment and ruin the relationship?  Is a relationship worth getting into when you’re living life laid off?  Take the polls and leave your comments below.

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Filed under Dating and Relationships, Lifestyles, Unemployment

Love while living life laid off – What if I were married right now?

By Mariam Williams

I recently pondered what my life would be like now if I had married the man I had been steadily dating a few years before I began living life laid off.

This man has always been very good at making money.  He is a self-described elitist, with an affinity for life’s finer things.  He’s attracted to ambitious, goal-oriented, career women, but has always been determined to make so much money that his wife’s career is a choice.

At first I thought about how wealthy I would be right now, how lucky I would feel to not have to accept unemployment compensation from the government, to not have to jump through all the hoops that go along with keeping it, to not have to look for a job each day or to not feel discouraged by the number and quality of the job openings.  My husband would have health insurance from his job, and he would attach me to his benefits.  I would have a better quality of life.

But then I remembered: my ex-boyfriend lost more than six figures when Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008.  He laid off the entire workforce of his small company, and his cash ran short.  So had we gotten married, instead of feeling the security I had first pictured, I would quite possibly have more worries and more responsibility because I would have more to lose than I do now.  Instead of making rent on a two-bedroom apartment, I would be concerned about the bank foreclosing on a 4,000-sqare foot house, because that’s the kind of lifestyle we would have lived.  I would be taking our children out of private school, or asking my mother, mother-in-law, or grandmothers to reignite their babysitting senses to keep from having to pay for daycare.  I would be dealing with a husband who was feeling like a failure because he couldn’t keep up the lifestyle we were used to, even though all that we would still be able to do would be more than what most people even dream about.  But his stress would be causing a strain on our marriage, and we might be headed toward divorce.

Or, we might be going for broke, inebriated with the power that comes from having nothing to lose.  I might be telling him some of my wilder business ideas and hearing him say, “Let’s do this thing!” He would be saying, “Let’s,” because he would want to be a partner, advisor and investor.  He would tweak some of the less creative ideas to make them more viable, or he would be inspired to reinvent himself as I reinvented myself.  It’s possible that we both would have come up with something brilliant that would take us off of the employment hiatus and reinforce the bond of marriage.

The thoughts remind me of a line from “The Necklace,” a short story by Guy de Maupassant.  There are many translations of the story and the line, but the one I remember is this: “How fickle life is!  How little it takes to make or break you!”

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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One Full Year of Living Life Laid Off

By Mariam Williams

“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

one year anniversary calendarfree-printable-calendars.com

It’s not a happy anniversary, but I’m alive, and there’s still hope.  I’m thankful today for the writing opportunities God has given me in the past year.  I’ve gone from having a grand total of zero bylines to having 18 articles published in various print publications and having a regular column. By the end of the year, my publications list will include at least 25 entries.  I’ve put the name “Research Works” on my writing, editing and market research skills, and I’ve managed to convince a few people to let me put those skills to use and write their organization’s newsletters and press releases, come up with a slogan for their business or edit their regular business correspondence.  (I’m a little bitter that growing that into a viable business has been impossible given unemployment compensation’s requirement that I report any money I earn, even if it’s only a few dollars for a few hours in one week, but I’m trying to prove that honesty will get me somewhere.)

I’m thankful and more hopeful than I have been over the past few days, but I’m also admittedly confused as to why God has made so many opportunities for me in a dying field.  Let’s just be honest: print journalism is on life support.  Obviously, I can transfer my skills to online journalism, but the blogosphere is already heavily saturated, and people with more experience than I have get laid off every day.

It’s that looming uncertainty that makes me wonder if I missed something when I decided earlier this year that I wouldn’t take just any job that came along.  Was I supposed to humble myself, go to a temp agency or the Census Bureau and make less than I did at my last job and less than I do on unemployment?  At the eight-month mark, was I supposed to humble myself a little further and apply for a minimum wage job at the Target that’s now reopened right behind my apartment building?  Or was I right to wait?  A year later, is God saying to me, “Wait just a little bit more”?  Or is it time to do something entirely different from the path that I was on even before I began living life laid off?

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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Filed under faith, Lifestyles, Unemployment

I learn something new about healthcare every day

I want to move on from this topic, but pain currently has a starring role in my life, and issues I didn’t run into when I had adequate health insurance keep surprising me.

For instance, the reason people without health insurance use the ER as a primary care facility became clear to me last week when I finally caved in and sent detailed notes about my chronic pain, and some rather grotesque pictures, to my primary care physician.  She referred me to a specialist, but due to the exclusion rider on my pre-existing condition that basically states that nothing having to do with my chronic pain will be covered, I would be considered a self-paying patient, and the doctor she referred me to doesn’t take any self-pay patients.

“So that’s why people go to the hospital when they don’t have health insurance,” I said to myself.  A hospital has to treat everyone.  A private doctor does not.

When I explained the situation to another specialist’s office, its billing department said to come in anyway and that I would be billed after the doctor decided what he wanted to do.  Perhaps self-paying patients get second-class treatment in his office; for some reason, he saw me for less than five minutes even though I was at the office for an hour and a half.  In that five minutes, he wrote a prescription and ordered another diagnostic test.  A representative from the billing department later called me about the appointment I had set for the test.  The rep told me that my insurance company said that “no diagnostic tests relating to (my pre-existing condition) are allowed until the year 2011.”  This really means they’re allowed, but I would be paying for the $1800 test out of pocket.

If she had said those words to me face to face, I think I would have punched her.  That’s not true; I just would have been embarrassed because she would have seen the rage heating my face and the tears forming in my eyes.  I smiled through the droplets and in my most chipper phone voice, I said, “Cancel all my appointments.  If I have an emergency, I’ll just go to the hospital.”

Would a visit to the ER cost twice as much as the diagnostic test in a private office?  Probably. Would I get the treatment that I need?  Definitely. Would I end up paying the bill? Maybe. But there’s also the chance that the hospital would just pass the cost along to all of you lucky, fully insured people who are afraid of losing health insurance that you don’t even realize sucks.  And you don’t even realize that one of the reasons it sucks is because you’re covering what the very company you pay won’t cover.

Wake up!

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