by isaac black

I’m a couple weeks away from the six month anniversary of my joblessness. Even though I have enough savings for another cushy six months I’ve started becoming anxious about where I’m going to get an income after that. I’m a little worried about how fast time has gone and how accustomed I’ve become to spending most of my day taking care of myself and reading. I’m anxious about the thought of taking another desk job out of necessary, only to have my psyche reject that lifestyle like a disease after three months.

I applied for a health insurance subsidy because Utah has no Medicaid program available for non-disabled people with no dependents. There is no federal subsidy for people below the poverty line, so I had to claim that I would make at least $11,770 this year. I think I will, but I have another six weeks to provide my insurance company with some kind of documentation to prove it. I don’t have a steady income, so it may prove tricky. I may have to end up paying back the subsidy, in which case I’m just going to go without insurance because I can’t afford $160 a month for the most basic plan. Health insurance is important, but to me this is another way in which our system is designed to keep people working, even if it’s at jobs that they’re not very well suited for. Capitalism requires cheap labor, and a glut of available labor benefits capitalists at the expense of workers.

I hope by the end of this year I will have something pan out. Even though it sounds like a pipe dream my best bet so far is in selling a screenplay I wrote a couple years ago, but I wasn’t even a quarter finalist in a contest that I entered. I entered a few others, so I’ll wait and see. I’m in the planning stages of starting a hot sauce company. My friends like my recipe, but my napkin calculations indicate that it won’t be fully profitable by the end of this year, barring some miracle. What I want to do is focus on my novel, which I’m feeling very optimistic about. I’m rewriting a section which I felt was weaker than the others and feeling encouraged by how well it’s going. I’ve gotten good feedback from the writers group I’m a part of. But this still feels like the longest shot I have. Beside, I’m still two to three months from finishing the first draft. Add three more months for revisions and writing a query, three months for hearing back from agents, and assuming I’m lucky enough to get representation there will be the process of getting a publisher interested.

I helped a friend with some copywriting, and now a colleague wants to get in touch with me for some work. That may turn into something. I also may be doing some more temp driving work in May. I’ve got a tax refund due. These are the kinds of things that may add up eventually to a living, but right now they’re hard to bank on. Still, a friend who was in a similar situation last year told me that the longer he was jobless the more opportunities presented themselves. It is true that I’ve had opportunities come up, and I haven’t even been looking.

What anxiety looks like for me is my brain turning a thought over in my mind without my control, looking for all the bad things associated with it and fixating on them. When it comes to not knowing how I’ll make money in the future, I automatically think of all the bad things that can happen and the ways that they’ll play out. Interestingly enough though, this way of thinking actually helps me write. Because I don’t have to put any conscious effort into this, I come up with a character or a scene and my brain goes to work on examining them from all angles, coming up with quirks, flaws, or different dimensions. Not writing is sometimes is more productive than writing because of this.

The other big source of my anxiety is my romantic relationship. I wouldn’t have considered this as big a focus when I was working, but a sizable portion of my time and energy goes toward the relationship. Specifically, I try to work up the courage to be expressive with her while countering with logic all of my inner avoidant tendencies. The back and forth going on inside my head is keeping up at night, and when I sleep I’ve been having vivid, stressful dreams. There was the one where my nephew or cousin killed himself in the bathtub of the vacation home where I was staying with my family, and I had to inform his mother (who I was attracted to; it’s worth noting this is not a real person OR a blood relative in my dream). There was the dream where my car got towed while I was walking around in the snow in my socks. When my socks disappeared and I couldn’t remember how it happened I told myself, while dreaming, that I wasn’t dreaming and that I must be going crazy. There was the dream where I had befriended a young black man and possibly been an accomplice to some kind of homicide, then tried to deescalate the situation when the FBI found where we were hiding, knowing that he was likely to be shot on sight. Then there was the dream where I worked all day at an organizing job without a meal, and by evening, with several hours of work left, I was exhausted and wondering how I was going to keep doing that job for the next ten days, or whatever the schedule was.

I’ve mentioned this before but the paradox I’m falling into is that because all my time is free time, I don’t schedule myself any free time. My relaxation feels like procrastinating, because what I should be doing is working on my novel, working on my hot sauce, or spending some intentional time with friends or the woman I’m dating. Even when I’m reading a book it often feels like homework. The challenges of joblessness may be trivial and beautiful, but they exist.