“Those who have long dared to dream can now stake their place on the winner's podium. This is traditionally called the Harvest Moon because farmers were sometimes required to work late into the night by the light of the Moon.”
--“Harvest Moon spiritual meaning: How will this week’s Aries Full Moon affect you?”
When I was laid off on April 2nd, I vowed to write and do yoga every day. This pledge was meant to keep my creative writing going and to make sure, no matter how exhausted I was from whatever fresh hell 2020 delivered, I would still be productive, healthy, and whole.
Long ago this post would have been called “Off The Mat and Outta Here.” A reference to my regular yoga practice and that glorious day when I’d roll up my mat and move to an idyllic setting. In winter, on the mat, I dreamt of small towns. The New England town with a new office on the lake. Just outside of that town, on a fall Saturday, à la Nicholas Sparks, I would finally meet my love. We’d walk towards each other across a red covered bridge. He’d ask, “How did you get here?” To which I’d answer with a coy smile, “I’ve always been here. I just couldn’t get here.” But I pulled out of the job in that town at the writing test. I tried to clarify what product they were actually marketing and they couldn’t tell me.
There was the Northern California mountain town with a copywriter job at a rich homeowners’ association. The SoCal town job to write landing pages about digestive enzymes. There was a job in the town I’m from, across the street behind the house I grew up in. Another in a rust-belt town for which I spent weeks looking at listings of four-bedroom houses with fireplaces I could rent for the price of my one-bedroom apartment. I found out--after the interview when I waited to hear if I would be moving across the country--that the job went to someone else through that someone else’s LinkedIn profile. The hiring manager explained he hadn’t told me I hadn’t gotten the job because, “It’s been a crazy few weeks.”
There was one job in Ohio, and then another. I would tell different friends about different jobs. “How’s New Jersey?” They’d ask. “How’s Ohio? Or is it Indiana?” They couldn’t keep it straight, and who could blame them?
There was an editor job I was curious about. But when I asked what percentage of the job was writing and the hiring manager said “1%,” my heart sank. Another clue indicating that whoever it was for, whatever product or service I was marketing, I had to be writing.
I was once asked to submit writing samples and answer why I am a writer, what it means to me, my most impactful recent life lesson, two of my favorite books and why, and a story about a piece of writing I created that got someone’s attention or made a difference in business. Three minutes after I sent my answers, five writing samples, and my portfolio and blog, the hiring manager emailed--as if catcalling--”Nice samples!”
Once a recruiter asked me to schedule a time for a call. I selected a time. Then they didn't call at that time. Then they sent me another invite to schedule a call and didn’t address or apologize for not calling the first time. I’ve had a hiring manager cancel an interview fifteen minutes after they scheduled it. Was this just “COVID times” or were there nudie pictures of me online I didn’t know about?
I once joined a Zoom call invited by a recruiter that was with three other women instead. One didn’t have her video on. One had the camera awkwardly angled up. The other was just a still photo of herself, poised and coiffed. I’d put on makeup for this? Rather than introduce themselves, they immediately asked me to tell them about myself. I did. They said they couldn’t hear me. I logged off and logged on. After giving my spiel again, they launched into asking what my ideal work environment was. I almost laughed, “Before I get into that” I said, “Is this a remote position?” Sort of. I would need to fly to LA once a week.
Another hiring manager invited me to interview for a “copyrighter” role at a “wellness company.” When I looked up their website, I saw they sold protein powders and every picture of the hiring manager was in a bikini.
I completed five interviews and a writing test for a job. Two weeks after the fifth and final interview (plus my five thank you emails) and no word, I emailed my recruiter contact, a woman who’d been prompt and professional the whole time. I told her I assumed they’d selected another candidate but, “given the thorough nature of the hiring process,” I’d appreciate a follow-up. She never wrote back.
You can’t make this shit up.
Once when a friend texted asking for “any updates on my end-jobwise” I, within seconds, wrote back that my job search was a “humiliating, pride-swallowing, slog of dead-end despair.” Had I stolen that line from Jerry Maguire? Almost. Jerry told Rod Tidwell his effort to get him a contract was “an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing, siege that I will never fully tell you about.” I woke up at nine, but otherwise it was spot on.
After the five-interview ghosting, I was almost numb. I wasn’t mad. I was just confused--and tired. It seemed that getting a job was not what the universe held for me. I appreciated that it was a near-impossible time to be looking for work, and props to my pals who shifted their focus to travelling to their partners, caring for their kids, pursuing grad school, and doing cross-country philanthropy bike trips. But I don’t have a partner or kids. I already have a master’s. And I was quite content with my 26-mile birthday bike pilgrimage to the Dairy Queen. I wanted--needed--a job. As hard as it was, I still felt it was my path.
Then a funny thing happened. I developed a mantra: “If no one will pay you to write, pay yourself.” I’d been living this way anyway, taking writing classes and joining book clubs. I’d written a couple blogs. I’d even started a self-designed “Kitchen Table MFA” for one made of those classes and my quest to get published. I kept a detailed submission spreadsheet of what pieces I sent where. When the no's started coming in, I realized they were nothing compared to the job no's. These no's weren’t emotional because I hadn’t gone through a month of interviews with human beings. My rent didn’t depend on their yeses. So when I got a no, like a prize fighter, I put up my fists and thought, “Give me another one!” I continued to “pay myself” to write essays and memoirs. And even though I hadn’t gotten a job, I’d had dozens of interviews. So I started helping people with their resumes. Turns out those months of perfecting my story equipped me to help others tell theirs. I started volunteer texting with the Wisconsin Democrats, the perfect level of engagement for a writer.
There’s an idea that you job search “when” or “once” something else is done. And while I know we all have our respective priorities and commitments, job searching does not have to rule your life. It didn’t mine. I did it every day. But I didn’t do it all day, every day. It didn’t keep me from anything. It didn’t keep me from “traveling” in ways that felt safe: camping, biking, and sailing with friends or kayaking with seals. It didn’t keep me from spending money on used books, good gin, or big ice cream cones. It didn’t keep me from donating to charities. From lounging in friends’ yards. From staring at the waves or biking to parks and lying in the grass for hours reading Oz books and Sweet Valley High. It didn’t keep me from taking classes on Joan Didion, Toni Morrison, and non-fiction; nor from doing the required reading and writing for those classes. It didn’t keep me from staying up late or sleeping in. Or spending stretches of days immersed in only Graham Greene novels and Anthony Bourdain shows. Or from seeing friends: biking, drinking, laughing, commiserating, and wondering what the hell we were going to do today, tomorrow, or months from now. It didn’t keep me from the piddly, part-time test assessment work I’ve been doing for 18 years--another way to stretch out those unemployment dollars. It didn’t keep me from doing coloring books and 187 Sudoku puzzles. It didn’t keep me from finding a community of Yacht Rock fans on Facebook whom I joined with a cocktail multiple times a week engaging in vaguely political posts. (ie about America’s “Tin Man”: “This is the America I love,”) It didn’t keep me from volunteering with Wisconsin Democrats and, even when registered voters told me to “fuck off,” responding “Have a nice day!” It didn’t keep me from writing and doing yoga for 182 consecutive days. Most importantly, in this time and in any other, it didn’t keep me from me. And it shouldn’t keep you from you.
You are more than your job search. You are a precious rosebud trying to bloom in the dark. The moon has not yet cast its light upon you. But it will. On your journey you may encounter professionals who are anything but. An interviewer who is 15 minutes late calling. An invitation-to-interview email with seven exclamation points and a subsequent rejection-email with five. Hiring managers who will look you in the eye on Zoom and tell you you’ll “work well together,” then four days later that “it was a really hard decision.” I’ve been called “a lovely person” by someone who didn’t hire me and a “breath of fresh air” by the one who did.
The week I got the job I also edited resumes and scored tests. I attended four hours of classes and did six hours of volunteering. I joined a friend’s charity bike ride and an all-morning kayak. I went out for lunch with one friend and dinner with another. Biked 11 miles four different days and ran three once. I had an interview with another company. Spent hours in a friend’s lawn and a whole afternoon in a brewery. I barely had time to sign the offer letter. The first call to discuss the offer came when I was in a used book store looking for a copy of Moby Dick for class. The voicemail pinged just as my finger grazed the thick spine. I had found the great, white whale.
I learned, through an Indeed application status update, there were 247 applicants for the job I got.
My new job is not, at least right now, taking me to a covered bridge or an office behind the house I grew up in. It’s not taking me to a small town in Northwestern Vermont, Northern California, Southern California, Northern New Jersey, Western New York, or Northeastern Ohio. It’s taking me to my 15-year old kitchen table where I’ve been the whole time. The same chair I’ve sat in to write and submit essays, score tests, volunteer, take classes, interview with dozens of companies, and apply to hundreds more. It’s taking me to an industry I started my career in twenty years ago combined with another I’ve been in for ten. It’s a shooting star to a galaxy I’ve always wanted to explore. It appears to be some sort of cosmic culmination of all the work I’ve done. So many cycles of the moon coming ‘round. Waning and waxing, dull and bright. Darkened and full once again.
The day I finalized the offer--six months after the day I’d been laid off and a Harvest Moon--wasn’t otherwise particularly unusual. The first thing I did after the call was cancel my $29 a month LinkedIn Premium account. Then I walked to pick up my cat’s hyperthyroid medicine. I texted and called people. A friend came over to my balcony for cocktails. Then I caught up on a class I’d missed because I’d attended a meditation session.
At 9:23 pm, as the moon sat at 18 degrees heading 102 degrees ESE, I realized I hadn't yet done yoga. I rolled out my mat, dropped to prayer pose, and exhaled.