A day in the life of an unemployed American

Photo by Matthew Henry via Unsplash

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to keep the streak going. I’d woken up every hour or so on the half hour since I went to bed about midnight. This awakening felt like the real deal. I sat up and turned on the light.

Dampness hung in the apartment like hot, lint-filled air of a coin-op laundry.

The air conditioner was not keeping up with the humidity.

I shuffled to the bathroom and took a cold shower. The bags under my eyes were purple.

I pulled a shirt on, poured a can of pop into a mug and turned on the computer.

I checked my email. A half dozen automated rejection messages awaited me.

Computers representing companies at which I never spoke to a single human told me with an email I wasn’t the right fit for a job.

This is the job search in the summer of 2020. I find myself not so much looking for a job as playing a lottery numbers game.

I try to use the correct combination of buzz words in cover letters and resumes to trick some computer into putting my name in front of a real person who can alert someone of your hiring potential.

Most of the job postings expressly forbid calling. And for heaven’s sake, don’t show up at their offices. They’ll have security escort you out.

I feel less like a person with experiences, ideas and skills after nearly three decades in the work force and more like a collection of ones and zeros that can be quantified like advanced metrics in baseball.

No one need ever look at me or talk to me. It can all be figured on the spreadsheets.

Maybe I blame the computers too much. Maybe it really is me. Maybe I missed a comma or dropped a word. I do that a lot.

People always nagged me when I worked at the paragraph factory: “I don’t see how you can call yourself a professional writer and make this kind of grammar and spelling mistakes.”

This is said by people who have never worked with professional writers. Professional writers are so bad with grammar and spelling they created a whole profession of people just to clean up their slop. Those people are called copy editors.

Copy editors are the true guardians of the written word. They used to be legion, but in the slash-and-burn world of corporate America, they are an endangered species still actively hunted.

I run my resume and cover letters by copy editor-inclined friends. I should feel more confident about them. But I don’t.

I have been out of work since May 1. The end of June nears. The only response I got from the dozens of jobs I applied for so far was from an insurance sales job that I applied for by mistake.

I apply for jobs with “writer,” “editor” and “communications” in the title. I’ve lost count of how many. Some of them interest me a great deal. Others would be a means to an end.

The online job boards discourage me. All the jobs seem to want something I don’t have.

I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I spent years trying to get my shot. I did. It was not everything I imagined it to be. Nothing ever is.

The notion you have of what jobs are like as a child seldom match with the reality of the office. I bet even professional baseball players and comic book artists complain about their bosses and gripe about the working conditions.

Still, I turn 45 at the end of the week. I have seldom felt more adrift, maybe totally lost.

My previous employer paid me $50 to write my first professional story in March 1993. More or less, I made my living stacking paragraphs until my job was cut.

When I read job postings for gigs that use the words “communications” or “storyteller,” I am not sure they are written in English.

I have done some freelance work recently. The people I work for are very nice. But they use a phrase — “pain points” — that I’d never heard before.

It means what problems did a customer have that lead them to buy the product my client makes. I had to ask someone to explain that to me.

I did a freelance piece for another client and she used the same phrase.

I wondered when everybody got together and decided what selection of words would make what we say sound clever and fresh even though we mean the same thing we always did.

This is a small problem, but it adds to a general feeling of being behind the times, lost and lesser.

I am a writer. I can tell you a story about anything you want if you give me a telephone, notebook and pencil and a few hours before deadline.

This skill and $1.85 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. The time for people like me has passed. It might have passed before I ever started.

I apply for a few jobs. I probably won’t get them. I would feel better if I could talk with a human being about it instead of pasting my resume into boxes on internet forms.

By 2 p.m., I’m exhausted. I have done nothing physical, but the slog of selling myself to people I’ve never meet through the miracle of computers wears me out.

In less than three days, I turn 45 years old. I did not expect to feel so discarded and useless at 45.

But, then, I never really considered being 45.

I try to focus on positive thoughts.

The pool, at long last, opens Friday. That’s not a job, but it will do for a birthday present.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

How a restless girl from Eldridge became a star athletics administrator at Grand View University

Britt Erps was a restless toddler as she grew up in Eldridge. She ran and yelled and struggled to sit down.
“Even today, I can only sit and chill for about 20 minutes before I have to get up,” Britt, who now goes by Britt Einerson, said. “I can’t sit and watch a movie or TV.”

Britt’s parents signed her up for soccer at age 3 “just to get some energy out of me.”

Britt directed her energy into soccer, volleyball and dance.

Soccer quickly consumed her focus. She played defense. She thrilled at stopping people attempting to drive up the field and score.

Britt was often her own worst opponent. She got down on herself when she got beat on a play. She got angry with herself.

“There was definitely a different side of me competing that I wouldn’t say I was too proud of,” Britt said.

Her internal turmoil settled in high school. She made the varsity team as an eighth grader. The coach named her co-captain her junior year. She evolved into a leader.

She wanted to play soccer in college. She considered Cornell College in Mount Vernon. But Grand View University in Des Moines called.

“I had never even heard of Grand View before they recruited me,” Britt said.

Britt visited. She really liked her future teammates and her coach, Ventsi Stoimirov.

She picked Grand View. The move to Des Moines from Eldridge enriched her.

She would have done well at Cornell, but Mount Vernon was too similar to Eldridge. The added challenge of living in Iowa’s largest city thrilled the once-restless girl.

“Soccer was the focus at that point in my life, but Grand View wasn’t just a soccer team,” Britt said. “I remember walking on campus and just being around the university and thinking about how big Des Moines was and how much there was to experience here.”

Britt continued to excel in soccer. The team stayed in the top three of the conference throughout her playing days.

She studied business administration with a focus on health promotion but eventually shifted to sports management. She took 18 credit hours her senior year so she could finish in four years.

Britt graduated and went to Illinois State for graduate school. She worked as a graduate assistant in the event management department. She worked with the campus facilities.

She graduated from Illinois State and earned an internship with the University of Minnesota football stadium.

Britt got a call from the Grand View athletic director. They had an assistant coaching opening with the women’s soccer team.

“I was like, ‘Why are you calling me? You know I don’t want to be a coach,’” Britt recalled.

The athletic director pitched the job as an experience. She wanted to be an athletic director and she had lots of facilities and management experience. Coaching would add another line to her resume.

Britt applied for the job. She thought it would be a way for her to give back to the soccer program that had given her so much.

She worked with the Vikings’ defenders. She installed a little of her boundless energy into them.

“I taught them about work ethic and not being soft and being motivated,” Britt said. “I got them to grind a little bit.”

Britt was giving back, but she was getting some more too. She loved the women she coached. She worked at the career center to help athletes connect with jobs. She felt as fulfilled when one of her players found work as when one of them made a sliding kick save.

About two and a half years into her coaching gig, the administrative assistant for the athletic department left. Britt offered to take on the role in addition to her coaching duties.

Finally, Britt found a limit to her boundless energy. For six months, she handled her athletic department duties and then her soccer duties at night. She took a two- or three-hour break in the middle of the day.

After six months, she finally gave up her coaching duties. Britt is now the assistant to the athletic director at Grand View. And just like when she was a little girl, Britt keeps moving.

This year proved the biggest challenge of her professional life. Almost half the schools’ athletic events were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s tough enough to herd athletes when you’ve got them on campus. Now they’re scattered home. But Britt helped coaches stay in touch with athletes and tried to keep the Viking family together despite being so geographically separated.

Britt’s efforts earned her the Grand View Excellence in Service Award for her outstanding contributions in 2020.

Her husband, Justin, coaches basketball at Lincoln High School in Des Moines.

The couple have a daughter who is nearly 2, so one thing is certain: the restless girl from Eldridge is not slowing down anytime soon.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

591: Obesity and the damage done

Photo by twinsfisch via Unspash

My friend invited me to a high school baseball game down in Winterset on Monday. The thought of it appealed to me: my favorite game played in the sun at my almost-alma mater by my buddy’s kid, whom I’ve watched grow up.

I agreed. Then I withdrew.

I sent a sappy text through tears in the early morning Monday. I wanted to go, but I was afraid.

I was afraid the walk from the car to the stands would be too much for me. I was afraid if I fell, there would be no one strong enough to help me up. I was afraid that I would bend or break the chair I sat on.

I worry about these things all of the time.

This is the curse of obesity.

And I am that: morbidly obese.

The word “morbidly” is not tacked on for flair. It’s a medical diagnosis that means being as obese as I am shortens my life expectancy.

So here it is, the big number that everyone wants to hear and recoils in horror when I reveal it.

I weigh 591 pounds.

That’s a cheeseburger and fries away from 600. That’s 91 pounds beyond a quarter ton.

Now come the judgements and the advice delivered as a sneer.

Eat less, move more.

Maybe put down the fork.


Show some will power.

And so on.

Longtime readers will note that I once, somewhat famously, went on a very public campaign to lose weight starting in March 2015. That campaign started when I was 39 and weighed 563 pounds.

I wrote about this effort to get healthier in a blog called “Making Weight” for my previous employer. The work was popular for a while and it helped me get healthier.

I used a combination of psychotherapy, diet, exercise and an unusual treatment for depression.

I lost 144 pounds between March 2015 to January 2017. I was 41 years old and weighed 424 pounds. I was still morbidly obese, but the weight training made me physically stronger than I ever had been in my life.

My goal was always to get back under 300 pounds.

But something went wrong in 2017.

My gym time waned. My eating habits declined.

I struggled through a bout of major depression.

Major depression is poorly named, but I don’t know what simple words can describe the mood disorder.

There are few easy, meaningful ways to say I went through a period where opening my eyes to face the day was almost physically painful, a time where I dreaded every single interaction with other human beings yet never needed my friends and loved ones more and a time I generally felt the gift of life was wasted on me.

Another painful experience befell me in November 2017. I choose not to reveal it in a public blog post at this time. Maybe someday I will talk about it, but not today.

The events nearly crippled me and sent me back to my psychiatrist for another round of transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS.

That’s a treatment where clinicians beam magnetic pulses into the brain in an effort to stimulate the naturally occurring chemicals that regulate mood in the brain such as serotonin.

The effectiveness of TMS is debated, but I have found it exceptionally helpful each time I used it.

The mental health care gave me another excuse to take time off the gym and all through 2017 and 2018, my weight climbed.

I slipped and fell on icy sidewalks on a cold January night in early 2018. I fell again trying to get to my feet. I later learned that I pushed in a pair of my ribs near the bottom of my ribcage.

My pain sidelined me. I could barely walk. Aquatic physical therapy got me back on my feet. It took almost three months. I started back to the gym in the fall, but attendance was irregular.

Another personal event occurred in early 2019. Again, I choose not to be public about it, but I was unsettled and struggled with more anger and depression.

I started this year with some optimism. I messaged my trainer about getting back to the gym.

But I developed pneumonia in mid-February. It took almost two weeks from which to recover.

I started to feel better just as the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. I couldn’t go to the gym if I wanted to.

Now things are opening up, but my walk is slow and painful. The months of sedentary life coupled with the anxiety and depression left my body in terrible physical condition.

I ate poorly, heavy into carbs and sugars. I ate to feel good instead of for sustenance.

I lost my job in May. I try to get up each day between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. I hunker over the computer and apply for jobs.

The few responses I receive are rejections.

There aren’t many jobs posted anyway. The pandemic has wrecked employment and companies often want young talent that works cheaply rather than middle-aged workers who bring established skills but cost more.

I feel useless. I feel like I wasted 27 years of my life in a trade that’s burning down and am left with no marketable skills. I know that isn’t wholly true, but I struggle with how to communicate with employers that being able to write a story on practically any topic in a few hours is valuable.

The economy is strengthening, they say. And people have supported this blog, but it’s not enough to make the bills each month. I look at the calendar and I don’t know what I’m going to do after July. It all seems so damn hopeless.

My close friends encourage me to pray. Others encourage patience. I love them. Both ideas are good.

But I look at the calendar. Severance runs out soon and the extra payments to unemployment granted because of coronavirus ends in July.

There’s talk of a new stimulus package. There’s talk of extensions. But nothing seems to happen. Congress and the president are busy grandstanding in advance of the election, not helping people like me and others who have it worse.

But every news story seems to trumpet economic recovery. Unemployment claims are down, they say. America is reopening.

The doctors and scientists urge extreme caution, but many people are openly ignoring the pandemic.

They’re playing high school baseball and softball. The NBA is going to start soon.

Everything is wonderful.

Except in my house, where I have no job and I haven’t been able to get into aquatic therapy for months because of the pandemic.

Yesterday, the provider I use for aquatic therapy called. At last, they could take me as a patient now that restrictions had been lifted.

But I couldn’t go. I lost my job in May. The insurance I had at my previous employer covered aquatic therapy. The insurance I bought off the exchange does not pay for therapy, at least at the provider I’ve used in the past.


I know that I am not alone. I know tens of millions of Americans are out of work. And more than that are obese.

I feel empty. I feel worthless. I feel disgusting. I feel unlovable.

Bless my friends, who remind me daily that my life has meaning.

It sure doesn’t feel that way, but I have good, smart people as my friends. It would be arrogant and disrespectful to assume they’re all wrong and I’m right.

Still, I’m down. I’m not all the way down. I’m not depressed. I’m right at the edge of depressed. I can look over the edge and see the hole I’m trying so hard not to fall into.

And I haven’t. I’ve got a great therapist. And the work we’ve done together over the years helps me monitor and control my tendency to dive deep into that abyss.

Still, there is a very outward side of my depression: 591.

I’m morbidly obese. Most people believe obesity is caused by excellent fork-to-mouth coordination. That’s partially true.

But all the research shows that obesity is related to a complex matrix of problems that included mental health and especially adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

I’ve had loads of ACEs and let me assure this is not a great poker hand. My mother was an addict with erratic behavior. I don’t want to detail a poor, dead woman’s sins in these paragraphs. I will say only this: Things weren’t always fun in my house when I was a boy and it deeply affected the way I think, act and move.

Mostly, I am afraid.

Holy higher power of choice, I am afraid. All the time. I am afraid I’m unlovable. I am afraid I’m unworthy of everything — friendship, kindness, love, dignity, respect or anything.

I don’t understand it when someone is kind to me. Don’t they know how rotten I truly am? I am a bad little boy. Well, I’m a bad big man.

Can’t they see how gross I am?

They can’t. Because they love me. And that confuses me. Because most of the time, all I’ve ever done is hate me.

I know this thinking is false.

I intellectually understand that I am a human being, a child of God, worthy of love, dignity and respect.

But emotionally, too much of the time, I feel like the dog dung on the bottom of somebody’s shoe.

Therein are the poles of my self-image. Most of my problems are trying to resolve the gap between intellectual understanding and emotional reaction.

This effort is ridiculously exhausting. It’s harder and heavier than 591.

So about 591. What’s to be done? Do I just wait for the stroke or heart attack?

Sometimes, I’ll be honest, the answer in my head is, yes. If Raygun were to make a t-shirt about me, I think it would read: “Too fat to live, too lazy to die.”

I fight that thought. I want to live. I want to sit in the sun and watch my buddy’s kids play ball. I want to hang out in old age with my friends and drink sangrias by the pool. I want to keep writing, because that’s the only thing I ever felt good about in my life, even when I keep getting laid off or fired from those jobs.

I know getting healthier will be a long, arduous journey. And I know it will be all the more difficult because I am six years older than when I started this stuff the first time.

But so what?

I choose to live.

They filled the pool at my apartment complex. It opens next Friday. I’ve got a sheet with pool exercises to do and tools to do them with.

Here’s to the first splash on a long swim to recovery.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.