No time is a good time of day when you’re unemployed

Photo by Dan Meyers via Unsplash.

The daytime is the worst.
All my friends are at work.
I am at home.
Unemployed.

Driftless.

Listless.

Purposeless.

I stare at job boards. I apply. I call. Any news? Any openings?

Maybe it’s a special day where I’ll get a form letter rejection via email.

And, oh, look at that inbox: The only job I managed to get an interview for since the old shop discarded me writes to tell me they went another way.

My self-esteem is crushed out like like a cigarette butt in an ashtray.

The summer is nice.

I go to the pool on the days my spine doesn’t feel as if it is being twisted like the handle of a black pepper grinder.

But it is August. The days grow shorter.

It feels like my feet are nailed to the floor while time hurtles forward. Everyone else moves on with their lives. I’m stuck like a wind-blown reed.

I know I’m not alone. I’m one of nearly 170,000 unemployed Iowans and as many as 30 million unemployed Americans.

But the days are lonely. There is nowhere to go. There are no people to socialize with.

I never married. I’m too hard to get along with. There’s too much about my mind and body that is incompatible with companionship.

That is for the best. I feel like I fail myself every day I don’t get a job. I don’t know if I could take the strain of failing a wife or children.

Sometimes I allow the madness into the house. I turn on the news. It isn’t really news anymore. Maybe it never was. It’s just partisan sniping designed to make people angry and afraid.

Anger and fear are primal emotions. They motivate you to keep watching and keep checking for status updates. The news, as it is these days, is poison that we drink like Busch Light.

I let the news-cancer in for a few moments to try and glean facts from the cacophony of misinformation. Will the government pass a stimulus? Will they put aside their pettiness and petulance long enough to help the 30 million suffering?

The answer ranges from the negotiators are “far apart” to “close to a deal.” The truth is the reporters and the commentators don’t know a damn thing.

But they have to update websites.

They have to broadcast.

They have to spin.

They have to build their brand.

The thought of the state of the trade I gave so much of my life to fills me with bile, rage and anguish.

So I turn away and wait for happy hour.

I don’t mean the bar.

Happy hour in unemployment runs from 4 p.m to 6 p.m., when my friends end their workdays. I can call. They can text. They chat.

I call my friend in Reno. We chat by video. She isn’t much for phone talk. She indulges me for a few minutes each day.

I call my friend in Urbandale. We used to eat dinner once a week. I haven’t been able to see her since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

I call my friend in Memphis. He’s my best friend. The pandemic intensifies his work stress.

Soon, dinnertime comes for friends.

And the silence falls.

Families tend to children and household tasks.

Bedtime arrives for older families.

The night grows old and gives way to the small hours of the morning.

This is the best time.

Everyone is asleep. I stay awake. I watch old TV. “Hill Street Blues” and “Miami Vice” are favorites. Sometimes I watch cartoons, “The Transformers” and “G.I. Joe.”

They remind me of the days before adult responsibilities, when play was work and the worst part of the day was being sent to bed early or eating pickled beets.

I stay awake while everyone sleeps. I am calmest during these hours. It’s odd, but when the silence falls on the day, this is when I feel most a part of my community.

We are mostly idle in these hours. I am awake to savor the unity, even if no one else realizes it but me.

Soon the sun will squeeze through the vertical blinds and lay bright diagonal lines across my carpet.

The workday begins. Friends rub sleep from their eyes and go to jobs. I check the job boards. I apply for a few jobs. Then I take a long nap and let the world go by without me.

It’s the only way I can take it.

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.

Writer no more? That looks like my future

Photo by Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

When I worked at my old shop, I joked about how arcane the craft of journalism was. One of my oft-repeated lines was being a practicing journalist in the 21st century is like being an endangered species that is still actively hunted.

Ha, ha.

I had many such jests.

A newspaper newsroom is like living in a hospice without the fentanyl drip.

Journalists are like village blacksmiths looking for an anvil to pound out horseshoes while everyone else is driving around in cars with prefabricated polycarbonate thermoplastic panels.

Or my favorite: Journalism is like riding bareback on a dinosaur to the La Brea Tar Pits.

Jokes tend to have a sliver of truth to them. I am learning the hard way just how accurate my old barbs were.

I’m a writer. I call myself a paragraph stacker or sentence slinger mostly as a joke, a twist on saying “reporter” or “writer” all the time.

But I am a writer. It’s the only way I’ve ever made a living. I thought that would always be true.

It looks less likely to be so.

I’ve applied for scores of jobs in unemployment. I looked for jobs that focused on writing. There were a few.

I discovered people don’t really want writers. Well, they do. But they also want photographers, videographers and editors, website designers, print designers and the ability to field strip and clean a SIG Sauer MPX while changing the oil in a Ford F-550 Super Duty.

OK. I made up the last two things, but the all-in-one hire is the popular choice on the job board.

This depresses me for several reasons.

Photographers and designers are tradesman in their own right. They practice an art all their own. To suggest that any person can do all those things with any degree of excellence is to ignore both the value of experience and the difficulty of the crafts.

But what really makes me sad is I think that most of the positions that list writing as an important skill just tack that on at the end. What they really want is a web designer or videographer who can string a few sentences together.

I wrote my first professional story when I was 17 years old. Ever since then, I’ve been paid to be a writer. I worked on that craft for 27 years, 23 of them full-time.

I feel like I’ve reached middle age and have tremendous experience in getting an ox to pull a plow while everyone younger than me — and a few older — speed by on the latest John Deere equipment.

I am envious of recent journalism school graduates. My alma mater, Drake University, teaches journalism students how to write apps for phones, make video, edit video and all kinds of other things.

They graduate from college more prepared for the work I’ve been doing since I was 17.

I can still beat them in paragraphs. But no one really cares about writing. I keep up with my favorite baseball team on the Major League Baseball app. I find the writing on there to be awful, well below the standard of the brand.

Then I realize another thing about me that is outdated is a sense of standards. Journalism gave up on that when they fired their copy editors.

Writing that is riddled with clichés — the kind my early editors excised with glee and mocked me for including — is now commonplace.

The reality is very few people read beyond the score. They just want to know who hit home runs and how many strikeouts the ace pitcher had.

In the loathsome vernacular of fantasy sports, I’m evaluating writing on advanced metrics, but the readers are just looking for a few paragraphs. There is no quality comparison.

I don’t mean to offend the handful of this column’s loyal readers. I know they care about quality of writing because they tell me they do.

They also complain to me about other writers at my old shop, which I think is bad form. I don’t work there anymore and even if I did, I would not talk about a colleague’s work. They are responsible for their own stuff.

Some people are generous enough to donate money to keep this website and podcast going. But that has waned. The data shows people just aren’t interested in these columns anymore.

Soon I will have to make some tough choices about my life and future. Senate Republicans seem hell bent on making unemployed Americans like me and 13 million others twist in the wind as the expanded unemployment benefits end July 30.

If that goes away, things will get very tight around Camp Daniel very quickly.

I’m thinking about going back to school to become a teacher. I’m exploring all the grant options and financial aid assistance.

I think I might make a good teacher.

But I don’t think I’ll be a writer anymore.

The world doesn’t seem to want them.

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.