Unemployment loomed—terrifying, confusing, unreal—and we unfortunates were being advised to put our faith in Facebook and our trust in Twitter. Or at least some of it, since these social media outlets were touted as the cool new way to find hot new jobs.
In the final days at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, shell-shocked employees trooped off to seminars and more seminars. These were "voluntary" seminars that seemed darn mandatory to most of us: seminars on post-employment benefits, on outplacement services and the replacement health insurance that carries the name of a poisonous snake (COBRA: Strange coincidence? Or inside joke?). Our eyes soon glazed over from the growing blizzard of infobits and acronyms. Outside the seminars, back at our desks, we tried our damndest to do our jobs as we always had, ignoring growing evidence all around us that our newspaper was on death row with little or no possibility for a stay of execution. All I had known as a P-I writer for 26 years was coming to a sudden end, but there was still just enough time to attend a seminar on using social media to secure new work.
I didn't get Twitter then, still don't, even though I now am a registered user there. I could understand Facebook, but its vaunted ability to keep me "connected" with friends seemed downright silly. I stay in frequent contact with a half dozen friends, have four times that many who receive my annual holiday cards. I needed Facebook to track them? What absurd computer overkill, like turning grocery lists into PowerPoint presentations. It could be done, but why?
And the notion that Facebook would reap job possibilities for me seemed techie fantasy. Thirteen months have now passed since 160 P-I employees left the newspaper's office for the final time and only 25 or 30 have found new full-time work, terribly depressing considering all the fine talent that worked beneath the paper's mammoth rooftop globe with its rotating boast ("It's In The P-I"). Facebook has produced just one job lead for me, an iffy ghostwriting gig for a former network TV anchor's memoir, despite my "friending" dozens of people in the publishing business and letting each one of them know that I am desperately seeking work, any work. So Facebook has been a job bust, just as I expected. What I hadn't anticipated, however, was that Facebook would become something entirely different for me—a crucial lifeline to sanity, or at least normalcy.
Unemployment scrambles a life with many strange new developments, some major, some minor, all unsettling. Weekend days are no different from weekdays any longer since some work needs to be done daily. A highlight of my very different week is now Tuesday's mail with that familiar tan envelope containing my state unemployment check. And there is an ever-present sense of rudderlessness—one recent day passed without remembering to brush my teeth, something that went unnoticed for more than 24 hours, to my embarrassment.
Then there was the time I was walking through a local farmers' market and saw a small sign at a popular quesadilla stand offering "1/2 off any entrée for the unemployed." My first reaction was: What a nice gesture for those less fortunate in these challenging times! Then I suddenly realized that the discount applied to me. I swallowed my pride and my reduced-priced quesadilla, after first thanking the cashier for this unexpected break, my only such break as an unemployed person in the marketplace.
But the most difficult change wrought by unemployment is solitude and isolation. That is most true for a single person living alone, as I do now that both my son and daughter are college students in the distant states of Arizona and North Carolina. We talk on the phone every few days, to my relief and delight, but it is still the phone and its limitations across many miles. My only face-to-face talk on many days is with a coffee barista ("What would you like?" "Tall non-fat latte."). Finis, at 9 a.m., today's direct conversation with another human being. Such chit-chat seems even more pathetic after decades in newsrooms, where wise-ass comments, deadline dustups, and squawking radios and TV's define the workplace. Writing at a newspaper always seemed five parts commotion, five parts creation, 10 parts too darn much fun to get paid. There is none of that writing alone in a silent apartment day after day. I feel that loss of community acutely, even after so many months have passed and I suppose I should be used to it.