I'm Unemployed-Not A Slacker

The art of looking busy when you’re out of work.

by Virginia Lanigan • More.com Member { View Profile }
Photograph: Photo by Colleen Duffley

I was recently terminated after 20+ years with the same educational publisher. I’m not asking for sympathy. I have a generous severance package. My husband owns his own small design firm, and is confident he can ride out the current economic challenges. We re-financed our home years ago when the interest rates were low. We are still seven years away from having to pony up our son’s first college tuition payment. I am now gleefully taking the breather about which most working stiffs fantasize.  I’m a very lucky duck.  

Although I might have been fairly described as a bit lax in my embracing of the domestic arts during my working life, my current situation allows me the time and brain-space to be the thoughtful, nurturing, engaged world citizen I never knew I had in me. I cook family meals (nutritionally balanced, responsibly grown). I now recycle (comingled, but still.) I lovingly tend to my offspring (just yesterday fixed for my son what I believe is  referred to as a “homemade snack”). I read the daily New York Times in its entirety (almost).  Thanks to long overdue donations to Goodwill and some elbow grease, my house has never looked better. 

My situation, however, has its challenges. First, I do not want to appear the slacker to my friends and extended family (the “dynamo working girl” comprises a larger part of my self-worth than I’d realized.) Secondly, because I fully intend to re-enter the workforce, I am cautioned by my career management coach (another perq of my severance package) that I be able to pepper any discussion of my hiatus with prospective employers with the sorts of personal-growth activities and meaningful volunteer work that speaks well of my “purposefulness.”   Apparently, the fact that I managed to include line-caught halibut, ramps and fava beans in a single weekday meal —and compost the scraps — is not going to recommend me for that editor-in-chief position at Knopf. 

So I am in constant need of an impressive array of meaningful/philanthropic/cerebral/free-spirited endeavors to relate whenever friends and potential employers ask me what I’ve been up to. I don’t even head down to the local coffee joint for a quick cuppa without having a few pithy lines at the ready. But industriousness, even when slightly feigned, is exhausting. I simply cannot keep up the pace and grow my own heirloom tomatoes.  By necessity, I’ve learned to get serious mileage from a precious few activities that in my former working life might have earned only small codas in my Outlook calendar. I tell the truth, but with gusto.

I recently joined local writers and editors from my small Westchester town in presenting  half-day language arts workshops to our local elementary school’s 4th and 5th graders. I had a grand total of five bright and adorable moppets in my group. They seemed to like the stuff I showed them on writing persuasive essays. Translation: “I taught a brief course on Aristotelian rhetorical modes at my local school which I understand is being considered for integration into the district literacy curriculum.” The strategy: slight overstatement (“course”) when it counts, coupled with discrete qualifiers (“I understand”) where they’re needed. Perhaps I did read a bit too much into the thank-you letter the committee sent me, but these days optimism is nothing to apologize for.

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