Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Who Am I? (pt.1)

According to the cats, I'm

  • "He Who Scritches Their Ears"
  • "He Who Should Pet Me"
  • "He Who Fills the Water and Food Dishes"

and ...

wait for it ...

  • "He Who Cleans the Litter Box".

Dealing With Shame

As I look back on the last year's worth of posts, I realized that in discussing life in Maryville(tm) and wedding planning, I've haven't really written anything self-reflective, because I've been too busy trying to find a job.

And I realized (after dealing with the stress of not getting another job this last week), that as the job search has gone on, just how hard it is to be an unemployed male, and how I've had to go back and do some self-work to deal with the shame from that.

I must admit how hard it is for me to be unemployed. For six years, I was a technical writer, working for a company with a good reputation as a workplace, getting raises, and working toward a promotion. I was SOMEONE. A professional, with the benefits, perks, and rights thereof. And someone who could be counted on to deliver on-time (or early), or come up with the right answer or the goods when needed.

But now, due to budget cuts because my former company's income dumped due to the worsening economy and jobless recovery following 9/11, I'm unemployed. My daily routine now consists of taking my fiancee to work, heading home, jumping online, checking job websites, submitting resumes if I find anything promising (or even if not), and, while sitting home alone at the laptop, coming to terms with my limitations and self-definitions. I went from productive ... to disposable.

Those of you who know me may know me as quiet. A little bit of an introvert. A geek. A little hard to get to know. There's are reasons for that.

I'll admit that my communication skills are good. Not great, but good. You could even say that they're pretty good, if you factor in that I have had very bad allergies ... it's a bad trade-off when, even if you're on allergy meds, you're having to choose between breathing and speaking. (Kudos to an unnamed program manager at my last job who tried to give me well-meaning advice about public speaking and breathing, but he couldn't seem to grasp that I was dealing with severe allergies and he also couldn't understand that there is a difference between one's speaking voice and singing voice. Taking in enough air to project a good speaking voice only works IF you have the ability to take enough air in to begin with ;-).

You also have to factor in that growing up, I had to have speech therapy to correct some pronounciation issues. And you also need to factor in the possibility (which I haven't been tested for but hope to test for in the near future), that I may have a learning difference or two ... maybe a mild form of ADD, maybe an encoding problem such as dysnomia that mimics ADD.

Either way, it's clear that I ended up with a few stumbling blocks toward having a professional career, but I still managed to have one for six years on the basis of my writing skills and my problem-solving ability. That, I could do well. And I tried my best to develop what speaking ability I did have. You might be surprised to know that I was in Toastmasters for several years, and achieved my CTM (basic level), and ATM-B (advanced), certifications. To do that, you had to have done a minimum of 22 speeches and done them very well.

But I digress. I was talking about shame. And its corollary brother, guilt.

The author of the book Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich, recently wrote a follow-up book called Bait and Switch about the struggles of middle-class unemployment. On her blog, she writes a scathing commentary about shame and unemployment, which illustrates my dilemma:

"Something similar goes on in the case of the laid off and unemployed, thanks to the prevailing Calvinist form of Protestantism, according to which productivity and employment are the source of one’s identity as well as one’s income. Not working? Then what are you? And to put the Calvinist message in crude theological terms: go to hell."

Woodgie and I have talked a bit about gender roles and jobs (and she's well equipped to do so, given that her field is family economics and she's written journal articles and papers on various aspects of the subject), and the hardest part for me hasn't been the income loss (although part of me does feel a little guilty for not being able to contribute to the household monitarily as much as I'd like). Instead, the hard part has been the loss of identity.

There's a burden that comes with being male. The dominant culture perception is that the male is the main economic provider of the household, and if you aren't working or aren't able to readily find a job, it's because you aren't trying, or looking hard enough, or you aren't doing the right things to make you presentable for employers. And in the meantime, you aren't being productive, let alone useful, and you're a bad person, bad husband, bad provider, bad whatever, simply because of that.

Add in the perception of failure - the feeling that if I had planned better, or worked harder, or been able to do something beyond my physical limitations, I might still be employed or have already found another job - and it's a hard burden to overcome.

I'm thankful that Woodgie doesn't subscribe to the dominant culture paradigm ... in other words, she thinks it's great that I'm a house husband, and that her house is cleaner than it has been in ages, and that I contribute to the household chores and cooking as I can.

But now I'm left with the open question: who am I? Or more specifically, who am I without the artificial definition imposed by a job?

I'll touch more on that in the next entry.