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02.06.09

fear


Listen to John Cale - "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend"
Buy
Fear

(Day two in the life of a Man Newly Jobless. To read how this all started go here. Two in a row - pretty good.)


MY FIRST DAY OF UNEMPLOYMENT STARTED LATE - my wife let me sleep in, as I'd been up till 4 the night before, the shivery horrors keeping me awake, my mind racing whenever I tried to close my eyes, every possible scenario, good or bad, unreeling at speed.

I should have taken advantage of her pity, but I was up by the time she was herding the girls out the door for school, groggy from poor sleep, and not enough of it. When I heard the thud of the door downstairs closing, I realized that this was it - me, on my own, with no office or deadlines or co-workers for the forseeable future.

And that's when the panic that had been buzzing in the background of the last very strange 24 hours turned up a few notches, and became the tonic note around which the rest of my day would uneasily harmonize.

---

Before anything else, I was grateful not to be on my commute to Don Mills that morning, earbuds clamped in place, squinting over the Solitaire game on my phone, stomach acids simmering in anticipation of yet another day in the most demoralized newsroom I'd ever seen. The whole morning, and the day beyond, was open to me; I could read, listen to music, watch TV, organize iTunes playlists - guiltlessly and in my pyjamas. After pondering this time-wasting bounty - job-hunting can wait for a few days, when the look of shock has left my eyes - I realized that, more than anything else, I really just wanted to get out of the house.

There was a courier due to pick up a package of review gadgets left over from the holiday tech gift guide, but after that was gone, I had no obligations. The phone rang, and my friend Tim invited me for lunch - I'd been on Facebook with his wife the night before, spreading the news. The courier came not long after that, and I was free to try to outrun my restless thoughts.

---

As soon as I recognized how angry I was the day before, standing in the publisher's office being bashed with the dull side of the jargon stick, I suddenly had Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce in my head, riffing on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her five stages of grief in the movie Lenny. They've become a trope by now, incorporated into the standard psychobabble, and there are people who think that they've become a hindrance to coping with the real complexity of grief and loss.

Dustin as Lenny

But you can't keep the voices in your head silent - or at least I can't - and now I had Dustin-as-Lenny barking them out under some dusty nightclub spotlight...

"DENIAL!"

"ANGER!"

"BARGAINING!"

"DEPRESSION!"

"ACCEPTANCE!"

I definitely skipped the denial bit and went straight to anger. I'm still trying to puzzle out just why I was angry. Maybe it was being denied the pleasure of quitting. I know that I was irritated that they'd broken my stride in the middle of a column, with three or four other stories on the go, and a tech supplement due next week. I won't deny that part of me was pissed off about having to tell all the publicists I deal with every day that I wouldn't be delivering on any of the pieces we'd been talking about. Even more perversely, I was bugged that I wouldn't be able to get to half of them now that they'd probably cut off access to my work e-mail as I was standing in that office getting angry.

As for the bargaining, that's why I paid union dues, right? So I can pass bargaining and go straight to depression - finally, something I know a lot about.

---

I can't speak for women - I can't even speak for most men - but I can say with some certainty that the hardest thing for a man losing his job, especially if he's a husband or a father, is the sense that your breadwinner status is being impugned, even refuted. Past the simpler economic impact, losing a job resonates deep down as an attack on your manhood, and I've felt that like a thin, sharp blade every time I've had to tell someone that I've been laid off in the 48 hours since it happened.

In the rare moments when I have a moment's objective reflection on what's happening, I can feel this spurring on my anger and depression, fueled by the loss of those many small tasks that provided my life's structure for the last few years, not the least of which was the deadline for my daily TV column.

And I know that once the anger subsides, the depression will hit, sure and hard and relentless, as it always has, but above it all, like the grinding high note hovering with remorseless intent, is fear.

---

After my lunch with Tim, I head back home to pick up the box of CDs I was going to sell - the whole of my classical collection, and a legacy from the two years I spent as a record store clerk on the classical floor of A&A Records on Yonge Street. It was the last full-time job I held, ironically enough, before the decade plus of freelancing that preceded the job I've just lost.

It sounds desperate, but it isn't (yet.) I'd been planning on selling these discs for weeks now, and had only just finished ripping them to my hard drive last week. I'd have taken them to the used record shop on Friday morning, but I have the time now, and a sense of urgency that was missing a day ago.

Last week, I had vague plans to evaporate what's left of my CDs to digital ether and sell the hard copies, mostly in anticipation of moving. My wife's drive to buy a house had been redoubled in the last few months with the recession-inspired softening of the city's real estate market - not enough to let us buy a place in this neighbourhood, but enough that we could possibly live a few minutes north of here, and not in Mimico, far on the other side of the Humber, in the last spot realistically accessible by public transit.

I have, no doubt, put a monkey wrench in my wife's plans, but the CDs - and anything else that can be liquidated for ready cash - aren't likely to be here by the summer, whether we're moving or not. Time for some sharp-edge-of-the-recession-enabled lifestyle minimalism.

---

The heavy hand of the anticipated funk finally grips around dinner, and I excuse myself from helping in the kitchen to sink into the chair in my office. The fear is crowding in around the edges now - fear that our tiny fiscal margin of error could get wiped out by some unforeseen calamity, that I could be jobless well past the point at which my package and unemployment benefits can help, that the downturn in my industry might actually be far worse than even I imagine, and that I've washed up in middle age, my life invested in a profession that's going the way of blacksmiths or barrelmakers.

I turn on the TV and for a moment wonder why I'm watching TV, since I don't have to write about it anymore, then realize that I can just use it the way everyone else does - as a mental soporific, a blast of cleansing white noise to drown out the clanging alarm bells in my head. I've made it through my first full day of unemployment, the anger mostly dissipated, depression in effect, anticipating acceptance.


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© 2009 rick mcginnis all rights reserved
WHO

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters. i've worked as a photographer, journalist and, recently, tv columnist. currently a member of the growing workforce awaiting new employment opportunities. church-going catholic.

punk rock was my crucible, lodestar and avalon.

i look nothing like william powell.

e-mail:
rick -at- rickmcginnis.com

no comments - i can't be bothered with the extra work, to be frank - but if you have something to say, I might print it in the margin over here.

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