Thursday, October 18, 2012

Musings from a freshly laid off person

Being unemployed (er, I mean, freelance) feels...weird! The last time I didn't have a job, I was 22 or 23 years old, and I'd been booted from the New Yorker Magazine. I was working for a blind writer from India, named Ved Mehta, who won the MacArthur genius award and was on volume six of his autobiography. I helped him write it, in those pre-Internet days, by scribbling  everything he said longhand, as he urged me along, then we'd edit by my cutting and pasting sentences hither and yon with a big scissor.  Suffice it to say that I was not cut out for that type of cutting, or the other activities involved,  like bringing Ved tea and regularly changing the cardboard blotter on his desk (I'll bet most 20-somethings these days don't even know what a blotter is!). After I was unceremoniously dismissed the week before Thanksgiving, I lived on unemployment for six weeks before I got a job at the now-defunct  Mademoiselle magazine. And I could actually live on that monthly check, because my rent was $350. For that, I got a very small bedroom with a door in a decrepit apartment in a landmark building on the upper west side. But I had a room with a door!)

I've worked steadily since then, other than 2 months of sabbatical in Rome to edit a book, so I'm not used to having unstructured time that isn't paid vacation. I keep telling myself to enjoy it, to use the time (and severance) to reflect on what I want my life and work to be like now. But it's hard to overcome my natural anxiousness (as a very good friend said to me tonight, she and I were raised by slightly neurotic Jewish parents who basically taught us that one has to constantly prepare for the  apocalypse). In other words, relying on severance to explore my options doesn't come naturally to me.

Of course, there have been some nice moments this first week of my new phase. I've had fun work--a combination of private editing, teaching and a really cool gig at a website, the latter basically sitting in a sunny room with a nice breeze blowing  and brainstorming lots of ideas with a friend I adore, who was lovely enough to hire me the very night I got axed. It has also been so wonderful to get such supportive emails from others friends and colleagues, and get offers of work, and to see that work is indeed flowing my way. I also like that I've had more time for exercise--yoga this morning followed by breakfast and cafe con leche in my favorite neighborhood Spanish restaurant, Malecon. Then some work and laundry and errand-running followed by a late afternoon run. Not exactly a stress-filled day on the face of it.

Yet my thoughts are racing. It's tough to sleep. I keep doing calculations in my head. (If I earn this and this and this, then I can pay my mortgage, and if I earn  THAT, I can cover my maintenance.) Mind you, I'm fine financially (at least for the moment), plus I have a husband who loves me, is solvent and would not let me be homeless. So tonight, I decided to counteract that worry by treating myself to dinner at the bar of my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Gennaro, where I get wonderful treatment from Maurizio, the beautiful Sicilian bartender/manager/nephew of the owner. (My oldest friend, who is a life and career coach, calls this "coming from a place of abundance" rather than deprivation.) And things felt abundant at Gennaro, as per usual. For one thing, when Maurizio heard my saga, he poured me two glasses of complimentary prosecco and observed: "Bella--you have severance?! Go away with your husband to Italy for six months and write another book!" Hmmmmmm........

Travels to Capri on the horizon? Why not?


  1. With my sudden freedom from work, I'm finding it's important to get out first thing in the morning and not to get sucked into the vortex of housekeeping. I have gone to the (free!) meditation at the JCC some mornings. And write in the library there. Thanks for this excellent post.

    1. Wow, MB. So great to hear about the free meditation. But do you have to be a member?