Today is my anniversary. But it's not the kind you celebrate.
One year ago today, I lost my job at The Indianapolis Star. Just writing those words seems incomprehensible to me, and I'm the one who's lived them.
I wish I could write one of those uplifting tales about keeping one's head high and using the time to explore new opportunities and learn new skills. I've tried to do all those things, but the truth is that being laid off is a pretty soul-crushing affair. The fact that I still haven't found a permanent position a year later only adds to this grim burden.
After 12 months of applying for hundreds of jobs, trolling employment sites and networking, the ugly fact is that I have had exactly two job interviews. And both of those were for low-level gigs that I probably would've been unhappy at anyway.
Given all that, you start to question yourself in ways both profound and ridiculous. You understand that with unemployment so high, employers are being inundated with applicants. Still, even applications to central Indiana newspapers haven't raised a peep of interest. The old methods of trying to establish a relationship are useless; the few news organizations that aren't cutting staff themselves broadcast dire warnings not to call or e-mail them.
Yes, I've kept busy. My wife Jean quips that I put in more hours now than when I was employed. That's likely true, but the vast majority of what I do is unpaid, or pays very little. I received a small amount of income from my film clients early this year, but one by one their freelance budgets dried up.
Around the first of February I had a choice to make: Continue to work for free in the hopes things would get better, or chuck it all. I chose to stick with it, and it's paid off: I'm getting a little bit of money now for movie and video reviews. My two Web sites have yet to produce a dollar of income, however.
Other freelance work has been sporadic, with September-October being particularly lucrative, and the time since a veritable wasteland. Still, the majority of my income comes from unemployment benefits, which will not last forever. I've already exhausted my state benefits, and am more than halfway through the federal allowance. I've been watching the news very carefully about Congress passing an extension.
I suppose I should be happier than I am. I've spent a year mostly doing what I love, writing about movies, albeit largely unpaid. Our finances are doing fine -- other than cutting back on eating out, we haven't noticed any appreciable change in our lifestyle. I have a wonderful marriage and a small but nice home. Many people are doing much worse.
Still, the skills that made me a good journalist -- and I was good ... am good ... I have to keep telling myself that -- force me to assess my situation soberly and rationally. When I do that, honesty compels me to say this year feels like lost time.