I've been unemployed for somewhere in the vicinity of 5 months now. Aside from classes three days a week to 'break up the routine', my days and weeks and months have been blending together in a mush like room-temperature patè. Not to say I haven't enjoyed my sabbatical, it's been good to be home with the kids, and losing track of what day of the week it is happens to everyone, but when you start to not know what month it is, that's a bit disconcerting.
In the morning, I sort of poke my head out the door and go, "Hmm. Bit chilly, could be winter. Hang on a minute, there's green on the trees, might be early fallish. No, that's not right, the leaves are just budding. That's it-Spring!" And off I merrily go, secure in the fact that I've nailed down with reasonable certainty which 1/4 of the year it is. Those couple of days where it was in the 80's and there were no leaves on the trees really had me going.
It's strange. For all those years I was working, and begrudged the universe that fact, and grumbled and groaned, I never realized that even in my truly miserable state that I was missing something essential in the identity of every man.
Even still, after not working at anything income-generating for these months, I wrestle with it. At first, it was terrifying not knowing where my next two bits would come from. Then unemployment benefits were approved, the first check was received, and I took a deep breath. I looked around and I saw this: Wake up every fine morning with my wife and children, have a REAL breakfast for a change, no cold cereal or NutriGrain bars- eggs, toast, and most gloriously, coffee that wasn't brewed in an office urn and left to stagnate in a carafe for 6 hours before I got to it, and added enough powdered creamer to dull the taste to just barely drinkable.
I got to sit at the table with everyone while the sun climbed noonward, drinking a leisurely cup, and then another leisurely cup of delicious home brewed java. The first couple of months of this was really pampering, and much of the stress of the past year dissipated along with my motivation. The job market is competitive, sparse, and demanding. Employers can literally wait to hire the exact perfect person for any open position simply because of the sheer number of applicants. I turned out to be not the exact perfect person for anything at the moment.
Then it struck me. What I'd been missing all that time. It wasn't sudden, or staggering. It dawned. It was like a blind cave-lizard that accidentally crawled into a patch of sunlight from a shaft that penetrated to the surface. It sort of gave me a headache and made me want to run away. But an idea once realized cannot be unthought, and so I had it: I needed to work. I was meant to work. In some way, part of what makes me a man (aside from the obvious pendular bits) is the need to work at something productive. The blind cave-lizard part of me went, "Rubbish!" and wondered where it could find some lovely blind cave-crickets to eat. The part of me that resonated with this new thought went and did some yard work.
It was great. I (almost) woke up to an alarm clock, dug holes, ran to the hardware store for materials (three separate trips, proving that I AM in fact a man), planted a tree, felled weeds with an electric trimmer, spread some grass seed, and sweated until my wife would back away from me when I entered a room. I felt something I'd almost forgotten, the job well done feeling. Which I couldn't get from doing school work, or household chores no matter how or how much I did. Vacuuming a whole house and washing the same four plates after every meal just won't do it for me. At this revelation, I called Molly Maids and asked them to tear up my application.
All this being said, I know myself well enough to know that most jobs are fun to me for a range of two weeks to six months (the last one was interesting enough to last about twelve months), before I start to FEEL like a blind cave-lizard. Putting widgets into bigger widgets, or answering phones, or similar tasks are not going to keep me going for very long, and after a while I'm going to be a hunched over, hollow-eyed, ghost-ship of a man grinding my teeth on the bitter bread of a wasted life. On this point, the cave-lizard and I are in complete agreement. Which he appreciates, because whenever we get near a cave cricket, I scream like Shirley Temple in a horror-themed wax works.