Predictable questions I get

With grandpa at camp

The author with her paternal grandfather, Herb, at Birchcamp in Stoddard, NH, 1992.

After such an illustrious career of layoffs (eight since 1992, but who’s counting), it’s fascinating to me that when people hear about my situation and want to help me, the follow-up questions are predictable. That doesn’t make their questions any less thoughtful or helpful; they most certainly are. It’s just interesting.

The questions go more or less like this:
Q: “Do you ever think of switching to another line of work?”
A: Yes, every damn day. I have a masters in astronomy, and I’m a science-writing professional, but…I’d do anything that would pay the bills, believe me. But in another way, I don’t want to switch. I love science writing, it’s what I’m good at, even if it’s an unstable profession at the moment. A wise friend once told me that our chosen professions are practically preordained. We have less choice than we think.

This was brought home to me a few years ago, when I discovered my grandfather’s published articles all over the web. I didn’t know Herbert B. Nichols that well, and he died before the Internet came into existence, so why did he have more Google results on his name than I did after ten years of being a published writer? Turns out he wrote much the same kind of science articles I did, from 1934 to 1968, and often on the same topic–physics, astronomy, and cosmology. He interviewed Einstein! I didn’t know any of that. Wow, I thought, as I read his articles, his writing is a lot like mine. I was an established science writer before I realized my grandfather had co-founded the National Association of Science Writers! This was a very spooky way of discovering that my “chosen profession” was less of a choice than I thought. It’s a calling.

Q: “Have you ever thought of getting certification/going back to school so you can be a physics teacher/tutor/therapist/ultrasound technician/technical writer, etc.?”
A: Yes, I have considered at length switching to occupations that are tangential to science writing, and continue to. I’ve actually diversified quite a bit without certification: I substitute teach, I have taken editor positions/contracts that were outside my area of expertise/comfort zone, and hey, I started blogging! I haven’t written off getting more formal training of some sort, but I inevitably have concluded that going back to school or pursuing training in another line of work just isn’t worth it–it’s not an efficient, practical plan for me, personally. Not right now. My goal is to keep my current home in MA for the next 2.5 years until my son graduates high school. To obtain a six-month certification of some sort, I would need about $24,000 just to cover our very basic household expenses. Then there’s the cost of tuition and fees. We would lose our home long before I could get any certification or extra education that would make a difference and enable me to pay it back. Getting expensive loans so that would enable me to start over at a new entry-level career at which I could make maybe $50-60K salary (if I’m lucky!) is not worth it and wouldn’t solve my problem.

Q: “Have you checked out Jordan’s furniture/car dealerships/BJ’s/Lowe’s? I hear they’re hiring furniture salesman/car salesmen/clerks, etc.?”
A: I have considered it. However, the day does not have enough hours for any combination of $8-12/hr jobs to save us. For now, freelance work and subbing is the lowest-hanging fruit; it doesn’t pay enough either, but at least I’m good at it, it’s what I like to do, and it looks good on the resume. I just have to hold on until I get a job close to my line of work or the economy turns around so that freelancing will pay off (OY!!!). I’m good at getting freelance work and jobs. Consider this: to be laid off as many times as I have, I have managed to get hired that many times as well! It will happen again!

Q: “Have you considered downgrading your lifestyle?”
A: (*Stifles sarcastic laughter–usually asked by someone who doesn’t know me.*) Yeah, and oh how we have! Have you read my blogs about the food pantry? We can’t downgrade much more! My son and I live in a small 2-bedroom condo in a rural suburb of Boston. It’s relatively expensive (I bought in 2005), but it’s not fancy, it needs a lot of work, but it’s everything to us. As I mentioned in my first blog, one cannot find housing when one does not have a job. If one loses one’s current housing, you are on the street, or couch-surfing–same thing. You’re homeless.

Q: “Have you considered getting a roommate?”
A: Yes, but not for long. Our place is small enough for two family members much less another stranger. We have two bedrooms. We have one shower. I would do it if I found someone I would be comfortable sharing my bedroom, couch, refrigerator, bathroom, and closet with. But until then, my son and I already squabble over what to watch on our one TV. And for those who think, “Oh! We need to find you a man! He could move in and share expenses!” Ohh, please, no, we don’t. All set there. I love guys, particularly all my guy friends, but I wouldn’t want one to move in with me. I’m better off single, thank you! Even if he were a tall, hot, very smart, wealthy, handy, very neat, vegetarian atheist (within my age range and geographical dating area), I wouldn’t have him move in with ME. We’d move in with HIM, where he lives in his royal palace! Hey, it could happen.

Q: “Have you considered moving somewhere else/moving in with family?”
A: Moving is an intriguing proposition, but complicated. Believe me, I have considered it. I have warned my son that this last round of unemployment might do us in. We might have to move to another community no matter how much we want to stay here. My family lives across country in places that are not conducive to either my son’s education or my ability to get a job. The idea of ripping him out of the only good part of his life that has been stable (school) is horrible.

Speaking of couch surfing, I’ll say it again: the best thing about my situation is this community containing my beloved “family” of friends. If we ever do lose our home before my son graduates high school, we won’t have to go far, because I know we would have places to stay. It took me 20 years to find these people, to feel at home in my community, and it’s this support network that keeps me sane. They come from all walks: my bestie girlfriend from “before husbands/before kids,” the parents of my son’s classmates, my neighbors, the post-office clerk (I owe him), my ski group, my single-parent group, my vegetarian group, my atheist group, my writing group. More than once, this wonderful extended community has given to us in ways I can’t possibly begin to repay. Life is tough, and we may have to lose our house, and have to move away from “home” but I’m going to make an assumption that it won’t be far. Strike that–it won’t be necessary because things are going to get better soon! 🙂

Here’s one question that is less predictable but particularly amusing (and usually asked in jest…I think). It certainly does cheer me up:
Q: “Have you considered exotic dancing/escort services/selling it?”
A: Yes, and thank you for thinking I have mad skills at or could do the above, but no. We all have to draw our line in the sand somewhere. I don’t want to embarrass my 15-year old.

While I search for better circumstances, one of the most valuable things I get from my extended community–whether near or far–is a predictable question. In the process of answering them, often something comes to mind that hasn’t before. Difficult situations that require hard decisions should not be endured in a vacuum. So ask away!



7 thoughts on “Predictable questions I get

  1. All of those questions, with the possible exception of the first one, are arrogant, condescending and intrusive, not to mention insulting to your intelligence.

    If people want to help, the only question they should ask is “How can I help?”

    • Ah well, you know, I don’t think the questions are arrogant, condescending, or intrusive. I mean, the people asking are usually close enough that it’s not intrusive. And they’re just being helpful, so it doesn’t come off that way. Sometimes it does feel insulting to my intelligence that someone might think I wouldn’t have already thought about these things, but it’s reasonable to ask. And it really does help me think things through to have to answer the question out loud, and more often than not, people make suggestions that are genuinely new and fresh! But if I ever get tired of answering, now I can just refer them my blog!!! 🙂

  2. Val~ You are amazing and I have such admiration for you. I didn’t know you blogged and didn’t realize you have been laid off EIGHT times (Holy Buddha!); however, I DO know you have one fantastic attitude! I wish I lived in your hood to hang out. My family and I are vegetarians. . . we could drink wine, grub yummy food and think positive thoughts together!
    I am sending you a huge hug! xoxoxoxox

    • Hi Kimmie–I didn’t know you were a veg too! How about that? It would be awesome to have you closer!
      Thanks for reading and commenting. It means a lot!
      Yeah, the blogging is kind of new; this is only my 8th post! One for each layoff…hmmm…the jobs and the blogs will keep coming, for sure. <3<3

  3. Those of us who have asked some of these questions, and have done so with helpful intentions, know how WE feel when we asked them to our close friends and relatives. So many of mine have been laid off in this elongated bad economy. What we didn’t know – what you have given insight to – is how YOU (or those friends who are also unemployed) feel when those questions are asked of you. So thank you for this insight from your point of view on these familiar questions. And while I don’t agree with NewEnglandBob’s assessment of us who have asked them, I DO like his alternative question of “How can I help?”. I like that a lot. Simple, direct, yet open-ended for you to answer without a given framework within which to answer. Keep writing and continued good luck to you Val !

  4. Thank you so much for the lovely smile that echoes on every post! Yes, you are a gooood writer and I feel certain you will soon be back where you belong: behind a desk writing witty and interesting articles. I will borrow some of your ideas since your problem is becoming a major problem in Greece. Unemployment is on the rise, homeless people are increasing daily and hope is drying out. No wonder you give me hope.

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