Small Wonders: Reflecting on an unwanted anniversary

Anniversaries should be celebrated with champagne toasts and shovels of caviar. The one-year mark of getting laid off, however, is a different milestone. Tequila and fish sticks, anyone?

In October 2009, the unemployment rate in California was 12.1%. A year later it stands at 12.4%. The company that cut me and a few dozen friends a year ago went out of business not long after that day. If I were angry rather than understanding the situation, this might give me some vengeful pleasure. But it doesn't … much.

So, this benchmark gave me pause to reflect upon the last 12 months; to ponder what I've accomplished and have not; what I gained and what I lost, like too many others.

I tried to turn it into a positive, focusing my time on something I'd always wanted to do but never had the time for: write. Writing has given me a sense of purpose while the state of our world remains bleak for job seekers. I put on that writer's uniform — sneakers, jeans, T-shirt, flannel over-shirt — and embraced a Bohemian lifestyle that involved not shaving and long days sitting at the coffeehouse.

One of the annoying things about full-time work is that it gets in the way of family. So, this was a time for me to contribute more at home and get to know these other people in my house. I discovered an amazing wife whose gracious support and love enabled this dreamer to live his dream. It takes a special lady to live with a man whose visions of grandeur exceed his abilities.

A couple of days each week I pick the kids up at the gate after school, get them snacks and help them with homework. I've always said that the biggest part of being a parent is to simply be present. And I've had plenty of time for just that. Otherwise, I may never have heard them proudly announce to their classmates that their father is an "article writer," and that one day they want to be just like him. I never saw that sense of pride when they told friends that their father "works in post-production or something like that."

It can be very rewarding being your own boss, doing things when you please. Costco at 3 p.m. on a weekday bears little resemblance to that madhouse on weekends. The parking is ample; the traffic in the lot and aisles is almost tranquil. You never have to wait more than five minutes in the free-sausage line.

That 15 pounds I thought I'd lose a year ago turned into 20. No job means more bike-riding and less time — and money — for heavy lunches and after-work cocktails.

Alas, my pants no longer fit, and I can't afford to buy new ones.

I failed to get on the New York Times bestseller list in one year. No book tour to exotic locales like Boise, Enid and Cedar Rapids. No fame, no fortune.

When a husband is out of the house at work all week, he's less likely to do all those annoying things that rightfully drive his wife crazy. Those snacks you get for the kids after school become thankless demands. And now I remember why I hated doing my own homework when I was in school.

Though the writer's uniform is comfortable, one's wardrobe can represent how one feels on the inside: uninspired, stuck and lazy. The pride a father feels when his children say they want to be just like him turns to self-loathing guilt when he must tell them that the promised weeklong Hawaii summer vacation has transformed into San Diego — for three nights.

The lost weight is replaced by the cutest little case of recreational insomnia. I've come to know the living room couch well in the deepest parts of the night, unable to keep my mind from creating the worst-case scenarios in life. I'm considering going into the burgeoning field of newspaper delivery.

And if your own self-imposed rejection isn't enough, there's a unique indignity in being passed over for jobs by prospective employers. That is, when and if you get the rare interview. Or worse yet, and more common, silence.

I now see job websites like the trash-can lid at the food court. Dump your resume in along with your other trash and someone will come along to clandestinely take it away, never to be seen again. The feeling that after a respected career you no longer have anything to offer an employer has a funny way of chipping away at your self-worth. Silly me, I know.

I've made a lot of new friends though: 2,269,948 to be exact. That's how many Californians are unemployed, and I'm in good company.

If I've learned one thing over the last year, it's that you're not alone. So drop me a line, and let me know how you're doing.

PATRICK CANEDAY wants to hear from you. He can be reached on Facebook, at http://www.patrickcaneday.com and patrickcaneday@gmail.com.

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