What To Do While You’re Unemployed

Dear Unemployed Emily,

I know unemployment is scary and depressing, especially because it doesn’t have an end date in sight. And I know it’s actually more embarrassing than scary sometimes, because it feels like if you were actually talented, you wouldn’t be so very very unemployed.

First of all, stop it. Breathe. You know that’s not true, so quit internalizing it. Second of all, I have made you a list. Speaking from the future, when you have a job again (oh that’s right it ACTUALLY does happen), there are a few things I wish I had taken advantage of when I’d had every day to do anything I wanted–as long as it didn’t cost money, of course.

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I don’t have any pictures of myself where I look particularly unemployed, so thank God for stock photography. This was the SECOND result when I searched for “unemployed broke bored.” You’re welcome.

1. Make a meal or dish that takes all day. Like fancy bread or baklava. Something with a lot of steps that you might have to do a few times to get right. Of course money is an issue, so do your research and find something that doesn’t take a bunch of expensive ingredients. What did the peasants make? Ratatouille? Make ratatouille.

2. Take your time at the gym. Lucky for you, you paid for a year membership before the layoff, because working out is about to be the only productive thing you do sometimes. Try all the weights. Do extra core stuff. Stay walking on the treadmill for half an hour longer because an awesome episode of True Life is on. What, you have somewhere to be? Get fit. Learn the meaning of the word sinewy. (Ew, maybe not. That word is weird.)

3. Explore new neighborhoods. Take public transit to somewhere you’ve never been and walk around. Bring some music or a new podcast and just walk. Take note of the places in these neighborhoods you want to revisit when you have a job and money to spend there (this will drive you less crazy than just drooling on each shop window).

4. Plan elaborate gifts. Think of those expensive or intricate gifts you can’t afford now, and save it as an idea for later, so you have a reserve of great ideas when you have money again. Then get creative with your gifts for right now. Maybe learn a skill you’ve always wanted to learn, like how to make candles or soap or jam or sculptures or embroidery or cement coasters, and make it for everyone on your list.

5. Create a Bucket List. Fill it with things you need money for, and things you don’t. Things you can do today, and things you probably won’t do for ten years. Try to get to 100. Then start crossing off the things you can afford to do right now.

6. Think of the job you’d do if a paycheck weren’t a part of it, and then do something about it. Teacher? Be a volunteer tutor. Author? Write a book. Artist? Make something! Actor? Do a community play. Yoga instructor? Social worker? Forest ranger? Whatever it is, find ways to hone those skills. At the very least, it’ll be something to fill your time. At best, you may discover things about yourself you never knew, maybe even switch career paths.

7. Go to the library. Read a book a day. I mean, maybe not a book a day because that sounds intense and you’re not a very fast reader. But how amazing does it sound to spend a rainy afternoon inside with a blanket and a book and a cat curled up in your lap/on your neck because your roommate’s cat is weird like that.

8. If it’s nice out, sit outside all day. Possibly with a bottle of cheap wine or beer. Read. Write. Draw.

9. If it’s not nice out, find a comfy coffee shop. Get a cup of tea or drip coffee for a couple bucks and camp out as long as you can stand it. Enjoy the quiet.

10. Clean. You will never have the chance to have such a clean home. Make that dump shine like the top of the Chrysler building.

11. Go grocery shopping for hours in the middle of the day when hardly anyone else is there. Look at every nutrition fact. Compare and contrast the amount of fiber. Enjoy the lack of grocery carts bumping into you. Stare lovingly at the ice cream and cheese and reassure them you will be back when you have money again.

12. Grow something. Use the internet to finally find out how to grow basil. Get a cheap pot and make it happen, cap’n.

13. Volunteer with something that makes you feel good. Find a place that needs people in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. Schools come to mind, but I’m sure there’s lots more. Animal shelters. See?

14. Listen to more podcasts. Find ones that will make you smarter. Find ones that will make you laugh. Find ones that will teach you French.

15. Find awesome new music through Pandora. Do not settle for top 20, there is so much awesome stuff out there waiting. Combine this one with #10.

16. Learn how to take better photos with your phone. Then go out and find cool things to photograph.

17. Try to learn something bookish every day. Pick a subject and then go on Wikipedia to learn more. Henry VIII. Butterflies. Underwater volcanoes. Go to the library and find a book about it, and skip around to the chapters that interest you because no one is making you read it cover to cover. Become your own personal Discovery Channel. Look at pictures of outer space. Look at pictures of tiny things under microscopes. Rediscover all the fun things they teach you about in elementary school.

18. Get political. You know that political thing you actually care about but don’t have time to know every detail and you can never really articulate your point when your uncle brings it up at Thanksgiving? Learn every detail. You don’t have to actually become a political person. But you always wished you knew more about Iraq vs. Iran. What’s up with using corn as fuel? And what’s the deal with Russia? Are we friends with them? Are we enemies? Find out.

19. See your family more. Go home. Stay the night at Mom and Dad’s. Go visit your siblings. Make them some of the fancy new food you’ve learned how to make.

20. Write lengthy emails. Become pen pals with your friends who live far away. Tell them stuff. Tell them everything. Foster these relationships. Why not?

21. Organize your digital photos. Label things. Put them in folders. Print out the ones you really like. One day when your children are looking for photos of you in your 20s, do not make it into an insane project for them.

22. Watch ALL the Netflix! How many times have you felt left out of an awesome inside joke for not watching a TV show? Have you ever seen Freaks & Geeks? Do you watch It’s Always Sunny? Do you watch Mad Men? Have you seen Arrested Development? Do you watch Downton Abbey? Did you watch Lost? Have you seen Dr. Who?” What else do you have to do (besides 1-21 above)?? Get your TV on!

23. Watch ALL the Netflix! (part 2) Movies! So many movies that are part of popular culture that you haven’t seen! Rocky! Funny Girl! Basically every Woody Allen film! Catch yourself up. I mean, you haven’t even seen Planes Trains and Automobiles, for Christ’s sake.

24. Learn about a different religion. Get an intro book about it. Or get the actual religious text if you’re really feeling like a smarty pants.

25. Plan a trip outside the US. But like REALLY plan it, as if you’re going to go soon. Go online. Find reviews. Go to the library and get books about it. Watch the Rick Steves episode about it. Find out the significance of historic buildings. Learn how to catch a cab. Find a good hotel. Write it all down and then, when you have money again (because you will), you’re ready to go!

26. Look for a job. Ugh, fine.

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3 Ways I’ve Othered Women

Women are 50% of the world. Half. And yet so often, they are othered, which means that women are treated as outsiders, as the deviation from the norm (the norm being men in this case). This sounds like a terrible thing, and one we’d all like to believe we don’t do. But othering women is so prevalent, so omnipresent, sometimes I don’t even notice it’s happening. In fact, sometimes I’m the one who does it. Here are three ways I’ve only recently realized women are othered that I am just as guilty of doing.

1. Animals are never girls.

From The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle

There was a story recently on This American Life about a duck and a girl duck.

Did you catch that? A duck and a girl duck. You know, like a human and a girl human. I am totally guilty of thinking this subconsciously, too: animals are male until proven female. When faced with an animal which has no visible signs (at least to my untrained eye) of its sex—like, say, a mouse—I refer to it as male.

“The mouse went that way! Get him!”

This goes for real animals as well as stories about animals, like the one with the duck. The problem with calling them “the duck and the girl duck” is that it sounds like 90% of the ducks of the world are male, and 10% are female, which isn’t true (I think. Technically I didn’t look this fact up). Especially in stories about animals, the main character is usually (dare I say nearly always?) a male unless the plot has a reason for it to be a female.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: male

The Ant and the Grasshopper: male, male

The Poky Little Puppy: male

Yertle The Turtle: male

The only exception I can think of is Stellaluna, a female bat. Does anyone know of any others?

Why are men the norm, and women the proven? Is it just because we need more lady authors and illustrators (like the one who wrote Stellaluna)? This is probably true, and maybe this has already happened and newer children’s stories feature more female animals. But I think it runs deeper than that. I think it’s because we all still think of male as standard, me included. But women are 50%, and it’s wrong for us to do that. I don’t know how to stop it, but I bet recognizing this fact is the first step.

I think I may look further into this. I see a trip to the library, a pie chart, and an interview with my sister (a 1st grade teacher) in my future.

2. Unisex = Men’s fit.

A “unisex” (aka men’s) size chart

Working in the tech industry, I’m often given unisex-sized shirts. Which is awesome. Free t-shirts are awesome, and it gives me some pain to complain about them. But let’s break down what “unisex” means:

Despite the definition of unisex meaning “designed to be suitable for both men and women”, shirts in a unisex cut are actually fitted the same as men’s, just with a larger size range, going all the way down to XXS. So then what differentiates women’s fit? With women’s fit, the shirt will likely be longer, with shorter sleeves, a wider neck line, and fit for someone with curves.

But women are 50% of the population. And only recently I’ve realized that it makes just as much sense to make unisex shirts fitted for women instead, and then describe men’s cut as a special shirt with longer sleeves, smaller neckline, and fit for someone without curves.

“But we can’t force men to wear women’s shirts! They’d look ridiculous!” Really, that’s another post for another time. (Or a conversation that’s already been had?) But what’s the difference between making 50% of the population cross-dress with shirts where their boobs and hips don’t fit the clothes, instead of making the other 50% cross-dress, wearing a shirt with a little extra fabric in the chest and hip area?

If we can’t (read: won’t) change the gender that gets to fit into unisex clothes, at the very least can we recognize that we consider men’s shirts as the standard, and women’s shirts as a special fit? Let’s stop pretending women are being graced with a compromise by offering unisex sizes. Women don’t wear a special type of shirt, we wear 50% of the shirts (consumerism arguments aside).

3. Women are always cold.

Are women colder? Or are men warmer?

I have always accepted and reiterated the common mantra that “women are always cold.” (Learn the quick science why here.) But women are 50% of the population. So maybe I’m not always cold, but men are always warm. Why do men get to be the “standard” internal temperature to which I am compared against? In fact, when you google “men are always warmer,” most of the results that pop up still flip the conversation back at you: “Why Do Women Often Feel Colder Than Men?” says the first result.

Whether I’m cold or men are warm, the argument that comes after, which I have also always accepted, is that we have to keep the temperature lower because: “You can always put on more clothing, but you can’t take it off.” Yes and HOW FUN it is for me to bring an extra scarf (literally–I bring two scarves) to drape on myself on the frigid bus, to wear a blanket on my lap looking like Whistler’s Mother, to wear the same jacket around work every day because, guess what? Cold weather clothing is expensive and I don’t own that many jackets.

Joe is always surprised to touch my nose and realize how cold it is. Yes, when I am cold, every piece of me is cold. Including my nose. I suppose you can always put on a ski mask, but you can’t take one off.

I would like to suggest that we turn up the heat to a comfortable 72 degrees and instead of forcing me to wear a hoodie in the summer, men can come to work in the winter with a pair of shorts to change into. That’s not professional? Neither is wearing gloves to meetings, but that’s what you suggest I do by saying I can always add more clothes.

Let me put it another way: if “you can always add more clothes” was a valid argument for keeping the temperature lower, you wouldn’t constantly hear women complain about being cold, because they would add more clothes as suggested and be done with it. And yet rational, intelligent women sit with their arms wrapped around themselves, their teeth chattering.

I understand that turning the temperature way up would make some men (and women) sweat profusely, which is also not the best solution (yikes). But why can’t we turn up the temperature just a LITTLE bit and we can ALL wear layers? Or you can buy a little desk fan and meet me in the middle.

Women are 50%. Fifty. How many times have I said it now, eight? I’m repeating myself because I think it’s such an easy thing to forget. Women have every right to the things they want as men do. Don’t forget it, and don’t be afraid to flip an argument on its head to see its inherent bias.

A note about this post: you’re going to hear some feminist-y things on Dear Me, discussions I’d like to have with both men and women. After all, as Jackson Katz says, “gender issues” is a topic for all of us. But this blog won’t center on feminism, per se, mostly because there are other blogs doing a great job of it already. If you’re looking for said blogs, I’d check out Feministing, Jezebel, Role Reboot, and Rosie Says to start. I’ll be throwing in a few things from time to time, and hopefully you’ll follow along with me and contribute smart, kind thoughts to the conversation. You don’t have to agree with me, but I do ask that your comments stay civil.

An Updated Graduation Speech

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Graduation, 2003

In 2003, I gave a speech at my high school graduation. Instead of asking the valedictorian, my high school allowed all students to try out their speeches, and then chose their favorite three. Which was lucky for me, because I just so happened to be a much better writer than I was a student.

Now that it’s 2013 and 10 years later, I wanted to write a new graduation speech. What would I say to my graduating class in 2003 if I knew everything I knew now?

I kept trying to write something epic. Something that would speak to every 18 year-old out there. I would start and stop and abandon every idea I had. If this were olden times (aka 15 years ago), you’d see me with pencils sticking out of my hair, balled-up paper strewn haphazardly around a small wastebasket. But instead, you’ll just find a folder on my desktop called “Blog”, filled with abandoned attempts and halfhearted outlines. One day, I realized something: if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 20s it’s that I was never as alone as I thought I was. So I’ve decided that I don’t need to speak to every graduate out there; I just need to speak to myself—my 18 year-old self—in hopes that I’m right, and it wasn’t just me learning these lessons…it was all of us.

Dear Graduating Emily,

I’m writing you this note 10 years in the future. I may fool myself into thinking I am a totally different person now than I was at your age, but we’ve lived the same 18 years. Which means you actually know me better than anyone else, I bet. And I know you better than anyone else, that one’s for sure.

So what? What can I tell you, ten years into the future?

Hmm. September 11th already happened for you, so I can’t warn you about that. That was crazy though, right? Christ. People still talk about it now, don’t worry. We didn’t forget. I recently rewatched the Daily Show episode from right after 9/11 and it brought me to tears like I was a Junior all over again, watching it in that room in the library. What was that room called? Anyway, in 10 years you’ll forget the names of a lot of rooms. But you won’t forget that day.

Good TV will come in waves. You’ll get really into Sex in the City after it ends and decide you are a Miranda with a little Charlotte (sarcastic with innocent tendencies). Eventually you’ll be able to apply Friends to your life. That will be super weird for you–especially the Gandalf episode, remember? Anyway.

You’re going to go through a lot of stuff with Travis. I’d tell you all about it here, but I think it’s better if you live it, because it really does make you a better person. And a better girlfriend to the boys who come after him (spoiler alert).

More than one guy who looks like Matt Damon will hit on you. Which is weird, since you’ve always been a Ben Affleck girl.

Remember how you and Michelle would plot out your lives and declare all the things you’d have by the time you were 28? The picket fence, the husband, the kids…all those things are nice to have. But you don’t have them by 28. And it’s okay, because eventually you kind of realize that when things last forever (like marriages and kids and mortgages), you don’t have to hurry to make them fit the life you have. Plus, the life you have is great anyway.

I know it seems right now like college students know everything. They absolutely do not. They just have more light beer and hoodies than you.

Eventually you’re going to figure out how to eat better and exercise. It’s not going to be easy. Ever. And the learning process will involve tears and adult temper tantrums with Mom and Dad (one involving the size of the fruit Dad bought for you. Yikes. You aren’t at your best moment there.) But you kind of work your way into it.

Take off your makeup at night. Last night’s eyeliner does not count as Second Makeup the next day. Wrinkles are a thing.

You don’t end up famous. Not that it’s your plan at 18, I know, but it’s in the back of your mind. That one day you’ll be beautiful and skinny and perfect and you’ll be discovered in a grocery store or just somehow you’ll magically get in with the right crowd and be whisked away to Hollywood. I want you to know it doesn’t happen, because I think it might allow you to make different choices. Your life is not likely to involve a lot of glamour. But it will definitely involve a lot of cheese and laughing with friends, and it turns out? That’s much more your style anyway.

You will try wearing thongs. You will give up on thongs. This probably summarizes what it’s like to go through your twenties.

Eventually you’ll figure this out on your own, but I’m going to throw this out there right now anyway and maybe you’ll figure it out sooner—sometimes you have to make things happen for yourself. Which I know sounds like something for a poster with a kitten on it, but it’s true. To quote Phoebe, “YOU are the boss of you.” (oh yeah, you still quote Phoebe in ten years. That woman is timeless.) Mom and Dad, your teachers, your bosses—none of them can get you a job or know that you need a new apartment or a doctor’s appointment. You have to start figuring all that stuff out on your own and then making it happen by asking for the things you want. And if you find you aren’t happy, you’re the one that has to change it. Not your friends, and DEFINITELY not a boy. Emily. I’m serious. Look at me, Emily. Not a boy. You hear me?

Ugh, you will never really figure out your hair. Sorry. It’s unfigureoutable. So just enjoy it now before the grey settles in, because then it REALLY becomes annoying. Not trying to be a downer, I just want you to enjoy what you’ve got. That goes for the rest of you: your eyelashes, your stomach, your butt, your boobs. Quit waiting for the day when you’ll magically be perfect and enjoy the stuff you’ve got going on. Because you have a lot of stuff going on. I remember, I was there.

Oh, except your boobs—that you can change by boycotting Victoria’s Secret forever and getting your bras from Nordstrom. Do that IMMEDIATELY. Do not wait for Laura to tell you about it in four years. I don’t care if I change the course of history by telling you this. Time waits for no Victoria’s Secret boycott.

You will stop going out all the time, and that’s okay. Even though you currently find that prospect really lame. Eventually you learn to appreciate nights spent in with a movie, some wine, and a cat.

You get a cat. She’s hilarious and yes OBVIOUSLY she has her own voice and personality. She is not the cat you expected to find, but she’s actually perfect for you. This also might summarize what it’s like to go through your twenties.

You have not yet learned to play the bass guitar, but it’s still a dream. I’m 28, dammit, not 82. You’re still allowed to dream at 28.

Take a Women’s Studies class in college. I don’t know why I didn’t take one, so I’m telling you to do it now. You make pretty good class choices, otherwise, probably because for once you bother listening to yourself.

Try to listen to yourself more.

You will learn about heartbreak. You will break up. You will be broken up with. You will listen to very sad songs (and not just NSYNC ones) on repeat for days. You will forget how to eat for a little while. People will tell you that it gets easier, and you won’t believe them because you don’t see how that’s possible. It gets easier.

You will learn about romance. You will have more first kisses. Some will be forgettable, but some you’ll remember for years. There was one…nevermind, I’ll let you live it. Oh man. It’s coming. I’m so excited for you.

I’m only 28, I’m not really in a position to be handing out life wisdom yet. Let other people do that. Ask for advice. Find out what Mom and Dad would do. I only have ten years on you, so I don’t know what will happen for the other 60 or so (God willing). One of the most important things I’ve learned in the last 10 years is to accept that I actually don’t know much yet. You have a slightly longer way to go, but it’s okay, we’re in this together. We’re doing pretty well so far.