by: Jason Wyman
“No, sir, the fact of the matter is your one week of work qualified you for a new unemployment claim, which invalidated your extension. We reassess each extension every three months to verify your eligibility for state unemployment compensation. You are eligible for state benefits. There is nothing that can be done, and we are under no obligation to notify you about this change or assessment until after it has been made,” the deep voice, with the thick Tagalog accent, said through the receiver.
“So, in other words, it would have been better for me not to work?” I replied, anger beginning to surface under the composed tone I had moments ago.
“It is always better to work, sir, than to be on unemployment,” he replied.
“But I had one week of temporary work. One. And I have been searching for a job for 18 months. Now, you are telling me because I accepted one week of work five months ago you are reducing my award from $379 per week to $74 per week. How is it better to work when this is my ‘reward?'” The anger was slipping through my composure more and more.
“Sir. I do not make the rules. I am just telling you the facts of the matter. And the fact of this matter is your award is now $74 per week.” He was becoming curt and condescending. Well, he was already condescending. The “fact of the matter” is he was becoming even more condescending.
“Can you tell me why this wasn’t told to me when I was on the phone with your office in September, October, November and December? You should have records of all of my calls. Why didn’t a single person tell me this when I talked with them?” My voice was now just softer than yelling.
“Like I said,” he replied, “we are under no obligation to inform you ahead of time about this assessment or allocation. The fact is, sir, that we automatically assess unemployment every quarter once you are on an extension. That is a fact, sir. This is nothing you can do about it.”
I could tell he was beginning to become flustered. He was repeating himself and was starting to stutter. I felt a mixture of anger and empathy. I knew he had no control over the situation or the policies of unemployment. I also knew I was about to be fucked. I was scared and a hundred questions were racing through my head each second as I tried to listen to his condescension.
“Sir. Are you there?”
“Yes. I am. Again, can you tell me why you don’t just inform folks ahead of time about the reassessment? If you did, we could prepare a little before the floor falls out from underneath us.”
“I cannot make that decision, sir. The facts are the facts. That is all I can say.”
“Thanks for fucking up my week!” And I angrily hit “End Call”–which is so not the same as slamming the phone on the receiver. So, I threw the phone onto the couch trying to create the same effect, but I was immediately worried about breaking my phone when I now had even less than the pittance I had just last week.
I was unnerved and unsettled. I felt everything falling, and I was struck by vertigo. I had to close my eyes to fight back tears.
“Shit!” I screamed. “Shit!” My screaming was not about the unemployment. “Shit! Shit! Shit! I was supposed to meet Jora at 9 AM. Shit!” It was 9:10. Obviously, I was not going to make it.
I picked up my phone tenderly making sure it was not damaged from my fit seconds ago. It was fine. I dialed Jora and left her a message.
Then, I opened my computer and cancelled all of my meetings that afternoon. I just needed some time and space to unravel. As much as I needed (and still need) a job and some income, I knew that jumping into an even more intense job search (at least at that exact moment) felt like a roadblock to unraveling.
At this point, I don’t even remember anything I did that day. I think I went for a long walk like I do when I am stressed. I may have done some writing, and there is “proof” of writing in my journal but no date to authenticate it happened on that particular Thursday. I may have played some video games.
The only memories I have are emotional. I cried without tears and with my chest heaving. I laughed loudly upon recalling the true absurdity of the situation. I found peace when the sun warmed my face and washed away the anger, sadness, and laughter.
There have been even more bumps in the road the last three weeks. My rent was raised for the first time in eight years the week after my unemployment was reduced. I received rejection after rejection after rejection for fellowships, grants, residencies and jobs all with vague and conflicting reasons. Business partnerships that I thought were solid came undone. It seemed everything was being thrown at me.
At times, I have freaked out–screaming and cussing, picking up the phone and dialing my best friends, Michael and Margaret, unloading on them. I am definitely fragile and raw. I find myself crying at odd moments like when I waiting at the bus stop or watching The Colbert Report.
I have also changed in a way unimaginable. In the past, my anger and sadness would carry with me for weeks (and sometimes months) obscuring the blessings in my life. I would become so bitter that all was colored, and I would compromise my innate optimism. I would deny good even existed.
This time I am able to let my freak outs be what they are: moments of release. I do not try fixing them or denying them or filling them up. I am not obsessing about them. As a result, I am also seeing more moments of compassion, connection, and sincere love.
There is the six hour stroll through the Presidio with my husband that ended in a glorious sunset over the Pacific, the Golden Gate Bridge to our right. There was the red envelope from Anakh Sul that came at exactly the right moment. There was the part-time job offer doing marketing and cultural programming at Progressive Grounds that starts in March. There is 14 Black Poppies and OutLook Theater Project. There is the Thursday evening spent with LGBT elders helping plan the Howard Grayson First Annual Conference on LGBT Elders. There is the evening of arts and consciousness shared with Ramona.
And I was completely present in all of these moments.
I am incredibly grateful for these bumps for they put all of these other moments into perspective. These moments of compassion, connection, and sincere love were scattered throughout all of these bumps. Only through the release of letting something be was I able to find peace.
All is impermanent. All. Freak outs will come. And they will pass. Sadness will come. And it will pass. Love will come. And it, too, will pass.
Does that mean I will not freak out or cry or scream again? No. It only means that each shall pass. And my “job” is to let each “be” exactly as each “is.”
Jason Wyman is a life-long educator, writer, learner and performer. He finds spaces between things and then creates supports between them. He has helped professionalize youth development, created original theater, developed learning models based on peer exchange and shared expertise, written fables inspired by the darkness of fairy tales and fostered community rooted in social justice, creativity, and laughter. He lives in San Francisco with his beautiful husband and precocious cat. You can read more at www.14blackpoppies.com. (Photo by Andreea Cănăvoiu)