Signs of the Times: Unemployed, Uninsurable—and Loving It!

One of the great things about being a writer-aside from having the right to go anywhere, talk to anyone, and ask anything you want (really; I can show you my permit)-is that even when bad things happen to you, it’s all just grist for the mill.

And really, we writers kind of want bad things to happen to us. There are very few good books in which nothing bad happens. Some of us want bad things to happen so badly that we go kind of crazy, forget what principles we may once have had, and actually root for wars to break out, perhaps so that we can write with the moral clarity and fierce urgency of our hero, George Orwell.

Along these same lines, it has always just killed me that my family wasn’t severely dysfunctional in some way, or that my parents were so good at hiding how little money we had when I was growing up, or that I couldn’t at least have been born a member of some oppressed minority. Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad! What did you think I was going to be able to write about, anyway?

So while my parent/husband side is dreading the end of March, the writer in me is looking forward to it ecstatically, for that is when I will get to experience a sort of double-whammy of the current zeitgeist.

Amy’s current job ends then, and-if she doesn’t find another one that offers benefits-so will her health insurance, most likely. She’s been denied in the past (for a “preexisting condition”: seasonal allergies!), and we didn’t know back then that you never let a health-insurance company turn you down without a fight. Now, if she has to apply for individual coverage, she’ll have to answer in the affirmative to the question about whether she’s ever been denied.

I don’t know for sure that this will prevent her from obtaining coverage, but my point is that there’s an up side, either way. Either she gets coverage and our family has some defense against bankruptcy, or she doesn’t, and I become qualified to write about the gnawing insecurity that afflicts the 30 million or so people who aren’t insured in this country.

And if she gets sick and we have to declare bankruptcy, even better! I’ll be able to write my own Down and Out in Paris and London Missoula! (So, you know, no offense taken if you’re one of the ones who’s been holding out for the even better bill we’re sure to get now. I know you were just offended by the lack of perfection in the current one, and either way you can see it’s going to work out great for me!)

Of course, forget finding a job with benefits. She’ll be lucky to find a job at all, at least before we are defaulting on our mortgage, anyway. October brought news from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that “the average job search now takes over six months, the longest average since the government started tracking unemployment in 1948.”

So we’ll have to count ourselves “lucky” if she finds work at the video store, and even then we’ll have to figure out a way for her to fit that work in, and for me to fit my work in, and somehow also take care of Coen all in the same day.

What’s that you say? Day care? Sure, maybe I’ll also buy a gold-plated hovercraft after I print some more money. Then there’s the near-physical aversion I have to the thought of passing off a five-month-old to strangers. It’s funny, I grew up understanding that one of the central battles of modern times was the fight to free women from having to stay home with the children, and now we’d both give anything for Amy to be able to do just that.

I know, I know-the key part is all in whether or not she “has to,” but it’s still a shift in thinking that is taking some getting used to. Still, did we really “win” this fight? You can look at it like “women are free to work outside the home,” but is that a victory when there aren’t very many who can afford not to? Really, considering that real wages in this country are now lower than they were in 1964 (and most expenses, in real terms, are much higher), it sometimes seems more as if what we “won” was the need for both parents to work, and children to suffer, in order to earn what one person used to be able to bring home.

But you won’t hear any complaints from me. What could be better for a writer than to live in a time of crumbling empire, crashing economies, and political unrest? Hey, here’s hoping martial law gets declared sometime soon, too!

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