I’m been unemployed since January 1st…and I’m OK with that. Not because I’m lazy or entitled, but because I’ve spent the last 2 ½ months reveling in the feeling that my life is really and truly my own, traveling and experimenting and tidying up my daily routines and exploring seldom-visited parts of myself and generally re-thinking what it means for me to live my life in a way that’s true both to my own needs and to the relationship I want to have to the rest of the world. “Funemployment,” for me, has been about starting with a blank slate, only giving my time to people and pursuits that actively contribute to the life I want to be living right now, and not worrying about the life I might be living at some theoretical point in the future with some theoretical other person or people. Rediscovering my agency, in other words—shaping my world around me instead of trying to shape myself to be more like what I think the world wants me to be, and recognizing that the future is nothing more than a never-ending string of presents/presence.
The defining quote of this period, which I’ve encountered several times in the last couple of months, comes from David Foster Wallace: “You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.” This is something that I got intuitively when I was younger, but I’d somehow forgotten it over the course of the last four years as I started thinking more about getting married and potentially starting a family. In adjusting my future plans to accommodate those changes, I’d lost sight of the animating vision for my own life. When I rediscovered my spark last year and started giving it a little bit of kindling to get it going again, it felt absolutely fantastic.
There’s another great quote, by Viktor Frankl, that I’ve thought a lot about recently: “What is to give light must endure burning.” My challenge since the beginning of January has been to structure my life in such a way that I can simultaneously be consumed by my passions and replenished by those around me while offering my light and heat to others in a way that helps me see my world more clearly at the same time that they help make it a better place.
Concretely, that’s meant realizing that writing and performing are both things that are very important to me and that need to be core parts either of how I make a living, what I do in my free time, or both; recognizing the absolutely essential role that my “Seattle family” plays in my life; focusing in specifically on the parts of local government and political activism that really get me excited (primarily urbanist issues related to improving quality of life for all Seattleites, current and future, while also accommodating growth; and getting new people, especially members of underrepresented communities, involved in the democratic process at all levels); thinking very deeply about the way that I structure my time on a daily basis; and recognizing that I’ve always been at my best when I’m confronting things head-on that frighten me, and letting that lead me to the conclusion that if I don’t end up working at an organization I’m passionate about, the logical next step will be to strike out on my own and prove to myself that I can meet all of my needs without having to work for anyone else.
I’ve noticed the benefits almost immediately—somewhat ironically, my dating life now is better than it ever has been (I’d been worried about dating while unemployed, but like so many things in life, answering the question “what do you do?” is 90% storytelling…and I have a pretty good story to tell); I’ve started rediscovering, as I put it, what’s left of Christianity once you remove God from the equation, a process that received a big boost at a recent Cornel West talk that a good friend invited me to (sample quotes, about 50/50 secondary vs primary: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”; “Indifference to evil is more evil than evil itself”; “When I walked with Martin Luther King Jr, my legs were praying”; “Hitler didn’t rise to power through guns, he rose to power through words”; “Heschel wasn’t an optimist; he was a prisoner of hope”); after practicing for a year I’m finally starting to get truly comfortable doing improv onstage in front of an audience, and I’m finding that I’m hungry for other ways to break out of my comfort zone when it comes to trying to connect with an audience (stand-up, slam poetry, and sketch comedy are all on my radar); I’m working on compiling my blog posts from my Jesus Year into an e-book to learn the ins and outs of Kindle self-publishing; I’m in the midst of going after two different jobs I would love that fall firmly in my areas of interest and would also provide outlets for my creative/expressive side; I gave the best public talk of my life at Ignite Seattle 23, about the life lessons I learned as a car salesman after college; I got involved as a citizen activist at the City level for the first time, around the issue of new regulations for ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft (check out my two-minute testimony to City Council at their committee meeting on February 27th here from a desktop browser, or fast forward to 201:56 from a mobile device); I’ve established a great daily rhythm that involves waking up early, exercising regularly, going on long walks, spending a lot of time with friends, and prioritizing reading novels and books the same way I used to prioritize reading the Internet…and that’s just in the last 5 weeks! Including the month of January I also wrote my first play, saw the Aurora Borealis in Alaska, visited a close friend in New York for the first time in entirely too long, and took a 15-day break from electronic communication as a way to honor one of the great trips of my past and start to re-think the role of information consumption in my daily life.
So if you happen to ask me what I do, or what I’ve been doing recently, and I say “I’m unemployed—and loving it!”, please know that it’s not a misdirection to hide the fact that I’m spending all of my time playing Xbox, watching Netflix, and panicking about how I’m going to pay my bills. I feel like I’m really firing on all cylinders right now, more than I have been in a long time—once I add some income to the equation I’ll be all set :)