Section C

What Life Is like When Out of Work

(Fortunately, Jan Halvorsen was unemployed only four months. She is now assistant editor of the Twin Cities Courier(《双城信使报》)in St. Paul, Minnesota. The following essay appeared as Newsweek's(《新闻周刊》)"My Turn" article in September of 1980.)

Being laid off from work, job loss and recession(衰退)have always affected Walter Cronkite's tone of voice and the editor's page. And maybe they affected a neighborhood business or a friend's uncle. But these terms have always been just words, affecting someone else's world, like a passing ambulance. At least they were until a few weeks ago, when the ambulance came for me.

Even as I sat staring blankly(茫然地)at my boss, hearing, "I've got bad news: we're going to have to let you go," it still seemed no more related to my daily life than a "60 Minutes" program. I kept waiting for the alternative — "but you can come back after a couple of months," or "you could take a salary cut, a different position," or even, "April fool." But none of these came. This was final. There was no mistake and no alternative.

How it all echoes through your evenings and wakes you up in the morning. The mornings are probably the worst — waking up with the shock, for the first two weeks, thinking, "I'm late!" Late for what? The dull ache in your lower stomach reminds you: late for nothing.

Again, you face the terms: "Loss of self-worth and security, fear of the future, stress, depression(抑郁)." You wonder if eating a dozen chocolate-chip(碎片)cookies, wearing a house coat until 4, combing your hair at 5, cleaning behind the stove (twice) and crying in a job-agency parking lot qualify as symptoms of stress or maybe loss of self-worth. Fighting with your spouse/boyfriend? Aha — tension in personal relationships.

The loss of a job is rejection, resulting in the same hurt feelings as if a friend had told you to "bug off". Only this "friend" filled up 40 to 60 (or more) hours of your week. Repeated references(提到)to the staff as "family" only emphasize the feeling of being left alone and having been told a lie. You picture yourself going home to your parents or spouse and being informed, "Your services as our daughter/my wife are no longer required. Pick up your baby pictures as you leave."

Each new act that confirms your job loss starts the pain again: the first trip to the employment agency, the first friend you tell, the first interview and, most fearful of all, the first trip to the unemployment(失业)office.

You do eventually become accustomed to being unemployed, in the way you might accept a bad limp. And you eventually quit beating yourself for not having been somehow indispensable — or for not having become an accountant. You tire of straining(尽力使用)your memory for possible mistakes. You recover some of the confidence that always told you how good you were at your job and accept what the boss said: "This doesn't reflect on your job performance; sales are down 30 per cent this month."

But each time you recover that valued self-worth, you renew(重新开始)a fight to keep it. Each time you go to a job interview and give them your best and they hire someone else, you go another round with yourself and your self-worth. Your unemployment seems to drag on beyond all reason. You start to see a stranger in your rearview mirror. The stranger suddenly looks like a bum(无业游民). You look at her with clinical curiosity. Hmmm. Obviously into the worst stages. Definitely not possible to be employed.

We unemployed share a social prejudice similar to that of the rape(强奸)victim. Whether consciously or subconsciously(下意识地), much of the public driven by work ethics(伦理)feels that you've somehow "asked for it", secretly wanted to lose your job and "flirted(轻率对待)" with unemployment through your attitude — probably dressed in a way to invite it.

Almost everyone has heard about the need to be a useful member of society. What you didn't know about was the loneliness. You've spent your life almost always surrounded by people, in classes, in residences and at work. Suddenly to find yourself with only your cat to talk to all day alters your sense of reality.

But you always were, and still are, stronger than that. You maintain(保持)balance and perspective, mainly through relying frequently on sarcasm(讽刺)and irreverence(不敬). Although something going wrong in any aspect(方面)of your life now seems to push you into temporary despair much more easily than before, you have some very important things to hang on to — people who care, your sense of humor, your talents, your cat and your hopes.

And beyond that, you've gained something — a little more knowledge and a lot more understanding. You've learned the value of the routine you hated and the importance of the job you took for granted. But most of all, you've learned what a "7.6 per cent unemployment rate" really means.