May 2, 2008 was my mother's birthday and my final day at Jefferies & Co. I called her to wish her a happy one, and my co-workers held a potluck lunch for me as a send-off. The circumstances that led up to this event all seemed the logical, reasonable sort. I was being paid $13/hour to do rather menial work. I wanted something more significant. My boss and I agreed it was in both of our best interests if I sought work elsewhere. Let me make one thing clear: I would have worked at Jefferies & Co. on a permanent basis if they had been able to hire me. Unfortunately, they prefer to manage their payroll through temporary staffing agencies, which actually makes them pay twice as much for my time, but which may give them some sort of tax-break, or may be an indication of their corporate climate (I only saw four or five co-workers leave/be fired in the six months I was there--but accounts payable can be dull if you do not have interesting people to talk to). While it was dull, I enjoyed the company of my co-workers, and my life seemed to be going in some direction, even if it was as small as writing poems and songs in my little orange journal during my cigarette breaks, I felt like I was living a life not wholly unhappy.
I stopped sharing a two-bedroom apartment at the end of April and moved into my own place in Silverlake. This was also a decision of the logical, reasonable sort. I wanted to live on my own. I wanted to be able to play music at a volume appropriate for singing along. I wanted to get all my books and my stereo and my LCD TV and get my own place with digital cable and get all the channels and get an XBOX 360 for HD capabilities and I wanted to live where it was slightly cheaper, in Hollywood. So I found an apartment that was the same rent as my share--$750--of course this is before they raised it to $795 a month, and before my extra $150-200/month in cell phone, cable, electric, and gas bills. I figured, it was okay, I could still make ends meet with those numbers. I would be living in Silverlake! Where Morrissey lives! Maybe I could meet him and befriend him and write his authorized biography! Or maybe I could be a bohemian poet, reading prose works at one of the cafes along Sunset Blvd, collecting $10 from a tip jar every night and building connections to get my work published. Or I could work Downtown, or in Hollywood, or even in the Valley, in Pasadena or Glendale--even Burbank is not such an unreasonable commute. Sure, I wasn't two miles from the beach anymore (my bi-weekly runs to Venice Beach were no longer possible) but I was a lot closer to Hollywood, and the industry I moved here to try to gain a foothold in.
Now, one tip for anyone considering moving to L.A. If you are concerned about finding work here (and you should be)--it is probably the best option to live on the west-side. Now, the west-side is expensive--Westwood, Santa Monica, Venice Beach--none are cheap. Palms/Culver City is the best bet for cheap, convenient, safe housing. Now, living in Silverlake, I find many, many jobs are located on the west-side, and not so many downtown. Century City is perhaps the most popular employment center in Los Angeles. Any of the areas between Westwood and Santa Monica are also popular for employers. There are practically no businesses in Silverlake beyond boutiques and restaurants. Hollywood does offer employer locations, but they tend to veer closer to Beverly Hills, which is about midway from where I live to Santa Monica. Santa Monica is like twenty miles from where I live, just so you know. 20 miles is a really hard commute to do in L.A. Most of the time I don't apply to jobs in Santa Monica. Most of the time, I am spending my time with staffing agencies again. They at least offer me some sort of hope. They are someone to talk to. They do not ignore the resumes you send them. Or rather, they do ignore, but once they know you, they will at least make you feel better about yourself by talking to you and giving you realistic impressions of who will hire you.
I've applied to be practically everything here--a legal assistant (on a phone interview last night that was so exciting and nerveracking and ultimately disappointing and bittersweet), a music sales representative (for a company that is basically a glorified myspace for "industry attention"), an accounting clerk and administrative assistant at God-knows how many places, generally only interviewing at staffing agencies for those roles, a traffic data collector (on an hour long interview last Friday that I thought went really well...), an assistant to a talent agent (on a very short interview this Monday that I thought went really well--but the guy said he was meeting "a million" people that day)--which was only going to pay $500 a week--sadly a wage I may have to deal with in other industries as well, an SAT English teacher in Arcadia, CA, another 20-mile commute, but one that would pay $15/hour and would have been good for getting me back into English, but I wasn't experienced enough, an administrative ("sales," but not so much) assistant for Biolock, a company introducing key-free, fingerprint-technology security, where the French lady who would be my boss wondered whether or not I would really like doing it for $13/hour. I wish I had tried to speak French with her, but I am afraid of looking like a fool who can't keep up his end of the conversation.
This post is to demonstrate the nature of despair in times of unemployment. And also, to give others an idea of the specific experience I have had over the last two months. Warning to all college graduates: a B.A. in liberal arts is not necessarily going to make you that much more qualified than an applicant with a HS Diploma, because they generally have four more years of experience on their resume. It's a trade off, and I wish I hadn't studied "Writing and Politics" at NYU because I don't think anybody respects the fact that I designed my own curriculum--they'd rather believe it is a BS major (no pun intended). So I sent out my revised rationale for my colloquium as an attachment to that Legal Assistant position and that was enough for that man to call and say he was impressed with my writing skills.
Nice, but there are no literature-based businesses that pay you to interpret old texts. There is only new, present-day text that must be analyzed. And it is not very difficult to analyze business copy. The aims of business are far more ordinary than the aims of literature. It is easy to predict a successful model for business, but few people realize how difficult it is to find a successful model for a novel. Yes, I would copy the structure of This Side of Paradise or Buddenbrooks (my current reading), but that would be a cop-out. One has to understand how Fitzgerald and Mann came to cultivate their own prose habits, and one must behave appropriately to complete the task. That is, writing every day. Other writers will often sneer at amateurs, asking, "Do you write every day?" in order to classify their seriousness. Yes, writing every day is pretty much a necessity, but unfortunately, it's very hard to make yourself do that when you're working 40 hours a week or more. When you are unemployed, it is much easier to write every day, but it also comes with the guilt and fear that you are not (nor will be) a useful presence in anyone else's business model.
The state of the artist in 2008 is quite frustrating. It appears that music, (punk rock, more specifically) is the only medium which continues to profess the same values, though that may be because money is never really the primary aim--it is building an audience. Film may have always been an "insiders" medium, but it appears now that the studios are interested in more and more copycat projects guaranteed to make profits rather than weird, experimental art films. In order to be taken seriously by literary agents, I have to be published in a prestigious journal. In order to be published in a prestigous journal, I have to pass a screening process that is probably as intense as admission into any MFA program. It would be prudent for me to work on an economical short story in the 3,000-4,000 word range, but I am too anxious to finish my second novel. And I am too anxious to find a job.
It appears that connections are the greatest asset any single person can have when entering any job market. As much as I used to scoff at the idea of networking (and while most networking events find me networking with people just as, or more desperate than myself) having as many friends as you can is usually the most intelligent path towards success in business. That, and completing a major with real business applicability, but that's something I wouldn't know about.