I am taking a lap around the office building where I am scheduled to participate in a ceremony whose elusive nature inspires the kind of frantic self-inventory and confusion typically reserved for the morning after a drunken one night stand: the second interview. I am 35 minutes early and looking to demonstrate confident punctuality rather than the seething desperation arriving five minutes sooner might betray. I carry four copies each of my resume and references, printed on textured off-white resume paper and tucked inside a black leather folio, just like multiple job sites suggested. I flaunt an angular new hair cut that draws attention upwards to my face, from sensible pumps to airy long-sleeved blouse, all in complimentary neutral hues chosen to prove how deeply serious I am. I grind my teeth on a breath mint and look at my reflection in every window I pass, repeating a mantra of buzzwords and carefully rehearsed responses: I am so goddamned organized and personally committed to the mission of this organization that my advanced multi-tasking and communication skills will surely make up for my lack of experience entering this specific type of data into an Excel sheet.
Refresh!Refresh!Refresh!/write/attach/send/wait/search/Refresh!/Would you care for coffee or dessert this evening?/volunteer/reformat/write/Refresh!Refresh!/attach/send/temp/search/Refresh/81 is coming at ya! Drop fries!/deferment/Refresh!/write/attach/send/”due to the high volume of applicants we can only respond to the most qualified candidates”/wait/Refresh!/ad infinitum.
It’s been three-and-a-half years since I collected the last of my 120 credits and put them on the market. I suppose I could have chosen a better year to graduate than 2007, but I was late in the game. It took me until my mid-20s to justify taking on thousands of dollars in debt in order to secure a future more stable than the service industry had provided me up until that point. I do not regret going to college, but I can see now that my fear of being shackled by debt in a capricious economic system were not unfounded. Well-meaning (employed) friends and family offer advice, as do countless job forums and websites, but they all seem to reproduce the myth that unemployment is the result of a personal failing and if you just try hard enough (write a good enough resume/take on multiple internships/volunteer/outfit yourself properly/keep a positive attitude/etc.), you too can reap the grand rewards of capitalism. Never mind the 9.2% unemployment rate or financial manipulations that brought it on. Never mind the persistent upward redistribution of wealth coupled with the downward pressure of draconian austerity measures that our elected officials “compromised” on. Never mind this country’s legacy of structural disenfranchisement and oppression that prevented broad swaths of the population from competing even before this crisis began. If you can secure financial stability for yourself, build a wall and never you mind the firestorm burning beyond your doorstep.
In this quest to take responsibility for missteps and bad decisions, marginal employment/unemployment is one realm where I refuse to be held accountable. I refuse to de-politicize this moment or limit my future hopes to out-competing all the others struggling in my same position. I refuse to apologize for not majoring in a more lucrative field like business or marketing. I will keep doing what I have to do in order to pay rent, but I will not pretend for a single second that my getting a “real job” means that I have transcended this crisis or am abundantly more qualified than any other applicant that emailed in a resume. I will not bury my rage in nihilistic abandon or narcissistic self-flagellation, nor will I allow the infinite privileges afforded by my whiteness and education to abandon solidarity with all those struggling, should I find myself salaried and stable.