They talk a lot about butterflies.
Those stupid forwarded emails, all those things you don’t need to hear. “Change is an opportunity…something something something butterflies.” “A meditation to calm your soul.” “A real friend is there for you (forward this 10 people or you’ll have bad luck for a year!).” They mean well, my mom and the other ones like her, but it’s never anything that actually fixes the problem.
Me, I’ve been more concerned about a Kafkaesque sort of metamorphosis.
I should back up. About six months ago, I got married. Two weeks later, while honeymooning in Croatia, I got a Facebook message from a coworker. They’d decided to go digital and lose the magazines I’d been editing. That was my last day of work. I’ll bet you don’t know too many people who spent their last day of work at a bar overlooking the Adriatic. I can’t complain too much there. I also bet you don’t know too many people who got laid off second-hand through Facebook. That I can complain about a little. I got home, moped around for a while, and then a month and a half later, turned 30.
Now, I’m not one of those people who’s overdramatic about my age. I wasn’t even stressing this one. But in less than two months, I went from a 20-something single magazine editor with a yearly distribution of just shy of two million copies to a housewife in her 30s who talks to the dog. To say that I felt lost would be an understatement. I’d gone to one of Those Colleges where they tell you that you’re going to change the world a lot, and that forced sense of noblesse oblige makes you feel like a complete ass if you don’t. I felt bad enough as a magazine editor; imagine how I felt as a professional sock folder.
This is the part where I provide a cautionary statement for anyone planning a big existential job-loss crisis. DO NOT under any circumstances sit down and watch all of Mad Men on Netflix streaming. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a month feeling like a waste of space if you haven’t set your hair and made a roast. (This is what I now fondly remember as my crazy phase.) We redecorated the living room, put in new wood floors, threw a yard sale. I bleached the eternal coffee stains out of the kitchen sink, mopped the entire house, groomed the cats, reorganized my underwear drawer. My desire to throw a dinner party ratcheted up by orders of magnitude. If I was going to be a housewife, then dammit, I was going to be the best damned housewife in the history of time. (I’m a little bit Type A, yes! Thank you for asking.)
It soon became clear that laundry and dishes couldn’t be my full-time job. For one, the pay sucks; but maybe more important, I was quickly losing any semblance of sanity. Now, before anyone jumps down my throat: I understand that it’s possible to have a wonderful, fulfilling life as an unemployed homemaker, or whatever you want to call it. I have a lot of respect for stay-at-home moms, or dads. But we have cats, not kids, and my husband likes to do most of the cooking.
There wasn’t much for me to feel useful about. You know the classic resume statement “Works well under pressure and multi-tasking in a time-sensitive environment”? Well, it has a corollary, and it is, “Cannot function without a deadline and/or crisis.” Every day, I was just maintaining. Never a project, never a conference call or a disaster to avert. I was relating to Betty Draper, for god’s sake. If that isn’t a shortcut to the looney bin, I don’t know what is. (It became painfully clear that my people are not Nordic.)
Florida, where my husband and I make our home, isn’t exactly the heart of the publishing industry, and I quickly came to the realization that another editing job is unlikely to fall into my lap here. I panicked, of course. I would lose everything I’d worked for! All our savings would be gone! All my experience was useless! Suddenly, it felt like I’d spent the past four years of my life working under a false paradigm. The road I’d walked on for miles was a dead end; time to take a different fork. I decided to try some things. Er, every thing. I applied for jobs. I made crafts to sell online. I began designing a web page. I started writing a novel. I networked and I researched and I wrote cover letters like my life depended on it. And still…nothing happened. I started to talk about my old job like everyone’s grandpa and the war. “Well, back on ship day, we’d all skip lunch, just to make sure it got out right. I’d have paper cuts on every finger from those proofs! Nothing like these kids today with their digital publishing.” It was getting ugly.
My hope is that you were not hoping for a tidy ending, one in which I say that I emerged from my cocoon of unemployment and got back in the saddle, a married woman with a new job that gave me purpose. Oh, I can tell you about the journey on life’s weird back roads, but the destinations? Not so much.
I’m not turning into a butterfly. On the upside, I’m not metamorphosing into a cockroach, either.
I’m probably not going to be a magazine editor when this phase of my changing is over. It’s been hard to come to terms with that, but I think I’m getting there. Thankfully, I’m also not going to be a housewife forever. But maybe I’ll be those things again at some point. Right now, I’m a newly-married woman adjusting to her 30s, buried under a mountain of motivational chain emails from her mom. It’s transitional, sure. But what isn’t?
Katie Mehas is, as her mother would say, a jackess of all trades, and currently being paid for none. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida with her husband, a gang of three evil cats, and a hermaphroditic chihuahua. When she isn’t folding socks, she can be found napping, writing, or systematically killing her vegetable garden. You can also find her on Twitter at @KTMehas.
“Tirumla hamata| Blue Tiger” image by Challiyan, used under a Creative Commons Licence