‘Provisional existence’

10 Apr

During my unfortunate unemployment, I kept a journal to chart feelings, progress, make notes about the job hunt, how I was faring, etc. Some of my thoughts were complex, some were drivel, and there were passages of pure rant and rage and debilitating depression. But it was a good way to sort things out.

I’m going to share with you an entry from April 2, 2010. But first, a little exposition.

At the time the entry was written, I had been laid off nine months. I had been a good little trooper, making a job of job-hunting, keeping my chin up, doing the positive-thinking thing.  I had interviewed for several jobs that I didn’t get but that was OK because they weren’t jobs that I could imagine myself doing. Or, if I could, it was scary.

Can you see me in forest-green work pants with a light-green short-sleeved shirt that has Forestry Commission embroidered on the pocket? Well, I could. I was so relieved to find out they hired “some little ol’ gal who already works here in the office,” as the superivisor told me when I called back a week after the interview.

Book cover, Man's Search for Meaning But the uncertainty of my situation had begun to eat at me. Early in March 2010, I wrote: “Feeling like a failure is 100 times worse than actual failure. When you fail, you get up and move on. Feelings of failure don’t move on …. they cling like dead locusts.”

At the time, I was collecting unemployment benefits. That meant periodic trips to the Workforce Department office so I could stand in line for minutes or hours to tell the clerk that, yes, I was still looking for a job.

On April 2, 2010, there was a long line so I pulled my book out of my purse and read while waiting. It was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I know that seems a strange choice for reading at the unemployment office, but I had decided a few days earlier that it I needed to reread it and had been carrying it around since.

The passage I read that day uncannily described how I had been feeling.

Here’s my journal entry for that day:

I found a great passage in Frankl’s book that perfectly applies to being jobless. He describes the feelings of prisoners in a concentration camp by applying their “provisional existence” to life outside of the camps.

Frankl says (can’t believe I read this in the unemployment office!)  — “A man who could not see the end of his ‘provisional existence’ was not able to aim at an ultimate goal in life. He ceased living for the future, in contrast to a man in normal life. Therefore the whole structure of his inner life changed; signs of decay set in which we know from other areas of life. The unemployed worker, for example, is in a similar position. His existence is provisional and in a certain sense he cannot live for the future or aim for a goal. Research done on unemployed miners has shown that they suffer from a peculiar sort of deformed time ….” that seems endless.

Deformed time, endless time, unknowing time. It was beyond depressing.

I realized I had to — had to — find within myself the ability to imagine a point in the future at which my provisional existence would end. Then I had to imagine how I would reach that end. This was no easy thing. It took months and months of consideration, failed efforts, emotional melt-downs and busted ideas.

There were also days of mind-bending optimism in which I could physically feel a world of possibilities. My mind would race with ideas for all the ways I could reinvent myself. My unfortunate unemployment even seemed like a gift.  So I went back and forth — sometimes in a period of hours — between ecstatic envisioning and paralyzing uncertainty.

It wasn’t until I decided to work for myself that my provisional existence ended. Of course, that doesn’t mean the future is clearly laid out. But it’s there and, amazingly, I see it. I’m putting that in my journal.


3 Responses to “‘Provisional existence’”

  1. Kari April 10, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    the true spirit emerges! wonderful

  2. Laura Cartwright Hardy April 10, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    Nice. I remember when that happened. Viktor Frankl still offers most of the answers, doesn’t he?

  3. tendingthebittersweets April 13, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    I really like this post.

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