Winter, discontent

headquarters, Martha Bayne, Inc.

Chicago; January 17, 2010

I am the busiest un(der)employed person I know.

Soup and Bread is up and running again. We continue to sell cookbooks and expand our empire, and people are saying nice things about it — and me — on the internet. We are even going to New York in a few weeks, which should be super fun.

Day to day, I’m working constantly: wrangling recipes, posting photos to the blog, lining up cooks, taking meetings, shipping cookbooks, writing press releases, Facebooking, Twittering, picking up bread, dropping off donations.

And yet, I feel I’ve crossed some sort of recessionary line.

Last year was marked by some of the most personally fulfilling work of my life. Today I’ve got just barely enough cash to cover February’s rent.

I spend most of my mornings pecking away at the laptop from a sofa cushion that shares a corner with the cat scratcher. Little bits of catnip and shredded cardboard fluff invade my keyboard. I have wrangled a few part-time gigs here and there: consulting on marketing local foods, teaching a workshop on the food system to some eighth graders, writing copy for an online education firm.

But over the holidays the one big freelance job I had on deck fell through, in a most frustrating fashion. (Hint: It was for a critically lauded, erratically published journal given to provocation. It starts with a B. And ends with an R.)

I still have bartending, g-d love it. But the first week of Soup and Bread I gave half my tips to the bar back because I felt so bad about all the dishes she was stuck washing. That’s not a exactly a sustainable solution.

So this month I interviewed for a full-time job at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I applied for a short-term contract position with a local food policy group. I tried to spin my volunteer work into a paying gig.

So far, nothin’.

Friday I spent hours at the unemployment office trying, unsuccessfully, to reinstate my claim. After I gave up I congratulated myself on not crying till I got to the car.

One of my best friends, who has been un(der)employed for 2+ years, lost his apartment in November and has been living with me since Christmas. We sleep in shifts, like flight attendants, or members of a large immigrant family. Luckily he’s a night owl. When I wake up at 8 he moves from the sofa to the one bedroom.

People think this is crazy. The people I have told, that is. I haven’t told many because, see previous re: “crazy.”

But, it’s not so bad. In fact, most of the time it’s nice to have company. It is dark and warm and quiet in my tiny apartment, and we cook dinner and listen to music and insulate ourselves against the deep freeze and the images of devastation and horror that flicker across the muted TV. Watching disaster unfold on CNN being itself an obscene luxury for which I am grateful.

And, of course, it’s my birthday today. I am 42. For which I am also grateful, but how did THAT happen?

We’re not supposed to talk about all this. Being poor, and scared, and 42. The formula for underdog success runs towards the scrappy and ambitious and 25, right?

But it’s scary. Being broke and not-young messes with your head. It shoots static through the once-clear belief that you are a competent adult, able to navigate the world of work and commerce with only a socially acceptable dose of anxiety — enough to keep you wired but not so overwhelming it can’t be washed away by a good bitch session or a couple of pints. Lately, though, the disconnect can get so loud the dial tone drowns out the music, chills the warmth, blocks the light.

Maybe that’s why I’m posting this here, on a blog with all of 27 devoted readers, and not over on the soup blog, whose relentlessly positive  tone and practical content ensure a much wider audience.

Maybe if I put it out there, it will go away?