Re-unemployment: back in or out of the saddle again

Red Dead Redemption video game cover picture

Hire me or I'll shoot, but I mean that in the nicest possible way. (courtesy of

I’m back in the saddle again or, um, out of it. I can’t keep track anymore. My full-time freelance assignment ended this past Friday, and I’m unemployed again. Or am I still self-employed but without a full-time project? Is there a difference? Does it really matter? Can I go on asking questions like the annoying five-year-old who lived up the block from me when I was a kid? Do you really want me to answer that question? Or that one? Or that one?

It feels like I fell off the proverbial horse, which then kicked me as it trotted away. So let’s go with “out of it,” a phrase that seems to fit like a lasso around my neck. The current job market is similar to the Wild West… catch as catch can, every person for themselves. And sporadic unemployment might be the new reality. Maybe the only solution is to quit looking for full-time work and devote my life to mastering Red Dead Redemption; I’ve already got the horse metaphor thing down. And besides, John Marston, the video game’s main character, is essentially me a hundred years ago.

John is a former outlaw in the early 20th Century Mexican boarder region whose family is held hostage by the government. To secure their freedom, he must act as a bounty hunter and bring the members of his former gang to justice. And he must kick lots of ass.

I like to wear black sometimes, and stole a candy bar from a 7-11 when I was 14. That’s right, straight up gansta, yo. Jackson Heights feels like it borders on the third world. Wifey is a hostage of government largess, paying taxes to avoid charges of tax evasion and maintain her freedom from the tax-collecting man who wants to give her cheaper healthcare and a couple dollars for retirement. The nerve! I hunt for a job, so that she may one day have a little more freedom from the tyranny of the working life. And I, like John Marston, kick lots of ass.

We are brothers from another mother, and another time and dimension. We even look alike, in a ruggedly handsome, don’t-take-no-guff sort of way. Since our experiences and circumstances are so similar, maybe his approach to life could help me in re-unemployment.

Whenever John—himself forced into freelancing by the government—finds himself unemployed, he seeks out potential employers in need of his services. They might be a town sheriff looking to capture some criminals, or a local rancher who needs help rustling some cattle. John always gets hired, and he always gets paid. If anyone or anything gets in his way, he shoots them. The human bodies he then loots; the animal bodies he skins. And the proceeds he spends on supplies or new houses, or gambles away.

My situation is basically the same, albeit a tad more nuanced. The projects that kept me off the streets and in the black for much of 2010 are over. More work could be pending, should the client sign on and the company ask me back. Neither is guaranteed. Some other freelance work is coming, theoretically, and two more inquiries came through this week. What materializes and how much I get paid remain to be seen. But to maximize my chances, I need to remain forceful and aggressively follow up on any opportunities. When I get work, I need to be resourceful in handling it. Then again, maybe the lesson here is to spend more time at the horse track.

As John succeeds, he gets hired for increasingly challenging and better-paying projects. Lassoing wild horses leads to collaborative missions with gravediggers and snake oil salesmen. His freelance projects even take him south of the border to Mexico, to rescue senoritas or hunt down the perfect burrito or something. I’m not that far into the game yet, so I don’t know exactly what happens. John eventually nabs the villains and gets his family back, reaching his larger goal. Then zombies come and ruin it all again. You’ll have to ask wifey—video game player extraordinaire—about the specifics.

Most of my freelance projects only use some of my skills. And that’s fine. I still do the best I can. A job well done sometimes leads to more and better work. But sometimes it just leads to a paycheck. One day I’ll have the perfect job, or at least one that draws on more of my skills. One day I’ll get paid like the marketing gangster I am. But today—two years and three months after losing my last full-time job—isn’t that day. Today I’m just trying to get my foot back in the stirrup before the horse rides away.

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  1. Ed wrote:

    I am in a very similar boat… Almost two years since last full-time gig. No (paying) projects at the moment.

    My advice is hang in there and treat it like a job.. Just b/c you don’t have a paying client right now doesn’t mean you can’t be working on promoting your business or learning something — corporations would call it marketing or R&D.

    Those are my two cents, but you might want to get a second opinion.. I’m not sure my under-employed status qualifies me to give out career advice LOL…

    Friday, January 28, 2011 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  2. Terri wrote:

    You are truly hysterical! I actually searched on google for how to deal with unemployment one day when it was driving me crazy, and your link came up. You’re doing a really good thing here, I hope you are submitting your work to some major publications. Comic relief is the best medicine and very much appreciated!

    My hubby and I are in the same situation too. He gets temp work and I get freelance work for my business while we wait for him to get full time work. Ed is right, the in-between projects time is a great time for R&D and exploring. This is our reality now, we need all the positive reinforcement we can get. And like the old time wild west guys, it takes bravery and focus, letting go of all the beliefs you had about yourself and blazing a new trail for your life. Very cool…

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  3. Norm wrote:

    Thank you, Terri, for your kind words. Writing this stuff helps keep me sane. The on-again, off-again lifestyle can be a little maddening. I just recently started submitting stuff for publication, because, you know, may I’ll get lucky. This one got a little attention awhile back…

    Good luck with the freelance work. I hope it’s enough to pay the bills.

    Monday, January 31, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  4. Terri wrote:

    Great letter!! I like how you tell him just to get out of bed. It’s amazing how your mind can conjure up some pretty nasty stuff if you lay there. I found it surprising how much better you feel just being vertical instead of horizontal, LOL

    Make sure you submit your stuff to – they are always accepting stuff from all kinds of writers, and they are really funny, your work reminds me of stuff I find there. And the Onion of course, I’m sure you could mix well with those guys!

    I’ve found ways to keep myself sane too, I paint photographs – so fun to do. I’ll end up painting every one I own! Here’s a sampling: – I’ll be getting my own blog going soon to showcase it. I’m super busy with that, getting my commercial website updated and taking care of my two little girls. Whew!

    Freelance pays some bills, unemployment takes care of the rest and food. My husband told me that what helps him avoid anxiety is being grateful that he has some money today. Don’t think about tomorrow. This whole situation forces us to be in the present. If we weren’t, we’d go insane. Hence all the creative work we are doing for ourselves. If anything, be grateful for that!

    Best of luck!

    Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink
  5. Underemployed wrote:

    Checking in… Please tell me what going on in your world Norm.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  6. Norm wrote:

    Working on a new post. Should be done in the next day or two. Otherwise it’s business (or lack thereof) as usual.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  7. Lynn Heider wrote:

    Annoying on line recruiting systems make it even more difficult for the unemployed to buck up and pull themselves back together.

    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink
  8. UnderEmployed wrote:

    Dear Norm,

    When do you think things will get better? Go back to normal?

    Check this out…

    Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  9. Denise wrote:

    Loved reading the post and the comments. I’ve freelanced for 2+ years now. To keep work coming in, recommend looking for new freelance jobs every day, even if you only spend 15 minutes a day looking for new clients. If you’re a freelance writer Media Bistro, Morning Coffee, Pro Blogger Jobs, Journalism Jobs, Higher Ed Jobs and LinkedIn are good places to look for writing projects.



    Friday, November 11, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink