With four months to prepare for my layoff, I had more than enough time to daydream about the utopia that would be my unemployment. It was going to be a nirvana of casserole baking, errand running, photo scrap-booking and novel writing. Our freezer was going to be full of baked goods, my abs were going to be Miss Universe-worthy, and literary fame was just on the horizon. And in my "spare" time, I'd volunteer at a youth centre, take night classes and become a hot air balloonist. Simple goals, really. Attainable, even.
But here it is, 3:45 pm, and I haven't even picked up my dry-cleaning yet. The morning was spent in meetings, the early afternoon was spent organizing my life. (I wrote a to-do list of all the to-do lists I need to write, organized by category: Guyana Preparation, Baking & Casseroles, Household Projects, Puppy Preparation, Pageant Preparation.) I remain the busiest unemployed person I know. It seems that no matter what I do to remain unemployed, I keep on finding myself gainfully employed.
Despite this, I've found myself defending my employment status often over the last couple of months. The question, "What are you up to?" yields a very complicated answer involving one part-time job (that I had previously quit), one contract position with my former employer (yes, the same one that technically laid me off) and a short-term contract with a medical team in Guyana (no, I'm not a doctor or a public health student). It's easier to just tell folks that I'm unemployed right. And more often than not, they respond with a raised eyebrow and ask when I'm getting a job.
I get where they're coming from. I used to be the type of person who criticized people who "work" the system. Why claim EI when you could easily be gainfully employed? Isn't the system there to protect the disenfranchised, those with few skills and fewer opportunities?
Maybe it is. But after two and half years of paying into EI, I want my money back. Each EI paycheque is money that's rightfully mine. It's hard-earned money from years of work at a non-profit, where I earned very little, but was taxed a lot.
So, I'm technically unemployed, but I'm busy. And though I may not have a six-pack or a successful freelance writing career yet, I did find the time to make mini apple pies last week. In a way, unemployment still looks a little bit like my heaven.