Despite an advanced degree, Sam Robinson remains unemployed, a kind of netherworld between the past and the future that could turn on that one email that could change everything.
People don’t tell you that if you are searching for work in California, you will spend a lot of time waiting for email. This has certainly been the case for me. I wait for email from potential employers. I wait for email from advisors and mentors, for email confirming networking over coffee or from magazine editors about story pitches. I wait for email from HR managers and job committees.
Much has been written about the precarious nature of labor here, its disintegrating social and economic securities. But what’s missing is an account of the sheer tedium of the experience. In our economy, meaningful work requires waiting for responses to job applications, to interview inquiries. One waits for feedback and criticisms. It is an anticipatory, ever hopeful, but often crushing existence.
I suppose waiting for email is a common activity among folks without power. We wait for emails from the people who decide whether we are qualified, appropriate, or worthy. We wait for emails from those who don't wait for email, from people who actually have too much email. Perhaps this dichotomy defines our economy — the separation between those who wait for opportunity in their inbox and those with endless messages, calling for their time, attention, and favor.
It is painful to sit at my laptop and recognize that the very structures of employment are against me. An aching emptiness settles in when I realize that no one wants or needs to get in touch with me.
And yet I still wait for email because the spaces between the chirps of new messages also hold out hope for the future. One email might magically change my life.
So I open the mail app on my phone. I watch the "Checking for mail..." message appear. My hopes dance on that ellipsis. The phone and I take a collective breath, inhaling a moment of pure possibility. The spinning icon drops. I blink and for a moment, ever so slight, I wonder if my world will change.
With a Perspective, I’m Sam Robinson.
Sam Robinson recently completed his doctorate in history from UC Berkeley. His search for gainful employment continues.