Ann Powers makes unemployment glamorous. She's sassy and sexy, the kind of woman who jaunts off on a weeklong sailing trip to Antigua because it calms her nerves and costs less than paying for therapy. She dabbles in stand-up comedy because, well, why not? She's got time. Getting laid off really frees up the day.
To Ann, looking for a job is a lot like dating. First impressions are so important. She still gets Botox just in case she snags an interview or a man, and takes care to maintain her size-2 figure and golden bob. Her adventures in labor and in love are chronicled every day on her blog.
"The one good thing about being unemployed is that I can eat chocolate chip cookies with a glass of red wine at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, which is about the time I've hit the wall searching for my next 'big opportunity,' " Ann writes in one entry.
In another: "I confess, I also signed up for an account on MillionaireMatch.com. The longer you're unemployed, the more you acquire a Cinderella-feeling about wanting to feel rich."
The blog is called Girl On The Brink because that's where Ann resides, on the thin line between defiance and desperation, sarcasm and survival, laughing and crying. In Ann's world, she's not unemployed. She's "funemployed," in the new vernacular of the recession, among the thousands of white-collar workers who may be out of work but still make it to the gym. In this line of thinking, losing a job is like pulling up the anchor that once moored you to a mortgage, a daily routine and a career, setting you free to pursue your wildest fantasies.
The only catch? Ann Powers isn't real. The name is a pseudonym for Jayne Lytel, who likes to refer to Ann as her "alter ego."
A 53-year-old mother of two, Jayne lives in a tony Northwest Washington neighborhood, in a blue brick house with a white picket fence. Most of Jayne's life has been decidedly un-Ann-like.
Jayne's younger son, Leo, was diagnosed with autism at age 2. Determined to help him battle the disability, she and her then-husband, David Lytel, undertook an elaborate rehabilitation program. Jayne orchestrated as much as 35 hours a week of specialized instruction for Leo with seven different tutors for seven years. She published a book about her experience, established a foundation devoted to early detection of autism and became a sort of celebrity among advocates.
Leo, 10, is now the subject of a medical study of children who have "recovered" from autism, although many experts remain skeptical. But Jayne has no doubt. Leo can play soccer, solve math problems and shoot her a smile so big it makes her heart break.
"I got my kid back," Jayne says.
But the cost of Leo's therapies pushed the Lytels into bankruptcy in 2005, and the pressures contributed to the couple's separation in 2007 and divorce a year later. Jayne had quit her communications job to funnel her energies into caring for Leo. The sacrifice left a yawning hole inside her.
Then, about two years ago, Jayne started dating a wealthy man from California and returned to work as marketing director for an educational nonprofit. Life wasn't perfect, but it was pretty darned good.
Until last fall, when Jayne's budding existence got swept into the dustbin of our national economy.
She was laid off seven days before Thanksgiving. Next, her boyfriend dumped her via e-mail, put off, she says, by the needy person she had become. Worse, her ex-husband also had been laid off from his job as a political consultant. So he moved back into the house with her, Leo, and their older son, Lucas, 12. He sleeps in the master bedroom upstairs near the children; she lives in the in-law suite in the basement. They split the bills.
For months, Jayne stayed up at night in her underground hole, lying on her bed, watching reality TV and dreaming about all the ways life could be different.
Then one winter morning, in the dark, silent hours before the kids or her ex had awakened, Jayne started tapping away at her computer in her makeshift bedroom, writing about the purgatory of unemployment and its unwelcome accoutrements: