Confessions of a Non-Essential
Updated: Mar 26
I am a “non-essential.” Do I dare navel gaze at a time like this? You bet.
I am one of the 40 million Californians ordered to stay at home under the shelter-in-place edict. My governor, Gavin Newsom, is rightfully serious about the safety of our citizenry, but in reading his executive order, there’s one small part I want to highlight:
The federal government has identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, economic security, public health or safety, or any combination thereof. I order that Californians working in these 16 critical infrastructure sectors may continue their work because of the importance of these sectors to Californians’ health and well-being.
To see what jobs constitute as critical, you can look those up here. But I think intrinsically we all know what those jobs are. They are largely the unglamorous jobs that keep society functioning. That garbage man, those plumbers — try to live without them.
As you may have heard, hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed due to this heartbreaking coronavirus outbreak. I am now one of them. I’ll survive the economic fall out, partly because of the government but mostly because of my living situation. My longtime domestic partner is the breadwinner and although we both individually took a considerable hit with the stock market, him far more than me because he has more, we know that what comes down will eventually go up again. Just don’t panic. Hold on. Don’t lock in those losses. We will ride this out.
I didn’t need to lose my job to know that I was not considered essential to our society at large. No workers depend on my decisions, I don’t save lives and I am not on the front lines like our grocery store clerks are or delivery drivers. Once this coronavirsus crisis passes, and it will pass, I will go back to being a non-essential. This declaration is not something to be proud of but I’m no longer going to beat myself up for it either, even while in the grips of this pandemic. I’ve come to accept who I am at my age, 40. I’ve had enough experiences and universal feedback to know what my strengths and weaknesses are.
There was a time in my life though when I loathed myself for my lack of essentiality. About five years ago, I went ahead to try to be more useful to the world. I signed up for an EMT course. I learned CPR. How to administer an EpiPen. How to properly wrap a wound. If anyone around me fell from a ladder, started choking, drank poison, got electrocuted or bitten by a snake, I knew what to do. A requirement to pass this class was to do two 12-hour ride alongs, one day with EMT’s and a week later with paramedics. In those shifts, I assisted firefighters carrying a 500-lb man down a flight of stairs. I aided the transports of the incapacitated elderly from their convalescent homes to their doctors appointments and back again. I took vitals on a 5150 patient. I followed instructions on placing a couple automated external defibrillator (AED) pads on a gunshot wound victim and although it wasn’t in the job description, after following protocols, I made a young boy in great physical pain smile on the ride to the nearest hospital.
While I ended up passing this EMT course, I never took the test to get certified. As useful as those impressive skills I learned were, and as helpful as I would’ve been to my fellow man if I became a first responder, I didn’t move forward on that path. I found that work way too stressful. There was also a lot of waiting around. I thought I would like these assignments because I liked helping people, especially people in pain. But I wasn’t a natural fit. I was constantly anxious. I couldn’t wait for each shift to be over. I felt deep in my gut that this type of job simply wasn’t for me. It was like the time I went to law school in that I felt I was doing it to appease others instead of listening to my soul’s whispers. It also surprised me to learn how low the pay scale was considering the importance of the work EMT’s and paramedics do. I hope after this virus passes or sometime in the duration, those two positions, along with grocery store clerks, delivery drivers and warehouse workers, get a considerable bump in pay. They probably won’t even though they all really do keep the engine going.
They are essential.
My decision to not become a EMT didn’t make anyone but me happy. Those who knew I was taking this class had high hopes I’d follow through on this path because, in their eyes, it gave me purpose and direction again after I seemed to have lost my way. Nope. Sorry. My partner, who loves me more than anyone else does, even tried to push me to reconsider.
“You can still write, Georgette,” he said. “In fact, you’ll have even more stories to write about if you do this.”
I looked at him calmly. “I have enough stories.”
My guy is an essential. So much so that you’d want to be around him during any pandemic or when we have a zombie apocalypse. I knew he would be disappointed in my decision. But I stuck to my guns. At the end of our lengthy exchange I just shrugged. “It’s my life.”
Although I’m currently jobless, I’m beyond fortunate to be positioned not to work at a job that I don’t have to work. I wasn’t always this blessed as I do have that perspective of gritting my teeth and cursing under my breath before marching into a building. I know what it’s like to suck it up, buttercup and do the job you hate or tolerate the people working around you. I’ve been there and I’m trying not to go back there again if I can help it. Right now, I can.
But let’s say I couldn’t because my guy leaves me. Oh I hope he never leaves me, not because of finances but, well, he’s my oxygen. But let’s say that he does. Let’s say he banishes me from his household by callously throwing me out onto the street like some peasant girl or old-timey prostitute. Then what? Well, after a period of crippling depression and crying spells, I would just go back to doing what I did before him. It would take time to get back on my feet but once I did, I would spend 8–9 hours a day working, live below my means, and then I would spend my peak hours outside of work writing. I would write until I became good enough at it, until I could make a full-time living doing it.
And that is my life as a non-essential. When I’m not reading, working odd jobs or as an independent contractor and taking care of the home, I write most of the time. I have hundreds of pages of work that no one, not even my beloved, has seen. But I’m finding that’s my problem. How can a writer be effective or even entertaining if no one sees the work? Navel gazing is sometimes necessary but it should ultimately lead somewhere.
This is why I am writing this series, or half the reason why. I need to start putting content out there on a regular basis. Just get into the habit of writing publicly, knock out these singles weekly. Start there, just start doing at least that. The other half reason why I’m writing this series, navel gazing if you will, is to figure out why I have failed so far in life as a writer and storyteller. If this is all I want to do and I’ve worked so hard at it for so long, then why have I failed so spectacularly at it? I have a goldmine of material, so it’s not that.
I really need to get to the bottom of this conundrum. It’s the one confusing question that has plagued my daily life. I think about this life problem constantly. How do I get the life, as a writer, that I want if I have failed so far at it? Society will tell me to give it up so I can be more essential. Earn piles of leaves of money, buy things, impress others, be important that way. No, I will no longer listen to that. It’s not what my heart wants. Having beautiful things is nice, and people do treat you differently based on your presentation, but I just have a lot more writing to do. I’m haunted from my past. I need to flesh out these ghosts. I also have some awareness to raise along the way.
As for the timeline for this series, I’ll limit it to these past eight years, at the moment I was let go from the only job where I was an essential, to now, when I’m not essential. As long as I don’t have coronavirus, I’m not feverish, coughing up blood or breathing through a machine, this is what I want to do with my time. Why? Because. It’s my life.