Underemployed and overjoyed - opinion

Personally, in many ways the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise.

Bookstore 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bookstore 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be one of the great paradoxes of our generation. No one can deny its devastation and the trail of broken lives it continues to leave through death, illness, job loss, economic collapse and social isolation. (Have I left anything out?) Yet at the same time, many of us have also experienced an upside to the past eight months.
Family units – when not at each other’s throats – have grown closer; much of the planet has been “reclaimed” by nature, with cleaner air, fresher water and a resurgence of wildlife; and businesses have adopted new techniques and survival strategies that may well guide their successes well beyond the eventual return to some sort of normalcy.
Personally, in many ways the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. Though not spending as much actual face-time with friends as I’ve traded corona time between Florida and Toronto, I have reconnected with many loved ones through Zoom, video chats, phone calls and spending more time on social media than I admit to. Though not able to travel or go to concerts (the two things I simply will not live without forever), I am spending an inordinate amount of time outside, biking, walking, kayaking and (safely) playing tennis. While many complain about the “Quarantine 15” weight gain, I have never – poopoopoo – been in such good shape in my life. And perhaps one of my most silver linings in this very dark COVID-19 cloud is that it has helped me come to terms with my employment status.
Or should I say unemployment status? I lost my job half-a-decade ago in gentler, simpler times, when someone like myself – a loyal, conscientious, hard-working employee with the same company for close to 20 years – was let go for good, old-fashioned reasons like ageism, cost-cutting and technological obsolescence.
After spending years going through the physical and emotional roller coaster of resumé-revising, skill-updating, multi-round interviewing and rejection-swallowing, I decided to give up hope in finding a “real” job, and instead focus on a variety of “do what you love” projects. Now there are tens of thousands of newcomers who have entered my world of “not really working.”
Too old to get hired, too young to retire. Doing a little of this and a little of that to try and make ends meet. The virus has made it easier, and more acceptable, to be underemployed and focus on activities that make us happy. And what makes me the happiest is writing.

From a very early age, writing seemed to be my destiny, with even my mother encouraging me to write for MAD Magazine, rather than becoming her son the doctor/lawyer. And though I ended up working in advertising, marketing and hospitality, writing was always something I continued to do, both personally and professionally.
Being able to write in respected print publication like The Jerusalem Post is especially gratifying in an age when print media is vanishing around the globe. And it’s not just the aforementioned MAD Magazine; according to a New York Times article (quoting research by the University of North Carolina), more than one in five newspapers in the United States has shuttered, including 60 newsrooms (and counting) across America since the beginning of the outbreak. And Jewish papers are certainly not immune, with publications like the New York Jewish Week, New Jersey Jewish Times and my very own Canadian Jewish News either moving online or disappearing altogether.

Gee, I really didn’t mean for this first column to be such a downer. On the contrary, I’m excited to be able to share news and views with you over the coming months. As this is indeed a Jewish paper (is it still politically correct to say that? I mean no disrespect to papers of other religions, creeds and colors out there), my topics will reflect a certain Jewish sensibility, and even have the odd Yiddish word thrown in (though – gevalt! – I don’t speak Yiddish).
As a Diaspora Jew struggling with quandaries over religion and Israeli (and American/world) politics, and as a Boomer dealing with issues surrounding death of loved ones, aging parents, grown children (still at home!), divorce/dating and employment/financial struggles, I’m sure my experiences will resonate with one or two of you out there. If there are specific issues you’d like me to explore or topics you’d like covered, feel free to reach out. I may choose to ignore you, but that would give you the opportunity to kvetch – and what could be more Jewish than that?
Ken Gruber is a Toronto-based writer and can be reached at ken.gruber5@gmail.com