The last day of work, everyone was on edge. We were expecting to be shut down, but no one knew when. It was late March, and some were worried that they wouldn’t have rent for April. Conversation drifted to filing for unemployment benefits. I couldn’t face the thought. I’m sure everyone hates slogging through a bureaucratic morass, but it’s a particularly weak point for me. I had been self-employed for most of the previous fifteen years, and moved to another state, so I probably wouldn’t even get anything, so going through the process would be a waste of time, which I could use for other pursuits, which could even potentially bring some income . . . But realistically, poetry and homemade masks probably wouldn’t make me much money, so I would have to try.
Over the next weeks we would share a group thread about our efforts to get assistance. Some got it quickly, but massage therapists often work multiple part-time jobs, some as contractors. This income isn’t normally even considered in unemployment claims, but the state was learning a new set of rules for allocating federal money as well as the usual unemployment funds, while record-breaking numbers of people were filing all at once. I was one of them.
I was rejected right away, and appealed promptly. Then I had to wait three weeks for the appeal to be processed. The day came and went, so I started trying to call the unemployment office. I figured, maybe if I called right when the office opened at 7:00 AM, I could get in the queue to wait on hold. After 7:15, I’d get a busy tone, and after 7:25 the circuits were overloaded and there would be nothing at all. I’d go back to bed and start again the next morning. Once I got an answer, and the automated system asked for a PIN. PIN? What PIN? I still don’t know if I ever had one, but the system hung up on me before I could think of a response. I had to call another number to reset it, and that number was overloaded.
Another time I got through, and someone answered the phone, but something weird happened with my phone, and he couldn’t hear me and hung up. (No, I did not have my phone on mute!)
Sometimes a co-worker would text a number. “I got through on this number! Call it right now!” One by one, they got approved. I was close to giving up. How many poems might I have written in the time I had spent pressing redial a hundred times, day after day?
Someone suggested I try some ritual involving trapping an angel in a teacup. It sounded weirdly mean to me, so I decided to make my own ritual. It was inspired by an interview I read in The Sun with Malidoma Some. He spoke of giving gifts to the dead. The gifts to give are water and ash. The reason to give these to the dead is that they in turn use them to assist the living. Water makes things flow. Ash, what’s left after fire, gives resilience and ability to survive adversity.
About 6:40 this morning, I put some water in a teacup and since I hadn’t prepared any ash, I just grabbed the incense burner and took it outside. I named a few of my dead, and offered them my gifts, asking them to help me. These people loved me, after all. Well, some of them never knew me, but I know if my daughters had children, I would love them dearly, it wouldn’t matter if I’d ever met them. I dumped the incense burner and the teacup on the ground. Then I looked up and right in front of my face was a vivid rainbow. It wasn’t raining, I couldn’t see the sun, and it didn’t even seem like the right place for a rainbow that time of day, but there it was. I watched for a minute until it faded, then I went inside and started calling.
I got in on the first try. I waited on hold for under an hour before I talked to a very nice and knowledgeable person who explained that the complications of my case would have precluded my approval without a call, but now that we had talked, I would be approved in a few days and could expect a deposit shortly after that. It was good that I’d called.
“But it’s impossible to reach you . . .”
“Yes, we’re getting a lot of calls—”
“We’re in interesting times, ” I said.
She laughed. “That’s a good way to say it, interesting.”
So if things are inordinately difficult for your right now, consider practicing a little ritual. It might be more powerful than you realize.