by Regan McMahon
During the four-weeks we had to decide whether to accept the newspaper’s buyout, employees huddled in hushed conversations weighing the pros and cons. I remember one reporter told me she was leaning pro, until a friend asked her, “Why would you fire yourself?”
Once I left the paper, and the economic crisis dominated every day’s news, those words came back to haunt me. At a time when businesses were closing and layoffs were being announced in industry after industry, and people were being shoved out of jobs they wanted and needed, I had fired myself. I had a good union job with benefits and protections (at least until the next contract in 2010), and I chose to walk away from it. At the time I signed on the dotted line, I saw opportunity and an exciting challenge. Now that I was feeling unmoored and panicky about the future, I had to deal with the fact that I volunteered for this.
My two-pronged strategy for finding employment is trolling the job sites and networking. The first is lonely, slow and you often get no response. The second is social and can involve fun things like meeting people for lunch or coffee. I reconnected with a former Chronicle reporter who recently had been laid off from the San Jose Mercury News and told her I was having a rough time in my transition. “I don’t know,” she said, “a buyout sounds pretty good to me,” putting my loss of paycheck in perspective.
I know I shouldn’t complain, but I do have to deal with my feelings. It feels very weird to not go into the office where I went every day for almost 25 years. I don’t miss the stress of a downsized operation, but I miss my friends and the kind of stimulating, spontaneous conversations that erupt from a group of people tied into what’s going on in the world. I miss my fast computer. And I miss having an entire systems department at my disposal. Now when something goes screwy on my computer, I have to call India like, well, regular people —“civilians,” as my former supervisor used to call people who didn’t work at the newspaper. His Army analogy was apt. We had our own code and ways of doing things, and once you were a part of that fraternity, it was always a part of you.
To my kids, my life doesn’t look that different. I’ve been an active freelancer for years and wrote a book working nights and weekends on top of my day job, so they’re used to seeing me hit the computer after dinner. I’m still writing freelance book reviews and feature articles and blogging, so they see me surrounded by books, sifting though notes and talking about deadlines. But what they don’t see is me glued to the screen all day scouring Craigslist and journalismjobs.com  and sending resumes into the black hole of robo HR on a wish and a prayer. They’re too involved with their own young lives and schoolwork to sense the urgency I feel to get back on a payroll.
“Find a job yet?” my daughter asks casually when she comes home from school and examines the recesses of the refrigerator to find a snack. “Just make sure you find one where you get free stuff,” she adds, having enjoyed the many books I brought home over 15 years as an editor and critic in Book Review.
The only free thing I covet now is a free mind.
To be continued  …
Read Part One 
Read Part Two 
Regan McMahon is the author of Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy over Youth Sports .