03/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Benefits of Unemployment

Just over four months ago, for the first time since wrapping up college in 1996, I found myself as part of the now ever-growing millions of Americans who find themselves unemployed. Unlike many of my jobless brethren, I was fortunate enough to have saved a little bit; a safety net that has now been tapped as the days without a paycheck and benefits grow longer and longer.

When this new reality hit me, thanks to my little security blanket, I welcomed the uncertainty of what was to come. I didn't greet this free time with a desire to sit around lazily and waste away the days (though admittedly, I've done a bit of this), but rather to explore the things that I've always wanted to go after, namely writing and photography. I'd pursued both as hobbies in the past, but I figured that time off would afford me not just the time in hours and days, but the ability to let my creative mind, whatever there is of it, to finally have room to breathe and extend itself. And thus far, the experience, though inconsistent and at times mind-bending, has been incredibly rewarding. The cliché "book that I've always wanted to write" is actually moving along. I've taken thousands of pictures and some are actually kind of good. And perhaps most importantly, I feel this time has allowed me to grow and have a better understanding of who I am and where I want to be.

And then there's the free time for exploration outside of my own attempts at creativity. Whether working or not, music is never far from my ears. When employed, I listened on the way to and from work, at work, and most nights I'd fall off to sleep with those iPod buds still in my ears. But over the past four months, I've been able to explore way beyond what I could quickly and effortlessly find on eMusic or the bins of Amoeba. Although I knew their music at a surface level, I've finally been able to dig deep into artists such as Doug Sahm, George Jones, Sam Cooke and Mississippi John Hurt. Whether on the turntable, via my iPod or thanks to a YouTube clip, finally having the time to unearth some of the greatest music ever made has left a massive mark on me.

Of course, there have been great books (tops being Mark Oliver Everett's memoir Things the Grandchildren Should Know) and movies (I recommend The Big Bad Swim and William Eggleston in the Real World), but many of the preeminent moments have been void of the media often necessary to keep my mind moving and inspired. There have been numerous day trips to small towns around the Bay Area where I'd simply walk around, grab some lunch and appreciate a community that was new to me. I've taken to running and the occasional euphoria that comes with a surge of energy that finds you tirelessly moving from street to street is something I haven't felt since my teens. I've gotten to know some of my neighbors. My girlfriend and I have grown closer and closer and now sit on the verge of, well, let's leave some suspense there.

I could go on and on. Although the bills now bring on increasing anxiety each month and I'm giving thought to ending monthly payments to COBRA, I wouldn't change the past few months for anything. No, I haven't been to a nice restaurant in as long as I can remember, the shirt I'm wearing right now was purchased sometime around the inauguration of the elder Bush, and I had to pass on Springsteen's upcoming show in San Jose, but as I type these final words in my local coffee shop, it's a beautiful day outside, Wilco's streaming through the headphones and the park's a block away.

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