Roxana St. Thomas

Posts by Roxana St. Thomas

Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here.
You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email, follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook. You can also read more about her at www.notesfromthebreadline.net.

Dear Readers,
I hope this message finds you rested, relaxed, gainfully employed, or nursing your recession hangover with a fabulously expensive steak affixed to your forehead (or some combination thereof).
As you know, I have enjoyed your company here in the breadline for many (many) months. We have shared laughter, tears, the thrill of victory (assuming, arguendo, that ‘victory’ is defined as ‘avoiding non-flip-flop footwear’), and the agony of defeat, in its many and varied forms. Now, however, the time has come for an Interregnum from the Breadline. After today, Notes from the Breadline will be on hiatus, at least for a little while.
As a preliminary matter, I will address your (unposed) questions seriatim. No: I did not find a job. No: I did not get “laid off” from Above the Law. No: I am not taking a break so that “I can spend more time with my family” (or my cats), and no: there is no damning sex tape involving Partner Emeritus, Douche Patrol, Frat Stud, Fraternity Lothario, Glass Cock, Jack Bauer, Guest, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sometimes, dear readers, a hiatus is just a hiatus.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been”

Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at roxanastthomas@gmail.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
This column is a continuation from last week’s, which you should read first if you haven’t done so already.

After the group members have finished their elevator speeches and turned their attention to the fun meals before them, Rhonda comes over and sits beside me at the kids’ table. “So,” she says, leaning in, “have you made your one connection yet?” Her voice has the same solicitous tone one might use to ask a child whether she brushed her teeth like a good girl, or made wee-wee in the potty chair.
“Not yet!” I say, mustering perkiness, “but the night is young!”
“Well,” she says, undeterred, “I am so glad you could come. These meetings are such a great opportunity to network, even if the group members are not in your exact field. Don’t you think?”
I tell her that I, too, am glad I could come, that I am excited to meet people and do some networking, and that I am fairly certain that connections — especially those formed at networking events! — transcend professions. Although I feel like I am reading from a cue card, the group seems to have its own lexicon, and I realize that I am unconsciously translating conversational English into network parlance. Despite my efforts, however, I slip up a moment later, when I use the words “unemployed” and “laid off” in the same sentence. “Eh eh,” she says, cutting me off. “In transition.” She pronounces the words carefully, as if to ensure comprehension.
We are interrupted by Jason, a member of the group who is leaving early and has come over to say goodbye to Rhonda and Mitch (who is also seated at the kids’ table). Jason talks for a few minutes about some of the “great connections” he has made since the last networking event. “There are some great possible opportunities there,” he says hopefully. “So, we’ll see …” his voice trails off.
“How long have you been unem–in transition?” I ask tactlessly.
“Eight months,” he says, arranging a broad smile. His bravery sounds forced. “But I’m not worried about it. As long as I keep networking, coming to events like this one, staying active on Linked In … I’m sure something will come up.”
“Oh, definitely,” Rhonda and Mitch murmur in unison, nodding emphatically. With automaton-like precision, Jason moves into a sales pitch, pulling out a sheaf of brochures and business cards. He tells us that his wife has started a catering business to bring in extra money. “I’m not just saying this because she’s my wife, heh heh,” he announces sincerely, “but she does a terrific job.” He encourages us to turn to her for our catering needs, and to tell our friends and “contacts” about her. Alas, I find myself thinking: though I’m sure his wife does, in fact, do a terrific job, being “in transition” is so rarely a catered affair.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: Friends and Other Strangers
(Part III)”

Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at roxanastthomas@gmail.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
This column is a continuation from last week’s, which you should read first if you haven’t done so already.

Following my (somewhat graceless) entrance to the networking event, motion in the room stops for a moment. If, I imagine, this scene were taking place in a movie, it would be annotated by the sound of a needle being pulled violently across a record. A quick glance around the room confirms that the people in attendance are, for the most part, old enough to be able to identify this sound.
The facilitator (who, thanks to a large name tag, is clearly marked “Rhonda”) breaks the silence. “Oooh!” she exclaims, “Goody! You made it! We’re sooo glad you could come!” I feel a flicker of doubt. Networking is for people with a lexicon of excited utterances that includes words like “Oooh!” and “Goody!,” I think dubiously. Networking is for people who enjoy wearing nametags. Rhonda has probably embraced the networking incantation to “be proactive!” and sewn nametags onto her sweater sets and gym clothes. After all, she would probably point out, you never know when an opportunity to make connections will arise!
But, I realize, while I may not be a born networker, I am here, and my doubts are no match for Rhonda’s warmth. “Me too,” I finally say. “I’m happy to meet you all.”
Rhonda tells me that the group has just started the process of introducing themselves. She explains that she has asked everyone to make a 30-second “elevator speech” about who they are, and to come up with a story or anecdote about a “networking experience.” “Have a seat!” she says, and everyone shuffles awkwardly, as though to make room. It is clear that, if I sit with the group, I will be perched on someone’s lap. “I’ll sit at the kids’ table,” I say quickly, making a beeline for an empty table. Rhonda looks distressed; I can tell that she values herd cohesiveness. “I’m okay!” I assure her, and settle into my peripheral vantage point.
Before the elevator speeches can continue, a waiter appears and hovers expectantly, pad in hand. “Hey gang?” Rhonda says, trying to reclaim the group’s attention. “We should order before we go back to introducing ourselves.” There is more shuffling; reading glasses are fished out, and the group members study their oversized menus diligently. I scan its voluminous contents, remembering the cardinal rule of professional feeding etiquette: avoid dining humiliation. Fajitas? Too messy. Soup? Too drippy. Salad? Too bovine; too many opportunities to be caught, mid-sentence, with greenery hanging from one’s mouth. Chopped salad? Perfect! I order and sit back, listening to snatches of banter from the other table.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: Friends and Other Strangers
(Part II)”


Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at roxanastthomas@gmail.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
On an unseasonably chilly autumn day, Lat and I are sitting in his office, commiserating about the cold. “I’m freezing,” I say, rubbing my hands over the steam rising from the coffee fountain. “Shouldn’t we be enjoying Native American summer right now?”
“Yeah,” Lat responds absently, his eyes fixed on the computer screen in front of him. I wait for a proper response, but he seems absorbed in the task before him. After a few minutes, I get up and stand behind him, peering nosily over his shoulder.
He is downloading a virtual fireplace to his desktop. After a few minutes of virtual tending, it begins to crackle gaily. “Ah,” he says, relaxing visibly. “There’s nothing like a nice fire on a cold fall day … and virtual fires are much eco-friendlier than their wood-burning facsimiles!” He leans back in his chair and arranges his feet on his desk. “Did I mention that I’m watching my carbon footprint?”
“I did notice that your carbon footprint was looking particularly svelte,” I tell him. I stare out at the window, where the trees are being battered by a cold wind. A wave of melancholy, sudden and bracing, washes over me. “The weather has gone as cold as the scent for job leads,” I say glumly.
Lat strokes his chin thoughtfully for a moment, and then begins to dig through a stack of papers on his desk. It teeters dangerously and then cascades onto the floor. “Sorry,” he mumbles. “Paper avalanche.” After a moment, he extracts a creased copy of the New York Times, which he brandishes triumphantly.
“I was just reading about these job clubs, where people ‘meet to mingle, resumes in tow,'” he says. “And I was thinking: maybe you should try going to one. It could be an excellent networking opportunity!”
Another swell of melancholy builds, gathers into a frothy whitecap, and crashes around me. “That’s what you said about that speed-dating event we went to last year,” I say, trying not to sound peevish, “and that was a total waste of time, in six-minute increments. Besides, I just … I hate those things,” I tell him. “They feel so … forced.”
Lat responds with stony silence, then leans over and minimizes the fireplace. “Get going, sister,” he says sternly. “Find a networking event, and then you can come back and tell me all about it. Until then, no merrily crackling fire for you!”
I sulk for a few minutes, and then relent. In truth, my job search has stalled, and nothing I have done lately in an attempt to jump-start it seems to work. Why not? I figure, trying to muster optimism. At this point, I have nothing to lose.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: Friends and Other Strangers
(Part I)”

Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to the latest installment of Notes from the Breadline, a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at roxanastthomas@gmail.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
Last week, we brought you Scenes from the Breadline, in the form of my very own photo essay on unemployment. You may recall that, in the communitarian spirit of all Homework Assignments from the Breadline, I also asked you to submit photographs, drawings, or other images that depicted, reminded you of, or documented your experience of life in the breadline.
First, I extend my heartfelt thanks to those who sent their own pictures from the breadline. For what it’s worth, my empirical research indicates that you are strict constructionists: you construed the assignment narrowly, and responded almost universally with photographs, rather than pictures scrawled in crayon, found art, or collages made from your unemployment check receipts and Ramen soup labels. (I mention this not as a criticism, but as a reminder that I welcome any and all of your creative efforts on an ongoing basis. I like to hang them up on my refrigerator, so that I can be reminded — while making soup- – of the excellent company I keep here in the breadline.)
Second, while I love you all the same, I must note that the New Yorkers amongst you responded in force. Perhaps it is because we are intransigent overachievers, and take homework assignments seriously (no matter who doles them out). Perhaps it is because signs of the recession are so visible here, and so ubiquitous. Either way: thanks, home team! And thank you, friends and readers from every outpost of the breadline. As always, you did a fantastic job.
Without further delay, we bring you (more) Scenes from the Breadline.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: Every Picture Tells a Story (Part II)”

Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at roxanastthomas@gmail.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
Many of us know (and some of us have described, at some length) what life in the breadline feels like. But what, exactly, does life in the breadline look like? What are the visual manifestations of uncertainty, general financial malaise, and persistent despair? Well, dear readers, sometimes life in the breadline looks like a laid-off associate in her pajamas and down coat, on the verge of ranting at strangers in the bank. Sometimes it looks like the very same associate staring at her inbox, certain that an encouraging email (offering something other than a chance to collect your designated award from the British Lottery) will appear momentarily. Other times, it can be seen in the world outside one’s cat-plagued home, where the indicia of economic apocalypse are ubiquitous.
This week, I am pleased to bring you my own photo essay from the breadline. (Take heart, TLDR crowd — something that doesn’t require actual reading!) I hope you enjoy these shots of street life, and I thank the kind photographer who helped to document my wanderings.
Of course, every life looks a little different … which is why it’s time for another Homework Assignment from the Breadline. Specifically, we want pictures — in the form and media of your choosing — of your life in the breadline. Send me the images that illustrate your experience, symbolize the moment, and document the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of your adventure / ordeal / journey. I look forward to viewing your responses! Please: no nudity, crush films, or dogfighting videos.
Without further ado, I present “Scenes from the Breadline.”

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: Every Picture Tells a Story
(Or: A photo essay on unemployment.)

Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at roxanastthomas@gmail.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
As many of you know, waiting is an integral part of life in the breadline. You send out résumés, and you wait. You make follow-up calls to prospective employers — and wait. You hear that the nation’s economic climate is improving, so (although you see no factual indicia that this is actually the case) you dust off your interview suits, submit applications … and wait. You vaguely remember what momentum feels like, and what it feels like to have a life that moves forward. You think about getting up and walking away, about leaving frustration and disappointment behind you. But instead, because you have no choice, you wait.
This interminable waiting, of anticipating an event that never materializes, can become so familiar that, after a while, it barely registers. It also becomes progressively harder to identify what, precisely, you are waiting for. Movement is suspended; growth is deferred. The only way to stave off inertia is by clinging to hope, no matter how vague or ephemeral it seems.
On that bright note, we bring you Notes from the Breadline Community Theater. Because adult professional life probably doesn’t leave you nearly enough time to reflect on life’s baffling futility through absurdist theater, our feature presentation is — you guessed it! — an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Since you all did so well on your Homework Assignments from the Breadline, you can go ahead and cheat on this one. The SparkNotes summary is here, and you can refresh your recollection of the text, in all its glory, here and here.
Now, dear readers, without further delay (hush! The house lights are going down!), we bring you “Waiting for Bono.”

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: I Am Waiting”

Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at roxanastthomas@gmail.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
One time, early in my stint in the breadline, I interviewed for a position at a New York non-profit organization. The interview, with members of the organization’s steering committee, was held at the plush offices of a Wall Street law firm – a setting so genteel, so prim, that I immediately felt underdressed despite my perfectly respectable interview suit and conservative heels. All the women who passed through the reception area were wearing knee-length skirt suits and pantyhose; the men looked as though they had come from a photo shoot for Brooks Brothers. The walls were hung with portraits of stately, gray-haired firm elders, hunting scenes, and graceful horses who, I suspected, had pedigrees much more distinguished than my own. I was reading a tattered copy of the previous week’s New Yorker while I waited, and I remember feeling sheepishly self-conscious — both because I hadn’t gotten through a lengthy article about Iceland’s post-financial crash identity, and because I wasn’t reading something … weightier, like The Economist, or the Harvard Business Review.
How, you ask, did I have time to read, reflect, and observe a cross-section of the firm’s personnel? Well, friends: when you spend 45 minutes perched on an uncomfortable settee, waiting for your name to be called, there is little else to do. Eventually, of course, I did make it into the conference room where the interview was being held; once there, I was greeted by five lawyers, all of whom were talking at once. To each other. In fact, I found myself wondering, at various junctures, whether they were aware that I had joined them. One lawyer asked me a complicated question and then (without skipping a beat) answered his ringing cell phone and had a lengthy conversation. I tried to shift focus seamlessly by turning to address the others, but two of them were BlackBerrying while another listened to voicemail messages. When I finally stood up to say my goodbyes, they told me that they were impressed with my qualifications and hoped that I could come back to meet with the members of the steering committee who had been unable to make it to the interview that day. “That would be great!” I said enthusiastically. Perhaps, I mused, given the general level of attentiveness I had observed, they were hoping to organize a flag football scrimmage, and simply needed a few more people to work with (as well as a captive audience, or a referee).
As a new arrival to the breadline, this experience left me with a few thoughts. Among them were, “Are interviews always this suck-ass, or was this a freakish anomaly?” and “Is there a sliver lining in all of this?” Like a convoluted legal argument, the answer to the latter of these questions resolves the first inquiry as well. As I have discovered in the intervening months, there is not a single “silver lining” in all of this, but many, including: freedom from the oppressive sartorial conventions of the workplace, the luxury of dropping by Lat’s office for a mid-day drink from the coffee fountain, and the (admittedly mixed) blessing of life in a lower tax bracket. These perks, however, pale in comparison to one, particularly luminous reward, which I consider the most spangly of all silver linings.
And what might that be?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: Always Seem to Get Things Wrong (Part II)”

Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at roxanastthomas@gmail.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
The news that filters down to the breadline these days can be confusing. “The recession is over!” some sources promise blithely. The recession may not be over, warn others, but “even stagnation would be better than recent history.” (Anecdotal evidence of stagnation — blessed, welcome stagnation — follow, substituting for tales of hope.)
In the legal press, though, the forecast is decidedly more circumspect. Bloodletting may have slowed at the nation’s law firms, but, between rumors of the billable hour’s demise and free-floating anxiety about the future of associate pay, the recession is far from receding into the distance in our collective rearview mirror.
I have been seeing a new recruiter, one in a string of casual liaisons which — like online dates — offer much promise initially, but usually stall after the second or third encounter. (Like the others, she was relentlessly positive and showered me with complements, and … well, I ended up showing her my résumé on the first date.) I decide to ask her whether she thinks the end of the recession has come to our corner of the professional world.
“Well,” says the recruiter (whose name, fortuitously, is Faith), “a lot of my clients are back to running ads and soliciting resumes. But they’re not necessarily hiring.” A long pause follows, and she adds, “Yet.”
“Are they interviewing?” I ask. She answers carefully, telling me brightly that, yes, “some people have gone on interviews, here and there!” In other words, I translate silently: no.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: Always Seem to Get Things Wrong (Part I)”

Notes from the Breadline Roxana St Thomas.jpgEd. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at roxanastthomas@gmail.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
Welcome back from the long weekend, dear readers. I hope that, after what has been a hard year for many of us, everybody had a good time, everybody let their hair down, and everybody saw the sunshine. And anything else you can think of.
As a preliminary matter, I thank you wholeheartedly for your diligent attention to last week’s Homework Assignment from the Breadline. You answered the call with incredibly thoughtful, honest, and poignant responses to our questions about your experiences, for which I am extremely grateful. It’s good to see your faces a bit more clearly.
Well, my friends: without further ado, let’s put this thing together.
First, we wanted to hear about the experience of life in the breadline as an “older” member of the workforce, whether from readers who had been there themselves or from those who had seen a parent struggle with unemployment. Your responses reflected the particular indignities of being laid off and looking for work at a certain age, and described the sting of discovering that years of acquired wisdom and competence are, suddenly, of little consequence to the skeptical gatekeeper reviewing your résumé.
One reader, whom we’ll call “Mike,” got the phone call from human resources last July, just after his 58th birthday. “We were friendly,” he wrote, “so the ritual kiss from Al Pacino was brief and honest.” Mike was asked to sign a non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreement and given five weeks of severance in a lump sum. Of that, he said, “the USA and NY took 40%.”
So what has Mike been up to since hitting the breadline?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Notes from the Breadline: We’re All in this Thing Together (Walking the Line Between Faith and Fear) (Part II)”

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