Featured Nonfiction/Hybrid Writer: Brittany Jones
Full Disclosure: I remember reading this piece after finishing up my tenth job application of the day. As you can imagine, this work really resonated with my Agonies(TM) and probably yours as well. Join us as we discuss the fantasy of the lay-off, the alienation of Big Tech, and the joy of reuniting with a beloved cat. If you haven't read the piece in question, check it out here!
Ashely Adams: I think anyone who’s ever had to navigate a job search in the past few years will find familiarity with this piece. Could you tell a little bit about what inspired the creation of this piece?
Brittany Jones: It’s probably not surprising that this piece was inspired by my (second) layoff, which took place during the middle of the COVID-19 quarantine. Around the same time, I was taking part in a Creative Nonfiction workshop, and wanted to use the workshop to write about my experience (which I knew so many others could relate to). During the workshop, we talked about the hermit crab essay, and I quickly realized how perfectly that structure would work for my topic.
AA: One of the things that really drew me to this piece is the creativity and playfulness with what, let’s be honest, is one of the blandest and most soul crushing forms of writing. I’d love to hear a bit more about your process for reworking this genre into something unexpected.
BJ: As I was writing—again and again—a more serious kind of cover letter while job searching, I began to grow desperate for another kind of writing: something playful, something that I could find joy in writing, something that had a degree of truth that my other cover letters seemed to lack. In the “typical” cover letters I wrote, nothing, of course, was a lie; but also, none of them spoke meaningful to what I wanted or could do or was. The balance, in cover letters, between transparency and privacy always leans strongly towards privacy; employers don’t really want to know. At the same time, I was growing increasingly frustrated with the formulaic nature of the cover letter, which seemed to further limit—simply in its structure—any sense of self we might otherwise convey to potential employers. So to write this essay, I took some of my cover letters and I began to edit them: I forced myself to stay within the cover letter structure, but I weighted the scale as far towards the “transparency” end of the spectrum as I could, playing into an exaggerated openness that spoke to some of my deeply rooted beliefs/fears.
AA: Another thing I wanted to touch on was the little interludes about layoffs. I loved the element of the “fantastical” present in the section. What made you approach those scenes with that sort of language?
BJ: The fantastical elements actually come from some of my initial musings related to job searching and layoffs; when I first began trying to write about my layoff, these sorts of snippets came most immediately and naturally. The whole experience felt surreal, particularly as I was not even working in an office at the time; it had been months since I had seen any of my co-workers, and it didn’t seem to make sense that I could now be leaving a place or people that I hadn’t even “seen” (in person) for so long. The fantastical elements tried to capture that sense of unreality that occurs during any lay off, but also particularly lay offs for remote workers.
AA: You mentioned in your cover letter how this piece was, in part, a response to big tech and how it's reshaped our approach to work. As a bit of a tech skeptic/pessimist, I am often skeptical about the claims that technology will revolutionize our world. Do you have any thoughts on how we as writers will need to navigate the continual rise and push of the newest tech gimmick or tool?
BJ: Most recently, when people have talked about layoffs, it’s been in the context of big tech companies—one of the most recent sectors to undergo mass layoffs. Industries, companies, positions: they can sometimes seem immutable, until experiences such as layoffs prove (somewhat dramatically) otherwise. I think leaning into our world’s mutability—recognizing the speed with which “new” becomes “old”, remembering what we’ve lost as we celebrate what we’ve won, understanding the ways through which old things make way for new things neither for better or for worse but simply because this is our world—can help us better meet what comes and adapt to change in a way we feel comfortable with.
AA: Finally, what is your favorite bone?
BJ: After a long time away, I’ve recently been reunited with my cat, and I have been reminded of how lovely her vertebrae is; she loves to arch her back and bump against my legs, and I’m regularly impressed by the flexibility these bones allow her.