Bookstores are loaded with guides to finding a job: how to pack your parachute, string your network, blitz corporations with re'sume's. Some are helpful; others, I suspect, are written by articulate job seekers unable to find work themselves.

What most books do not address is this: How do you keep from going crazy until that offer finally comes through?

Six months of unemployment have made me a wily, if sometimes tenuous, survivor in the war to keep my wits. Anyone who has ever been unemployed knows that solace from those around you, no matter how sincere, is never enough. Well-wishers, usually the employed, will philosophize on how the Chinese ideograph for catastrophe and opportunity are the same: small comfort when your bank account is near zero and unemployment benefits have just run out.

Joblessness as a growth experience is savored best after you have landed a job. Then you can regale friends with tales about how much your character expanded as you trudged through corporate and government corridors looking for work. But meanwhile, what do you do? What do the books not tell us?

For me, there are two basic laws from which all strategy flows: momentum and hope, in that order.

I talk to anyone who might be a possible job lead, and refuse to worry about rejection. It is the painful--but inevitable--byproduct of the search. If momentum is the first law of staying sane, then exposure is its corollary. I distribute my re'sume' everywhere, at parties, bus stops, among the standing-employed in groups larger than three.

Being out of work, it's no secret, can rob you of self-esteem and bedevils some people into alcoholic trances. Daily physical exercise can be a salvation. If you are a jogger, run farther. If you swim, do more laps. If you can move, walk. A regimen provides a sense of accomplishment that unemployment denies. There have been days when the only thing I accomplished was running miles on a cinder track.

Job hunting, day after day, is exhausting and discouraging: like playing tennis and never winning a point. To thwart some of the frustration, I have pursued interests I once had no time for: a course (inexpensive) on the evolution of man at the Smithsonian; Italian-language classes; computer technology. Mindless projects like cleaning out the attic or refinishing a beat-up cedar chest have offered temporary respite. I have written 50 pages of the greatamericanovel. It is terrible. But "unpublished novelist" sounds better than "unemployed."


Believe there is something out there with your name on it. Say this aloud to yourself five times a day. Self-deception? Never mind. Optimism may at first appear as delusion; only later do we find out whether it was genius or whistling in the dark.

Be bold. Apply for that position in Paris paying $60,000 a year "encouraging international cooperation among the brotherhood of man." So what if you can't speak French and the closest to Europe you've ever been is the Jersey shore? Applying for a job for which you seem outrageously unqualified can be a bright and hopeful moment in an otherwise dull day. And maybe you'll get an interview on the Champs E'lyse'es, all expenses paid, by a company who just wants to meet someone with your gall.

Stages of mental health among the unemployed vary daily. A change in the weather, a thoughtless word from a friend ("Gee, you still out of work?") can make the difference between a productive day and paralysis. The job-hunter's sanity can be divided into three categories: Green, Yellow, Red.

* Green--The most promising state of mind. You have three "live job leads" and someone who has owed you 50 bucks for the last six months comes through. Green can be the most productive time if you are organized to take advantage of it. Write down everything that has to be done that day--job-related or not--and check off each task as it is completed. Cleaning the bathroom, or washing yesterday's dishes counts as momentum.

Avoid the Energy Gobbling Goblin of the unemployed: television. It robs your time, saps your strength and curves your spine. The ranks of the unemployed are filled with talk-show junkies. Instead, reward yourself at the end of the day by reading a few chapters of a fast-moving novel. As an alternative, go to the movies.

* Condition Yellow--Lying in bed an extra hour reading the sports section, TV blaring away. It is Friday, and you promise yourself to hit the job trail, first thing next week.

TURN OFF THE TUBE! Go to the phone and call a friend for lunch or coffee. But get out of the house. Condition Yellow responds well to exercise.

* Condition Red--Most dangerous mental state for an unemploye. You didn't even bother to get out of bed to get the paper. It's the third time you've watched the movie Zulu Dawn on HBO, and you have to see one more British Colonial impaled on a native spear. You are in serious trouble. Walk to the TV set and unplug it. Go to the kitchen and fix yourself a cup of coffee: the international signal for the start of a new day (even if it is noon).

Human contact is crucial. Dial the weather lady. Then get dressed and go outside. Whatever the weather.

A final caveat: Don't isolate yourself from friends and relatives. The job environment is a social environment; without it, the unemployed can lose a sense of belonging.

And remember, homo sapiens wouldn't have made it this far, without some support from fellow humans. Of course, all those ancestors had to worry about was a saber-toothed tiger or two; they didn't have to contend with anything so ferocious as looking for work in today's job market.