This past summer I drove across the country interviewing people who had lost their jobs since 2007 — since the housing market disintegrated, since Lehman Brothers evaporated, since layoffs subsumed the work force. I asked for details about the climactic phone call, the conference room, the look of the sky out the window, the security escort, the drive home: all the particulars of the experience.

I met a mortgage broker who, one morning, learned he had been laid off when he found the door to his office building padlocked. I met an H.R. executive who had laid off a couple of hundred people before she herself was laid off. I met a husband who was laid off two weeks after his wife announced she was pregnant. I met a wife who laid off her husband.

I was collecting these stories for a forthcoming book about the experience of being unemployed. Modeled on Studs Terkel’s “Working,” the genre-defining oral history of what people do all day and how they feel about what they do, this book will be called “Not Working.” Accompanying me on the two-month trip were the filmmaker M J Sieber, who was helping to film a companion documentary, and the playwright Mallery Avidon, who was helping to find subjects, taking notes for a script and discovering a talent for writing haikus. We drove from Orange County, Calif., to New York City in a 1999 Jeep with 142,000 miles on it; we ran on the unexpected and inexplicable stamina that came with hearing mostly demoralizing stories.

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