He who has the why to live can bear almost any how.
I think one of the most damaging things about any failing economy is what it can do to your self esteem and your sense of worth as a person, and as a citizen of whatever country you happen to be from.
I, of course, can only speak for myself, right now, but I have lived in and out of poverty enough to know that the feelings of self worth are pretty low in impoverished low-income areas.*
I have been going through mixed feelings, like I deserve to be where I am right now, you know, I asked for it and so on, and I guess I did, but I can honestly say when I made the decisions I had made that put me where I am right at this moment, I had no idea the market was going to crash or that we were headed into a global downfall. I had no idea that I would be worrying about having a roof over my head, I thought I was going to be out of work for 3 months.
Don’t quit your day job:
Don’t quit you day job is number 5 on Nathan Bransford’s 10 commandments for the happy writer. I remember rolling my eyes on reading that, and thinking, too late. I can’t really accuse myself of being a dumb ass, (I can but why?) I mean I knew that I wasn’t going to suddenly be a famous writer. I also knew my likely hood of being an unknown unpublished writer far outweighed the odds of being the opposite.
Back in May of 2008, when I decided to quit my job as an administrative assistant, I knew I was taking a risk, but I thought for once in my life I was taking a risk the smart way. I say for once in my life, because I feel like I’ve never made “the right decisions”, oh sure I went to college, but I studied to be an actress, and sure I went back to college, but I studied English and creative writing—sorry to seem like I’m insulting any students of lit and theatre out there, but the disciplines have only put me in debt. It’s a mixed bag of thought, I love those disciplines. I don’t think I’m very good at anything else, but being an artist is not exactly a marketable skill, for me anyway. I don’t regret those choices, I just know my life would be easier if I had picked something else, like in the medical industry or something.
The “smart about it for once,” was that I saved up. I saved up enough money to be able to not work for 3 months. I’ve never done that before in my life. My quit date was in September. September 15, to be exact. If anyone has a head for dates, they will know that on the morning of September 15th the stock market crashed. I was listening to NPR that morning and I thought, “Shit”. But I had 3 months saved up and I was certain I would find something, after all I had office skills and I was smart. I didn’t put my nose to the grindstone the first 3 months, instead I set out to do exactly what I intended which was to write my novel and after 3 months I was starting on the second draft. The fourth month I started looking for work. Meanwhile, my cat of 16 years, started getting sick and each vet visit was costing a fortune, a fortune of money I didn’t have. She died on January 15th, and I had to borrow money to put her down. I’m still heartbroken about the loss but if she was alive right now I would be panicking about how to feed her. It was of course an unforeseen economic cost I hadn’t expected, but we don’t sit around thinking our pets, or family members or even our selves might get cancer. Well I guess some people do, and I suppose they are the smarter ones. As the months passed without work, I got lucky here and there; a generous hand out from a friend, my taxes came in just in time for rent and a few odd jobs here and there to get me through, but the well’s run dry.
Right, now as so many people know, getting a job feels impossible. The things I used to be able to do seem like dream jobs that are far out of my reach. Waiting tables, forget about it, retail and administration are far out of my reach as the requirements grow more and more specific and difficult; 10 plus years serving, 10 plus years in admin with a degree in business or health, must have a certificate in secretarial or reception skills, must be certified in education, must be proficient in Excell, and the list goes on and it grows. Even though I am not proficient in Excell, I used to apply, but now I don’t. I know that jobs are getting hundreds of applications a day and when they say proficient in Excell, they mean proficient in Excell. I feel like having a pity party and burning my two BA degrees and my certificate in facilitating writing workshops because right now they are all pretty worthless, and my three years in admin is pretty worthless too as is my on again off again experience in the retail and serving industries. Hence, low feelings of self worth in a tough economy. I feel like I hear the Ex- President Bush* chanting, only the strong survive- if you are not strong you are not American.
Standing outside of the food stamps office, I was reminded of being a little girl and sitting in the welfare department waiting to get our monthly assistance. I never wanted to be where I am right now. Self fulfilling prophecy? Maybe, I don’t know. Even though I was raised on welfare, I still felt the sting of the stereotypes and the stigmas. It was hard to be there, but when your down your down. Still it is hard to wipe off the feelings of failure and remorse and worthlessness. My mother was certainly broken down “by the system,” she never regained any ounce of worth as a person, and has often reminded me that some of us are meant to be poor, for some of us this is “our lot”. In my heart I know this is not true, no one is born with a “lot in life” we all have the potential to be anything we want, but potential to fruition is and can be fraught with many, many obstacles. And standing where I am, right now today it is so hard to see the silver lining. Still, I’m luckier than others. I still have my computer so I can still write, which is all I ever wanted to do anyway, and I should qualify for food stamps so thankfully I can eat. This is more than a lot of people out there and for these little things I am grateful.
I have no idea when there will be an economic turn around. I want to stay abreast of the news, but right now I feel like the world is screaming and to keep my sanity I have to turn the news off for a bit. I’ll know that things are getting better when admin requirements start lowering their standards. This is an employers market, a friend of mine who is a business owner, said to me. She said, “it may seem like I’m an asshole but I’m not settling for anyone who doesn’t bust their ass”. I don’t think she’s a jerk at all for saying that, I think she’s a business owner. In fact, in this world of finger pointing there really is no point in pointing. No reason to be angry really, I only speak for myself of course, I just find that my anger, my depression, my blaming, even my self-loathing, is not worth the energy because positive or negative nothing is getting me a job.
Today, I’m lucky that I even get to write this blog, and I get to have a bit of humor about my situation and make jokes to my friends about saving my oil drum for the perfect spot under the bridge. I do look at people on the street and I think about how close I am to being where they are and it does scare me, not because I can’t survive, but because I don’t want to be there. I don’t want a thicker skin and I don’t want any more life lessons. There is this woman who stands in front of a co-op near where I live. Every time I walk by she has some story about why I should give her money. I’m not really sure what her name is, but I call her Judy because she told me that was her name. The first time I ever met her about five or six years ago she said, “you got two dollars, cause I don’t wanna have to rob someone.” I said, “I don’t want you to rob anyone either.” So I gave her two dollars. That was the only time I ever gave her money, generally I’ll give her food, but now I can’t even spare that. The other day she chased after me to ask for money saying that she had to have her shoes cut off because her feet were so swollen from gout and that she just needed four dollars for her dialysis. I said, “oh its a tough time Judy- nobody has any money”. She looked at me and said, “you aint got any money do you?” I said, “no I’ve been out of work for 8 months with no unemployment.” She gave a huff, not in sympathy, but because I had nothing for her. I said, “pretty soon I may be standing right beside you.” She said, “I hope not,” as she walked away. I joked about it with my friend because although her “I hope not” could be deemed as her having empathy, we both think it meant I hope not because this is my corner.
I suppose my silver lining could be that I’m still writing. I finished the fourth draft of the first chapter in my novel. I would be lying if I said, when I first started the novel 8 months ago that I didn’t have dreams of getting it published and had in a way seen it as a money ticket, but I’ve lost all those dreams of grandeur, which I think is a good thing. I keep up with one agents blog and that’s Nathan Bransford and I follow all his links to other agents, writers and publishing blogs and although everyone in the literature industry that I read, tries to maintain some amount of positive outlook, its just not a wide open place for new unknown writers. It never has been, but when nobody has any money, they don’t want to take risks. This is just business. It is what it is. I was going through a mental period when I thought, what’s the point? No one is going to read my book, no one will publish it why even write it? What I’ve come down to is this, I have nothing else. I’m not offering it to the world, I’m just offering it to some friends, but other than that the reason behind writing it has become, survival of being. Viktor Frankl, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote that according to logotherapy (his type of psychology) we can find meaning in life in three different ways:
1) by creating a work or doing a deed; 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and 3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
Well, this is my creative work. It’s not a blood sweat and tears story and it certainly wont change any one’s life who reads it, but its keeping me alive in the sense that it gives my being, my person, some sense of meaning, some purpose for existence. No its not a great purpose, but its my purpose and my life is all I have and in the end of my life what I will have offered is a simple story that may or may not mean something to someone but its my offer. As a writer, and only speaking for myself, I feel like this is the best motivation I have ever had to write.
I have hope for the future, not just mine, but I do hope that other people who are where I am, near where I am or worse off than I am can somehow manage to keep their heads lifted because the most damaging thing out of all of this isn’t the loss of money or having to downsize your living arrangements, but the loss of esteem and worth. If you loose those things your world becomes so dark it is hard to want to try, it can be hard to want to live, and no amount of money can bring that back.
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the inner most core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.
* A couple amendments to this post. 1) I changed impoverished to low-income because I felt like impoverished was a poor word choice. The word implies that I have been impoverished and that just isn’t the truth. I have experienced and experience low-income and poverty, but there are people who have and do suffer far greater than I ever have, and this post is by no means meant to belittle or compare my circumstances to those who are suffering. 2) My comment in regard to Bush is not a finger blame but more a perspective on some of his rhetoric. I have often felt his language blamed poverty on laziness and laziness as un-American, but it is only a personal perspective at best, and by no means a judgement.
We live in a sensitive and critical age, and although I don’t get a lot of traffic, I want it to be as clear as possible that this post is merely a perspective on my own personal reactions to what is happening to me during this economic downturn. Yet, word choice can be important, and I want to stave off any possible misinterpretations from readers, after all this is a public and open blog post.