Okay, this is not a self improvement blog – at least it’s not in the usual way – but first of all we are all suffering from The Great Depression (by which I mean more psychological than financial.)
Actually I have no idea how universal the great depression is, but I think it’s pretty wide spread. First of all, at any given time, I know at least two and often three people at risk of losing their job – I’m not talking young and flighty people, who are moving from job to job and trying to find themselves, but people my age or ten years younger, who have had a completely stable career so far, and who have families and obligations. Yes, some of them don’t lose them, but the ax remains poised.
I think I know ONE person who is secure in his job for a year or so. Everyone else is going day to day and biting his/her nails. None of the young people – my kids included – are finding jobs or moving out on their own. For people like my kids, who are in college, we, parents, had to compromise and send the kid to state school because we couldn’t afford better and this is no time to be taking on debt. (And frankly, though parental opinions may vary, ours got told “STEM or no help from us.” It’s not that we disdain the liberal arts (though these days they’re more liberal and less art) but I think the chances of getting your money back on those are slim and also I’ve found that with the exception of art or other hands-on work, languages and the hard sciences [and some of those] you can teach yourself practically everything. Of at least I can. And yeah, I know some people can learn languages on their own. I think I need – at minimum – a study partner, or I don’t stay on it regularly enough to learn.)
I’m oddly more secure at the writing thing than I’ve been in years, but just in case, because life is insane and the economic seas are choppy and tomorrow a meteor might fall on Baen headquarters (I hope not, since most of the people there are friends!) I feel a need to work indie too, which means I’m working three jobs, and one of them barely pays for now. And of course the bulk of our income comes from my husband’s work, which has been giving us the cold grue for a while.
The places where I used to walk, downtown, are now boarded up. Granted this is only partly because of the recession, and partly because of the city’s anti-broken-windows, no-vagrant-shall-be-picked-up services which, coupled with lavish services (granted a lot of them provided by churches and such) have cities as far away as Kansas putting their “homeless” on a bus to our city.
There is an odd quality to all of life, right now. My friend Kate pinned it, the other day, when she said that it’s like everyone is trying to go about their normal routine, while pretending they don’t see the ice crack under their feet.
Perhaps that’s just our peculiar view of the world, in the “skilled middle class” and most of my friends with at least one foot in writing, a profession undergoing catastrophic technological change. Maybe. But I see the same tension in the faces of total strangers, and frankly people are driving like their minds are on something else. No, that last is not up for debate. Yes, I know any number of people drive while texting or talking on the phone, or generally not paying attention. But there is a peculiar type of mistake one makes when one is really worried – like when I found out my three year old had a serious heart defect (he grew out of it. The problem with that kid was not being FINISHED when we got him. Next time we pay more) and drove out of the pediatrician office and turned THE WRONG WAY, onto six lanes of oncoming traffic. I was lucky and managed to get onto my proper lane FAST, but consider I never drove in England or another country that drives on the other side of the road. There was no excuse for it, except my brain leaving my body on automatic, and my body getting turned around on its sense of direction. I wasn’t even seeing the surroundings.
I see this type of mistake from someone else at least once per day I go out driving. That’s an incidence I wouldn’t expect.
You know how we learn about Weimar, and how it had a veneer of frantic merriment against the certainty of disaster? Well, I feel like we’re doing the same, but, because we’re Americans and not decadent Europeans, we do it with normalcy instead.
In a way, maybe that’s keeping us sane, but I don’t think so. I also think in the long run it’s not particularly productive. Our “normal” was designed around a world that in many ways no longer exists.
There is absolutely no point to sticking your fingers in your ears and going “lalalalala, I’ll work another five years and retire” when your pension may not be there, and your social security benefits almost certainly won’t. If you’re in one of the professions undergoing catastrophic change, like writing or journalism, or teaching, it’s all very well to keep a foot on the traditional way of doing things while it’s working for you, but to say “Oh, the main publishers are doing fine, they’re still submitting books for awards” as a newby told me the other day is to be foolish beyond permission (or reason.) Just because the corpse is still twitching it doesn’t mean it’s alive. (And look at what they’re doing with the self-publishing scam. “Author Solutions” indeed. And their new epub lines which grab books for the life of copyright. These people are desperate.)
To insist things must go on as they have is to be an aristocrat after the plague killed a third of your people and sent the rest fleeing from the domain insisting that your feudal domain will still support you, because that’s the way it’s always been.
The old order has passed away. And while pretending that everything is just the same will keep you from having the screaming megrims out of sheer anxiety, it will NOT make things go back the way they were. (Not even if you hold your breath until they put it back.)
We’re dealing with instability and upending at a level most of us can’t even dream of influencing. Yes, some of it is brought about by sheer incompetence at high levels. But that was brought on by either enemy action or fantasy theory teaching, or both. I mean, these people are exquisitely educated… for a parallel world that never existed. Their education could kind of pretend to connect to the world as it was, but most of them are completely blind to the changes taking place. The average person might be wishing things will be put back, but these people KNOW they’ll be put back. Because they have to be.
They’re those feudal aristocrats in every play and funny poem, who demand their due even as the world moves past them.
What this means is that you can’t count on them – any of them – to come to their senses and get us out of it. You have to. You and you and you and you. You have to look at your life and start building parallel structures and side lines. (I don’t have time to go into it, but trust me “multiple streams of income” even small ones. It’s the way to go.)
This means you have to wake up. You have to stop pretending that everything will go back to normal just-any-minute-now. It won’t. You want to stay upright, you have to learn to roll with the punches. And there will be punches. And I’m not telling you the time till you have something else in place won’t be rough. It will. You do as much as you can, as fast as you can and you move on. But this is part of the reason you have to start now.
And if you’re sitting there going “but Sarah, for now I still have this nine to midnight job – because I’m doing four people’s jobs unpaid – and I can’t afford to lose it, and what should I do?”
And we’ve entered the self-improvement portion of this blog…
First of all, I can answer your question from my own experience “with extreme difficulty.”
I acknowledge most of us still employed are overworked, most of us not employed are depressed. Even the ones with kids still in the house are having to negotiate protocols for a household of adults with young adults who are not used to being responsible for the house as you are, and who do cause work even if they don’t mean to.
I acknowledge that finding time to start an indie career/start your own news blog/starting a craft/clothes business, whatever the escape hatch that applies to you is not easy. It will cost you comfort and free time. BUT it can – in the end – save your life or at least your financial life and your sanity.
And, hey, compare yourself to your grandparents. They worked a lot harder even than you do now. You DO have some free time somewhere, might not be a lot of time, but there is some. There is something you’re doing less than efficiently, things you could do faster and with less pain. (Yes, I’m talking to myself here.)
Since I don’t know each of you, I can’t speak to each of you. However…
We get in habits. I know I do. There are things I do now – like laundry – that probably cost me more than if I sent them out to be done, in terms of lost income, etc. There’s the fact I’m cooking every day (which is about to stop) when I have a very talented cook in the house, who should take over three or four of the meals a week.
Anyway, you have to look at your day, and see which habits you can sacrifice (and I don’t mean your relaxing or fun habits. You might actually have to pick up some of those. I’ve taken up crochet again and make it a point of taking an hour off before bed to watch something (right now old episodes of Columbo) with my husband, and crochet. It’s helping.) I mean routines you’ve got into that serve nothing and take up too much of your time. No matter how busy you are, I bet you have some. And if not, then you might need to introduce time for fun and relaxation, which will (trust me) help you do your job faster.
Don’t be afraid to involve your family, either in your new venture or in streamlining household routines. It’s something that will actually help, psychologically.
And if you’re a writer and striving to improve – at least your saleability. As I argue here, sometimes it’s hard to know what “improvement” is in this field – do the same thing. Look at your routines. You have some, I bet. Look at your stuff from outside. “What mistakes are you making over and over again?”
And then look at your life from outside and carry that thinking through (this writer, for instance, needs a regular publishing day every weekend.)
We are creatures of habit, and we get caught in snags and counterproductive routines. The way to fix that is to change them and establish new and productive habits.
And the thing is, normally you have some room, but not now. Right now, you need to be moving and doing.
Management, government, administrators, the people who are paid to keep things running are at best not doing it, and at worst making things harder for everyone.
Well, then, you always believed in individual rights and individual creativity, right?
We might end up like the fallen caryatide, but that’s better than not trying at all and going through life trying to pretend everything is fine.
Put your back into it and LIFT.
UPDATE: I did a blog on religion in SF for the View From The Foothills. BTW, I want to make clear I’m not saying religion in itself is illogical, but that it accrues rituals and practices by custom and tradition and emotion so that the practice might not fit with strict theology. (Just in case someone should desire to argue this point — I’m tired and trying to write.)