Thursday, March 10, 2011

Unemployment Diary: Enough

"I'm hungry."

"What would you like to eat?"

She pauses. I wait. And wait. I'm impatient. I have things to do. "Phia? What would you like to eat?"

She looks at me, her dark eyes in a squint. "I can't decide. There's too much to choose from."

Ah.

The issue of scarcity comes up in a way I didn't expect. But then this is why people who win big in the lottery lose their minds and end up destitute and depressed three years after they bought the yacht, the life size statue of Elvis, the portable zoo, and the vintage jukebox collection for their custom built pool house.

Scarcity affects your brain. Going from having not enough to having more than enough is a weird transition.

We went from being a family with enough to a family with not quite enough. When I was employed, we were already juggling madly. Because I've made idiotic decisions in my personal life and financial life and began my career in the Pink Collar Ghetto and never learned the art of negotiation thus giving away a lot of my talent without ever labeling it a valuable commodity, we were in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy (that's the one where you pay back your debt to those long suffering banks like Citibank, Chase and Barclays) and in the settlement, we gave up our house and a car.

We tested the notion that once you get behind the eight ball, it's really hard to get out. Guess what! It's true! You've heard that if you're in a hole, the first step to getting out is to stop digging line? Well, once you stop digging, you still have to claw your way out, running at the steep sides, clutching at nothing but a belief that things will get better if you follow the rules whatever the hell they are. And don't forget to dodge the dirt clods being lobbed at you by someone up there. And I don't mean god.

Even so, we had enough. Not shopping and vacations and savings account enough, but enough.

So we went from that to not quite having enough. We reached the end of each month feeling stressed and hungering for things we couldn't have. I worried about having the utilities would be cut off. We still can't agree which is worse- having the gas, water or electricity cut off. We experienced each at least once. The cats found it exceedingly difficult when the TV was cut off, for example. Not being able to watch Animal Hoarders was tantamount to torture. But they, too, survived.

When food was more scarce than we were accustomed to, we each reacted in our own way. MathMan and I hid any treats in our room because the kids became territorial as we got squeezed.

"I spat on that so don't eat it."
"That's my last bit of ice cream. You had two bowls of it already."
"Can I have a piece of your gum?"
"No."
"Why not?"
"I have to make it last."

It wasn't all bad. We've grown from the experience and I hope we never forget making choices such as whether to eat what's left of the salad now or save it for lunch tomorrow? Salad. Right. That wasn't me.

Realizing that we couldn't continue that way, especially if I hadn't found paid work before the unemployment checks stopped coming, we took a hard look at our variable expenses and decided that we would have to cut spending on groceries because that was one thing we could control. I took the couponing class and started researching buying groceries on a cycle and stockpiling.

I had no idea what a radical change that would mean for us regarding the issue of scarcity. Through inertia and ignorance, we'd been living a split deprivation. The first two weeks of the month, we lived our old life - a fully stocked pantry and refrigerator, money on the bank card for gasoline. The last two weeks, it felt like a rerun of the Great Depression with cellphones and iPods and a message at the gas tank that read "Please see attendant." Gulp.

So now we have enough food and with the money we're saving on groceries, cleaning supplies and electricity (using the dryer less), we're able to pay our bills on time. With our tax refund, we paid off our outstanding medical bills except for the orthodontist, but at the end of this month, we'll bring that bill up to date. We set aside some savings for emergencies because we drive two cars, each with 200,000 miles already under their fan belts and we're considering moving closer to MathMan's job, but there's no getting around the fact that moving is expensive and would cause yet another financial setback. Rising gas prices may create a no win situation and force the issue. Damn it. I like gazing at that balance in the savings account.

Now what was my point? Oh, yes. Having enough. And how living with scarcity changes you. It's true. Sometime in early January, I had my Scarlet O'Hara moment. I stomped around the backyard, hiked up my dress, shook my fist at the sunset and announced that we would never go hungry again.

The neighbors are still talking about it.

The kids will adjust. MathMan and I will adjust. We always do.

Here's the nice part. Having enough moves us from the receivers' column back to the givers' column where I, at least, feel more comfortable. Some of the food that I'm getting for free is going to a local food bank and the free toiletries are going to a woman's shelter. There's even a way to recycle expired coupons. You can send them to military bases where they can be used by our service members and their families.

This is what it looks like when people have a chance for a fresh start. Our family is going to recover from this financial mess. While the reality that I'll never replace my former income is a frustrating example of how things have changed for workers in this nation, I can at least use my experiences as a long-term job seeker as blog fodder, book fodder and a reason to drink. Plus, it's aces for putting a quick end to fundraising phone calls.

"Hi, Mrs. Golden, how are you today? This is Shelley with the Save the Speckled Easter Egg Fund and I'm not calling to ask for money, but can I tell you a little about what we do?"

"Sure. I've been unemployed for over a year and still can't find a job so I'm lonely and bored. Broke, too, so there's no disposable income for me to donate, but please do, tell me what your organization is doing."

Click.

I guess she'd heard enough. Dang it. I had to go back to talking to the cats.

*********

Speaking of fundraisers (and I do support some), my friend Latka is fundraising for the Multiple Sclerosis Walk. Latka's father suffered from the disease and now his daughter Meredith, age 30, has been diagnosed with it. Please join me by making a donation. If we each give, it adds up. And some day, it will be enough.

Thank you.

33 comments:

  1. Did I write this post in my sleep? As I was scrubbing someone else's vomit off the toilet at my OTHER job, I thought "THIS is why I went to college???"

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  2. I hear you sister. My wife had to train her replacement who lives in India. (I cannot watch the TV show "Outsourced".)

    I am retired on a fixed, and shrinking, income.

    I'm encouraged by the rallies in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Time for the American people to wake up and fight for OUR democracy.

    I'm convinced that is the only way for the jobs to come back.

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  3. Wow, Lisa. This is a pretty amazing post. I really enjoyed it, top to bottom, and I'm so glad you're back on the "enough" side despite all the hardships.

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  4. This is a helluva diary, Lisa. Kudos to you all around. I'm planning a post on my lousy financial skills, too, but I think yours kicks mine's ass.

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  5. I loved the part about being at the bottom of the hole and having clods of dirt lobbed at you. Damn, but that's true.

    I'm very glad to hear things are a little better and I'll be gladder still when they improve some more.

    I just remembered the topless sunbathing post :-)

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  6. That is such a great post, well done Lisa.

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  7. it's always good to pay it forward

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  8. I found an entire, toasted, uneaten bagel in the garbage can yesterday and raced through the house like Suzie Orman, demanding to know who'd put it there.

    My beloved oldest was the culprit. He'd gotten it ever so slightly over-toasted and decided he'd throw it away and make another. It took everything I had not to make a bagel baseball out of it and aim for his head.

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  9. Okay. You are amazing.
    Next, you need to put this together, starting from enough, to scarcity, to enough, the coupon clipping, the stock piling, all of it. Say it with me, synopsis.
    Right now, people are out of work, they are out of options, they are desperate, and you have hope. You show what you have done and it could help someone else.
    Platform? How about the fact that I am tired of financial people who have never gone hungry, stating how to be in the black. How about a platform of one woman, losing it all, and finding her way back in a country that has been led to believe she doesn't deserve it? Write if for all of the people overqualified and undervalued, and marginalized who just want to do the right thing and pay back what they owe?
    Title? Being My Own Damn Stimulus Package.
    Do this.
    -Lyra

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  10. Good to read that you're finding your way up the walls of the hole. I've been there and - thankfully - am most of the way back now (another three years until the last of the debt is cleared), as long as nothing goes wrong. In my case it was divorce and maintenance support, coupled with a personal spectacular crash-and-burn at the end of the 90s.

    And, like you, I've learned. I hope I retain that now that "easing" is finally happening. Over years I did learn how much of the crap I really didn't need, but now that I only have to turn every penny over twice instead of ten times, I have noticed a slight tendency to modest profligacy once more in the past few months. It's a dangerous side effect of watching your account staying steadily in the black over a longer period of time. You'll be there soon too ... :-)

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  11. Amazing. In so many ways. You've got your finger on the pulse of what so many are experiencing. I wish this post could be shouted from rooftops.

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  12. Lisa, I knew you are a wonderful person (family), but I know it more now. I'm still plodding my way out of that dirt hole, so you can't know how glad I am to be reading about "enough." You can't know how much I understand just what it is you're feeling like right now.

    xo

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  13. I am glad there is enough of some things, but I know it's been a hard journey, one you'd rather not have taken, I get that, completely.
    I love your response to the phone call...I might try it.
    You write so well Lisa, it makes me want to read on and on.
    You can always call me if you're lonely.....

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  14. Glad to hear things are loosening up a bit, you've earned it.

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  15. Yes! The I've been unemployed for over a year line does tend to reduce the time spent with solicitors and it sure shut up the grocery store checker who was complaining about not getting her break on time.

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  16. I'm not there now, but I've been there, and you're right, scarcity changes you. Forever.

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  17. Lisa, I wish you could put all this in a book -- or in a regularly running article somewhere -- because you're doing a better job of explaining what this really looks/feels like than any damned journalist.

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  18. Ever in awe of you--what a class act.

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  19. Woman, you never cease to amaze me.

    Well, maybe not never; I mean, sometimes I think about something else.

    But anyway, you're elected President-For-Life of the Survivors' Club.

    Me, I'm takin' notes.

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  20. Even when your family is lacking some things, it's apparent you will never lack good humor. Keep that, Lisa, and at least you'll keep your sanity.

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  21. So now that you have some loot, I'm selling my portable zoo, comes complete with cage and two lunatic children. The rubes love traveling sideshows. Interested?

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  22. *giggles* Yes. This is a PERFECT blog for that book. I generally say, "My husband got laid off over two years ago. Is there any way we can be added to the recipients of..." They hang up, too. Man, i wish I could get hubby to coupon. I think I might make enough for us to live if he would. he only had another month of prerequisites, though, and then can get a job, so hopefully we will almost get back to even.

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  23. You rock. Seriously. :)

    As one who has food pantries and homeless shelters near to her heart, it thrills me that you are "paying it forward" to help others.

    More people should follow your lead.

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  24. And yes, you should be paid to write this. There's gotta be a way.

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  25. Wonderful post! Thanks and so proud of you.

    Send this to Woman's Day. I mean it. It's time for you to be a paid writer. Another good "hobby" is collecting rejection letters until you are published!

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  26. By the way, those of you who think Lisa should be paid for writing this? There's a button on the upper right corner of her blog that is FOR THAT. You're here reading, now pay up.

    Don't say you don't have it if you have a job. Five bucks makes a HUGE difference to us bloggers. I'm serious. She's taking a month off and making a huge risk of sending her work out to the mostly rejecting world. And you know how good a writer she is? She's good enough to put five bucks in her paypal account, that's how good she is.

    /rant off

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  27. Saw your blog mentioned on one of the RSS feeds I receive and decided to add a "Humanity Destroyed" category to my Keep America At Work site.

    http://keepamericaatwork.com/?page_id=51582

    I would be interested in adding any other blogs that should be added to that category.

    Thanks,

    Virgil
    http://www.KeepAmericaAtWork.com

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  28. Here's to getting out and staying out! I used to think about my family's slide down from middle class existence. When my husband declared bankruptcy and we let the house go it stopped our plunge. I wondered if it was just a pause before the descent began again. But so far so good.

    Just read your temporary sign off. I wish you productivity coming out of your ears.

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  29. @Fran / Blue Gal,
    Thanks for the and .

    @Lisa,
    Got here this morn via:
    http://crooksandliars.com/batocchio/mikes-blog-round-36

    So, that's very cool!

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  30. It's very considerate of you to announce your 30 day hiatus. I wish you much love and luck and productivity in the meat world. You can do it! Plus, phone calls are allowed. xoxoxoxo

    (PS- Speaking of Woman's Day, I think FluffPo could be a cash cow if it were properly milked. Someone sought out 25 ways to coddle your man just today and stuck around for an hour.)

    Love you.

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