Regaining My Power: What I’m Worth

I got a call on Friday with an offer to do a day of flagging on Saturday. It paid $12 per hour, which is pretty good for flagging. I would be one of those people in bright vests that endeavors to get people to park in straight lines at a fairground event. I really should have worn a hat, and I was told at one point that I was so polite I must be from the South. For my 6.5 hours of chasing cars, directing people, and not sitting down once I made $78. Assuming a 25% tax rate- the least individuals pay that are living off of work not investments- I get to walk away with $58.50.

With all of my job hopping lately, I can tell you that $12 per hour is considered a half-way decent amount. It’s certainly far above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 or the Maine minimum wage of $7.50. I, personally, look at $12 and see an amount that’s big enough to work with. That $58.50 that I made? That’s almost 3 bags of chicken feed (yeah, I get the pricey stuff) or two pairs of jeans bought new. It’s a week and a half of what I set aside for my food and supplement budget.

But let’s look at that $58.50 from the other direction. The President of the United States makes $400,000 per year. The government uses 2,087 hours per year to calculate hourly pay. According to this calculation, the President makes $191.66 per hour. In other words, I spent all day making the amount he makes in about 18 minutes. Unfortunately, most Presidential candidates are looking at a pretty severe pay cut to take office.

In 2015 the CEO of Coca-Cola made $14.6 million- or $6,995.69 per hour. Just typing that makes me a little nauseous. What took me a day to make, he makes in about 30 seconds.

The CEO of Time Warner did a bit better at $18,051,386 in 2015- or $8,649.44 per hour. He pays his customer service representatives as little as $9 per hour, but averaging around $13. What I made in a day- and what his customer-facing employees make- is worth 20 to 25 seconds of his time.

The CEO of Citigroup took a hit in his pay for 2015, only making $13 million while over at JP Morgan, the CEO is going strong at $20 million. The people that crashed our financial system and had to be bailed out by, well, you and I, are making $6,229.04 and $9,583.13 per hour. A good solid sneeze will see them paid what it took me 6.5 hours and a sunburn to earn.

How many people do you know that make in the $10 to $15 range? Or less? For better or worse, a whole lot of our personal self worth is tied up in how much we make. The more we make, the more we’re “worth” to society. Certainly the more we’re worth in our current democracy where there are more lobbyists in DC than politicians.

I am worth more than a CEO’s sneeze. I spent my day keeping order so that small business people and individuals could exchange goods and money. There is no way that as many cars could have parked in that field as were there if it weren’t for the team of us keeping order. I’m not saying that I need to make a CEO’s salary for something like this. However, I think there is a big problem when what I’m looking to make in a year is what the JP Morgan CEO can make in 3 hours. Or less.

Like so many others in the precariat class, all I want is a home, the chance to reduce or eliminate my debt, and the chance to maybe not work until the day I die. Why is that too much to ask for when there is a not insignificant portion of our society that needs to decide whether to buy a second yacht, a third house, or, the heck with it, both! I need to hold on to the idea that I’m worth more than a CEO’s sneeze. Because I am. Considering the behavior of a fair number of CEOs over the last 10 or 20 years, I have more to give to this world than the CEO does.

Rent Workers vs Rent Capital

I’ve been on a documentary binge again. It’s so nice to have my brain working well enough to do that! So I’ve been sitting here slicing blueberries for the dryer- it’s as tedious as it sounds and requires a very sharp knife- and watching tv. I’ve ended up with several documentaries today with subtitles, which is challenging while you’re cutting things up, and this one was no different. However, this one also inspired me to set aside the blog post I started this morning so I could go in another direction.

As a wage worker, I am, in essence, renting myself to a company for a set amount of money. The pay might be per hour or per week, but it’s not tied directly to how the company is doing or, strictly speaking, how well I’m doing my job. If I do my  job badly enough, or if the company does badly enough, I might lose my job, but it’s not a very tight correlation. The first thing I realized is that I’m renting myself out way too cheap, and I need to figure out how to fix that.

The second thing I remembered is that it’s always a bad idea to buy a second-hand rental car. Why? Because people tend to be rougher on rental cars than on their own cars. Why not? They don’t have to deal with any long-term consequences. As a rental body, my employer has every reason to feel the same way about me. Sure they doll up the situation by talking about perks and benefits, but when it really comes down to it, I am there to get as much out of as possible and if it leaves me with structural damage? Eh, easy enough to rent a fresh one.

The reason we put up with it, as they point out, is because the consequences of walking away are even worse. As the richest country in the world, why do we have a massive amount of our population- they quote 20%- living in poverty? Because that is the whip the companies wield to make us put up with pointless jobs that don’t pay what our time is worth. Take what they deign to give us or risk living on the streets. No wonder the lobbyists- I mean government- fought so hard against Obama Care. Anything that strengthens the social safety net even a little will weaken their ability to abuse us.

So what’s the solution? Instead of renting ourselves to investors (business owners/management), we rent the investors. They give us x amount of capital with, I assume, y amount of return either in fixed percent or in percent of profits- but they don’t get any votes. The people that are doing the work make the decisions. All of a sudden, shifting crates around a warehouse on a forklift isn’t a pointless job because your income and employment is tied quite directly to what’s in those crates and how quickly and safely they get to their destination. And if the warehouse is being used inefficiently, you are the person who will see it- and who will be expected to speak up about it. A couple of the side effects they’ve seen are also more efficiency and fewer managers. Imagine- fewer managers.

There are even larger impacts that turning our workplaces from dictatorial institutions to democratic ones could have. From a political perspective, if we gain some sort of control over where we spend 40 or more hours of our week, we might believe we can have control over things like our government on small and large scales. From an environmental perspective, we can ditch the idea of perpetual growth because we need to produce enough for all of the workers to live well in their community, not enough for the owner to buy a second yacht for the Bahamas. From a happiness perspective, as the company becomes more efficient, we don’t need to invent busy work to justify our incomes- we can shorten work days and lengthen vacations. We might even end up with enough time and money to start a small business of our own.

Goodness. No wonder the worker rental prices are so low. When people have the time and energy to do more than drag themselves from one work day to the next, who knows what else they might come up with! They might start demanding unrigged elections and clean water! No, best to keep things the way they are. After all, we wouldn’t want to go changing the things that work so very well for only the very rich.

That Money Thing

It’s uncouth to talk about money. Yet one of the first things we ask upon meeting someone is “What do you do?” And we aren’t talking about what a person does to make the world a better place or to make themselves happy. We want to know what their job is. And we know that someone who says “teacher” has a smaller income than someone who says “lawyer.” Even “lawyer” has it’s levels. “Public defender?” That’s almost as bad as “teacher.” “Prosecutor” is a bit more monied and has that sheen of absolute respectability. But what you really want to be is “corporate lawyer.” That’s where the money is. And where the money is is where you find the respect.

Right?

I found this calculator from MIT. They call it a “Living Wage Calculator,” but right on the first page they tell you it’s really the amount a family (they offer several sizes) needs to meet minimal standards of living. They break it down by city/county in each state, as New York is not going to have the same expenses as Bozeman is not going to have the same expenses as Hidalgo County, Texas.

So, for the sake of comparison, let’s go with a random place and income level. Say . . . mine. That puts us in Cumberland County, Maine. I am a family of, well, me. So according to this calculator, I can get by on $10.95 per hour if I work a full 40 hours for every single week of the year. The fact that the job I just left was paying me a salary of $920 every two weeks ($11.50 per for 80 hours) meant I was doing pretty well, right? Let’s see what the breakdown is:

Food: $3,497 annually

Divided by 52 weeks, this gives me a weekly food budget of $67.25. That’s about $3.20 per meal. Working off of their assumption that you will never eat out or order in and that you will be more likely to choose the less expensive options in the grocery store, I can see how one could make that work. Assuming you know how to cook. And you already own the necessary tools. And you’re not trying to fix or improve your health with nutritionally useful food. However, having been a single person living alone, I know that sometimes you just can’t handle another meal alone at your kitchen table. You need a meal surrounded by people. Or at least one where you don’t have to do the dishes. So you spend $15 on an omelette at Denny’s. That’s five meals worth of food, according to this budget.

Childcare: $0

It’s a good thing I’m not a single mother, because I’d have to make more than twice as much to support us.

Medical: $2,084

This covers insurance premiums, deductibles, drugs, and any medical devices. I just got new glasses. For the pair that I absolutely had to have for work, I was looking at $300 or so after the small portion my insurance would help with at the eye doctor’s. I ended up going to WalMart and got them there for $118. New insurance plan? Don’t get sick, injured, or need new glasses.

Housing: $8,100

That gives me $675 per month for rent and utilities. According to Craigslist, at this very moment in time, there are 17 possibilities within 20 miles of Bridgton, Maine in the “Apts/Housing” section. As an adult making a “living” wage, I should be able to afford an apartment, right? Right off the bat, two are seasonal. One requires the lease of the downstairs commercial space.One varies up to $681 per month plus electricity. That’s out. Two more vary in a similar manner, just higher. One is $675 without utilities. One is not an apartment, it’s just a room. One posted a weekly rate. That leaves me with a studio, a single-wide, or a one-bedroom for $600 plus utilities. Heat alone will cost more than $75. My options are two apartments for $500 plus utilities or one for $550, utilities included. None of them offer pictures. None of them appear to be professionally managed.

Transportation: $3,575

This gives you $297.92 per month or $68.75 per week. When I was commuting all the way to South Portland, I was budgeting $40 per week for gas- this is a number I can work with! Except that it also has to include car payments, insurance, maintenance, repairs, and snow tires.

Annual Taxes: $3,376

My thoughts on taxes require their own post. Or three.

Other: $2,146

This category includes everything else. Clothing, shampoo, phone, internet, furniture, entertainment. I have a pretty cheap phone plan at $53 per month. That is $636 annually. I just bought a pair of work pants last week that I tried very hard to find for less, but I ended up having to pay retail for because they were required. $40. I’ve been gathering cooking utensils for years, so I don’t need to buy anything, but if I did, it would be in this category. So is savings. Or it would be if there were anything left to save.

I left the job for several reasons, but one was that I had taken it under the impression that the commission piece would make up for the non-commission trial period and the minimal salary. The two commission payments I have gotten made my income $13.65 per hour and $14.15 per hour, assuming 40-hour weeks. But because I’m salary, they were starting to tell me that I needed to do the “rest of my job” by being rabidly pro-employer at after-hours business functions, and take the phone, which would give our customers 24-hour access to us, for one week out of three.

Somehow, being told that my salary-plus-commission is “pretty good”and justifies asking me to do the “rest of my job” just doesn’t make me want to be rabidly pro-employer. Not when the numbers break down to a sketchy apartment, very limited food options, the kind of vehicle that would be held together with inshallah and duct tape, and nothing left over for silly things like debt payments and savings. Assuming of course that I hadn’t already been so beaten up by similar numbers that I had been forced to move back in with my parents.

I don’t want to be rich. My debt, while significant, is not out of control. My tastes do not run to Dom Perignon and diamonds. I want to live comfortably and expect to afford retirement. If I am working 40 hours a week, I want to be able to afford hobbies to help me unwind from work. The fact that these expectations are, evidently, unreasonable is in no way the fault of myself or my generation. Yet we are handed the blame. Everything would be going much better if you handed us reasonable incomes, instead.

Regaining My Power: Choice

What is choice, really? Do we have it? Are we sure?

The other day at work I asked, perhaps a little too loudly, if it was 5:00 yet, or Friday, yet, and someone piped up that we always have a choice. I have the choice to stay, or to act like it was Friday at 5 and make a bee-line for the door. It’s been kind of a long couple of weeks, so option B may or may not have gotten considered almost seriously. But I didn’t do it. I made the choice to finish out the day, to finish out the week. I chose to be there.

Right?

On the surface, yes, I made that choice. But if you really start to think about it, “Everything is a choice” is a rather disingenuous statement. There are about a million different directions to dive with this idea, but I thought I’d try and keep it on the surface. See just how many diverse places in our “Land of the Free” where the choices offered aren’t really choices.

I haven’t been sleeping well for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that heat, humidity, and I are not friends. If I had chosen to walk out of work that afternoon to go home and take a nap- something that would have been a good choice for my mental and physical health- I think it’s pretty safe to say that my employer would have chosen to tell me not to return. I’m sure that I’m not the only American worker who can’t take the chance of an impromptu vacation because we aren’t making enough each week to have built a rainy day fund. So it really wasn’t a choice.

Speaking of choices at work- what about choosing to have an unpopular opinion? If you’re in the rank and file, that choice- even if you’re right and it needs to be said- could have disastrous consequences for your career.

Back to the Land of the Free thing- how about our current choices for President? More of the same vs a young Hitler. What an awesome choice. Love him or loathe him, at least the Democratic Socialist would have offered a genuine choice! Something different than door A or door B that lead into the same building. And as far as I can tell, yes, the young Hitler is a fairly logical place for us to be given the political climate in the last 10 or 15 years.

You have the choice to live in your own home. Your corporate neighbors have the choice to make the air and water around said home poisonous, flammable, or carcinogenic. But you do have the choice to stay there or leave. If you can afford to.

You have the choice to take care of your reproductive health. Don’t let the harassers or the chance of getting shot stand in your way!

You have the choice to grow open-pollinated, wind-pollinated, organic food crops in an area that mostly grows conventional wind-pollinated crops. Just make sure you’re never down wind of your neighbors and you’ll be fine!

You can choose to go to college and get that degree that you’ve been told you need to get a good job. What’s a good job, again?

You chose to grow a beautiful garden full of vegetables instead of non-edible flowers and shrubs? Your home might be your castle, but don’t pretend it’s your pantry!

You can choose to own a tractor (or iPad, or GM vehicle). Well, maybe.

You can choose the perfect home for your land and family. As long as it conforms to everyone else’s views.

You can choose to be seen lending your support (or doing your job) at a peaceful rally or protest- just don’t get shot!

I can’t be facetious about the choices that led to needing those rallies and protests.

I know that I’m presenting more problems than solutions here. And I’ve only scratched the surface of the problems. But this is where I am in finding my power. The more I learn, the more I find out just how little power- just how little choice- I really have. Does a “yes” mean anything when “no” isn’t really an option, given the consequences that will probably or will definitely follow that “no”? No, it doesn’t.

We need to rethink this “choice” thing and whether or not we like the ones we’ve been given. Or perhaps start to figure out how to make our own options to choose between. If we’re given A and B, maybe we should all start choosing C.

(Apologies for the age of many of the linked articles. I have no Google-fu, and I haven’t been collecting all of the most recent examples of the above “choices.” I’m sure you’ve seen as many as I have, though- maybe more as I’m not all that well informed, yet.)

Marshalling Our Resources

Our world is finite. That makes the resources within it, technically, finite. Those that don’t regenerate within a human lifetime are simply more finite than others. Even those that regenerate within amounts of time that we can truly understand run the risk of being made finite. When you harvest more salmon than they spawn, when you cut down more trees than you plant, you make a resource that should have been regenerative, finite.

What matters in the here and now, though, is not when (let alone if) a particular resource will run out. What matters is what we are doing to make sure that we aren’t squandering it for our children and their children. This is everything from how quickly we are extracting and frittering away precious ores to whether we are building or poisoning the soil in our yards.Will we need precious ores in the future? Maybe we will have figured a way around them, but let’s not use them all up, just in case. Will we need healthy topsoil in the future? Yes. So let’s not screw it up any more than we have.

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This is what you get when you have an overabundance of a resource. If it costs more to harvest an apple than it will sell for, then it doesn’t get harvested. There was a bumper crop of apples in 2015 in every part of the country, driving the price down so far that it simply wasn’t worth it for this farmer to harvest his full orchard. So they stayed on the trees until they fell of their own accord.

Now, leaving the fruit where it falls isn’t all bad. It feeds the small critters on and in the ground. It returns nutrients to the base of the tree itself. However, each harvest that doesn’t come in puts the farmer one year closer to selling out to something else. Something like a strip mall or a “house farm.” (Where I grew up, I saw a lot of farms become just bunches of suburban houses. The most disturbing ones were when they kept the farm name but replaced the crops with lawns.)

So, using an apple farm as our example, what can we do to truly marshal our resources? This farmer already has a couple of sidelines. He sells both apples and cider. I took this picture at a mush bowl, which was awesome. And potential income using his acres that are dormant in the winter. This is how you have to think when you’re a farmer. “This is what I have, now what can I do with it?”

Let’s look at the apples in particular, though. What we tend to be taught is that something is good for one thing. If you grow apples to sell, then that’s what you use them for. If you grow corn and the price falls through the floor, tough luck, right? The same with pumpkins or pork. But let’s talk about pork for a minute. Could you fatten some pigs on the harvest you can’t sell? Pick up half a dozen suckling pigs as soon as you figure out that you can’t sell enough to make ends meet. Run them in the orchard under the trees to pick up the apples as they fall. You have fenced in the orchard, right? Or, if you haven’t, what about chicken tractors worth of broilers? I’m sure you can fatten chickens right up on all the sugar that’s in apples. Just hope they don’t eat the seeds.

(Since starting this post I have learned that the current overabundance of commodity crops- particularly wheat and corn- are causing grain farmers to buy small numbers of cattle to fatten up on what it isn’t worth selling. This will have an unknown effect on the price of beef in the coming year as those cattle aren’t included in the national headcount. The things you learn at stock expos . . . )

What about that cider thing? Fresh cider you have to sell pretty quickly. Even if it’s pasturized, it doesn’t have that much of a shelf life. Hard cider became a thing, though, because when you take all of your unpasturized cider from the fall harvest and stick it in your root cellar to drink all winter, by spring, it has fermented into small cider. (Small cider or beer being alcoholic, but to a lesser degree than “regular” cider or beer.) If you’re more deliberate in the fermenting process, it probably won’t take as long and will yield something with an alcohol content that’s more in line with what we expect these days. Fermenting also has the side benefit of prolonging the shelf life. All of those apples that you couldn’t move in the fall? You’re selling in liquid form well into the next growing season, easing the cash flow.

If we really want to prolong the shelf life, then we make apple wine instead and freeze it to make applejack. I’m not sure if this counts as “distilling” since it’s cold, not hot, but you might want to check the laws before you go and sell it. However, this would have the potential of spreading an unsellable harvest over maybe two or three years.

We are trained from kindergarten on up that 1+1=2. What we need to relearn is that sometimes 1+1=pigs. Or 1+1=applejack. We need to relearn how to take what’s in front of us and instead of seeing how it won’t work for us, being a little creative and figuring out how it can work for us. We have enough resources. We just have to be smart about it.

 

If you’re thinking about this from the perspective of the justice system- check out this TED Talk. If you’re thinking about it from the perspective of gender, check out this one.

I Have Chicks!

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There is a post in the works that has thing like words and coherent thoughts, but, in the meantime, I have chicks! The leghorns were the first to come out of their corner.

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Do you believe that’s a baby Thanksgiving dinner? Also known as a poult.

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This is a Golden Comet (I think, I don’t have the paper in front of me). They were chosen because aside from being good layers, they’re also supposed to be calm and friendly. So far, they’re the first out to eat in the morning.

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This is an Aracouna- they lay blue and green eggs.

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Or this one is. I’m not sure why they’re a mis-matched set. But they’re both healthy, so we’ll see what we get when they grow up.

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The ducklings are the biggest, heaviest, and most opinionated of the lot. They’re also the messiest, since they think water is for playing in, not leaving in the waterer.

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They look like they all fit in this picture, but when they’re out and about, not so much. I’ll have to split them in half pretty soon, here so I can keep them under shelter long enough to feather out.

Regaining My Power: Piles of . . .Stuff

I suppose I shouldn’t swear in my title, so let’s just call it stuff. Lots and lots of things that at one point or another I needed, or wanted, or acquired. Most of which has been spending a whole lot more time in boxes in storage than actually being used in the past three years or so. I was living in shoebox apartments or renting single rooms, yet I had so much stuff I had two (small) storage units for several months. When I moved out to Colorado, I had 3/4 of a 4’X5’X8′ U-Haul trailer and nothing I couldn’t carry myself. I left my bed behind, and a very large bookcase because I knew I didn’t have anyone to help me carry these things from the trailer to my apartment. What I did have was as many boxes of books as I had boxes of clothing. And I included my costumes in the clothing count.

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What one finds overwhelming is relative.

When I left Colorado, the trailer was the same size and stuffed to the gills. This was after aggressively shedding stuff for months because even without knowing I was moving, I knew I was overwhelmed. The inanimate objects in my life were controlling my time (how many trips do I have to make for this move?), my space (I swear this apartment had a floor before I moved in!), and my money (why am I paying to store a table, chairs, and a sewing machine that I can’t use because they’re in storage?).

A lot of the stuff arrived and then stuck around because I was sure that any month now, I would be starting my own farm. I would have a house (or HUD home, I wasn’t picky) to furnish and gardens to start. I needed the table a friend had given me that was the perfect height for a standing work-table. It was just silly to get rid of a perfectly good hose that I hadn’t used in 18 months, but I would have to have on my farm. I’ve always wanted a treadle sewing machine and, well, so I didn’t do what I’d promised myself and wait until I was settled to find one. It found me. But I was going to have space for it soon!

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I need every single thing here! Whatever they are. Except for the sled. The sled isn’t mine.

Well I don’t have a farm. And if I’m honest with myself, I have absolutely no idea when, and at this point if, I will have one. I know I will be moving at least one more time (out of my parent’s house) and probably more than once. I need to address what is, not what I wish would be.

With so much of my stuff stuck in boxes for so many months, it turned out I could live with a lot less stuff than I thought. I don’t need a bed. I quite liked sleeping on a 4″ thick futon pad right on the floor. I don’t need three crock pots, even if they are different sizes. In fact, I can cut down on the number of pots and pans I have altogether, since I’m not that much of a cook. Really, most of that stuff in the box labelled “random crap” is just crap. I don’t need to keep it. As for tables and chairs? All they do is take up space. I don’t entertain, and I don’t care if I’m sitting on the floor, so who does it bother?

Just before I moved I started hearing about the KonMarie tidying book and method. At first it sounded sketchy, but I kept reading because I had to do something and it was very popular. When I got to Maine, the book was making the rounds of the family, so I got to read it. I had already been coming to the conclusion that the things, the objects I was holding on to were holding me back from the changes I needed to make to become who I need to be. The book simply confirmed that yes, the items you have can affect who you are. So only keep the items that ring true now.

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And here we go . . .

What better time to start organizing and shedding stuff than when you’re unpacking from a move? My clothes and books had ended up mixed together quite a bit, so I started with them. It was really freeing to let go of the clothes that no longer fit, and hadn’t for years. Will I ever be a size 16 again? I sure hope so, and I hope it’ll be on my way to a 14 or a 12. Will it be soon enough to make lugging all of these clothes around make sense? No. I’ve learned how to work with a small wardrobe. I don’t have to break the bank to clothe myself at a new size. I think I was holding on to half of them more because I used to look good and I didn’t want to forget that. Finding a cute blazer when you’re a size 20 is a whole lot harder than when you’re a 16.  But by the time I’m a 16 again, I might not need a blazer. Who knows?

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It wasn’t until I had all of my clothes together that I realized I had so many layers. I think I need to do this on a regular basis to reacquaint myself with whatever I have!

Of course, the KonMarie method has a little extra-special challenge for those of us that look at the pile of things to be sorted and realize that it would be a lot more efficient to toss ourselves in the bin bag for lack of joy-bringing and be done with it.

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These piles are each close to knee-high. 

In the end, I’ve sent four or five boxes of clothes and books to the thrift stores and tossed more in the bin (loving the British English of the translator). I haven’t done much sorting lately, but the start I made gives me a reason to believe that once I do find the time, I will be able to chip away further at my piles of . . . stuff.

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This pile is smaller than the other one. Honest!