Archive for the ‘Finding My Power’ Category

Finding My Power: To Farm or Not To Farm

This seems to be the perpetual question. On the one hand, if we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food. This should be pretty straight forward, right? On the other hand, it is difficult, verging on impossible to be a farmer and be able to afford to feed yourself. That should be a ridiculous statement, but it’s not.

In my blog about what it would take to gross $10,000, I only addressed the numbers generated from my interest in farming. This needs to be looked at from another angle, though. What are the numbers my current employment is generating and what are other possible income amounts broken down into the hours, weeks, and months they take to get to $10,000.

I am currently working at a temp job that I rather enjoy making $12 per hour. In Maine, I’m doing ok as a moderately skilled temp. To gross $10,000 I need to work 833.33 (call it 833) hours which is 20.825 (call it 21) weeks or 5 months. That’s a long time. It’s also not taking into account commuting time, gas, clothing requirements, or the fallout from not feeling like I’m contributing in any meaningful way to the world. Gas and commuting time are fairly easy to attach numbers to. I am commuting pretty much exactly an hour each way five days a week plus five 30-minute lunches, making my 40-hour week actually a 52.5-hour week. 40 hours times $12 per hour divided by 52.5 hours means that counting the commute and lunch, I’m being paid $9.14 for each hour the job is consuming. Gas is costing me about $38 per week and the vast bulk of it is for my commute. That means that 21 weeks of commuting costs me $798. At $9.14 per hour before taxes, that means about 87 hours are spent just paying for gas. That’s over 1.5 of my 52.5 hour weeks every 5 months are just paying for gas.

Let’s say I find a job with the same commuting and lunch time and cost, but I’m making $15 per hour for 40 hours. That’s 666.66 (call it 667) hours which is 16.675 (call it 17) weeks or 4 months. My actual time being used is still 52.5 hours per week, which means I’m actually being paid $11.43 per hour before taxes. 17 weeks of commuting at $38 per week is $646 or 56.5 hours. That’s just over a week every 4 months is to pay for gas.

Temping, like an increasing number of permanent jobs, does not offer insurance or any guarantee of hours. Unlike a permanent job, my temporary employer can send me home at lunch time and tell me not to come back for absolutely no reason other than they don’t need me. Poof- no more income. The staffing agency has it in their best interest to get me back to work as quickly as possible, but that might be days or weeks of unemployment. Have you ever tried to save an emergency fund on $12 per hour?

Farming also offers no insurance, no guarantees, and if you’re not careful, the potential to end up with no income and a pile of debt if it all falls apart. On the other hand, I will be using and learning skills that are actually useful in the real world. The world in which being able to feed yourself means knowing whether those berries are yummy or deadly. I have the potential to make my corner of the world healthier, cleaner, and better habitat for both my cultivated plants and animals and the local plants and animals that are using the same space. I can help to perpetuate skills, genes, and equipment that we will need when we realize that Agribusiness might not be working as well as advertised. Farming, particularly small-scale farming, demands a certain level of fitness that will keep me healthy long past the time when an office-bound body would fall apart. It has its own challenges for health, but at least you can often see them coming. I can build the business to embrace my strengths and interests and my income is limited only by my imagination and ability to manifest what I see.

Now comes the hard part. I have been told, am being told, will continue to be told that the responsible thing is to get a “real” job. I need to work on a skill set that employers are looking for. I need to invest time, energy, and possibly money in pursuing what society tells me is an acceptable, respectable, logical use of my time and energy resulting in a “fair” income. I will be paid what I am “worth.”

I was talking about this with a friend and he asked if I’d considered what I would regret not doing in 10 years. 10 years ago I was just settling into a job with a company that I had spent the previous couple of years building a resume to get into. It was a good, solid company. I knew people that loved working there. I was making more money than I had ever made before. I was studying hard to get the licensing to move up in the ranks exactly the way I was supposed to. I may have even had my first exam under my belt at that point. I was doing everything right.

I’m not saying I didn’t learn things from working there, but in the end, you learn things from walking face first into a wall, too. Just because everyone’s doing it and everyone’s saying you need to do it, doesn’t mean it’ll work. Not everyone can get through to Platform 9 ¾, and it turned out I’m one of the ones that can’t.

I can’t quit my job and start farming tomorrow. I do have access to land that I don’t have to pay for, which is more than most people in my situation can say. What I don’t have are a significant number of skills or the money for the infrastructure. 31 hives worth of materials (excluding bees) will cost me about $5,663- that’s 472 hours (12 weeks or 3 months) worth of work at $12 per hour before taxes and expenses. However, I can take the time I would spend looking for a “real” job, and the small amount of disposable income I do have and spend it on a small number of hives so that I can build the necessary skills. If things go well, the hives themselves may gradually generate the income needed to expand my operations. If things go badly, I won’t have spent more than I had and it could be chalked up to an educational expense.

I guess it wasn’t as much of a question as I thought.

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Finding My Power: Which World?

I was listening to two audio books that randomly ended up perfectly paired. They both dealt with the idea that to live the best, brightest, most awesome life we can, we need other people’s support to make it happen. How each of the authors went about getting that support is all the more important as we gear up for the 45th President of the United States.

The first presents a world in which one goes for the deal. Find out what the market is looking for and give it to them. Test market and don’t start production until you’re sure there’s an audience. Buy your components and advertising cheap and sell your final product for as much as the market will bear. What you can’t get off your plate by streamlining in the process, outsource to the lowest bidder. Then, the payoff. Everybody wants to travel the world, and the global south will let you get a whole lot of bang for the bucks you have coming in.

I think it has some useful ideas. There are ways to work the system to your advantage. I’m particularly fine with doing that to large companies. They can handle it. Our culture runs on money, and making it is a reasonable goal.

The second takes a much more relational look at things. You have your strengths and gifts, they have their strengths and gifts and between you, both sides can come out ahead. If you’re travelling the world, couch surf and in return offer something of yourself. Maybe it’s return surfing, maybe it’s art, maybe it’s an experience, but it’s something that’s yours to give. Make money with your gifts because we all have bills to pay, and always pay your debts. But the payoff is wrapped up in the relationships that you’re building as you share what you have and others share what they have, allowing you all to build richer lives.

This one’s hard. It requires a balance between knowing and believing in yourself and your gifts with the ability to be open to asking for and accepting help. You need to be able to connect with people in a trust that we don’t see very often at this point.

The world as it stands right now supports the first book. If you buy low, sell high, and get a deal, particularly if it makes you rich, then you win. The second is a lot harder, particularly if your interpersonal skills are less than awesome. For the first one, you will be rewarded superficially, but I’m not sure whether it offers true long-term richness. The second one offers the real deal, if you can buck the current culture long enough to develop the relationships.

Right now, it’s all about tweets and “making deals.” Its about making sure that everyone pays up and no one gets a free ride. If you can’t bootstrap yourself into a better position, then its your fault, not the fault of a culture that doesn’t care about you unless you’re rich.

The thing about bootstraps, though? You can’t lift yourself by your own. But you can lift your friends, and they can lift you in return.

 

Tim Ferriss vs Amanda Palmer

Regaining My Power: Day 365

Today is Day 365 on my 1,000 day challenge. It’s a really cool idea that you can change your life in 1,000 days (or less) but if you find out that you’ve changed it all in the wrong way? Well, write that one off and try again- it wasn’t that long, after all! It ends up being less than three years, all told.

My first 1,000 days was started on July 14, 2016. It was 1,000 Days to a Viable Farm. It didn’t work. There was no way I could believe in a viable farm when I was renting a room from someone who didn’t want me to dig holes in her yard and I didn’t have the income to support living anywhere else.

By October 15, 2016 (no, the math doesn’t work, but I’m rolling with it!) I was ready to do a reboot and actually log each day. I had managed to buy and move into an RV, and I had come to terms with the fact that life wasn’t working in Colorado and I needed to do something different. I also realized that a viable farm couldn’t be my first goal. The current challenge is actually a dual challenge: 500 Days to a Life Worth Living and 1,000 Days to a Functional Farm. After all, a farm can’t function if its farmer can’t manage to roll herself out of bed in the morning.

I have been almost completely consistent in noting each day, and I think that alone is helpful. The three things I’ve noted each day is whether I took my supplements (they have varied some), what I did for my job (“went” is a common entry), and my movement that day. Commentary has moved from evening to first thing in the morning for the sake of consistency. Currently the common theme is “I hate 5 am.”

The negative, because that’s always the first thing I see: I weigh more (five or nine pounds, depending on where you count from), I’m further in debt, I no longer have any idea when I can live on my own again, and I still don’t have a “real” job.

I weigh more because when things don’t go well, I gain weight. That “real” job that I thought I’d snagged when I got here? Very bad for my waistline. I am currently employed, more or less gainfully, as a temp, though, and it’s mostly covering the bills without driving me ’round the bend. The additional debt is because my car bit the dust in the last year. After 12 years of me as the owner, Io did deserve her rest, and she did wait to die until I was in a place that I had access to help and a reliable replacement car. She did well by me all the way until the end. As far as living on my own goes, that won’t happen until I have the kind of job that will support enough space that I can take my chickens with me. After, of course, I’ve made a dent in my debt with that income.

The positive, because I need to remember that it happens, too: I have chickens, I can think again more often than not, the food is really good here, I’m slowly thinking through the farm thing again, and I have a truck!

Ok, so the truck isn’t a “real” truck by my definition. There’s no way it could pull a horse trailer. On the other hand, it’s supposed to be darn near indestructible, and I need that in a vehicle. It also gave me a truck bed for hauling the turkeys I’d raised off to be butchered. Five of my hens are laying, and all six are healthy. This is all giving me numbers and actual experience to extrapolate from. Things like- make the coop bigger the first time! I’m currently reading and thinking through a book on farm finance. It’s actually quite interesting, now that I have the brain power to apply to it. As for the food, nothing beats garden veggies at every meal. Particularly when I don’t have to cook them!

After 365(ish) days, it’s a mixed bag. Maybe I would have done better if I’d set more concrete, measurable goals, maybe not. “A life worth living” is a very slippery thing to define, but I think it’s safe to say that I’m closer to yes on that than I was when I started. As for the functional farm? According to the book on farm finance I’m solvent! Just don’t ask to see the profit and loss statement . . .

Regaining My Power: Thinking-Thoughts

I’ve been slowly coming to this idea that I have “thinking-thoughts” again. For a long time I have been trapped by “bramble-thoughts,” or thoughts that are the mental equivalent to the blackberry problem in the north west. Due to the nature of bramble-thoughts, I’m not even sure how long they’ve been dominant. What I do know is that for what felt like a long time, I knew my brain wasn’t working the way it was supposed to, I just couldn’t for the life of me remember how it used to work.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I deal with depression. I haven’t said “suffer from” for, well, I’m not sure I ever really did. It’s part of who I am and just something to work with. Kind of like shopping for pants with my big butt. I can’t wear wicked low-cut jeans and I don’t get to know what it’s like to wish for immortality. It’s just how I roll.

The bramble-thoughts are part of my depression. They start out innocently enough with a cane or two. They even offer berries in the form of writing ideas. Ok, so I get scratched reaching past the thorns for the berries, but it’s a great idea! But they grow. And as they grow the berries get harder and more sour. Instead of what I can write about, they become why my writing is stupid. Then the surrounding thorns of why I shouldn’t even try to write- not that I can by that point. But I keep reaching through the thorns and eating the berries because by then, that’s all I’ve got. The bramble-thoughts have managed to out-compete anything else in my head that might offer a different opinion.

Eventually, if the bramble gets dense enough, I lose the ability to move. I’m so hemmed in by the thorns of what I’ve done wrong, why I’m stupid, and what I’ll never be able to do- not to mention knowing that everyone is aware of every single short-coming and only spends time with me out of obligation or pity- that I can’t even look up to see if the sky is blue because I know I’ll just get stabbed by something else. And it’s probably overcast anyway.

Lots of things feed the brambles. I always have a cane or three in my head, poking me when they can and just waiting for the environment to shift a bit in their favor. More than one job has nurtured this latest crop, particularly encouraging the “you can’t do anything right” thorns. The general economic climate and my insufficient income in the last few years managed to clearcut swathes of healthy shade trees of possibilities, leaving that lovely empty space to be grown in. My current debt situation and erratic employment has made any ideas about my future weak, anemic things that can’t shoulder aside the brambles to make their own space.

Luckily, my current job is helping me start to smother the brambles. I’ve been temping at a couple of different places doing the sort of jobs that don’t require a whole lot of thought. I’m good at the jobs, much to the bramble-thoughts’ dismay, and not needing to think too hard means that I get to listen to books on tape. I hate being read to, so they’re non-fiction. It’s like listening to a lecture. At about a book per day, it doesn’t even really matter what the book is, since it’s not a huge commitment.

Between the work that’s keeping my hands and a small slice of my mind busy, and the books that are occupying the rest of my mind, there isn’t anything for the brambles to feed on. Praise from coworkers has even been scything them back just a little. When I started I was mostly just listening. I was picking up the odd idea here and there, but not so much thinking. Now I’m finding myself taking the ideas I listen to during the day and actually having thinking-thoughts about them on the drive home. How do these ideas apply to me? How can I use them toward my own goals? What does this mean for me in the greater scheme of things? What other books should I find to flesh out these ideas?

Thinking-thoughts come with their own drawbacks. After all, I simply don’t have the energy to explain to everyone how a cap on CEO salaries and reasonable wages for the rest of us will help businesses, and come up with a start-up company so that I can have passive income so I can afford to do everything that I want to do, and actually write in this blog, and start a locally-focused blog, AND figure out how to expand my chickens and turkeys, AND, by the way, get my turkeys butchered and in the freezer, AND work up numbers on beekeeping in Maine, AND . . . Also, I want to do it all right now!

Now that I think about it, those bramble-thoughts are some really nasty invasives if they managed to snuff all that out! And I’ve only just scratched the surface. I’m starting to remember how my brain is supposed to work. The thoughts are getting stronger in the places where the bramble-thoughts have been smothered back, but they aren’t going full-bore yet.

Thinking-thoughts are showing up just in time, too. On top of everything else, NaNoWriMo is coming, and I really need to beat last year’s numbers!

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.)

Regaining My Power: To Begin

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Physical manifestation of my mental and emotional state. Life isn’t giving either of us what we need.

I haven’t been blogging much because life has been . . . challenging. One of the things these challenges have pointed out to me is that I have lost my own power. The loss was gradual. Some of it was let go, some forgotten about, and some stolen. What I lost and how isn’t important. What’s important is that no one will hand it back to me. If I don’t take it, I don’t get to have it. I think that’s a very important realization. After all, if I’m not willing to fight for it, what on earth makes me think I would fight with it, which is the only reason to have it.

This reboot of my life has been happening for a couple of months, now, but today seems to be the logical time to share it. The sun is coming back, the calendar has turned, and we’re closer to planting new seeds than cleaning up after the last harvest. I really don’t do “New Year’s Resolutions,” but many people do. We haven’t written in this calendar, yet, so maybe we can write different things than we did last year.

I landed at my parent’s house in early November. It wasn’t the very beginning of the tale, but I’m calling it the beginning. I arrived with a stuffed 4X5X8′ trailer of stuff, enough debt that it will take me a year to pay it off, if that’s all I spend my money on, and weighing 273#. What all of those amounts have in common is that they are getting in my way and getting them cut down to something reasonable feels rather overwhelming. You may be looking at one or all of those numbers and thinking, “Child’s play.” But bear in mind that the absolute number is far less important than whether or not I believe I can tackle it. We all have different tolerances, and those are approaching the limits of mine.

I am feeling the need to share this story not because it’s unusual, but precisely because I don’t believe it is. I’m broke, I’m unhealthy, I can’t even tell you anymore what’s in the boxes I’ve been schlepping from apartment to rented room, and I don’t know how to make my dreams into my reality. Perhaps by sharing my story, it will help me to keep taking the steps I need to take to figure this mess out. Maybe, as I figure each step out, it will help you with your journey, too.

Here’s to a new year and another chance to make each of our worlds into one that will give us a fulfilling life.

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My jade plant and I- repotted, heavily pruned, and taking another crack at this thing called life.