Posts Tagged ‘work’

“We value you . . .”

So, I was told what my raise would be for 2018. $.28 per hour. I was also told “we don’t want you to leave (insert company here)” and “we really value you.”

In 2017, above company was paying me $14 per hour. Well, actually, for about half the year I was making less than that because of the cut the staffing agency was taking, but, whatevs. We’ll call it $14. To be fair, they also give benefits like a 401(k), if I can afford to contribute, health insurance with a deductible that’s only 20% of my income, and all the overtime you can work without losing your mind, assuming you haven’t lost it during regular hours. Not every company is that generous.

I got called in for my end-of-year evaluation to find out what my pay bump will be for this coming year. At this point I’m trained in almost everything I can be in this department, and up until I burned out, I was putting up excellent numbers.* I’m fairly certain that I wasn’t one of the ones exacerbating the calls that started with “This is the fourth time I’ve had to call you people!” My merit increase for 2018 is 3.5%, prorated. My supervisor wanted me to know that the company approved the 3% and she really fought for that extra 0.5%. Cool, that’s like, what, a nickle an hour? I’m gonna run right out and buy . . . nothing. Because nothing costs a nickle anymore. So, you know, thanks.

There are three points to consider here. Let’s start with the last one that I considered. The average inflation rate in 2017 was 2.1%. That means that 2.1% of my 3.5% prorated “merit” increase is in fact a cost of living increase. The actual number should probably be higher, given the cost of housing in Portland, but we’re going with national averages, here. What this tells me is that my merit, all of the overtime I put in, all of the uptraining I not only attended but actually learned, all of the showing up on time is worth 1.4% of my income to encourage me to keep doing it. I’m feeling the love, here. Really.

Point two, 3.5% of $14 is actually $.49 per hour. I started doing the actual job in January of 2017 for less than my coworkers in the same training class because of the staffing agency I came through. I wasn’t “officially” hired until June. Once again, the company is having words trump reality. I was doing the job all year, but I’m going to get nickled and dimed out of my pay increase because I wasn’t “officially” doing the job (that I was actually doing) for half that time. Well, pennied and dimed. Two dimes and a penny per hour, that is. My revenue for 2017 was low five figures. Theirs were upper nine or lower 10 figures, if I remember the self-congratulatory e-mail correctly. I can totally see why they need those two dimes and a penny more than I do. Makes sense.

The last point, the first one that occurred to me when I heard about my whopping $.28 raise, is that I can now afford a medium Dunkin Donuts iced coffee per day. Not a mocha, mind you, but more than a plain hot coffee. ($.28 X 8 hours= $2.24- 18% taxes= $1.84 take-home per day). Or, I can totally splurge at the end of the year and ($.28 X 2087 hours annually  = $584.36- 18% taxes= $479.18 ), well, let’s be honest. I’ll have already spent it by making a tiny dent in my debt or possibly on avocados. After all, we know that the reason Millenials are living in their parents houses in record numbers is avocados. So I’m worth a cup of coffee, but not rent money. I’m feeling very valued.

My supervisor and I also talked about what my next steps would be. She suggested that I work on officially moving the next step up in my department since it “should come with a pay bump.” Of what? $.50? Woo hoo. She was shocked when I asked when I might hear back from the other department that I’d applied for. That I’d already told her in no uncertain terms I was aiming for. Aside from the fact that it’s potentially a far, far better fit for my personality, I happen to know it pays more than half again as much as I’m currently making. She doesn’t want the company to lose me, but when I literally say “I want to be able to pay rent,” she doesn’t seem to be able to back me on figuring out how the company can help me do that. **

One third of my anticipated income for the year ($14.28 X 2087= $29,802.36 – 18% taxes / 3) is $8,145.98. According to common wisdom found everywhere, that’s what I can afford to spend on my housing without straining my budget elsewhere. That’s $678.83 a month and really needs to include heat since I do live in Maine. Around here I can rent a room for that amount, not an apartment. Given that my last rented room situation was . . . memorable, I’m not up to trying that again just now. I’ve been tracking my expenses for the last 18 months or so, and even after giving up my chickens, I’d have to do some rethinking in my budget if I were going to make progress on my debt while also paying rent. Actually, I’d have to do some rethinking of my budget just to pay the rent, even before I think about debt. As far as another injury like a broken leg? That’s just not an option. I couldn’t afford it.

Every few months or so they tell me at work that they value me. Whenever they remember to tell me much of anything. I suppose that comes with being a low maintenance employee. But every two weeks my paycheck tells me exactly how much they value me. Which is really not very much at all. As for the merit increase? It’s ($.28 X $14 =) 2%. Which is less than inflation for 2017. It’s good to know exactly how hard they’ll work to keep a low maintenance, trainable employee around, isn’t it?

*After writing this, I was given a new supervisor. In our first meeting he told me we really didn’t have anything to talk about. My numbers were great and I was doing everything they wanted. Apparently even after I burned out, I’m doing just fine.

**Publication held until I got the job without her help. You never know what your employer is reading online. I didn’t get the job.

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$30,000 Is Not Enough

I’ve been reading a blog about a woman who, along with her husband and five children, has become financially independent. Like many such bloggers, she publishes her annual spending, and it’s around $25-$30,000 per year. In the comments section of one annual update, a commenter said something along the lines of “This is why I think people who need to make more than $30,000 per year are being greedy.”

I need to explain why he is wrong.

Yes, there are people in this country that are being greedy with their income. There are people at many income levels that are making financial decisions we don’t agree with. However, living on $30,000 a year, or less, by choice is not the same thing as doing it out of necessity. It’s a different mindset and you make different choices because you’re presented with different options.

One can do the beans and rice diet, drive a hooptie, and live in a sketchy apartment by choice. It’s something that one can do for whatever one believes is an acceptable amount of time until one has the money to break free and live a life worth living as defined by the one living it. However, there are more than a few places in this country where $30,000 a year will only just cover beans, rice, a hooptie, and a sketchy apartment. Under those circumstances, one cannot save for that future life worth living. One can barely get by from week to week in the life they have, and if something goes wrong, it may all come crashing down.

Let’s talk about things going wrong. This blogger drives a hooptie these days by choice. She’s used to it, and can’t see any reason to spend the money on an upgrade. If the car breaks, though, she has money in the bank to fix it or replace it. She also has a husband who bought a car to restore for fun, so one can assume he’s got the skills to keep the hooptie away from the mechanic under most circumstances. I, on the other hand, lost my 12-year-old car (RIP, Io, you were one tough cookie) because when she died I didn’t have the skills to fix her and the repair bills past the one I was facing were only going to get worse. That left me with a choice. Do I purchase something I can get for cash, I don’t think I had more than $1,000 that I could get my hands on at the time, or do I get something a little nicer for a loan? A $1,000 car will probably require immediate repairs of some sort. New tires, if nothing else. But is a $1,000 car going to last long enough for an investment in tires to be worth it? A loan, even a favorable one, means I must have the cash income to cover that amount every month, no matter what, until the end of the loan. Neither is a great option. What I’m spending each month on loans and/or repairs, is money that I’m not saving toward the purchase of my next vehicle. My 2017 vehicle expenses which were spent mostly on my work commute including gas, tires, insurance, and $175 per month car loan totaled $6715.81, or 22.4% of a $30,000 income.

Speaking of cash every month, let’s talk housing. This blogger owns her house outright. If things really, really go sideways, all she has to come up with is money to cover the taxes to keep a roof over her head. For the brief period I owned a home outright, I still had to pay $500 a month to stay in the RV park. (RIP, Desert Rose, you were a good home, even without plumbing.) The average cost for for a one-bedroom apartment in the US is around $1,240 plus $150 in utilities. Assuming the $30,000 income is after-tax (ha!), rent is 49.6% of the income ($14,880 annually), plus 0.06% ($1,800 annually) in utilities. If you’re spending half of your income on keeping a roof over your head, the odds are you won’t be able to save enough to put a down payment on a home, let alone buy one outright.

Next up is health insurance. This blogger’s husband served in the military for a time, putting them on the military insurance. Not being military myself, I’m paying $39 per paycheck ($1,014 annually) plus $5,500 deductible. It would be more if I didn’t have a corporate job. Between the two, that’s 21.7% of a $30,000 income. This year I broke my leg. Next year could be a broken arm or a very serious bout of the flu, there’s no way to know.

After shelter, insurance, and a vehicle to get to work, we should move on to food. I’m not beans and ricing it. I like organics when I can find them, and grass-finished meat is better for me and the environment. On the other hand, I also don’t eat out all that often, and my vending machine misbehavior is listed under a different category. In 2017 I spent $3,477.31 on food, or 11.6% of a $30,000 income.

So far we have shelter (50.2%), transportation to work (22.4%), health insurance (21.7%), and food (11.6%). Without taking into account clothes, a cell phone, any form of entertainment or hobby, or debt repayment (excluding the vehicle loan), I’m already at 105.9% of a $30,000 income. That’s $30,000 after taxes, which means more than $15.00 per hour in your paycheck.

This commenter that’s calling a $30,000 income more than enough is probably surviving on $12.00 per hour or less. If he’s happy with the lifestyle he’s got on his income, I’m happy for him. I also wonder what part of the country he lives in, since $12.00 or $15.00 buys a different lifestyle in Allagash versus Portland.

I really like the blogger. I think she’s living a wonderful, rich life and she’s giving her children something few people can by being such a big part of their lives. However, calling her life and my life comparable because we’re spending about the same every year is wrong. I think she offers some wonderful suggestions on how to re-prioritize your energy and money to live more on less, and I think that’s a worthy goal no matter what your income. I have every intention of living a life that makes the world a better place, rather than a worse one. However, trying to do it on $30,000 per year or less with no savings, and a side helping of debt is a bit more of a challenge than can be handled by giving up my daily Starbucks. Particularly when I already don’t stop for coffee. I can’t afford to.

Rest in pieces, dream of living like a grown up. Rest in sad, lonely pieces when even the people who would genuinely benefit from a higher minimum wage fight to keep it down.

Dirty Money Documentary

The documentary Dirty Money unmasks several companies that have been behaving badly. Throughout the series there is a definite common thread. When money and success are sought for their own sake, a whole lot of things fall by the wayside. Silly little details like morality and being a good citizen.

It starts off with the Volkswagen diesel scandal. Did you know Hitler was all about getting Volkswagen up and running? It is literally the people’s car. I had no idea. The company did great for a while, then it did terrible for a while, then it was ready to do great again, but perhaps didn’t have the chops to keep up with the world market anymore. So they, you know, fudged things a bit. Then they got caught. They said, oops, we’ll fix it. Instead, they doubled down on making sure that their cars tested well and who cares about their actual ability to avoid making smog. They got caught again, and, well, we’re still working that out. So why did they fudge the data on how much disease causing mess was coming out of the tailpipes anywhere but in the testing area? Because that was how the man in charge of the company was going to put Volkswagen back on top. Who cares if “clean diesel” is a lie as long as people buy it and buy the cars attached to it?

Episode two has an interesting quote. When Scott Tucker, payday loan business owner, was asked if he was a moral man he replied, “I am a business man.” I really wanted to say that wasn’t the question, but more and more often in today’s business climate, that is one of the options to that question. Moral, not moral, business person and therefore exempt. While I feel terrible for the people that were sucked into his scheme because they just needed a little help, I kept getting stuck on his employees. Specifically, it was the recorded conversations with the phone reps that were really painful for me. These people were told what they were doing was legal. I’d say the odds are they were being paid in the $10-$14 range to spend eight plus hours per day listening to upset, angry customers. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them needed payday loans themselves at times. They were doing their best to be responsible citizens and then they find out that their terrible job was also part of an illegal scheme. Moral, immoral, or just trying to make ends meet?

Speaking of modern business practices, how about a pharmaceutical company who believes “Bet on management, don’t bet on science”? The stock market loved Valeant since their income and net worth went up every single quarter. Why? Because they weren’t doing silly things like coming up with new drugs and therapies, those are too hit or miss. No, they were gobbling up companies that had come up with unique drugs and then jacking up the prices of those drugs. Why did this work so well in the stock market? The people that are making decisions on Wall Street understand M and A (mergers and acquisitions). They are less familiar, and patient, with R and D (research and development). One gives you results within a quarter or two, the other not so much. Who cares that there are people now forced to choose between food and medication as long as the stock keeps going up? Fun fact: nothing the drug company did was illegal. People were becoming uninsurable due to drug costs anyway.

The next episode isn’t Wall Street per se, but HSBC is London’s big bank. Actually, they’re kind of the world’s big bank. They’re also, evidently, the favorite bank for drug cartels. They get caught for doing that and pay what is essentially a wrist slap of a fine. Why? “[W]e don’t want to take them down, we don’t want to cost thousands of jobs, we have to think about the innocents.” Hmm, yes, those poor innocent VPs and CEOs that are making millions on laundering drug money. Why would they casually disregard all of the rules about handling money designed to catch money launderers? Because . . . money. The more they had, the more they made. Money itself is amoral, so it goes very quickly from a bad thing (supporting murdering drug cartels) to a potentially good thing (small business and housing loans). Now because this bank is so big and has its fingers in the pies of so many countries, destabilizing it would be bad for the world economy. Arresting the people who made the decision to launder drug money would destabilize the company. Therefore, they get to keep doing what they’re doing because they’re “too big to jail.” Why protect the innocent when you can protect the rich?

The next episode is interesting, since both sides make really good points. It starts out with learning that Canada has a Strategic Reserve of maple syrup. And someone stole $18 million from it. Naturally, the biggest theft in the history of Quebec was maple syrup. What had led up to the theft was a group, the Federation of Maple Syrup Producers, doing what they could to stabilize syrup prices to encourage younger people to get into the market. People try to avoid taking risks in markets that are more likely to bankrupt them than let them retire. Over time, prices tripled to around $1800 per barrel, meaning it might be a genuine livelihood for some producers. The ones against the “OPEC of maple syrup” also had some valid points. They disagreed with sales restrictions and fines imposed by a group they never agreed to join, and it’s not as if they could move their trees out of Quebec to get away. With prices rising and a fair number of discontented producers, a black market is inevitable. Which is where the theft comes in. The syrup stores well and how do you prove this bottle is stolen syrup while that one isn’t? I’m less sure of who was in the wrong here, aside from the thieves, but I am sure that massive amounts of money in play had a lot to do with what went wrong.

The weird orange icing on the top of the cake is our very own president, Donald Trump. A man who can’t support his claims about his net worth because they’re based primarily on how much someone will pay him to plaster the Trump name on their building. He positioned himself and his brand as the businessman savior we needed to fix this country. Since he’s been working the brand of businessman for a couple of decades at this point, it’s not so crazy that people believed him, and goodness knows we needed something that wasn’t the status quo. But if you scratch the golden trimmings you’ll see it’s not even gilt, it’s pyrite, and probably unpaid for at that. All he has is a successful brand and a rather long string of disasters in his wake. In fact, his disasters were so big that the banks didn’t want him to declare bankruptcy. They couldn’t afford for him to not pay them back. At one point, he was actually on an allowance from the banks of $450,000 per month just to get by. I’m sure it was a terrible struggle on such a stingy amount. Trump’s disinterest in due diligence and long-term investments in favor of gut instincts and quick cash are well hidden behind being a fantastic pitch man. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that he ever actually intended to become president and he may have finally hit an audience that he can’t con with his current national and international stage.

What have we learned from this series on Dirty Money? To start with, they’re going to need a lot more episodes to even scratch the surface and I’m looking forward to them. Secondly, short-term profits being valued over due diligence and quality is a bad plan. It’s also a very common plan in a world where the business’ worth is rejudged with each quarterly report. We really need to work on a new plan, instead of rewarding this outdated, unsustainable way of doing business.

 

Regaining My Power: Success?

To live an average middle-class life it costs a family about $130,000 per year. To afford a two-bedroom apartment in Maine, a worker needs to be making at least $18.05 per hour. Nationally, to afford a one bedroom apartment, a worker needs to be making at least $15.50 per hour. Remember these numbers.

In the last few months I was offered and accepted a permanent position with a company. Like many similar companies, they do temp-to-hire most of the time which means that for 90(ish) days, their new employees are without insurance or job stability. It’s a 90-day interview. I like the company, they like me. Now that I’m a “real” employee I have insurance and paid vacation along with the limited job security one gets these days. They are proud to be offering competitive wages. I’ve certainly seen worse for similar jobs, though I have heard of better in the area.

I am making $14.00 per hour. Please refer to paragraph #1.

The solution to this, of course, is to “get a better job.” The problem is that this is a “better job.” I’m not flipping burgers, here. (The fact that burger-flippers deserve a living wage, too, is a discussion for another day.) This job doesn’t require a college degree to do the work but good luck getting an interview if you don’t have either a degree or a fair amount of work experience. It’s an office job where I get to be in a temperature-controlled environment and stare at multiple computer monitors all day long. This is supposed to be a job to strive for.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not about this particular company twisting the screws on us poor workers. I believe that they genuinely believe they’re doing well enough by their workers with what they offer. I’m not silly enough to ask them to do well by their workers at such an insignificant level as the literal interface between the customers and the company, but I think they are earnest in doing well enough. The problem is the paradigm in which a company can earnestly offer wages that are competitive in the local economy yet still offer too little to allow them to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

This, of course, leads into my current personal struggle. I have had a job, mostly full time, for pretty much my entire adult life. I have not had a minimum wage job since I was shelving books at the library at 16. When I wasn’t employed, I was living off of my own money, such as it was. Since I sold my last horse, I have no outrageous spending habits to support. Yet, despite all of that, I am living in my parents house because it wouldn’t have been long before I was homeless if I hadn’t moved here.

I have a “better job,” and I have future prospects at the company, provided they don’t take offense at this post. Somehow I’m supposed to be grateful for this opportunity. But grateful for what? For another 30 to 50 years of mostly getting by, hopefully, while someone else gets rich off of my work? A coworker is making now what they were making the year I was born, so in 30 years I may still be making $14.00. If I’m not doing it at this job, it’s not like any other “better job” would offer me another option. My supervisor was kind enough to tell us permanent hires that they’re always watching us; it’s like every day is an interview. She said it very sweetly, she’s very sweet, but the very idea of 40+ hours worth of interview each week is rather exhausting. She’s right, though. There’s no such thing as getting a job and being sure to keep it as long as you don’t do anything really, truly heinous.

I have achieved success. I have a job that will almost pay my bills and firing me out of hand is slightly harder than when I was a temp. I have health insurance whose deductible is only two weeks worth of pay before it kicks in (that’s the pay before I cover silly things like food and rent). I have the opportunity to reach up into middle management.

Could someone remind me why I’m playing this game again? I’ve forgotten.

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.

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!

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.