Posts Tagged ‘work’

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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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.

The Company Store

I just started watching a show that takes place in a turn-of-the-century coal mining town in Canada. It’s a Hallmark show that’s clearly shaping up to be a romance, so it’s rather saccharin, but it’s pretty cute nonetheless.

The show is about a silver-spoon sort of city girl who takes a position as a teacher out in this coal mining town. The mothers of the town had hired her to give their children the sort of education that would keep them from having to go into the mines themselves when they grew up. As if that weren’t challenge enough- three months before the teacher arrived, there had been an explosion in the mine, leaving a large chunk of her students suddenly without fathers. They only found the last of the bodies when she got there. This, of course, left a lot of widows in company housing without husbands to work in the mines to pay for the company housing.

This is a Hallmark show, so it does its best to gloss over much of the reality of working and living in a company town. However, by episode two, the notices had gone out to evict the widows and children from the company housing to make room for the miners the boss was looking to bring in. The teacher is working with the widows to try and figure out how they can stay in their own homes. She comes up with a solution that has a legal precedent and goes about setting it in motion. It’s thwarted because the supplies she needs would be from the company store and are suddenly unavailable for her to purchase.

If you aren’t familiar with what a company store was, they were a brilliant (devious, terrible) way for the boss to keep both the profits and the workers within the company. Mining towns were notorious for them. I believe railroad towns also frequently used them. It was an option for basically any business model that took their workers and isolated them away from any other store options. If the company store is the only place that you can buy your food, clothes, and other necessities, then that’s what you did. You paid the outrageous prices, you took on debt if you couldn’t pay cash, and, as the song says, you owe your soul to the company store. It wasn’t uncommon to work for the company until you died, trying to pay the debts you couldn’t avoid racking up.

What does this long-winded report on a slightly silly tv show have to do with anything? After all, we don’t have company stores anymore. There’s almost no way to isolate workers away from any and all forms of purchasing power. We all drive past Walmarts, Targets, and malls and have the right to stop in and spend our money in any or all of them as we see fit (or can afford). Sure we have debt, but it’s not to our employer. It’s to a bank or a credit card company. Totally different than that coal mining town.

Or is it? Look at America. The bulk of us work for anything from lousy to crap wages. Maybe an iPhone isn’t quite the necessity that a ribbed wash-board was in the coal town, but the advertising that we are immersed in sure wants us to think it is. So we pay out all of our cash for things that we need. Then we take on debt for things that we need but can’t afford. Then how do we pay this debt? We keep going to the soulless job with the crap wages because we don’t have/can’t see any other options. But between the things we still need and the money we aren’t making, our debt only gets worse.

Maybe we think company stores don’t exist because we have nothing to compare them to. Can’t see the forest for the trees and all that. I have been trying to think of companies that I know that are, say, 80% free from the corporate world. I think I came up with a small handful, but most of them are tiny, struggling, and unlikely to be noticed outside of niche communities in their town. There are few to no viable options outside of what has become normal. Normal, of course, being items that we are told we need produced in massive amounts with the absolute minimal inputs and created to be worn out in no time flat.

I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy, here. I’ve gotten over that. What I am saying is that the bosses are still more than able to keep the profits and the workers exactly where they want them. Has America become the company town for the wealthy elite? Have we all become workers in a coal town with no prospects and no future away from what is right in front of us? I don’t want to be right about this, but I’m also having a hard time seeing where this logic train could have gone wrong.

So . . . now what?