I did everything right. Which is to say, I did what I was supposed to do. (I’ve not once in my life done everything right; this was about as close as I get.) I took a chance, in spite of trepidation, in a bid to better provide for my family. Anyone rational would have done the same. The timing was horrible, and I knew that going in, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. I’d studied and built experience over the years to do exactly this type of work, and I would’ve been good at it.
To this day, I still have no idea how it went wrong, but it did, and everything since has been a vicious cosmic joke. I’ve tried to play the good sport, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep laughing it off. There is a bit more at stake now than simple pride.
Which brings me back to my last pre-lapse post. It was itself intended as a contrite-but-hopeful return to writing, although my time away had been much shorter (2+ months vs. 2+ years). I closed it with a bit of rebellious flourish, some inspirational/oppositional window dressing to set the tone for things to come. Except nothing ever came, not until now. My current sentiments are similar, but more deeply felt, and I would like to expand a bit on those previous words. I’m hoping for catharsis. We’ll see what I actually get.
“…a time-consuming distraction like writing non-professionally is something I should have grown out of by now. And for a while, I really bought it.”
I no longer think this is what I’m doing. The last couple of years have been eye-opening for me, if only because I’ve dug more into the ugliness that is modern economic policy and uncovered some truly rotten and disgusting truths that need to be exposed and reversed. If there is the slightest outside chance that I can help make that happen, I need to act on it. I’m no longer just doing this for fun, or distraction, or as a learning opportunity. I’m playing for keeps, and it starts right here.
“My current job pays significantly less and asks significantly more than the temp gig I had as a shipping carpenter back before the crisis really hit high gear, and anything I’ve done in the interim has been worse yet.”
I used to joke, at one of the many jobs I’ve held in the last few years, that I was waiting to see if the whole “job” thing was going to pay off. It was a line lifted from “Being John Malkovich”, and it was meant to show the John Cusack character’s disconnection from the average life experience. Except, now, 17 years later, it doesn’t actually seem that disconnected from reality.
One of those aforementioned disgusting truths just happens to be the fact that re-stabilizing the jobs market at pre-Crisis levels was never part of the plan. Business leaders, rather, intended to use the Financial Crisis to drastically lower the baseline of what workers could expect from a job, even a good one, and to replace many long-term contracts with small armies of temp workers. It’s a strategy that has ushered in everything from recent fights over minimum wages and how to differentiate contractors from employees, to the “gig economy,” in which younger workers are forced to cobble together multiple part-time and temp “gigs” into an income on which they can (maybe, sort-of, if they’re really, really lucky) actually survive.
In the past couple of years, I’ve worked two jobs that operate on a kind of independent contractor/on-demand model, though neither was billed as such going in. I was an employee, officially, and had to be available for a full work week, but with no guarantee that I would actually be utilized. I was willing to roll with the punches, for a while, but it eventually became clear that the point was basically to have part-time employees while making it impossible for them to plan ahead for days off, the way one would with a more traditional part-time job. Taking on a second supplemental job was impossible under this model, as was undertaking any kind of large-scale project outside of work. Effectively, companies can externalize or offload business risk onto employees, which, like most post-Crisis developments, has been great for companies, but ultimately horrible for workers.
Which brings me to my final point…
“I’m sure I’m tempting labels like ‘cynic’ or ‘socialist’ or ‘conspiracy nut,’ but I really can’t avoid the feeling that the aforementioned conventional wisdom is only in place to keep my mouth shut and my mind too busy to notice the patterns of decline…”
I’m no longer worried about courting that kind of terminology. Hell, I’d wear any one of those labels with pride at this point. For one, I think, if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, my cynicism should speak for itself (frankly, I tend to see it as one of my draws). As for socialist? I guess, compared to what? I’m no hardline capitalist, but I do believe markets are useful under certain conditions and in certain situations. (That said, I also believe their efficacy is conditional on creating acceptable outcomes for the broader society, and if that condition can’t be met, as is absolutely the case under the current neoliberal variant, then they need to be restructured. In other words, a pretty clear textbook socialist.) And about the conspiracy stuff? Well, I’ll just have to make sure my sources are solid. After all, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t coming for you, or at the very least your subversive ideas…
And subversive ideas are the real currency of value here. When a system is so fucked and unreadable that you can paint yourself into a nigh-unemployable corner making nothing but smart moves, subversion is the only valid course of action. I’ll keep looking for that paycheck, but my next job will be simply that: Something I do to keep food in my mouth while I write. This is my option. Anything else requires me to rely on a system that has proven, on multiple occasions, that it simply cannot be trusted. I will not place myself at its mercy again, not with my family and future on the line.