The Revenge of the Return

MechDanger

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.

Mustard

mustard_types_600x450

Because I hate ketchup…

 

Holy shit, did things ever get weird.  2+ years.  4 jobs (give or take).  9 months with a pregnant wife, culminating in 1 amazing daughter (Penelope Jean, born October 2014).  Too many bills and too little income.  A handful of therapy sessions.  A smattering of inspiration, the occasional epiphany, and a near-infinite supply of irredeemably stupid ideas.

And, of course, nowhere near enough time to reflect on (or write about) any of it.

Not an excuse, mind you.  More like a bridge back to writing.  I can’t catalog everything that has gone into the past couple of years, but I can guarantee it has changed me irrevocably, and I’m certain it’s going to show (as if the Dad joke in the sub-head didn’t give me away already).  Possibly more confident, probably more desperate, and ultimately more invested than I’ve ever been in pushing myself and the world to get better.

Put plainly, I don’t have a choice now.  Or, more accurately, I’ve made my choice and there is no turning back.  “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” as the good doctor Hunter S. Thompson used to say (you know, before he killed himself, and then Johnny Depp shot his ashes out of a cannon).  I have to improve myself before I can improve things around me, and allowing the destructive and anti-social ideas at the top of the heap continue to stay there is not an option.

I have to do what I can to fight systemic stupidities, because I suddenly understand in a way I didn’t or couldn’t before that the consequences of flawed thinking will be passed to the coming generation, whether they deserve it or not.  It’s easy enough for me to be cynical and misanthropic about humanity and it’s future in a generalized form, but putting a face on it, specifically her face, blows the windows out of that abstraction.

So, I find myself driven not only to ensure the usual food/clothing/shelter/attention that every parent tries to provide, but also feeling a tremendous responsibility to further engage with political and social institutions and start pushing them toward better ideas (usually in opposition to their natural tendencies under current conditions).  I was never particularly good at either one of these things before, and why I suddenly seem to think I can manage to juggle both with the day-to-day requirements of parenting is completely beyond me.  Turns out very little about parental instinct is rational.  Go figure.

But who knows?  I have to think that if my perspectives could shift this drastically on the fulcrum of a single event, other aspects I’ve come to take for granted may be capable of a similar change.  The only way to know for sure is to try, and like I said, it’s not as though I still have a choice in the matter.  The ramifications may be dire, but that doesn’t mean my reasoning isn’t sound.

The Blog RETURNS!!

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Scene from “The Blob” (1988 Columbia TriStar)

 

 

At this juncture, I think it’s fair to call my first attempt at “regular” blogging a complete and irrevocable failure.

Which is OK, really.  I never expected to get it right on the first shot, and I did manage a couple of solid months of fairly frequent and substantial entries.  I got to try some things, get some less-than-stellar ideas out of my system, and start to re-hone my surprisingly dull skills on some unsurprisingly dull subject matter.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  I’m not going to beat myself up (any more) over this.

My only job now is to glean any possible lessons from the ultimate collapse…

Lesson One:  Any distraction, no matter how helpful or pressing it may seem, is still a distraction and is still keeping me from something I had intended to be doing.  Yes, the dishes need to get done, and the garage needs reorganizing, and I need to keep up on the news and do a fair amount of research, but those things will still be there waiting for me after I’ve finished my planned writing.  The other things generally feel more pressing most of the time, but doing the unintuitive seems to be the key to making this work.  On a related note:

Lesson Two:  Taking steps to separate the time I spend writing from other parts of my life appears to make focusing on it much easier.  As odd as it sounds, simple physical changes can do a lot more to channel my psychological processes than I’m happy to admit.  Having a variety of locations and situations reserved for writing has been immensely helpful in keeping myself on task, but getting out of the house isn’t always an option.  In those cases, I’ve found something like a simple change of clothes can be almost as good.  I couldn’t really believe it at first, but just swapping my usual t-shirt and jeans for a nice, fitted button-down can adjust my intellectual framework enough to make an absolute chore of an article practically write itself.  Very strange, but also very effective, and worth remembering.

Lesson 3:  Externalize the expectations.  This is a weird concept to put succinctly into words, but I’ll do my best. Basically, I can’t just write things for myself or my own satisfaction, because I’ve learned to deal far too well with failure and the compromised self-image that comes with it.  However, if I pretend (or acknowledge?) that someone else in the universe is expecting/hoping to read more, and try to imagine their disappointment when new posts don’t materialize frequently enough, it has the motivational effect I need.  It feels a bit childish, and a bit conceited, but it’s what works.  I’ve disappointed myself so often and so completely over the years, I’ve basically lost the ability to expect anything but failure.  Letting other people down, on the other hand, I’ve never really gotten used to, if only because they’ve never gotten good at accepting it from me.

You know, on reflection,  I’m enjoying how many of these “lessons” are just excuses for rote self-deception.  I’ve always thought there was a certain virtue in being totally honest with yourself (which, astute readers will note, is not the same as successfully being honest with myself), but now I’m starting to question whether such a thing is possible at all.  Total honesty seems to imply both perfect knowledge and perfect objectivity, two things humanity has never exactly been associated with.  In that harsh light, total honesty, with yourself of anyone else, becomes an idyllic fantasy, and the best you can ever hope for is probably just a bit of conscious control over the matter on which you will allow yourself to be deceived, by whom, and to what purpose.

The conventional wisdom in most political/financial circles is that someone my age and in my position needs to be working and saving as much as possible, and that 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.  That said, I’m here, 33 years old, I’m married, we own our home and have a (psychotic) dog.  I’ve spent the better part of the last decade working my ass off at various jobs, going to school, racking up student loan debt and logging thousands of miles on my car and bike, and for what?  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’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 in terms of real (inflation-adjusted) wages and benefits, middle- and lower-class living standards, and workers’ share of productivity growth.  The stock markets may have missed a couple of beats, but those at the top of the food chain stopped feeling the effects of the crisis a couple of years ago, at least.  When, exactly, is that condition supposed to start trickling down, again?  If the people benefiting from across-the-board cuts to wages and benefits are the same ones who make that call, I’m pretty sure I already know the answer.  You’re not going to like it.

So, maybe I do feel a bit stupid, or childish, or irresponsible for spending as much time as I need to on writing this blog, and maybe there are things in my life that feel like a better use of my time.  So the fuck what?  I’m sure most people feel this way about something they do, something that is important to them.  But I’m almost equally sure those feelings are the result of a barrage of political and social messaging designed and deployed to put them there, in service of groups with something other than the interests of the public at heart.

Or, to put it another way:  If a terminal fuckface like Jamie Dimon can guiltlessly call private audience with the Attorney General to negotiate his way out of criminal charges on the company dime, and if Lloyd Blankfein can maintain his signature turd-sandwich smirk while pretending cuts in Social Security benefits are any kind of good for anyone other than himself and his hyperwealthy ilk, then I can definitely disregard some of the engineered guilt I’m supposed to be feeling over spending any fraction of my own time or thought on activity that doesn’t generate sufficient Wall Street profits.

In fact, that might be all the motivation I need…