It’s bad, and getting worse.

Today I woke up to find that the time on the cable box has been replaced with ‘—-‘. Those four dashes are more than just a display change, it’s the shift in wind that indicates a sea change in my life. The cable has been ‘interrupted’. More money now, please, or else it gets disconnected.

Those four dashes have been a constant alarm clock in my life over the past few years. Indicators first of my own forgetfulness, but lately they’ve become the four dashes of the apocalypse.

I can’t compete in this economy any longer. I haven’t been able to make ends meet for a long time, and what’s worse, I’ve been employed full time as a communications professional during that time. The effects of watching what was, in the late 90’s, a lucrative and engaging career choice in advertising and graphic design slowly grind down to sweatshop business models and dehumanizing lack of mental engagement have cumulatively taken a massive toll. Tons of promises, an almost equal number of horrifying financial and remunerative disappointments when those promises were supposed to materialize. And the slow build of horror as all of the fun, creativity, and innovation became ground out underneath the heel of horrible business and strategy decisions implemented by stupid-assed Baby Boomer senior managers who are so completely insulated by their own self-selected ignorance and carefully cultivated ineptitude that they no longer seem to be able to even recognize the horrible price their decisions have exacted on the talent pool of employees and the so-called ‘best practices’ of the industry.

Time is running out.

My time is almost up. If not for the expected arrival of student loans within the next month or so, I would be facing the prospect of giving away my cats, filing for a divorce from my completely-dependent civil union parter, selling all my stuff and checking myself into a mental hospital for the massive breakdown which is coming. Which has been coming for a while now. As it is, it’s going to be a case of holding my breath against the crushing economic pressure while struggling to last until the payments come… I’m betting sometime in April.

And the scariest part of all of this is that I’m sinking very quickly … and I’m working full time still. My current gig, which readers will recall I have just tendered notice on, is not paying enough for me to live off of. My landlady speculated heavily in the real estate boom and was attempting to single-handedly ‘gentrify’ our neighborhood, but the rest of the neighborhood resisted such an effort quite successfully. The result is that she’s got tons of recently refurbished rental property listing at prices that no one in the current neighborhood can afford. Everyone who might be tempted to move into the neighborhood takes one look at the loud neighbors and strange twisted local drama in this ghetto-esque barrio and say, “Too expensive” and move on. The result? She’s feeling the crunch of the real estate bust, and shit rolls downhill to us. We are now being nagged to death, and we’re also having trouble coming up with the rent on time. We never go more than a week or two at the most behind, all part of the juggling act required to keep heat and electric and internet connected, but that’s beginning to get her agitated in the extreme. And yet, she can’t seem to attract anyone but Section 8 folks to come and take a look at these beautiful apartments, because the neighborhood is so shitty. (And frankly, the landlady went for surface looks over actual refurbishings, and at heart she’s still a slumlord wondering why the hell her professional tenants complain so much.)

The allure of academia

Going back to school was an economic decision for me. Change or die, really. I’ve been suffering the breakdown and erosion of my livelihood for the past three years, bouncing around from job to job seeking desperately a situation where the compensation was sufficient to live off of. People look at my salary on paper and wonder how I could be making over $50,000 a year and still struggling to get by, but with one full unemployable dependent (going to school for undergrad on full scholarships to fix that), a debt load from hell, and rent and cost of living prices in Fairfield County, Connecticut that amount on paper doesn’t really translate into anything remotely resembling wealth or survivability.

Unfortunately, grad school is much more expensive than my undergrad education was. If I weren’t already seeing the benefits of this education on my job prospects I would have quit after the first semester, but there’s real value in the perceptions of the marketplace today with having a professional Master’s Degree. Unfortunately, the corporation I’m running away from screaming right now wanted to offer me…. $55,000/year. Yes, that’s right. The same salary ballpark as I’ve *been* making since 1995. Only with over $20K in educational bills to look forward to repaying.

Ummm…. no. Absofrigginlutely not.

This is part of the problem for me. I look around at the job market and wonder whether or not I’ll ever be more than a corporate serf. And when I actually dare to say something about it during salary negotiations or job interviews, *I* am the one with the problem, or so I’m told.

I’m coming pretty close to just giving up entirely on life and letting myself become a homeless person. Or else maybe commit some victimless crime in an attempt to crawl inside the penal system. Use the time inside to hone my criminal networking skills, earn some street cred, get in shape, and come out in a few years with the contacts and connections to begin handling cybercrime for the druglords. I mean, work smarter, not harder, right? Prison has become a vehicle for economic security and potential future career work for those intelligent enough and motivated enough to work the hustle and cultivate a rep for reliability and discretion.

Nah…. I don’t look that good in orange.

Hyperbole aside, it’s bad. Really bad. And getting worse.

I watched The Secret. Hell, I even own a copy. For a while, it was the only thing that helped me to cope with the massive depression that greeted me every morning. There comes a point when all the positive thinking in the world just rings like more hollow promises and unfulfilled opportunities. I loaned it out to a friend and haven’t seen the dvd since. Which is fine by me. The ‘gratitude rock’ I’ve been carrying around since watching it has become a talisman of futility for me, and now serves as a reminder to not be suckered by false hope, but instead insist on cash on the barrelhead.

The way out.

It’s a long shot climb, but I’m aiming high. I’m aiming to own property before I buy property, meaning a house before a headstone, if you catch my drift. I’m going to keep trying to take the project gigs I get as they come, keep going to school (although the gas prices it takes to commute up to Quinnipiac every time I need to get online will eventually kill me, I’m hoping the money comes in just enough to keep me afloat until the semester refunds restore online service at home). I’m going to press on with my education beyond QU. Next semester I will start taking Chinese classes, and try to continue those language studies into my PhD studies as well. Armed with a PhD an a rudimentary fluency in spoken Chinese, I will be in a prime position to either

  • a) finally land that cushy senior management job I’ve seen other people flubbing,
  • b) emigrate easily to a developing nation, leveraging my language skills and my advanced degree to land a government job as an attaché between said developing nation and China, who will be providing the economic assistance the US once did to developing nations, or
  • c) manage to eke out a tenure track position in academia, earn tenure, and live a life of relative poverty but incredible job security.

A or B seem most likely. And if all else fails, there’s always:

  • d) get a law degree and become a Big Law document reader because that’s the only position available and give myself a heart attack through overwork or else build up enough despair and despondency until suicide becomes, finally, an improvement on life, passing on my massive educational debt to my named next-of-kin, my old landlady. 😉

Well, it can’t be all bad. The sense of humor is still working. But I’ve got to figure out a way to get through these next couple of years, because otherwise, I’ll be making my homeless-assed way down to the steps of the capitol building and chaining myself to a pillar until something is done to fix the shit that Bush and Dick have left us with. If nothing else, it’ll earn me 15 minutes of fame, a headline, and a footnote in history.

What I don’t understand

What I don’t understand is… if things have gotten this tough for *me*… how the fuck has everyone else managed to get by? I was making a nice bit of cash before the economy made it less than the cost of living. What the hell is going on with the folks for whom $50K annually is nothing more than a pipe dream? Where’s the social revolt? The uprising? The call to arms and solidarity? Why aren’t we storming Sing-Sing like the French did the Bastille? No calls for the head of Laura Bush by the starving masses? How are -they- getting by? I mean, fuck… Connecticut is one of the richest states of the union, and if things are so goddamned miserable here…. wow. It just boggles the mind.

I’m scared, man. I’m scared for myself, and I’m scared for the world. Time is definitely running out. You can tell by the dashes. ‘—-‘ No time left. Just dashes.

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7 responses to “It’s bad, and getting worse.

  1. What I don’t understand is… if things have gotten this tough for *me*… how the fuck has everyone else managed to get by?

    A lot aren’t, and it’s going to get way worse. We have friends and family near retirement, who have lost their jobs and been out of work, and are really scraping, despite making a substantial salary a few years ago It’s going to get way worse before it gets better.

    I think prison is a bad idea. Having known more than a few people who went that route, it offers less financial and personal security than might be expected.

    I think China is a potential high-risk high-reward path. If you don’t want to do the cold-turkey, one-way-ticket and hassle some English teaching thing, maybe go for a Fulbright for the year. You won’t learn useful Chinese without immersion.

    http://us.fulbrightonline.org/thinking_eligibility.html

    Of course, counting on a Fulbright is a bad idea (ask half the population on the UWS), but the odds are way better than the lottery.

  2. Always darkest just before the dawn. I just checked my school email… as of today, my refund check is here. A huuuuuge weight is off my shoulders, because that will keep the rent paid and the utilities on for the next few months, even without me picking up new freelancing gigs. (Or going to prison… not quite sure I was serious there, but the wolves were getting close enough to make me actually begin to play with the idea).

    China is going to continue to be an important resume sweetener, even without the immersive experience. I’ll try learning the basics in a classroom first, although from my Spanish undergrad major I know the limitations of classroom-based instruction. The immersion would happen hopefully under circumstances a bit more under my control than hang a shingle trying to teach English.

    Thanks for the support, though. I’m running out of cat lives, but it seems we’ve dodged this bullet yet again. Can’t keep tempting fate, though… the near misses are getting closer and closer.

  3. Hey there – haven’t seen you since last semester (508), but I managed to find your blog because I’m taking 501 this semester. We should get together and drum sometime. Oh, and commiserate! BTW, I make a lot less than you do, but I manage to get along somehow (although I don’t have a partner to support, just a 16 year old cat). It is pretty damn sad that college educated people have to put up with this shit. Fairfield County blows! Drop me a line sometime, okay?

  4. Yeah, I freely admit I was lucky/productive/whatever enough to be on my way toward the golden yuppie dream. Folks drowned on the Titanic regardless of class, except for the 2% who got into the lifeboats. That’s what makes this so scary to me, because I’ve done all the social juju which is supposed to ward away tough economic times and poverty. So there’s definite feelings of social betrayal going on, too, along with the very real understanding that I was in the middle of the social pyramid’s height…what about the folks who didn’t have what I had, don’t enjoy the advantages I enjoy, and don’t have the talents, skills, network of support, or opportunities I’ve had? For -me- to even come close to approximating the economic prosperity and material security I enjoyed as a middle class small business owner’s son growing up, I will now have to be a millionaire… just to break even with that standard of living.

    It’s just staggering, and terribly sad. How do we begin to affect change for the better, though, when the wake-up call usually diverts all of our energy toward a frantic scramble to keep on keeping on however well we might?

    Ah well. Lately I’ve been haunted by Jack Nicholson’s line to the psychiatric waiting room from the eponymous movie… “What if this is as good as it gets?”

    I guess… I don’t believe in that. Which makes me an idealist, too. Now I’ll never get a decent job. 😉

    Just keep on keeping on. Sometimes the only way out is through.

  5. My friend Michelle always used to say to me, “You can’t go around problems, , you have to go through them!”. Of course, I was always looking for the easy way out of things at that time. And then I grew up. Or at least I think I did. Most of the time I don’t feel grown up, especially when I look at what other people my age have accomplished so far. You know, they’ve got the house, the kids, the dog, the whole nine yards. I, however, did not choose that route (or it didn’t choose me). I have to keep telling myself that I’m different and always have been. I’ll probably never earn six figures like my friends from high school, but if I can just be comfortable, I’ll be happy. Shit, I just need to learn to be happy right now! If I do manage to buy a house before a headstone, great, but if I don’t, well, who the hell knows? I can’t think about these kinds of things right now, because it just brings on a giant bout of depression. Then I wind up telling myself to snap out of it and just take it a damn day at a time. I do my best, which is, I suppose all anyone can do.

  6. You’re not alone in your plight. There are PLENTY of college graduates that are unemployed or underemployed. It is really rough out there right now. I myself am going experiencing some tough times right now.

    I did what ‘society’ told me to do in order to achieve the American Dream. I went to college, got a BA, graduated near the top of my class, went back to school, got an MA, graduated near the top of my class, I even went to a trade school and picked up a certificate. I have never been arrested for anything and stayed away from drugs. I’m relatively young, very hard working, and have good references.

    YET, despite all of that, I can’t find a decent job. I’ve looked in my field, related fields, and even unrelated fields. Still, no dice. It is VERY depressing to be 27 and still living with my parents because I can’t get a job that will enable me to live on my own.

    I’ve concluded that I simply have no economic value and have just accepted that fact.

    Suicide is my only way out. I’m in the process of writing my letters and will obtain a gun within a few days. It’s not as bad as it seems. I don’t have a wife or children, so, I wont be leaving behind any dependents. My friends and family will of course be hurt, but, given enough time, they will get over it.

    They would be happy to know that I’m no longer suffering, depressed, and going through every day feeling useless.

  7. @JohnDoe:

    I’m no stranger to depression and feelings of frustration and futility, so I get it. I do. I’ve just never crossed the line between fretting over despair and actively planning to end my life. Yet, as this post shows, I clearly understand the frustration and despair that can come along with life in the 21st century.

    I don’t advise ending it. I don’t know your exact circumstances, but I’m going to say what needs to be said: pick up the phone and call for help. 911 is a last resort number, but if you can’t a community mental health hotline then 911 may be your best bet. Explain that it’s not a life threatening emergency, that you need to get in contact with someone for help about despair, depression, and suicidal thoughts and feelings, and the sooner the better. They’ll get you to the right people, who can work with you to help figure out how to sort things out. And getting you employment help is going to be a big part of that, believe it or not.

    One of the things that I’ve learned by sticking with this academic program I’m in is that the economy is in the middle of changing radically. We really are in the middle of a social restructuring, and it’s not being driven by the people of power, it’s being driven by the power of the people.

    The important thing is not to give up. It can get really, really tiring. I know. There are days that the weariness of the entire world is weighing upon me and it seems like, ideologically, death would be a release. Those are the days that have to be gotten through. And sometimes, life really is so crappy that all you can do is hold on and muddle through one breath at a time.

    27 is not bad for living at home nowadays. Count your blessing for having folks who will allow you to stay with them while you try to get on your feet. I stayed at home until 26, and the only reason I left then was because of being in the right place at the right time. My career didn’t really begin until 26 for me, and could easily have taken me until 27 or 28 as well.

    As for your friends or family getting over it… no they won’t. There won’t be a day that they don’t wonder what they could have done to help, or why you didn’t come to them to let them know how bad it had gotten. That grief will rip into their souls and hearts and leave a permanent stain. And if they can’t get over that grief, it can eat them up alive. Or it can turn to hatred and resentment at you for not having the courage to say, “I need help” to them before going about and writing letters or buying guns.

    Don’t do it. Just don’t. Take it from a fellow surfer of the waves of despair… it’s better to be a disappointment than a casualty. If you check out, everything that is nasty and wrong with this world wins. Every day that you live, even if it’s only to snipe and complain, is a day where the machine loses.

    Contact me off the blog if you need to. pacio49 at GMAIL (dot) c.om. You can’t change the circumstances of a life which is ended.

    Stick it out, man. Start paying attention to the web and how things are changing because of it. Find some way to make your MA useful in the web environment. You want a consultation in it from a budding interactive consultant? Yours for free. Stick around. Three words, “I need help”. Find someone to say them too. If you don’t have anyone else, find a church or a hospital and let the priest/nurse/doctor know that you need help and are depressed to the point of suicidal thoughts.

    Get help. Life can’t be lived without it, no matter who we are.

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