Tag Archives: recession

So, Uh, About That Tree…

Yeah, okay, guilty.

I’m that asshole who put her tree up on November 29th and made you feel like a totally unorganized idiot, or like I’m part of the conspiracy to make Christmas encroach further into our lives.

But I say NAY. NAY, it is not encroaching!

I don’t know when it started, but for a couple decades at least I’ve associated the week FOLLOWING American Thanksgiving as the official start of “When it’s acceptable to talk about… Christmas.”

You'll shoot your eye out, kid!

Still, I typically do my Christmas one week later, on December 6th. This year, I see myself getting crazy busy over the next while, and I don’t want to overdo my December, and I also don’t want to get into the position I was in when I got it up on the 19th one year. Starting a week earlier gives me breathing space. (And makes it likely I’ll stick to my tradition of taking it down on New Year’s Day night.)

But there’s a deeper reason for me to start Christmas early this year.

It’s been a lousy fucking year at times. It’s ENDING well, but the first 8-9 months you coulda kept, thanks.

From January to June was pretty sucktastic especially. Between the Japan thing, blowing my back, dead people, and other things I’d rather be flippant about than think seriously on, well, it was an often-bleak period for me.

I’ve had low-grade depression for a long time now, well over a year, and but I’m really optimistic about where 2012 might go because I like how this year is ending.

There’s a mental game that comes with adversity and we don’t always win. I know I haven’t been, and I’ve been trying to flip the script.

Christmas is pretty much the biggest script one can flip, if one’s tired about the way things are looking in life.

Christmas, at its heart, is a time made of myth and imagination. Fun stories and hopefully good memories abound. Yummy foods and warm drinks are everywhere.

These are a few of my favourite things.

I don’t like the commercialization of Christmas, and never have. I don’t buy gimmicky things and I don’t give a lot.

So, last night, when I tweeted a picture of my tree last night, and @Unambig said “It looks like 1984,” it was one of the nicest things ever. (He expounded here.)

For me, that’s the gold standard of Christmas. The early ’80s. Christmas was certainly commercialized, but in a more romantic and fun kind of way. Today’s commercialization dresses it up that way but I don’t believe them. It’s disingenuine. Time to replace that iPhone that works perfectly fine with yet a snazzier iPhone, kids! Spend, spend, spend!

Not me.

I won’t do a lot for Christmas. I’ll get out and see some people but I’ll also take a lot of time for myself. I won’t spend a lot, either, compared to others. I’ll make most of the gifts I give. The few I buy will be ones I hope to really be liked, but they won’t be expensive. I’ll give pies, candy, and other yummy things, and it will take a long time to make it all. And that’s okay! Generous in spirit, I can be that.

In the past, I’ve spent, but I’ve avoided malls and the standard “easy way out” online gifts.

Like, one year, I took a weekend in early December to hunt for unusual gifts, back when I had the cash to do so. I drove out to the Valley, to the Fort Langley Antique Mall, and dropped my wad on collectibles. For one friend, a 1956 red rotary-dial telephone, like they used to have in all the old movies about nuclear scares in the ’50s and ’60s. NO, NOT THE RED PHONE! Commie fuckers!

Yeah, I gave one just like this set. I'm awesome. :)

Then, also bought that day, there’s the mint-condition set of 4 Empire Strikes Back special edition glasses issued by Burger King in 1980. That went over well. I don’t think they’ve ever been used, they’re in some shadow box somewhere, I suspect. A father-to-son legacy gift for the now-5-years-old son to have one decade down the line.

Last year, I was unemployed. There were no such generous gifts from me. Instead, I made people candy and other things.

Still… by just accepting that I didn’t have the cash for Christmas-as-usual, and embracing the older ideas — cooking from scratch, giving little well-planned made-by-me gifts, and things like that — I rediscovered the FUN of Christmas.

I enjoyed the bustle of picking up necessities because I wasn’t part of the shopping pandemonium last year. I found more time to slow down and see Christmassy things and take moments for myself. Somehow, it felt more like the Christmases I knew as a kid. It felt simpler, easier, and more enjoyable.

I ran into others who had found themselves in similarly-pinched positions after layoffs, fewer clients, and other ongoing-recession-related situations, and they all had to make the choice of bemoaning their situation and dismissing Christmas altogether, or giving in and trying to get creative about personalized gifts to give. Once they gave in and went with what they could afford, they too found that Christmas was more fun. They didn’t have the stress of how they’d pay it off in January or February because they couldn’t get themselves in that position, and, bam! The bonus to that was, they just didn’t have STRESS.

I’ve spoken with some of those folk since and all of them are looking forward to Christmas more this year. They’re planning ahead for what to do, how to cut pennies, how to enjoy the moment. Just like me. They’re not feeling pressure, they’re just planning well in advance for how to schedule their time for creativity, and balancing that with the fun life that comes in the holiday season.

I’m saving in other ways, too. Like last year, I’m ditching the expensive turkey and making a ground-pork tourtiere instead (this recipe, amazing). About a third the cost and every bit as traditional and wonderful to look forward to noshing. Best part is, I can make it up to two days ahead of time and really enjoy the entertainment of Christmas eve with friends again.

Does Christmas within a budget SORT OF suck? Sure. So does life on a budget, but that has to be the way we live now.

Hey, it’d be wonderful to be able to afford to give awesomeness-with-big-pricetags to friends and family I care about, but I can’t. I live in this recession. I’ve been affected by it for a long, long time, and that makes me pretty ordinary. The living-within-means thing is getting old, but that’s just life.

So, we do what we can and we have fun with what we’ve got.

If putting a tree up on November 29th makes it easier for me to make that all happen, then that’s how we’re playing it.

Christmas is about whatever you want it to be about. You’re a Christian? Great, celebrate Jesus. A heathen like me? Santa!

But, for all of us, it should always be about just remembering to find a little time for people, give a little more of yourself than you normally do, and being kind to others.

You would think having an extra week of that in our lives wouldn’t be such a pain in the ass for some of you.

Maybe it wouldn’t be, if you found a way to remember the simplicity of Christmas, and practiced its ideals rather than buying the “Give till it Hurts” mentality that spoils the modern commercial holiday for so many.

Money Ain’t Everything

One of my favourite songs from my teen years was Cyndi Lauper’s “Money isn’t Everything.”

It feels like life comes in with built-in looped lessons, themes that repeat constantly throughout our lives. For me, money and patience are two lessons I’m forever learning about.

Money, though, is the one that causes me most grief.

Drowning piggybank, from TheDoublethink.com: http://thedoublethink.com/2009/06/how-much-to-spend-in-a-recession/

This year has probably been the most learned year on the money front for me. I’ve fixed a few things, changed my quality of life by way of making small choices, but I’ve still run into a great deal of hardship twice this year. Once during the Olympics, because you don’t realize until they arrive what a wild ride and party it is to live within, or how expensive life gets then, and, well, right now.

Having done the bad-back thing right before getting pneumonia, it’s actually been 7 weeks of consistent drain on my wallet, with little to nothing coming in, and it’s been hairy a couple times. Thank god for freezers with food in them and well-stocked pantries and beans and oatmeal, man.

But there’s a lot one can learn from hard times, even poverty.

There’s a gift in poverty, for those who are able to escape it.

I was raised by parents who’d come through a lot financially. My mother, I think, had it harder than my father — hers having been the kind of family that feared eviction on Christmas eve but returned home from mass with a giant gift box of food and clothing from the community, who slept three kids  to a single bed.

I still remember her telling me of those times, but I never “got” it. Not until the last five years.

Years ago, I was cursed to be stupid enough to fall into the “why me?” crowd when it came to being broke. I’d be jealous as shit of my friends who always got nice gifts. I felt like a victim, as stupid as that is.

I still resent people who can, and do, have all the things they want but have zero appreciation of just how fortunate they are to have it.

Some of them, if reading this, would probably have the whole “But you can earn your way out of poverty” attitude, and they’re right, to an extent. But what if you’re like me, or unluckier, where you have one year after another of illness or injury, misfortune or bad luck?

When it’s a six-month patch, you get through it and you move on. When it’s six years, or longer, it’s just an accomplishment to make it through month after month. Retirement? What? Savings? What? Survival, man.

I’m lucky, I’ve almost had it constantly be tough and hard for the last decade, but I always get by, I always make it through the hard patches. And every time I do, I’ve learned some new trick about money, some new way of saving a few pennies, but more importantly, I’ve always been able to remember that life is so much bigger and more meaningful than a balance sheet.

For those who think “time is money”, so just buy your food and work more — how? How does one magically make this more expensive, prepared, convenient food just appear? How does one afford to live spitting distance from the best job they can get?

They don’t. Not in this town, man.

There’s a reason money’s the fastest way to kill a relationship.

There’s nothing in this world we value more than money, there’s nothing that defines your life more — and nothing is more omnipresent than the reminders of just how much YOUR value is determined by the money you have or don’t have.

Try it. Wear tattered, out-of-style clothes with a bad haircut and zero accessories, carrying lousy plastic bags or beaten knapsacks, and be sure tote your insecurities and financial worry along with you, then enter into any decent shop in any reasonable area of town, and tell me you don’t FEEL your value lowering when you enter those establishments.

Or go experience the thrill of being constantly broke and listening to even your average friends talking about their new jeans or the restaurant they went out to, or the vacation they’re saving for, and try to ignore that little pang of “I wish…” that creeps up inside every time you think of small items you’d love to have.

Reminders exist everywhere of just how much you don’t have when you’re living hand-to-mouth. No matter how much peace you’ve made with your status, the constant reminders beat you down a little, just like how a single repeating drop of water can erode the hardest of stone over time.

Despite all this, the older I get, the more I appreciate that I truly value the important things in life, and through all my adversity, I’ve learned to really experience gratitude for the little things that come my way.

I love a good meal, I’m passionate about great wine, I know a gorgeous sunset can’t be bought, I savour all the little moments life gives me, when I find the time to really absorb them.

Truth be told, I’m happy there’s a recession on some levels.

When it comes to the middle class and the wealthy, I’m glad they’ve had to wake up some. I’m glad we suddenly realize there’s more in life than the mighty currency markets.

I’m saddened by those who’ve lost everything, who’ve had lives crushed by fucking assholes in the economic world who just have no concept of debt or value.

It’s so ironic. The people who “create” finance in the economic world actually have zero concept of what a real dollar is worth, of just how far — or not — a normal living wage goes.

And they’re the ones who’ve helped bring everything, and every one, down.

Still, poverty has its gifts.

Gratitude is a gift you’ll never grow tired of. There’s nothing like actually really appreciating a thing. Anything. So many people I know just shrug off little moments of generosity. How could they? Don’t they understand?

No. Not yet.

But they will.

Not having disposable income makes problems harder to solve, time harder to find, health harder to manage, and a social life harder to have.

But, with the right perspective, it can really open your eyes.

Has the recession taught you to better appreciate life? Have you really learned what you need to learn from the last two years? Have you gained insights that will define your future and always keep you cognizant of what real “worth” is?

Have you used it to remember what life is really about — the world and people around us, moments in time, laughter, and creation? Have you learned to be kinder to others and generous in thought, action, and words, when finances fail you? Have you learned to be understanding of the trials others face and the compromises they need to make just to make it through their weeks?

It’s not too late to learn those lessons now.

Easter and Change in the Air

My earliest memory of something atypical of Easter-cliche-happenings was in the year I would turn 8, 1981. It was Easter Sunday morning and my father, mother, brother, and I were gathered in the bright yellow sunroom for breakfast when the phone rang.

It was family back East. Seems my father’s father died that morning. I’d never met him. Phillip. But if he was my father’s father, well, he must’ve been a giant of a man, then.

We lived on opposite coasts of the world’s largest country back when air travel wasn’t exactly a bargain. But that was the summer — we were going back for almost the entire summer, spending it in Prince Edward Island for my mother’s parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and family reunion.

Two months too late to meet the last of my father’s parents.

Ever since, I’ve always found death and rebirth to be synonymous with Easter.

Winter rages, summer bites back. Seasons change. Lethargy bleeds out and enthusiasm rears up.

The romantic in me is enjoying the realization that such a major and untenable lifechange should come for me as Easter dawns.

I wish I could bottle and share this cauldron that bubbles inside me — a (in)toxic(ating) mix of excitement and fear, curiosity and dread, confusion and confidence. I have no idea what to make of it, how to pull it all apart.

It’s like my emotions are fighting like a carload of five-year-olds.

And this week coming up is filled with grey and cold and wind. A batten-your-hatches and clear-your-files sort of week filled with naps, short wet walks, pensive moments, and strategizing.

The weather gods apparently feel next weekend is a good time for Spring to begin her return engagement in the fair city of Vancouver, after peppering us with an ironic blast of late winter and snow after our “warmest Olympics ever” came to an end — and the city’s been in a freeze ever since.

From weather on down, change is coming every which way in my life. From my professional focus to my health attitudes to the time I have to focus on myself to my ability to be out in the world to my back account.

EVERYTHING changes here, now, this very week.

It’s not like this is some happy slow transition. No, dude. I’ve lost my job — I’ve gone from trying to juggle seems-like-60-hour weeks to juggling zilch, nada, zippo. My landscape of my life is like a vast stretch of prairie scrub. Goes for miles and miles and miles.

Its vast emptiness is paralleled only by the expanse of my savings account.

The life I had, overnight, is in cardiac arrest, sustained only by the faint hope that is the three-months-to-hire-me-back open-ended lay-off I’ve been handed. Aside from that?

Well, shit, son. Not every aspiring writer gets her bookwriting ducks in a row then gets her pink slip.*

My whole life’s kinda weird right now. I had a Mystery Mentor step out of the works on Twitter and give me very valuable advice for starting my book. I’m reading How to Write a Book Proposal by Larsen now. Very “start here” positioning when you have a good idea of how your book unfolds. As I’m beginning to.

But I’d been working toward this readying since December — figuring out plot and structure, style and voice, basic timeline. In my head, of course. But sometimes that’s a good start.

Life-wise, I was able to get just a few things in a row — not everything will unfold at once but instead it will unfold over the next few months, slowly making me able to sustain the kind of adversity I have to be ready to face if I’m to use this sudden shifting of worlds to my advantage.

All in all? Easter? What an exciting unexpected scary time for me.

Thank god I believe in myself and have an inkling that, despite this appearing to be “bad” luck, this may actually be the start of something wow for me.

WHAT, exactly, I don’t know.

But isn’t it fun?

Happy Easter, everyone. Save me some ham.**

And avoid the “death” part of Easter. It’s kinda lame. Ham’s better. Not for the pig. But, you know.

*Pink slips are blue, incidentally, in Canada. Get yer passport now. Yer missing the fuck out, people.

**You ever think the Christian tradition of ham at Easter is sort of an ironic slap at Judaism, which kinda started the whole Easter-ball rolling anyhow? I’m more a turkey girl.

And Then There Was Change

Photos 319I was informed of my layoff yesterday.

Wednesday will be my last day, until enough work returns, or the company is forced into harder decisions.

Kudos to the bosses, we’ve had an inkling this might happen. I’ve been grilling them weekly to see if changes were happening, but there has been no news, which was bad news. But what can you do?

Unlike any time in the past, I used this foreknowledge to spend a little money investing in my writing — ink cartridges and a new cabinet so my desk is now 3 inches lower — a long story, but long story short is, I was getting migraines from writing/working, and hope it’s no longer the case.

Normally, something big like a layoff  comes down, I panic and tell myself I can’t justify that spending, and I operate from a place of fear. This time, I just came up with a cheaper bare-minimum plan, and told myself it’s not optional — it’s about investing in myself.

Migraines don’t make good writing. And I’m too much a “writer” to not be good about it.

Now that I have some time to write in between the requisite job-searching, it’s obviously a priority.

I’m hoping I get called back to my job in a couple months or even by the fall. I know it’ll be tight and hard living, but I’ve been through this before and impressed the shit out of myself, so maybe it’s time to prove we only get better as we age.

There’s a difference now from back then — I now recognize I’ve suffered from mental illness, and live with difficult ADHD. I can, and do, learn new jobs, but I need to find the right fit for me, not just any job. I need the right kind of employers, work environment, and schedule.

Knowing this means I’m empowered, not a victim, by those challenges. I’m better off than most people; I know what I really need for success.

I’d rather return to my company, who’ve become like family over the years, who I trust and can approach about nearly anything, and who place the same value on life-over-work as all the employees do. Our schedules have been flexible, they accommodate the little things that pop up and would be better done with a shorter workday or a day off.

I’ve never made much. I’ve made $18 an hour while my friends have all being going on to bigger, better, amazing things, and I’ve been scraping by.

But in the time I’ve scraped by, with my work allowing me to flex my days and hours on a weekly basis, I’ve managed to:

  • overcome years of intensive rehab after almost dying a couple times
  • fought (and I think overcome) once-frequent forays into dark depressions and other mental illnesses
  • gotten through a number of tight layoffs with nearly no help from anyone despite my challenges and lack of savings
  • not only beat but beat into a bloody goddamned stump my writer’s block
  • rediscovered myself
  • gained 40, then lost 70 pounds
  • conquered many fears
  • discovered my inner athlete
  • and done a million other things, while never making the money to have others help me accomplish it easier

Scraping by the last three years let me improve myself more than most people accomplish in a decade or more, and almost all done by myself.

I have constantly been trying to heal or get over something — be it a physical or mental issue — and my work, my pseudo-family, has pretty much been there and made it possible, as possible as they could and still make an income, through it all.

Knowing myself now, in my post-head-injury, post-depression, post-unhappy life, I KNOW I can’t just work for anyone. I know I can’t just waltz into any company and “make the best” of it. It will tear me to shreds. Mental illness is a real issue; me working in a negative, high-stress job with evil people is like making someone with lung cancer work in a restaurant that has smoking. You can TRY, but what’s the fucking point? It’s got “FAILURE” and “CATASTROPHE” stamped all over it.

Like when I worked at a place for 6 months in during 2007, with The Dragon Lady and her art school, ruling by terror and venom, poisoning me with her negative depression on a daily basis from seven feet away with no wall. Oh, lord. Never, ever again.

I spiralled close to suicidal working under her. I gained 20 pounds in 6 months. Then I quit, went back to my old film job, and they gave me a non-judgmental, supportive, flexible environment in which I’ve made the most progress of my life, changing EVERYTHING with no trainers, no financial advisers, no real therapists — just a supportive workplace that let me make myself a priority.

I’ve changed me, inside and out. I’ve so much more empathy and enthusiasm for life and others now. I’m such a better person. I’m not gonna die young — not from my health, anyhow. And work played a big part in giving me the control to make that happen.

And now the future of the company that gave me such a fantastic environment that encouraged my change & growth is in danger. It breaks my heart.

All because of stupid government and bad tax policies. What a tragedy.

None of us employees wants to work for other people, the bosses don’t want to work with new people. None of us is in it for the money, not even my bosses. All of us live lives of sacrifice and budgeting because the job lets us put our art, creativity, and private lives first. We don’t make a lot but we’re under no illusions what kind of people we work for, and that’s why we’ve stayed.

But the government doesn’t want us to stay anymore. They won’t match film industry tax credits from other provinces, and now some asshole in Ontario or California is doing my job, since domestic film production is down by 40%, and 50% of the workforce has been laid off.

So here I am. Four days left.

And a book to write.

And a newly-adjusted desk to write it at.

Looks like I know what I’m doing.

Unlike most people, when I write this book, it won’t be gathering dust. I won’t be sitting around micro-panicking over every word. There’ll come a time when I’m Ready.

I have NOTHING to lose from publication. NOTHING. Anyone I stand the chance of pissing off in my book has probably already been pissed off at me and either knows that’s part of knowing me and my unflinching-but-always-trustworthy honesty, OR they’re already not talking to me and there’s no skin off my ass if I maintain the status quo.

I’m a WRITER. Through and through. My friends know this. Anything’s on the table for me, but they also trust me to toe a line. We’re good.

More importantly than the trust I have for my friends? I write about all my failings and weaknesses and dreams and thoughts all the time. It’s not like I have to dig that much deeper. If I’ve already told you some of the embarrassing bad things in my life, then why not just keep that ball rolling?

So, the writing? Not too stressed about that part. Organizing? Ooh, yes, trickier. Some of the get-an-agent-get-a-deal stuff scares the shit out of me, I admit it.

But you know what? I’m at that point where languishing in obscurity scares me more.

I deserve better than this. I owe it to myself. I’m tough enough to take it, too.

I have nothing to lose — except my home. But I’ll figure it out, I’ll get by. Times like these, having no savings, living in one of the world’s most expensive cities, yeah, things get daunting.

It’s uncertainty. My job might be back in 6 weeks, I don’t know. I could spend the whole year writing and looking for a job that fits me, I don’t know.

Where will I be in 6 weeks? 6 months? Where’s life taking me?

I don’t know.

And there’s not a lot I can do about it.

Except adjust my desk and get to work. That’s one area I know I can make a difference in, accomplish something in. That’s one area I know. That’s a start.

_________________

SO, HEY:
If you know of any agents for memoirs, let me know — this process entirely daunts me, but I think my work is worthy. If you have an “in” for publishing and think you can help, I’m all ears. Drop me a line, scribecalledsteff (at) gmail (dot) com.

I’m working until next Wednesday, with paperwork to deal with for employment insurance next Thursday, but after that, I’ll be all over emails, etcetera. The book is in full-on “go” mode, and I hope to have three chapters done by early June, with a workable outline for pitches. So, please, spread the word with serious publishing contacts that there’s a little ball of awesome right over here that’s looking to explode onto the scene. Thanks!

The Top Five Reasons to Lose Weight in a Recession

As you may or may not know, I’ve lost 75 pounds and replaced my wardrobe completely at least four times now over the last 20 months, as the economy has slid deeper and deeper and the sales grown far more vast and everpresent.

Being a lowly writer-type girl who works to live rather than lives to work, which is to say she works as little as possible, I thank ze gods for the recession because it’s saved this work-to-live ass from overtime.

And being a lifelong David Letterman fan, I like his lists. But I’m an underachiever. So here’s the Top Five Reasons to Lose Weight in a Recession.

5. Veggies & fruit are trendy ‘cos you can grow ’em & they’re cheap, so a Krispy Kreme sneak-attack is less likely. And a banana is 32 cents, score.
4. I smell a liquidation! When better to replace a wardrobe with all those pounds lost?
3. You can’t afford to have a life, but you can afford to jog.
2. When you can’t afford to eat out, it’s so much easier to avoid restaurants & their evil hide-the-fat ways.
1. Thinner, you get drunk faster. Here’s where being a cheap drunk pays, baby!