Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Portrait: Delaware

My wife and I have been married for coming up on 16 years and have three exceptionally brilliant children (mostly her doing.) For the better part of 20 years after college I sold commercial printing in the DE, PA, NJ area and lead a successful, yet very boring career killing trees for the purpose of telling you, how you can improve everything about you and your life through junk mail. Nonetheless I was quite successful and the income was enough to have Susan stay at home and raise the kids (this is very important to both of us.)

But low and behold my fidgeting and over thinking things would get the best of me and after a dinner out and doing the Madlibs in the back of the kids menu, I had an idea (not uncommon but this was actionable.) The next morning, at 6:30AM, in the shower (sorry for the bad visual) I realized I had never seen language as a game before and I even knew the name would be called You've been Sentenced! I quickly ran out of the shower and woke Susan with “Honey I have an idea!” in a very excited tone to which she rolled over and replied into the pillow “No not now!”

In a slightly less excited tone I explained my idea for the game to which she more eagerly replied “I haven’t had my coffee yet but that sounds like a good idea.” Together we searched the net on December 29th of 2004, and found hundreds of word games but no sentence forming games and one particular site where a teacher wrote a scathing letter to the toy and game industry stating that she was upset that every year there would be a hundred new word games but that no one had ever made a good sentence forming game. That afternoon I called my brother who has two patents to his name and his response…”That is the most incredibly brilliant idea I have ever heard!” I now had my marching orders from the king.

After about 5 weeks of trying to figure out the game play I understood why there had never been such a game – It didn’t WORK!!! With a little prayer and a decent night’s sleep I figured out the math and geometry that would make language playable. By this time I also had developed a team of people to help me, all working for part ownership in the company. On 5/5/05 we launched the world’s first pentagon shaped game – A game that is now a business that is surviving the world’s worst economy in 70 years.

I had stopped selling printing by March of 2006 as orders were coming in from independent stores but the change came with an order from B&N to fill their 650 super stores. By August I had landed Borders as well and we were now off to the races, constantly raising money from investors and growing the business into a real company. We launched more products, hired 3 people, won multiple awards and sales grew to over ½ a million. Now we needed real money and in May of 2008 launched a Private Placement Memorandum to raise 5 million dollars. By august we had 6 investors in and in September were expecting our first big investment for over a million when… I called my future big investor on the day of the crash to which he replied “I’ve lost 200 million this afternoon and I am going to hold off on any other investments right now. That was the mantra I would hear over and over again from investors for the next year.

By March 1st of 2009 my employees basically let themselves go for the potential survival of the company. It was back to me and Susan and the help of a part time book keeper. 70% of our sales come in the 4th quarter so survival until then was imperative. Susan helped fill in my weeks without pay with her freelance writing and even took on a larger client with the launch of a new jewelry line. www.whimsyworldwide.com We cut many of our activities, travel, and other expenses so we could survive to see if sales for Christmas 2009 could help us recover. I am happy to say that we are still here but in a different shape then we were before. But we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the mommy blogs who have been so tremendous in their reviews.

This economy has been brought on by the greed of a few who took advantage of people, loop holes, and the dreams of many. All of us have been affected and hopefully we will learn from our mistakes…only to repeat them again 70 years from now. I am not trying to sound pessimistic but truthful. Our greed drives us and can be the most motivating factor of change in our lives but it also deceives us when we refuse to look at the past. History does repeat itself.

Susan and I look forward to another great year with hope. Hope that our leaders can change the mistakes we have made and correct our vision for the future.

-Donald, Delaware

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Portrait: Central Coast, CA

submitter's note: trigger warning

I managed to score a wonderful job just as the recession hit. I am employed by a non-profit organization, and happily took a slight pay cut in order to regain a sense of personal satisfaction with my work.

My non-profit assists survivors of sexual assault in various aspects of their lives - we advocate for their rights when dealing with police or employers, provide one-on-one and group therapy, maintain a 24 hour hotline, and much more. We also provide educational programs, trainings, and presentations for the community in an effort to prevent sexual assault. Like all other non-profits in this day and age, money is a problem. Federal and state funding has floundered for countless social service organizations.

What has been even more difficult for us is the lack of donations and support from the community. As people scale back their expenses, charitable causes are one of the first things to go, and we have certainly felt the hit. We have also seen interest in volunteerism decrease, despite the high level of unemployment. I personally believe that the fear and dread people feel is overwhelming their ability or willingness to give back to their community, especially when they feel they have received nothing themselves.

We have far less than ten employees, and we have been forced to lay one off and give a pay cut to another. Both women go above and beyond in their efforts to educate and assist sexual assault survivors, and neither deserve to be without adequate income.

Ironically, the stress of the economy and loss of many social service organizations has significantly increased the need for our services. Money problems and other economic fears have "triggered" many sexual assault survivors, bringing back memories and feelings they believed to have been 'resolved' or 'over' years ago. Furthermore, people who were receiving support from other social service agencies that were forced to close their doors are turning to us for help. While we do our best, it is increasingly difficult to meet the varying needs of our clients. For example, we have a lot of mentally ill survivors turning to us for support after their mental health agencies had to close their doors or turn them away. We are simply unable to give the survivor what they need (medication or mental illness-specific therapy) in order to even being the healing process, but as I said, we do our best.

Though we are all being told to "do more with less," that is simply NOT an option when you provide face-to-face, human services. Our counselors cannot counsel two survivors at once. Our advocates cannot be present for one survivor's police report and another's forensic exam simultaneously. Therefore, we will have to begin turning people away.

Turning a sexual assault survivor away is more painful than you can imagine. It usually takes a survivor months, if not years, to get to a place emotionally in which they are ready to share their pain and begin the healing process. To struggle to that point, and then be rejected from the one local organization that can provide you with the healing you need, is indescribably horrible. But we cannot meet the needs of our community without community support, monetary and otherwise. And frankly, our community has completely failed us while expecting our level of services to be maintained or improved.

To conclude, none of us are unaffected by the economy and alone in their plight. For the under- and unemployed - think about volunteering some extra time to a local non-profit. To those struggling to hold onto their jobs, or unsure about their future - think about the consequences of losing some of your most vital social services, and see what you can personally do to help prevent that. I believe that one can find a healthy balance for taking their of their personal struggles while helping to curb larger issues as well. Though everyone needs money, we all need support and a sense of community as well. Ask yourself what you can do to build that sense of community, and help us all emerge from this experience in as good shape as we can hope.

Central Coast, CA

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Portrait: Prince George's County, Maryland

Last night my husband and I broke down and tapped into our very last resort. We emptied my 16 month old daughter’s piggy bank for money to sustain us for the next 10 days until our next paydays.

Despite the dire straits that we might seem to be in right now, we are both in high spirits and counting the many blessings and graces that we have both been granted. All of our bills are paid and we are both gainfully employed in jobs that are definitely not known for being financially lucrative (teaching). We are all healthy but if that fails us, we have amazingly comprehensive health coverage provided by our employers with little to no possibility that it will be taken from us. We have plenty of food in the refrigerator and pantry of more than just the staples and we’ve got a washer and dryer that we don’t have to feed with spare change to work. We both have reliable cars and one was even just able to be paid off. The debt that we do have has been significantly reduced within the past year due to our own diligence at paying it down and eliminating it all together. And to top it all off, we are one of the many American who were lucky enough to buy our first house in one of the most expensive regions of the country and at a price that will not fill us with regret or lead us to foreclosure later.

A part of me has been hesitant to share our experience in this time of recession because our story is so far from being the nightmare that I know others have endured and will continue to endure. I’m certain that plenty of people will read what I’ve detailed of our life and feel it has no place within this collective and also ask what we’ve done to be able to make it through mostly unscathed. The fact of the matter is that our success hasn’t come because of some great big secret though. It’s come from our willingness and commitment to living as simply as possible, understanding and accepting what is no more than just enough, and commitment to living in faith that we will never be given anything that we can’t handle and everything that might seem to come beyond that will be taken care of God alone.

I’m sure that at this point I’ve lost a number of people but I can’t lie and say that our happiness, peace, and joy comes from any place other than a belief much greater than ourselves. Because though we’ve lived a good life, understand that it’s not been easy for us and has definitely included major sacrifices and hardships. Before we were here in life, we lived in a neighborhood where you couldn’t walk around outside at night and you could regularly hear gunfire and see drug dealing. Before we were here in life, there were weeks on end when we trained ourselves to be able to live on maybe one meal a day that was understatedly meager. Before we were here in life, we had to learn to swallow our pride and understand that accepting handouts when they were truly needed didn’t mean an acceptance of the life that we had or an acceptance that things couldn’t or wouldn’t change.

So what’s our secret to “making it” in a time like this? It’s our belief in God and the power of prayer. It’s our commitment to banding together rather than tearing each other apart the way it feels like the world around us is. And it’s our willingness to let go of the life that we once thought we were due so that we can have a life of exactly enough but somehow filled to the brim of everything we ever wanted in the first place.

Despite our differences, our story is as much a portrait of this recession as everyone else’s. Yes, we’ve gained plenty and have succeeded in much. But understand that we’ve lost things as well. However, the things that we’ve lost -pessimism, hopelessness, anger, selfishness, overindulgence, and fear – are things that anyone in this world would be so blessed to lose as well. Because losing all of that will only give way to a strongly rooted belief that hope and faith can and will spring eternal. If only you let it.

Prince George's County, Maryland

Monday, August 31, 2009

Portrait: Puyallup, Washington

My husband and I have spent our entire young adulthood making what we thought were the "right" choices. He got me through nursing school so I could get a good job and I could, in turn, get him through chiropractic school so he could get his own great job. We moved to Vancouver, WA and he started school in Portland, OR. We had our daughter while he was in school and I was working a job that was less than ideal...we just knew that after he was done with his program, we could move home, he would be hired on in a thriving practice, and I could drop back to part-time work. My dream is to work only a couple days a week so I can primarily be home with our beautiful two year old. 2009 was going to be the year our "real life" started--great jobs, the stress of student life behind us, maybe our second child?? Back in March, when my husband graduated and we were moving home, life seemed exciting and without limits.

Fast forward to now, nearly six months later. Shortly before moving home, we made the stupid, stupid decision to buy a house we can't afford, assuming (stupidly) that a chiropractor and a nurse combo team would make excellent money and an outrageous mortgage wouldn't be so outrageous after all. We were lured by the promise of being able to refinance in a year...which hasn't happened, despite my husband's repeated efforts to contact our bank and inquire about our refinancing options. He is continually told to call back in a month, maybe then a new opportunity will come available.

I immediately went back to the job I had before we moved. At first, my husband got a job in a clinic as an associate chiropractor and for a month (maybe six weeks?) things seemed like they were settling down. We were paying our bills and trying to pay off our credit cards, I was working three days a week, we enrolled our daughter in a fantastic (if very, very expensive) daycare. But then my husband suddenly just...stopped making money. He was never hired with a salary, only on a per-patient-visit basis. And let's face it, people. Chiropractic care is not a necessity, it's a luxury. People weren't flocking in to see him, and the insurance payments on the few people he was seeing were taking weeks and weeks to roll in. First, he went two weeks without a paycheck. Then three, then four...we were able to piece it together during that time, eating up what was left of our savings, but eventually we realized he was essentially working for free...not the plan we had in mind when we were struggling all those years to get him through school.

He quit working at that clinic, after going six weeks with no paycheck, and the owner of the practice still owes him money. Apparently, it is still tied up in insurance payments. Let's hear it for insurance companies, yes? We went on an uber-budget immediately while he started pounding the pavement looking for a new position as a salaried associate chiropractor. I went back to work full-time. He finds odd jobs working for family, a paint job here, roofing a barn there...all while still trying to find work in the field he loves.

And I am feeling desperate. Like so many other Americans, I am just trying to hold it together and praying that my paycheck will cover all the bills this month. I have $2500 in credit card debt and it eats at me. I have never carried such a high amount on my credit card and I am ashamed to even type in the amount, but there it is. I make payments every month and I feel like the balance never changes.

I try to focus on the positive in my life, but that, along with my faith in my small family, is starting to unravel. I am grateful for my job and bitter at the same time that I have to spend 40 hours a week there. I am thankful we have enough money to spend on groceries each week but growing weary of the stress that goes along with trying to make only $100 per week feed three people. I remind myself that we still have extras...a great daycare for our daughter and a membership to the YMCA, but I am filled with sadness and dread that these extras might have to be cut in a month or two, if my husband still can't find work. And I am constantly humbled, and flabbergasted, that things like quality daycare and a gym membership have shifted from the "necessary" to the "extra" category in my budget and my mind.

We are not where we thought we would be in 2009. We have no savings, we are (still) living paycheck to paycheck, and my husband has no job. At least I know we are not the only people struggling. Thank you for keeping this blog...I am hoping to email an update in a month or two saying my husband is employed and things are turning around. I guess we'll see.

Amy Murray
Puyallup, Washington

Monday, August 24, 2009

Portrait: Vermillion South Dakota

A few years ago, I was 22 and enjoying my own quiet riot of excess and stupidity.  I was mindless about everything.  Mindlessly dating and sleeping with a man that didn't love me and vice versa.  Mindlessly wracking up thousands in stupid debt, living off of my mother, and just sort of bouncing from idea to idea of what I wanted to do with my life.  I didn't really care or realize the damage I was doing to my future, until I got pregnant with my daughter.  Instantly things changed in my mind and mentality but not necessarily my life.  I broke up with my daughters father, he terminated his parental rights, and I realized how desperately I needed to get myself together.

So, I took a short break (so I thought) from school, got a full time job and bought ridiculously expensive things for my baby girl.  I had no idea of the actual needs for an infant nor of how drastically your finances change with a child.  I was suddenly dead ass broke and desperate.  I met and married my husband in a fiery hurry and realized he was even worse off than I am financially.  We were both stupid and excessive- having drained our savings accounts, lived off of plastic, and not caring at all.  However with a baby and a tender new marriage we had to face facts- no one was going to save us anymore.  It was like looking down the barrel of a gun.

Between our two short lifetimes of collective financial stupidity, he and I had managed to accumulate well over $20k in debt, not including student loans.  We had to borrow money from both of our families to get rid of as much as possible but a funny thing occurs with debt- it never really goes away.  There's always more of it popping up everywhere in your life once you get the vicious cycle started.  Ever heard of zombie debt?  Well, apparently debt collectors can sell your debt files to other companies before you pay it off and they dont have to tell the new company that you paid it off.  So you can get hit up for repayment on your debt several different times.

Isn't that swell?

Then this recession hits.  We were not even living paycheck to paycheck, that wasnt even CLOSE to covering everything.  We both were in school, working, getting government aid because we're parents and still couldn't make ends meet.  We were also painfully awful at budgeting.  It's so embarassing.  I can barely even face myself in the mirror sometimes, I'm so embarrassed by my own financial stupidity.  We've cut back and don't live glamourously by any means but still cannot make ends meet.  

We just had our second child and I got a tubal.  We talk daily about the dreams we have of financial comfort and stability and the life we want to give our kids but honestly, I wonder if we really actually can give them anything other than poverty.  I'm going back to school to become a nurse, my husband wants to design software and do web development, so he's in school for that.  But we still have the rain cloud of debt, bad credit scores, and unsteady finances over our heads.

I know there's more we can do to cut back in our lives and we do try.  Somehow money flows out of our fingertips faster than we can hold onto it.  Every time I blink there's some new expenditure.  Our cars are barely standing or driving but we have no cosigners or ability to get new ones on our own.  I'm bitter and ashamed and hungry for more.  In my world, true success comes in quality not quantity but that doesn't always put food on the table and pay the rent.  We need a break to eliminate the money owed from past mistakes so we have more in our pockets to contribute to the future.

Around here, right now, people have money.  We seem to be in a strange little microcosm- here in South Dakota people can still afford things.  When we have to go to buy the bare necessities at Walmart, there are the plastic wives with their pink polos and frosted hair with their 2.5 children and tiffany chain link bracelets jingling on their teeny wrists.  They have carts loaded and overflowing, they own Sam's Club memberships they don't need, and they load all their purchases into shiny yellow SUV's.  Their kids come away with the big toys like Wii's, etc.  We're lucky to buy our daughter a $5 barbie once in awhile.  Around us people are snatching up LCD flat screens, new vehicles, boats, clothes, etc.  The few times we've been to a mall lately- it's always teeming with hundreds of people loaded down with shopping bags.  How lucky for them.  People are building hugely expensive houses and enjoying the good life.

I lie awake at night worrying about money and the reality of our future.  We want so desperately to leave this place, despite the low cost of living and seemingly good employment rate.  The thing is, we don't have the skill sets to get long term good paying jobs here.  I have nothing against small town living but I'm a loner at heart and a bit of a wanderer, so I want to take my children to cities and other countries.  How will I ever be able to do that?  We are in our late 20's, in debt, with two very small children, and neither my spouse nor I have started our careers yet.  This sounds so whiny and I do accept responsibility for my actions.  But I can't help the fear that creeps over me when I stare at my checkbook and think about how to pay electricity next month.

However, I get incredibly angry at the people who bash our presidents desperate attempts to save our country's economy.  We've been spiraling downward for close to a decade and he's got to undo that or basically lose his job.  All the negativity and hatred directed towards him saddens me and has made me lose faith in America.  People's belligerence and denial of our the reality that is America Today has disgusted me so completely.  I cannot even say I am patriotic anymore.  I have so much faith in the man that leads our country but absolutely no faith at all in the people who live in it.  I see no way we can release ourselves from the recession without him and some very serious changes in our lifestyle that is so devoted to consumerism.

Signing off-

Sara Rose
Vermillion, South Dakota

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Portrait Update: St. Louis Missouri

You published my story on Portraits of an Economy on Mother's Day. My husband and I were in the middle of what felt like a never ending adoption limbo, waiting to find out if we could keep our daughters and sacrificing everything we could to continue channeling money at our lawyers. We were waiting on consent from two of the three biological parents involved (while fighting the third) and honestly, even though we knew we were the best thing for those girls, we also knew the law doesn't really care when it comes to adoptions. The law cares more about whether or not you can prove the neglect that stipulates the disruption of parental rights.

Rereading my portrait, I can tell that I was angry. Or maybe just incredibly frustrated with the whole situation. I'm not entirely certain. I do know that the whole thing had worn me down to the point that I could actually see myself saying goodbye to my daughters. I would be folding laundry and wondering what we would send with them and what we would keep for those inevitable hours spent sobbing on the floor of my closet. I detached a little, not in any desire for freedom but more because I knew that this was going to hurt. I knew it was going to cut me to my soul and I would never recover from the loss of my children. Everyone told us to be patient, that obviously no judge would award an ex convict custody, that no judge would take them away from us. But some days it was really hard to believe those people. Most days it was impossible to see that this would ultimately be over, that we wouldn't live in limbo forever and we wouldn't always be letting go of everything else in pursuit of our family.

I had lost my ability to believe in miracles. I let go of a belief that I had always held close to my heart - that when things are meant to be, the Universe or God or fate or whatever would deliver the right conclusion and it would fit perfectly, even if it was a smidge uncomfortable at first.

Over the past several days, we have been gifted so many miracles I don't even know how to begin to describe the cloud of happy I am on. We received the consent papers from the two biological parents and they were filed without a hitch, meaning we are completely free to adopt one of our daughters. We finally, FINALLY, are paying off our lawyer in full tomorrow and should be finished paying him for good. But most importantly, the judge denied a request from the biological father who had been causing so many issues and requested that our lawyer and our children's lawyer (guardian ad litem) set up a court date so he could issue a final adoption decree. Remarkably enough, the court date is exactly 41 weeks from the day we recieved our daughters. I am shaking my head at the fact that we can't seem to make a pregnancy last longer that twelve weeks but we will 'birth' a family in a normal gestational period.

I don't know that this is in any way fitting with the theme of Portraits of an Economy and so I understand completely if you don't publish it, but I just...I have hope again. I have faith that everything will work out and that life will carry on. I'm not naive, I know that a whole host of things could happen between now and then and we might still walk out of the courtroom without being declared a family. But I can face it now with the knowledge that perhaps a pessimistic outlook is not going to carry us as well as being hopeful, blindingly hopeful, over the potential of our happily ever after. Mainly, I can hold my daughters and kiss them and love them and I'm not secretly wondering how many more times I'll get to do it. I get a lifetime of being their mom. I no longer fear the potential of waking up one morning and my house being empty because someone has taken my children away.

I know with the economy the way it is people are losing hope left and right. They are drowning in bills and facing unemployment and wondering how they are going to get everything handled and still feed their children. There is so much to be afraid of and worried about. But there is also still so much hope and potential for great change, for miracles, to surprise us. I am hoping for the best for all of us, hoping that everyone gets a chance to see a miracle happen in their life and feel unabashed joy again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Portrait: Johannesburg, South Africa

I was laid off at the end of April. I am yet to find a job. I am married, I have a house and a child. Thank goodness my husband still has his job. I don't want to think about where we would be should he lose/have lost his job. My husband and I had good jobs, earning good salaries, with a lot of left over debt from our student and childless and plainly reckless days. I have been unemployed before, for 3 months about 4 years ago- but it was easier then. We lived off our credit cards, and were in the process of paying off that debt when I was laid off this time. I have no idea how we are surviving, but we were - except never in our lives have so many of bills not been paid. Thankfully we are still able to meet our commitments to the medical aid, bond (mortgage), and car repayments, even able to buy food. Everything else is maneuverable - dodging here, paying there occasionally. But I don't think we can last another month like this.

For the first time, I am really scared. There are hardly any positions in my field, and I have been to too many interviews where at the last minute the position is withdrawn.
Over 200 000 people have lost their jobs since 2008, in a country where unemployment is over 30% - this is terrifying. I know too many people who are unemployed, normal everyday people who have lost their jobs due to the recession. South Africa thought we were immune to the effects of the economic downturn. We had tighter banking laws, corporate laws - but the long fingers of the recession have finally grasped us - hard.

I am a positive, optimistic person. I always see the good side of things. I knew I would be working by June, and May could be looked upon as a holiday. I mean I got to spend time with my son on a daily basis. I got to sleep in (we're in the middle of winter here - so this should be a very big PLUS hehe), I've learnt to recognise the tricks supermarkets use to get us to buy what we don't need. I got to watch as much tv as possible - till we disconnected our satellite tv when it became quite clear that I would not be working by June. We have cut down on everything. Except we still have our son's nanny working for us. I cannot bare to think of her as a 'luxury'. She is a mother too, a single mother working her hardest for her family, she is a person not a luxury. If we 'let go of that luxury' - that means she can no longer put food on her table at home, she cannot send her child to school, how can I do that to another mother? So we scrape and scrimp to pay her salary too. And my positivity is dimming. When I didn't get a job in June, I was convinced I would be working by July. Well, I'm writing this to you on 1 July. I keep doing therapy on myself, reminding myself that worrying and stressing won't change anything except my health, repeating the positives, the silver lining. But there is a voice that is becoming increasingly loud, a voice that cannot be argued with as it speaks with pure logic.

I have applied for EVERY kind of job. But if by the middle of July, EVERY kind will really mean every. I've never worked in retail before - this could be my chance :) I'm good with people, I should make a good waitress. These are not jobs I look down on, not in the least. But I had a certain idea or image in my head. But like a lot of my perceptions, that has changed too. There is no longer an image other than that of survival.

So, to survival! And to never having debt again!

Johannesburg, South Africa

Monday, June 29, 2009

Portrait Update: Greenville, North Carolina

Back in February I gave my two cents to Portraits of an Economy. Now I only wish I would have put those pennies in my forever-empty coin jar.

The truth is that five, six, seven months ago I somehow had more money. I somehow had more stuff. I somehow managed to dine out nearly everyday of the week. I somehow managed to do all that and still pay our obscene gas-heating bill. I bought new outfits for special occasions. I thought more about not decorating the Christmas tree than all the gifts I was charging to my shiny new credit card. I went to the movies at least once a week. I got new phones. Quite a few of them, actually. I partiedOften.

Then that big mean bull on the top of Rebecca's blog kicked me right in the ass.

One day I just didn't have any money.

One day my dog ate my power cord. Another day my bank account over-drafted six times in a row (long story). The next day a check bounced. Then I realized my car's loan payments were running low. Then I realized that credit cards REALLY DO accumulate interest. Then I realized my phone bill was late. Then there was a mix up at work with my timesheet and I would only get one paycheck that month. Etc.

I didn't pay much attention to my money troubles. I had my job and schoolwork to handle, and with all the tales and horror stories of the "worst recession in years" plastered all over the media, it was easy to blame the selfish and irresponsible actions of the Wall Street big-wigs. Somehow I thought that because millions of people had lost their jobs and savings, homes and retirement funds, that I was just one of them - part of a crisis. Then, at some point I realized that my financial situation doesn't have much to do with the economic recession at all- it simply rhymes with those that do.

When someone would say, "Money is tight these days..." I could honestly say, "I know the feeling." What I didn't realize is that that person's empty wallet may have been from a job lost or a home foreclosed, while mine was from racing to see the next big 3D movie after dinner at Olive Garden and a trip to the mall for a quick shoe-binge.

I'm still reeling from feelings of guilt and selfishness. I have a job that pays more than enough to live off of. I have a nice place to live. I have more outfits than days to wear them. I have a reliable car with a full tank of gas. I have a fancy phone. I have nothing to complain about except my own stupid spending habits. "Stupid is as stupid does."

I've bucked down.

I cleaned off my bookshelf and started selling stuff on Amazon. My Nintendo DS looks good on eBay, and all my old phones did me proud on Gazelle and BuyMyTronics. I've started "cooking" more than going out, and employ the use of my best friend's food stamps whenever possible. I also joined her wireless family plan, which cut my phone bill in half and got me an even fancier phone (for FREE). I discovered that Netflixpales in comparison to a combination of borrowing friends DVDs, YouTube, and Hulu - and at some point I'm going to approach my roommate with a proposal to cancel our cable TV (we'll see how that goes). My shoe collection is no longer growing at an exponential rate, and it turns out that yardsales are fun (until someone ganks your big-dollar salad bowls).

My plan is to make it through my own, self-made recession, so that when the time comes for me to actually feel the real blow of an economic downturn (let's hope never!), I can make it through relatively unscaved.

I've always been a strong swimmer, but money is murky water with a bitch of an undertow. Even if I have to doggy-paddle, I'm gonna make it to the other side - debt free and kicking my heels. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Portrait Update: Olympia, Washington

I thought I would send you a little update on what's happened since my first post on Portraits.

I wanted to let you, and the readers know that after almost 6 full months of job searching, I finally was able to find a new job! I start training tomorrow, and for the first time in months and months, I will pack a lunch, get in my car and head to work.

I know there are people out there right now who are wondering if they will ever get a job again. Convinced they will never bounce back from this. Who lay in the dark at night wishing their lives were different, wishing they were different. The only thing I can offer up to people in that dark time is hope. Knowing that if they stay positive, keep trying, keeping going to interviews they don't think they want, eventually something will work out. I went to interviews for jobs I knew would make me want to kill myself. I smiled, and told people that I thought I would love the position, that I would fit in perfectly, that their company was perfect for me... while deep inside I wanted to die at the thought of actually working there. I went to interviews where I was the third choice, the second choice, and never the first choice.

And then, out of nowhere, when I had even begun to get used to being unemployed, I found a job. A job with a company that I can be proud of, a position that I can be proud of.

In what felt like my deepest and darkest moments I looked for beauty in my relationship, in friendships, in small moments that could keep me moving forward. Losing my job taught me patience, the ability to let go of control, and to find happiness in the things I have, instead of focusing on the things I want. Now as I move on into the world of employment, I can only hope to hold onto those lessons I learned these last six months.

And in the meantime, I guess I'll just keep dictating my life to others... The Accidental Olympian: One woman's journey of getting laid off, finding it impossible to land another job, moving to Olympia, and eventually starting over.

Olympia, Washington

Portrait: Detroit, Michigan

I called my father the other day.

Our nanny had quit on her first day - which happened to be my first day returning to work from maternity leave - and I wondered if he could help us out for a week while we found someone else.

No, my sixty-year-old dad said. He had to find a job.

A job? What about your retirement? What about the gunshop?

No, said the man who had always been The Wisest Man In My Life. The shop isn't bringing in enough money and your mother's job is killing her.

My mom is a fifty-nine-year-old registered nurse in an intensive care unit. There are no orderlies and only a few LPN's. She has to lift, tuck, turn, and position patients by herself, no matter how big they are. Last month, a patient went crazy and pulled her across him. He nearly dislocated her shoulder and she still has some bruises from the encounter.

Oh, I said. Is there anything I can do to help?

No, he said. Just don't end up like us - paycheck to paycheck, no retirement, drowning in debt, with no way out.

Oh, Dad, I said. Didn't you hear? That's the new American reality.

Detroit, MI