Simplify, Simplify

life, Tea Time Philosophy
It’s hard to figure out what you want from your life when you’re constantly comparing yourself to everyone else. It’s even harder when you don’t keep in mind that a lot of the people who portray themselves as having the perfect life on social media are just really good at hiding their shortcomings behind a few moments of success. I wear my heart and my subsequent failings on my sleeve, so for anyone to be able to do that sort of baffles me.
 
It’s taken me a long time to figure out who I am and what I want, and I had to find all of those missing pieces in the quagmire of Bay Area life, where the mixture of high living costs, low wages, and limited opportunities for non-techies comes together to form a quicksand that just drags you under no matter how hard you fight against it. It always means reaching for whatever possible rescue you can, whether that’s a low-hanging tree branch that threatens to snap under your weight, or a rope that ultimately isn’t tied to anything on the other end. But you learn when they fail how to recognize them, and how to find salvation that is strong and true, even if it takes longer than those who have already managed to escape the pit, or somehow avoided it entirely.
 
I guess I’m bringing this all up today because Father’s Day reminds me of the first big step I had to take towards happiness, and that was accepting that my father was never going to be what I needed, a decision that took me over twenty years to make and that I still have a difficult time accepting. It also coincides with the end of a week where I’ve finally managed to come to a conclusion, through years of trial and error, on how to balance the work life I want with what’s possible for someone with my education and experience who lives where I do. I’ve decided to go back to contract work, not because I have any love for the system, but because the kind of work I enjoyed the most is basically only available through contracting agencies in the Bay Area now. Freelancing is leaving me with fewer options than ever, and having yet another contract give me grief conveniently when it’s time to pay me is furthering my disillusionment with the industry as a whole. California doesn’t have the same sort of freelance protection laws that New York has, and frankly, the cons have finally completely outweighed the pros. Thankfully, I’ve gotten leads on some great opportunities, with better pay and benefits. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my job at Crazy Maple, just so that I can make extra money doing something creative, even if that something is transcribing YA romance to a game app, and it’ll be a solid backup between contracts if needed. But I’m swapping out four part-time jobs for one, and a full-time, if I can snag it.
 
Being largely unemployed for the last two months has put me extremely far behind in terms of finances and my long and short-term plans for this year. I think that’s why I jumped so quickly on the first set of available part-time jobs that came my way, because I needed to get out. I don’t advise it – it is not sustainable. Mentally, it’s taxing, and it leaves you completely dependent on the precarious balancing act that is multi-job income. It’s made harder on me now because in the past, I honestly would’ve just scrapped my apartment and moved into a rented room and figured out things from there from an easier position, or default to my backup plan – I’d get my ESL certification, hock all of my stuff, and go live abroad. But I can’t now because I have a partner who depends on me to bring in half the rent. Whatever path I’m on, I’m committed to, because I want to make this relationship work, and that means accepting that I have to try even harder, no matter how great a toll it is, because it’s not just me, it’s us. I’m not used to sacrificing for other people, and one of the biggest detriments to my mental health was accepting it because it would otherwise destroy my relationship. When I was single, I was barely scraping by on my own, but I had a way out. I can’t do that anymore if I want to keep the man I love, and that means coming up with a new plan, which, as I and I’m sure everyone else knows, is much easier said than done.
I kept waiting for the perfect opportunity to show up and open the door to the type of life that I wanted. It would be work that I found meaning in, that was solid and secure, and afforded me the opportunity to travel, which was always my dream. Now I have to accept that I have to be content with what’s available, even if it’s not everything I need. Contract work is terrible in many ways – it’s not permanent, it’s often uncertain, and more often times than not, it’s exploitative. But the work I had, I enjoyed, and I could stomach doing it forever, which was a quality I had yet to find elsewhere. I suppose just like in all aspects of life, it’s about finding the balance. I just needed to figure out how my scales worked.
Thoreau said “Simplify, simplify.” It’s an obvious solution with no real obvious process. It’s a simple statement. But it’s not a simple task. It took me years to figure out I could just tie the rope around the branch and pull.

A False Sense of Security, and Other Stories

life, Tea Time Philosophy

Being in my thirties in the Bay Area has taught me one irrefutable truth about the world.

There is no such thing as security.

Security is born of purpose, and purpose is the white rabbit that we’re expected to have snared by adulthood. I’ve long since learned that purpose is something that everyone strives for, but cannot be handed. Most people who seem to have figured it out are the ones who find their purpose in religion, marriage, and/or parenthood, with few finding it in their work, if they’re lucky enough to be born knowing what they want.

So where does that leave me? I’ve long since abandoned religion as little more than spoon-fed ideology espoused by those who can’t or won’t think for themselves, and vis-a-vis marriage/parenthood, frankly, I’ve never seen the appeal of such crushing ordinariness (she says as someone who is hoping to get married within the next two years). I don’t consider myself special, but I do consider myself unordinary, or at least marginally unconventional. Unfortunately, that’s still a broad and meandering path to purpose, one with many different crossroads, and I’m still stumbling along with no map to navigate it. And I’m approaching middle age with no more certainty of myself than I had when I was leaving my teens.

Well shit.

I’ve been pursuing purpose for as long as I can remember with no sense of certainty of where I’m going or what I’m capable of, and as a result, I have no sense of security. I live and work in an area that has no sense of loyalty, that costs more to live in than the average English major can reasonably earn, and loves contracts and not contract workers. I basically spent the first two-thirds of my life building my home and foundations, with my family, friends, and memories, only to have the major tech companies of the world swoop in and knock it all down to build a new campus on it. I hear the food is excellent, but the parking is garbage.

I remember growing up with the expectation of a job I could start out in and grow up with as part of a company for 30+ years, the parameters set by the claims of my parents and grandparents,. Instead, I wound up in a world where job security is afforded to the privileged and employee loyalty is a rare commodity thanks in no small part to the fact that employers who actually care about their employees’ livelihoods have become mythological creatures that you read about and hear stories about, but never actually see. Sailor’s yarns only to be woven after a long day of drudgery washed away in the comfort of liquor, which we all seem pretty dependent on these days. I cannot build a foundation. I can only chase after purpose, but it keeps escaping down a hole I don’t have the wherewithal to keep going down, especially knowing how those stories often end.

I also do an awful lot of complaining. I just don’t know what else to do with myself.

I’m a Millennial in America. My Generation has Forgotten Me.

life

I know what the overarching perception of millennials is. It’s hard not to, considering there are daily news articles about whichever industry millennials are killing. We’re lazy, we can’t stop looking at our phones, we’re flighty in the job market, we demand free lunch at the office, and we’re snowflakes who can’t handle real life.

I’m going to conveniently forget that the group that has this particular set of beliefs about my ilk is the very same group that raised us. Moving on.

Apart from our glaringly obvious personal faults, we’re also responsible for the tech takeover of the modern world, building our kingdom of circuit boards and social media on the foundation laid down by Gates, Jobs, and Wozniak. We speak several programming languages, we can code operating systems, we can build artificial intelligence. We’ve transformed the world into something almost unrecognizable within a single generation, with all the instantaneous force of a meteor impacting the surface of the Earth.

Well, maybe you did. I, unfortunately, made the grievous error of choosing to be an artist in an increasingly tech-heavy world. I’m college-educated with a Master’s degree and over a decade’s professional experience. And I cannot afford to live in the kingdom that my generation has built.

I represent a curious middle ground in the millennial spectrum, in that I’m neither particularly tech-savvy, but I also don’t work in a so-called unionized trade. I’ve seen tech bros jet through Silicon Valley streets in ridiculously expensive cars while plumbers laugh as they go by because their unionized job pays them over $100k a year and they don’t have student loan debt. And I’m expected to laugh along with them while I’m taking home less than half of that at the job that tech bro has hired a contracting agency to hire a subcontracting agency to hire me for. With minimal pay, no benefits, and no long-term security.

In short, you’ve allowed the artists of the world to fall through the cracks. To be forgotten, until you realized you needed us as stilts to stand on so that your position in the world can be just a few feet higher, so that everyone else can see you better.

The plumbers need artists to design their logos and paint them on their trucks. The tech companies need writers to churn out user-facing content that non-tech bros can understand. They need musicians to compose jingles and songs for their soundbites and advertisements. They need catchy fonts and slogans for their advertisements. And meanwhile, the plumber is using a music app to stream the songs for less than what the song is worth to the musician, while everyone tries to pay their creators in “exposure.” Because we do this for fun, right?

You’ve recognized the need for people like me, but you won’t pay us enough to live in your world. You’re allowing us the crumbs you drop on the floor. You are forgetting us until you need us. You plant yourselves in our backyards and overrun it until we can no longer live there. And everywhere we run to hide, you follow, like a perverse game of cat and mouse.

Just stop. Enough is enough.

I am an artist in the Bay Area. I am a millennial. And I am not a consumable commodity. You need us to interface your business with the common man. We are as essential to your success. We are tradespeople deserving of respect and protection. We understand how your businesses work and how they appeal to the masses because as artists, we are more sensitive to the human condition. You need us just as much as you need a plumber when your golden toilet breaks, or tech support when your iPhone stops working. We are worthy citizens of the kingdom.

It’s time you started acting like it.

 

Ballestrasse: Begin Again

life, Tea Time Philosophy

I’ve done this before, but hey. I have a bad habit of coming back to the same crossroads I’d already traversed.

So let’s reintroduce:

My name is Michelle. I’m 32, and I’m stuck in a rut. It’s the oldest story on Earth.

Like so many before me, I meandered down the prefab path of public education, armed with only my wits and the belief that college and a career would lead to success, stability, and happiness. And, also like so many others, I fell into the trap of security, or, rather, the desire for it.

My twenties were by and large unpredictable, down to my job, my finances, and my excursions. I was poor and terrified of the future, but I was also brave and aloof, unafraid to take chances, and with the energy to make an adventure out of my life. Poverty was temporary, I was convinced. I earned a Master’s degree in an overseas program I spontaneously applied to, I taught English as one of my eleven consecutive jobs, I jumped out of planes and walked across bridges and decided to jump on another plane the moment the one that took me home touched the ground. I came back to the states armed with an expensive piece of paper, and the bravery to take on the world.

And then I got a full-time job.

The stability of long-term employment was the one thing in my life I was convinced that I needed, to pull me out of poverty and into a life where I didn’t have to be afraid. After all, in college, I supported myself through jobs that gave me unpredictable schedules and even more unpredictable wages, supplementing where I could with loans and whatever my parents or my grandmother were willing to give me. Apart from the fact that I had very little financial education to start off with, I always managed to get myself into some sort of financial problem right after I’d spent whatever I’d managed to scrape on whatever excursion I could take to keep myself from going off the deep end. I spent three hundred bucks for a weekend in Disneyland, only to have my phone crap out the second I got home. I bought the video from my skydive twenty-four hours before my transmission would blow. I had savings, but they were gone almost as fast as I could put the money away, because there was no way I could save money, handle the onslaught of life, and do any actual living, short of becoming a robot. And because I was borderline suicidal throughout my twenties, living turned into an act of survival, as I would fall into depression with every tiny misstep, and whatever distraction I could get to mitigate the crushing onslaught of my mental illness was painfully and often shamefully necessary.

My parents were not well-off and my grandmother was retired, and more importantly, shelling out her hard-earned savings on her extremely childish adult sons, who couldn’t hold a job or a life outside of jail if their masculinity depended on it. So needless to say, I walked away from both with a heavy dose of guilt along with the money, and an increasing determination and belief that full-time employment would save me from the guilt and the fear of not being able to scrape together enough to keep a roof over my head without asking my family to bail me out.

Well, I was wrong. I’m employed, but I’m poor, and worse than that, I’m bored. Now my fear is a slow death by apathy, wasting away the best years of my life behind a screen, with nothing to show for it but a stack of (barely) paid bills, just like everyone else. And of course, the looming shadow of my depression skulking in the recesses of my mind, quietly reminding me that in the silence of boredom, its voice is much louder and clearer.

This is certainly not what I signed up for. And I still need to ask my parents for money.

So now, my every day involves sitting in a chair, staring blankly at a screen, and wondering what life would be like if I could pack up my boyfriend, my cats, and a few meager belongings into my hatchback, and drive off into the horizon, seeking fulfillment in the mystical land of Somewhere Else.

I heard it’s something called destination addiction – the belief that happiness is in the next location, or the next, or the next. No matter how far you go or how hard you try, your princess is always in another castle.

Destination addiction, whether you believe it exists or not, is why I started this blog, because a blog is a journey that has no destination. Most addictions, in any case, need treatment, and since there is no practical rehabilitation program or even a pill to take to treat the sudden onset of wanderlust, needless to say, I’ve had to improvise.

So I can promise you this blog isn’t going to be a whirlwind of my self-deprecation, because I’ve already spent over a decade doing that. Rather, it’s the travel journal I’ve decided to keep as I navigate my way through both the world, and adulthood. In the case of the former, I’ve decided to keep it deliberately as unplanned as possible, picking only a direction and not a destination. In the case of the latter, well, let’s just say my roadmap is out of date. So I’m working on creating a new one.

Starting now.