Who am I again?

For a long time, I’ve thought of my job as “just a job.” One that I’m oh-so-lucky to be able to do from home. Working at home for the last 10 years has certainly propagated that feeling — writing for a living is just what I do from my office (a spare bedroom) in between gardening, laundry, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, blogging (aka “real life”).

But as work has been painfully slow this year (in contrast to a very busy last year), I’m feeling a loss of identity in addition to a loss of income. Losing a job really does make you feel…marginalized? aimless?  — who am I if I don’t have a job?

I’m sure it’s the fact that I’m supposed to be working that makes the difference. If I didn’t have a job on purpose, that would be fine. I’d be happy (really happy) being a “housewife.”

But, now I’m just a loser non-breadwinner — a condition I can tolerate for a little while (there have been slow times before), but eventually I’m going to have to remedy. Never having worked retail or restaurant, I’m intimidated by that prospect, but it would be a good old-dog-new-tricks experience. (Maybe I’d be good at it, having had a lifetime of knowing what I don’t like from service providers. Or maybe I’d be fired because I’d be terrible at working with the public.)

Maybe it’ll be back to an office.

Ouch.

Really, don’t know if I could stomach that at this point — the meetings, the politics, the performance reviews, the having to sit there and look busy even when you’re not. I get sick just thinking about it.

Or maybe, as has always happened before, business will pick up and I’ll once again be successfully self-employed. That’s what I’m hoping for.

In the meantime, I’m secretly enjoying the downtime if not the empty wallet and dwindling savings. The sun does still shine, the flowers do still bloom, and the chores still need to be done, even when you’re under-employed. Time to get busy being useful at something.

Nobody can think straight who does not work.
Idleness warps the mind.
~ Henry Ford

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$9.85

Sometimes, little things just hit you.

I stopped at Wal-Mart to buy a few ingredients for recipes I want to make for tonight’s and tomorrow night’s dinner. And to pick up some more asparagus — we roasted a bunch last night — delicious.

A quick aside.

Mike said, “I never thought I’d like asparagus. I never used to.”

This confirms my belief that every adult should try “hated” foods prepared by someone other than his/her mother. Nothing against mom’s cooking, but…times have changed, and so have ingredients and preparation methods.  If I hadn’t tried it, I’d still be convinced I hated Chinese food because when I was growing up, eating Chinese meant opening a can of La Choy chop suey on a Saturday night…gag me.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I never left the produce aisle — six items, none of them organic:

  • an eggplant
  • a cauliflower
  • a red pepper (always outrageously priced — why?)
  • a cubanelle pepper (which she rang up as a jalapeno, 18 cents)
  • a bunch of asparagus (on sale)
  • a bunch of parsley

Bottom line: $9.85

No doubt it would have been more at another grocery store — I shop at Wal-Mart because it’s invariably cheaper.

Near the checkout in Wal-Mart is an in-store McDonald’s. Mike and I could have both eaten there for $9.85.

No, it wouldn’t have been as healthy. And it would only be one meal (I’ll have enough veggies left over from my recipes to add a side to another meal, plus leftovers from the meals themselves).

But the veggies are only part of my recipes — I’ll be adding many other items  from my pantry, all vegetarian except for some chicken breast that goes in tomorrow’s white chicken chili. (Tonight’s barley risotto is all veg.) So that adds cost.

I don’t wonder why people live on fast food — it’s cheap and filling. Or why they buy cheap processed — what would my $10 have bought in those aisles? Or why more people don’t buy organic. I’d love to — can’t afford it.

Maybe we have so many obese people in the U.S. because it’s so expensive to eat healthy. Mike and I spent about $400 on food in March — not counting our Friday night dinner-and-a-couple-beers at the local bar, usually around $25. And not counting Mike’s daily lunches out — around $6 a day. I’ve been trying to build up our pantry, so have been stocking up on staples.

So, for both of us, it’s running about $20 a day to eat.

Doesn’t that sound like a lot? For just two of us? And I’m not an extravagant shopper — I usually buy store brands, use coupons, and leave the expensive items on the shelf. (I’ve been buying “healthier” eggs because I think I should, and lamenting they cost at least $1 a dozen more than “regular” eggs.)

I dunno. No great insights forthcoming. No solutions. Just something I’m thinking about as I sit here, not making any money, worried about the future.

All sorrows are less with bread.
~ Miguel de Cervantes

The new reality (again)

We had our lovely Steelers to see us through January, but now it’s back to winter and the longest month of the year. Four degrees this morning.

Sobering news yesterday via a writing colleague who also works for my primary client — as in, the client who gave me 2/3 of my income last year. As he informed me:

Last Monday a memo came from on high commanding all marketing folks to cease and desist spending on writers, designers, printers, etc. – all outside services. Finish existing projects, but don’t start anything new. There may be a few exceptions – key initiatives that really need to move forward. But the big chill is officially on for everything else. Ostensibly, it’s through the end of the fiscal year, May 31. But I think it will carry into next year.

Big chill indeed. I could feel it move down my spine through my hip into my purse and straight to my wallet. Brrrrrr.

Oddly, Mike’s firm is very busy — staying “lean and mean” (just 5 people across 2 offices) is helpful in times like these.

Of course I’m worried — we are a two-income family by necessity. But I also have a hard time believing my client can get by without any external service providers like me for the rest of the year. Of course, if it does hire people for projects, it may not be me.

Welcome to the new reality. It feels a lot like the old reality that came after 9/11 and at various other slowdowns in my nearly 10 years at this. Ebb and flow. Feast or famine. It’s the nature of the beast.

I have a new, large project in the works with this client, just starting next week, so that will keep me busy for a couple weeks. I also have a couple projects almost completed that I can finally bill for — always a good thing. Beyond that, it’s wait and see. I’m very grateful that we have “only” our mortgage and the regular slew of monthly bills — no credit card debt or car payments. We’re not very good at economizing, though, so we’ll see how that goes. House projects always eat up far too many funds, even though the majority are DIY jobs. We are still far, far better off than a lot of folks, so I can’t really complain.

But I can be extra-vigilant about the work I do have, do whatever I can to be the “smart choice” for any projects that arise, and take the opportunity to get other (office and household) ducks in a row in the meantime. Positive action begets positive results…right? For sure, if I start some big, time-consuming house project, I’ll get slammed with work. Maybe now’s a good time to start stripping wallpaper in the guest room…

Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.  
                                       ~ Walter Anderson

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