Time To Succumb And Jack In The Cubicle…?

I’ve been unemployed a good long while now. Being unemployed as a married man with commitments is different to when I was in the same circumstances as a young twenty-something, still living at home with Mum. Being unemployed as a married man is depressing.

Sorry. That’s the truth of it.

In 2007, I was desperately looking around for another job whilst working out the remaining time with a company in a position they had had the great idea of outsourcing to an Asian country. For once, I lucked out. I went in for aptitude testing and an interview for an administrative-based job with a company closer to home, (literally a five minute drive away), and came out with a second interview date for a position completely not related to general clerical work, which eventually lead to a great offer, which I accepted. I finally felt things were going my way, but then the crash of 2008 hit and eventually our team was pared down like so many other in the company had been before us, and I was gone.

I took the opportunity to be an SAHD, but the blow to my career ego and self belief was huge. Almost two years later, I eventually found a temporary position on a project with the company I had left in 2007 and my self belief was so low I was very nervous. To overcome these jitters, I took to wearing a shirt and tie to the job, instead of the business casual the company allows. I jokingly told everyone it was because I was aiming to be taken back as a permanent employee with the corner office and important meetings.

“Dress for the job you want!” I would say, managing to force a twinkle in my eye.

The reality was different. Once we were in our cubicles I felt a strange juxtaposition. I found myself loath to standing up, for whatever reason, thus enabling me to see across the tundra of the powder blue cubicle tops, yet it took no time at all for the cubicle walls to feel stifling. I remember one time standing there, during our designated break time, watching the people scurry from their 6’x6′ pieces of corporate real estate and thinking, “This is it?”. It wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I was missing my family every hour I was away from them and the special needs of our eldest made me nervous about being so far from home…

Maybe the day I first stood there with these thoughts in my head was the day I sabotaged myself, because as soon as the project was winding down and they were looking around for the dead wood to drop from the project, I was front and center, apparently.

I was a SAHD, once more and, for a while, things were good. But then the money started to run out and soon we were living moment to moment, staggering the payments of utility bills, and eeking out every last cent when grocery shopping – Manager’s Special is the name of the farm we get all our meats from!

I’m starting to get a few nibbles, so maybe the economy is finally turning around, like they say, but its all been very depressing. The damage from 2009 cracked the very foundations of how I perceived myself and the walls have just crumbled these last couple of years. Even just the mere thought that someone might want me to go for an interview makes me short of breath, the thought of being in a cubicle, once more tightens my throat, and the thought of answering ‘phones makes me want to find a dark corner and assume a fetal position, complete with soft sobs.

Through all these five years of despair, there have been plenty of people I’ve thrown the blame at – the managers, the bosses, the politicians – but I also accepted my own role early on.

Maybe, as an immigrant, maybe I don’t have that American “gene” – my Naturalization papers apparently didn’t come with a free course of “Kick Ass” injections or free sessions with a “Go Get ‘Em” counselor that Americans apparently get from birth!

Maybe I’m built differently. It seems many Americans people the world over accept their lot in life and do what’s needed to keep it going or improve it, but all I found myself doing was wallowing in a vicious circle of inner self loathing and unbelief.

About thirty years ago, I started cooking in my mother’s kitchen. I was always a little adventurous out there, and remember that early on I was reaching for the recipes my Mum wouldn’t bother with – like most mothers, at least when I was a kid, she could cook great tasting food, but its variance and adventurousness was minimal – and I remember pulling souffles, gingerbread loaves and trays of very sticky treacle toffee out of her oven. I still love cooking. I burst with pride that someone I love has told me that the dish or cake I just cooked was awesome. It doesn’t have to be fancy and most always never has a recipe, after the first couple of attempts.

Before I left the UK in 2000 one of the most popular tv shows was on in the mid-afternoon, aimed squarely at the SAHMs whose darling little angels would soon be home from school, ready to empty the pantry and refrigerator. Ready, Steady… Cook! took two “celebrity” chefs, two audience members with about ten quids’ worth of groceries and twenty minutes to knock out a meal. The first time I saw it, I loved the show, used its formula of “groceries + ((basics + staples)on hand)” from then on and I still mostly cook like that.

My Dad would call me “Tony Stopani”, after a local West Country tv “celebrity” chef from the 60’s & 70’s. I would happily sit for an hour or more, thumbing through Mum’s cookbooks, whether a modern offering from the OXO stock cube company, a Reader’s Digest recipe card collection from the late 60’s or the Mrs. Beeton’s book from 1926 that Mum got when her Mother-in-Law passed away. When the all-boys school I attended for my secondary education decided to offer a CSE level Catering course, I jumped at the chance and was in one of the first two classes in our school.

Catering was always a suggestion on peoples’ lips around the time it came to choose career paths. I was more interested in the sciences, though being the poor scholar I am, I failed them. Miserably. By the end of Sixth Form, all I needed was any passing grade in my Biology “A” level – my last remaining course, and a subject I still love to read about, to this day – but it wasn’t to be. My train of thought was that if I didn’t know it by the time of the exam, “swotting” for two weeks beforehand wouldn’t help. Besides, spending free Summer days on the town’s beach, eyeing the girls and splashing around like kids seemed much preferable. A classic example of youth wasted on the young…

Anyway… catering…

All I could see when I heard the word catering or chef was long hours in a hot kitchen, getting rude customers whining about the food you just spent hours preparing and cooking. My reticence to go into this field was probably helped, too, by my “work experience” for my CSE which consisted of two weeks – or maybe it was one week that just felt like two! – in the increasingly dilapidated, soon-after-that-closed holiday camp – Billy Butlin had had the sense to get out of there before the place finally died – in the touristy part of town, where my jobs were running the dishwashers and using the kitchen scissors to cut up roasted chickens into the ubiquitous quarters so beloved in British “cafes”. In contrast, the only other work experience I had provided for me, as part of my studies, was a week in the local Dow Chemicals plant, using x-ray spectroscopes and gas chromometers and all other manner of cool toys. Catering? Nah… a mugs game. Science it was for me.

The bravado and self-assurance of youth rode roughshod over commonsense and perspective.

Of course, now I live “Stateside”, I miss good old British cooking, on occasion. Fare like steak & kidney pie, faggots & peas – if the name of that dish offends you I suggest you Google it – bara brith, Dundee cake and bangers & mash aren’t very likely to be on the menu at your nearest Denny’s or pre-prepared and sat in the freezer section at your local Wal-Mart.

Over the years I’ve had many business ideas. If I were to guesstimate, about one-third have been based around food. I think it is time I looked over them all, pick one and take the plunge, finally listen to the decades old advice of my family and start regaining that self-worth I’ve been missing for so long…

Maybe Arthur Jesus Is Better Than None!

In late 2009, I lost a pretty incredible job. It wasn’t the paid at the top rate in its industry, by any means, but it was the best wage I’d ever earned and it was a job that I was a natural fit for, (in fact, I had applied and interviewed for a different position, but some test results had the HR and management at the company ask me to me re-interview, for this other job!). The people were, on the whole, great, the work enjoyable and it was a short 10-minute commute. Then the economy started crashing and that was that. Lay-offs started and being fairly new to the company and not the most productive, (I can do high quality work, but it is apparently low in quantity), the axe fell upon my corporate neck. In those four-and-a-half years I’ve worked a total of seven months.

My wife & I sit, and plan and talk about all the stuff we want to do around here – the little businesses we want to start; the landscaping of our double lot into a self sufficient, crop growing wonderland – but it never happens. Most likely wont happen here, now, either.

The depression is terrible. It kills everything.

It hasn’t helped that, quite literally the only risk I’ve ever taken is coming to the USA to see if the internet romance we started could work in real life. My natural propensity is to have an idea, only to almost immediately dismiss it as a failure. Depression just makes this happen much quicker. So quick that anymore even mid-idea the vision of its total failure fills my mind and the thought dissipates.

I know I’m better than this. I am certain my wife and kids deserve more than this. But I just feel so lost in this whirlwind of life.

Sometimes I see the downturn in my fortunes and demeanor and that of this country and wonder… am I the King Arthur to the USA’s ancient Britain?! The apparent death of my homeownership on Good Friday has also made me wonder if this means that in three days I will rise from “the dead”. Maybe I’m just being delusional. Maybe its my mind just looking for patterns, as you do when looking at the whorls in a piece of polished wood and see the eyes and ghosts. Maybe all I need is to find that Holy Grail or to have someone roll away that stone. (Just noticed another link there, between the Holy Grail and Easter).

Oddly, the fog of depression and resignation has lifted a touch, as I write these words. Strange…

I Dreamed An American Dream…

There was a time when life seemed kind
Its circumstances soft
And the future inviting
There was a time when life was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed an American dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that youth would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving

Then I was young and unafraid
So American dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

As I grew up, it turned the tide
And filled my days with endless stresses
It took my childhood in his stride
But it was gone when hard times came
And still I dream it’ll come to me
That I will live the good years again
But these are American dreams that might not be
And there are storms we might not weather

I had an American dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The American dream I dreamed

Can This Ship Be Turned Around?

There’s a lot of analogies out there, demonstrating the state of this great country of ours. Heading for a cliff and being the Titanic are just two. I’m going to go with the Titanic analogy.

Unfortunately, unlike the Titanic’s sole, only-seen-at-the-last-second iceberg predicament, there’s at least three big icebergs that we are headed for and we can see them on the close horizon, but no politician seems to want to do anything about it. Oh… they all talk about what they will do, but none of them act. I don’t see that any of the current crop of presidential candidates, especially the main contenders, will change the ship’s course, either through their ideology or the infinitesimal chance they have of election.

The first of the three icebergs, as I see them, is the current financial crisis. We don’t need increased revenues or balanced budgets or any of the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” shenanigans. What we need is a budget that drastically reduces government spending. Cut the duplication; reduce military spending, (i.e. bring all of our troops home); cut down on the levels of bureaucracy and the number bureaucrats needed to maintain those levels, even to the point of elimination of some Departments and agencies.

The second iceberg is our lack of freedoms. With every Act, (e.g. the PATRIOT Act,  the NDAA, etc.), that is passed, or program implemented, in order to make us feel safer, the freedoms we hold so dear are eroded. Its an often quoted line from Benjamin Franklin, but he is right: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. What we need are people in place who can turn back these obscene acts of constraint and annulment of our freedoms, as written in the great, founding documents of our country, The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution.

A great example of this is the “gay marriage issue”. What the hell is the government doing dictating, through the provision, and requirement, of marriage licences, who may or may not be considered married? It should not be up to the government, even in cases where a couple wish to have a civil ceremony to demonstrate how deep their commitment to each other is. The only places that should could understandably be discriminating are those places that are a part of a particular religion that has a set stance on marriage. If you are a religious, gay couple and “your” church denounces such relationships, rather than whine and protest about it, just find a more accepting and compassionate form of your chosen religion that will perform a marriage for you.

The third iceberg is the morality of the country. Now, I’m not talking about any specific, Judeo-Christian-centric morality, but a general, “live and let live”, commonsense mentality.  We have become a society where it seems to be OK to do things that harm others, in whatever form that harm might take. Businesses are run unethically; people steal because they have an addiction that they cannot, or will not, face and work to overcome…

Its not too late for us to turn this “ship” around, but it will be hard, after decade upon decade of people actively promoting the behaviors and circumstances that we find now, as these icebergs we are fast approaching…

(Originally published Aug 21, 2012)

Big Bird or Big Oil?

image

It doesn’t fricking matter! Eliminate all subsidies and grants and any other kind of federal handouts of money; drastically reduce the size of government; get federal expenditure levels well below that of its revenues.

This country is supposed to have a federal government that has a very limited and a very specific role.

Also, when the proverbial crap hits the fan, economy-wise, it just won’t matter, when society is crumbling…

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No Jobs? Working Too Many Jobs?

I hear people talk about having a 2nd, 3rd, even 4th jobs and all I can think is that its not just the governmental entities who need to learn to live withing their means in order to help get this country out of the pit it seems hell bent on falling into…

I think you really have to look at what you’re doing when the working adults in a family are all working at least one job each, with some in that unit working multiple jobs.

Really? Is it necessary?

And if it is necessary, (and I don’t think it is), isn’t that a damned shame, on so many levels?

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