For the past few days, I’ve been thinking a great deal about something.
It almost borders on obsession. And normally, that’s cool. When I’m having a fangirl moment, I can turn to outlets like this blog, and then whether my devotion is temporary or long-lived, it gets expressed, and I can move on.
Friday, for the first time in a long time, I locked my keys in the car. To me, doing this is a signal, a sort of symptom.* You are massively preoccupied. It normally correlates to a weird kind of anxiety, a spacey kind. My normal anxiety leads me to fastidiously check on things, to pat my pocket before I shut the door, to follow the habits I’ve built to guard against this very accident. There’s a level of nervousness that drives this, because ain’ nobody go the time or the money to deal with a lockout.
But when those safeguards fail, and when I slip into that weird stare-at-the-wall-before-breakfast kind of melancholic anxiety, well… that yields different results. (One of which is enlisting the help of one math teacher, one security guard, two maintenance men, and the locksmith [huzzah] friend of said maintenance man to assist in breaking in to your car. A little scratched paint and gritted teeth, but no $80 fee.)
I won’t say this recent preoccupation is the direct cause of this event. But I am observing that they are happening around the same time.
It isn’t something people discuss in ‘polite company.’ It’s money.
I prefer not to think about money. This was all fine for some of my working life. I have no idea how it worked in Kansas, but somehow we lived within our so-meager means. In Japan, we were basically subsidized foreign explorers without much (most of us, anyway) in the way of responsibilities (most JETs don’t have families to feed, although some do have debt). It puzzled me for a little while, that we as JETs were making the basic equivalent of 36K a year, and that was such abundance, but the thing is, my expenses were quite low there – subsidized rent (I paid less than half what I now pay), plus no US income tax for those years meant that the 36K was pretty much the take-home pay. They were also good years to be earning yen because the dollar was up at that time. I digress. What I mean is, there was hardly a question of having enough, even given our desires and propensities to travel on breaks and try things like skiing for the first time.
I have what I call “obsessive tendencies,” which have been observed to serve me well in some ways (I can pretty much ascribe at least half of my good-grades record to these tendencies), but which can be massive bringdowns in other circumstances.
When I obsess about something, pour my energy into thinking about it, it’s not really voluntary. I could probably force myself to stop thinking about whatever it is for at least a little while, but it would take a massive effort, possibly some chemical assistance, and I think all the while some part of my brain would still be gnawing on it, unable to let it go.
This is part of what makes teaching a potentially terrible career choice for me. Teachers are never done anyway, but if you can’t learn to shut it off and take time to be a real person, you’ll eventually implode. I kind of imploded. I did learn resistance, but it still took such an effort, and yielded such half-assed results, that I ended up leaving the job at the end of last school year despite not having a solid plan.
When I was a teacher, I didn’t really have to think about money, either. I was still making more than I spent, though not by much (and partly because I had no time to go and spend it on things), so I didn’t crunch numbers and I didn’t really think about it.
Now, though, because I work three jobs, I do think about it. I have a spreadsheet that I built to help me calculate how many hours I need to schedule for myself in a given week to ‘break even,’ and I just recently recalculated it and re-calibrated it to a more realistic set of numbers (using actual averages, rather than just budgeted projections of what I hope I think I spend), and I had to face the sobering reality that I’m still not making ends meet. I’ve been losing money for six months now. Some months more, some less, and to be fair, I have a cushion (thanks, Japan life), but the fact that it’s happening, that I can calculate it and see how much it is happening, is something that has begun to weigh on me.
Sometimes, I crunch out the numbers and schedule out the week, and then the week flies by, and I feel like I have converted all my time into dollar signs, and my time is actually meaningless, because I’m spending all of it just to scrape up as much as I can, to slow (not stop, not yet) the hemorrhaging of funds from my savings account.
It sort of fucking sucks.
It’s a spiral of suck, in some ways. What I hate most about it is how stingy it makes me, how ungenerous of spirit, how I start to see things in terms of guarding what’s mine, how selfish it makes me feel, like I have to be selfish, even unto myself — I can’t ‘afford’ to give myself time off and must relentlessly make myself work more hours so that I can try to break even this month.
It’s also existentially depressing, seeing all my time as portioned off, and not really seeing tasks to accomplish, but rather hours to be invested, hours of billable work. If all my time is to be portioned out thusly, what purpose is really in any of it? It makes me appear reduced, even in my own eyes, to a stack of hours in a column on a calendar.
I recently heard a podcast about scarcity, so I wanted to share the link for that here as well. It’s Hidden Brain: The Scarcity Trap. I think my obsessive tendencies do relate to this in some ways, although I don’t want to act like I’m in the truly dire straits faced by some. I just have this terrible fear of getting into those kinds of traps, and, perhaps pompously, feel that I shouldn’t have to worry about that, because I am an intelligent, educated, practical and capable young woman.
I also fear that I will look back on this time and think, man, I was so free to determine my own schedule, and I didn’t even take advantage of it. I should have let the bank account slip a little bit, and taken the time available to me to do more creative projects and invest time in things like relationships, and learning new things.
If, in the future, I am in a somewhat demanding, structured, and decently paying job, I can totally see myself looking back in this way. From that vantage, where money is not an issue anymore, the value would then be placed on time and freedom as a resource, and I will look back at myself worrying about money and think it must have been silly to do so, because I ‘should have known’ it would turn out okay, that I would end up with a decent ‘real job’ that I could tolerate and which would replenish what savings were lost. But from here, where that future is not guaranteed, it’s hard to not obsess and worry about the money stuff. I’m torn between these two realities: the obsessive tendencies and the spreadsheets with numbers, and fighting against turning myself and my life into just numbers.
I’m more than that. Right?
Anyway, better go. Time’s a-wastin’ and I had scheduled this to be billable time. Better go clock in.
*It always makes me think of the day I locked my keys in the car twice. In one day. Back to back. It was utterly stupid, but it happened during a time of high stress when I didn’t think I was feeling stressed.