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Looking Back, Redux

I ran this back in 2009, and it bobbed up to the forefront of my consciousness again today. Shall we play again? You can make your contribution in the comments, or on your own LJ (in which case, please tag me so I can read it).

1 year ago: I was still unpacking boxes our new house. We (well, Jeff) bought a home just across the Severn from Annapolis in December of 2014 and moved in at the New Year, but it takes time to sort through two middle-aged people's accumulation of stuff. For that matter, we're still working on a bit of that.

5 years ago: I was still living in Cleveland, and adjusting to a 40-hour workweek again after having to put my dad into a nursing home in the wake of a broken hip and repeated hospitalizations. My marriage was at an end and I'd already made up my mind that I wanted to move to Maryland, but I was still working out exactly how to do it. I had no idea that I'd wind up doing it by the relationship route -- that turned up later as a happy accident.

10 years ago: I was living in Cleveland, Ohio, working as an administrative assistant, and trying to figure out a better career option. I was married to Dave, my now-ex, though the relationship was rocky from time to time. Little did I know that in just a few short months I'd be a full-time homemaker, because my dad would need to come and live with us due to age-related deterioration of his physical and mental health.

20 years ago: I was living in Cincinnati, and busy with two jobs and a lot of activities with the Jaycees. This is where Jeff (who is now my significant other) and I met -- he'd moved from Cleveland to Cincinnati and we were in the Cincinnati Jaycees together for a couple of years before he moved east. (It's also how I met my ex-husband, who was in another Cleveland-area chapter -- we met at a state convention.)

30 years ago: I was twenty-one, living in my hometown in western New York, working and going to college. My parents had just moved to Cincinnati, but I had remained behind because I really wanted to be on my own. (I wound up moving to Cincinnati about a year later at my parents' insistence, which is a story in its own right.)

40 years ago: I was eleven years old and in the sixth grade... and I was already a geek.

I have a serious question: What gives with this job market?

Allow me to explain. I've been in the workforce since 1982, minus the four years I took off from late 2006 through 2010 to care for an elderly parent at home. That's thirty years of work experience. Like many people, I started out in restaurant and retail jobs, the kinds of work college students and other young adults do at first. But I have between 20 and 25 years of experience in administrative/clerical support, sales support, customer service, project coordination and office management. I can handle a spreadsheet like it was a lethal weapon, type correspondence and reports in clear, error-free English, and I can write, edit and proofread just about any kind of business or other document you care to mention. I've done desktop publishing, handled web content, and helped bosses and coworkers untangle their computer issues without needing to call the help desk. Hell, I've been pressed into service by IT departments when push came to shove, like the time an entire corporate computer system where I worked as a secretary fell victim to an outside attack and they needed people who could apply patches.

In short, I've got skills. Mad skills. I have a college education and more common sense than is probably good for me in a business environment. So why can't I get a decent job with a decent salary? I find it hard to believe that my skill set should only be able to command $12 to $15 per hour in this day and age, but apparently 90% of administrative-support positions are now considered entry-level, even if the hiring company specifies a preference for those with college degrees and/or loads of experience.

Let's look at the timeline here for a moment. In 1982, the US federal minimum wage was $3.35 per hour. That's how much I earned as a hostess in a restaurant, or a cashier at a department store. It was also how much I earned in 1985 doing layout and paste-up in the advertising department at my local newspaper, even though that was a job requiring skill and experience. I lived in an economically-depressed area where most jobs paid very little, so I didn't question it too much at the time, and when my hours were later cut because the paper was having financial difficulties, I changed jobs to something with more hours and went back to college. Things happen, I figured.Read more...Collapse )

In 1987 I moved to a large city in another state, and the booming economy there meant a lot of those same jobs that had paid minimum wage in my hometown were going for upwards of $7 and $8 per hour in my new location. That was more than DOUBLE the minimum wage. I transitioned from restaurant and retail to office work. Over the next decade-plus, the minimum wage went up and so did my own wages.

In 1999/2000, the minimum wage was $5.15 per hour, and I was making $15 per hour -- nearly THREE TIMES the minimum -- working 40 hours a week in an office job. Granted, the cost of living had risen as well and sometimes I needed a second job to make ends meet for a while, like when I had to spend money on a car repair or replacing a vehicle, or to save up for some other big-ticket expenditure. No problem; I could wait tables or deliver pizzas or run a cash register for a few hours on the side to cover things. I figured I would soon get to where my full-time wages or salary would be high enough that I could leave the two-job two-step behind forever instead of just for a few months at a time.

Boy, was I ever dreaming. In 2006, I maxed out at $16 per hour. Minimum wage was still $5.15; it hadn't budged since 1998, although its purchasing power had slipped some. I was living in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio -- not the priciest of places, so that helped. I was married and my husband made a bit less than I did, although he picked up overtime when he could at time-and-a-half, so while things were tight they were manageable. He'd actually been forced out of a position in the mortgage industry a few years before -- we should have seen the writing on the financial wall then -- and taken a pay cut in transitioning to a different field. Between the two of us, we got by.

Then my dad fell ill, and over a period of several months it became clear that the only two choices were to have him living in a care facility or bring him home to live with us. He'd spent some time in an assisted-living home, but I really didn't like the quality of care he'd received and they'd overmedicated him to the point of stupor, so my husband said, "Enough is enough. Move him in with us, quit worrying about a job and stay home to look after him until we know what he really needs most. It'll be better for everyone, and the money the facility is charging will go twice as far if he lives with family." I did, and for those four years I was a full-time homemaker. I picked up a few hours waiting tables now and then, or did some freelance editing and other things from home. Although I applied for a few part-time office jobs in 2008-09 when Dad was doing well enough to spend part of his weekdays going to activities at the local senior center, I didn't set foot in one full-time until after his health had declined rapidly to the point where we could no longer attend properly to his needs and he had to go into 24-hour nursing care.

That happened in November of 2010, so in December I reentered the job market to find it dramatically changed. Federal minimum wage was $7.25 as of 2009; and Ohio's minimum was $7.70 (it went up to $7.85 by 2013), meaning my most recent full-time rate was equivalent to a little over twice the local minimum. But Cleveland had lost enormous numbers of middle-income jobs like mine while I was sidelined, and in fact had seen administrative positions decline by nearly 51%. Ouch. Everyone and their cat was scrambling for the jobs that were left, and most of them didn't pay squat. Mind you, Northeast Ohio had never really recovered fully from the recession of 2001 before the next one hit in 2007 (and in fact still hadn't as of last year).

More ouch: Having managed to injure both of my legs in 2007-2008 I was no longer capable of spending long hours on my feet regularly without pain, so neither retail work nor waiting tables was really much of an option even as a second job, not that they'd have paid much anyway. I went back to doing the exact same kind of administrative office work I'd done previously, working on a temp-contract basis, only now I was getting paid between $8 and $12 per hour on average because employers knew administrative and clerical folks were a dime a dozen in that market. My marriage disintegrated -- amicably -- shortly after my dad stopped living with us (frankly, it had been on the rocks even before 2006, but we'd pulled together while Dad needed us), and I had already decided I was going to get out of Cleveland's crappy economy and chilly climate as soon as I could manage it. With leaving in mind, I worked temp/contract and sent résumés out of state rather than looking for a permanent local job. I did land one really good contract at $25 per hour, but it was a one-and-done project that took only two weeks to complete. The rest of the time I limped along at $12 or less an hour and looking for a way out of town.

I moved to Annapolis, Maryland in the spring of 2014. I likely wouldn't have been able to do it if not for serendipity. Roughly a year previously, someone I'd known almost two decades earlier -- long before my marriage -- surfaced on Facebook and sent me a friend request. He was from Cleveland, but had since moved to Annapolis. We were both divorced and had a lot in common, and by early 2014 things had progressed between us to the point where he invited me to come and live with him. I did, and we've been together ever since. I arrived with what I could fit into my old Grand Cherokee and took a temp job so I could earn a paycheck while searching for something permanent.

And there's the rub. The cost of living here is about 70% higher than it was in Cleveland. The job market in the Baltimore-Washington, DC corridor (of which Annapolis is part) never suffered the kind of hit that Cleveland did, and the economy overall is more robust here. One would expect most mid-range jobs here to pay more than the same jobs would in Cleveland.

Yet here I am, getting $10 to $16 hourly as a temp and answering ads for permanent work that pays roughly the same in most cases. Maryland's minimum wage is $8 per hour, so I'm getting paid between 125% and 200% of minimum for the same damn work that used to pay me 300% of minimum fifteen or twenty years ago, and on a good day I'm making the same dollar figure I made ten years ago. The difference is that I now have a lot more experience at it and money here and now goes nowhere near as far as it did then and there, which only highlights my disgust at not making more.

You know what? I don't even LIKE administrative support and office management all that much. It was never my favorite thing; I just sort of fell into it when I was in my twenties and never really got out. I like it even less now that no one wants to actually pay much for it. I really need a better use for my time and talents, and I need it to pay me more.

I'm open to ideas, hivemind. They can't involve relocation, as my Significant Other's work is here. They can't involve spending money on more schooling until at least a year from now, and I'd need to earn more money between now and then to even make that possible. Ideally, I'd like something where I can do much of my work remotely, because SigOther's job is set up that way and given we're both in our fifties we'd like to incorporate some flexibility into our lifestyle if we can.

No good deed...

Hypothetical for the hivemind:

You go to someone (we'll call her "Tillie") and ask to interrupt her for a moment because there's something you can't figure out but you think perhaps she can. Tillie agrees to help, and pauses in her task to assist you with yours. You explain, "I can't find [item] on [electronic device]. It's gone missing. I've looked [here] and [here]; where else should I look?"

Tillie walks you through a couple more search steps and together you find only an empty folder where [item] should be. Tillie then suggests a course of action to help you avoid inadvertently compounding the problem, and to both resolve the initial problem you noticed that led you to discover that [item] was missing and avoid future instances of that and related problems.

At what point does it become appropriate to get annoyed with Tillie for trying to help, and accuse her of never answering your initial question?

Yeah, Monday...

...and I haven't yet unpacked my suitcase from the weekend spend in Cleveland at a wedding. I suspect I will find my motivation in a crumpled wad stuffed into the very bottom, and badly in need of laundering.

Facebook Has Pissed Me Off

And mind you, I can't exactly walk away from it, because unfortunately it's how I remain connected to a rather large number of people AND organizations that are important to me. But I'm going to scale back my activity over there for right now and maybe hang out over here for a bit.

Na... um... NO

It's November again, the month when half my social circle decide they're going to write novels, whether or not they're normally given to auctorial pursuits.

You see, November is National Novel-Writing Month, affectionately (and sometimes less so) referred to as NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short. The idea is to write an entire novel in a month, from start to finish. Complete that task and you're said to have "won" NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 per day. It seems so... arbitrary. I'm all in favor of motivation and measurable progress, and having deadlines can be helpful in these areas. Still, there are things that cannot be rushed, or at least that perhaps shouldn't be. High on this list, at least by my lights, is the creative process.

Now, I've been writing novel-length fiction for a few years. Quite a few. (All right, since the Carter administration. Happy now?) Under a full head of steam, I can generate a couple of thousand words in an hour or two. But whenever I've focused more on wordcount than on form and content, it hasn't taken too long for the quality of my output to fall off dramatically.

For me, that's the biggest problem with NaNoWriMo. I tried it once. Somewhere around the 18,000-word mark I found myself writing in circles, just trying to make wordcount. What I'd lost sight of was how to make my words count.

I didn't "win" NaNo that year, and I haven't played since. For one thing, I'm old-school enough to regard 50k words as pretty slim -- in fact, for my money that's a novella, not a full-blown novel. If I'm going to write a novel, the story will be complex enough to require at least 80k to 90k words to really tell it properly. That's more than I'm likely to churn out in a month's time, however, unless I have virtually nothing else that requires my attention during that month -- no job, no freelance work, no other responsibilities, and enough money on-hand to not waste time worrying about how to pay the bills. Suffice it to say I've never been in that situation. At best, I've had the free time OR the money, but not both, and certainly not the lack of other responsibilities.

Writing fiction takes work. It takes thought, and the freedom to indulge one's imagination. Some days are better spent just figuring out how some new element that's presented itself can be made useful to the story than in pounding out another thousand or so words. I outline my work, but my Muse always surprises me with something I hadn't planned on, or else my characters take on lives of their own and insist on doing things I hadn't anticipated. I've learned the hard way to let them, because if they're fully-formed enough to be doing that in the first place, it usually means they have a better idea of what's going on in the story than I do. If an author is God in relation to his or her fictional world, then I am an absolute pushover of a deity 90% of the time. My characters tend to exercise enormous amounts of free will. Of course, this may also explain why so many of them can be best described as agnostic...

All this is in aid of saying that while I am indeed in the process of writing a novel, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo. I began this project a bit before November, and I'm sure I won't finish it before Christmas. And that's all right. My characters don't feel rushed, the plot isn't slapped together with chewing gum and baling twine, and I'm not as likely to lose whatever sanity I may have before the denouement. Mind, I'm not saying that any of these things are the case with all NaNo novels. I'm quite sure there are some good ones out there. Even so, I have to wonder whether they'd perhaps be even better for having being written in a slightly more relaxed manner, with the author taking his or her time at crafting them.

They say you can't hurry Art, much like you can't hurry love, or the perfect wine. Things take time, and that's fine by me.


The stupid, it burns

*bangs head on desk*

So... the water to my house got shut off this morning, on what may well turn out to be one of the hottest days of the year. Have I mentioned the landlord is an idiot?

I share a two-bedroom apartment with my ex-husband on the first floor of a duplex in an inner-ring Cleveland suburb. (Gotta love that economic "recovery".) The rent is cheap, but the place isn't even worth the amount we're charged. The landlord owns some unknown number of houses in this 'burb, and when something breaks, either takes his sweet time fixing it or argues that it isn't really broken -- like the time he tried to convince us that it was perfectly normal for a refrigerator to go into auto-defrost mode and pump warm air rather than cold into its interior for 24 hours straight and that if this was a problem perhaps we just shouldn't buy perishable groceries.

The house has a single water meter, serving the piping that feeds both rental units. This is SOP around here, and the vast majority of landlords include water as part of the rent.

Not this guy. He's paranoid that tenants are going to abuse the water if they're not paying for it themselves. "They'll have all their relatives over to do laundry or take showers and I'll be paying for it, or they'll leave the water running all the time and I'll get stuck with the bill," he says. (I don't even want to know what kind of people do that, but it isn't us. Hell, I don't even *have* more than a handful of relatives left to speak of, and none of the ones I know personally live in this state.)

So instead he charges what he considers a lower rent, eschews leases in favor of verbal month-to-month rental agreements and then expects his tenants to split the water bill, with each unit paying a portion depending on how many people actually live there. The bill, however, goes to his father's home in the next 'burb over, and he never once has shown it to us, mentioned it to us, asked for $!amount toward it or anything, in the 10+ months we've lived here. We asked once or twice, and he said not to worry about it just then, as he would take care of it and get back to us if it was high enough to warrant doing so. I'm not even going to pretend to understand that, but my ex is in charge of this stuff, since technically it's his apartment.

As it turns out, the landlord hadn't paid the water bill in five months. I learned this when, this morning, I stepped out front to find a water department truck parked at the curb, and a guy shutting off the valve in the treelawn in front of the house. He was very apologetic and gave me a number to call. When I did, the water department informed me how far in arrears the bill was, and how much would have to be paid to get the water turned back on.

I called the landlord, who at first claimed to have no knowledge of why our water should've been shut off. I recounted to him my conversation with the water department, and cited the fact that by law HE is responsible for the bill since the account is in his name as homeowner and the rental units do not have their own meters. He said, "You guys need to be paying that bill."

"How," I asked, keeping my voice as calm as possible, "are we supposed to do that when we never even see the bill? The city says they send it to an address in [redacted]."

"Oh, yeah, well I have that go to my dad's place."

"Not our problem."

He agreed to get the bill caught up and have our water turned back on today [update: which as of this writing it has been]. I'm actually glad I was off today and could be here and on top of the issue, because otherwise tonight would've been very annoying... but dear ghods, what is up with this guy? And now he wants to put the water bill in my ex's name -- for the WHOLE house -- and let us wrangle splitting it with the neighbor upstairs, whom we almost never see because she is out of town about 75% of the time. (And when she is home, it frequently sounds like she's making amateur porn up there. Just the thing you want to knock on the door during... but that's a whole separate issue.)

So, um, no.

Is it any wonder I want to get out of this place, this town and this whole area?

Well, that was an adventure I could've done without. Ate a handful of trail mix late this afternoon; bit down on a peanut and sheared off part of a molar. It didn't hurt, but it made the most alarming "crunch". Went immediately to the dentist, and was told the nerve is exposed but apparently dead, and that I will need a root canal, post, and crown.

I'll be having that done on Monday. Because, y'know, life wasn't already complicated enough.

Sixteen Days Of Rain...

As I write this, we are having yet another thunderstorm in Cleveland. It has rained every day for the past 16 days, something that hasn't happened since 1900. Rivers and creeks are flooding their banks, and we now have -- oh joy -- tornado warnings across the northern strip of Ohio along the Lake Erie coast.

I'm worried about the home belonging to one of my best friends, David. Its roof was damaged when Hurricane Sandy (well, technically they were calling it a "superstorm" by then but still) blew through here last October. A tree rooted on the vacant lot next door and thus belonging to the city of Cleveland was uprooted by high winds, crashing onto his roof. It took the city until late January to even remove the tree, and they still haven't done a damn thing about the roof. They just keep telling him they'll get back to him.
The tree on David"s roof

David didn't have homeowner's insurance because with his work hours having been reduced in the wake of recent economic upheavals he didn't have the money for the premium. So he's had to keep waiting for the city, which keeps dragging its feet, and in the meantime whenever it rains, water gets down inside the house walls and above the attic ceiling. The initial estimates he got from local roofers came in around the $7,000 mark, but of course because the upper portion of the interior wall structure is open to the elements and we've had so much rain, it's almost a certainty that there is additional, invisible damage. If this goes on much longer, I'm afraid problems could develop with mold and rot, to the extent that he could even lose the house.David"s roof after the tree damaged it

This wasn't David's first experience with hurricane damage. He was living in Biloxi, MS when Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, and lost that house as a result. He spent the last of his savings last summer to have his roof redone -- something it had badly needed -- so he’s had no extra cash on hand to have the storm damage repaired. To make matters worse, he was seriously injured on the job several weeks ago, and while worker’s comp is paying his medical bills and covering some basic necessities, he won’t be able to go back to work until he is fully healed (his job is quite physical). He’d been applying and interviewing for a second job until he got hurt, so now rather than getting ahead, he’s falling even further behind.

I've put together a fund to try to get his roof repaired, since at this point neither of us is willing to bet that the city is going to get around to doing anything about it between now and whenever Hades gets an NHL expansion team.

Additionally, I'm having problems of my own (for those of you who remember my Jeep saga, it still isn't over), so if enough comes in I may be able to fix and keep my vehicle.

Sending Up A Flare...

Okay, I'm going to bring this to the LJ hive-mind, because I can't think where else to bring it. I don't know if anyone here will have any ideas for me, or anything else for that matter, but I need to tell my story on the off-chance someone does.

For those who don't know, my marriage ended in the spring of 2011, not long after my father entered a nursing home once his mental and physical needs outstripped the ability to meet them at home. I'd taken four years off from the workforce to care for him, with my then-husband's blessing and help. However, the stress had proven a bit much, and we'd realized that our differing styles of dealing with it made us Not A Good Match. We had no kids, and the split was an amicable and mutual decision. My ex-husband and I remain good friends. However, over is over, and we've been trying to move ahead with our individual lives.
Read more...Collapse )

I'm tired. I'm desperate. I'm depressed. And I'm asking for help, be that prayer, ideas or anything else. Frankly, there's a side of me that thinks if my ex's car's crappy steering went out on me during my commute and sent me into a fatal wreck, at least I'd have the relief of No Longer Having To Try… and that kind of thinking is so far out of character for me that it isn’t even funny.



Tao ship's wheel
Karen, aka Ana Lake, ska Aine inghean Cathal
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