brad’s status–a lot of us can relate, i’m sure

brad's statusWe might all learn a thing or two from the new film Brad’s Status. The movie explores middle-class discontent and the way comparing ourselves with others in this world of ubiquitous reminders via Facebook posts and Instagram stories can drive us to be miserable, when most of us are way more fortunate than we think and maybe more than we deserve.

In the movie, the middle-class Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) contemplates/overthinks what he deems to be his boring, unassuming life. On first look, Brad has it pretty good. He runs a nonprofit and his wife, Melanie (Jenna Fischer), is likable, smart, and has a decent, busy career herself. His son, Troy (Austin Abrams), is not only a good kid, but bright enough and musically talented enough to be applying to and interviewing with top-notch East Coast universities, including Harvard. Brad lives in a tidy Craftsman home in a nice neighborhood of medium-sized Sacramento, California. So, what’s not to like about all that? Let’s ask Brad.

The audience learns through Brad’s voice overs just how unhappy he is. To Brad, his life pales in comparison to his college buddies’, one a successful movie producer featured in Architectural Digest for his lavish home; another a hedge-fund owner with an equally wealthy wife, four blond, rambunctious kids, and one private jet; a third who made it big in the dot-com craze and is now retired and living with two young girlfriends in Maui; and a fourth who is a successful pundit and author who is pulled in many enviable directions.  What’s prompted Brad’s over analysis is his and Troy’s East Coast trip, where Troy is to tour and interview at some of the schools on his radar, including prestigious Harvard. We learn that Brad hadn’t been accepted into his first-choice school, Yale, and see that he’s surprised (and envious) that Troy has a good shot at Harvard.

On the trip, Brad finds out how out of the loop he has become. He wasn’t invited to his L.A. friend’s opulent wedding, for one, and he feels his status, already teetering,  has not plummeted.

Of course, our Everyman does get a rude awakening, when he, of course, discovers that his friends’ perfect lives are really not so much. But the slap in the face comes late and one gets the sense that Brad may end up dipping back into the pool of despair on occasion but, for the most part, will stay on dry land.

A show of hands on who can relate to this scenario? Although we are witnesses to how good Brad has it–for God’s sake, he should be happy alone that he has just one kid to worry about and one college education to fund–we can see where he gets off feeling in the dumps about his life. Haven’t we all scoured Facebook pages, drooling over photos of our friends’ European vacations, their kids’ graduations from great schools and with exemplary grades that got them a choice of several jobs to turn down in order to take the one with the most amazing pay and benefits, and the new house/grandkid/car/kitchen–fill in the blank–that we wish we had? I know I have. Looking at my life as a married, college-educated homeowner and parent of four healthy and good kids, I think quite a few people would be envious, but the way you hear me talk of it on occasion, you’d think I lived on skid row and had a mountain of insurmountable problems to climb up and over each day. Truth be told, if we have a roof over our heads, our good health, and someone to love and be loved by we’re doing OK, my friend.

If we’re to learn anything from Brad’s Status it’s this: Be happy with what you have, be thankful for what you’re given, and stop envying those you think have it better than you. Everyone has his or her own problems or internal demons to work through even if on the surface they look like gods and goddesses.

 

 

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my silver linings playbook for the new year

new-years-ball

Here we are again at the start of a year that will, from the looks of things, be full of changes and challenges. I see some good things on the horizon, like paying off a big loan this year, and I see some things that could be horrific (I already touched on that back in NovemberBut one thing I would like to accomplish this year is being more grateful and in being grateful, I cannot focus on the negative. I must find those silver linings even if I have to look through hundreds of dark clouds to do so.

How this year will be different:

  • I will write at least one blog post each week, and I will end one posting with three things I am thankful for that happened that week, even if it’s that the cats only threw up three times or that I was in line at the DMV for forty minutes less than usual.
  • I will explore my city more and enjoy the great things it has to offer. In other words, I’ll appreciate what is available to me. I live in a part of the country that people fly and drive to from all over to visit, but I sit at my desk and work in my house day in and day out, some weeks barely getting out more than a couple times and within a five-mile radius of home. I choose to go someplace fun each week. Even if I have to take my laptop with me to work there, I will get out and see this city.
  • I will not belabor bad things I have no control over. The dilemma of anxious control freaks such as myself is we worry about everything, much of which we can’t control. Unless ruminating over the horrible consequences of something that may or may not happen is actually going to help put a plan into action, I choose to not waste my time and the finite space within my brain worrying about it.
  • I will not feel as though everyone’s life is so much better than mine and be envious of the good things that happen to them. I have a terrible habit of doing that: I’ll hear something positive that a friend of mine has accomplished, like she got a new job or a new kitchen or a new car, and I’ll compare my crappy sporadic paychecks with hers or my fifteen-year-old vehicle to that shiny new one sitting in her driveway and feel bad about myself. Well, no more of that. I have been trying hard to get more and better work and I could afford a new car and a kitchen if I wanted one, but it’s not all that necessary right now. So no more comparisons. I will feel happy for her, and that’s all.
  • I will realize that others’ lives are not all they appear to be and be thankful for what I have and when things go well. A friend of mine who I never think has to struggle as much as I do told me a story of something frightening that happened to one of her children when he tried to do the right thing a few weeks ago. On the outside, her life looks better than mine, but I went home that night and thanked the heavens that I don’t have a child struggling with such an issue right now. My kids may not have the greatest jobs or be in fulfilling relationships, but at the same time, they’re not in difficult, dangerous situations either.

And that brings me back to my premise of feeling grateful for the things that are good in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for and this week, for me, it was:

  1. Having my healthy, well-rounded, smart kids around me over the holidays and getting to reconnect with friends and family members I don’t get to see all the time.
  2. Getting to enjoy a nice lunch with a view and a walk with my husband on New Year’s Day.
  3. Being alive and well.

Goodnight.

should i pursue a low-paying job to get me out of the house and back into the world? (a freelancer’s dilemma)

libraries.jpg

I am a freelancer. Anyone who’s freelanced, especially in the writing and editing field, knows it’s a lonely career path. Most of the time–in my case 100 percent of the time–is spent in a small room, at a tiny desk, where the only communicating I do is by e-mail and instant messaging. If I didn’t have a dog at my feet or a habit of talking to myself, I’d never utter a word all workday. Now I have a chance to break those bonds and get a job outside the house. But is it a job worth pursuing if it doesn’t pay well, is a fairly long commute, and would disrupt my routine?

I finally heard back from one of about nine library systems that I applied to and was put on an eligible list for over the past year. It’s actually the very last one I applied to. And that was just two weeks ago. Most of the time, names of eligible candidates are added to a list. People need to reapply if they haven’t been called in twelve months, so the wait can go on into perpetuity.

The library in question, the one library in a small city within my county, has offered me (and many others, I’m sure) an opportunity to take a test for a position that is at the bottom of the hiring hierarchy and at the bottom of the pay scale and with zero benefits. I have applied to better-paying library jobs with more responsibilities and with benefits, but I’ve yet to get a call to test for or be interviewed for one of those. This job is at the lowest wrung of the ladder, but combined with my more challenging freelance editing career it may be just what I need. Sure, I’d like more money instead of being paid barely over minimum wage, but the benefits of my taking such a job are manyfold. Still, leave it to me to find the dark cloud outside every silver lining.

Reasons to not take the job/pursue it (even if I take the test and get a perfect score, it doesn’t mean that I’m the one who’ll get chosen):

  1. The job pays very little.
  2. The commute is 25 minutes each way on a good day, possibly double that on a bad one. And it involves driving over a bridge, which is over a large body of water, which is kind of frightening.
  3. It would force me to work regular hours and I’d have to clear vacations and sick days instead of being free to take a trip around my husband and kids’ schedules or when I want to (which I rarely do, but I have the possibility to do so anyway).
  4. I’d be away from home, meaning my family and my dog, and that’s kind of hard on me.
  5. I’d be paying for gas, which I figured today would cost at least $40 a week. That’s like four hours of work just to fill the tank.
  6. I’d miss out on important events at home or even just the regular stuff, like eating dinner together (hours are 10-9 weekdays and the library’s open till 6 on Saturday and 5 on Sunday).

Now for the pluses of taking a low-paying, low-risk, low-expectations job (or at least pursuing it):

  1. I won’t feel guilty if I have to quit.
  2. The job is in the most quaint, adorable city in the county, and the library is very nice.
  3. It probably wouldn’t be very demanding work, which is kind of nice for a change.
  4. It will get me out of the house and give me other humans to talk to (see paragraph one).
  5. It will give me some stable income (maybe $8,000 or $9,000 a year) to rely on in addition to my rollercoaster freelance income.
  6. It’s part-time and wouldn’t require a huge commitment of my time, leaving me free to do my other work and have free time. Plus, unlike a retail establishment, it’s closed on holidays.

I keep kicking myself for not going after another very similar position with the main library system in my county close to a year ago. I was offered an interview but cold feet and a head filled with anxieties made me cancel. I was upset with myself for a long time for not going after it, and I swore that the next time an opportunity came through, I’d jump on it. So, with that kind of history, I plan to take the test. My chances of getting the one open position may be good or they may be not so good. I realize there will be people whose personalities mesh with the interviewers more or who know the interviewers or who just appear to be the best candidate in whatever way, like, say, they live on that side of the big, mean bridge. But it’s worth going after.

I did a dry run today. I got in my car around the time I’d have to leave for the test in two days and I dialed up my Google maps. I followed the path to the library without a hitch, and I found street parking easily. I had never been inside the building before but always wanted to go in. The pillars leading to the door, the beautiful lawn, and the coffee cart out front were beckoning me. So I went in and looked around. Dang, it was just as cozy and quaint inside as I’d imagined! Even better, in fact. There were rows and rows of books; a cute, roomy children’s section; a divine sitting area with big, comfortable leather chairs, the way a library inside a mansion might look–I could almost smell the cigars and brandy; two Christmas trees (no generic “Happy Holidays” will be uttered here, I guessed); and a big, 24 foot by 8 foot display case containing a winter scene, set up with a moving toy train and storybook characters looking on. Gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling windows with views all around, including of the adorable gazebo and park in the town square, I felt like I belonged. It was as if I’d walked into Bedford Falls or, better yet, Stars Hollow.

“I could really enjoy going to work here,” I said to myself. (No, I didn’t say it out loud this time.)

And I knew right then and there that $11 an hour or not, I’d be happy to spend time in this place. Now to get the offer….

 

he who shall not be named won the presidential election; what to do now?

I’ve woken every morning since the day of the election that shook me to the core Sad Woman Looking Lostwondering how I can live through four years of a presidency run on hatred, flimsy policy promises that a fifth grader could have spoken, and a possible cabinet that I heard Sarah Palin might be appointed to. Only in America! To say I’m in a bit of a depression is like saying the pope is a little bit Catholic. So what to do now?

I guess we all carry on and hope for the best. And if that isn’t happening, we speak up and get noticed. I feel sorry for a lot of the voters who chose Trump because they are angry and looking for a savior. I think they will be surprised that the man who they hoped would look out for the little guy (and how they thought a premade, not self-made, billionaire could do that is beyond my comprehension) will be the first to take away their health care, cause the rate at the Fed to rise and behind it costs of loans on things they don’t have the money to buy, and put their tax dollars into the military because we will need to be even more vigilant at our borders and in the air and with nations who will despise us because of what our leader has said.

How did Hillary Clinton lose? How did she not break the ultimate glass ceiling, which should have been broken long ago? Tim Kaine, for one. He brought nothing to the ticket–no progressive voters or people of color, as far as I know. Being a Clinton, for another. This was the year of change, for how many times did Bernie Sanders have to speak the word “revolution” and mention that his campaign, one that swept the nation, was built on contributions averaging twenty-seven dollars apiece? And for the Democratic Party to turn a blind eye to the gift of enthusiastic voters was insane. The Republican Party only did so reluctantly. But once the momentum was going the way of their “outsider” (a man who has changed his party affiliation more times than most people change addresses), I think conservatives had to let the wave crest and roll to the shore. And it did, like a tsunami.

I don’t worry so much for myself. I’ll be OK. I worry about my kids and the disadvantaged, the poor, the families who may be torn apart. Mostly, I worry that health care will be taken away from people who for the first time in their lives can have it and can afford it. I worry about a vehemently antiabortion VP (I honestly don’t think Trump gives a hoot about the topic personally) and what that might mean for the country. I wish there was no such thing as abortion. I’ve had four kids at times that were not ideal, so I think it can be done–and should be done. But taking away health care from women and then forcing them to carry to term, paying for their own maternity care, which is astonishingly expensive, is so, so backward. If you want women to not have abortions, then please, please make it affordable for her and the newborn as well. Don’t take away their health care or force them to not have it. More women will be having babies with problems and, for people who want to look at it in monetary terms, the rates for the rest of us will go sky high to pay for those noncovered moms and children.

My husband and I have had to pay for private health insurance a good part of our marriage and I can attest that about fifteen years back, during the Bush II administration, nearly all big health-care companies took maternity coverage out of their policies or made the premiums so high, it was unaffordable.

After my fourth child was born, for instance, we had to pay for private insurance because my husband nor I had a job with health-care benefits. The premiums were around one thousand dollars a month and we didn’t have the option of maternity coverage. I prayed that I didn’t get pregnant during that time, because maternity care is about ten thousand dollars and that’s if there are no complications. When the Affordable Care Act came along, it forced insurers to put maternity coverage back onto their policies and be affordable. It also prevented insurers from excluding people with preexisting conditions. So people who have an illness, a disease, or a disability cannot be turned away or be forced to pay higher premiums. People in the middle of cancer treatments, for instance, who maybe changed a job with a different health-care provider, could still be covered for the remaining treatments. My friend, for instance, who passed away a couple years ago, had to switch insurers because the one she had been on did not allow for experimental drug treatment. She was able to move to another plan and was then put on a brand-new drug, which extended her life a bit longer. It was a miracle, in my eyes, that she could do that. Never would that have happened if Big Health Care and Big Pharma hadn’t been forced to allow people to switch providers and policies and not be turned away.

So Donald Trump is our president in a year we should have been celebrating our first female leader and our first male “first lady.” Maybe next time. (Elizabeth Warren, are you listening?) For the time being, let us all say a little prayer and hope that Mr. Trump’s presidency isn’t the gloom and doom we think it may be. After all, four years isn’t that long. I hope the time flies.

 

 

roomless in seattle: playing hotel roulette sometimes shoots you in the foot

seattleI’ve been trying to find the perfect hotel in Seattle for next weekend. Yes, next weekend. See, I thought I had the perfect hotel picked out for me and my family months ago. In fact, I had two hotels booked in case one proved a better choice than the other. But then my family started weighing in, and the hotel on Lake Union or the one at the very edge of upper downtown/lower Queen Anne proved to be not what they were looking for. My husband is usually OK with whatever I pick, but this time even he said, “If we’re going to be near downtown, why not actually be within walking distance to everything?”

And you know what? He was right. After getting into town exhausted, as I’m sure we will be, why not be amid the action? Why not be able to walk out the door and find a great restaurant and not have to worry about driving back to the hotel and finding parking? Or why not be able to  get up early the next morning and check out the city, the actual city, as it wakens, walking down to the waterfront, sampling coffeeshops or waiting in the long line at the original Starbucks, or, even better, watching the fish throwers at Pike Place?

So off I went, hunting down the perfect hotel, a daunting task because none exists. Either the rooms are too small, the housekeeping staff cleans like a bunch of teenagers, the front desk fails, the check-in is like the line to get into hell, the parking fee could feed a family of four in Malaysia for a month, the noise from the elevator sounds like pigs being dragged to their deaths, or the view is of a brick wall. But let’s be honest, my real problem isn’t finding a perfect hotel. I’m super good at comparing and contrasting numerous places, searching every search engine, and scouring websites for the best deals. I go on Google maps to find the street view and get a feel of what it’s like to walk the streets around the hotel. No, I’m a seasoned hunter and gatherer of hotel rooms. My real problem is trying to please everyone else. Like a lot of women, I am a people pleaser.

Two days ago, when I thought I’d found the “perfect” spot, right in the middle of the Pike Pine retail core, i.e., the shopping mecca of Seattle, just blocks from Pike Place and a shortish walk to the Space Needle, I hesitated, as I’m wont to do, and my perfect hotel filled up. Because the hotel chain is running a “second day at 40 percent off” deal, everyone and her sister is booking the Friday night of the Thursday-Friday-night combo I need. Panicking, I called the hotel (yes, directly to Seattle instead of Mumbai, India, or wherever the 800 number takes you) because when I was in the middle of booking, with my personal info and credit card number input, I got a message saying the dates were unavailable or there was ongoing website maintenance or both. The nice woman at the hotel confirmed that there were no rooms available. She suggested one of the other nearby hotels in the chain, which are more expensive and have exorbitant parking fees (as if “my” hotel’s $57 was a bargain!), I might add, but I booked at one of the others anyway and continued trying to book at the perfect spot. The hotel rep had suggested I keep checking as rooms get cancelled “all the time.” So I tried later that night, but still nothing.

The next morning, I gave it another shot and what a surprise! A suite opened up and it was under $400 a night. Yes, people, that is a good price in the heart of Seattle in the middle of tourist season (if only Washington and Oregon kids started school in August like the rest of America instead of after Labor Day), and one week before my visit. I did the same as the previous day: put in my info, my hotel club number, my credit card number, my third child’s middle name, clicked on the Review button, and once again was told that I was too late.

I ended up booking at a nearby hotel, cancelling the overpriced sister hotel I’d booked the day before. But the hotel I booked at doesn’t have the glowing reviews of the one I wanted, nor does it offer the breakfast I was hoping for, but it did have a room when I needed it–and free wine in the evenings, which I will need as well. But I didn’t stop at booking one room there. I booked a room with two queens and then another room later in the day that’s a suite and will fit all five of us. For $90 more a night (which is a lot, I know, but…), I figure we would each get a bed to sleep in instead of someone having to sleep on the floor. There are a few perks at this hotel, too (did I mention the wine?), although it sounds as if it’s trying to please a younger, hipper crowd than I mingle with on a regular basis. But at least I have a couple young adults with me who will appreciate it, I suppose. The teenager will be left out and middle-aged me and my husband, too, but you know, you can’t please everyone all the time. I hope I can remember that next time I’m booking a hotel.

Now if only I can make it not rain….

 

 

work-at-home depression–yes, it is a thing

Some people–a lot of people, actually–would think that the perfect job is one in which you get to stay home and still earn money. That sounds good to me too, but working at home is not all it’s cracked up to be. And here’s why.

Working from home can be awesome, especially if you have children at home or have a difficult time commuting, for whatever reason. It’s also great if your schedule is ever changing, say, you’re a student. Or if you have a partner with a full-time job and benefits and your income helps out but isn’t the big moneymaker in the family. And there are work-at-home situations that offer the same benefits (monetarily and otherwise) of working outside the home, such as if it’s a full-time gig for one employer or it’s contract work for an employer that had to downsize, reduce its payroll, and pay its people on a per-project basis. There, the same amount of work is available, but the terms of “employment” have changed.

But for those of us whose work is piecemeal, working at home can be a drag for a number of reasons, including it can bring on depression. And here’s why:

1) Who’s the boss? Most people would think not having a boss is a good thing, right? But when you freelance for a number of different companies, you are at the mercy of their very different rules and requirements, and although you run your own company per se, the clients are the ones who direct your work. Many times too, projects can overlap and deadlines can conflict, meaning you have to take on two or more jobs at once, working crazy-long hours to get everything done, and oftentimes the work suffers. If that happens, you run the chance of not getting called on for more work.

2) Whose line is it anyway? Because of the Internet, e-mail, and smartphones, most workers would say there’s a fine line between work and home. But with freelancing, there’s no line at all. If people are forced to leave their offices and workplaces at a certain time because a shift ends, they do so. Salaried people too are able to walk away from work, get in their cars or hop on the bus or train and go home. They may take their work with them via a laptop or running through work scenarios in their heads when they get there, but there’s a line of demarcation between work and home. Freelancers don’t have that luxury. They can work at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. They work weekends, weekdays, and holidays even. They work when the work is there or, as stated at the end of point number one above, they may not be working at all.

3) Show me the money! Unless you’re JK Rowling or someone equally fortunate and talented to have made it big while doing something without a regular paycheck, the money from freelancing or contract work is not as lucrative as working for an employer. Polls have shown that people doing the same amount of work and who have the same education as those in a full-time job are paid woefully less for the same work. A small percentage can make more, but I guarantee you they are working many more hours. And yes, you can pay for your own health care and it is a tax deduction, but take it from someone who has had health care plans through an employer and plans through a self-employeed situation, without a workplace plan the premiums are higher, the benefits are lower, and you have to earn enough to pay for those premiums. It’s not a win-win situation at all.

4) I’m so lonesome, I could cry. Sitting in a room for hours on end and staring at a screen, a canvas, or whatever work tool you use can be isolating, to say the least. Whether you like ’em or not, people need other people. We’re social animals. So’s my dog, of course, but I can only have a one-sided conversation with him. We crave human interaction and if you’ve raised a family and are a freelancer simultaneously or in succession, years and even decades can go by without being able to stand by the watercooler chatting about last night’s episode of 60 Minutes. (Do offices even have watercoolers anymore or have those been replaced by water bottles? Well, at least 60 Minutes is still around.)

5) Risky business. Even big corporations shut down entire plants and office complexes at times (now more often than ever), so there’s not a soul who isn’t at risk of losing his or her job at any time these days. Long gone are the companies that hire men or women straight out of school or the service, employ them for their entire working lives, and send them off into retirement with a nice, fat pension.Though they’re few and far between (and oftentimes government agencies), there still are some employers like that. Freelancers, however, can’t count on steady work, let alone steady paychecks, ever. And there’s no pension, not even a 401(k) to fall back on one day. Sure, you can squirrel away a few thousand a year into an IRA, but there are limits to how much you can contribute and it’s all after-tax, not pretax money.

6) Happiness is a warm gun. The hot-and-cold of freelancing is extremely difficult to handle especially if you’re a lukewarm person. I like things I can count on. I’ve been married for 30 years and have had some of the same friends for decades. I hold on to my cars (the one I drive turned 14 last month), and I eat the same breakfast daily. I’m a very consistent person, so having a job without a consistent workflow is really difficult to bear. I am trying to supplement my freelance career with a “regular” job outside the home just so I have something to count on on a weekly basis–even if it pays half as much per hour–but finding work outside the home is difficult if you don’t have a regular employer to vouch for you. References are really hard to come by. Yes, you can use as a reference the client for whom you did a bang-up job on a recent project, but if you go after the steady, outside-the-home job, how are you going to look to that client? He or she may think you’re no longer interested in the occasional project and not call on you again, whether you got the regular job or not. He or she may think your time will be limited now, little does he know that you were juggling gigs while doing work for him too.

There are ways to get around the feelings of isolation (take your work to Starbucks, take a walk, go to the park, join a group either virtually or in person with other freelancers) and there are times the money is good for the work done, but there’s no getting around the rollercoaster of workflow that freelancers have, which in turn can affect one’s mood.

I try to look at the positives of working from home (being “there” for my kids, being in a comfortable place, not having to fight traffic in a big city–that one’s huge in my mind, and not having to dress up or even shower–OK, that one can be a big negative, actually). And I do realize that there’s good and bad with both scenarios and, truth be told, I’d rather work at home. I am fortunate that my husband earns bigger bucks in a steady job. But there’s no getting around the fact that there are negatives. Now if only I had someone to discuss them with.