Workaholics

It’s Sunday.

I’ve already edited Essay #1 and gone to church. The Broadway play that I saw last week has me thinking about an essay that I want to write about journalism. Do here or do it elsewhere? Mmmmm. Thinking, thinking. I have to plan the chore chart for the week, but still must print out the weekly after school calendar for the fridge. Essay #2 is done and needs to shopped around to editors. I checked in on my mom who has a sinus infection. Ian needs to be walked around outside and needs his Kumon worksheets checked. Must call Jonah to see if he’s working or hungover. Weekend cleaning has to happen. I have a name of a housecleaner, but haven’t had enough time to interview and hire someone, so our bathrooms are seriously toxic.

It sounds like a lot, but it’s just life. Much of it shouldn’t really be categorized as work, like the kid and parent and house stuff. Even the writing stuff isn’t like a traditional job, because I love it and I’m not getting paid much.  I could quit and get a proper job that has regular on and off times and pays proper money, but I keep going because this lifestyle is working for me and my family at the moment.

I think about writing and ideas all day, every day. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about I could fix the eighth paragraph in a project.  If the document is on google docs, sometimes I will do the edits in the middle of the night on the iPad that is always on my night table. Once, when I logged into make edits during one of my bouts with insomnia and compulsive editing, I found my editor there looking at my document. Together, we edited an article at 2am. I was in bed the whole time.

Of course, I’m not working every single moment. Being a freelancer means that I can go to the gym for an hour and half whenever I like. I can take breaks from writing to play really dumb video games. I’m also doing laundry, driving Ian places, food shopping, making dinner, cleaning up after breakfast. Some days, I get so overwhelmed that I have to just read a romance novel for an afternoon. All that is work, but it’s not a job-work.

And then there’s social media. Pushing articles through twitter is just a part of the job of being a writer these days.

Ann Helen Peterson had a viral article in BuzzFeed a couple of weeks ago about how millennials became the burnout generation. Her article spawned a whole slew of copycat articles and more think pieces. Here’s one in the NYT.

Peterson writes,

Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out. Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time. Why have I internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life has reinforced it — explicitly and implicitly — since I was young. Life has always been hard, but many millennials are unequipped to deal with the particular ways in which it’s become hard for us.

Read the whole article. It’s a fun read.

But I don’t think this is just a millennial thing. I don’t even think it’s a modern writer thing.  Overworking is a way of life in certain industries in certain parts of the country.

My husband is in the investment banking industry, and he’s probably border line burnt out. With his 90 minute commute, he’s gone from the house for about 12 hours a day. He’s dealing with work e-mails on the weekend. It’s always on his mind. My brother the journalist, my brother in law the architect, my sister in law the teacher, my cousin the lawyer — everyone is working much crazier hours than their parents and everyone is tired. Those with kids are putting in much longer hours parenting than their parents ever did.

Now, some of this is by choice. There are certainly jobs that pay very well that have much more normal hours. I could get a job as a medical technician with a two year college degree and make a bazillion times more than I do now.  College administrators never look like they’re plagued with editing insomnia. We choose the burnout jobs for a variety of reason — prestige, excitement, big money, whatever.

The problem is when there are no alternatives. If people choose a crazy way of life, then that’s fine. But if crazy jobs are the only meal on the menu, then that’s not cool. Not everybody can take my hypothetical sane jobs in college administration or in a hospital. Are there enough options out there for people who want a steady salary with regular hours? I’m not sure.

The real problem with workaholism isn’t just that we’re too tired to do the more mundane chores on our lists. Rather, it’s that we don’t have enough time to live. We don’t have enough time to spend with our loved ones and make huge meals and to hike around a forest crunching ice, because breaking ice is super fun (that’s what Steve and Ian are doing right now). We don’ t have time to experiment with genealogy websites like I did yesterday and found that I’m related to half of Iowa and Bari, Italy. We don’t have the brain space to make new friends at the gym or read silly books. We live in our heads too much and not enough with our bodies.

So, on that note, I’m walking away from the computer for a couple of hours.

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Lifestyles of the Rich and Divorced

In the 80s, there was a show called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Hosted by the toad-like Robin Leach, viewers got an inside look at movie stars and athletes. The rich people showed off their mansions and fancy cars, portraying lives filled with ease and buttery leather seat covers. He often ended the show dancing a yacht with a glass of bubbly and wishing viewers “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”

Today, we don’t need televisions shows to get a glimpse at extreme wealth. The rich post pictures of themselves on private jets and in Paris apartments on Instagram. And we have divorce proceedings to give us exact figures about how much money it takes to maintain those their frizz-free hair and to mind their children.

We’ll soon have the download on the Bezos who are getting divorced. And there are similarly rich couples, like Mugrabi’s, who aren’t necessarily household names, but are making headlines for their divorce proceedings.

$800 bottles of wine, multiple homes filled with Warhols and Koons’s, vacations to St. Bart’s was just an average day in the Mugrabi’s home.

Ms. Mugrabi’s expensive tastes have emerged as a central issue in the divorce. She scoffed at tabloid reports that she is scraping by on $25,000 a month in support payments. The actual amount, she said, is $200,000 a month, though that is less than the $3 million a year that she was accustomed to spending, on things like flowers ($400 a week) and household staff ($450,000 a year).

She went to the salon daily to have her hair perfectly molded and upgraded her wardrobe weekly with the latest haute couture.

The tricky part about this divorce is that much of the assets are on canvases and crafted with oil paints, so it’s hard to put a dollar amount on their actual wealth. Also, there is a question of how much she contributed to the wealth of their art business. And how much does a person, even a super rich person, need for basic maintenance.  All this is being hammered away in the courts right now.

Reading articles like this one in the New York Times, does not fill me with envy. The Mugrabi’s don’t seem to have the easy, happy lifestyle that Leach portrayed in the 1980s. I can’t imagine a worse hell than having to go to the hair salon every day to have my curly hair yanked straight. Managing a staff to keep multiple homes spotless and to mind entitled, neglected children sounds stressful. Surrounded by beautiful paintings that are simply assets, rather than objects of wonder, is shallow. And there’s apparently a danger of finding your husband passed out on top of a naked woman, after a blow-out party in one of your mansions. I have no interest in that world.

We currently have a president who was the king of the Stacy Leach world in the 1980s. Nobody wants a part of his gold covered world. His model wife looks unhappy and mean. Instead, people are rallying around a skinny girl representing a district in the Bronx, who knows how to use a pressure cooker and shops at TJ Maxx.

There’s two kinds of populism. There’s the kind that elected the rich guy, and there’s the kind that elected the poor girl. It will be interesting to see which one wins out.

Dreary January

January always sucks here in the Northeast. It’s grey and cold. We’ve all had the same virus for the past three weeks, trading germs back and forth. I need to give the entire house a Clorox bath to get rid of these lingering evil bugs. Faded Christmas trees lay sad and lonely waiting for pick up by the garbage truck.

A story that I did in December was just published. I posted it here. Happy to talk about it in the comment section. I’m working on something totally different right now. It’s an upbeat story about a school in the South Bronx for emotionally disturbed children. (Yes, it’s a happy story.) I’m also editing a document right now for a long term project. So, there’s a lot of work to do.

I was at that South Bronx school earlier this week and had a great time, except for the horrible drive through the Bronx. With streets full of pot holes, sudden turns, unmarked roads, and drivers who don’t obey normal traffic rules, I was having anxiety attacks as I navigated my way there. But I did it. Yay me.

Jonah’s home still, which is awesome. Sniffling like the rest of us, he’s been looking at the career development website for school and trying to figure out what he’s going to do after graduation. What a bucket of stress!

Other kids in town are using their winter break to do informational interviews with alumna from their schools at various companies around New York City. I’m just hearing about this from other parents. Neither Jonah nor myself got the memo that this is what kids do during winter break now, until it was too late. So, he’s surfing websites about careers, rather than sitting in an office with a suit. Sigh. Parent fail.

There is a RIDICULOUS level on stress on kids about jobs. Here’s an article in Vox describing it. And this stress isn’t totally crazy. Millennials are burning out in their jobs. College graduates aren’t finding work.

I’m moving my family to a bunker in Vermont where we’ll make artisanal goat cheese.

When College Isn’t Enough

college-campus-Harvard.jpgWith a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University, New Jersey’s flagship public college, 22-year-old Rachel Van Dyks expected to have a good job by now. A professional job with a proper salary and benefits would enable her to move out of her grandfather’s house, where she lives with her parents and her brother. Instead, the 2017 graduate works 46 hours per week at two jobs — scooping maple walnut ice cream at the local ice cream parlor and taking orders at a high-end steakhouse — while paying for an associate’s degree in cardiovascular sonography at a for-profit technical school.

Van Dyks is not alone, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. A majority of college graduates require additional education in order to qualify for a good-paying job, Carnevale said — though many might not find that out until after commencement exercises are over. While colleges are expanding their career development offices and providing students with opportunities for internships, few students take advantage of those resources. For those young graduates, the realities of the job market come as a surprise.

More here.

Ageism and Sins From the Past

Last month, I went to the dermatologist for the “Redhead Checkup.” Because redheads are so prone to skin cancer, we’re supposed to get a full body examination every year. All those years at Seaside Heights in the 1970s and 1980s, when I lay on the beach covered in baby oil trying to get a “base tan” are coming back to haunt me. One time, my sister’s friend from South Africa, Samantha, convinced me that the best way to tan was to cover myself in melted butter.

I used to get such bad sunburns that I would blister and get fevers. My mother would cover me in a paste made out of baking soda and Noxzema to relieve the heat. The tops of my ears and my feet would burn. The part in my hair. That sensitive spot behind the knees.

So, I go for my check-ups, and they’ve mostly been okay. After my teen years, I spent most of my time in a darkened library, so the damage wasn’t too bad, I think. My sister who liked to sunbathe, once got such a bad burn that she once had a two inch black spot in the middle of her back. It was probably a third degree burn. My dad, a fellow redhead, has had big chunks of the skin on his nose removed. My friend, Suze, another member of the redhead club, was a lifeguard in high school; she’s had a chunk of her forehead removed.

But last time, the doctor found a suspicious mark on that sensitive spot behind my left knee. So, I’ve got to get it removed at 9:00 am today.

Getting chunks of my skin removed is part of the indignity of getting older. There are others.

When I met up with writer-type friends at bars or restaurants this winter, the topic of conversation very quickly turned to plastic surgery. They’re all more highly placed than I am and feel under pressure to look good in front of a camera. Because writing isn’t just writing anymore. It’s also selling your word and your thoughts on cable television. I’ve been getting lots of advice on the benefits of fillers and botox.

Meeting up with my cousins at a brunch in New York City last month, my 40-year old cousin, who isn’t in the industry but lives in a Real Housewives of Florida sort of community, told me about all the work that she’s had done on her face. Her face is as smooth as a baby’s ass.

Many of my friends have kids who are nearly done with high school and are entering college, so they want to go back to work. Because we really can’t have it all at the same time, they did the mom-thing, and now they want to return to work.

Returning to work after years on the school drop off line is brutal. The worse-off ones are those whose prior work and education experience makes them overqualified for basic office or retail work. Also in trouble are those who used their free time to help out the schools and volunteer for parent groups, instead of working part-time. They have nothing to put on their resume. With part-time work, you can fudge your resume enough to make it look like you’ve been working full-time, and might even be able to scrounge together some references.

A former mom is death on the job search world.

And now we are looking at candidates for 2020. I have been sickened by the press’s reaction to the older women in power, like Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren. Warren, who was a darling in liberal circles for years, got a big “meh” from liberal pundits when she announced her candidacy. Sure, that Native American DNA video was dumb. But she has tons of experience and real knowledge about Wall Street and economics. She should be HOT, instead she’s a NOT.

Why? It’s because she has wrinkles, and her voice warbles. She’s old. And she’s a woman.

Old guys get a free pass. Biden and Sanders are old as dirt, but the public still loves them. Sanders’ fly-away white hair is just fine. Nobody suggest that he put poisons in his face to smooth out his wrinkles.

Ageism and sexism runs rampant throughout our society, and nobody gives a shit.

Meanwhile, I am growing older. I have to deal with humiliations like spots on the back of my leg and the inevitable questions that a 30-something interviewer is going to ask me about the gaps on my resume. “What exactly were you doing between 2008 and 2011?” I WAS TAKING CARE OF AN AUTISTIC KID AND TEACHING MYSELF HOW TO WRITE IN ORDER TO HAVE A SOME SORT OF A JOB WHEN I COULDN’T PUT MYSELF ON A NATION-WIDE JOB SEARCH FOR AN ACADEMIC JOB, OKAY? CAN I REPORT YOU TO HR FOR ASKING PERSONAL QUESTIONS? No, I won’t be able to say that.

Thirty years later, I’m paying for the sins of my youth.

The Family Estate

More and more, I hear from my friends that when their kids go to college, they aren’t planning on immediately moving and downsizing to a smaller pad. They say that with real estate prices being so high, they can never imagine that their kids will have enough money to buy their own home.

So, they plan on staying in the house, until their kids get married, have kids, and need a bigger space in a town with good schools. Then they’ll give the house to their kids. Some plan on living in the house with the kids and their families; others imagine moving to another state with cheaper housing costs.

I got a cold call from a real estate agent last week, who asked if we were willing to move, because she had a client who wanted to move to our block. We do live on a good block. We’re the worst house here, which is awesome and fabulous. We’re the house with the cars that get towed away and is desperately in need of new siding. My neighbors back their BMWs into the driveway, so they are facing front.

And Steve wants to dig up the backyard to expand his organic farming project. Hahahaha. That’s going to go over well with the neighbors who hire professionals to light up their yards for Christmas.

But I’m rambling. The point of this post is a small trend alert. Middle class families don’t think their kids will ever be able to buy a house on their own. That’s sad.

Jobs and Kids

I’m taking a brief hiatus from holiday consumerism to write a brief blog post about college kids and jobs. I finished an article last week on the topic. I’m not sure when it will come out, but I’ll puff it here when it does. In the meantime, let me just pass along advice that I picked up when doing the article. This is advice that I’ve been hounding my own college kid about this past week.

The job outlook for college grads isn’t wonderful, especially for kids who have just concentrated on finishing their degrees without much thought beyond getting the BA and for kids who don’t have parents to grease the wheels of the economy with connections.

I spent a few hours doing keyword searches on the online job boards for college BAs with a liberal arts and no experience. Most of the jobs that turned up were Dunder Mifflin type jobs selling random stuff for about $15 per hour. That might be fine. It’s a way to move up in a company. Research shows that most kids with liberal arts degrees start off in sales positions; some move into Human Resources or marketing. But college grads should know what those kinds of jobs are and be aware that that’s where they’re going to end up with a major in History.

30 percent of kids don’t make it past their first year of college. A huge chunk fail out their first year, or they leave because they can’t handle the independence of a school or they hate the chaos of a dorm. I see this among the kids that graduated with Jonah. Some are honor student kids. One had a big running scholarship to a fancy school. College is tough, and many can’t handle it. They end up at community colleges or trade schools. Two of Jonah’s classmates are now selling stocks at Boiler Room-type places.

I’m hearing anecdotal stories about massive student loan debt. Like $100K to $200K. I think those numbers are super high in the Northeast, because working class families around here make too much to qualify for Pell grants. Then they have to go to grad school, because 65 percent of all jobs now require advanced degrees. And they can’t afford that next step, because they owe too much from undergraduate education.

Internships are the new normal for college students. But internships are for rich kids. Kids who have to work in the summer to help pay for college can’t afford to work for free. And many of those internships at the fancy colleges actually cost money, because they are in foreign countries or in other cities. Families who are struggling to just pay for college can’t take on that extra burden.

Colleges have dumped a ton of money into career development centers, which is great, I suppose. Some are better than others. Some offer real help; others hand the students a pamphlet on writing resumes. And only a small percentage of students are going to the centers, because it’s not required.

Guys are choosing very different majors than girls and are having much different outcomes on the job market.

Students, especially the dudes, are choosing large public colleges over small liberal arts colleges. In some ways, this is a good thing. The large public colleges are cheaper and have more resources. But many students can get lost in the system. The kids who survive the big school experience learn how to manage the system. They learn how to tap into the resources. Others get in the bubble of student life and have little contact with adults who can help them.

Alright, done with the brain dump right now. More later.