The Hungry Writer

An unemployed writer keeping sane during The Depression II.

Archive for January, 2009

Don’t you dare cough near me.

Posted by The eDater on January 30, 2009

Just, Step, Back.

Just, Step, Back.

It’s been a morning of paperwork for you favorite unemployed author. Two days ago was the Blizzard Drive, yesterday the Great Unpacking, so today only made sense as a time to Tackle the Mail.

The good news – soon, I’ll receive my severance, various new checks will be deposited and accessible, and my tight living quarters will breath just a little more freely.

The bad news – it’s unreal what they want for COBRA! I mean, when I was living abroad, and I got this crazy expensive insurance that covers you in every part of the world for every possible situation or malady – that was just over half what COBRA was asking.

Needless to say, an able-bodied, able-minded lad like myself with time to kill wasn’t just going to take the easy way, not when he could probably find some insurance for, at least, that half-price premium.

I did one better, friends. I’m at one-third the COBRA cost. For better coverage. Really makes you wonder, what do we have COBRA for, anyway? Other than for a few pre-existers who wouldn’t be able to get coverage otherwise (and the fact that they couldn’t get coverage any other way is, well, indefensible).

Of course, while my apps are being processed (one for the real deal, one for short-term coverage while waiting on the real deal), take your sick, your tired and your weary and lock ’em in the next room.

Meanwhile, for those of you who couldn’t bare to peak the news this morning… Japan joins the recession march, our GDP falls at a 3.8% annual rate (and people are ecstatic it wasn’t worse!), and Davos starts to come ’round to my way of thinking.

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Defending your life.

Posted by The eDater on January 29, 2009

Like this, but the pasta's fattening.

Like this, but the pasta's fattening.

It’s perhaps the most dreaded aspect of unemployment. We can all do without the money, you can get used to homelessness, and health insurance is over-rated for all those with intact achilles tendons.

But, in a society where what you do is often who you are, an unemployed shlub faces the withering cross-examination sooner or later. Prepare as you might, it takes saintly patience – and faith – to escape this well-meaning attack.

And I don’t claim to have either.

It hasn’t really begun yet – my grandmother isn’t in town, after all – but the set-up is there. First, suggest gaining some skills. Throw some job leads out there which have absolutely nothing to do with your experience, interests, or aptitudes. Tell stories of someone getting lucky and imply that should be you. Suggest random careers that graze an interest – but, but, they pay pretty well. Ain’t that enough?

Sooner or later it may be – but the worried closest often descend the Degrees of Desperation faster than the subject. After all, it’s just a job title to most of them. Only to you will it be your life – or a huge mass of hours therein.

And refuse these suggestions at your peril – you’re unemployed, after all! I’m not sure unemployed folks really get that big a say, do they? Beggars and choosers and all – right?

In the depression, one of the commonest complaints wasn’t the hunger – it was the feeling of impotence. The inability to provide. You’re going to feel this at some point, if the jobless state lasts long enough.

And in this market, it will.

And when that feeling comes – well, you’ll be ready to do anything.

So, how should you defend your life? In my opinion – don’t. Take all the suggestions. Act on a defensible number. Re-examine your inner kernel often enough you can hold it steady, but no need to mention it. Just graciously accept everything coming in, almost apologetically – too bad you’ve created this uncomfortable social situation, sorry, but I sure do appreciate you braving it to help.

And then do what you want, anyway. Often, what you want and what is offered will cross over – and then, if haven’t been too busy defending yourself, you’ll hear it and run.

Now, see if you can get all those emotions and contradictory ideas to work together – without snapping once, without doubting once. Saintly indeed.

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Posted by The eDater on January 29, 2009

Originally written Tuesday evening, somehow this entry never got published. Consequently, Wednesday night’s entry might have seemed a bit confusing. For those who care, here is what was meant to precede it…

Apps Today: 1

Projects worked on: 1

So this was a fairly slow day, mostly because I’ve been busy packing and saying goodbyes. Tomorrow, I begin the trek down south, to the home of parents.

Now, there are some who would call this trip foolhardy – not for its destination, but it’s timing. The entire east coast is going to be blanketed by a major storm, and I’m virtually guaranteed to be driving through snow, ice, and rain, progressively. A 7-8 hour trip will likely take me 10-12.

And you know what? That’s just the way I like it.

Like a babe escaping the birth canal, I seek out strong demarcation between sections of life. Driving through a storm – the stress, the sweat, the heightened sense of danger and the alertness that brings – perfect. Call me crazy – others certainly have – but I’d prefer my changes come with dramatic exits and entrances. Loved when I left Japan in a blizzard, and arrived in Thailand breathing deep the humid curry. That’s what it should always be.

Now, as for going to live with the parents – well, this is what I joked about as failure back in salad days. 30 and back at the old homestead. Always good for a laugh – if a nervous one from the owners of that home.

But hey, it’s a depression! Kerouac wrote his best work sequestered at home! And, of course, against all odds, I’ll be the one to get a job soon. So, no shame in a couple of months.

And if it’s a couple years, I won’t be alone living at the old home. At least I like my family – I know a few who will suffer much when their time comes.

Anyway, tomorrow may be slow – lots of driving. But I’ll update as soon as I’m able.

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My. God.

Posted by The eDater on January 29, 2009

It was worse than this. Much. Worse.

It was worse than this. Much. Worse.

Ok, not to bellyache, but I must bellyache. 10 hours of hell, I say. Saying goodbye to puppies sucks, sympathetic eyes from postal employees asking why you’re quitting the PO Box sucks, and most especially, 4 hours of snow and then freezing rain really really sucks. I can’t believe the semis that just keep going 70 even as most of us were fishtailing nearly sideways down the road. I had to stop about five times to scrape ice off my wipers, just to have a prayer of seeing anything. My favorite moments – other than sliding in slush – were definitely said semis zooming by, spraying not water but some solid muck onto the windshield, the wipers struggling to even move, and me, blind, just hoping that I’m still going straight, that nothing got in front of me, and that I can resist the screaming urge to slam my brakes and skid into the Jersey wall or the ditch.

The next 6 hours were a more normal sort of driving hell – pouring rain, dark streets with black ice here and there, and northeast corridor traffic. All in all, whitest knuckles I’ve ever had – but that’s what I asked for, isn’t it?

And I spent most of that time listening to Buddhist teachings from Alan Watts, keeping the rage at bay. I thought numerous times, if I must die today, at least I’ll be thinking right thoughts as it happens. And with the strange challenge I gave myself and the sense of accomplishment now, I feel great having done it. Not that I’m dying to do it again.

And now I’m in Baltimore – where the drivers floor it when they hit a patch of ice, and lock their wheels thinking that’ll stop them. People here should never go out in the snow.

But parents had a waiting meal, and all sorts of ideas for graduate study. This should be fun. I must fight regression tooth and nail.

For obvious reasons, I haven’t been watching the news of the day especially closely. You’ve heard about the vote by now, I’m sure, and most of you probably know about the lack of world growth and the prospect of 51 million jobs gone by the end of the year.

But what’s this? I want my mail, everyday! Well, many (founding libertarians) think we should do away with the postal service anyway – especially with the online and the paperless only growing over the years – so this might be a step in the right direction, I suppose.

Now, to sleep the sleep of the warrior.

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Bits and bobs.

Posted by The eDater on January 27, 2009

This is what bits and bobs look like.

This is what bits and bobs look like.

Yesterday, the housing market gave some unexpectedly good news – existing home sales rose 6.5%. Of course, much of that was predicated by an 18.2% drop in the price of homes, to 2004 levels. Now, 2004 is about when the bubble started going crazy, but the housing market was in a bit of a bubble from 2001 onwards. When bubbles pop, they usually need to fall below the trendline, before evening back out right around that trendline.

The trendline for housing has always been appreciation more or less in line with inflation. House prices in 2004 were well above the trendline (even the trendline carried forward five years to 2009).

In other words, house prices still have plenty of room to fall.

Meanwhile, consumer confidence is at an all-time low. Everyone’s feeling this thing. Not really surprising, then, that everyone’s looking for something else to do. After all, the old job didn’t work out, did it?

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Really? Wow.

Posted by The eDater on January 27, 2009

Sadly, the best use of dollars in the future will be for fuel.

Sadly, the best use of dollars in the future will be for fuel.

If you’ve followed the business news the past few months, you know that most pundits thought that the various bailouts were, while staggering, not really taking all the problems into account. As individual corporations like Citigroup racked up hundreds of billions in TARP money, it was easy to see where the pundits were coming from.

Well, now we’ve got a new number. $4 trillion. That’s how much the banks are in the hole, apparently. Some ‘head at the link thinks the taxpayer’ll need to pony up $1 trillion to $2 trillion to get us out of this mess – or just under 15% of our GDP. (Not the 5-10% mentioned in the article – the US GDP tops out just south of $14 trillion, not $20 trillion – no idea who’s checking their facts.)

I’ve heard some scary numbers before, including $600 trillion in derivatives exposure, or 10 times World GDP. Of course, that’s if everything ends up worthless, which is unlikely – right? I mean, someone somewhere is still making payments on their mortgage, right?

But, if the $600 trillion figure is correct, only around 2.5% of loans need to go bad to wipe out an amount of wealth equal to the U.S. GDP. Right now, according to some figures, 9% of U.S. mortgages are in default.

What’s all this mean? Hard to say – the $600 trillion figure undoubtedly has debt cut and resold and cut and resold many times over, amplifying each loan. And it also undoubtedly is made to appear worse than it is by the U.S. banks 33-1 ratio – whereby they can loan out $3,300 for every $100 they have (I thought we learned the dangers of margin trading in the Great Depression? Apparently we just learned to rename it and do it bigger.)

Are we approaching an economic reset point? There are certainly plenty who believe that – I don’t claim to be smart enough to know.

I will say that the amount of money being thrown around is starting to sound meaningless, even if we take the ‘small’ $4 trillion figure. If we really print up that kind of cash to absorb bad loans, then the dollar is going to suffer sorely. And if we let that kind of wealth just disappear – it was all make-believe anyway – then the economy will grind to a halt with no new meaningful investment being made.

Things were much simpler with a gold standard. I don’t know that paper money is an inherently evil or flawed form of currency – but I do know, the complexities that arise when you play with imaginary money can get pretty big. It’s quite possible that the human brain just can’t deal with those complexities. They wind up creating situations like, well, just like this one.

I’m glad I don’t have to figure this out. I just need to survive it.

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Posted by The eDater on January 27, 2009

Who, exactly, is calling?

Who, exactly, is calling?

Well, I may owe Careerbuilder an apology. All those junky emails claimed they’d found me through Careerbuilder, but are we really going to trust the authors of junky phishing emails?

Meanwhile, turns out that Monster just had a major security breach – with somewhere between most and all of their user data stolen. Resum├ęs were not accessed, we’re told, and it sounds like more an email phishing expedition, as opposed to identity theft. (After all, aren’t job seekers amongst the poorest segment of society? Is that who you really wanna be?)

Nonetheless, I’m gonna be vigilant, and perhaps change my birthday. That oughtta fool ’em good. I always wanted a true spring birthday anyway, as opposed to my current mud season.

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Posted by The eDater on January 26, 2009

One of 70,000

One of 70,000

That’s how many job cuts were announced today. It’s a pretty big number. Of course, some people are still just blaming the mood.

Me, I’m more scared of this guy.

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Another happy day done.

Posted by The eDater on January 26, 2009

Apps today: 1

Projects worked on: 2

WHAM is right baby!

WHAM is right baby!

Y’know, this job search is very enlightening. All the pundits talking about the economy really should take a moment to pretend they’re unemployed, and see what a job search looks like today.

The anecdote I use to explain it to friends involves Craigslist. You see, I love New York. I’d really like to live there.

So, every day, I’m checking the New York writers and editors jobs page on Craigslist. (I check elsewhere too, of course – but this anecdote is limited in scope.) Last time I was searching for work, if you visited the site around noon, the first page (100 posts) were all from that day, with a good bit of the second page also filled. All from that morning.

Now, you go, and the first page goes back a week or more. Take today – it was a Monday, a pretty big hiring day. Definitely above average – 14 posts.

Of those 14, one was glorified spam, trying to get folks to sign up for a website. Three were for translators. Five were for low-paying or no-paying internships. Seven were actually for some kind of real job – and only one of those in any way fit my skill set.

That’s for all of New York – and of course, there’s something like twice the number of folks actively searching now compared with a couple years ago. At least.

I sometimes consider starting a pool. We could call it Degrees of Desperation.

Family and friends could bet how long it takes me to lower my standards – with multiple winners. Say, how long before I stop trying just for jobs I’d like, and start applying to anything where I might have a chance. How long before I give up my favorite destinations, and start applying to any and every corner of the globe. (Ironically, I’d do better outside America given my work history, but I’m not ready to break my ma’s heart again, not just yet.) How long to forget my industry, and start applying entry level elsewhere. How long to go from skilled to unskilled. And don’t forget, I know there’s a bunch more unemployed just lurking, waiting to join the search. Delay too long, and those Starbucks jobs could be gone before I’ve gotten to the lowest level of desperation!

That would make for a very hungry writer.

I’m convinced, with all the variables, this would be quite an exciting pool. If you want to start it up in the comments, I just want to say – I can be bribed. Easily.

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An efficient bugger

Posted by The eDater on January 26, 2009

The breakfast, lunch, and dinner of losers.

The breakfast, lunch, and dinner of losers.

So, with my move down to the ‘jobs’ in the city coming in a scant 2 or 3 days, I’ve been trying to clean out my cupboard. And to be honest, I’m getting really tired of mac n’ cheese and pasta. But still, it feels rather nice to eat a food supply down to nothing. There’s a perverse sense of accomplishment. Rather like using every part of a carcass – those deer antlers bumped against each other to attract other deer to the fighting, knives made from the bones, rope from the tendons… yes, I’m comparing the slurping of cereal to the efficiency of hunter-gatherers. And I’m not backing down either.

And each bite of ramen is already bought and paid for – sustenance for free! Or for a sunk cost, which is more or less the same.

As I savor my shrimp-flavored powder, not quite dissolved, here’s a nice roundup of tech recession news, courtesy of Engadget. They’re reporting a rumored number of 16,000 cuts at IBM, which, if true, is a really big number. Because after all, IBM is one of the few companies that beat earnings estimates recently, along with Apple and a very few others. Maybe that’s why it’s only 16,000 – which would be about 4% of IBM’s workforce, a relatively small percentage compared with, oh, everyone else wielding an axe.

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