I had been hungry all the years; 
My noon had come, to dine; 
I, trembling, drew the table near, 
And touched the curious wine.

‘T was this on tables I had seen, 
When turning, hungry, lone,
I looked in windows, for the wealth 
I could not hope to own.

I did not know the ample bread, 
‘T was so unlike the crumb 
The birds and I had often shared 
In Nature’s dining-room.

The plenty hurt me, ‘t was so new,
Myself felt ill and odd, 
As berry of a mountain bush 
Transplanted to the road.

Nor was I hungry; so I found 
That hunger was a way 
Of persons outside windows, 
The entering takes away.

 

There has always been the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. I tend to find myself “outside windows”. Though I admittedly wear my ‘have not’ as a badge of honor, a sign that what I do have I worked for, I also at times feel the bitterness of the struggle of doing without. I see a friend’s luxurious Manhattan apartment in a neighborhood you can walk in at night without clutching your mace, I talk to a debtless friend whose parents paid for college, and I feel the distance between us, the window dividing us and the touch of envy that creeps into my heart and sits in the pit of my stomach shames me. This poem has been on my mind lately.  Perhaps Dickinson’s speaker is right and ‘having’ isn’t all it’s made out to be. Maybe I’m not missing out on all that much. Well… one can hope.

More [hopefully lighter] musings next Saturday…

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Who’s indebted?

A major part of the blame of the ongoing economic crisis that blew up in 2008 has been assigned to normal citizens; those who failed to pay their everyday debts, mortgages, etcetera. On the other hand, criticism of this position has come in the voices of those denouncing financial institutions, speculation, and irresponsible spending not only in the everyday consumer’s side but also from the part of big financial institutions, banks, and investment agencies.

It could seem ironic, and Marx would most likely criticize it –at least at first glance- but one of the most reasonable retrospective and redistribution theories I’ve got a chance to encounter is based on financial concepts, property rights and market based dynamics. All these, deconstructed and reformulated.

One of the basic principles of capital is the generation of value over time; in simple words, one acquires something that has x value now with the hope that as time passes its value will increase. Then, after time passes one collects the profits of having saved that thing (being not only things as such but money, commodities, or anything of the sort) by exchanging it with another individual who, at least in theory, will act according to the same assumptions. This implies that time has value, that from the capitalist’s view increases over time in order for it to be a good investment, something with worth.

Connecting finance and justice may seem like a contradiction in itself. Maybe I am biased but it would seem to me that finance and justice (at least in terms of wealth distribution) are, to put in nicely, strange bedfellows at least. However, Robert Meister, in his 2012 work entitled After Evil, and notions of constructive trust put forward a possibility of looking at justice, especially transitional justice, from a financial –epistemologically speaking- point of view. This restorative justice relies on the basic principle of financial capital and interest rates: what is and what could have been? In finance this refers to value and money; in justice terms it refers to situations, feelings, and people. In an approach to retroactive justice, according to Meister some factors become essential. Some examples of justice questions in financial terms are: What would be the value of that which was taken from the victim now? What would the victim’s situation be if that had not been taken from him?1

What would be our situation if those decisions taken by those in power some years earlier had not blown up the economy? Would we be as indebted as we are now? Would we have a better job –or even a job? Would costs of education be as high and rising as they are now? Would we have access to quality public free education, health services, and possibilities of achievement of our life expectations?

There is no possibility –or at least I declare myself incapable- of imagining a purely just start; an ideal state where every transaction and interaction was based on justice and good can be hardly defined, as even the concepts of justice and good represent huge challenges in terms of definition. However, not being able to go all the way back does not mean that as a society we cannot judge some actions and issues as unfair, undesirable, or whatever word we want to assign to them.

The actual situation of students, artists, and an innumerable array of minorities worldwide are not acceptable. The decisions or structures that seek to perpetuate this situation based on self-interest should be denounced and made public. Victims of past injustices should be recognized and compensated, and future injustices should be prevented as much as possible by looking at present and past situations.

While there are a couple of issues with this approach, especially regarding time and forms of compensation, it should not be disregarded as a possibility for justice. Time, on the one hand, can be seen as a value granter (the grief and trauma grow over time because of failure to solve and recognize them) or as a value reducer (time helps the grieving process and pain is reduced and thus compensation over the passage of time should be reduced accordingly). The other issue, that of ways or means of compensating is far more complicated and while Meister offers an array of possible solutions, there seems to be no agreement on a sole form in which compensation for past victims should take place.

Lets challenge boundaries and lose fear of that what seems evil, lets try, as Meister did, to find solutions after evil, in those places where we see only problems.

 

Lets get creative.

 

Friday

1Meister, Robert. “Adverse Possession”, Chapter 8 in After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights. Columbia Studies in Political Thought,  2012. (pages  232-259)

 

In Pursuit of Happiness

(Preface: This post is a bit long, and I hope you’ll stay with me to the end. Before we get too far into it, I want to single out a few things that inspired today’s post. There has been a lot of talk this week, on this blog and elsewhere on the internet, about the economic value of higher education as well as my generation’s unmet expectations regarding said educational value. Some states are trying to implement new plans to help ease the financial burden of students with lower income (like in Oregon), spurning much debate about whose degree is valuable and who should pay accordingly. Some bloggers, like our Wednesday just yesterday, ponder the apparently “unrealistic” expectations our generation has for our degrees and our lives. And in a merging of the two subjects – economic value of higher education and the (un)realistic expectations that go along with it – we’ve seen both an explanation of the plight of Generation Y, and an impassioned & brutally honest response to that very argument. You don’t have to read all of these before continuing on below, but I feel they’d give good context, especially the last two. This is me adding my voice to the tumult.)

We pursue higher education degrees because we want to better ourselves. Every generation wants to do better than the one that came before, and each generation is promised (or at least encouraged) by their elders that they can gain prosperity and happiness through hard work and dedication.  Every generation says they want to leave a better world for their kids. All we want – and all our parents want, I hope – is for our generation to “do better”: financially, educationally, economically.  But the reality is that this economy, and this financial and educational system we have in place, has not provided and does not provide a better world for my generation.

The fact is we aren’t doing better than our parents. Jobs are scarce. Job security is even rarer, and even if you have it, you may not be financially secure, because the education that was supposed to make your life better and easier comes at a price tag that is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to afford. The blame for this does not lie on our shoulders, yet we bear the burden. We didn’t choose to raise tuition. We didn’t choose to hike up the interest rate on our student loans, to lower employee hours to part-time to avoid providing healthcare. We didn’t choose to increase medical costs, to charge $600 for an aspirin in the ER, to cut education spending, to cut employee wages while CEO bonuses climb to an all-time high. We didn’t choose this. We were told things would be better, and they are not.

The attitudes that were instilled in us by our parents, when they insisted we could have all we wanted, were instilled in a generation who now lives in an economy that cannot and does not support that kind of attitude. When we speak up about this, we are not being “entitled,” or thinking we are “special” – we are trying to find a way to create the “better” world that our parents assured us we would get if we did everything “right.” We are trying to change things, so that they CAN be better. We might have more things – more college degrees, more gadgets, more food in our bellies – but we don’t have more or better quality in any of that, because the “old” system is still in place, the one where the concept of spending a little money to make a lot of money once worked, but no longer does. Now, you’ve got to spend a lot of money to make just a little, and to pay back even more.

Previous generations instilled in us the faith that our lives would be rich in every way – in education, in finances, in freedom, in protection (from sickness, from violence, from poverty). Yet when we find ourselves without those things, and go in search of them, we are told that we need to “adjust our expectations” and stop feeling so entitled, and maybe work harder, and appreciate what we have.

You know what we have?

We have iPhones and iPads and Wi-Fi and X-Boxes and access to an almost unlimited amount of information via the internet. We have Twitter and Facebook and 24-hour news networks. We have hybrid cars and GPS and an app for everything and endless possibilities for entertainment, from video games to music to television to movies to adorable pictures of cats.  We have great universities and great medical advancements and great scientific discoveries and an unprecedented way of connecting to individuals and ideas from around the globe. We have an abundance of things and ideas and ways to gain access to all of them.

 But we also have debt. We have student loans. We have astronomical medical bills. We have high rent and gas that costs $4 a gallon, increasing interest rates and ever-growing student loans, educations which we pay for but which don’t pay off, educations that are not economically viable – not because we made “poor choices” in determining our major but because the system that is in place does not support the ideals that we were taught as children, that ideal that said, “Follow your dreams to get a better future.” Those iPhones we’re told we need come with $600 price tags. The TV and internet we’re told we need to stay connected and informed come with monthly fees in the triple digits, for channels we don’t watch and news networks we can’t rely on. The car we need to get to work comes with a fuel tank that we may as well fill up with money instead of gas. The work we need to survive comes with dwindling hours, dwindling benefits, dwindling opportunities for advancement. The education we’re told to get is part of a system where the best people in their fields – people with PhDs, who have advanced as far as it is possible to advance –must struggle to make a living because tenure track positions have all but disappeared. We have a world where we are promised everything but given none of it, even after we have put in all the hard work and blood and sweat and tears and money that it takes to make it happen.  This is my generation’s reality.

To me, there are two ways of looking at this situation.

One is that, with the best of intentions, our parents simply gave us unrealistic expectations that cannot, in fact, be met, and thus we must adjust our goals and ideas of fulfillment and happiness (an incredibly undesirable option).

The second way of looking at things is that our parents gave us expectations that simply cannot be met within the confines of our current system, and thus we must create a system wherein they can be met – an incredibly empowering option.

We have an opportunity to change our current reality into one where the ideals of financial/professional success and personal fulfillment need not be mutually exclusive or (nearly) impossible to attain. We have the opportunity to actually fulfill the promise we got from our parents: that the world is our oyster, that we can have anything and everything we want if we only work for it, if we only make the effort and take the first step – which is, inevitably, always the hardest one to take.

We have a reality right now which insists that we dream big and then denies us the opportunity to bring that dream to life. If that’s the case, we either need a new reality or a new dream. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not ready to give up the dream just yet.

Are you?

Thoughtfully,

Thursday

Since when does “realistic” mean “defeatist”

“You’re being totally unrealistic.”

Since when has the term “realistic” come to mean uncreative, defeatist, and resigned?

The political and economic problems facing our generation often seem insurmountable. Between student debt and health care issues, coupled with job insecurity and the inability to save, it seems that we’re destined for a more complicated life than the one our parents experienced. Just deal with it, right? Just take care of you and your own. Make sure that you save enough for your own family, and go on with your day. Be realistic.

But I don’t want to be realistic. I don’t want to give up and accept things as they are. I don’t want any of us to accept our lot in life and just make the most of what’s given to us. I want to keep pushing, to keep thinking about what the ideal is. Just because the ideal solution is hard (some would say impossible) to accomplish, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be thought, it shouldn’t be voiced.

I’m not a politician. Politicians have to be diplomatic and compromise and find a realistic solution. I’m an artist. I have to be idealistic and headstrong and openly voice my opinion, as unrealistic as you think it is.

Maybe if enough of us refuse to be “realistic,” our unrealistic dreams will become a reality.

With hope,

Wednesday

Let’s talk about Oregon

I’m trying to understand the economics of higher education. This is going to take some time, and a lot of research. After reading article after article, the proposal of Oregon students sticks out as the most radical solution to student debt. 

Here is the article that I found that best explains the Oregon plan and has a link to the proposal:

http://inthesetimes.com/article/15405/a_debt_free_degree/

 

This proposal is garnering so much attention because it is pitting conservatives and progressives over the issue that seems to define the integrity of the groups: do I use my means to give back to the society in which I live or do I work as hard as I possibly can and keep the rewards for myself? Over generalization, I know, but that’s what it boils down to me. And sure, if I work hard I am entitled to enjoy the rewards and not share them with someone who takes advantage of my success. The plan is being called a socialist punishment for those whose careers earn more money. I’m more interested in the humanity of this idea. Skeptics criticize the program because of the assumption that students from wealthier families will automatically reject attending a University with a Pay It Forward plan because they want to keep their financial success to themselves. This plan is saying that higher education is a necessary public good that should be invested in by current generations to provide for their children and grandchildren.  Engineers are the favorite example of high-earning degree-holders, but who says they won’t want to give back to create opportunities for lower income students in the future. The term ‘moral hazard’ keeps popping up in criticisms and has left me wondering about the moral implications to burden an individual with astronomical amounts of debt, or to invest in a future where education is attainable by students of many different financial backgrounds. I’ll be watching as the pilot program takes shape, the legislation will decide in 2015. For now, immediate congratulations to Oregon students for making us reconsider the value of an education. 

in search of humanity, 

Tuesday

 

3 STEPS TO LIVING A LIFE OF GRACE (DURING GRACE PERIOD)

graceEver wonder why the lenders call it a grace period? For many new graduates, the six to nine-month long grace period, or deferment period, is a ticking time-bomb that creates an irrational urgency to land a job with a good salary as soon as possible. And it feels anything but graceful. Instead of undergoing an early-life crisis, there are tools I have found to be effective in transforming this stressful stage of life into a rewarding and ultimately happier six months of grace (the good kind!) First, here’s the formal definition:

Grace (noun):

  1. favor shown in granting a delay or temporary immunity (in business)
  2. the exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor; disposition to benefit or serve another

In other words, the lenders have “graced” us with six months before repayment begins. Then the ball is in our court. We are considered to be immune, or unable to be harmed. How can we respond to the situation in grace, by exercising love, kindness, and serving another?

1. Take this free time to make a long-term plan that matters to you and others. From personal experience I can attest to the amount of pressure that even the expectation of debt can cause. It’s natural to shift into sink or swim mode when there is an approaching deadline that we know has to be met. The danger of this adrenaline rush is in allowing it to make our career decisions. Before graduating, you probably had a career goal in mind or at least fields that interested you or things you particularly excelled in. These are your inherent gifts or “the things you were meant to do” as they call it. However, when it’s time to sink or swim, many of us toss our gifts out the window because we need financial security—and we need it NOW. When we abandon our gifts, we are living selfishly. Maybe you were the only person who could have shared a specific talent or skill, but now the world will never feel its power or use. We are not in the realm of benefiting others, but only ourselves in these circumstances. In this case, we are missing the larger picture and the chance for us and our communities to be happy long-term. In the fury of job applying, take a second to stop and think: do I want this job because it would be a good opportunity to share my gifts for the betterment of others or simply for the money? Use the six months to self-reflect and realize or re-realize your calling and gifts—your grace. Don’t forget that this calling is what drove you to accept the debt. It was important enough to you to make the sacrifice, so why would you disregard it now?

2. Stay healthy physically and mentally. The only thing worse than having an early-life crisis crying hysterically over your laptop on the Craigslist job listings screen is also feeling mentally drained and physically fatigued. Applying for jobs and budgeting your new financial obligations is immense new-found stress. The least we can do is be good to our bodies and minds throughout the process. I challenge you to not drink and eat away your sorrows, or hibernate under the sheets. Don’t allow yourself to check out. Volunteer. Make new friends. Enjoy old or new hobbies. All of these things will help keep you focused on who you really are and what your purpose is while drawing the focus away from your bank account. Just because your bank account isn’t growing doesn’t mean you can’t! Even though it seems like every waking minute must be spent job searching and number crunching, you can make the time to rejuvenate. Half the time you set aside for writing cover letters is probably spent stressing and/or procrastinating anyways! I know this because I’ve been there. Plus, you’ll be a more attractive candidate with a clearer mind. In the long run, the positive reinforcements will lead you into the right direction. If we are going to come out of grace period successfully and in one piece, we have to be ready for battle!

3. Be responsive and open to chance. The third step is an extension of the previous two. Can you think of a time when an opportunity seemed to magically fall into your lap at the exact time when you stopped thinking about it? Or have you been offered an experience that you never would have thought of until someone brought it to your attention and then it turns out to be just what you didn’t know you needed? These are life’s most graceful moments. Think of it this way, you have six whole months to explore career paths without paying a single penny on your loans. The loans will probably be a part of your life for the next 10 years so why are we in such a rush to make them the center of attention already? Why waste the chance to re-group and clear your mind after all the hard-work put towards earning your degree? If you focus all your energy into worrying about the last day of grace period, you might miss potential opportunities. It goes back to the law of attraction. Being stressed brings more stress into your life. Dreading November 21st will surely make that day a nightmare when it gets here, not to mention all the days leading up to it that you made yourself sick envisioning how awful it will be. Living in the present and taking each day as it comes—exploring and be thankful for our gifts and those of others will bring more success into your life. This is not only financial success but a life of grace and happiness. Take this time to build yourself up to be full of grace and purpose and the rest will fall into place by law of attraction.

Just try it: For the next week, focus on sharing your gifts and skills and see where that takes you.

Have a great,

Monday   🙂

Artistic Visions

Originally, this post was part of Hostess, Babysitter or Porn Starlet. Then it all became an audio project, which failed; now I am just uploading it to fulfill the point that it was meant to be shared.

Advancing my artistic career.

What is my artistic vision? What is my mission?

Every week I will be doing to advance my artistic career 1) this blog 2) something else.

I’m reading, in desperation of course, this book called “The Profitable Artist”. And basically right off the bat it all becomes about administration. That’s understandable.

“you need to have an understanding of who you are and what you want”

This week I am working on defining myself as an artist following the strategic planning model this book offers. Truth is I want many things. I just need to make a choice. Which side of my multidimensional self should I define in order to participate and be digested in the world? Should I create a new self?

I brainstorm about my vision first.

As an artist I am committed to give voice to the underheard stories, events, situations and questions that highlight the obstacles and challenges that prevent the world from improving and becoming a fair place to live.

That sounds like a super-hero statement, I think.

As an artist I am determined to create beautiful things that engage my audience enough so that they may buy these beautiful things from me and I can make more and they can become more and more expensive.

That sounds like it could buy me room and board.

As an artist I let diverse topics find me and work through me, taking the shape that better fits into the conceptual exchange between my view and that of the world.

Hmmm….and then, what?

As an artist, I am committed to follow my heart; work as many hours as needed in a non-artistic environment so that I can produce work that will only be enjoyed by myself.

Sounds familiar?

Ouch, please please change that.

Sunday

Hostess, Babysitter, or Porn Starlet?

A man I met the other day told me that paying off my debt should be on top of my priorities, even above my personal health and dreams. He also had a list of reasons why. Seriously? That’s a Harvard MBA for you, the brains and heart of the matter.

In conclusion:

Hostessing: 10/hr
Serving: 5/hr plus tips (if so)
Babysitting: 15-20/hr
Escort: 100/hr (minimum right?)
Porn Starlet: 800/scene (minimum right?)

As I browse through these and revise my personal values (whatever that means) I wonder what does it take to shift gears in the “means to an end” story. I have of course considered some scary options, but only because in terms of scary, I’m also very scared of not making enough money. But what if I don’t make enough money? But why work so much when I could work so little and get better remunerated? But why wouldn’t taking care of someone’s child be more worthy than flirting with their dad at night?
How many young women do fall for sex-related jobs when in situations like mine? Does it make their life better? Worse? Is it worth it to sacrifice one’s personal values for a short period of time, until the finances get resolved? Would it hurt my psyche for the rest of my life?

The “actual” “real” job hunt.

On my first week in NYC I got interesting job proposals.

I got hired as a hostess for a restaurant. To which most people said something like “that’s so good, you just get to look pretty and hang out.” Took this job under the assumption that it would be enough to pay the bills. (it is not)
I got offered money to get a pixie haircut, since I have what this hairdresser defined as a “great face.”
I got an interview to become an “adult novelty” representative at different events; a job that would require me to be “comfortable with my body…to wear sensual attire.” interview never actually happened.

Look for another job.

I decide to look for babysitting jobs. I have been working with kids for over 3 years now, so this is a field where I will no doubt find something. It is a decent option. What I like about working with kids is that, it actually is a rewarding job. Maybe I indulge narcissistically in the idea that I am being a role model; in any case, I just feel more useful when I help a young person in their development than when I try to sell you shoes or place you at a table (no offense).

As a hostess.

I haven’t been paid 10.00 an hour since college. But I am in no position to argue because “there is room for growth.” Supposedly my hourly rate should go up by the end of the month.

Commuting sucks. Not because I have to transfer twice or even 4 times depending on the mood of the MTA, and not because I have to spend at least 2 (unpaid-yet part of my job) hours of my day in a train or bus ( if I’m lucky, it has been up to 5 hours). I can deal with that time creatively of course, well, except,

But truly tell me why you cry
Is it the wasted hours in the train?
Or in the bus or in the car?
But no hour is wasted
Though many are
For we cannot but think and think
During the hour-long rides
Forth and back
The interruptions make it hard to read
The crowds make it impossible to write
Now, forget that. What really really sucks, is being a female and feeling unsafe. Just the other night I had to put up with 2 men masturbating publicly– one in the metro station, and one in the car. Furthermore, dressing up for my job implies I should get twice as many catcalls than I usually get. Somebody (me?) needs to educate this men. I always get the feeling that they will do something to me, I am both nauseated and terrified by them. I hate that this has to be part of my everyday. Maybe I make too much of it, maybe it’s just a cultural or a class misunderstanding. Is it really?
Dare to consider.

Another thing that sucks: the fear of not getting enough hours to make rent and utility bills. At work, they hired someone new and gave them more hours than they gave me. This person did not show up to any of their shifts. I COULD’VE WORKED THOSE HOURS! I just got my second paycheck and I am yet to afford just my rent. I did manage to pay the minimum of my 1 credit card. I wont pay my phone bill for the second month in a row. Ok, I will use my 25.00 dollars I have “saved” and go out for drinks this weekend. For my spirit!

And so today I started filing for food stamps. “Sunday that’s so ghetto” said one of my best friends. Is it? If I qualify I don’t care, I’m applying., even if that means I am becoming ghetto.

(Grow up in an upper class than the one you wind up working/living in.  Forget what you know and notice who you really are.)

Browsing through Craigslist.

Part-time, education, etc, and gigs. Except the education section. I have come to the realization that what this world really values is prostitution and related fields. If I manage to convince myself that the end justifies the means, I should become an escort and make 400.00 to 1,000.00 a night. Let’s say I work 5 hours. Yes I would be harassed probably in ways worse than what I have mentioned before, but under my consent and adding up to a paycheck. I’m not even making 400.00 a week. Talk about making that in a single shift!

Also! I can’t help noticing the overwhelming amount of pornos that are being developed in the neighborhood, which pay very well.

 

 

Sunday

 

 

Privilege Preface

It’s a bit of a trope, the disillusioned, somewhat depressed recent college graduate. The story has been told.  I’m not sure if my story can live up to the existential crisis of my post grad predecessors (Winona Ryder in Reality Bites is a tough act to follow), but if you are reading on (fingers crossed) I thank you for indulging me.  After writing my blog entry last Saturday I was in such a good mood… even jolly I dare say. It was the first creative thing I did since graduating and it was positively cathartic.  I brainstormed throughout the week about which quirky anecdotes I wanted to tell and wittily worded complaints I wanted to purge onto the page.  But, as is typical for me, I can’t help but feel slightly self-conscious… am I being a bit of a whiner? Yes.  But hopefully I am amusing myself, and at least somewhat amusing you, in the process. 

 Before I jump into my myriad of post grad complaints, I want to take this week to recognize my privilege.  My education… I had to work for it on my own, I am in deep debt, and the loan system in this country is completely unfair and corrupt, but my education and my degree (though it has no clear career path) is a privilege.  Being poor sucks… I know this because I grew up poor, but thanks to section 8 I’ve always had a roof over my head and thank to my mother’s uncanny ability to stretch a penny, I have always had food on my plate.  And while being poor now is shitty and scary, I’m also young, healthy, and educated and there is some privilege in that. Yes, my posts may at times get a bit whiney or self righteous or entitled but I didn’t want to get too carried away without first acknowledging my privilege.  I had to work my ass off to get where I am and will have to continue to work to pay for where I was, but I am still grateful that I got to spend a year of my life writing papers about lesbian vampire films and Emily Dickinson’s queerness. And the knowledge I have gained from that year is a privilege. 

-Saturday