Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Hiker

First of all, I want to thank all of the wonderful people who have given me work over the last week or so. Because of you guys, I'm going to be able to pay my rent. Since I now also have a job, you all also have the satisfaction of knowing that you really did make it possible for me to get through a transitory period of difficulty. And that makes you guys pretty darn awesome.

That being said, I kind of want to tell something that happened today that has really changed my perspective.

Today, I was driving to Brownwood to visit my aunt. I'm carrying some things to the trailer house, and will stick around to watch her choir sing at the Easter service tomorrow morning. The drive from the city to Brownwood is extremely long. Long enough that if you forget to get gas, you may actually run out before you reach a gas station. Right in the middle of all this, I passed a woman walking by the side of the road. Normally, I don't stop for people by the side of the road. I don't really feel that it's safe for me to do so, and in general, I figure the worst that can happen is that they have to walk wherever they're going. In this case, however, I had a bad feeling about it for some reason. I didn't think there was anything within on day's walking distance, and it was easily 93 degrees out. To make things worse, there was a thunderstorm rolling in, and it was extremely humid.

So I stopped and offered her a ride. This woman was more tan than any woman I've ever seen, with a sunburn across her nose. Her hair was bleached blonde by the sun, and the pants she was wearing had holes worn through in places. She didn't even have any kind of water with her.

She seemed reluctant to talk, but her story came out in short answers to the occasional tentative question. She had come from Miami, Florida, walking and hitchhiking when she could get a ride. She claimed to be on her way to New Mexico. I don't think she had a penny to her name, and when I asked her where she planned to sleep tonight, she told me that she'd been sleeping by the side of the road.

Maybe it was unwise, but I ended up feeding her dinner and offering to let her sleep in the empty trailer house tonight. I offered to get her a bus ticket to New Mexico, but she turned me down. I suspect that she was lying about New Mexico and may even be suffering from some kind of mild mental illness, but I have no doubt that she has been living and sleeping out of doors for a significant length of time. I'm naturally tan, and I spent nearly all day of every day last summer out in the sun, and I was never that dark. I can't imagine how much time you'd have to spend in the sun to get that tan.

I'm not sure if she'll still be there when I get back to the trailer house tomorrow. If she is, I'll offer to take her wherever she wants, at least as far as Abilene. That's the most I can do if she won't accept a bus ticket to wherever she's going. As depressing as the encounter is, however, it has reminded me of one thing... I have it pretty good.

I have a place to live. If I run out of money, I have friends and family to fall back on. I have skills that I can use to make a living, if I just keep hacking away at the job hunt long enough. I never have to worry about going hungry or not having a place to sleep. There's always a couch or a living room floor open to me, if things get that bad. Basically, life is pretty darn good.

It's funny how the world has a way of smacking you down when you start to feel too sorry for yourself.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

But what do you really want?

This has been a hard month for me, as probably anyone who has been around me knows, but I'll try to make this post less depressing than the last. :>

Last night, I started venting with a distant relative on Facebook who was very kind to listen and offer some feedback to help get me thinking about my situation.

At one point, he asked what my long-term plan was. My immediate response was to detail my plan for the next year that involves finishing my degree and paying off my student loans while living rent-free. (Well, it's not /free/. I have to work on the house while I'm there! You know, and probably babysit from time to time.)

I felt like this was a pretty good plan, all things considered. This plan will certainly reduce my financial stress, and will even improve my quality of life faster than just about anything else I could do. That's a valid goal, right?

His response was, "But why did you go to school? What do you really want to do? Your ambition? Your dream? Your passion?"

His question kind of pulled me up short, because he makes a valid point.

I have lost my passion.

You're supposed to want more. You're supposed to have ambition. You're supposed to have a dream.

But let's get real and think about it for a second. Isn't wanting more what got us all in this mess in the first place?

Isn't it misplaced idealism that put our country massively in debt?

Isn't it ambition that crippled our economy?

Isn't it wanting more that caused the housing market to crash?

Why isn't it okay to just want 'enough'?

I might as well be an ex-convict. Then at least I would have had fun getting here...

I am intelligent and resourceful.

I am a person of many talents, with something valuable and unique to offer the world.

I am a good daughter, a good older sister, a good student, and a good neighbor.

I am willing to work harder and longer than any 26-year-old woman that I've ever met.

I accept that I've made huge mistakes in my past.

I accept that naivete is not a valid excuse, and I have to deal with the consequences of my mistakes.

So I share a 500 square foot one-bedroom apartment with my brother.

I have learned to scrape by on $10 a week for groceries, without even sacrificing my health. No problem.

I started washing my laundry in the bathtub to avoid paying the laundromat. Hey, it's even good for the environment.

I started riding a bicycle to work and the grocery store. Who can afford gas these days, anyway?

I continue wearing worn out clothes. I don't really care about clothes anyhow.

I learned to make my own soap for a fraction of the retail price. Fun!

I learned to cope with extreme heat and extreme cold to keep the electric bill down.

I avoided the dentist because I just didn't have the money. I'm not in pain. (Yet.)

I stayed home instead of going to the doctor when I got sick.

I only recently replaced my decade-old glasses. For the past two years, I've been compensating by zooming the computer screen to 200%.

I really am willing to work my ass off and do without to pay for the mistakes I have made.

I've even been willing to live on barely $12000 a year (much of which goes to minimum student loan payments), while my boss pulls a six-figure income and lives a lavish lifestyle paid for by the hard work of her employees.

But you can only stretch so far. 5 hours of work per pay period won't pay the bills.

The company I've worked so hard for is dying, and there's nothing I can do about it.

I can't rely on this job, so I go to look for work.

Any work.

And I send in resumes.

And I make phone calls.

And I attempt to tap my network.

I even go to networking events where I am so badly out of place that it's laughable, just on the off-chance that I might find /something/.

Anything.

But for some reason, despite how much I beg to be put to work, my past comes back to haunt me.

As it turns out, employers do get your credit report as part of that standard background check.

Forget working hard to pay for and overcome past mistakes.

According to Them, I'm stupid and lazy.

According to Them, I'm irresponsible and a liability.

According to Them, I'm a bad citizen and a bad investment.

According to Them, I'll probably be a bad employee.

At 26 years old, is it so wrong to want a future?

Is this the America my ancestors envisioned for me?