Life on Hold
I have had a series of highly geeky musings in the works for over a month now that I’ve obviously neither completed nor published yet, and I’ve had several other “bloggable” thoughts (or rants) in my mind that, for whatever reason, I never firmed up. I hope to get to those eventually, but for now I offer you this musing for the simple fact that I’ve gone far too long without posting anything at aMMusing.
I don’t like to admit it but I have to: I’ve pressed the Pause button on my life.
That statement sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Yet strangely enough, it isn’t …at least not for me. When I think to how I felt two years ago, I can assert that I’m perfectly fine. Back then, I couldn’t even stand myself; I felt like I wanted to escape by crawling out of my own skin. But three unrelated and quite trivial events that occurred in the last few days have brought the phrase “Life on Hold” to my mind as a “bloggable” topic.
First, I was sitting having a coffee in a park in the Village a few nights ago when this guy, also named Maurice and also born in ’65, sat in front of me to see if I recognized him. I did. We had — or actually, he had — struck up a conversation with me about a month ago. Some things he said back then made me not like him very much, so when that happens, I find it difficult to sustain a conversation with that person afterwards. Clearly having forgotten that he had already posed me the question, he asked me the other day if I was “with someone.” When I repeated my answer that I wasn’t, he asked me for how long I have been by myself. And that’s when it hit me like that proverbial ton of bricks: it will be four years soon! It doesn’t seem that long ago, yet the facts and the calendar can’t lie. At the same time, NowEx does seem like a distant memory but a memory nonetheless: just last night, I had another nightmare in which he featured.
Second, last Thursday evening, I discovered that my bank unceremoniously lowered the rate on its so-called “high-interest” savings account from 1.2% to 1.1%. It’s not a really big deal, except that now I can claim that the bank gives me less than a quarter of what it takes from me in interest on my line of credit. I then figured out that, based on my projections, this tiny 0.1% decrease could represent between 50 to 60 dollars less in incoming interest by the end of 2016 (although I wouldn’t really have the balance being projected since I intend to spend some of it along the way, except it illustrates well the difference ten basis points can make on compound interest). Peanuts, really, but this calculation made me realize the futility of continuing to save as I have — at least for the next few months — while I’m still carrying some debt even if it’s now well below 5K or nearly 85% less than my total reimbursement of so-called consumer debt since Thanksgiving 2011.
Third — and certainly the most trivial — I finally got around to submitting my first reimbursement claim at work for my Internet connection, to which I’m entitled since I work exclusively from home. I’ve said it before: I’m my own worst advocate when it comes to money; I didn’t even submit a claim for my hotel room and train ticket to Toronto in 2009 even though the trip was entirely work-related. So, upon receiving my first reimbursement on the same day I got confirmation that I’m receiving less interest on my savings account, I fired up my uber-complicated but highly effective budgeting spreadsheet and spent hours rejigging it because 50 bucks a month represents more than two years’ worth of power bills …or a very decent dinner out, or a few bottles of non-plonk wine, or a tank of gas, or …well, you get the picture.
As I was doing that — slowly, methodically, yet realizing no sane person would spend as many hours as I have on this thing — I kept hearing one thought in my mind: “Life on hold, life on hold…” Ever since I reconstructed my spreadsheet in late-October and especially after my net debt finally fell to a mere four-digit figure in mid-December, I seem to have declared 2013 as my “last year of sacrifices.” A few months ago I complained that I might be pushing myself too hard on that front, but it seems that I just can’t stop myself. I don’t remember a moment in my adult life when I had no debt AND a realistic hope of staying bad-debt-free, so with that target only four-and-a-half or five months away, I’ve chosen to cut out anything that is absolutely not necessary so that, for the first time in seven years, every cent of my year-end bonus will be all mine and not going right back to the bank.
I’ve developed the discipline of putting aside at least one out of every four dollars I take home without even breaking a sweat! When I first started cleaning up my act nearly two years ago, I knew that my whole budget was a best-case scenario but I told myself that any unlucky break would merely push the target a little bit further. But the bad strokes of luck that did fall onto my path were met with some lucky strikes of almost equal magnitude, so, in my mind, with the target so close, what’s a few more months of austerity if I can gently coast to it? The fact the target is a full four to five months SOONER that my best-case scenario of October 2011 is only egging me on.
Therefore, air-conditioning for the apartment this summer? Forget it; I’ll suffer a bit for one last summer. A nice trip overseas or even to the bloody USA? No, not yet. Finally getting decent furniture? Next year, and that’ll be cash, thank you very much. If I can’t pay for it right then and there or within four to six weeks, it ain’t happening. But, starting in July, I will be using a budget line I haven’t used yet, namely having someone come in to clean my dump once every two weeks. And because I find having only three weeks’ vacation per year isn’t enough, I’ll start buying myself an extra week’s vacation starting in 2014 because I believe my sanity depends on it.
So truth be told, I met the line “life on hold” with a kind of ambivalence when it kept echoing in my mind this weekend. On the one hand, it’s rather pathetic that I should be doing so little these days and I wonder if it’s a mistake to defer living as I am right now. But, on the other hand, the prospect of living well and travelling as so many of my friends and family are able to do, all within my means, is just too damn enticing.
Feeling Like Your Skull Is Crushing In On Itself
That’s been me all week.
I’m in a situation at work where how we do things has to change. No one is arguing against that premise. But then, not only is the proposed remedy strike me as bad and unworkable; so is the way it’s being proposed.
Someone with some power to make decisions comes up with a plan. By now, that someone is completely sold to the idea. However, knowing that it’s a big shift in paradigm, that someone decides to “consult” the workers who would be directly affected by it.
Sounds good so far, but there’s a problem. What problem? Read above: “that someone is completely sold to the idea”, and the scare quotes around the verb to consult.
Everyone who’s been “consulted” has expressed doubts about the plan working. However, each argument presented is dismissed by “that someone [who] is completely sold to the idea” as merely “negative,” or “showing resistance to change,” or “not demonstrating that the idea would not work.” This does beg the question, “Why consult?” But worse, “that someone [who] is completely sold to the idea” thinks this IS consultation, where the alternative would have been — which I’ve been told in so many words — unilateral, overnight imposition of the new paradigm.
Un dialogue de sourds is what we call it in French. A dialogue among the deaf. Talk for talk’s sake. But the decision has already been made. Just like most legislation passed by the federal Conservatives since they gained majority status in 2011. And almost as clueless and detached from the reality of those on the front line.
I, like everyone else, will work toward implementing the stupid idea and, no, I, for one, will not do anything to sabotage the idea. It’s a bad enough idea to sabotage itself on its own lack of merit.
One problem is that those who will bear much of the brunt of the bad idea crashing down in flames will be those who’ll implement it, not “that someone [who] is completely sold to the idea.” Another problem is that I truly don’t wish harm to “that someone [who] is completely sold to the idea.”
And the insult that’s added to the injury: I compiled stats that demonstrate clearly what brought on the situation requiring the change to how we do things, but they’re being ignored.
Because they prove that a previous decision was also bad. If we had lost only one person instead of two last November, we’d be very busy but we’d be managing.
And now the irony. The pro-union guy that I am knows that the previous bad decision would not have occurred in an unionized environment.
You know… that bad decision that brought us into that bad situation we’re in? Yeah. That one.
With all the horrible things happening in the world lately, it seems terribly shallow not to comment on those events. But who am I to comment on the Boston bombings or the collapse of a garnment factory in Bangladesh? I’ve read some thoughtful analyses and some dreadful statements about those events, and my comments would just add to the cacophony. So, better to stick to topics I know something about…
Three weeks ago tomorrow, a story started hitting the news in Canada and remained at the forefront of the news cycle for a whole week: how my employer was outsourcing 45-50 Toronto-based IT jobs to a company in India. However, the whistleblower’s spark that ignited the media shit storm was his revelation that he and his colleagues were expected to train the very people who would be taking their jobs which would remain in Toronto (i.e., not to go India) for at least a few years. It seemed, on the surface, that my employer was using, perhaps quite legally, the federal government’s temporary foreign workers program to reduce costs which, as we know, is a sacrosanct imperative intended to (always) increase shareholders’ dividends.
- Just 24 hours earlier, I blogged about lemons being squeezed. I even wrote, as though to reassure myself, that “I do believe my job security is pretty damn good.” However, while it’s true that my performance record gives me confidence that I’m not about to lose my job overnight, I’d be lying if I said that I’m confident about my current position. I toil within a “cost centre” and big employers like mine aren’t the best at grasping return on investment (ROI) in intangible terms like “goodwill” because it’s nearly impossible to come up with a mathematical formula to express the following: “We spent X on service without charging the clients for it but the clients were so pleased that it generated Y in additional sales over an unspecified amount of time and Z in lower on-going support costs.” That’s just too wishy-washy for an organization whose attention deficit leads it to only understand hard numbers (i.e., cash) over one quarter or one year to the next, especially since there has to be a leap of faith that those desired consequences WILL really occur.
- When the news hit, I immediately thought of my father. He was more of a foot soldier at work than I have ever been, and he worked nearly 40 years for the same large company but endured numerous slights because he was francophone and, yes, more of a foot solider. However, when he decided to take his retirement, management decided to technically abolish his position and create a new position that melded his with some other position. Fine… except he had to spend his last work weeks learning that other position in order to train the person who would be replacing him. Apparently that’s one of the only times my father ever spoke out: “You’re bent on grossing people out right to the end, aren’t ya!”
- I need to give credit where it’s due: my employer, unlike others of its type, has kept client-facing call centres in Canada. But shortly after I started, our in-house tech support was outsourced to India and we’ve collectively come to call it the “useless desk” rather than the help desk. I learned a useful trick which I’ve share with many of my colleagues: if you need to call our in-house tech support and you understand just enough French to follow a few prompts, start by selecting French as your language and you’ll end up with someone in our call centre in Montréal where they all speak English as well. In other words, lucky for us that the British tried to colonize India and there is currently no emerging economy in a country that was colonized by the French or the Belgians! And it certainly beats having to deal with a dud of an agent who can only read scripts and is forbidden to think for him/herself, let alone truly listen to the caller’s request.
What really got to me about this whole debacle is the disconnect. Whether it’s this or other situations to which I’m privied (but obviously can’t disclose publicly), I can’t count the number of decisions that are taken “higher up” that confirm a kind of tone-deafness. I mean… generally speaking, the public hates banks; therefore, you would think that those with decisional power would bear this fact in mind. I’m not advocating giving away the farm; no business, big or small, can do everything for free. Even I, in my own household, am always trying to find ways of cutting unnecessary costs. Aside from being a responsible, respectful, and law-abiding citizen, I have a personal responsibility to live and hopefully prosper within my means, not to feed an economic machine beyond my means.
I also got a kick out of the public outrage — in a good way and in a bad way. For instance, many declared they would be closing their accounts at the bank. My thoughts on that were mixed: I appreciated the sentiment of taking a stand, but doubted it would translate into concrete action. For one thing, closing a chequing or savings account is easy enough, but not loans, insurance policies or mortgages. What’s more, all banks are guilty to some degree of the practice that produced such outrage, leaving only credit unions as the only alternative.
Coincidentally, I’ve been a client at the bank that eventually became my employer for nearly 30 years. It has made a great deal of money on me over those years given the amount of debt I’ve carried until recently, but I take full responsibility for that debt. It’s not like I would suddenly get a bill for an arbitrary $20K that I had never spent but had no choice but to pay. Plus, whenever something bad happened (like when illegal charges were placed on my credit card in February 2003, or last year when my building’s super deposited two rent cheques on the same day), the bank always fixed things in my favour.
Let’s say I weren’t employed by the bank. For one, I still owe it money. For another, would I really have the strength of character to go through the whole hassle? As laughable as it is, this bank currently offers the best rate on savings than any other bank in Canada. Do I sacrifice this on principle? Do I buy or not buy that lovely and inexpensive shirt manufactured in Bangladesh? I’d like to answer “Yes” without hesitation. Am I morally bankrupt for hesitating, or is it that our whole market economy is stacked in such a way that it’s too hard to take a stand? I mean, it’s easy enough not to buy the cheap shirt from Bangladesh or the fried chicken from the homophobic business, but giving up electronic payments and stuffing cash in my mattress doesn’t strike me as feasible for the sake of taking a stand.
Also, do you think a bank CEO gives a flying fuck if Joe Q. Public closes his measily account? Put it this way: a CEO might only care about those individuals who fall in the one percent and uses the bank’s wealth management services, or those companies that generate huge revenues. Granted, if thousands of Joe Q. Publics close their measily account, the CEO might notice, but what would happen next? The Joe Q. Publics who also work at that bank might lose their job — possibly more Joe Q. Publics than the number of people affected by the decision that caused the initial outrage.
Speaking of whom: The bank did state by the end of the bad-press week that those 45-50 people would be offered jobs elsewhere in the bank. I have no reason to doubt the validity of that statement. However, I do wonder about the whistleblower. I have no way to verify, but I’m more inclined to think he was paid off to leave and shut up forever …but I could be wrong.
Banks are, after all, non-unionized environments. They offer employees work conditions designed to keep unions out. As for those of us who work in a bank: our jobs are not about screwing people over. We’re mere specks standing low within a huge hierarchical bureaucracy.
I sleep at night because I know that I, personally, do no harm in the performance of my job. And that goes for more than 99 percent of us.
Squeezing the Lemons
Several lemons are being squeezed these days — some by myself and some by others. Optimists might say that this is a great opportunity to make lemonade, but I, while risking lapsing into Clintonesque rhetoric, am thinking these days that it all depends on what one’s definition of “lemonade” IS.
Those Squeezed by Others, Take 1
Ever since one of my colleagues at work was let go suddenly and another was shifted to a new position last November, almost every day at work has been utterly draining. I just don’t understand what “they” (whoever “they” are) were thinking back then, trying to squeeze as much if not a bit more work from four people that used to be done by seven just a year earlier. Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind earning my wage for 7.5 hours per day; in fact, I prefer it over being idle. But there comes a point where there’s just no more juice to be squeezed out of the lemon.
I’m not talking about my own energy level. Rather, I’m referring to how there’s no time left for anything in case of those inevitable emergencies or those numerous secondary but required tasks. Add to this the fact that I’m the only person in the entire organization who can do what I do in French, and I can’t help but find it odd that this could be occurring in a place that otherwise has pretty strong contingency plans. So yeah, I worked last week despite having a massive cold because I felt that pulling myself out of circulation would have caused too much chaos.
Meanwhile, the organization reported record profits in the last quarter…
Those Squeezed by Myself
Ever since I got my budget to work flawlessly last November — coincidentally a week or two before the big changes at work — I’ve figured out ways to be even more aggressive in my debt-elimination plan. Truth be told, I could never do it if I weren’t single. It’s fine to impose austerity on one’s self when it has no effect on anyone else. But only an inconsiderate asshole would impose such draconian restraint on a significant other or dependents.
It’s as though I have a gut-feeling that I must do this because I might not be able to if I procrastinate. I’m not sure why I feel this way, because I do believe my job security is pretty damn good. But it’s also as though I’m getting a rush out of the exercise. It excites me to be able to say to myself, “I will have put 70% of one year’s net wages over only 25 months to reach Debt Zero.” Obviously it helps that the net wage is a comfortable one, but I personally have not known anyone who has been able to make such a claim — acknowledging, mind you, that it’s so un-Canadian to make that kind of claim publicly.
Mykonos suddenly seems closer than ever (if only I could find a travel companion), without getting back into debt…
Those Squeezed by Others, Take 2
The recent banking crisis in Cyprus has somehow brought those two points above to converge in my mind. On the one hand, it’s becoming clear that, if everything else remains equal, I have proven to myself that I have the discipline to reach on my own in about a decade the maximum savings covered by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC), suggesting that I may one day need to rely on more than one bank. On the other hand, who’s to say that Canadian banks, and indeed the CDIC, could withstand an unprecedented economic tsunami should several other major economies fully and finally collapse?
I find it weird to be thinking this way. It’s not in my usual nature. But when the news came out that some Cypriots may lose up to 60 percent of their money in the bank bailout, I couldn’t help imagine how awful that must feel. Many of them, like myself, are not in the league of offshore tax havens; we’re just honest working people socking away so that we have some security until our final curtain call.
Maybe I should have taken up a sugar daddy while I still had the chance…
The Last Drop
I hate money. I hate how it drives everything, how it’s so necessary. I hate how it can cause so many ulcers.
I hate how something that consumes us so much in life will be so utterly meaningless when we’re gone.
Odd Feeling :: A Wish for the Impossible
I really wish I could, but… I just can’t shake off that odd feeling. And the annoying part is that it’s getting very old and tiresome.
Yeah, the fifth (non-)anniversary thing, I mean. If you feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record, I apologize. However, imagine how much more irritating it is for me.
It was a very busy day at work yesterday but, every once in a while, I kept remembering how that wasn’t what I was doing five years ago. Just before noon, I called Cleopatrick to ask if he would join me for dinner in the evening — a celebratory “fuck you and the horse you rode on, NowEx” event. He replied he would get back to me on that after asking his BF and, when he did around 6:30, he declined, stating that he was too pooped from his week at work. Not relishing the thought of going out to eat alone (again!), I just drove over to the nearest Amir restaurant to pick up my regular chicken-vegetable coucous, took a sleeping pill around 8:30, and crashed about 2 hours later for nearly 11 hours.
I simply wanted the flow of memories to stop, and knocking myself out to sleep early was the solution I came up with.
Today I’m trying to explain to myself why this is happening to me. I know it’s not regret for divorcing. I also know it’s not envy of others who’ve chosen to get hitched and for whom it worked out well. And most of all, I know it’s not because I would want to speak to NowEx, now or ever again.
I’ve come up with two explanations so far. When I’m in a moment of joking and self-deprecation, I claim post-traumatic stress. But when I’m in a serious and brutally-honest-with-myself moment, I recall the willful suppression of all the “you shouldn’t be doing this” thoughts I had at the time.
It’s the latter, along with the memories of the sting of being systematically yet unfairly put down (before, during and after), that mentally dragged me down two years ago. Today that’s not dragging me down; it’s more like having a mild but annoying toothache for which the dentist can’t find the cause.
This morning when I got up, I took off my ring for the first time and placed it on the night table. I think this act may be more symbolic than anything else. What remains to be seen is if I’ll keep it off or will this be like how I shaved off my goatee in November, only to grow it back in January.
Keeping it on my finger was about how I never would have otherwise spent as much on bling for myself and how it could serve as a reminder if ever I caught myself about to dive into another unwarranted rescue mission. However, because I’ve come not to notice it anymore AND the fact this “odd feeling” has been so intense in the last few weeks, I don’t think I need a physical reminder 24/7 in order not to go overboard. That’s one karmic lesson I’m unlikely to forget.
Recalling this fifth anniversary reminded me that it’ll also be five years next April that I’ve been in Montréal and seven years next month that I’ve been working at the bank. Neither worked out as I expected, yet both turned out being better than I could have anticipated.
It’s a good thing that the idea of moving to Montréal pre-dated that of getting married, as the two are thankfully unrelated. However, although I didn’t let it show to others, I was a nervous wreck when I moved here, not because the place seemed so big and overwhelming but because I had this moody, high-maintenance husband back in Mexico. Today, despite its inevitable downsides, Montréal is such a comfortable and safe place for me. While I don’t take part in as much as I thought I would while living here, I take pride in calling myself un Montréalais.
As for the job, it started off as a one-year contract. It got renewed for six months and, before that time was up, I was made a permanent employee. I still remember how the first six weeks of learning the job was intense and how my first client call was so unspectacular, not to say a total flop. But I quickly evolved to distinguish myself at my job, and that job, in turn, has provided me the kind of financial security I never dared to dream of as a freelancer. What’s more, I thought at first I’d be able to keep the freelancing on the side, but I was never able to — the day job was simply too demanding.
So, is writing this blog entry helping me put a finger on that “odd feeling”?
When I summon up my memories and feelings about Montréal five years ago and those about the job seven years ago, I realize that Montréal and the job exceeded expectations even though they didn’t turn out to be anything like what I imagined they would be like. I knew they would be good, but not this good. But five years ago last night, I knew deep down while denying it that I was getting into something I shouldn’t. So perhaps the odd feeling is a wish for the impossible.
To have the me of today go up to the me of five years ago to slap some sense into the latter in order to avoid the former having this odd feeling today.
In short, it’s an utterly impossible wish: to erase the memories by avoiding their creation in the first place.