Wherein I rant, and use a lot of italics

by Jennifer on March 16, 2009

As hard times go, this current economic downturn isn’t my first rodeo. When I single girl living on my own, there was a time when I had to decide between buying cat food or taking my clothes to the laundromat (the cat won, of course, and some careful hand-washing got me through to my next paycheck). Other times, I couldn’t pay my rent on time, and there was even a night or two spent reading by candlelight because the power was turned off.

And in the last ten years, there have been only a few blessed times when paying the bills hasn’t required some sort of schedule.

But this is the first time that I’ve been so aware that most of us, on some level, are holding our breath, cutting back, cutting corners, even giving up trips through Starbucks (the horror!). We stretch our dollars like rubber bands and hope they don’t break. Some are glad every night when they leave work because they didn’t get laid off that day. Many have already lost jobs and wonder how to pay for this week’s round of groceries.

So when I hear from someone for whom things are going particularly well, mostly because s/he’s telling me that things are going particularly well, it can be a little hard to hear. (My good friend wrote a little something about this yesterday, along a different-but-related and very funny vein.) My tolerance is really low these days for anything (anyone) that screams of entitlement or look at me. More than once, Tom and Daisy Buchanan have come to mind. Remember them?

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Make you think of anyone? Execs at AIG, who should know better than to even consider taking those bonuses, or top dogs at GM who flew privately to Washington to ask for a bailout. Or the couple who can’t wait to show you the photos from their trip to Italy even though they know you couldn’t even afford to take the kids out for Italian food last weekend.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always room for success, for accomplishments and good news, and I’m generally happy to hear it. But I enjoy hearing it more if it’s delivered in the right spirit (which is that of not bragging). That’s true at any time, but especially now. Like telling a joke, it’s all in the delivery. Humility and grace go a long way, and if you want people to be happy for you, it’s best not to beat them to death with a thing. Hearing good news once, especially now, is probably just about enough.

Here’s the other side of it. I’m no economist (Dr. Gibson, my college macroeconomics professor can vouch for that, just as I can vouch for how many times he said nonetheless in one hour), but I know enough to know that a rising tide lifts all boats. If people are doing well, if businesses report good numbers, if we can shore up the levy of jobs and benefits, then it’s good for all of us. I get it.

We need good news. We need for things to get better.

So say it loud and proud if you have a great business idea that’s going to provide 20 or 200 new jobs. I’ll be the first one on my feet, cheering.

Look, all I’m saying is that being sensitive to others and what they might be going through is just kindness and respect – good manners – in any economic climate. Maybe all it takes is picking the right audience. Don’t complain about how exhausted you are after your vacation to someplace fabulous, except maybe to the people next to you on the plane who are coming home from the same vacation.

Because most of us are in the same leaky boat these days, and chances are, if all you can talk about is how well things are going for you, and it will stand out so much from the rest of the chatter that  a lot of people are bound to hear it.

Just don’t be surprised if the person who gets thrown overboard is you.

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Edited: Jenn at Juggling Life talks about this issue in a new post, Stimulating the Economy.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzanne March 16, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Amen, you’re right about the need for sensitivity to those around us, this weekend I was having coffee with a friend of mine who just last month was telling me of how well her job was going…this past weekend she told me that she may very well be laid off any day now….things can change overnight.

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flutter March 16, 2009 at 10:10 pm

I have had my ass tossed around frequently the past few years. I am ready for good. You too.

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skywind March 16, 2009 at 11:26 pm

It is an extraordinary period, with all efforts to rely on our own. Of course, we have to help others weather the storm.
What is Really Healthy-Health Blog
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Mrs. Chili March 17, 2009 at 5:15 am

I had to pick my jaw up OFF THE FLOOR when my best friend called me the other day to tell me that her sister had called her to share that the sister’s husband was given a FORTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLAR bonus from IBM. Now, my friend just took a loan from their father to help her get out from underneath a pretty heavy debt load – her sister KNOWS this, and she called to say that hubby’s bringing home a chunk of money that would pretty much put her sister in the clear without having to grovel to her parents. WHO fucking DOES that?!?

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actonbell March 17, 2009 at 6:55 am

Very good post. My husband works for a company that has been bleeding employees, and I’m thankful everyday that he’s still standing, because a lot of good people were let go. I was laid off a little over a year ago myself, and am now working for much less, but I know a lot of my former coworkers are still out of work, and I’d like to keep in touch with some of them, but don’t know how to ask, ‘how’s it going?’

And I”m thunderstruck over the previous comment by Mrs. Chili. Some people are truly clueless.

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catnip March 17, 2009 at 7:08 am

I’m so with you on this. I try to be a positive person, and make the best out of what I have, but it’s so hard to do that lately when so many people around me make crazy amounts of money and I’m in debt to my eyeballs and my closest friends are getting laid off.

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Daryl March 17, 2009 at 7:11 am

Do not get me started on AIG .. the Enron of Wall St. The balls on these men (and women) to pocket those bonuses after raping the company and begging for help …

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Smalltown Mom March 17, 2009 at 7:14 am

My husband was on a 20% voluntary pay deferral for most of last year. He’s had full salary since Dec. but now they are talking about another deferral. The good thing about this? The owners were the first to defer, and deferred far more than 20%. They practice what they preach.

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Crystal Jigsaw March 17, 2009 at 7:23 am

Yes, there’s nothing like rubbing ones nose in it is there. These banks and economists really need to get their act together.

CJ xx

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Chris March 17, 2009 at 7:36 am

Right on! You go, Sister! I loved this. “Humility and grace go a long way…” Yes they do. Very well put. 🙂

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Jenn @ Juggling Life March 17, 2009 at 7:41 am

Thank you for the reminder. I hope it’s not me you’re thinking of, but I suppose it could be. I’ve posted a couple of times this week about new electronics we’ve bought–for birthdays, etc.

We have weathered a layoff this recession and I have blogged about COBRA and that I knew we were lucky to be able to afford our premiums (though I will say it is not just luck but sacrifice from our early years). One of the biggest reasons we went ahead with the big purchases at this time is that since our financial situation is pretty stable I feel compelled to spend a bit to do our part to stimulate the economy since we can afford it.

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jenrantsraves March 17, 2009 at 7:51 am

Thanks for talking about it. I think it helps tremendously for people to know that they are not alone in the financial dance of bill paying!

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suburbancorrespondent March 17, 2009 at 7:54 am

I don’t know if I agree with this or not. Being that most of my married life I’ve lived in communities where we were on the low end of the economic pole, I’m used to witnessing consumption that is beyond my means. And I’m used to hearing these same people complaining that they are broke! It can be hard, as deprivation is primarily relative (sociological fact). But when I think that I live better than most of the rest of the world, I just thank goodness for indoor plumbing and clean water and leave it at that. I don’t want people to feel bad about what they choose to spend.

I do think it is inexcusable, however, for these same people to act like they are up on hard times because they cannot afford their expensive vacation this year, or because their car is 4 years old, or because they are spending so much money on their kids’ private school. In other words, other people’s wasteful spending bothers me not at all; it is their not appreciating what they have that bugs me!

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Louise March 17, 2009 at 8:28 am

Why do I get the feeling this has just a little to do with Facebook? If yes, I’m so with you.

Just have to say, as you know, my dad is one of the owners of a company. Times are not any worse for him now than they have been the past 5 years–most of which he hasn’t drawn ANY salary so that the employees can still have theirs. (When he HAS drawn salary, it has been reduced by at least 50%.) He’s cleaned out his retirement accounts to survive.

Bonuses are for good times. My dad got his share 20-and-more years ago–but certainly not now when there is not even salary. But idiots that don’t know how to live without bonuses should not be doing many things, including being in charge of companies that advise people on financial matters.

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JCK March 17, 2009 at 9:34 am

Thank you, Jennifer. As I sit here hoping we can pull our mortgage together by the end of this month, your post makes me feel less alone.

Well said.

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schmutzie March 17, 2009 at 10:12 am
Manic Mommy March 17, 2009 at 2:18 pm

It is scary times. Oddly enough, I’m thankful we only have one job to worry about losing. Luckily, it’s stable.

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Proud Mom March 17, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Amen! I couldn’t have said this better myself. Jennifer, you have a magical way with words and your words here are not confrontational, they are just honest facts.

Greed breeds greed and I, for one, am nauseated by what the bankers, CEO and folio managers have done to corrupt this country. When is our government going to stop bailing out these dogs?

But the worst corruption here is in the welfare system… I witness the abuse every day when the government pays for ice cream, soda, chips, yodels, jelly beans, fluff, Red Bull and even cigarettes!

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Ree March 17, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Yikes! Oh Jennifer, don’t get me wrong. I don’t disagree with ANYTHING that you’ve said. I only hope that I’m not guilty of doing just that.

Thanks for the reminder.

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the mama bird diaries March 17, 2009 at 8:22 pm

I had a “friend” tell me that things really aren’t that bad out there. People just need to have the right attitude. I see. How good is your attitude when you’ve been laid off and can’t pay your bills?

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Slouching Mom March 18, 2009 at 8:03 am

Amen. To all of it. And the Gatsby — must reread that.

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Suzanne March 18, 2009 at 8:09 am

Amen, sister. I start a job on the 27th after eight months of unemployment. What normally would be cause for celebration is met with nervous trepidation instead. How long will it last? Will I even have any benefits? How flexible IS flexible?

The good news I have is that I just found out that my son’s two most expensive medications have been approved for patient assistance from the drug companies. 900 a month I won’t have to shell out for them, money I didn’t have.

Meanwhile, my best friend tells me that a mutual friend from high school keeps asking after me. Best friend gave her the link to my blog. All this mutual friend wants to do is crow about the old victorian house she bought for 750k CASH (she comes from money). She is insensitve to the plight of so many of us, and doesn’t comprehend that I lost my 150k house because we hit hard times, I don’t want to hear about her struggle to find a house in her price range. Sorry, that’s FIVE times the price of the house I lost.

Like Mama Bird before me-how can you have a good attitude when you’re looking at the bills and know that what’s coming in won’t cover it all?

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Green Girl March 18, 2009 at 9:16 am

So true–tact goes far in these times.
I don’t get the AIG thing. Mr. D pointed out that without the gov. bailout $, they’d have gone bankrupt and had no bonuses ANYWAY so how DOES that work?
And beyond tact, sensitivity. There are a lot of people hurting from no fault of their own. Plenty who are, mind you, but a lot who aren’t.

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Momisodes March 18, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Well said, and beautifully written. So many are hurting right now. Like MamaBird, I had friend tell me to ‘think positively’ and things will turn around. Pretty easy for a single, 6-figure salaried person to say to a family with no income, no job-offers, and a hefty mortgage to pay.

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Emily R March 18, 2009 at 7:56 pm

is it totally poor form to say that once, in college, i was totally out of cash and wondering how i was going to eat and then i found a twenty in the street?! how lucky was that…

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anymommy March 18, 2009 at 8:31 pm

It’s a pretty good reminder in general, but in particular right now. A good time not to take any amount of security and/or stability for granted.

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Nora Bee March 18, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Money is a hard topic in the best of times–and certainly just has hard now. Thanks for the candid discussion.

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apathy lounge March 19, 2009 at 1:43 pm

This is a totally non-economic point to make, but I feel bad when I DON’T have a negative comment about my husband…in the presence of female friends who are suffering through chaotic marriages. Go figure. I was raised by two people who were clearly miserable around each other and had no real template for marital happiness. That said, I have it. And I feel guilty. Not guilty insofar as I wish I didn’t have him…but guilty when all I have to say are wonderful things about the guy I married. As far as everything else? Yeah…I bitch all the time. ALL the time.

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Lisa Milton March 19, 2009 at 7:25 pm

All I can say is amen. You nailed it.

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david mcmahon March 22, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Right on, Jennifer.

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Bruce March 25, 2009 at 3:12 pm

I have a bit of a hard time with this whole ‘getting on the band wagon’, things will turn around, “Happy Days Are Here Again” sort of mantra. I have been around long enough to see that this sort of thing is cyclical and I have little doubt that we are going to be in the same economic mess again in the next 10 years if we don’t start asking some hard questions about how we do things and what our expecations are. I think somewhere back in 1950 we took a wrong turn somewhere.

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