Too Bad I Don’t Get Paid To Learn or My Path To Becoming An Independent Scholar

I’ve been enjoying the cooler fall weather and the changing leaves. Been having bouts of depression the last few days. They clear up after some good conversation with old friends and family. I think the loneliness of the pandemic is starting to get the best of me. I’m too paranoid to socialize in person much as most people I know won’t wear face masks. And with flu season starting in only a few weeks, this could be a really rough winter. I’m prepared to hunker down and stay home for a real long time if needed, at least in terms of supplies. I’m not so sure about the mental part of it.

I’ve been having more time to think during this pandemic. Been reflecting on my past and growing up. When I was a kid, some of my happiest memories were being alone and exploring our large back yard and letting my mind wander. I’d often make up stories and keep these story lines going for months at a time. I never did write any of them down and have forgotten most over the years. I kept a journal one summer while in junior high, at least until my brother stole it and mocked me for some of my writings. He and some of the neighborhood kids used to spy on me when I paced the backyard too. Hurt really bad to have my privacy violated like that. I didn’t realize I was good at writing and story telling until I was almost done with college.

I graduated college with a business degree. I originally started as a pre medicine major with the idea I would get a job in a research lab eventually. While I was really interested in biology, palentology, and chemistry as a kid, I was also really interested in history and literature. I didn’t consider studying history or english in college because I heard the horror stories about arts and humanities students finding only minimum wage jobs after graduation. I only studied business because I got a D in organic chemistry, which destroyed my chances for graduate school. I also didn’t know much about business or money besides how to balance a checkbook. And since money involves everything, I thought business might lead to a career once I finished college. I really enjoyed the economics, finance, and investing classes. I didn’t enjoy the accounting classes. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and no idea what I was going to do with it.

After graduation I worked a couple retail sales jobs as that was all that I had available to me. Even while working those jobs, I used to get anxiety real bad about working. I used to vomit before work most days because of the anxiety. I later got a job as a graduate assistant while I was working on my masters’ in economics. That job, while really enjoyable, lasted only a few months because I couldn’t make grades. I also don’t think my bosses or coworkers liked me.

After I qualified for disability insurance a few years later, I finally had a safety net. I worked part time for a few years as a janitor at the county courthouse. After a few years of that, I decided to take “early retirement” and finally do what I wanted for the first time in my life. I devoted my life to studying, reading, writing, etc. And I have never been happier. I may not make much money and I probably never will. But I’m good with that. I never had the kind of ego that needed lots of money, a prestigious job, a big house, a wife and kids, etc. I guess I just wanted to be an independent scholar. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties I got to realize this dream that I was too scared to admit to anyone, even myself.

I love learning. I always have. Even being the odd kid in my school who loved learning and was too stubborn to hide it, it was never beaten out of me. I guess I was fortunate that, even though I got lots of garbage from classmates for being too smart, most of my teachers didn’t discourage my thirst for knowledge and wisdom. I even had a few who encouraged me and loved me for being eccentric. And I found even more teachers like that in college. I also met kids who loved learning even more than I did. It was amazing. It’s tragic that most kids have that God given love of learning beaten out of them at such an early age. I don’t know why I never lost that love. I’m just grateful that I never did.

A Few Thoughts On The Changes Brought During 2020

This day is starting out well overall. I went to bed early last night and wound up sleeping on and off for almost twelve hours. Woke up stiff and sore but at least it was manageable. Thursday is one of my favorite days of the week as my cleaning lady arrives in the afternoons and there are usually a couple football games on tv too. It’ still strange watching ballgames without a crowd in the arena. I’ll be glad when this health crisis burns out.

Started writing a journal by pen yesterday. It might be helpful to have a means to write down my thoughts and observations that I wouldn’t normally put on a blog I try to keep family friendly. Mentally I am still feeling stable. I do have rough patches but fortunately they don’t last long nor are they bad enough for me to act on.

I make a point to leave my apartment at least once a day even if I don’t have deliveries coming. Met my new neighbor and got back in touch with some old ones. I don’t know much about my new neighbor except that he looks younger than I and keeps pretty quiet for the most part. I rarely hear him except for when he has guests and I can occasionally hear laughter. So maybe he’s a funny guy.

While the health crisis and economic problems have been rough on me, at least I haven’t had problems I couldn’t manage. I still see my psych doctor every two months via a service similar to Skype or Zoom. I’m scheduled to see him again in a couple weeks. I can get anything within reason delivered to my apartment via Amazon or one of the local supermarkets. I started having my groceries delivered about three years ago when I came to the conclusion I wasn’t as safe behind the wheel of a car as I used to be. I think I was one of the first people in my complex to have groceries delivered to my place on a regular basis. While I haven’t eaten in a restaurant since before the shutdowns started, I still occasionally get delivery pizza and can sometimes sweet talk my neighbors or cleaning lady into picking something up for me, as long as I pay for it of course.

I’m still kind of paranoid about being out of my apartment for long periods of time because of the virus. Some people aren’t always wearing face masks or properly washing their hands. I may be only 40, but being overweight and mentally ill probably puts me in high risk category already. So I socialize with friends and family on a near daily basis via my phone or facebook account. I keep my facebook account primarily to keep in contact with old friends and extended family I may not other wise. Perhaps that was the original intent of Mr. Zuckerberg and his partners, not so much the arguments and trolling that is still too common.

Been seeing more articles and videos online about people working from home. Even my brother and his wife sometimes work from home with their engineering jobs. I think I could have gotten into working from home had it been available when I started my working life in my early twenties. I found out the hard way as a teenager working in restaurants and retail stores that I don’t easily pick up on social cues or office politics like many of my coworkers. Sometimes it got me into trouble with coworkers and customers. But I think the mental illness problems were more to blame than anything. While it was tough to realize I lost my career due to problems beyond my control, I’m glad I went through the struggles in my twenties when I was still healthy and wasn’t set in my ways. Even though I’m 40 and still try to keep an open mind about most things, I found I don’t adapt as fast as I did even ten years ago. I may have had an easier time with office politics had I started my career from home. But I’ll never know. I’ve made my peace with my lost career and the family I’ll never start.

As tough as this crisis has been for me, I can’t imagine how tough it is for people with families, people who lost jobs and now can’t make their rent payments, for small landlords who can’t pay back their loans because their renters can’t make rent, for small businesses ranging from restaurants to dentists, and especially for the kids. I told one of my teenage nephews I wasn’t going to insult him by trying to imagine how tough this all is for him and his friends. My niece and nephews are at the age where kids learn how to socialize beyond family and classmates. And since much in person interaction is now no longer there, I think it will have a lifetime of effects on these kids. It might be similar to what my grandparents’ generation went through growing up during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era. My grandparents frequently talked about the struggles of not having money or having to fix things that wore out because they couldn’t afford to replace them. And one grandmother always said “It will happen again.” I’m so glad my brother and I payed attention when my grandparents talked about life during the Depression and World War 2. I’m also glad I listened to my parents stories about growing up during the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movements.

I recall a podcast back in April when the host said something like “We are going to witness ten years of changes in the next ten weeks.” Between the increased emphasis of working towards effective vaccines, work from home being a thing, private space flight becoming common, civil rights protests in almost every major city (not just in America) on a near daily basis, drone delivery getting approved by the Federal Aviation Association, and of course major wildfires on the West Coast and the South taking a beating via hurricanes and heat waves making people take the threats of climate change more serious, I think the ten years of change in ten weeks was an understatement. We will eventually emerge from these crises. We will come out changed people on the individual and national levels. The next few years will probably be brutal for most people. Hopefully we can emerge better people and stronger societies as a result.

Quarantine Journal: July 24 2020

Got out of my apartment for a few hours yesterday.  Spent most of that time in the complex library.  Talked to a few neighbors and caught up on news.  We have had a lot of new residents lately.  I’ve been in here for fourteen years now.  I guess I’m now one of the old timers.  I can think of only a handful of people who’ve been here longer.

Been chatting with my best friend a lot lately.  She’s concerned about losing hours at her job.  Thankfully she earns some commissions.  But we both think things could get a lot worse before they recover.  In some ways I’m glad I became disabled.  I’ve seen how bad customer service workers are treated by both the general public and management.  It’s sickening.  It was tough having my hopes and dreams killed by mental illness, but I guess if it had to happen I’m glad it happened in my younger days.  It prepared me well for the challenges of middle age and this pandemic.

Don’t have much planned for today.  Probably watch a couple baseball games and call a couple friends.

Learning, Education, Work and Mental Illness

I was a sophomore in college when I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia.  That was in the fall of 2000.  I had been struggling with depression, paranoia, and anxiety for a few years before I had my diagnosis.  At first I thought it was mainly just teenage angst and moodiness.  I was still doing well in school and was able to at least appear like I had everything together.  I was still on the football and speech teams, I was still making honor roll most of the time, I still had some friends, etc.  But inwardly I was a wreck.  I was fearful of going to the school guidance counselor as I attended a really small high school of less than 90 students.  Back then, almost no one talked about mental illness or depression issues.  It had far more stigma back in the 1990s than it does now.  The internet was still in it’s infancy, there was no youtube, and blogging was still a few years away.  So I suffered in silence and in solitude.

I didn’t talk about my internal problems until they became unbearable because, first, I was certain no one would believe me.  Two, I still had images of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in my head as to what mental problems meant.  Three, I was often told to “suck it up” and “others have it worse than you” even while in grade school.  Four, I feared appearing weak.  So I just suffered in silence for a few years.

As far as I know, no one knew about what was going on in my mind.  If people did, they never asked.  And I was too paranoid to tell anyone.  For the first years I had problems, I was still going to school full time and working on the weekends and during the summers.  I was so anxious and paranoid about going to work, I would vomit before my shifts several times a week.  Since I had spent my entire life listening to people complain about how much they hated their jobs (like they were proud of how much their jobs sucked), I was scared to tell anyone.  I just suffered in silence.

Finally in fall 2000, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and major depression.  It was actually a kind of relief for me in that I wasn’t the only one having these problems.  I didn’t realize that mental illnesses were more common than diabetes until after I was diagnosed.  No one ever talked about mental illnesses in our family or my town.

For the next few years, I took full time classes and worked during the summers.  When I wasn’t in classes or spending time with friends, I was in the college library reading the philosophy and classical literature books that everyone talked about but very few actually read.  I’m glad I got to do that.  I doubt I could have done that had I not went to college first, at least not until the internet really got going.  But spending all those evenings in the campus library instilled a love for learning in me that still burns to this day all these years later.  Sure I wasn’t graded on what I studied and I didn’t get a diploma that stated I had learned such material.  But I knew that I did.  That’s all that mattered to me.

After I graduated from college and worked for a few years before qualifying for disability, I still read a lot of books.  I still do lots of reading, granted it’s mostly online articles, e-books, and audiobooks.  And, no, I don’t have any certificate that says I learned this material.  But it doesn’t matter.  The most fun I ever had at a “work” task is doing what I’m doing right now, writing blogs about navigating my life while working with a mental illness.  I don’t consider it “work” or “a job” because it doesn’t have the stress of any of my traditional jobs.  I love writing about my experiences and trying to be of assistance to others even though it doesn’t pay at all.  I don’t care that it doesn’t pay.  Sometimes, I’m glad it doesn’t.  For I fear if I ever were to accept a writing job or get pay for writing, I would be at the whims and mercy of those paying me.  Screw that.  I want to tell the truth, the good, bad, and mundane of living in the modern day with schizophrenia. I know what living with schizophrenia is like.  I’ve done it since at least my late teens.  I doubt any book editor or manager at a blog service has that kind of first hand experience.

I fear I couldn’t be completely truthful if I did accept pay.  I fear some boss would want me to “Hollywood up” my writings by exaggerating or being more dark just so I could get more readers.  I don’t want that.  I want this blog to be an educational tool and a means to communicate to others what it’s like to be mentally ill without it being threatening or divisive.  I do have good days with mental illness.  I have bad days with mental illness.  Some days getting out of bed and calling my parents is the best I can do.  Others, it’s writing a blog entry that resonates with some of my readers and getting a lot done.  Some days I just want to stay home and keep to only my thoughts.  Others I would road trip for several hours to visit friends out of state or go to baseball games, concerts, etc.  Some days I can talk for hours on end with almost anyone.  Some days I don’t want to even hear the sound of another human voice.  It’s ebb and flow, high tide and low tide.

Odd Facts About Me

I’m going to take a detour with this post and have a little more fun than usual.  I’m going to post on oddities about myself.  I’ll try to keep this fun.  So here goes.

 

  1.  I have the same best friend at age 39 that I had at age 17.
  2. My best friend is a woman.  When we were in high school we came to an unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t make our friendship a romance.  While it hurt in high school, in the long run it payed off.
  3.  I started college as a pre med student.  I shifted to business after two years.  I mean, who wants to trust a medical scientist who got a D in Organic Chemistry?
  4. Even though I really had little interest in business and economics until I went to college, I’m glad I studied business.  I am really more interested in history and literature.
  5.  I spent as much time reading literature, history, and philosophy in college as I did studying business my last three years of college.  I spent a few hours every day reading at the campus library.  I’m glad I did this ‘dual study program’.
  6.  I haven’t been on a date since my late 20s.  I’m not anti romance or anti marriage.  I know myself well enough that, with my psych illness and personality type, I would make a lousy husband and father.  Now I love having friends and family.  But, I don’t do well with romance.
  7. I have several email accounts, most of which are dummy accounts so I can cut down on spam in my real accounts.
  8.  I don’t give my nephews and niece career advice or ask them what they want to be when they grow up.  The workplace is changing fast enough that even I had several different types of jobs.  I imagine this trend is only going to speed up in the coming years.
  9.  I enjoy reading non fiction books more than fiction.  Real life is quite interesting to me because, well, some real crazy things happen in non fiction.  And it’s non fiction because it actually happened in real life.
  10.  I wrote drafts for two novels in my late 20s and early 30s.
  11.  I find writing in first person easier than writing in third person.  My writer friends think I’m crazy for saying this.  But it’s true for me.
  12.  I like the comedy of Bill Hicks and George Carlin.
  13.  My likes in music have changed over the years.  In high school I was big into grunge and heavy metal.  In college I really got into country and blues.  In my late 20s I really got back into metal and added some hip hop.  In my 30s I got into techno.  I do like some of most genres of music.  I don’t have just one particular style.
  14.  Even though I did well in school in high school and college, I still wasn’t very confident in my abilities until I hit my 30s.  And it was in my 30s I found out that most of my classmates in high school and college were less confidant than even I was.
  15.  While I no longer work a regular job, I’m glad I had the variety of jobs I did.  Some of the jobs I’ve worked included retail sales, waiter, factory worker, teachers’ aide, janitor, and farm laborer.
  16.  Even though I don’t make money from my blog writing, it gives me more joy than any job I’ve ever done.
  17.  I never understood the trope about people not liking their in laws because my parents always had good relationships with their in laws.
  18.  Both of my parents worked full time jobs, but they had different shifts.  My mother worked the night shift as a nurse at a hospital.  Even with these different shifts, we always had at least one meal a day as a family.  And since I had a set of grandparents that lived in town, mom and dad would send us there if they needed a break from us.  I guess I had the best of all worlds as a kid.
  19.  I don’t socialize much in person anymore.  Yet I don’t feel lonely because I socialize via the internet and phone daily.
  20.  I don’t like fast food anymore.  I prefer my own cooking in most cases.  The closest thing to fast food I eat anymore is delivery pizza and Chinese.

 

Confessions of A Mentally Ill Blogger

Going off subject for this post.  I decided to bring more of my online confessions.  Yes, there is a real live middle age man behind the scribblings and musings of A Life of Mental Illness.  So here goes:

  1.  I’ve had the same best friend since high school.  And my best friend is a woman my age.  I didn’t understand the whole ‘males and females’ can’t be friends trope back then.  I still don’t.  Just because I am a man and she is a woman doesn’t mean we have been or ever will be romantically involved.
  2. I never understood why just because I am a man that I’m supposed to want sex all the time.  I never have, not even as a teenager.  And I used to get such a hard time from my school mates because of it.  I got it worse from my female classmates than I did even from my teammates on the football team.
  3. I never enjoyed dating.  And it wasn’t just because I was most of the time turned down even for something as simple as a cup of coffee at the college student center.  The few times I did date, I always felt like I was under investigation for the pettiest offenses and slip ups.  It was nerve wracking and not worth it.  Angered me that I couldn’t just be honest with women I found attractive.
  4. I don’t understand adults who forget what it was like being kids.  Even though I’m almost 40 years old and starting to get a few gray hairs in my beard, I still remember vividly what is was like growing up.  I don’t romanticize those days nor do I completely condemn them.  I had some good times and I went through some serious trials I never want to go through again.
  5. I don’t understand adults who hurt children.  I think it’s cowardly that some adult would do anything to a kid they wouldn’t dare dream of doing to an adult.  I have less respect for adults who abuse children than I do just about anything else.
  6. I don’t understand the mindset of bullies, especially adult bullies.  I can’t understand how messed up a person’s moral compass has to be in order to feel like they are powerful for messing with people who can’t fight back.  It doesn’t show power in my mind to yell at, berate, manipulate, and abuse people.  It shows a complete lack of character and courage as far as I’m concerned.
  7. I don’t understand people who think that yelling, insulting, threatening, and throwing temper tantrums are the signs of a good leader.  They aren’t.  The only reason people, myself included, put up with this kind of nonsense is that we have no choice.  At least not temporarily.  All the while I am agreeable to someone who is a verbally abusive boss or leader, I am silently bidding my time until I have an opportunity to where I no longer have to deal with them.  I have quit several jobs just because I got tired of dealing with abusive bosses.  And I refuse to go back to any job if I get the sense that a work place tolerates abusive bosses.  Thanks to my disability and my pension, I can say ‘screw you’ to bad bosses.  I am convinced if enough people could get several months worth of living expenses saved up and just start walking out on abusive and toxic workplaces in large numbers, we’d see these employers attitudes improve pretty fast.
  8. I never accepted why workplace politics are what they are.  Never have and I never will.
  9. Sometimes I am convinced that the adults act worse than the kids.  But it didn’t seem this way when I was growing up.  Maybe it’s something that goes in generational cycles.
  10. I don’t understand how weekly news and sports magazines are still a thing even after almost thirty years of the world wide web.
  11. I don’t understand why people still write checks.  I still have to write checks for my rent.  Irritates me to no end.  What century is this anyway?
  12. I don’t understand people who go on and on about the ‘good old days.’  When exactly were these good old days?  And if I make it to age seventy I’m sure I’ll hear some fools talking about the 2010s as ‘good old days.’  The good old days never existed.  They were just when you still had good health and weren’t held back by constant aches and pains.
  13. I’m glad I was never popular or cool.  I don’t want to be popular.  I just want to make people think.
  14. I don’t begrudge twenty somethings who still live with their parents.  Multi generational housing was more normal in previous eras than now.  Sometimes I would love to live with my elderly parents or my brother or my aunts.  At least we could look after each other easily.  And I wouldn’t have to deal with some of the screw balls and loose nuts who come with living in an apartment complex.
  15. At this point in my life, I’m tired of living in an apartment complex.  I would so buy my own house and not deal with land lords and close by neighbors if I could afford it.  I just want some privacy and not have people looking over my shoulders all the time anymore.  Dormitory living was more fun at age 19 than at age 39.
  16. I often fear that I don’t get through to people.
  17. I often fear my friends and family secretly don’t like me.  I hope it’s the illness talking.
  18. I sometimes go days at a time without leaving my apartment.  I’m just burned out on the stress of dealing with irritable, angry, and rude people all the time.  Socializing with most people is toxic for me anymore.  At this point I’d rather deal with a machine than most people.  At least machines won’t give me a hard time or tell me how bad of a person I am.  People sometimes suck.
  19. I love to sleep.  I’d sleep even more if I didn’t wake up with aches and pains every morning.

Routine Changes and Intellectual Pursuits With Mental Illness

Been staying home most of the time lately.  The weather is turning colder, like typical Nebraska Novembers.  We had our first snow a couple days before Halloween.  Even though I have essentially been cabin bound for several days, I don’t usually feel that lonely or irritable.

I have made a few changes to my routines.  I decided to give up on coffee, again.  Even the morning cup that was my standard for over fifteen years too often makes me irritable and twitchy.  I am sleeping longer too.  I usually go to bed around 9pm, wake up at 2am, work online or read until about 6am and then go back to sleep for another three hours.  I also usually nap for an hour in the afternoons.  It seems like I am sleeping some at least three times a day.  It may make it tough to get a lot done, but it does alleviate anxiety and allows me to declutter my mind.  I still sometimes get vivid dreams, but fortunately most are not scary or violent like they were in my early twenties.  Most just don’t make sense or they are the ones where I’m naked in public and no one seems to notice.  And I often have those dreams where I am back in school and I can’t find my classes or even open my locker.  Needless to say when I wake up and realize I’m in my late thirties again, I feel relieved.

Since I fazed out coffee and sleep more, I have found it takes more to make me irritable and distressed.  It also seems like I recover from aches and pains faster.  And I catch my breath quicker when I get winded now.  I don’t feel much for aches and pains when I stand for long periods of time, but I do find it annoying sometimes.  One of the reasons I started doing my shopping online was mainly because I got annoyed with standing in line for more than a couple minutes at a time.  The worst was when I was at the gas station and needing to pay for a tank of gas and I’d have several people ahead of me buying lottery tickets.  It was especially bad on the days of Powerball drawings.  I am convinced that lotteries are a tax on people who can’t do math.

I’ve also cut out as much sugar as possible.  I didn’t even buy candy for Halloween this year, not even for myself.  Then again, I enjoy watching people in costumes more now than I did even as a ten year old when I got to dress up.  Sugar was another thing that made me sluggish and occasionally irritable once the sugar rush burned off.

I am making friends with some of my neighbors.  I usually hear from them at least once a day.  For a small monthly fee, they’ll help me out with my laundry once a week as long as I provide the soap and laundry money.  They were also good enough to make dinner for me a few days ago.  While I do cook for myself, it’s usually simple things that don’t require a lot of ingredients.

Gotten back into listening to audiobooks on youtube.  I also listen to science and tech themed podcasts.  I occasionally listen to Joe Rogan if he’s interviewing a scientist or tech person.  I still avoid politics.  I have enough beliefs across the entire spectrum that is doesn’t qualify me for any traditional camp, party, or tribe.  So I catch flack from all sides just because I try to think for myself and am not dogmatic about my politics.  I swear politics has become like religion for far too many people.

I don’t post much on facebook anymore.  Then again, about the only people I hear from at all anymore are my best friend, a couple cousins, and a couple college instructors.  Even the tech groups, with only a few exceptions, have become fear mongers and hopeless these days.  Even tech enthusiasts are too often guilty getting their science news more from Hollywood and less from actual scientists.  I don’t read most science fiction and I don’t watch any science fiction shows just because they are so dystopic and such doom porn anymore.  No wonder most people are filled with fear and dread.

I try to tell people what’s actually going right (and far more is going well than not), but I’m just waisting my breath on everyone it seems.  About the only person who doesn’t think I’m a delusional liar is my own mother (and my best friend when she’s been doing well).  And even with her, I don’t know if she actually believes what I’m telling her or if she’s just humoring me.  And people wonder why I dropped out of society and don’t socialize much outside of close friends and family.  What’s the point of socializing if most people just suck the life and positivity out of you?  It seems that optimism and empathy are the modern rebellions.  It isn’t cool to be an optimist, but that may be just because we are years ahead of the curve.

People think I’m lucky because I’m on disability and don’t have to work a regular job.  While having freedom (at least to the extent the pension money doesn’t run out) is amazing, it is also a lonely life.  I spend most of my days reading, watching science lectures, lifting weights, listing to podcasts, but not much socializing.  It’s like this scholar I sometimes watch on youtube said, “If you seek the truth, the truth will set you free.  But it will also make you lonely.”  But I’d rather seek wisdom and knowledge than popularity and prestige.  I’ve felt this way my entire life.

I believe I now know what my purpose in life should be.  It is to be an independent scholar/philosopher.  Sure such work will mean I will never live a wealthy life.  Then again, some of the smartest and wisest people in history will never be known because they spent their lives in monasteries or libraries or lecture halls and laboratories.  And that is only if they were lucky.  Many more spent their lives never fitting in, seeing absurdities every where they went, and died frustrated and bankrupt.  Fortunately, the internet gives an outlet for people like me, who in previous eras would have had no options other than monasteries or academic life.  The true geniuses who drive progress may not be the billionaire entrepreneurs, but the engineers and scientists and instructors making the entrepreneurs visions possible.  I suppose people like that do the intellectual grunt work that make modern society possible.  Yet most people will never hear of them, much like no one hears of individual master carpenters or plumbers.

Rant About Jobs and Finding Meaning

I would welcome a cure to my schizophrenia but I have had bad enough experiences with work place environments that I never want to hold another job again.  I used to vomit from anxiety probably 50 percent of the time when I went into work customer service jobs.  The only job I didn’t do this was my janitor job.  But then, I didn’t work around crowds and I had to see my boss only once a day.  Yet, good luck finding a job that doesn’t involve working with crowds or office politics nonsense even with a college degree.

I would be completely content to be where I had to be around the same group of people day after day and only rarely interact with others outside my work team.  Almost no jobs like that exist anymore.  A significant number of jobs will likely be taken over by machines within the next ten to fifteen years. I have tried to tell people this for several years now.  But almost no one listens or if they do they tell me I am a liar.  The future is coming my friends.  These jobs, at least the ones we fight over now, will be going away.  And there isn’t anything even populist politicians or professional Luddites can do to stop it.  Sure, they can delay the inevitable.  But it will only put their individual businesses and nations at a competitive disadvantage and make the transition to a largely automated economy a lot tougher than it has to be.

Some people think I’m crazy or hopeless dreamer or a liar when I tell them this.  I am not stupid.  I am just ahead of the curve.  And being forced out of the workforce because of my schizophrenia meant that I was forced to find a different way to define myself than what I did for money.  But, in many ways, I am thankful I was forced to redefine myself at age 25 as opposed to age 45 with a family and a mortgage.  I went through my identity crisis when I was still young, flexible, and physically healthy.  It would be much tougher now that I’m 39 years old if I got laid off from a job because a machine can do it faster and more precise than I ever could.  The future is happening.  It just isn’t evenly distributed.  Changes are coming hard and fast in the next ten to twenty years, even more so than they are now.  It is time to stop denying it and adapt.

Worries About My Friends and Our Near Term Future

I worry sometimes.  Namely I worry about my friends and people younger than I am in general.  I worry about most of my friends struggling in life.  Most of my friends are buried in debts, mostly student loans, that they will be lucky if they ever pay off.  And most of my friends weren’t that dumb with their money or life decisions.  Most of my friends went to college because 1) we were told that was a path to a decent career and 2) we looked around and saw that there were no jobs that paid decently requiring only a high school degree.  Long gone are the days when someone could get a job as a factory hand or farm worker in their early twenties and hold onto that job for over forty years and retire with a paid off home, pension, and health insurance.

I’m seeing my friends struggle in their day to day lives.  Most are working a full time job and a part time job or a side gig.  Almost none of them own houses.  The only one of my close friends who owns a house is a high school teacher in a small town.  And he didn’t buy his house until he was in his late 30s.  They don’t own houses simply because they can’t afford a house and student debts.  I also have friends who have had medical emergencies.  One friend had to file for bankruptcy for medical bills.  One friend is fighting cancer, divorced, lost her children, and is still on the waiting list for disability.  Another friend of mine got a master’s degree only to find the best job she could get in a mid sized city doesn’t pay even 40 grand a year.  Her husband also works a low paying job and moonlights as an Uber driver.  He too has lots of student debt.

Now I know some unsympathetic people will be thinking, “well, that’s what they get for not majoring in STEM or going to the military.”  Well, one of my brother’s best friends pulled straight 4.0 all the way through high school and college and still got rejected for a state medical school at least three times before he was accepted.  As far as I know, he now has a decent career working in a medical lab.  Another of my brother’s friends didn’t finish medical school and residencies until he was in his thirties because of finances and run around from the schools.  Now he works as an emergency search and rescue doctor.  One of my cousins went to trade school for two years to become an electrician.  He worked for a couple railroads, got married, has four kids, and owns a small acreage in rural Nebraska.  But, he is now essentially self employed due to the inconsistent nature of railroad employment and his wife has had medical problems to where I think she had to give up her job as a nurse’s aide.  Another cousin works in web development.  Even though he has had to work for several different firms and sometimes take free lance work, he is doing alright because he has skills that are in demand.  At least for the time being.

Can we really expect most people to become doctors, nurses, webpage designers, computer coders, engineers, tradesmen, etc?  Yet that is all I hear out of “experts” and “business leaders.”  While I think it admirable that people like Mike Rowe want to encourage more people to consider the trades like plumbing, electrician, welding, carpentry, etc, I fear that too much emphasis on the trades will eventually lead the same problem that people who majored in business, law, humanities, liberal arts, etc. are facing now.  Twenty years ago, we were told to go to college and get a degree.  Many of us did only to find that every kid in the developed world was given that advice.  Now the degree doesn’t go nearly as far as it did even forty years ago, primarily because of so many people having degrees.  Then the kids were told “get a masters” or “do unpaid internships”.  Many did only to find that they had six figures in student loans to qualify for jobs that will never pay enough to pay off the loans, let alone pay off a house or even start a family in some cases.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if young people or my friends are angry about this setup.  Because while some jobs have been outsourced to cheaper places, many more were taken over by automation.  I have a friend who works in a call center for a bank.  I fear it’s only a matter of time before his job gets automated.  And, of course, no one in power cares about the twenty and thirty somethings struggling.  They didn’t even care about the  forty something auto or steel workers who lost their jobs to machines and outsourcing.

And it’s no longer just the US or Europe that is outsourcing and automating jobs.  Even China is automating and outsourcing.  Just a few weeks ago I bought some shirts online that were made in a small African country I had to look up on a map.  The US and Europe are just further along in this transition to a highly automated economy.

And of course, the US doesn’t have very good social safety nets or any empathy for those who lost their jobs or are struggling to make ends meet.  My elders like to brag about how well America is doing, how well we take care of our own, and how we are a great Christian nation.  If we cared about our own, than we wouldn’t be having an opioid crisis, mass shootings every day, increasing rates of mental illness, increased suicide rates (especially among middle aged men), and protests in every major city on a daily basis.  For our boasting about being such a Christian nation, we certainly don’t care about those who are misfortunate and had a rough go. Such hypocrisy.

I have no idea how many times I was told “get a job you bum”, “man up”, or “McDonalds and Wal Mart are hiring”.  I, and millions of people in my age bracket and lower did everything we were told.  We still struggle.  And we don’t have any empathy from anyone, not our rulers, not our businesses, not our parents, not our schools, not our churches, and not even from each other.

Unionizing is not an option like it was a hundred years ago because most jobs can or will be outsourced or taken over by machines.  Sure we are on the road to an automated economy where most of the grunt work is done by machines and computers.  But, what is the point if 1) we don’t ditch this idea that everyone has to be defined by what they do for money, 2) most people can’t afford anything beyond the basics because most jobs are done by machines, 3) we have few social safety nets to make up for the fact that most people aren’t able to work in fields that can’t be easily automated.

We may need some things like universal health care, universal basic income, free continuing education, complete overhauls of tax systems, and a general overall shift in public attitudes towards work and compassion for others.  But I don’t see this happening anytime soon, at least not in the US.  I don’t think it will happen in the US in my lifetime simply because most of my countrymen don’t have empathy. Our leaders certainly don’t.

I do believe if our species can survive this transition, which is probably the greatest transition since people settled down and started farming instead of hunting, fishing, and gathering thousands of years ago, our descendants can have a really cool future where creativity and science can bloom.  But, I fear the transition will be a lot tougher than it has to be simply because of many people’s attitudes towards work and their fellow man.  I fear we will lose a few generations and much of their gifts in this transition.  But I guess we as a species lost short term to ultimately be better off when the Industrial Revolution began back in the late 1700s.  I do have great hope for the long term outlook for civilization and our species, but I fear it will be brutal getting there.  And the fact that I won’t live long enough to see the fruits of the seeds being planted today fills me with great sadness.

Graduations, Reunions, and Life Choices

Got my lease renewed for this year.  So I don’t have that hanging anymore.  Also got a few new shirts in the mail from my dad this morning.  Thanks Dad.  I appreciate it.  Ever since I went more minimalist than most people a few years ago I have less of everything, including clothing.  This means I wear what I do have more often and have to do laundry often.  Maybe I should pick up some more clothing just so I don’t have to do washing and replacing clothing more often.  Unfortunately clothing wears out if you wash it a lot and wear it quite often.  I found this out through my own experiences.

Been going outside more often lately even with it being a damper and colder than usual spring.  I still don’t drive much except when necessary.  I fire up my car at least every few days just to make sure everything is in proper order.  Even though I no longer take road trips like I did even a few years ago, it is good to know I could if I had to.

I might be making a couple trips this summer.  I have a family reunion in Colorado at the end of June I might be going to.  And my twenty year class reunion is the first weekend in July.  I’m still undecided if I’m going.  Sadly, many of the people I spent the bulk of my time with in high school live far away and probably aren’t the types to go to reunions anyway.  Some days it’s hard to believe I’ve been out of high school for twenty years.  Other days, especially when I’m in the grips of mental illness, it feels like someone else’s life.  An incredible amount has changed since I graduated high school in 1999.

I occasionally break out my high school annuals and photographs of high school and college friends.  I remember when we graduated high school, one of the speakers said something to the effect that we wouldn’t truly appreciate the power and beauty of youth until we were older.  So true.  I guess the biggest thing I miss about high school and college is how easy it was to socialize and make friends in those environments.  I was a geeky kid I admit.  I would have been the stereotypical nerd in high school and college except that I had a lot of physical strength (but no coordination).  I was on the football and track teams in high school and did intramural softball in college.  I probably couldn’t have done any other sports as a kid.  I wasn’t fast enough for soccer or coordinated enough for baseball or basketball or quick enough for wrestling.

Another thing about school and college I miss is the academics.  Even though I never got straight A’s in any level of school, I still did pretty decent in classes.  I did well enough grade wise and test wise to qualify for some really good scholarships.  I am so, so glad I graduated college debt free.  I couldn’t manage on a disability pension while paying off loans.  It was tough giving up on the MBA program once I lost my graduate assistant job.  But I wasn’t going to continue on in school if I had no way to pay for it outright.  Debt scared me then and it still scares me even though I haven’t had debts for years.  I don’t know if I even have a credit score anymore simply because I don’t borrow money.

My eldest nephew recently graduated middle school.  He will be starting high school at a large suburban public school this autumn.  So he may be going to college in four years.  I don’t really have any advice for the youngsters except remain flexible and open to new experiences.  We have no idea what jobs will be around in even ten years.  Many jobs could be eliminated due to automation and artificial intelligence.  Of course, many new jobs could be coming too.  I can’t in good faith advise any kid on what career path to take.

I won’t even tell them to ‘follow your heart.’  I saw too many people take that advice and end up with degrees that have few job prospects, at least right now. Yet, I remember an interview Mark Cuban gave on a business news show a couple years ago and he said to the effect that if machines keep taking over jobs, then people with humanities and liberal arts degrees might be in demand more than even business and technical fields within ten years.  Wouldn’t that be ironic; for years kids were discouraged from being arts and humanities students for fear they’d be able to do nothing but make coffee and work fast food.  Soon we may say the same thing about accounting, business, and delivery drivers.

In short, we don’t know what will be available.  In fact, the youngsters coming through the ranks may have to retrain every few years for new job skills.  The tech and science isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.  It is actually getting faster.  We could be going into a really cool future but it could be a rugged journey to get there.  The next generation or two could be quite rough as we navigate the biggest change to civilization since Industrialization got going in the lat 1700s and early 1800s.  I hope we are up to the challenges.