THE BLOG
09/21/2010 04:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cats, Ketchup Sandwiches And The Wisdom of Those Who Don't Understand

First about my present economic situation.

There are some things that make me want to crawl into my comfy bed and not come out again. A negative balance in my bank account is one of them. Does it help to think that the reason why I currently have less than zero dollars is that my cats have become inconveniently ill and pubescent? It should, but it doesn't. I suppose the idea of saving the life of an ostensibly helpless creature should inspire a modicum of modest pride and even more joyous relief, and of course to some extent, it does. As corny as it sounds, I love my kitties, and although I know they mostly admire me for my food dispensing skills, our companionship is an important part of my life. But eating is also an important part of my life, and the prospect of going back to the aforementioned Ramen and canned beans is more demoralizing at this point in life than I expected. I understand that many people have it worse than me, and I am grateful that it's not worse; so many face the horrifying reality of sacrificing everything to save a loved one, losing not only money but peace of mind as well. Besides, I do have something to eat, even if I have to
resort to ketchup sandwiches. But I think that I share the same feelings that so many others have when standing in the space between two things that are necessary, often in the mortal sense, and realizing that only one of those things can be had. It is an overwhelming sense of injustice that anyone should have to make that decision in the first place.

All of this depressing and, let's face it, self indulgent introspection led me to a very important question: What if sh*# happens? What if no matter what you do, things aren't going to fall into place? In this time when my husband and I have not gotten much out of our degrees, I have been blessed (cursed) with advice and general commentary on a broad spectrum ranging from useful encouragement to cringe-inducing insipidity. An example of the range of things, with a brief explanation of my rankings to follow:

"Don't give up! Everything works itself out." -- Encouraging if overly optimistic.
"You always have your family for support." - Nothing truer.
"You should eat PB&J." - Already done.
"You should go back to school." - As if.
"You should get a job in another country." - Absolutely, and get the thousands of dollars to
move from the money tree in the yard that I don't have?
"You should join the Peace Corps/Americorps/some other charitable organization that helps pay your student loans." - Would love to, but can't even afford to be socially conscious.
"You should start your own small newspaper/printing company/editing firm." - People seem to
have a really unrealistic view of being able to get loans when you are already broke and have lousy credit.
"You should freelance!" - Already trying, and the market is saturated.
"It's already been a month! You haven't been trying hard enough." - I wish I could afford to be
lazy.
"You should wash windows/shovel snow/cut grass." - Excellent suggestion if people weren't so
freaked out by weirdos begging for jobs, or if even THAT market weren't already saturated.
"You should join the military." - Huh? I'll just leave that as it is.

A few of these are excellent ideas; my husband and I would love nothing more than to be able to join the Peace Corps and live abroad helping people, and we certainly love PB&J. These good suggestions call to mind an article I read on paying off big debts, with some sound advice: buckle down and throw everything you've got at the small debts first and work your way up. This is actually our plan, and I'm glad to see someone touting it. However, some of these other ideas make me realize that while some may call those of us in the liberal arts out of touch, it might be they who need to call on the power of memory or just change their perception a bit. Because here's the reality: doing something new is much harder than saying it. A new job that's in your field is itself a massive change, and people are suggesting that I start my own press? You might think I'm being a bit pessimistic, and that I just need a little belief in myself to get something off the ground. But really, that's not the problem--I believe in myself, but I know better that it really is that simple. People don't seem to realize that whatever job they suggest, IT'S ALREADY TAKEN. And there are 50 people on a waiting list when the position of window washer or lawn mower opens up.

Those who haven't been poor for a while would do well to remember that it takes more than a month to get back on your feet after a huge economic setback, and it will take more than washing windows to do it. Most people in my position are not averse to any sort of work they can do to make ends meet, but in this arena, there are one million gladiators too many.