Today’s post is brought to you by Kell’s Think Tank. Kell answered the call from the series I was trying to do about the economic downturn…enjoy and if anyone else wants to submit a guest post, email me at blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com

After 10 years in the telecommunications industry, I decided it was high time to shift gears and pursue the career in communications I had always dreamed of. When I shared this dream with colleagues and friends, many of them were aghast and incredulous. “What if you never find your dream job?”, some asked. “Not everyone is lucky enough to have a fulfilling career, so why do you want to risk it?”, a few folks wondered out loud. “Aren’t you afraid that you may fail?” an old acquaintance asked. Not to be outdone, a dear friend of mine finally asked what everyone else was probably thinking: “Are you crazy?”

 WordNet, defines crazy as brainsick: affected with madness or insanity; “a man who had gone mad”. I knew that my decision to leave the telcom industry, apply to graduate school, and pursue a communications job where I can interact with the media, draft and edit press releases, memos, and articles, build brand awareness, and incorporate social media in traditional environments was a bold and courageous move. But, was I cuckoo? Hardly.

 Sure, I decided to pursue my career goals while America lay in the grasp of soaring unemployment, a mortgage meltdown, and a near financial collapse. But, I don’t think I have gone mad, I think I have tapped into a well of courage, tenacity, and mettle that had been dormant for longer than I care to remember. For me, deciding to pursue a career in communications was a no-brainer. I graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Temple University and spent a semester abroad in London, England as a marketing and communications intern at a Top 40 radio station.

I spent the better part of my career in telecom developing and maintaining strategic relationships with customers, writing and editing training materials and procedural documents, and prepared and presented PowerPoint presentations to senior leadership. I chaired monthly brainstorming meetings and managed a $15M annual budget. Telecommunications touches nearly everyone’s lives so what better place to hone my communications skills than a telephone/cell phone/broadband company that consistently ranks in the top 20 of the annual Forbes’ Fortune 500 ranking of America’s largest corporations?

So, armed with a toolbox of transferable communications skills and a wealth of experience, I bid adieu to my telecom tenure and said hello to the next phase of my career. I began my first semester in the Master of Arts in Communication program at The Johns Hopkins University last fall and never looked back. Since then, I have become a blogger, a researcher, and an author of literature reviews on media issues. I have sharpened my critical thinking skills, learned about a variety of research methods, and how to evaluate the work of others.

 As a Johns Hopkins student, I landed an amazing Public Relations internship at an award-winning national newspaper. I drafted and edited press releases and pitched stories to reporters. I supported an amazing team of publicists in developing and implementing special projects and had the opportunity to learn about both internal and external communications being executed in a deadline-driven environment.

 So, while I continue my search for my dream communications job, I continue to do what I have always done quite well: multitask. I enrolled in a Public Relations Writing course where I have weekly writing assignments which will make a great portfolio. I network on LinkedIn and keep my Facebook and Twitter pages up to date because as the saying goes, “Be ready so you don’t have to get ready or people will think you are crazy!”

Stop playing with us

Am I the only one who hears the news reports about the economy and thinks, quit bullshitting us? Seriously, just this weekend, I was hearing how the “experts” think more people will get out and travel this summer…after all gas prices are cheaper. Gee, its jumped like crazy in the past few weeks to a lovely $2.40 a gallon but hey its not $4 a gallon, so therefore its cheap. Yes, gas is cheaper than it was last year but lets be honest its not like gas is 75 cents a gallon or some ridiculous price. I suspect more people will be on the road but maybe its because after months of living close to the bone, they just feel the need to cut loose for a moment before they go insane. Its the type of logic that a dieter uses after weeks of being good and following the diet and they just need to take a day or two off.

Then there is the report I just read a few minutess ago, that consumer confidence is up, folks are starting to shop more. That might be true but I suspect the fact that good weather is here and again folks are cutting loose for a moment, considering that unemployment is still rising and in some states and cities its already in the double digits, I doubt the recession is over.

On the other hand its easy to spin shit and make us think things are getting better. Funny thing is I know very few people who are not feeling the impact of this economy in one way or the other. I was just having lunch with a fellow non-profit consultant who is thinking of looking for a regular gig since her work load has dropped…I know that feeling all too well as the past 6 months has seen all my work dry up and potential new clients can’t afford my rates which are reasonable.

Too many people are struggling, over the weekend the NY Times reported that the newest wave in foreclosures are not folks who got the the sub-prime create a loan with shaky credit but folks who used to have good credit and jobs. Folks who lost a job and realized they couldn’t find a new one that paid at the rate they used to make, folks who have exhausted all their resources and when it came down to putting food in their bellies, and keepsake the phone and lights on (useful things to have when looking for a gig) versus paying the mortgage and starving, they took option A.

After all it takes quite a while to actually be foreclosed on or evicted from your dwelling so you play that mental fuck fuck game thinking your ship is going to come through soon, only it doesn’t and the next thing you know, you are the face of poverty. The new face of poverty or the working class in America is someone who played by the rules…someone who got that degree, figured they work themselves up from the from being a desk jockey in a cubicle to actually getting an office with a door. Only they changed up the rules and there are a whole lot of Americans with fancy degrees who are feeling they were sold a bum deal.

If I sound a tad bitter today its because in some ways this post is about my life and while thankfully as long as I pay the taxes on my house I will always have a place to rest my head, I know for many others that is not the case. Yet at the same time as I think about my rather large student loan debt and those lovely degrees I possess and how they have not translated to financial stability, I get a tad pissed. Truth is my life in many ways was a lot simpler and stabler when I was a simple working person with no degree. See, I could off less without Sallie Mae wanting her money back. I gotta earn more because I have more expenses and even with bankruptcy Miss Mae still gets her money.

No, I get mad these days when I think of how the powers to be have manipulated us in the past (college as a surefire way to economic stability for one) and continue to manipulate us (things are getting better..oh really? For whom?)

So my mood will pass, it always does but lets be aware of how the powers to be and media try to sucker us with their spin…Happy Tuesday!

Bonus…I don’t think so

Its no wonder the US economy is all kinds of fucked up. Whatever happened to the days when good old common sense was in abundance? You went to work, did a good job, the company had a good year and then they rewarded the workers with a share of the goodies. See, that’s the way I am used to thinking of bonuses. Of course having spent most of my professional career in the non-profit sector, bonuses are not something I have experienced too often. At best, I am used to a gift card or gift certificate during the holidays as a thank-you for my hard work.

However common sense clearly does not apply to the jokers on Wall Street and in this case the fools at AIG who not only did a lousy job of running their company but did such a bad job, that the greater US economy felt the pain of their stupidity and these clowns needed some tax payer cash to keep the doors open.

Now for the average man or woman on the street when you hit hard times and need some government help to survive, you have to be in bad shape. That means no hidden stash of cash and other goodies, no valuables, you have to be poor in order to get any help from the various entitlement programs. On the other hand when you are a large corporation and you get government aid, well you can live life as usual and that includes your annual bonus.

This weekend the story broke that AIG plans to pay out a chunk of change to the amazing talent at the corporation who helped fuck up not only AIG but the US economy. It seems these jokers have contracts and if they are not paid well they can sue. So we the American taxpayers are being told we will be sporting the costs for rich guys to stay rich while the rest of us plebians get broker. It seems the masses are finally waking up and most of us including yours truly are none to pleased with that idea.

The thing that is bugging me is that the AIG folks keep telling us they have to do this to retain the top talent at the corporation….um, newsflash, these folks weren’t too talented so tell them that the bonus this year is that they still have jobs. Fuck the bonus you idiots you are still employed and still being paid too much. Look, if these bonuses were going to folks like the janitors and secretaries, truthfully I would be less bothered but to reward rich fuck ups is just wrong.

Anyway no one is listening to me since if I was running the show, I’d tell them not only are you not getting a bonus but keep complaining and I will replace your non-performing ass with some cheaper help. There are millions of unemployed Americans many with skills and talents that could almost certainly do a better job at a cheaper price.

So the bailout saga continues, how much more will we pour into a sinking ship?

Where’s the justice?

Americans by and large tend to really believe the fantasy that with hard work, we can all become millionaires hence why you end up with schmucks like “Joe the Plumber” who is barely earning a middle class salary and behind on his taxes voting against his self-interest because one day he “might” be rich. Yep, vote for the guy you know will screw you because one day you might be rich….but hey its a great dream

We also like to believe the fantasy that things are really fair, only guilty folks really end up in the clink…shit like that. Yet the sad reality is there is not much that is really fair in this land of ours, in fact whether or not you see “justice” might depend on your bank account.

I was just surfing the net and read that it looks like Bernie Madoff, con man extraordinaire may have a plea deal in the works. No details have been released but unless this sucker is sitting in a cell for the rest of his miserable ass life wearing an orange jumpsuit and dodging becoming the newest bitch on the block, I say whatever the deal is it won’t be just in anyway. At least not the type of justice that would be doled out if his name was Bernie Johnson or Bernie Hernandez from the hood.

Nope, with the US economy in shambles we are seeing the justice that is out there and it doesn’t work for regular folks….riddle me this? Say you are collecting unemployment benefits and some other government benefits which of course really don’t pay enough to live off of, so you land a job and decide to keep claiming benefits until you get a few checks from the new gig, you know you are breaking the law. If caught, you will have to pay the gubment back their money and if you get someone on the wrong day, you might be looking at criminal charges.

Yet you can play funny with the accounting, run a company into the ground, assist in fucking up the US economy, then get a bailout to boot….where the fuck is the justice in that? Seems engaging in those activities is far more serious than someone trying to survive and keep food on the table. It would seem that the folks who engaged in the larger crimes deserve a greater punishment than the occasional person who scams the system for the extra check.

Let me be clear, I am not condoning unlawful behavior but poor folks who require assistance seem to deal with greater scrutiny and criticism and it pisses me off. There is no safety net in this country and since many of those 401K’s are worthless, and folks are scrimping to survive, I suspect soon we will see all sorts of little folks doing whatever they can to make ends meet and it will not be pretty.

Just a Friday rant, have a happy weekend!

Frugality and Black Folks

While I write this blog so that anyone regardless of race or ethnicity can read it, I will admit my audience by and large is Black folks and this is one of those times I am writing for that audience.

In these tough economic times it seems everyone is attempting to scale back on some level yet I fear that for many of my fellow Black Americans that should this financial storm get too tough we will come out on the losing side. If we do though I think while there are larger systems that work against us, I fear part of our financial demise will be our own doing because too many of us are caught up in image.

I may live in Maine where there are not too many Black folks but I am not from Maine, so I still have a fair amount of friends and associates that live in large urban hubs like Chicago and New York. Now that I have been out of Chicago for a while and living in Maine, I am stunned at the amount of frivolous spending I used to do and how much many of my friends do all the time having no financial net to catch them in the event of a severe financial calamity.

Yeah, we may have jobs with a 401K  plan that we invest in on the regular though we know how that is going these days, we may also have a few other financial tools we use to invest in as well but have we really looked at how much seemingly small amounts of money we spend daily on so called needs.

I know when I lived in Chicago, I had to have several daily lattes and mocha’s, I had to get my hair done on the regular, shit hair maintenance was in the budget like a utility bill. I ate out several times a week, after work I thought nothing of stopping at so called discounters like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s to buy something on sale, after all I couldn’t be un-stylish. Looking back on my life prior to moving to Maine and even in my earlier years in Maine, I probably spent well over a thousand dollars a month on so called small needs.

When I look back at how much money I blew on so-called needs, it makes me sick yet the one good thing is that years of wasting money on so -called needs and coming into true financial hardship has allowed me to adjust my attitudes on money and as I like to think if I ever have the money I used to, I will be in better shape financially.

That said, too many of us spend yet statistically speaking we make less money and we save less than white folks, shit Black folks are the ultimate consumers but I am sorry to say that needs to end.

I have some folks close to me who spend a lot of money and while I am not trying to say how they should live, the fact is when you eat out a lot rather than cook, sorry but that is wasteful.

Looking at the large Black community as I see so many of our white brothers and sisters learning to be frugal by doing things such as sewing (shit, local shop near me even offers classes to go with the machine if you buy one), gardening and not just for gorgeous flowers, and basically heading towards gaining the skills to be self sufficient. I cannot help but wonder if we meaning Black folks are about to be left in the dust.

Its sort of like the digital divide, more Black folks are online these days but we still lag behind whites online and today as traditional media such as newspapers go the way of the telegraph, you may need a computer and internet just to know what the fuck is going on in the world. Yet once again, you can find us at the club or restaurant looking sharp as hell, but we are falling behind.

I know there are other Black bloggers such as KIT and Original Wombman and others who write about self sufficiency from a Black perspective but too many of us even in the blogosphere are ignoring the reality of what may be to come. I think ya’ll know I don’t think the the world is ending so I am not saying you need to stockpile food but on the other hand how many of us would be ok if suddenly food supplies at the local grocer suddenly dwindled? What if there were limits on what you could buy? How would you do live with that?

Folks, while its fun to look good, have a nice ride and be out there, we must prepare for self sufficiency. I say if you have access to someone who can teach you some basics of self sufficiency, then you need to be all over that like white on rice.  I wish my Granny were alive, she used to sew, crochet and garden. Sadly the only skill my Mom got was sewing and nobody passed these on to me, so I have to teach myself. Next week I am actually joining the local gardening club so I can get some hands on experience with dirt.

Happy Friday! Just a note, I may (or maynot) be silent for a few days in the coming week, its coming up on the 5th anniversary of my Mama’s passing so its an emotional time of year. So just a heads up if I don’t post for a few days.

Get ready….the world is ending or is it?

By now just about everyone in this country is either feeling the impact of the economic downturn or knows someone  who is intimately acquainted with the current financial woes that are gripping the nation. It seems even the rich are starting to scale back, even if its just cutting back on the number of designer duds that buy on a regular basis as evidenced by the fact that in places like New York, even the swank stores are having sales.

Now lets be honest for a second, the past decade or so in this nation, the quest to consume had become not only the national past time but the national religion. Feeling bored, hop in the car and head to the mall….feeling down, well go shop, better yet having a great day, time to shop. You get the picture, for a while there everyone was shopping, shit for some of those years even yours truly listed shopping as a hobby. Well the church of consumption is suffering from a lack of members as folks have realized maybe the central message of shop till you drop is really a bad idea.

That said, as many of us look for ways to downsize our lives and live within our means most of us are looking for meaningful activities, activities that won’t leave our pocketbooks empty and leave us with useless crap.

On the flip side though is the growing number of folks who are wondering if the end times are coming and are starting to get ready. A few months ago I started to stumble across the blogs of folks who were looking to get off the grid and become self sufficient. I admit initially I had a few laughs, after all who would willing give up their wash machine to start start hand-washing the family laundry on a scrub board in the bathtub? Turns out quite a few folks…yep there is a growing number of folks who are getting ready to live a Little House on the Prairie existence.

I must admit there are times I wonder if I should be making such preparations, but while I think everyone should have some extra food on hand and maybe even some cash laying around. After all natural disasters do happen and I have learned in my 7 years in Maine where a winter storm can shut everything down, it pays to be prepared. I do think we can take things too far though.

Case in point, I saw this list of  skills someone suggested everyone should have to prepare for the coming rough times, Soap making.
Wood chopping.
Candle making.
Canning and preserving.
Butchering animals.
Cooking/Baking on a wood stove.
Tanning skins

Now I don’t know about you, but should the world as we know it go to hell in a hand basket ASAP, my ass is going to be shit the fuck out of luck. Both the spousal unit and I are not handy folks, I mean my man is a writer for crying out loud and I am a non-profit administrator, neither of which are professions that might serve us well in a Little House on the Prairie scenario.

Then it hit me should the world end as we know it, there are plenty of urban folks and Black urban dwellers both of which I have been who wouldn’t know the first thing about any of this shit. Even my Pops who grew up in rural Arkansas but has been a big city man almost 40 years now probably wouldn’t know the first thing about butchering any animals. As I joked with the spousal unit, should the end come, then this woman would probably become a stone vegetarian if I had to go kill a animal and then figure out how to turn Bambi into a burger. No, it would be easier to scout out weeds and eat em, of course with the chemicals that have been put on most lawns including my own, I would probably die.

Which brings to the next point, if you are stockpiling a year’s worth of food (yes, I know folks who are doing this) what the fuck happens when the grub is gone. Ideally you would be growing some grub during that time but if you are like me, you might have a black thumb. Or better yet, if the neighbors see you eating hardy, whose to stop them from coming over and ganking your shit?

Nah, while I want to be prepared for the worse I think we can take this too far, look if all systems fail and food is scarce and life reverts to some 1800′s scene, it might be around that time I start praying to get beamed the fuck out of this life and onto the next.

Downsizing and living a simpler life, these are things I am down for but fanstastic end world visions, no….

That said, it is a great time to look into gardening if you have the space or in my case buying into a CSA and eating food grown close to home. For starters fresh local food is better for you and the environment. Really lettuce trucked thousands of miles taste like shit, I know because ever since I started eating locally a few years ago, I hate buying meat and veggies from the chain store and only do it during the winter time since not much grows in Maine during the winter. I may save some of my local veggies this year for the winter but I doubt I will have more than my normal month or so of groceries in my freezers and pantry.

So are you ready for the end of the world?

They don’t know what to do

So I woke up this morning and as usual was listening to NPR and the discussion was focused on President Obama signing this massive stimulus package. On the surface that may sound like a good deal after all, at this point everyone agrees that the economy is in shambles and needs some help like yesterday. Crazy to imagine that just less than a year ago, Americans were running around spending money like kool-aid and now folks is holding what shekels they have left close to their vest.

I don’t know but I am starting to wonder does Obama and his crew really know what’s going on and do they really have some solid answers to attempt to fix this problem. I will admit I don’t know all the specifics about this stimulus deal but what I have heard has me feeling a tad confused about how this is going to solve the problems we face as a nation.

So Jane and Joe Worker will see a few extra bucks in their pay checks, I believe the figure I heard was $8 a week for a single person and $16 a week for a couple….um, how the fuck is that going to stimulate the economy? Some behavior economist I heard this morning was saying that with small amounts like this that the average Joe is going to see unlike the big stimulus check of last year, people are more likely to actually spend these small amounts of money rather than save. Ok, Mister Educated Economy Man, but um….I think you are wrong. Folks are not going to foolishly spend that extra $32 a month on fun shit, sorry but we have tasted the juice of hard times and even a former shopaholic like myself is down with saving. I just don’t think its going to work.

Problem as I see it is, we still want to hold to this model of Americans as consumers and now Americans with any iota of common sense are realizing that spending for the sake of spending is a bad idea.  I know that by and large Americans have short term memory but with credit lines reduced and no more equity to tap from, we are confronted with the reality that American wages have not kept pace with reality for most folks. I’m sorry but now that creditors have come face to face with the fact that the average Joe has no money, I just don’t see that easy credit being extended anymore.

Gone are the days of buying a car with no cash down or only a thousand down. Instead folks will be fixing up their clunkers and we will be like the cats in Cuba driving these rides until they really cannot run any longer. Shit, I just heard a story about how in Westchester County NY, the auto repair places are doing a booming business. Folks cannot afford new cars, who has 20-30G’s just sitting around to buy a car outright? Yeah, I thought so. Nobody.

Look Obama and company, right now all your policies sound like the same shit that has been done before…O-man I like you, you seem like a cool cat and your wife and kids are adorable but where is the change? I know some of us keep saying give you time. Well I hate to tell you but some of us are drowning, we need that same energy and drive that convinced a racist nation to vote you in. Honestly watching you try to be bipartisan is starting to piss me off, guess what? Them republican cats have no intention on working with you, so quit trying because all you are doing is pissing off folks who voted for you.

I don’t know but maybe Obama needs to start reading James Howard Kunstler for ideas on how to really stimulate the economy, whatever he does though it better be quick since states like California and Kansas are facing some rough times.

Its not that serious

This morning as I do most mornings, I fired up the laptop to read the local newspaper online and check my favorite blogs while sipping my morning joe. While sipping a lovely cup of Sumatra, I ran across this story and this one, in the first story it seems a fellow was so distraught over losing his job that he decided life had no meaning, yet rather than just end his own life, he apparently decided he didn’t want to be alone in death and decided to make it a family affair. Generally they call that murder-suicide in polite society.

 

In the second story which is Maine based, a woman who at one point had been an upstanding member of society engaged in good works as director of a group home, decided to take a walk on the dark side. It seems that since leaving her a job a couple years ago, she decided that prostitution seemed like a great way to earn some cash. Turns out she was wrong.

 

Now as I was sipping the coffee and processing both these stories, I started thinking that the common link between both these folks was cash or rather a lack of cash. On the surface neither shared much in common but in these increasing hard times, I suspect we will see more folks who were average joes resorting to doing some dark shit to cope with the changing economic tides.

 

The past decade has seen such a rapid level of growth and greed and so many have bought into the lie that they must have XY and Z to be successful, folks no longer feel okay just having a functional car, it must be a nice car. Simple shelter and simple meals are also no longer acceptable, one must have a 3000 sq ft house decorated with the latest Pottery Barn or whatever is hot in home fashions. A simple meal of beans and rice shared with loved ones is not enough, instead we must be able to eat out.

 

Yet the reality is even in these tough economic times, even the brokest American is still living larger than someone in a third world country…most of what we consider necessities are in fact luxuries. If you are reading this, it means you either own and have access to a computer, most of us have heating and cooling systems, some form of food….do you get my point? Even at the food pantry I went to on behalf of my job, I was struck with how nice the food was, granted I know pantries can vary greatly. But the pantry was giving out organic fruits and veggies!!!! Organic and none of what I brought to the kids was expired or inedible, I would eat it myself or feed it to my own family.

 

The point is that maybe for some of we can use this as a time to get back to basics and as Suze Orman the financial guru says people first….lets focus on what we have and not on what we lost.

As my Pops used to preach when he was active in the minstry, when was the last time you saw a U-haul truck behind a hearst? Seriously, we enter this joint naked and we leave it naked, all that shit we kill ourselves trying to obtain is meaningless in a larger picture. Killing ourselves and whoring ourselves because we lack……really its not that serious.

No money, no cry…

So yesterday, a whole lotta folks went to work in the US only to learn that they were about to join the ranks of all those other folks who in the past year have lost their jobs. Yep,  the good ole American economy shed what, 70,000 gigs in one day and we know more cuts are coming. If you still have a piece of job with a 401K plan, your plan is worth less than it used to be and if you are unlucky, you might work at one of the many companies that is cutting the employer match. On the bright side, you still have a job.

With news like this becoming the norm, why is it any wonder that the consumer confidence level keeps dropping….really? One does not need a Ph.D in economics to know the economy is hitting everyone and now is the time to hold onto whatever piece of change you have. I suspect this summer folks will be opting to take stay-cations rather than vacations…swap homes with friends, camping at the local state park or my personal favorite, no vacation. Seriously, the spousal unit and I have not taken a vacation in years and barring a miracle we won’t be taking one this year.  

Last week, I had to do the food pick-up for my job, since we are small non-profit the local food pantry gives us food for our program. Anyway it was my first time at the food pantry, and I gotta tell you, some of the folks there surprised the shit out of me. Nice middle class looking folks shopping for eats at the pantry, that’s when I knew this shit was getting real, when I saw Volvos parked out front and saw folks with bags getting in them.

No ya’ll we are in a financial crisis so thick that I really don’t know how we are going to save ourselves. Next month, I have to deal with having less money myself as one of the hubby’s clients has reduced their work with him. It seems I won’t need any willpower to forgo that drink from Starbucks since right now having done the budget, I simply won’t be able to afford one more than once a week if I am lucky.

No man, we are all crying the blues but I just want to know where is my bailout?