A friend laid off in Jan. '09 has started her own business and e-mailed me to discuss her money woes during its shaky start.
"I can't afford the gym anymore", she wrote, "let alone the week that Paul and I always took at Arowhon Pines. Those days are gone for good." It occurred to me that she's joined the ranks of blank-collar workers.
Douglas Coupland coined that term, along with others.
If you have not read his A Dictionary of the Near Future, it is here, now.
Blank-collar worker: "Formerly middle-class workers who will never be middle class again and who will never come to terms with that."
What if one did at least begin to come to terms?
That would mean questioning why your coffee and a friend's returns no change from a ten-spot. Means learning to do your nails, change your oil and stain your deck yourself, after decades of outsourcing it to someone who doesn't speak your language.
Means asking your kids why they can't use both sides of a page of computer paper. Wondering why people call you to ask what kind of fax machine you use when you never told them you had one in the first place. Finding MagiCuts kind of expensive.
"How much does this go for?" becomes a question you ask again, and if recently downsized, feel embarrassed about. You don't buy pet treats, pets are a treat. You wonder how the heck you thought two cars were a required minimum.
Since when did personal trainers become "physique managers" you pay a buck a minute for watching you do a situp? Maybe it isn't normal to eat raspberries in February.
I'm lucky to have had a head start. For 25 years, working for ourselves, the two of us have swung between prosperity and peril, parsimony and plenty. That's the freelance way– and if you have half a brain, you prepare for the famine and never, ever feel entitled to the breaks you get when the phone rings.
And yet, this downsizing has its subtle gifts. I look for and prize moments of situational disinhibition, the state he describes as "social contrivances within which one is allowed to become disinhibited, that is, moments of culturally approved disinhibition: when speaking with fortunetellers, to dogs and other pets, to strangers and bartenders in bars, or with Ouija boards."
Perhaps the slide from middle class will disinhibit, eradicating have-a-nice-dayism, conversations about TV shows and recitations of desired cruises. In the last two years, I've had some remarkable, colourful conversations with thrifters, idlers, contract workers and newly self-employed.
I love it when someone gathers herself and speaks her mind, knowing her job no longer rests on toeing the party line.
Adjusting down is no fun, and I am not suggesting she give up her business goals. There are glimmers of work appearing, so she will likely work hard developing a clientele, until her husband reaps his indexed government pension in three years. But those are vanishing too.
Pensions, I mean–but sometimes husbands too, so women are wise to plan their own financial security.