I knew that my company was struggling to meet financial targets, and actually asked my manager if redundancies could happen. He didn’t believe it at the time, and acknowledged my perception when we got the word that it would happen, after all. When we were told I got the strangest feeling. Having just started 9 months before, and having failed to gain the approval of the clique of older women (long term employees) who told people how things were to be in the business, I felt there was a good chance I would not survive the cull in early August. Where the other testers whose jobs were at risk were metaphorically kneeling on the cliff edge pleading or stoically waiting for the push, I found myself looking over the edge, wondering where to jump to.
I really did not want to go back to my original job, that I had left for much better pay and opportunities. I thought I’d try my hand at contracting. I really liked the idea of doing my job, which I enjoy, in a variety of environments where I wouldn’t stay long enough to suffer the effects of office politics, and getting paid really well so I could have the time after each job to enjoy my life and explore new interests, like training to be a clown, and writing. I discussed this plan with the people who I have regularly financially supported in the past – none of them legal dependants. I needed to know that if I took the option of a non-guaranteed income that they could survive without my help. The Ruski bravely declared he could handle it. The Girlie already owed me a lot of rent, from when I had a job, and was on her last warning, but it seemed she had her act together. The one overseas brushed it off, and my daughter went pale but assented. I believed I had all their understanding and support, so I signed up to a few agencies looking exclusively for contract work. They warned me the market was flat, but I am not risk adverse, and I can survive like a cockroach, so I buckled down for a wait.
First thing we did for damage control was add another flatmate, making four, including me, and we divided up the household expenses evenly (I had been paying for most of them). Moving him in involved clearing out the spare room, which I had also been paying for, of all my stored junk. We do not have a lot of storage space in our flat, so I have given away / thrown away / sold a whole lot of stuff I really no longer need, but have been keeping “just in case”. I learnt this trait from my parents, who scrimped and saved themselves up from blue collar to comfortable middle class. They like stuff, and give gifts of stuff, and protect their stuff, and put it on display. To me, a lot of my stuff is just junk, and useless, and collects dust. It’s funny how such stuff accumulates in our lives. Like emotional baggage we just keep carrying it around and not dealing with it. It’s not as though we even care for it, and it weighs us down, making an anchor we can’t walk away from, and we have to live in a house just to put a roof over it. I considered the possibility of living in a van, like some of my circus friends. It has appeal. I am low maintenance, and happy in small accommodations, and by myself. If I didn’t get a contract, perhaps I would do that, and roam around NZ teaching acrobatics and other stuff, and bringing circus to places that had limited options.
We had a long term couchsurfer at the time, who was actually a pain in the arse, but had offered to pay a bit towards his costs and space, so bought himself some grace. Then three weeks later a previous flatmate came back to NZ and shacked up with the Girlie, the girl he left behind, making five and a half flat occupants. We discussed it – he had some time to sort himself out, and would contribute to the expenses when the surfer left, after a month, at the end of September.
I actually had very little time at first: not knowing when I would be employed again, I had a heap of costumes to make for shows and games, stuff to sort out, job applications to write and casual “until I get a contract” job options to consider. I loved doing jobs for my friends – it was good to be able to give them the time I had not had before, and they really helped me in return. I signed up for all sorts of things, and got odd jobs around the place to supplement my rapidly depleting funds, but never enough to cover my weekly expenses. One of the biggest expenses was my insurance: I had only just got it sorted while I was working, and after all that paperwork I would be damned before I gave up on it. I couldn’t expect it with contracts, either, so if I wanted it, I had to keep it going. It’s a big question, though. Do I really want it? “I bet that I will die, or my kids or I will suffer a debilitating injury or illness within my working lifetime”. Given my lifestyle I think it’s a pretty safe bet, actually.
I think it was about the end of September when I bit the bullet and got an accommodation supplement from the government. I did not get the unemployment benefit – I did not want them on my case, telling me to take any job they pushed at me. I had started thinking I should just get a nice part-time admin job, where I got enough cash to survive and time to do my own thing. I was really enjoying the time to myself, and I really don’t care about having lots of money. I applied for quite a few, I didn’t get one reply. I can’t help but wonder what people look for in an office temp.
September past quickly, but October was horrible. Our returned flatmate was causing trouble with us and his girlfriend, and when I asked for the agreed expense supplement he got very difficult. He had apparently not used the free month to get himself any form of income. Then he started keeping a record of all the things he ate to show he didn’t consume as much as he was paying for, then it started coming out how much he actually despised me. This was someone who would write to me while he was overseas “hey, old buddy, old pal…” and ask me to lend him money, which I did. Apparently he was just acting as my friend from the point he got the girlfriend – he had been vilifying me to her the whole time – so I would keep supporting him, and when the money dried up so did his act. I was heart-broken. He is gone from my life now. He says he will pay me back, but in the end a bit over $1K is a small price to pay to learn I have a false friend.
The Girlie was also somewhat concerned about whether I was honest with the cash. While I said I had very little income and was running out of funds I would still buy wine for the household and go for curry after my circus class. People who are broke don’t do such things, she said. I don’t think she realised that I also paid for the studio where she learnt to dance with me, and paid for my martial arts lessons. I told her that, as an adult with no dependants, I would spend my money as I pleased, and take the risk that it runs out before I got a job, and live with small moments of non-essential pleasure while I still could. If I didn’t get a job there would be plenty of time for me to be poor, scraping for every cent, maybe worried and miserable, but more likely dumpster diving and busking. I have lived below the breadline before, and I can do it again.
My long-term unemployed daughter applied for a job. This was a wonderful thing for me – I liked to see that she was beginning to take some responsibility for her life. But the Ruski was suffering. Working 50+ hours per week to pay all his regular bills, wondering what to do about the irregular ones, and with another 20 odd hours training and/or performing was taking its toll. He gets sick easily, and has no time to try to change things for himself. I saw a thing on Facebook, about a family of friends https://www.facebook.com/ash.martell1/videos/10206462910045239/ and I thought that this is what the Ruski and I could do: I could bring in the cash, because I can, and then he could live and grow as an artist. When he’s rich and famous I’m going to be his chauffeur and bodyguard. Until then I’m supporting the performing arts of NZ.
About mid-October, with no funds left, I contacted someone I trusted at my old job and started looking for full time work again. I didn’t want to do these things, but I had run out of options. It makes no sense to me that I can’t work part time and make less money if I want. What is wrong with this world, that we have to do 9-5 five days a week, and make money we don’t need or care about? I’d rather have my life. Then the Girlie’s rent was stolen. After discussion we decided that her best option was to return to her mother’s home where she didn’t need to be financially reliable. At least her by now completely obnoxious boyfriend, who had also not been paying what we had negotiated, left with her. That left us down to three flatmates, however – short about the same amount as the weekly food bill. A couple of my friends knew how hard things were getting, and offered to lend me cash, if I needed it. I thanked them, and said I would ask if it came to that. About that time I also applied to be a bouncer at a brothel. I thought a female door staff would be a good thing for such a sensitive industry, but I got no replies from that job, either. I was rejected by jobs I applied to, rejected by potential flatmates, rejected even by a stage show I auditioned for. They would all say “you were great but we went with someone else”. I got tired of hearing that: just say I wasn’t successful. There was a time when there was no wine and we all looked into the abyss…
…and then I got a part time temporary contract at my old company, at contract rates, which works out at more per week than at the upgrade job. Then we got a new flatmate. Then I got offered a full time job and a contract job at the same time. I have decided to take the full time job, since while I love the idea of my liberty, I would rather have the dependable income to help my friend get his life back on track.
Never once did I bounce a payment for any of my financial responsibilities. I worked hard to survive and with the support of my friends I pulled through. Bad things happened, and I had to make hard choices, but I didn’t stop teaching circus and dance, couchsurfing, sharing what I could, supporting my family and friends in return, and I didn’t let anyone down. Life has been good for me, in that way. I discussed this with the Ruski – am I just lucky? He says we make our luck, at least in part from our attitude, and this is what I built for myself. It’s a humbling thought.