Monday, June 30, 2014

When is the right time to use it?

An interesting thing happened in my blogosphere, at the beginning of this month. My friend, Steph, wrote a guest post for my friend, Vanessa. Both of these ladies are entrepreneurs and full time bloggers. Both of them have left Corporate America to pursue their art. Both of them have encountered struggles and have a lot of advice to give to anyone who might take the same path.

In the guest post in question, Steph admitted to accepting government aid while she transitions from corporate employment to full-time self-employment. I found the commentary shocking and judgmental and just generally shitty. Some of Van's readers completely insulted Steph for admitting to government aid, and said some really ignorant things. I got pissed and retaliated with nasty words, some of which Van has deleted (which I encouraged her to do, to protect the tone of conversation she prefers). But I also wrote a longer, less nasty comment as well.

The thing is, the amount that Americans spend on welfare programs is tiny compared to the cost of, say, bailing out corporations, but here were random people claiming that they didn't want to have to pay extra to support Steph when she could just have a job. I found it all pretty disgusting, considering that no one pays anything more just because someone accepts government aid, and the average American (at a $50,000 salary) pays about a dime a day toward ALL welfare programs.

But what I really thought about after reading those comments, and then talking about them with friends and family, is this idea that anyone with a job should stay in that job, no matter what. That the only reason for ever accepting government money is because...I don't know, if you suffered in some tragic way, dismemberment, death, catastrophe. Certainly, I feel that government support is there for that reason. But to me, this idea that an artist, attempting to pursue her dreams, should force herself to stay in a full-time job that leaves little to no time for making art, just because that's a legitimate pay check is...well, stupid. I mean, I haven't ever actually paid taxes beyond sales tax. (I never make enough to do so.) I've also never taken any government help. (Waited for three hours once, and then left.) I've done plenty to get by, not the least of which is living with my mom and also selling plasma, working for a day labor company, selling things I own, etc. But if I did pay taxes, I'd be more than happy to see more than a dime a day go to an artist who has the balls to pursue her dreams.

The other thing that bugged me about the comments was that no one bothered to validate Steph's other thoughts, or even pay attention to her admitting that this was something she was doing during a transition. I mean, she legit wrote, "You don't have to use it forever," and if any of the judgers took a half second to go to her blog, they could see just how much work she is putting into her business venture. I guess I thought the purpose of guest posts is to introduce readers to new blogs that might interest them, right? So stopping at one section, getting all judgy, and never going further seems really stubbornly ignorant. Why take a look at the whole picture when you can just be a bigot with a narrow view?

The thing is, Americans work more than anyone else in the developed world. Furthermore, Americans are suffering from wages that don't keep pace with inflation and lower employment rates and fewer jobs despite an economy that is on the rebound. Americans are overstressed and will work extra hours without pay. Americans are notorious for staying at work and not using vacation days while other developed nations have laws in place that force employees to take time off. But the comments on that guest post would encourage Steph (or any artist) to remain unhappy, overworked, underpaid (compounded by the fact that Steph, as a woman, would make less than her male counterparts), and not pursue her art because... You know, because Americans are so stingy with their money and don't actually want to help anyone out, unless that person is in dire straights.

It was all so ridiculous to me. And it was hurtful to a very good friend of mine. So color me pissed. But I'd like to know your thoughts. However, if anyone wants to become a judgy bigot, I won't hesitate to delete those comments. Nevertheless, I know I have a lot of intelligent, discerning friends who are also artists who read my blog. So I'd love to know your thoughts, maybe as a working artist... Has anyone who reads this blog ever accepted government aid and why? Do you think that attempting to transition from a stable paycheck with Corporate America to self-employment by utilizing government aid is inherently wrong? If so, why? Let me know your thoughts, but keep it respectful. I will not hesitate to delete comments and probably call you some names in the process!


  1. I am the Steph that Fenn mentioned in this post, and I would like to add a few more factors. This is the last time I will mention anything about this subject on the internet and I won't be back to read replies, but I wanted to provide more information for those of you who don't read my blog and don't have the time or motivation to click over. These are things that you should already know if you know me.

    1) I wanted to leave my job even before deciding to start my own business or getting pregnant. Even though I liked a lot of things about it, I was getting burnt out working nearly 60 hours per week on my feet with little-to-no breaks. I started applying for other full-time, "real" jobs as one would say back in November but never got an interview even though I have a bachelors degree and many years of work experience. The unemployment rate in LA is still at 9.5% and there are at least three unemployed people applying for every job opening.

    2) In January I decided to leave my job in March, and in February I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant. This was the "icing on the cake" so to speak because even if I had decided to stay where I was, there was no way I could go back after maternity leave and work 11-hour days with a child at home. I would have pretty much just been working to pay for daycare. This is when I started to understand why a lot of women leave their jobs and become stay-at-home moms while depending on their spouse's income. I'm not married, but I do have a live-in boyfriend. Even so, I did not feel comfortable completely depending on him for everything, so I applied for government aid. Also, I was not able to be on his health insurance anyway because we are not married or, at least not legally, "domestic partners". I really had no other choice (unless you think I shouldn't have health insurance, which is now illegal and also would be really risky while pregnant -- or if you think I should go to the justice of the peace just to be on my boyfriend's health insurance, which doesn't sound like a fun wedding to me).

    3) I officially left at the end of March after saving three months' worth of basic needs (rent, utilities, etc). Keep in mind that in 2013 California was the 6th most expensive state in the US (after Hawaii, Alaska, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey). I also have student loans, car payments, etc. (I really shouldn't have to explain all this, but after the recent backlash it seems necessary.) During these first three months, I unexpectedly had to buy a new laptop and unexpectedly received a ticket (having to do with LA's smog check laws). This caused my savings to drop significantly.

    4) Since leaving the corporate world, I have applied for numerous side gigs and part-time jobs (at least 30) to supplement my income and (besides one very small writing job) I have not received anything significant.

    So, as you can see, accepting help is not something I want to do but something I need to do. My point in the original post that Fenn referenced was that, if you feel that you need help, ASK FOR IT! Don't be stubborn and ashamed because it's not worth it to be homeless or starve. It is because of people like those nasty commenters that we feel so wrong for asking for help in life. It is something that, as a fiercely independent woman, I have had to grow accustomed to. But we all deserve help and we need to help each other. That's what life is about, to me.

  2. I left out your pregnancy and everything else because I think it is incidental to the point. Pregnancy becomes a medical condition which makes everything more complicated. Excluding that makes it more general and opens the discussion to everyone instead of focusing on you. I'm more interested in this idea that EVERYONE should forgo their passions to maintain a paycheck earned for some idea of "right".

  3. I don't think I have much to add to this discussion.

    I don't care who is living on "government cheese" and who isn't. I know several artists who did what Steph did. To varying degrees of success.

    I wish that society had robots doing all the menial tasks, allowing people to be free to THINK, dream, create, discover spirituality... generally any "higher level" pursuit.

    Though, if that were true, it may be that people would spend their time drinking, getting fat and watching television. Who knows?

    I pay taxes and would rather the majority go to "helping people" than some of the nonsense it's currently spent on.

    Congrats to Steph on achieving a certain level of success.

    Good for her and here's to hoping there's more!


  4. This is a great discussion.

    I disagree with one or two things, Fenn: (1) Americans are a very generous people, despite all their bickering- which is okay, by the way, because that is the beauty of living in a free country with freedom of speech- and religion- for the time being as certain groups seek to censor certain groups, but this is besides the point. Look at 9/11 and any time there is a natural disaster: Americans are donating items and money. The second thing I disagree with is this statement: "You know, because Americans are so stingy with their money and don't actually want to help anyone out, unless that person is in dire straights." Although, I must say: what is wrong with not wanting to help people out until they are in dire straights? I don't think people should "expect" people to help them out. This is where people begin to make bad decisions when they expect things or think they are entitled to something. Keep in mind that while I do say these things, I also generally help people out and have given money to people without expecting anything in return, except that they stop putting themselves into positions where they need to keep asking me for money. I believe in serving the community and helping people get back on their feet so they can take care of themselves.

    Stephanie is a completely different story, and she isn't one of those people who would take advantage of the system. That is all I'll say about that. And I think she is a great writer and is courageous for doing what she's doing.

    I do have an issue with those who live off government assistance forever though. I'm not going to lie and pretend I'm not one of those people. Because I am. It comes from being raised by a family who overcame so much having so little with no help or government assistance. Their big risk in life, that I'm sure people doubted, was leaving their poor country and coming to America.

    On another note, I don't think anything is wrong with settling with a job or keeping a job because it puts food on the table. I think we should be mindful of cultural and social roles and expectations as well: certain generations and people from certain cultures don't feel the same way the newer, younger generation of Americans feel about "work" and "responsibilities". I'll use my parents for example: never in their wildest dreams would they have thought of pursuing some other alternate form of income- any one of those get-rich business schemes, for instance- at the risk of their family/children suffering. To them and others from their generation, life was difficult, tough, and disappointing at times- maybe not all the time in their eyes- and I'm sure they saw past momentary or even lengthy moments of unhappiness or misfortune. What I'm trying to say is, while we shouldn't judge those who give up everything to pursue their dreams, settling for a good paying job, or just a job, to meet one's responsibilities of being a good parent or spouse or what-not, is not necessarily a bad thing either. I don't think you were trying to say that it is, but I am just offering up another perspective for those people who don't pursue either "fleeting dreams" or dreams that were really important to them at some point.

    And now I'm rambling, so I'll stop. Great topic and debate though!

    Jess L

    1. I have been pondering this since you wrote it, and I couldn't really formulate much thought beyond completely disagreeing with everything. I think you missed the point with my "stingy American" comment, but then you supported it in your own paragraph. I think the very idea of people living off government assistance forever is a myth...I mean, I know it's actually a myth. It speaks to a lack of understanding of the process. I almost agree with your last paragraph. However, I'm really glad that you came and offered your perspective. I found it surprising, but the more I thought about it, given what I know about you, it's not really surprising. And anyway, we don't have to agree on everything!

  5. Very interesting topic for discussion. Usually, I don't get involved in anything that could potentially turn into an internet debate, but I like your blog, you're wordy and you like geocaching, so you seem like someone I'd get on with in real life. Anyway. There were things I agreed with, and things I disagreed with.

    I'll start with what I disagreed with, since I'm negative like that. I don't think 'stingy' is a truly accurate description of Americans. The USA was 5th on the World Giving Index for 2012. and is 1st on the current. I think a better word would be discerning... and in this day and age, it is necessary to be that way. For instance.. what if the welfare *did* go to someone who didn't actually want to be a working artist? And *then* your friend applied...and got denied? When it comes to free assistance, we have to be discerning to make sure it goes to the people who will use it and then pay it forward.

    That being said, as far as I am concerned, government assistance should be used for people in transition. (Note: I'm talking about welfare, not disability.) A recently unemployed teacher looking for a career change, a single parent who has to take a break to take care of a child, a new citizen trying to land on their feet.... or an artist struggling to make it. Short term, transitional help! Because, guess what? She is creating a job. Instead of settling for a job she'd hate, she is leaving it to someone who wants it and making her own. And I, for one, do not think that anyone is in a position to say that America doesn't need people trying to make their own jobs. Who knows? If a bit of our tax money goes to help her start, say, a small web design company, or a painting studio, she might someday need to hire an accountant. Or a P.A. Or whatever. And then, she'll have created two jobs. We'll have two more people paying tax money, and maybe that money will help two more people create even more jobs. It's a risk, sure. And she shouldn't get to use it for too long. But I'd say it's an even bigger risk NOT to support the people who want to take what they can do and create a living out of it.

    1. I definitely don't think Americans are discerning. I think they are stingy and selfish and that there is a cultural construct to be extremely greedy and judgmental with money. So we give a ton on the World Giving Index, but how is that broken down? (I literally don't know what it is yet, so I'm going to speculate.) I would venture to guess that it's the one percent who help top this list...celebrities and the like. It's not the Average Joe, getting by in the middle. That's my thought based on my own experience of my culture. Americans want, want, want...everything for as free as possible. That is endemic in our culture. We want higher wages (either because of some political pipe dream or actual greed) but we don't want to have to pay for what those higher wages cost. We want governmental programs as long as we don't have to pay for them. We're extremely obtuse, bitching about welfare, underpaying teachers while treating public school as an extremely free day care. We're fucked up and greedy and totally fucking stingy. We bitch about welfare programs without having any idea where our money really goes. We bitch that a Rubbermaid plant closed down, costing us jobs, but continue to shop at Walmart, the company responsible for the closed plant...because we're completely ignorant and full of wants. And we definitely cannot separate want from need.

      But I agree with what you said about Steph, and I think you raised a very good point : She could become successful enough to begin creating jobs. That could actually totally happen. It happens repeatedly in American history. Whose to say she isn't the next Carnegie or whomever? That's a really excellent point.

      Please forgive my rant. I sort of got on my soapbox and didn't keep it as short as I should've.

  6. I was worried some readers might have taken offense to that and felt bad not asking Steph to remove it first after the fact but thought it would be ruder to censor her. At least we got some honest opinions out of the situation. I had the same feeling, it's odd no one complains about the huge corporate bail outs and instead rave forever about the little people taking a tiny pittance of the pot to make it. I used to pay out the ass in taxes...never cared if it went to people on welfare. There were bigger fish to fry. Besides, we've been working full time and paying in, why can't we take some of our "money back" in a sense? :P blah to it. I shall continue to scare conservatives I've attracted to my blog from it's former "Thrifting" days with future posts for sure.

    1. I don't think it's your fault how your audience reacted, and I'm glad you didn't censor her. I mean, I'm always ready for a fight. But it is sad how it affected Steph and really sad that those people will remain willfully ignorant. But I'm actually really glad this topic came about, because I was raised very much with judging those on government help and have even chastised my friends who take unemployment. But you know, one of my very favorite baby sitters was on welfare (and since then, I've known many more people on welfare or disability) and she enlightened me to the trap of the situation. The government provides enough to live, just barely, but taking ANY job at all will reduce welfare to the point of not being able to live. And in that way, it can be a trap. The idea is always for it to be temporary, but there aren't always enough resources to assist people in leaving government paychecks behind. But what's funny is what government employees make. Unskilled laborers starting at double minimum wage. I mean, it's all fucked as far as I'm concerned.

  7. I feel that the morality of deciding who is "worthy" is often the problem in our society. It is not up to us, as US citizens, to decide that one person's life is more worthy of help than another's. Either we help all people (and in the case of welfare, there are of course salary (or lack thereof) requirements to qualify) or we help none. I often prefer to not think in such black and white ways, but when it comes to people who are literally starving to death and etc....I would disgust myself by complaining about where my tax dollars go. If I don't like how my tax dollars are distributed, then I should work to change that. The "price" of being a US citizen is paying taxes. So yes, I may disagree with how much money is being funneled into X program, but again, that's not the point. That's not how this government works (I pay my taxes or I deal with the IRS and perhaps serve jail time). And again, if it bothers me that people receive aid (but why would it?) well, I should start contacting my elected officials and/or become one myself. I agree with Steph, the help is there to indeed provide help, and if you need help, do ask for it!

    1. I really love the point you raised : We have a voice. So if you had a problem with the use of your tax money, then you could write a letter or do any number of things in an attempt to affect change. And it does work, even if I refuse to believe it does. So yes, we have rights to do things.

      It's hard to agree with the sentiment that we don't determine who is worthy, that government help is for everyone...because we live in an extremely judgmental culture and so letting go of that judgment takes a lot of work.

      Very good points!