7/21/2008

A Fish Out of Water...

There are times lately when I wonder if I'm drifting into a deep depression. I often find myself feeling anxious and irritable and at times utterly distraught.

I know that much of that comes from the fact that finding work here in Arizona has been one disappointment after another. Despite my various skills the job market here seems to be much worse than back east. Some days I send out as many as 10 or 15 resumes daily and yet I've only gotten one interview and then received a form letter telling me they decided to go with someone else.

Part of it is that the economic divide out here is much more pronounced that back east. Much of that has to do with the fact that the South went through so many years of economic depression after the Civil War that even "rich" families struggled. Here, there has never been that trial by fire. People here come from everywhere else and they bring with them some very interesting ideas about life, people, and work.

I've found that people are more accepting of social difference, but much less accepting of economic disparities.

Just today on the forums at my paranormal group I found many of the people whom I truly like personally being rather snide and uncaring of the economic plights of others. They think that people making minimum wage or barely more than that should just accept their lot and shut up complaining.

I suppose part of the feelings I have come from the fact that my background seems so different from most of the people I know here. In South Carolina, almost everyone I knew came from the same economic background or at least similar. Here, that's not the case at all.

My father was a mill worker. He began working in the mill when he was 16 years old. At the time, unless you were wealthy, there was no chance of going to college, in fact there was little chance of even finishing high school. He worked in the mill until World War II began. He then joined the army and fought overseas until the end of that war, taking part in the Normandy Invasion and every major European battle.

When he mustered out of the service he came back to South Carolina and picked up where he left off. He resumed his job at the mill and worked there until the mid 1980's. During that time he took one sick day. Other than that he never missed a day of work.

A cotton mill in the South was not a pleasant place to be employed. There was no air conditioning and the temperature climbed to well over 100 degrees in summer. In Winter it was cold and drafty. He came home each day covered in cotton residue and sweat.

During that time we lived hand to mouth. My mother had to take a job at a time when most women did not work outside the home. She worked as a clerk in a shoe store making a bit more than minimum wage. Her employer was actually exempt from paying minimum wage because he had only two employees, but he paid more than that because he valued his employees and knew they could not survive making only a few dollars an hour. He lived modestly so that his employees could survive.

Meanwhile, the major corporations shipped more and more work overseas. By the mid 80's the cloth manufacturing business was dead in the United States. Three weeks before my father was eligible for retirement the mill shut down. He was not give any sort of retirement benefits or package. He was just told to shut off the lights on his way out. He was the last man out the door, literally, before they were locked forever. I still have a Christmas ornament made from the last thread spun in that mill.

When I was a kid we didn't have a lot. I lived in a trailer park and all my friends as a small child also lived there. We didn't have any class conflicts because, well, we were all in the same boat. For vacation, if I was lucky I'd get to go to Florida and maybe Disney World for a couple of days but for a lot of my early years my "vacation" consisted of a trip to Myrtle Beach, sometimes going down in the morning, changing into a swimsuit in the bathroom and coming back that night.

Later, on things got a little better. My brother moved to San Diego and my parents would scrimp all year to buy me a plane ticket so I could spend the summer with him. Those were some of my favorite memories of childhood - going to such an "exotic" place like San Diego!

I was lucky to get to attend college thanks to loans and a new program for children of people who'd lost their jobs when the mills closed. That enabled me to have a better job than either of my parents when I went into medicine. Still, after almost ten years of call and stress I was at my wits end.

Since then I've had a few other jobs, some I loved and some I didn't. I've worked for people who truly cared about their employees like Bob and Sutji Gunter at Midlands Antiques and I've worked for people whose saw their employees as strictly cogs in a money making machine.

Now, I find myself desperately seeking work and finding that it simply isn't possible. Because of the transplant I've been out of the job market for three years. I finally decided the other week to "upgrade" my skills by returning to school only to find that I can't take any classes because everyone is "wait listed" for seats. So, what do I do?

It's in this environment, that I run across the cavalier attitudes of so many of my friends in the paranormal group who cast disdain on people who don't have the opportunities they do and seem morally opposed to people working in low paying jobs getting any sort of decent wages or benefits.

That attitude stuns me and I've never run into it before in the South. Sure, it's the most Republican area of the country, but Southern Republicans thrive on the social dogma of the party - racial divisions, homophobia, religious intolerance. They are not so wedded to the economic policies of profits over people. It's a strange dichotomy and I seem to have traded one for the other.

So, right now I feel like a fish out of water. I feel "homesick" at times but I don't know if I'm "homesick" because I truly miss the South or I just want to escape the foreign attitudes I run up against here.

Maybe I just miss the familiar arguments and all those points that various friends and I have agreed to disagree on over the years. After all, when you've known people for 30+ years sometimes you can argue about something and know that it will pass. However, when you find yourself on the defensive with people you've just met it's much more unsettling.

Fish out of water, out on a limb, working without a net. My life right now feels like all of those things. Honestly, were it not for a couple whom we met through the paranormal group and who've become dear and kind friends, I'm not sure I'd be able to last out here right now.

For now, I'm trying to stay positive but it's difficult. I think I need water, the smell of a marsh, someone to say "oh, hon, it's all right" in a soft drawl. But, in the meantime, I'll pray for this thunderstorm I hear in the distance to break and be content with the torrents of a desert monsoon.

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