Sunday, August 24, 2014

It's the economy, stupid

Yesterday the southerly continued to rip through Wellington, and it kept me inside for most of the day. Inside isn't a place I like to be on a Saturday. I did however catch up with the ex-facilitator of the Wellington autism group (who I saw in Auckland last month) and her husband. They were down for Beervana. We met at Joe's Garage on Tory Street, and covered a few conversation topics in a fairly short space of time. One of them was my flatmate. He is effectively a boarder. As they say these days, I'm over it all. I count down the weekends, because they're the most exhausting part of the week, and also because 17 is a manageable number. On Wednesday Kevin had what I hope is his last operation on his bum. He doesn't seem to be in pain. He was given a lot of medication after the op, and when I got home from work on Thursday there was all manner of lotions and creams and sprays and pills, in just about every corner of the kitchen and lounge. He'd had medicines lying around for months, but I'd tolerated that, probably because I'm quite a tolerant person. But the increased volume of them was more than I could handle. "I see you've got your drugs lying all over the place, like there, there, there, and [pointing to the couch] there." "Uh-huh, yeah." Have you got Asperger's? It's OK, you can tell me. "Um, do you mind not having your drugs everywhere?" He took all the medication downstairs, including the stuff that was there before.

We also talked about property ownership. So far for me, it hasn't been what it was cracked up to be. In fact I associate buying this place with "bad", because I had quite bad depression around the time I bought it, and had to leave my well-paying role almost the moment I got my hands on the keys. That bad stuff had little to do with the property purchase, but it's hard for the mind to break the connection. It's a bit like my brother's attitude towards New Zealand: bad things happened while he was here, none of which were related to NZ, but he still doesn't want to set foot in the country ever again. Of course in my case more bad stuff has happened since early 2012 - the earthquake assessment, more depression, and a difficult-to-handle flatmate - none of which has helped. Perhaps the hardest thing for me about owning a property has been the added pressure of earning an income. Certain types of people can expect to earn an income that heads steadily northwards, or at the very least, northeast. I'm not one of those people. In 2009 I earned a good salary, then the following year my biggest source of income was online poker. In 2011 I was back to earning good money, almost half of which disappeared for the next two years. If I couldn't eat it, I wasn't buying it. This year has seen an uptick again, thanks also to Kevin, but I'm still earning far less than I was in '09 and '11, and it's anyone's guess what will happen next. That unpredictability doesn't lend itself to paying off a mortgage. Why can't I be like "normal" people and climb the career ladder? That's pretty simple, and I've said it before. Relationships, teamwork, all that stuff is far from innate to me. It wasn't obvious to me in that beanbag relay race when I was five - I had to learn what you were supposed to do - and it still isn't obvious now. And it's absolutely crucial to one's success in the workplace (and even wanting to succeed in the workplace). Joining a new organisation is always the same for me. I can wing it for a while, then it just gets too hard. That's what makes a temp job so good. You're hired to perform a specific task - there's no guesswork - and you're not expected to do any of that networking crap because you won't be there long enough.

We also talked about the economic shift that took place in the early eighties. In New Zealand the word for this was Rogernomics, after Roger Douglas, but similar policy changes took place all over the developed world. It's funny that the subject of phones came up. In the UK until the eighties, everyone had the same rotary BT phone. If you were lucky, you got to choose the colour. We had a brown one. Actually nobody really had a phone, because it remained the property of BT, which was privatised under Thatcher in 1984. I read a really good book which touched on the economic reforms of the 1980s, as well as homelessness, love and depression. Written by Elliott Perlman and based in Melbourne, it's simply called Three Dollars. At some point in the eighties, stock markets became mainstream and the ups and downs were reported on news bulletins. (The woman in the story thought this was funny - why should I care? - and came up with her own All Ordinaries index for recording the ups and downs in her mood.) In the eighties, money changed from being simply a means of exchange to a thing to have in itself, even a way of measuring self-worth. Jeez, if my salary isn't going up in real terms year after year, I must be a failure. How and why did that happen? It's an interesting question, because I don't think it's good that it happened, even if there were clear benefits to the new economic environment like being able to choose your phone, and getting your line installed much faster in a competitive market.

We did talk about the stock market a bit. It was good to talk to someone who understood concepts like over-diversification. When my gran died, she had a managed portfolio of shares. From memory she had shares in exactly fifty companies. As I tried to explain to Dad, that made no sense at all. You might as well invest in a tracker fund.

Perhaps because of the difficulties I face in keeping a well-paid career job (which are mitigated to some extent by my ability to not piss people off), I've sometimes found it hard to warm to people who do manage to climb the rungs of the corporate ladder. People who do something a bit different often seem easier for me to get along with. Maybe that's how I ended up with Kevin.

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