Lessons I’ve Learned From the 2018–19 Government Shutdown

Well, it’s been a little over a month since the Trump government shutdown began, stopping my small business of one in its tracks. It’s…

Lessons I’ve Learned From the 2018–19 Government Shutdown
Place where people don’t work but get paid. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Well, it’s been a little over a month since the Trump government shutdown began, stopping my small business of one in its tracks. It’s getting painful, but I’m a survivor and I’ve been through a lot in my life.

I’m grateful I don’t have small children. I don’t know what I would do if I had to try to figure out how I was going to take care of my kids with no income coming in for an unexpected amount of time. I can go without and find ways to stay sane, but with small kids in the mix unable to comprehend how stupid our government is a monster of another color.

It’s different when you’re young and you lack, but when you’re older and you’ve lived the dog and pony show life for a season, times like these bring how what’s important. You learn what you can do without and what you need.

What I’ve Learned After 30 Days Without Work

I’ve learned the lesson first-hand that I always taught my sons — have a side hustle. An under the table gig, a natural talent or skill you can use to put food on your table, gas in your car, or pay the rent if you need to. I thought I had that with my own consulting business as an independent contractor working contractually with the federal, state, and local governments in addition to the nonprofit and higher education communities. Well, no longer is my full-time “side-gig” reliable. NAFTA and globalism forced me to go to college in order to remain relevant and to sustain myself in my rural community.

Once again, society has evolved, politics and policies have changed, and I’m back in the same position I found myself in 1998–99, without gainful employment. Except for this time, I don’t qualify for government retraining programs, unemployment and other assistance that helps people change careers when after your government fucks you! It’s hard to make good choices or the right choices when the government is always changing the game upon us.

I can no longer rely on my government to stay open in order to sustain or protect me. It’s been happening with more frequency over the last 10 years, but with this racist, bootstrapping yourself up administration, the verdict is in.

The government doesn’t work for the people, so I can no longer rely on it. I never thought I’d see the day!

The time off has given me ample time to put lots of things into perspective. Things like over the next 5–7 years I’m wanting to move to tiny house living. I’m tired of trying to pay exorbitant amounts of money for utilities, rents, and mortgages for a piece of property you’ll never really own (thank property taxes). I don’t care if there if is no room for people to visit me. Meet me someplace, let’s chat in the yard. Video chat!

I want less. I want out of the consumerist rat race.

I want to get back to the basics. I love Florida, but it’s so expensive to live in South Florida. I am a Carolina girl, and I love the country life. I want to go back to simple living. Cheap living. Country living. I want to be able to grow my own food and can vegetables like I used to. I want to have a small piece of property and a small tiny home that is paid for when I walk into it. I don’t need much now. The less I have, the less the government can take from me. We don’t really own anything anyway.

They simply allow us to possess it until they say we can’t.

I learned a lot of us are out here struggling, especially women. As soon as I say I don’t have work because of the shutdown, people start telling me how they can relate due to their own financial hardships. Young and old. White, Black, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and anything else under the sun.

We all are catching hell in the land of the free, home of the broke!

What I Can Live With Out

Boy, oh boy have I learned what I can live without. Having no money sure does make it a lot easier.

Living Without Stuff: I have listed all the shit I don’t need or use (including new things accrued from my product testing gig) on Craigslist. If I haven’t used it in a year and it’s not associated with hurricane preparedness, it’s on Craigslist. Chandeliers, fans, lighting, sinks, bath fixtures, and anything not used is being sold. I was going to sell it later but I’m forced to do it now.

Living Without Cable Television: I got rid of cable for good and purchased an Android television box and went online to learn how to make it work better (YouTube is good for something, lol). All I need now is the internet for my new free television (and so I can write on Medium), and that’s saving me $100 per month. All I watched was the news anyway, and all they do is say the same shit every hour anyway. Best decision I could have ever made and I feel really stupid for having cable for so long now.

I also need the internet to conduct my business whenever the government opens up so I can restart my contracting gigs. My new life will be permanently downsized.

Living Without The Lawn Guy: I used to be the lawn person in my marriage after the kids went off to college. When I got divorced, I decided to hire someone. We I am taking my old job back. My lawn guy didn’t speak English, so I had to get a friend to explain in a note with my last payment why I no longer need his services. He lost a loyal customer because of the Trump shutdown. My fat butt is back to pushing the lawnmower and trimming palm trees.

Living Without Big Grocery Stores: The Dollar Tree is my new grocery store. I can’t afford to buy big boxes and large packages of stuff with my limited resources, and I can’t afford to pay the luxury prices some grocery stores charge for many name brand products. So I’ve downgraded.

It’s amazing what you can find in the Dollar Tree. I can buy four rolls of toilet tissues for $1, and we can’t live without that now can we? I can also buy aluminum foil, laundry detergent, dish liquid, dryer sheets, frozen foods, condiments, coffee, even individual-sized frozen meats. Just what a single gal needs. I just have to go to the grocery store to buy a few things, and I’ve found a discount GERMAN grocer for god’s sake to buy those things.

In America, I must shop at the German-based grocer to by my veggies, eggs, and other products I can’t afford to buy in American grocery stores because…well, capitalism. Oh, the irony. But I don’t care. Why be loyal to America, she sure as hell ain’t loyal to me.

I am getting rid of my one credit card. I don’t want the lure of having access to money I can borrow without the security of knowing how I’ll be able to pay it back. Besides, I can’t afford interest. I feel I shouldn’t have to live off of credit. If I don’t have money to pay for it in my hand, I shouldn’t have it. Debt is a trap, and I see now too many people have been made to feel we are inadequate for not acquiring large amounts of debts, including loans, large mortgages, car payments, etc. I’m getting what I need, fuck what I want.

I can’t afford the capitalism game. I’m too old and I’ll never win.

Living Without Health Insurance: Since my divorce three years ago, I’ve lived without health insurance. As an independent contractor, I am not eligible for health insurance or other fringe benefits federal employees are entitled to. Thankfully I don’t get sick, and I’m healthy for the most part. I go to CVS or Walgreens to check my blood pressure for free. I know what to do when it gets a little elevated. Being married to a nurse and working with the health care industry taught me how to care for myself at low/no-cost.

I don’t take any medicines, therefore, I have no medications to purchase. I get a dental cleaning once per year and I pay cash for it. The rest of the time I brush and floss like I was told and go on about my life. I don’t need expensive insurance, I can care for my own teeth. I do monthly breast exams, I shop the Dollar Tree for skincare products, and antiseptics, and antacids (I use a lot of those lately). The Dollar Tree is a life saver.

I haven’t been sick for years since I lost my healthcare coverage and that’s a blessing. If I do need healthcare, I’m going to use the minute clinic or an urgent care where I can get basic care and pay for it in cash. I put away a little cash for that. I get mammograms every now and then, and anything else just has to wait. I exercise moderately, and I eat pretty well when I can. By March if this thing isn’t over, I may find myself in a line asking for food. My partner and I are discussing combining households in the event things go on until March.

If I have a catastrophic illness, I’m just going to live until I die, screw it! I can’t really afford to live anyway, hardly any of us can really. I already paid for my cremation services and left instructions for my son to toss me in the ocean. There is no place on earth I’d rather be if I was alive. I’m not trying to extend my life to owe a healthcare debt I can never repay until I die.

Living Without Things (Having The I Ain’t Gots): It’s a term my grandmother used when we ran out of a lot of things at one time, like milk flour. My life has a few I ain’t gots. It’s a constant. It degrading. It’s dehumanizing because I’m not out breaking the law selling drugs, prostituting, stealing from people, or scamming folks, I work. The inconsistency of this administration keeps me and a lot of other workers with the I ain’t gots. Working class and poor working people are angry because they are feeling the impact of job losses and inequality.

We are tired of people telling us to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, to get another job, and a side hustle only to still not be able to survive. We keep getting our boots snatched away from us. We’re barefoot. I’m getting the hang of living with the I ain’t gots again. I haven’t done it since getting out of foster care, but I’m thankful I learned the lesson. It makes it hurt less. I have a feeling this president has set a precedence and a roadmap for more asshole fascist leaders to follow.

Living Without Security: There is no such thing as job security anymore. I got a taste of this in the 90s after Bill Clinton signed NAFTA. Since then, 9/11 the Bush-Cheney Iraq/Afghanistan Wars and proceeding conflicts globally have drained our economy. I have worked in many different sectors where the downsizes continue to happen. Education, nonprofit, Business, HIV/AIDS care, public health mental health — no matter what I do or where I go, it seems instability follows me. No longer can we rely on a job to be there forever like it was for our parents.

There is nothing stable these days, to include working for a government entity. I’m looking at doing more for myself. I see why now why immigrants came here and worked for themselves in the service industry. I’m going to look at doing more with my hands. While tech and AI claim they are taking over, it can’t if we’re too poor to buy any of it.

Living Without Red Stripe: I like to have a Red Stripe beer or two a few times per week for my cocktail hour. I spent my whole entire life being a goody two shoes while raising my kids so they wouldn’t become drunkards. My treat for myself in the evening would be a nice sunset on the porch and Red Stripe. Now, I’ve had to trade my Red Stripe for an occasional bottle of cheap wine. I can’t even afford to drink my sorrows away (lol).

Living Without Using Energy: I use my dryer and dishwasher less. I hand wash my dishes and air dry my clothes. I had a free clothing rack for drying clothes I got from my product testing gig, so I use it for laundering clothes. Keeping that light bill low (and keeping the lights on).

Living Without Fresh Veggies Daily: I have to modify my diet (a lot), eating things I wouldn’t normally eat. I also eat less than I used to. Thank goodness for Aldi’s Grocery Store (the German grocery chain). I can get a bag of spinach for $1.25, and other fresh veggies for far less than I can at local, regional, and national grocery store chains. I used to try to be loyal and shop American, but America gives no fucks about its people so why should I be loyal and invest my dollars in America businesses. I try to budget $10–15 per week on fresh veggies so I can take care of my body and my body and my mind. You take for granted fresh vegetables and being able to buy them until you can’t.

Again, I’m so thankful for not having any children I need to feed. I can eat breakfast for dinner, or chips and dip, canned tuna and crackers. It’s easy to feed myself .

Living Without Spending Money: I have learned to find activities that are low cost and free to get me out of the house and to take my mind off my lack. I go to the park a few days a week to fish. It’s free Monday-Friday (except holidays), and I can buy a box of worms for $2.97 plus tax. I can get some fresh air, fish, and if I catch something, I have dinner. No sport fishing these days.

I use the public library like it’s a gold mine. I read books, I can download free music, and use all sorts of resources the public library offers to county residents. I don’t even have to go to the library, I can download eBooks and music onto my computer or tablet. The one bright spot when it comes to taxes.

I go online to Eventbrite to see what’s going on in my area that’s free and I plan to go to an event two or three times per month. It’s good to get out. This Saturday there is a free outdoor jazz and cigars event I can go to from 6–10 pm just 20 minutes away from my house. I have found a way to not stay in the house sulking in misery. Worry makes things worse and makes us sicker. I’m trying not to worry so much.

I try not to move too much either. Gas costs a lot, it’s almost $3.00 a gallon. Between free television and internet, I’m able to stay entertained, search for work and work on reinventing myself (again). I’m never going to be caught off guard like this again. A degree was supposed to keep me from being in this predicament again the government said. The government lied.

The return on my investment is terrible. I stay in the negative because our government continues to move the goal post.

It’s an unrealistic achievement I wished I would have never chased the dream! No more stressing about consuming. I’m not buying anything ever again. Not new anyway. I’m done buying big-ticket items. America is too fickle and the world is too unstable to get into debt without the promise of being able to pay for the debt the economy relies on us to incur.

When I do start back to work, there is no back pay for me. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. There is no way to recoup my losses. I’m going to be consistently behind from now on unless I have a windfall of work that allows me to make up the losses of months without work or I hit the lottery. In any event, people who contract like me are the forgotten ones in this stupid shutdown fight.

Thankful For The Kindness of Strangers & Friends

People have really gone out of their way to help me during these stressful and uncertain times. I want to thank my friends, readers and patrons who have donated coffee. Your coffee contributions lift my spirits.

With no end in sight for the shutdown, it’s hard to be happy about trekking into the unknown. But I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers. All the kind words, understanding, and coffee makes my day.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it will take the kindness of Americans to get those of us affected by the Trump shutdown through it. I appreciate every coffee donation, every thought, every kind word, and all the encouragement. It feels good to know people care and can really see the pain suffering many contractors are experiencing.

You’re all very much appreciated and loved. Even when I’m alone, I know that I’m not.

Marley K, January 2019