Well, it’s been two decades, let’s mix it up a bit

I’ve been blogging on my site for over 21 years. I feel really good about doing a project for that long and am going to continue doing it.

From the fall of 1998 it has been a stream of reverse-chronological posts and in general it has been expansive; bringing content I created elsewhere into the timestream of posts.

Today I am beginning something new, the slow shuttering of the earliest posts (which are retroblogging I added to represent my life before 1998) as I add new posts.

A wedding once

In the oldest post I created in my retroblogging on this site, the photo shows half a century ago a young (so young) wedding couple marching up the aisle of a church after their ceremony.

Both are barely out of their teens, about halfway through their 20th years. She is a classic, picture-perfect bride. The gauzy veil of childhood flipped back after that first kiss as a wife. Her delicate neck and collarbones in this setting not the gangly body of a teen kid, but a young woman’s beauty. The yards of white fabric of her gown requiring her to hold the skirt up with one hand, as the other, wedding ring on her finger, loops through my grinning father’s arm. The raised hem reveals the little white shoes. My father is dressed in a dark suit—the photo is black and white, so whether it is black or very dark is uncertain—with a small, precise bow tie and a light fluffy boutonniere. Formalwear worn with style. (And I think of this in contrast to the uniform of his later life, baseball hats, t-shirts, wood-stain-speckled jeans.) His smile glows. His hands are graceful. The picture-perfect groom.

It is a moment capturing having Done It Right.

I am in this picture, though you cannot see me. And that’s another part of doing it right; the ticking clock of my mother’s pregnancy. December wedding, July baby. The nick of time.

Around them are the beautiful lines of the church I knew from all my visits to my mother’s parents. That sweetly elegant little central valley Methodist church with its soaring arches. The heavy wooden pews, built to withstand a century of use. The thick padded carpets on the aisles. The choir loft above the entry so that the voices could emerge high above and behind you as you faced the altar.

I remember the shuffling of feet, the coughing, before and between the parts of the Sunday service. My child feet not reaching the floor. My wise and whimsical grandfather perhaps sliding me a couple 3″x5″ cards from his breast pocket and a little pencil from beside the offering envelopes in the pew-back holders. The music. The words of ritual. The simple, sweeping togetherness of the Doxology.

I do not recall ever believing in God, even as a child. But I dearly love many who do, and the lessons they shared with me both formally in church services and casually in daily life have been essential to my moral foundation. Do as you would be done by. Care for those who need. Work for peace. Recognize our shared humanity even in faces most different from your own. Do not hoard your blessings, but multiply them by letting them flow forth from you.

That sweet little church remains dear in my memories. Though I confess, part of its dearness is the exhilarating freedom I had in exploring it on non-service days as my grandparents performed various supportive tasks. Playing in the Sunday School rooms without any other person around. Finding all the doors between its various rooms upstairs and down in its U-shape, of which the church-proper was only one arm. Playing behind the closed curtain or out in the open, conditions depending, of the raised stage at the end of the big Community Hall. Running the Hall’s length to its big kitchen to check on whatever my grandparents and other volunteers were doing there. It was a thoroughly grand place to be an adventurous little kid.

There are other pictures in this oldest blog post. My mother in classic pose, veil down, bouquet in hands, skirts fluffed and arranged to maximum circumference. Her face is like a merged photo of a child and an adult. Lipstick lips and a strong jaw smiling below a button nose and wide eyes.

The two of them together. Happy and excited, but with some anxiety in their faces. The fingertips of my father’s left hand tucking into the front of his jacket as though he might have just checked his fly. Just in case. I see little of my grandmother in my mother’s face in this picture, but my father wears much of his own father’s look. That shadow was a hard one for him to grow up in; he dreaded turning into his father, and I wonder if the fear of that hindered him finding his own path. Worry that bogged him down so much it became self-fulfilling in some ways.

A photo of them by the cake—unflattering of my father, looking a bit like a mannequin as the camera catches him awkwardly; my mother, gracious, beautiful, perhaps slightly terrified. There is a plate of what I think are three rows of cookies—red, white, green—representing not Mexico or Italy but Christmastime.

The last has them surveying the piles of wrapped presents after a costume change which puts my father in a brown suit and a narrow blue tie and my mother in a chic pink skirt and tall collared jacket.

Here my brain sings “in my copy of a copy of a copy of Dior”, thanks to my mother’s commendable habit of playing good musicals on LP around our house when I was a child.

So there they are, the newly married couple, dressed to the nines, the Community Hall dimly visible behind them, stage curtains open. Here it begins. A direct line from a point below the hem of that perfect little jacket top of my mother’s dress suit to a child singing and telling stories to herself on that stage in an empty room years later.

And perhaps a straight line too, from a musical a couple years later, to my mother deciding a bit over half a decade later there’s gotta be something better than this and getting up getting out and living it.

Close the door then on the scene, with love and appreciation, and change that post to private. Eyes to the present happiness, hearts full.

Examining ‘To-Do’s, past and present

As I wrote on May 17th, I am Creating Space to Be Myself Now. A key part of that, and one which is probably a bit overdue, is letting go of thinking of my old lists of To-Do’s and projects as still current. What I’ve realized is that my experiences of the past few years are so significant that they change my priorities. If I ever decide to activate any of these ideas again—even to put them on a mental backburner with intention of doing them sometime soonish—they will be informed and altered by all that I have learned. That will make them better, should I ever want to do them later.

The first step to allowing new plants to grow is to turn under the old growth and let it turn to compost. I’ve been picking my careful way through a yard overrun with withered branches. Time to prune and put this fertile matter to better use.

The first category of stuff I want to clear away is the To-Do’s I set up for myself about good habits. Everything they tell you about only being able to install one, maybe two, new habits at a time and about it taking four to six weeks to get a habit into daily practice is true. Huge ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ style lists are only useful as a way of giving recognition to change you want to welcome into your life; honor them as that, but don’t try to tick all those boxes off every day.

The two, and only two, habits I want to work on now are about my wellness:

  • Meditate more often, because it eases my anxiety and inflammation.
  • Move more, because it feels good and promotes both my physical and mental health.

There are no other habits waiting in the wing. When these two are automatically happening more days than not, what I need next will present itself to me. I trust my future self to make the right decision.

So where do I have those old lists, clogging up my thinking space? The most obvious of them is the site Habitica, which is a combo of task manager, habit builder, and fantasy game. Fun! And it was useful at one time—my routine now of making the bed every day was formed using this tool—but I overloaded it. And why did I start using it in the first place? Because I’d overloaded the project and task tracker OmniFocus and needed something less overwhelming. Ha!

I still love OmniFocus as a tool, and find it particularly helpful for less frequent tasks (e.g., routine medical checkups; renewing business license) and big projects that take place over weeks, months or years. Since I’ll be keeping it, it’s time to thank Habitica for its service and let it go.

What load was I carrying in Habitica that I’m now setting down? Mostly lots of things that allowed me to check a box and feel like I’d accomplished something.

  • Habits I already have: make the bed, restore general order in the house, do laundry when it needs to be done, wash dishes every day, avoid caffeine, avoid Twitter, usually go to bed at a reasonable time, water the houseplants.
  • Habits I currently want to build, but for which I clearly need to find motivation in some way other than a checkbox: meditation, movement (listed here in many separate parts: strength-building, stretching, aerobic exercise).
  • Other commendable habits that I am not currently choosing to create as a daily part of my life: read all my backlog of books and digital articles, write letters and postcards, check my blood pressure every day (which seems to fall in the category of things that feel like they don’t provide a reward, only the potential for bad news), scan or document old papers or other souvenirs before getting rid of them, volunteer or do other helpful actions for a cause, learn computer game programming, learn another language, keep the area in front of our house swept and looking nice (much harder since fatigue as a side effect of my medications). (Oh yes, and losing weight, which is not a controllable project when your metabolism is being significantly affected by medication; I remembered this when I was unpinning and closing the tab that had Habitica and saw the pinned tab with Lose It! next to it. Not on the list right now. Bye bye!)
  • Pointers to the task list already represented in Omnifocus with encouragement to whittle that pile down.
  • Pointers to my inboxes, paper and digital, with exhortations to empty them. Ditto the stored collections of “to be processed” materials (e.g., genealogy and other family-memorabilia which I’d like to hand off to someone who wants it or document some of it and then let it go).
  • Creative work, which I am now choosing to routinely provide myself opportunities to do rather than assigning to myself as a repeating task. This includes writing, but also curation/sharing on my websites, sewing, D&D gamemastering,

Look at that massive load of expectations of myself I was carrying every single day! That’s way too much. That’s so much it’s just silly!

I am picturing myself laughing at a huge backpack, overstuffed and with all kinds of things hanging off of it on strings. Completely impossible for me to lift, let along hike along for day after day carrying it.

I wipe my eyes clear of happy tears and take the whole thing apart, tossing much of it away. It flies through the air, transforming into moldy applecores and old packed sandwiches, and lands in the trench I’ve dug down my mental garden, ready to be covered over and turn to new soil.

Why and How I Changed Paths

I was diagnosed with the mildest form of a rare autoimmune disorder in fall of 2017, the first symptoms of which had presented themselves at the end of that July. This was just over one year after my biological father had died and I’d suddenly become executor of his estate, and point person for all matters pertaining to cleaning out and selling his run-down and junk-filled little house.

I was prescribed a short dose of prednisone, a steroid which is highly effective at knocking disorders into submission, if not entirely into remission, but very hard on the body’s systems otherwise. I was a whirlwind of activity that fall—adding significant storage and worktable space to our home office most notably, but active on a great many projects in parallel—and the week of steroids only kicked that up a notch. The meds did their job and my symptoms abated. I felt a huge weight lift also as the estate officially closed and, with the scattering of his ashes, my duties as executor came to an end. I turned my attention with relief and eagerness to my own projects, and somewhere inside I began to give myself permission to stop scrambling so hard

Some of that slowing down was just plain stumbling. It was the fatigue of all the hard work I’d been doing and the shocks I’d been weathering, exacerbated by life under the Trump Administration. The anxiety brought on by the past few years—compounded by perimenopause and (though I didn’t understand it well then) the side effects of my medications for my disease—was showing its fraying edges.

Thanks to my years of practicing Discardia, my instincts in times of overwhelm and low mood are good. I began to create space around myself and turn my attention from that which drains me to that which restores my calm. I unfollowed a large amount of my Twitter list, already quite low, to tune my Twitterstream to a generally more positive mood. I returned to my love of games and began thinking about how to create happy, positive, calming games. But I was feeling very tired.

At the very end of December 2017 and in the first days of 2018 I began having symptoms of the more intense form of my autoimmune disorder and my life changed completely. Because my symptoms I had to change major aspects of my daily routine, even after I very rapidly got a confirmed diagnosis and began taking medication—twice the dose of steroids as before. Extreme sensitivity meant I had to change my wardrobe entirely, not only fabrics but the style and fit of clothes. Massive fatigue transformed me from a “these are the 30 things I want to do today, but here are the most important 10” person to a “it was a good day, I got 1 thing done” person. And increased anxiety and overwhelm (plus being on immunosuppressants) further limited my ability to participate in social and political life. The medications distorted my body over the months, bloating my torso and giving me ‘moonface’. But they did work to put the disorder into submission, possibly even remission entirely, though I won’t know until I fully taper off the medications.

And there’s the real challenge. Prednisone works great to knock disorders like mine into submission, but the hell it puts you through along the way is brutal, so you want to take it for as short a time and as low a dose as is possible while remaining effective. Other immunosuppressants like, the post-transplant medication Cellcept, can maintain that symptom suppression with milder side effects (for me mostly bloating and distortion of my lower torso, plus some fatigue). So as soon as my symptoms abated, I added Cellcept to my regimen and began the agonizingly slow process of tapering off prednisone.

You can’t just quit prednisone, you have to wind it down very, very slowly. And because—at the kind of peak dose I was on (40mg/day)—it says to your cortisol system, “Hey, I’ve got this, go take a vacation” you find that side effects continue to be life-disrupting for months and months. I dropped from 40mg a day to 30mg a day of prednisone on February 13, 2018, after taking that highest dose for just four weeks. My taper reached 20mg a day on March 27, 2018, and 10mg a day on May 12, 2018. But it’s that last part that is the most difficult to wean your body off of as you wait—and wait, and wait, and wait—for your cortisol system to wake up again. It’s May 24, 2019, and I am just next week hoping to bring my tapered dose down to 2mg a day.

Had I known then what I know now, I’d have done my taper differently instead of going too fast last summer and winding up needing to spend three months holding at 5mg a day. Now I taper ridiculously gradually by altering my dose within a week. I was at 3mg a day. Then after at least two weeks at that dose, I started taking 2mg instead every third day: 3/3/2. If that is giving me trouble at the end of the first week, I go back to 3mg a day for two weeks before I try it again. If it’s okay, then after two weeks of 3/3/2, I try 3/2/2. That’s where I am now and it’s going well. Next Wednesday I’ll begin a couple weeks of 2mg a day before I evaluate whether I can proceed to 2/2/1. Best case, which I’m learning is unlikely, I’ll be off prednisone in about three months.

Whenever I do finally break free of prednisone, I need to spend at least another month letting its influence leave my system before I can start to consider beginning my Cellcept taper. I’m hopeful (and pretty confident) that that is not nearly as rough a process. But even so, I can expect that the soonest I’ll be living without my body altered by these medications or the presence of this immune system disorder will be over a year from now.

My life has been radically changed for multiple years. My fatigue and anxiety forced me to bring my world to a standstill; to stop the ride so I could get off and evaluate things. And that evaluation and this experience have brought me new skills (meditation and acceptance, most valuably) and clarified priorities. I am not the same person I was, and for all the difficulty, I feel good about who I am now.

Even if I had my old energy and health back this instant, I would not resume the life I had before. I am closer to center than I was and I like that. I continue to work to regain my strength and vigor, but for new priorities. I feel that I am standing in the early morning sun beside a large field, shovel in hand and ready to continue the slow, satisfying work of turning the earth for a garden.

Redefining the Generations

GenX, the cultural generation I consider myself part of, wasn’t defined for decades. We were just “post-Boomers” or worse, and subject to the same derogatory attitude which has pervaded many headline references to “Millennials”.

But here’s the thing, what even is a “Millennial”? As Pew Research Center defines it, Generation X ended with kids born in 1980. Various lines have been drawn to create a subsequent group, sometimes weakly referred to as “Post-Millennial” or “Generation Y”. But those ‘damn you kids and your selfies and avocado toast’ articles tend to lump everyone under age 40 all together.

The concept of a generational cohort is fuzzy—history draws with blurry lines—but it is useful and points to the forces of cultural change. The breakpoints between the generations indicate our sense of when significant change occurred. We can use someone’s personal connectedness to that marker as a way of measuring how much they will “belong” to that generation. For example, my cousin is only two months older than I am, but because our different life paths (nurse vs. all the many hats I’ve worn) led us to different levels of engagement with internet culture and technology, I think she’s more like a Baby Boomer and I’m more typically Generation X.

So what are the breakpoints we need to be paying attention to after the end of the Baby Boomer generation? To my thinking, GenX is “early years in or after the tumult of ‘the 60s’ but before the fall of the USSR”, thus growing up in the shadow of potential nuclear annihilation plus the political disillusionment from assassinations and Watergate. GenXers were (at oldest) 3 years old when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated—a major cultural pivot point—and experienced their formative childhood years in an era when the same worldwide sociopolitical framework the Baby Boomers experienced was being seriously challenged but had not yet transformed.

I disagree with Pew and think GenX should end two years later, in 1982. I draw the line there because it’s the pivot point when the home computer begins to arise. A kid born in 1982 is fairly likely to reach high school without a home computer or an internet connection (1997: 36.6% and 18% of households respectively). A kid born a year later is part of the rapid wave of both those numbers climbing fast.

The big cultural dividers of the generations after GenX are “doesn’t remember the world before the World Wide Web” and “doesn’t remember the world before pervasive smartphones”. (I am using ‘smartphone’ here as shorthand for ‘pocket-sized computer connected to the internet constantly at hand’.)

Note that this generational signifier shifts from being geopolitical or tied to birthrate, and is instead tied to probability of access to technology. It is thus bound up with economic class and other factors of privilege such as race. That observation goes a long way toward explaining why polling by age group is unlikely to be sufficient to predict probable behavior. Generational boundaries are becoming blurrier with increased lifespan, more personal choice over childbearing, and a host of other changes enabling individuals to self-select their group. That said, there are overall cultural trends which make it still useful to discuss generational cohorts.

If the cohort which Pew calls Millennials and I will call the Computer Generation starts in 1983, where does it end? I could pin it purely based on the rise of the smartphone, but there is another big change to take into account. What else makes the current generation distinct? I think it is growing up under the shadow of impending climate catastrophe, plus the cultural disillusionment of the recognition of how America is tangled up with white supremacy. Climate warnings have been raised repeatedly for decades and it is tough to identify a turning point, so when did the American conversation about race begin to change in the 21st century? Jay Smooth’s vitally important video “How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist” from the summer of 2008 is a good indicator of when it was all over the media (accelerated by Barack Obama’s consideration and nomination as the Democratic candidate). If the generation after the Computer Generation is about 3 years old when that pivot point hits, that would start them in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina.

The Computer Generation 1983 to 2004 then. And after them, our current generation, which I call The Awoken Generation begins in 2005.

We should look back as well as ahead, because there are some similar problems with lumping cohorts together and ignoring major pivots in earlier generational breaks. The term “Silent Generation” for those who survived the Great Depression and formed the core of the major social changes of the 1950s and 1960s is particularly bizarre. The Civil Rights Movement and Rock & Roll weren’t ‘silent’, and it’s unfair to label an entire generation with an epithet about not speaking up against McCarthyism.

So back to technology. I think about conversations I’ve had with my mother, her mother, and her mother’s father. He was born in the last decade of the 19th century and lived into the last decade of the 20th. I recall talking with his daughter, my grandmother, about all the technologies he and she witnessed transforming from innovations to everyday essentials within their lifetimes. Among these the telephone, the automobile, the radio, and the television stand out as extremely culturally significant. (You can see the growth of those along with other household technologies in the “Consumption Spreads Faster Today” chart from the New York Times.) If we want to peg a one-third of households tipping point for these as I did for home computers above (starting our cohort three years before it), we might see generational groups as follows: 1918–1929 (tv, electricity, auto, radio); 1930–1948 (the Great Depression and WWII, radio and the refrigerator); 1949–1965 (TV and the clothes washer).

So, bringing it all together, and filling in a little at the start:

The Breakthrough Generation born ?1880s?–1903
Electricity, the internal combustion engine, sanitation systems, photography, and the airplane all were realized in the late 19th century and the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk took place at the end of 1903. What a time to be alive! Anything is possible!

The Suffrage Generation born 1904–1917
This cohort grew up during the fight for the rights of women and workers, surrounded by the optimistic trends of the generations on either side of them but in a world full of disasters, massacres, bigotry, and military expansionism.

The Modern Generation born 1918–1929
The 1920s and 1930s saw massive change in American households and their connection to the rest of the world. Sometime around 1925 over a third of them had a car, and by 1929 between 35-40% of households had a radio. In this same period, and several years ahead of automobile purchases, the telephone and electricity reached around a third of households. This is also the generation that saw the conversion of a craft-based economy into a mass-market one.

The Survivor Generation born 1930–1948
1933, as one of the worst years of the the Great Depression, is a key pivot point because those hard years massively impacted people’s access to technology. Take a look at the telephone and automobile adoption rates in the NY Times chart linked above to see the impact. Until after World War II, only the inexpensive radio and (in the early 1940s) the life-transforming refrigerator could break through and grow in adoption rates by a large percentage of American households. Many of the later portion of this cohort, who experienced the impact of the Great Depression less directly, and the countercultural elements of the next generation might together be termed The Breakaways for their role in instigating social change in the 1950s and 1960s. (Thanks to my Mum for her suggestion of that name and the reminder of voices raised in protest and song.)

The TV Boom Generation born 1949–1964
There’s a reason the 1950s are associated with television; household ownership of TVs in the U.S. rose from 9% to 90% in that decade, with a big chunk of the growth occurring in the first two years. By 1952, a third of U.S. homes had TV. [Tons of charts on this history can be found, unsurprisingly, on tvhistory.tv] The impact of the shared culture of television in this generation’s lifetime cannot be ignored; even the atypical Americans of this cohort who watched relatively little felt its effects throughout their daily lives. (And that remains true today for a large percentage of Americans, even those more likely to focus on online activities.) The clothes washer deserves a shout-out in changing domestic life for this generation’s childhood too, reaching about half of households by the end of the period.

Generation X born 1965–1982
Kids of this generation had their early years in or after the tumult of ‘the 60s’ but before the fall of the USSR. They grew up in the shadow of potential nuclear annihilation and the political disillusionment from assassinations and Watergate. The younger part of this cohort likely was further shaken by the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. For all that, they often had very free childhoods with space and time for imagination and play.

The Computer Generation born 1983–2004
This cohort is likely to have grown up in a household with a home computer and unlikely to remember much about the world before the World Wide Web. The Cold War was over before they could understand the concept and even the youngest had a good chance of getting well into middle school before the magnitude of global warming’s impacts was inescapably evident. For them, school shootings like Columbine in 1999 and the endlessly repeated footage of the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attack in 2001 are more likely to be the source of their childhood nightmares.

The Awoken Generation born 2005–?
The current generation doesn’t remember a world before people had pocket-sized computers connected to the internet constantly at hand. They don’t remember a world when mass shootings weren’t a regular occurrence in the United States. They don’t remember a world that isn’t experiencing climate change and the various types of natural disasters it amplifies. They’re going to start coming of age soon, but we don’t have to wait until then to hear them beginning to raise their voices in protest of the world we’ve brought them into. It is a good, righteous anger.


Creating Space to Be Myself Now

One of the key lessons for me of the past few years is that it detracts from my wellness to try to have both my list from before the various crises in my life and my list of what I need and want to do now. However much I say, “oh well that old list is on the back burner”, it is still bubbling and using my mental fuel. I can’t have two #1 items, even if I tell myself that one of them is not active for the moment. I gotta recalibrate and bring it together in one calm vision for myself.

The best thing about accepting that is that the process of integrating my expectations of myself is an inherently therapeutic process. Though the enhanced calm is important, most of that benefit is coming from really giving myself permission to drop things. Not just shove them back ‘for right now’ (i.e., years), but let them go. Discardia is good for the soul and for reducing that overwhelmed, inflamed feeling.

The biggest change is re-orienting myself to my writing and other creating. I am refocusing myself on the creative work and away from the idea of producing products on a particular schedule. It doesn’t make anyone less of a Real Writer to give a work the amount of time it needs to come to fruition. Nor is it mandatory to bring out a new book every couple years. The publishing industry would like you to, but I don’t write for a publisher; I write for myself and my readers.

As I’m sure a lot of stay-at-home parents or others who are outside the paycheck economy have struggled with, validity is not measured by take-home pay. Much of our culture sends a different message, so it takes work to find solid footing to appreciate yourself and what you do. In my case finding that footing is helping me recognize a few “to-do” items on my list which were more cargo cult enacting of “being a publisher” than necessary to the process of writing and sharing my work.

One thing that prompted some of this change is that the medication I was prescribed about a year ago limits me to two cocktails a week. I find I really can’t be an active cocktail writer under that constraint and I don’t want my work and my wellness to be in conflict, so I’m giving cocktail writing a big “I love you, man, you’re the best, no I mean it, I love you, all you guys” sloppy hug and going home.

Not writing a sequel to The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level lowers the need for a lot of the capital P publisher infrastructure we’d created. Simplifying that part of my life is some of the work I’m doing this month and I’m already enjoying the lightness it is giving me. I don’t have to put out a book this year because it’s been “too long” since the last one. I don’t have to feel guilty over a long list of posts and essays I thought at one time that I’d write. Cool ideas! Okay to let them go!

This exercise in looking at where my time vs. where my mental energy goes vs. my actual current priorities has also unveiled some time sucks that I can prune away. Goodbye, Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you. You make me anxious and distracted and frankly, you have too many nazis and misogynists and racists and homophobes and paranoid dudes who think giving babies free food is gonna take food off their own plate. Ugh. Good riddance to that distraction.

I looked at the carefully curated list of accounts I followed, added a lot of them to the website feed reader built into WordPress.com, let go of the “need” to keep up with some, and made a monthly reminder to check the other two that couldn’t go in the feed reader to see what they’ve been up to. Then I added the Switcheroo Chrome extension to redirect me to my WordPress Dashboard every time I try to go to Twitter.com. It feels fantastic and I am already getting a lot more done with my day.

Yes, I’m on Mastodon, but both it structurally and my decision of the number of people I follow on there are designed to be very quick to keep up with. It doesn’t devour twenty minutes of my time multiple times a day in the way Twitter can.

I’m excited about this paring down and focusing. I’m excited about the space I’ve created for healing and for whatever creative projects I want to do now. I’m grateful to myself for the permission to let go, to be done with things. My shoulders feel lighter.

I’ll be posting more in the coming days as I part with some of these past projects. I hope you enjoy this somewhat random tour through my interests. 😀

WOTICETT companies: worker-owned, tapered-investment, compensation-equal, tapered-time

I’ve been thinking about economic systems and the huge problems with the way we handle work, employment, pay, and profit in the United States. Another way is possible.

The model of work I am here envisioning recognizes that:

• Sustainable societies are built on sustainable economies which are built on sustainable lives of the workers in them.

• Personal time is the key finite resource, not an abstract like money.
(If worker time is treated as the resource of greatest availability, workers are exploited.)

• Extractive capitalism is built on an unrealistic model of eternal growth and payment of ever-growing returns to investors. This is inherently unsustainable as it continually removes value from companies and their workers. Alternatively, worker ownership retains value within the company and among workers, and as a by-product strengthens local economies, which usually helps with long-term company success.

• Investment is still needed to start companies, though, so the initial extractive return on investment must be tapered to allow the company to become sustainable. One possibility: companies start with 52% worker-ownership, 48% investor ownership. Every three years 1% of investor ownership shifts to worker-ownership (dividends shifting to compensation, usually to new workers as the company grows). After 16 years the company is 100% worker-owned.

• Every human deserves dignity in their work and an equal opportunity for time away from work. Early attempts to legislate this fundamental right gave us the weekend and a cap on workday length. The next step is to pry apart compensation from hours labored; we live in a time of great prosperity and there is enough to go around if we divide it equitably. Therefore, this model assumes that the total company amount of compensation to workers is divided evenly among them so that all have at least a livable wage. There are no tiers of pay. All worker-owners benefit from company success or feel the squeeze equally when the business or economy is struggling.

• The minimum time a worker has to spend at work in a given week is the distinguishing difference between workers at different levels. An entry level worker commits 35 hours a week to the company. As they grow in experience and efficiency, this time tapers down. Every two years worked with the company reduces the minimum hours required by 1 hour. Every eighth year this drops an extra hour. Thus, after six years with the company, a worker’s minimum hours are 32. After eight years, they are 30. After sixteen years with the company, a worker only needs to work half-days (or however it makes sense to allocate their 25 hours). After thirty-two years, they’re involved a couple days a week. After forty-eight years, just 5 hours a week. This is enough for their wealth of experience to still benefit the business and for them to still be engaged in public life, but at a level that respects their reduced energy for work at their age. After fifty-six years as a worker, they have no further obligation and pensions kick in.

• Workers moving from one job to another will enter at a time level reflective of their experience with that kind of work AND the age of the new company. For example, a worker who has 20 years experience leaves to join a 10 year old company and instead of working their old minimum of 23 hours a week, they will work a minimum of 29 because the new company is still growing and everyone there works that many hours.

• Workers are incentivized to remain with a company and help it grow because switching to a new, younger company will generally mean committing more hours of time per week and delaying their pension (unless they subsequently switch to a more established company and are able to negotiate recognition of all their experience).

• Workers are incentivized to be more efficient (because they want to work only their minimum hours) and companies are incentivized to right-size their business to match their market (because they want to keep worker compensation good while those workers put in just the minimum hours).

• Some businesses will be more profitable than others as economic factors fluctuate. Their worker-owners will decide how to use those profits, either applying them to the company for improvements or growth, sharing them out to the current worker-owners, or adding new worker-owners to diffuse the compensation across more people (enabling further profit or growth and possibly allowing all worker-owners to commit below minimum weekly hours, thus realizing the benefits of long-term employment sooner).

A common pattern which might emerge under the WOTICETT model is that of workers of medium experience temporarily becoming involved in two companies (or double roles at one company) to increase their resources before dropping back to just one when they become parents or need to be more available for elder care.

For example, Chris started work young and joined a company at age 17. At age 27, with ten years experience and working 29 hours a week, Chris gets invited to participate in a friend’s new company. The first couple years are intense, working 64 hours a week, but then that number begins to drop until at age 37, Chris is working a total of 52 hours a week (23 hours a week at the first company and 29 hours a week at the friend’s company).

Chris’s partner, Devin, is five years younger. Devin helped care for child siblings when young and didn’t join a company until age 22. Now, at age 32, Devin is working 29 hours a week. Thanks to the resources they’ve built up through Chris’s decade of double pay, the couple has enormous flexibility should they decide to have children.

They might choose that Devin will become a full-time parent. In that case, when their kid is ten years old, Chris will be 47 and working 40 hours a week (17 hours a week at one job and 23 at the other), and Devin will be 42 and fully available for parenting and life admin tasks.

Or maybe after all those years of double work, Chris becomes the full-time parent. Then when the kid is ten years old, Chris at age 47 is fully available and Devin at age 42 is working 23 hours a week. They’re living on one income instead of two, but they have a lot of free time to make living cheaper more possible.

Or if they carry on as they had been, when the kid is ten, Chris at age 47 is working 40 hours a week (17 hours a week at one job and 23 at the other), and Devin at age 42 is working 23 hours a week. They still have three incomes and though they still probably need some assistance with childcare, they do have considerable family time.

In those three scenarios, when the kid is twenty, Chris is 57 and Devin is 52, and they’re either:

  • working 27 hours a week (10 at one job and 17 at the other) and not committed to company work, respectively, and living on two incomes;
  • not committed to company work and working 17 hours a week, respectively, and living on one income;
  • working 27 and 17 hours a week, respectively, and living on three incomes.

All of these scenarios—along with the variants in which Chris drops back down to just one job or where one of them returns to work when the kid is 15 or 20 years old—are vastly more appealing than the average options most families are facing today.

They become even more appealing as we roll out the scenarios into later years of life. At ages 67 and 62, Chris and Devin are either:

  • working 14 hours a week (4 at one job and 10 at the other) and not committed to company work, respectively, and living on two incomes;
  • not committed to company work and working 10 hours a week, respectively, and living on one income;
  • working 14 and 10 hours a week, respectively, and living on three incomes.

At ages 73 and 68, they are either:

  • working 7 hours a week (pensioned at one job and 7 at the other) and not committed to company work, respectively, and living on two incomes (or one income plus whatever level a pension is set at);
  • not committed to company work and working 7 hours a week, respectively, and living on one income;
  • working 7 hours a week, each, and living on three incomes (or two incomes plus whatever level a pension is set at).

At ages 83 and 78, they are either:

  • pensioned from two jobs and not committed to company work, respectively, and living on two incomes (or two times whatever level a pension is set at);
  • not committed to company work and pensioned, respectively, and living on one income (or whatever level a pension is set at);
  • pensioned from two jobs and pensioned, respectively, and living on three incomes (or three times whatever level a pension is set at).

That is a healthier life than most have now.

Would a model like this require some major changes from how things currently work? Yes. Is it realistically possible? Absolutely.

The current model has been staggering along for decades with a few exploiters buying IMAX screens for their superyachts (or whatever that decade’s equivalent of gross excess happens to be) while an alarming percentage of people struggle and suffer, working three jobs to be able to pay for childcare.

If we can limp along with this broken system, we can certainly afford a different one which, even if not ideal, lifts millions of people up to vastly better lives.