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I cannot express the shame that I felt, sitting in the Poway office of Social Services, belly nice and round, waiting in line for my appointment. The waiting area was crowded, with women and children walking around, sitting, feeding their young, chatting, sleeping. It was hot and muggy. The chairs were metal, the floors – a gray linoleum checker board.

 I could not help but notice that I was the only white person in the entire building. I was also the only one with a book, desperately peering into it as if to find some long-lost answer, or some solace to my present situation. The solace being that I was educated, I had a future, and I was living this temporary humiliation by choice…by some choice…

 Every person I spoke to that afternoon in the office saw a bewildered yet mostly composed young woman, on her third trimester of pregnancy, apologetically explaining her circumstances, believing that someone cared. In those offices I tried to meet the eye of the receptionists and the social workers, to show them in some unspoken way that, hey, I was not one of them , I was not planning on living off of the hard-earned tax dollars of my fellow Americans. At least not for long. I was going to graduate college, get a job, my husband who was studying in Paris was going to join me, we were going to work and support ourselves as I know every good citizen should.

 That was the first time I became personally acquainted with the social services. I had just come to ask for MediCal health insurance to cover me and my daughter during pregnancy and childbirth. Yes, it felt like I was literally asking the system to take pity on me. That was before our second child, and joblessness, and graduate school, and poverty and actual hunger contrasting sharply with my continued studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. My small family ended up living nearly three years needing medical insurance support, then food stamps, utility bills, and finally cash aid to keep us afloat.

 The experience was most humbling: the forms to fill out, the calls, the visits and explanations, more paperwork, and the dull grind of the system working its charm. I came to understand that those sitting behind the desk or at the computer in the social services division where a mere breath away from succumbing to poverty themselves. For them, it was payday to payday, for us – disbursement to disbursement. Sometimes the disbursements were late. Sometimes we were hungry, and so the initial, raw shame turned to anger, frustration, calculation, and ultimately, a bizarre sense of entitlement, almost.

 I cannot explain it. But you get used to it. You have to eat, and feed your children. It’s really that simple.

 We got off the first moment we could. The joy of saying, “No, I will not be filing this quarter – we do not need the food stamps and cash aid and MediCal any more” was overwhelming. And yet, with a Masters degree and a relatively secure job, it seems that we are still teetering on the brink of the abyss. A single missed payday, and we will be hungry again.

 I write about this because it aches.

 Having been on both ends of the divide, I have a couple words for those who complain about their tax dollars being used to support those who cannot support themselves: there was a time in your life when you needed help too.

It’s no fun sitting in those offices, it’s no fun being looked down upon. If it was possible to work, to earn enough to support a family, most people would do it. See, if we weren’t so greedy, if we shared what was given to us , everyone would have enough. And in these times, anyone could end up on the other side, sitting in front of a grimy metal desk, answering personal questions and explaining why it is that they can’t seem to get a job for the fifth month in a row . Anyone can end up needing some extra support, offered with grace and compassion.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. That’s what I learned from my years below the poverty line. That’s what I want to pass along. Lets leave it there.

What does us Russians in a lot of the time is our inability to talk openly about money matters. This is a generalization, of course, but it sure has done its damage in my life. It’s the way we’ve been brought up, feeling somehow that talking about money, selling stuff, lending and borrowing from friends or family and counting your money in a scrupulous and detailed manner was somehow base of us.

Like, we should be above that. Money was dirty and if you were paid, even for honestly earned work, it was somehow done on the sly, so that neither you, the employee, nor me, the employer, would really KNOW that money was being exchanged. Because the feeling of having worked well should have been enough on your end, and a heart-felt Thank You should have been enough on mine.

This is an explanation of something below the consciousness level, something bred into me with the wet autumns of St.Petersburg and the near-obsessive love of tea.

Of course I have learned to get over this handicap enough (and I am not referring to the tea) to be able to function in American society, but I’ve had some interesting bumps along the way, and even now I cannot bring myself to ask for a raise or even for that ten bucks a friend borrowed and forgot to return.

There was that crazy stint with selling children’s educational books door-to-door one summer. A summer I would as soon forget, as it STILL reigns as THE WORST three months of my life. With my family in San Diego, some of us college students drove across the country to do direct sales and marketing in Baltimore. Hot, sweaty, miserable Baltimore. Three months of that. Working 16+ hours a day, six days a week, literally walking door to door, trying to sell those miserable books. No words could aptly describe the depth of my traumatization during those months. Suffice it to say, I had nightmares about being on those streets, knocking on those hot-white doors for several years post factum. And the nightmare consisted only of the fact that I was back there again, selling or trying to sell, thinking to myself, why am I here again?

The torture might have been justified if I had been at least mildly successful. Some first year sellers came out having earned nearly $20,000 in PROFIT. Not so for me, because of that durn subconscious notion that selling was dirty somehow. And so I would be selling, doing my little sales pitch, and feeling all the while that I have to trick the nice mom into buying books for her kids. Like I had to sneak in the cost, quickly jot everything down and dash out the door before she realized what hit her. I hadn’t realized then that some people actually like to buy things, and others that are potential buyers get weary if you act all sneaky and paranoid, and are beating around the bush talking about the weather when clearly you’re here to sell your wares.

Then there was the humiliation of having to live off welfare. There. I said it. Don’t judge me. I may post on this in detail later, if I get the masochistic desire to re-live that part of my life.

Now, today, I am more interested in working less and earning more. I am interested in automating my income. In other words, I set something up, then go paint an eggplant and summer squash still life (purely hypothetical, of course) while money slowly trickles into my bank account. I have been reading this blog by Everett Bogue, and he writes about this process to quite an extent. I have also been following several other bloggers, (mainly Soulemama) who also generate quite a lot of incoming funds without selling their souls to GoogleAds. How do they do it? Well, surprisingly easy.

One does it through affiliate marketing and marketing his own e-books, the other primarily through sponsorship (although I checked, and all of her book links ARE affiliate links, she just doesn’t mention it so often). Affiliate marketing is selling other people’s stuff and getting a percentage of the cost as profit. Amazon.com has an affiliate program – if anyone buys anything on their site following a link from yours, you get 4% of that cost. (Disclaimer: I joined that program, so if you see a link to a book, like this one, assume it’s an affiliate link. It’ll still take you to the amazon.com site with the book, but if you end up buying it, 4% goes to me. That way, you get your five dollar book, I get my $.20 and a good start towards world domination, and everyone’s happy.)

There are other affiliate programs that offer much more than 4%. Like if you’re an affiliate of Everette Bouge, and sell his best-selling Minimalist Business, you get 50% of the profit. And in the world of e-books, profit = 100% of cost. There are NO overheads. Isn’t that something? Now I’m not an accountant, but having no overhead expenses sounds pretty good to me.

The other blogger, Soulemama, does the amazon affiliate program as well, but on top of that on her site she has sponsors that basically pay for being granted space to advertise and get access to a very specific, large audience (mostly natural, Waldorf or un-schooling, or just alternative education, deliberate, slow-living and back-to-the-basics-of-homesteading mothers). Since she has a solid readership, small private companies are literally lining up for a chance to advertise on her site. And it doesn’t even look like advertisements. Everything is lovely and well planned out. See?

Just thought I’d share this, since it seems like useful and interesting information.

Incidentally, as a junkie of all things useful and interesting, I’ve decided to launch another blog to create a forum for those interested in slowing down their lives, living with more deliberation and joy, and/or helping me live that way 🙂 That blog will also be an experiment to see if these principles and means of earning an income are applicable to us mere mortals. In other words, if the experiences of these bloggers are repeatable in a controlled environment.

I’ll save the formal introductions for later, but will reveal the launch date so as to force myself to commit to it. It shall be December 13th, 2010. My birthday.

The whole thing would be funny if the need wasn’t so crushingly real.

I was at the Monterey Center for Employment, where my social worker sent me as I had to be working in order to be receiving aid. Of course nobody seemed to understand that if I *could* be working, I wouldn’t need the aid in the first place. At that time I was going to grad school full time and my husband D stayed home with the kids. It was impossible to support a family of four on student loans. 

So here I was, meeting with Ms. McKnight to take an aptitude test. What was I good at, anyway? Before guiding me to a glorious career of their choice, the social workers and career councelors had to figure this out. I cannot aptly describe my emotions as I entered the Center.

Ms. McKnight was kind enough to encourage me, saying that I will probably do quite well on the test. It began.

Starting with arithmetic and dwelling on algebra, it moved swiftly through trig and into calculus. Then followed grammar, writing, a personality test, and visual tests. I am ashamed to admit that I could not tell the difference between the three shades of red where I had to pick the darkest, and the sizes of the blocks I was supposed to stack all looked the same to me. And at the end came a mechanics test.

There was a block with bolts and nuts screwed on to them, and I was supposed to unscrew them all off one set of bolts and screw them onto the other set. The timer was set, Ms McKnight reassured me not to worry, and I began. I thought I was doing pretty durn well until my fingers slipped and a nut escaped my grip and fell to the floor, rolling far under the desk. I scrambled to grab it and get it back onto the bolt. The remainder of the test went uneventfully, although I wasn’t too deft with the hand-held hardware manipulator either.

A couple of weeks later I came back to receive and review the results of the test. I had just left a particularly envigorating class where we were simultaneously interpreting a UN speech on nuclear weapons reduction, so the stark difference in the surroundings was all the more poignant.

Ms McKnight called me in and announced, with great excitement, that I had done quite well on the test. Imagine that. Looking at your score, she went on, you could pretty much specialize in any field you’d like! This is really quite impressive. She was thrilled.

I took a closer look at all of the scores, and there was one part that I had scored on particularly low. The mechanics test. Ms McKnight tried to comfort me and say that that’s okay, it is quite tricky…

Yeah, I echoed her, I guess I just wasn’t meant to be a mechanic….

My only regret is that the profound sarcasm of that statement was lost on her.

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