I love my job at the Toronto Star. The elevator spiel — that I get paid to look at photos all day — really is the happy truth. Like, I got to make a video about a Lego man who went to space. But the Star, like all newspapers, is struggling. (They posted a 44 per cent plunge in their second quarter earnings, announced yesterday.)
I mentioned that I was getting laid off back in March, but in a unionized workplace there are options for recourse, negotiation and exceptions, so I didn’t want to make a big deal of it until it was set in stone. There were a lot of things up in the air, and one of my 2013 New Years resolution was to be more positive about life — not in a Pollyannish way, but not fixating on the negative.
Four months later, most of those options have fallen back to earth. My last day at the Star is Sept. 6, 2013.
Layoffs are hard things to digest. It challenges my belief, however naive, that the world runs on meritocracy. I believe in unions, yet it was workplace seniority that put me on the list. I’ve signed up for daily email job alerts. There are very few job postings in journalism. Since the Star announced these layoffs, the Globe has issued buyouts and the Sun Media chain has laid off about 300 people. More competition, which is a horribly mean way to think about my/our situation.
Little voices inside my head offer conflicting advice: go back to school! You love food, go work in a kitchen! You should paint for six months! Go travel! You’ve been working non-stop for the last six years! What’re you gonna do, wait another five years until the next layoff? Why the hell would you blow your severance, you need to squirrel your money away! Move to a BRIC country!
Some very morbid, sober thoughts have creeped into my mind. It is not a journalism-specific feeling of doom. (If you are seeking a self-absorbed, sad-sack lamentation written by a 20-something journalist who is prematurely jaded, look elsewhere.) Rather, it is a feeling that our way of life is about to come to an end: the university degree and the white-collar job that traditionally followed it; the family car; the mortgage; raising kids in a nice house where they all have their own bedrooms; the nice clothes; the vacations; the first world. A grand adjustment. A global relocation of wealth.
Expecting these things in the first place is gross entitlement. That’s why I had long ago given up hopes of acquiring half the things on that list. I have no car (okay, a pretty cheap motorcycle), no children, rent a reasonably cheap apartment in Toronto, make a very generous salary, and still cannot fathom how anyone can afford to live with all the above mentioned things. How did my parents do it?
What can I do? Save as much as I can with the paycheques I have left, and cut back on expenses (I really, really miss my organic CSA, and HBO). This isn’t a plea for job leads, though if you have those I would be eternally grateful (you can email me at caniceleung @ gmail.com).
It does not help matters to read morbid books such as Chris Hedges’ and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, which illustrates how all living things and natural resources are simply commodities to be abused by CEOs (see above video). Or the surreal, absurd observations on urban life in Ben Katchor’s Hand-drying in America (click for full res):
Last night I watched Detropia, a documentary about everyone’s favourite city that went from unimaginable manufacturing wealth to bankrupt, rusty haven for struggling artists and urban decay pornographers. It happened to them first, and now it’ll happen to the rest of us.
Anyway, I have no answers. Only a quiet despair that I muffle so as to not sound like an alarmist. In keeping with my New Years resolution, I’m trying to look on the bright side.