If you have "no place to go," come here!

Where I am now and, possibly, why

I suppose many of us, given "the economy," have had that "Where did it go so very wrong?" question go through our minds; this is my moment for that. In fact, I find my forearms shaking as I write this -- whether with stress, or rage, or shame, I'm not sure.

So, slipping into a fuller disclosure mode than my lambert persona normally allows, let me start with the dot com bubble....

... which burst for me in 2000, at a conference where I also watched the hanging chads counted on CNN in my hotel room, leaving me with expensive and mad technical skillz and no work. Following a shot at my own consulting firm, which temporarily succeeded, but then failed, owing partlyto my less-than-stellar marketing abilities, but mainly to IRS Section 1706 (the same law that caused that Texas guy to fly his small plane into an IRS building), which prevented me from leveraging personal contacts and mad technical skillz into billable hours without going through a rent-sucking intermediary -- which, of course, wanted nothing to do with me.

In any case, after several months in Philadelphia without electricity or gas, when I blogged from various WiFi outlets around town -- WiFi was new then, and much more open -- I landed a job, in a month when Bush created 500 jobs, nationwide, in the last recession, with a humongous corporate content provider that actually needed the not-yet-atrophied technical skillz I then had to offer. I was then not willing to leave Philly, because I had grown to love the grit, the slack, the Reading Terminal, and my under-the-radar apartment off an alley, and so took on what was in retrospect the major stressor of a two-and-a-half hour commute (each way).

After a couple of years of stabilization and dental care (though I did have to dodge the "Let's get you on this assembly line to pull all your back teeth!" scam), I began to realize how unhappy I was, not only with the commute, but with the cube, and how happy (by comparison) blogging made me -- even though I was at that time (2004 - 2006) very much in "More and better Democrats" mode (oh well). So I began thinking of the Starbucks solution: A throwaway job. With health care! And time for blogging!

Fate intervenes! When, in 2006, my mother died, I was psychologically prepared to let go of the cube and do what I really wanted to do, which was blog. I felt that, with a "this old house" -- partly mine, partly a family member's -- and the inheritance, I would be well-equipped to make a go of it. My mother always said: "Do what only you can do!" and I was going to do just that.

Fate intervenes! Most of the inheritance is stolen and pissed away by a family member, in such a manner that I have no recourse (trust me on this), and instead of this old house and capital, I have this old house.

I adjust. I figure out how to become a landlord -- yes, readers, I am a rentier -- and I figure out how to build a very smallish clientele the Drupal skills that I developed administering Corrente. Although I fall behind on my property taxes, and am thus at the constant risk of losing my mother's house, I nevertheless manage never to quite fail, especially, dear readers, and only because you help me when the pipes fail in the winter, or in my fall fundraiser (before the taxes come due).

Time passes. It slowly becomes clear to me that I, and "this old house," are in a slowly deteriorating situation where the most likely outcome is some sort of collapse -- and how very meta that is. The fabric of the house, because it was built before the era of speculative styrofoam pediments, is wonderfully tough, but there just isn't enough money to simultaneously support the family member, keep me, and maintain it. Two of three, only. And work in the great state of Maine is very hard to find, especially if you are not young, heavily over-qualified, and carrying -- for all the reasons you read here -- a chip on your shoulder the size of Mount Katahdin.

Fate intervenes! I become friends with Thai people who have started a Thai restaurant in my home town; this is important not only because I am a foodie: My focus on non-violence begins at that time, because they're Buddhists. More importantly (for the theme of this post) they introduce to me the incredible idea that there is a place in the world where (a) my mad English skills are actually worth money, and (b) I won't be thrown away like garbage because I am old or, worse, hooked up with tubes to a machine in front of a TV I cannot turn off. Thus, I begin seriously to entertain the idea -- along with many others in an unrecognized and unstoried American diaspora -- of teaching English (or perhaps something with more leverage) in Thailand.

Because the math: I can rent the entire house, including my part, and have an additional income as an expat. If that works out, and even counting cost of living and airfare, I can continue to support the family member, and might even be able to stave off collapse with a new roof, and possibly even a new furnace! (I could sell the house, of course, but (a) do I really want to put any serious (for me) cash money in a bank, (b) where do I house the family member if the vicious economy puts them out on the street, and (c) where do they carry me out feet first from?) And I can blog from anywhere there is an Internet connection.

Fate intervenes! In late 2011, I receive what I think people call a serious market signal that what the world wants from me is writing and blogging. I consider: So far, my personal economy has been a tripod: This old house, Drupal development, and blogging. But am I really going to be doing web site development in five years, say? Of course not; the field will have moved on. And why am I wasting time doing anything that is not what "only I can do"? So I close down the web site development part of my personal economy -- taking a hit, for the sake of future sanity and safety -- and put my efforts solely into writing (and, to be fair, developing Corrente as a platform with very serious analytical tools, so that I can write at the collective level at which I prefer to operate.) And with the market signal, besides paying off and de-juggling the personal debts I accumulated in my home town 2006 - 2011, I purchased a ticket to Thailand for the summer, between the planting season in June, and when the tomato harvest begins in July. And then a few things break in the house, and a tiny little margin vanishes....

* * *

And so, readers, this is where I am right now: In Bangkok, in the courtyard of my hotel, at a table, with the washing machine next to me -- laundry is dried in the sun -- and the spirit house behind me, having finished the latest campaign countdown (started at 9:30AM, finished at 2:30PM, except for the upload) .... And shortly out to network with the expats and vet another English-language opportunity.

.... and wondering where it all went wrong? Perhaps when, many many years ago, I fell off the academic train and went to work in factories for eight years (an experience not at all like "retail" and sadly not available to the youth of today). Perhaps when I left the corporate cube (though looking at what's become of the company since, I think I got out before being downsized and outsourced). Perhaps not selling the house right away, taking the money, and running (but it's hard to sell your mother's house). I don't know. What I do know is that in 2012 the penalties for bad judgment and bad luck are far greater than they should be in a civilized society. Where I am now, you are one illness away from being!

But I don't know. What I do know -- and I'm sorry I have to bring matters to this point, readers, but starkness is the point here -- is that I'm looking at the fundraising numbers, and right now I can't even buy my tenants the tank of propane they are very shortly going to need, let alone recoup my server costs over the last six months. That bodes very ill (a) keeping Corrente alive, (b) for my plan of writing 'til I drop, and (c) for my ability to manage this old house remotely.

Anyhow, shall I post pictures?

NOTE The donation link is here.

UPDATE Some revisions, mostly to compensate for an internet connection that today almost caused me to lose a tooth.

UPDATE Now at 100% of goal! Not that I won't gratefully receive overflow from the "top up" .... And those who have not yet contributed will get a second chance in the near future, as I continue the site upgrade. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The edge is really off the angst.

UPDATE Now at 63% of goal. So, assuming that these guys really are better than PayPal, I'll be able to buy propane! Thanks! --lambert

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JLA's picture
Submitted by JLA on

While I comment very infrequently, I read daily, and frequently quote and link to your and other Corrente blogger's posts. My story is somewhat similar to yours. In terms of results, that unfortunately means I have no way to support what is some of the best, most thoughtful writing in the blog world. I know saying this does nothing to help pay the bills, but I at least wanted to say how much I appreciate Corrente. And by the way, I agree with hipparchia: "we are ruled by evil people."

Submitted by brucedixon on

and it would be worse than a shame if the lights went out here.

In the throes of fundraising myself, variously for me and my family, for the GA Green party, of which I've allowed myself to be elected co-chair, and for Black Agenda Report, whose continued existence also defies the laws of finance. We expect to do a fundraiser at Harlem's Riverside Church Oct 12, just landed Cornel West as MC.

If it were not for my long-suffering wife who is still gainfully employed, I'm not sure where I'd be. But I hold out hope for a good fundraising month the last half of July, first half of August. The signs look promising, if I can stay awake and lucid enough hours, if donors donate, cooperators cooperate, and few or no family emergencies occur. If those conditions obtain over the next two or three weeks, I surely can toss in a little.

Got tomatoes, herbs, squash and melons in the garden just outside my back door, and almost no time to pick them, certainly no time to tend them as carefully as they deserve. Something's deeply wrong with that. We are indeed ruled by evil people, who've built an evil system which offers no economic space for the kind of service correntewire provides, and few if any resources for journalism either.

Thailand? Quite a jump. Sure you won't be the ugly American, you'll learn some of their language as well. I've let my passport expire. My Jamaican wife tells me I need to get a new one. Soon. She'd like to retire there. Maybe I need to think about what skills and resources I can deploy down there to make us a living in our old ages.

Submitted by lambert on

1. Renew your passport immediately. There's no reason to foreclose the options a passport gives you, and getting them will be, I am sure, more and more difficult as time goes by. (Did you see that proposal to refuse passports to anybody owing back taxes? Well, why stop there, eh?)

2. It's a shame that there is no way for the "new media" to coordinate funding. We all fight for the same pie when we ought to be able to expand the pie if only we could. Corrente is, as I'm sure you know, one of the very few blogs to cover the Green party consistently....

gizzardboy's picture
Submitted by gizzardboy on

I tried the link in yesterday's and today's posts and today the "Main WePay Kibble page" and in each case got "Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage".

I was wondering about Thialand; I saw at Naked Capitalism that you were there.
I really appreciate all you do, lambert (more than my small donation will indicate).

Submitted by ubetchaiam on

Really sad to read this post. As towards the question "where it all went wrong?" I'd simply reference you back to the buddhist dharma.
It's HARD, damn hard, when one is confronted with being on the street but "when there's no place else to go'.....
And to quote Joe Campbell: " BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of... being helped by hidden hands?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time - namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be. "
I've friend in Ecuador who decided to start a family when he was 56; he's supported himself for a long time teaching english and ,from what I understand, there are still opportunities in various parts of the earth to do so.
I've been lucky in that my healthcare requirements for COPD and CHF were met by being a vet and that I made enough money working for corporations (MANY as I have a big mouth and don't tolerate being lied to and ,while in government, being a whistleblower) to have enough of a SS monthly payment to keep food on the table and a roof over my head and live in a moderate climate but even still....I don't go out or travel or do any sort of spending that 'normal' people do.
But when all is said and done, all I have to do is compare my life to others all around the world to see how VERY fortunate I have been; you know, the story:
"I once had no food to eat
Then I met a man who had no teeth
I once had no shoes to wear
Then I met a man who had no feet"

Here's wishing for Correntewire to have a long life.

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

You are hanging in there, having a bit of an adventure, and still doing this vital blog. The bastards haven't beat you yet. Pardon my French, or maybe it is Irish.
It is good that you are still examining what happened - neither caving in or blaming yourself nor venting with harmful anger (as distinct from useful anger). But for me the key point is what you said: America is a society that is very unforgiving of mistakes. Even "mistakes" that would have required some luck to avoid. Even "mistakes" that other societies with more solidarity would consider a sign of social failure, not individual.
I would go farther. America has become a broadly cruel society. We were always cruel to certain groups, but now we are cruel to almost everyone. In a thousand and one petty ways and some pretty big ones. Large chunks of the country are one layoff, one company moving jobs somewhere cheaper, one divorce, one illness away from the edge.
About Thailand: I hope that turns out well. I have known lots of people who did it successfully. I recommend learning some Thai. A little bit goes a long way (to showing that you respect Thai people as human beings rather than just being there for beer and hmmm inexpensive companionship half your age).
The FSI course is good enough and is available for free (legally) on the web. It only covers spoken Thai and some of it is out of date. (It was done so long ago that the targets were clearly US foreign aid workers.) But it does well enough. Oh, Thai _must_ be studied with tapes or a teacher. You can't learn it out of a book and be understood. Japanese yes. Even Mandarin almost, kind of. But not Thai.
Based on discussions with a lot of English teachers working all over Asia who vacationed in southern Thailand the past winter, the best place for making money above and beyond one's own cost of living is South Korea. (Japan pays more but the cost of living is so much higher that one can save more in South Korea.) That surprised me because that was true 30 years ago too.
Malaysia is good for getting advanced posts that one could not get elsewhere - I met young women (American and British) who were working in supervisory positions in teacher training who would have been lucky to get jobs as ordinary teachers back home. (Not for any lack on their part) But I doubt that has much to do with your situation.
What South Korea and Malaysia have in common is that on average the ex-pats living there for work don't like them that much (or at all), so they have to be paid enough to be willing to be there.
One other observation that is odd to make to someone as politically awake and active as you: It seemed to me that people enjoyed life in Thailand more the less they knew about Thai politics and how Thailand actually operates. Just saying. I mean that in a "pick your fights" way.
Also, I would be very surprised if you are the only American doing something like what you are doing. People in Taiwan told me that there are a lot more 1st world foreigners there now because of decaying economies elsewhere. No reason for that not to extend to other countries in that part of the world.

Oh, one other thing. You mentioned a family member you are supporting. That you would have a hard time doing that says something negative about America. That you would go all the way to Thailand to make sure you can do it speaks highly of you.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

"You mentioned a family member you are supporting. That you would have a hard time doing that says something negative about America. That you would go all the way to Thailand to make sure you can do it speaks highly of you."

Submitted by lambert on

Thanks for the tip on South Korea; others have strongly recommended Hong Kong, and for the same reason. I guess I would like to achieve a "sufficiency" -- it's not worth it to me, at this point, to be unhappy in South Korea or Hong Kong. If I can achieve a better balance between my personal economy, continuing to write, and saving the house, I will be a very happy camper. On the flip side, I've gotten strong advice never to go into business here (but from a deeply corrupt polity). I think... It depends. If I can leverage my Double Alpha English skills at a level higher than an English teacher, I think I should be OK.

On politics, all I can say (and let me underline that "all I can say") is that my mother, who was a very smart lady indeed, successfully maintained a policy of complete innocence about everything in my home town, and was much loved for it. I think the same strategy might work here, if I can persuade the Thais to regard me as a sort of living monument or national treasure. This will involve a lot of doing good and merit making, but then, altruism makes the pleasure centers light up, doesn't it?

gizzardboy's picture
Submitted by gizzardboy on

Same Cannot Display page comes up on Explorer. I tried Crome and get this:
Invalid Server Certificate ... You cannot proceed because the website operator has requested heightened security...

Am I the only one having trouble? I am connected to the internet via HughesNet.

Submitted by hipparchia on

Am I the only one having trouble?

maybe. i tried 3 different browsers on 2 different computers via 2 different providers and they all worked.

Submitted by lambert on

... there will be some option for you to say "Yes, I know you think it's dangerous, but I am going to go ahead."

I wonder if it is HughesNet "protecting" you in some way, because it doesn't sound like a browser setting.

I do know that WePay is not obscure

Clonal Antibody's picture
Submitted by Clonal Antibody on

How are you doing for the day to day living expenses - Thailand, while inexpensive, still is not free. Do let us know how you are doing on that front.

The last 3 years have not been good here as well, and after exhausting UI (99W), had to go on early Soc Sec. Just about pays my rent. Had to shut down our start up in '09. Restarted in '10 -- no investor funding since '06. Applying for Fed grants since early '11 -- finally starting to see some money come in - not enough, but some.

Could still get in the same boat as you - particularly if the austerity mongers have their day.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm iffy but OK -- like for the last six years!

If I didn't make it clear, this was a top up for expenses occurred. I'm going to have another one in the near future centered on the site rework -- my startup.

Isn't it just amazing there's no investment money? There is so much good work to do, and no money to do it. Stupid and/or evil psychopaths in charge.

Tony Wikrent's picture
Submitted by Tony Wikrent on

Some of us, like me, just don't evolve in the tech world that fast. A PayPal link would garner additional moolah, at least from me.

Submitted by lambert on

... that "lambert strether" is not the name on my bank account. I can't be chewing my hands that there will be a hold on my account and I have to work my way up through PayPal's support system proving I followed the rules (which may have changed anyhow).

WePay's perfectly respectable and works the same way except the interface has a little more eye candy....

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

Hi Lambert,

When I got to the end of reading this piece the first time around I was in the "What?! mode"- news that you were in Thailand totally out of the blue, although some of the rest, well, you've hinted at (at least) before.

So, when I read "Anyhow, shall I post pictures?" I took it to mean "Uh, how much more do I have to spell this out for you?". And, that may indeed have been what you meant.

On the other hand, if you literally meant "Shall I post pictures from Thailand", or rather should you post pictures.. well, I'd be interested! Mostly I'd be interested to know what you are eating, conveyed in pictures or words.

I spent 4 weeks in Thailand, a long long time ago. Apart from all else, I loved the food. It suited me. The Thai food I ate there was way better than any Thai food I've had in the US. And, we (my travel mate Miranda was a cook book writer) didn't eat in fancy restaurants for foreigners. Food from street vendors and hole in the wall places (so to speak). We had a Thai "minder" in Bangkok (long story) and she was shocked and scolding when we reported our first try of street food. So, we had to continue on the sly.

I've been told since (or read on the internet?) that most Thais, esp. in Bangkok don't have space for cooking at home, and typically eat food from street vendors. I don't know what things are like now, but then, some of the best food I've eaten. Ever.

You said in post that you are a Foodie. For my part, I'd love some posts from you about eating in Bangkok.

Submitted by hipparchia on

i second the request for food pictures/posts.

very happy to hear about the success of fundraiser part 1.

Submitted by lambert on

... because real food photography is hard (that's why there are good stylists) even if lots and lots of people do it.

I might see what I can do otherwise. This is a very different culture and has many points of appeal.

Submitted by hipparchia on

just take 100s or 1000s of photos, keep the 2 or 3 or 10 or 12 that look good and delete the rest. lather-rinse-repeat. that's how professional food photographers [and other professional photographers] all mastered their craft.

we're not looking for faultless professional results. those of us stuck here at home behind our computers just want to see [and read about, and hear about] some faraway exotic corner of the world through your eyes [and ears].

surely your ipad does video too?

Submitted by hipparchia on

at the time of this post, i'd had my new camera for 4 or 5 months and had taken 982 photos, and still, of the nearly 20 photos i posted, only a small handful of them can charitably be called 'good.' if i'd waited for my photography skills to catch up to my vision, the flowers would have been long gone. in fact, i'd still be waiting.

by the time i got to the end of this series, i'd taken about 350 photos of just lights. don't look now, but most [or all] of them really are not great photos; another case of "if i had waited for my mad camera skillz to catch up..."

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

w/o pictures. I was never imagining "food stylist" pictures anyway! More like "local scene" pictures, if possible. Eating place facade, street food vendor (w/ permission), and what yummy thing you ate.

examples of pix- not by food stylists: