There’s a video making its way around social media that’s meant to be adorable but won’t stop haunting me.
In it, a small open-mouthed bird marches after a worm. It gets close to the worm, and the worm wiggles away. The bird seems nonplussed for a moment, then follows it and opens its mouth again.
This repeats a few times, and a text appears to explain what’s happening: when baby birds leave the nest, the only way food has ever gotten into their mouths up to that point has been from their parents putting it directly into their mouths. Apparently, there can be some confusion about how to make it happen on their own.
It’s pretty adorable unless, as I do, you horrifyingly see your current self in the baby bird.
But the bird’s probably got it easier than you or me. We all see the straightforward solution to its plight, and we know that it will eventually figure it out. It’s got instinct on its side, after all.
For me as for many others, those open mouths might stay open for a very long time. I know I’m the bird, but what’s the worm? In my case, it’s a symbol for nourishment: work that can get me the things I need like food, shelter, and possibly massages.
The video showed up for me during what’s turning out to be quite a rough time. As a writer and translator, I’m a contract worker everywhere; though I’m constantly on the lookout, I haven’t managed to nail down an actual full-time job with fair pay or benefits. It seems my generation was 10-15 years too late to the good employment party…what a difference I see between the opportunities of those currently in their 50s and 60s and my generation!
For most of the year, things have been great: I’m good at what I do and have had a constant stream of assignments that have kept me living well (in Mexico, anyway) and able to provide myself and my family with the benefits that a job won’t, like health insurance and some meager savings.
But since October, things have gone down. I’ve gone from being constantly busy with tons of fun work to having almost nothing to do, and am facing some very serious financial setbacks very soon if something doesn’t change.
Being in Mexico means that most new job offers want to pay much less than the going rate (“You don’t need that much, you’re in Mexico!” being the main assumption).
I’m officially “hired” at several different places (never put all your eggs in one basket, as they say!), but I can’t force anyone to actually give me work assignments. The word for the past couple of months has been, “Sorry, we don’t have anything for you right now…but we’ll let you know!” In the meantime, my savings are dwindling and there’s no new money coming in. Like that little bird, I can’t oblige anyone to give me work, no matter how willing and talented I may be. If I stay a contractor forever, this will be my working reality forever. I just can’t seem to get that steady job worm to hop into my mouth, and I’m not sure how to scoop it up myself.
Humans being the superstitious creatures they are, and me being human, I’m of course trying to find some meaning in all this.
Is it a sign? The message from the gods would seem to be to not depend on outside employment for income, but how do I “do my own thing” and make enough money at it to live?
I’ve long dreamed of becoming a professional organizer and decorator, which is another creative passion of mine: making places beautiful. But how, especially when I live in a place where people would likely not be able to afford what I’d need to charge to make it a real business and not simply volunteer work? And more importantly, how do I get money to support myself and my family in the meantime? It’s not that I’m trying to make excuses to wiggle my way out of a new venture, I just need to see a path where we’ll get to keep eating while I figure it out.
How, oh how, do I scoop up that little worm?
To end, here’s another great meme I saw, in the form of a headline (the satirical news site Reductress always brilliantly saves the day): “‘I Need a Second Job,’ Says Woman Who Actually Needs Different Economic System.”
Ah. There it is.