As we got settled the other night in the theatre, I watched the ushers and remembered my own ushering gig at the Koger Center, during graduate school. I said to my husband, "That was a great job, except for having to deal with the public." But we got to see great shows and great performers for free. I saw Sarah Vaughan in what would be one of her last performances, for example.
When economic bad news comes in waves, like yesterday's stock market drop, I fight off my panic by saying, "I can cope with a bad economy. I made it through grad school."
In a way, grad school was a bargain. I had a teaching assistantship, so I was paid a pittance and my tuition was only $200 a semester, which could be taken out of my paycheck. I made it through a PhD program without taking out any loans. I lived on very little. There was always that edge of financial terror, but we learned to live with very little money.
Of course, it helped that all my friends were similarly situated. Instead of going out to eat, we cooked meals together, usually vegetarian because we couldn't afford meat and some of us had ethical concerns. When we weren't ushering, we played games or watched videos that we checked out of the library. We went on long walks and attended free festivals at local parks. If it hadn't been for the constant worry that I couldn't stretch my paycheck to cover my bills, I'd remember it as a great time.
I had a similar experience when we moved to Florida, and I strung together adjunct jobs while looking for a full-time job. The constant worry about money was exhausting, as was the need to always be working 6 months ahead to make sure I had enough classes lined up. But there was something exhilarating about setting myself free from some of the constraints of the capitalist system.
We may be moving towards an economy where more and more people feel that exhilaration and terror, that freedom from an ordinary full time job. NPR's Talk of the Nation recently ran a piece on the gig economy; go here to hear it.