February 5, 2009

Forget the Terrorists. It’s the Communists who have won.

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:38 pm by the Green-Eyed Siren

I’m not talking about the salary caps on executives of our newly nationalized banking system. I’m having trouble summoning outrage over that when I think about all the credit card offers I received as a college student with a negative income, or the fact that the banks would have approved us for a mortgage twice the size of the one we took even though that would have left us insanely indebted. No, I’m someone who thinks a couple of steps ahead, and here in the winter of our discontent I cannot get Dr. Zhivago out of my mind.

I’ve never read the novel (Great Books curriculum FAIL), but I saw the Omar Sharif film about ten years ago, I think. It opens on the picture of decadence in still-Tsarist Russia and takes us through the society’s transformation into a Communist share-the-misery kind of state. We watch as Zhivago’s family manse becomes shared quarters for multiple members of the proletariat. The good doctor’s family escapes to what had been its summer estate prior to the nationalization of property; we cringe as, fearing discovery, they suffer through the brutal winter’s cold.

Here in Chicago, and across much of the United States, we have been hunkered down ourselves, enduring one of the most trying winters in memory. It is brutal and demoralizing, this relentless cold and snow, and taken in conjunction with news reports of increasingly alarming economic news it is hard to feel like things will ever turn around. Even President Obama, in trying to express to the American people why he feels so strongly about his economic stimulus package, is telling us that, without it, “Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.” Gee, thanks, Mr. President. Good to hear that uplifting rhetoric you’re so well known for at this fragile moment.

Still, while I am not happy that he came out and said this, I can’t disagree with his concern. I’d like to say, “oh, don’t be silly, spring will be here soon and we’ll all feel better, things will work themselves out.” But clearly that’s not going to happen. I hope the stimulus package passes because, hell, at least it’s doing something. But I’d sure like to know where all the green economy building stuff went because that’s the only place where I see actual long-term value—in the sense of doing something that creates an actual revenue-generating commodity from the physical and intellectual resources we possess as a nation.

In the midst of this crazy crisis time I feel like I’m developing dual identities. One part of me is happily Facebooking and Tweeting and blogging about all that is random and useless, generally with an ample helping of bad-economy gallows humor. The other part of me is in a constant state of fear and depression, like a background application gone haywire, breaking through my online party time more and more frequently to have anxiety attacks about our collective future.

Mr. Unfocused’s firm laid off a bunch of people this week; he sat in the kitchen and grimly wrote about how it feels to survive an asteroid impact, and I posted a bunch of nonsense about Pandora. But we needed to laugh in the middle of that awful day. And what else can I do? I’m as helpless as everyone else when it comes to repairing a system that’s in total failure, and if I can amuse my husband with a silly post, at least I’m helping to lighten his load as our family’s sole breadwinner for a minute and a half.

I began this post talking about Dr. Zhivago because I’m imagining ten years from now when personal property will be nonexistent and our government-seized home with its excessive four bathrooms will be shared by eight families (although the bathrooms will probably be rendered useless because there won’t be any more running water). We’ll be Comrades shivering together in more of this soul-destroying cold; I just hope we get to choose the other seven families who will be joining us around the (natural gas; hope that’s still flowing) fireplace. Although there are those who believe otherwise, none of this will happen because of limiting banking executives’ pay; this will happen because countless regular people will lose their jobs and then their houses, and when the banks collapse under the weight of non-income generating real-estate holdings, it’s all gonna end up in the hands of the government. If we’re lucky, that is, and we haven’t separated into tribal factions by then.

I’m looking ahead to when my kids will be teenagers and the world will be a totally different place, a place where (if Zhivago gives us a map) only the most sensitive and optimistic will be able to see past the gray misery of merely existing to seek the beauty that remains. I’ve been trying to raise my children to be resilient people, but how do you prepare for what’s coming when it is Dr. Zhivago? Or, worse, Lord of the Flies? And how do you help them to be resilient people who are still sensitive to beauty? Because if we lose our human response to beauty, then we have indeed been utterly defeated. I confess to being deeply, viscerally frightened of what the future brings.

The immediate future here in Chicago, though, will bring a thaw. Temperatures are expected to hit 38º F tomorrow, which will feel miraculous following day after interminable day of waking to 3º and below. I hope that when it is no longer so goddamn cold it will be possible to view the world situation with clear, perhaps less fearful, eyes. Regardless, I intend to continue to cling to gallows humor. I will write more frivolous posts angsting over a life situation that 97% of people would be happy with, secure in the knowledge that even that other 3% couldn’t have it any better than I do; my blessings are beyond abundant. But if I’m sounding like a shallow, vacuous person concerning herself only with inanities, remember that there’s another program running in the background; one that is calculating ten steps ahead and can’t cope with what it sees.



  1. Mike said,

    I try not to talk about the crumbling economy on my blog either. It’s not that I don’t think about it, but I like to have a place where I don’t have to worry about it. Does that make sense? Believe me, I think about it all the time.

  2. freshhell said,

    I’m with Mike. I think during the last Depression, Hollywood pumped out a lot of silly movies because it’s too depressing to go day in and day out without a laugh. I don’t think we’re going to go communist. Ever. Even though I do think there needs to be a little more, um, sharing of the wealth. But, I don’t really talk about it on my blog because I don’t see the point and I wouldn’t do any argument justice with my small amount of knowledge. It’s everywhere, visible in the headlines every single day. Winter is crushing us with its awfulness. The president has a hell of a lot to deal with so, no miracles will come from that quarter anytime soon. I’d rather focus on what’s good and happy and funny in my life. When I can. Because otherwise I might drown in a puddle of my own tears. Instead, I’ll just watch Blazing Saddles over and over until things are rosier.

  3. harri3tspy said,

    I don’t know what you all are talking about because I’ve got my fingers in my ears. La-la-la…still not listening!

  4. chel said,

    We help our children become resilient people by giving them access to beauty, and art, and nature despite what is happening around them. If you have the opportunity to read the book “The Cellist of Sarajevo” by Steven Galloway you should do so. It provides a series of character sketches of people finding beauty and humanity during horrific conditions and in a very sad and stark way reminds that there is hope.

  5. Green Eyed Siren's Mom said,

    Well said, chel! The ability to find beauty and meaning in our lives makes us stronger.

  6. Pickle Horwitz said,

    I appreciate your confession and completely empathize with your voice. How does a parent keep their balance just enough so as not to imbalance the child? For this, there is no road map. I often simplify things and ask myself if my kids are better off than I was as a child. If the answer is yes, I keep on truckin’. If no, I pause and reflect. Often I must back-step because I missed the sign.

    As far as gratitude, I hear ya, girl. While I am a firm believer in the power of complaint, I do recognize how incredibly fortunate I, as well as most of my friends, are. Whenever I am heard wallowing just a little too loudly, my lovely husband reminds me of reality.

    Kudos to your reader Chel for recognizing the importance of hope. Without it, I would not be able to get out of bed.

  7. If we’re lucky, that is, and we haven’t separated into tribal factions by then.

    I’m counting on this, at least in the futuristic I’m currently writing. :)

  8. Lass said,

    Like Harriet and Freshhell, I’m choosing to live in my own private Idaho…to think about the economic asteroid coming our way is just too much for me right now. My escapist viewing of choice are dvds of Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. I heartily recommend both.

  9. Jeanne said,

    After I read this, a comment was not enough, so I wrote an entire post responding to it:
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. Thanks, everybody, for talking me down, and for your excellent recommendations for reading & viewing material. I think we’re all going to need both escapism and inspiration as this gets sorted out.

  11. […] ourselves into that level of debt I would probably have had a true nervous breakdown to accompany my visions of a modern Dr. Zhivago situation last winter, and we might well not have been able to cope with the financial burden of a […]

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