Friday, October 10, 2008

Surfing the Apocalypse

My mom once told me that she read an article about trends and how they got started, and according to what she'd read, I was an early adopter. I don't know if this is true or not (I didn't read the article). I am not particularly trendy, and in some ways I feel like I'm generally a few steps behind. It took me a while to get out of college (six minors, no major) and I lived like a student for years after that. I guess I'm no longer living like a student because I bought Shack By the Sea five years ago, but if you visited my humble abode and looked at the funky old Korean and Chinese cabinets, the 50s era dinette set, the framed poster of Zhou Enlai spinning yarn (with the slogan "A Common Soldier") and more to the point, The Great Wall of Books, you'd probably conclude "eccentric hermit academic writer". Possibly a Commie. But I don't actually have a degree either. You know, six minors, no major, way more credits than necessary for a BA, a drop-out due to boredom and the need to get on with my life, which surely would consist of six figure screenplay deals and rock stardom. But I digress.

In some ways, I guess I have been ahead of certain trends. I lived in China in '79, when that was pretty much unheard of for an American. I came home and taught myself bass guitar, so I could play in a band - I had Carol Kaye and Tina Weymouth to inspire me, but it was still pretty rare at that time, to the point where I got both admiration and a lot of shit. More of the former, but the latter was not insignificant. Later, I recognized an under-utilized resource at my former company and managed to turn it into something relevant and really cool.

Which brings me to my latest trend-setting activity: I left my job of over 15 years on Sept. 2. Right before everything went crazy.

Anyone who's been paying any attention knew this was coming, that our current economy was unsustainable, based on debt and obscure financial transactions that were some form of mutated pyramid schemes on steroids. I'd felt this anxiety acutely the last couple years, that any moment it was all going to come crashing down, that I had to somehow get out, play it right. Escape.

But truth be told, I've nearly always lived my life in the shadow of dread, with the sense that disaster can strike at any moment, that I am not safe. That no one is.

While this is more or less logically true — hey, you could get hit by a bus! — it does make for a certain degree of ambient stress.

Particularly in the case of my job, where I never felt secure. This was actually a pretty rational conclusion. My department was nearly sacrificed to the Corporate Gods a number of times, and only a certain cockroach skill at politicking on my part and great allies within the company managed to save it. This time, politicking (by a bunch of folks) backed up by the department's good reputation preserved it. But as far as my own job went, I realized that I just wasn't up to fighting for it. It wasn't worth it to me anymore. I'd rather see the department stay and make a decent exit. Everybody got what they wanted that way.

Sometimes you have to let go, particularly when you may not have a choice. And I wanted to leave.

So, here I am, an "Unemployed American" sitting on my couch, watching wave after wave of economic crisis crash on our shores. I feel okay. When you've already lost something big, there's not so much anxiety, you know?

I have about a year's worth of resources. Maybe a little more. I have the sense that I'm holing up in my shelter, stocked with supplies; enough, I hope, to weather this storm.

No one knows how bad this is going to get. I think it will get pretty bad, and that for a lot of people who don't have the resources I have, things will be very bad indeed. But I also think that after the shakeout, we may be in better shape, because maybe our economy and our society will out of necessity get back to basics, rebuild on a sounder foundation. Based on real things, of value.

Maybe I'm an optimist after all.

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