Reaching That Summit

Recently I encountered a very angry young man who called me a “Bougie Baby Boomer.” He resented the fact that I was living so much better than he was. He seemed to feel that we should be in the exact same place in terms of comfort and financial stability.

To that I say, “Wait a minute, whipper snapper. It was a long, hard slog to get to where I am. You have to earn it.”

I remember the years when I lived in a tent. I remember sweating to pay off my student loans (although, granted, these loans are a lot more substantial for the current generation.) I remember having lawn chairs in the front half of my studio apartment for years on end, and a mattress on the floor because I couldn’t afford box springs. I remember surviving on canned soup with rice added in, and generic macaroni and cheese. I’ve been working since I was 10 years old.

I saw my 50th birthday long before I ever had more than one pair of shoes that wasn’t bought at a thrift store. My husband had to convince me it was okay to buy more than one pair of jeans at a time. I only recently got a phone plan that wasn’t pay by the minute.

At the risk of sounding horribly conservative, I really think it’s insane to expect everything to be handed to you on a silver platter. Getting to a point where you aren’t waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering how you’re going to pay the bills, takes a lot of hard work, planning, and delayed gratification.

I was so excited today to be able to give my niece a Home Depot gift card as she’s moving into her first house. That was something I couldn’t have done until very recently. It feels good to be able to behave generously for a change. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s a luxury I couldn’t afford in my younger days.

I’m not rich by any means. And I am painfully aware that not everyone gets to pop their head out of the lower class. I never thought I would. But I’ve passed the soup and rice stage.

I’m not overly thrilled with our capitalist society. But like it or not, we are in this system. We are stuck playing by its rules.

So yeah, kid, you’re going to have to eat your share of Ramen noodles as you climb that mountain. Most of us have struggled to get where we are. It builds character. Man up.

Mountain Peak

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Hadestown and Why We Build the Wall

A friend of mine sent me a link to a song called Why We Build the Wall, and it is so apropos that it sent chills up my spine. But the irony is that the singer/songwriter, Anaïs Mitchell, didn’t write it recently. In fact, she said, “This song is ten years old… Any resemblance of any contemporary political figures to the King of the Underworld is purely coincidental.”

She wrote the song to be included in a musical called Hadestown, and that play has gotten a bit of a revival of late. It will be playing Broadway in 2019, and they’ve announced a London run as well. If it ever tours this country and comes anywhere near Seattle, I definitely want to see it.

What I find most amusing about this song is that Trump supporters think it’s pro-wall, and that building a wall actually makes us free. So they tend to like the song, too. But in fact, if you listen to the lyrics closely, and actually know the background story of the play, you know that this is Hades attempt to distract the people of Hadestown. He wants to keep them busy, so he can maintain control. He gives them convenient sound bites to repeat until they believe what they’re doing is the right thing. Sound familiar?

Here are the lyrics, but I hope you’ll click on the link to the song above and actually hear it. Only then will you experience it fully, and hopefully realize that walls don’t just keep people out, they keep us in. In fear.

It makes me wonder why we’re being distracted. I mean, we all kind of know. But what don’t we know?

Why We Build the Wall by Anaïs Mitchell

HADES
Why do we build the wall?
My children, my children,
Why do we build the wall?

CERBERUS
Why do we build the wall?
We build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
How does the wall keep us free?
My children, my children,
How does the wall keep us free?

CERBERUS
How does the wall keep us free?
The wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
Who do we call the enemy?
My children, my children,
Who do we call the enemy?

CERBERUS
Who do we call the enemy?
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
Because we have and they have not!
My children, my children,
Because they want what we have got!

CERBERUS
Because we have and they have not!
Because they want what we have got!
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
What do we have that they should want?
My children, my children,
What do we have that they should want?

CERBERUS
What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none,
And our work is never done,
My children, my children,
And the war is never won.
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free;
That’s why we build the wall.
We build the wall to keep us free.
We build the wall to keep us free.

Special thanks to M for inspiring this post!

hadestown

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Mean World Syndrome

People alive today have access to more news and entertainment than any human being in the history of the planet. If anything major happens in the world, we are all able to find out about it almost instantly. We’ve come a long way from the days when a hurricane could hit Long Island without any advanced warning for its residents. Surely that’s to our benefit, right?

Yes and no. We also have more access to misinformation and exaggeration, and our ability to think critically does not seem to be keeping apace. That means that many of us believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. This is called mean world syndrome, and it’s a serious problem.

If you don’t believe that your attitudes are shaped by the media, then you haven’t been paying attention. Without its influence, there’s no way that someone so deranged and unqualified could be in the White House. Without it, none of us would feel the need to keep up with the Kardashians. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never felt that need. But then, I don’t have a TV in my house, either.)

If it’s any comfort at all, according to this Public Radio International article, the world is a much safer pace than it used to be. War deaths have dramatically decreased. We just hear about them more often. We all work fewer hours each week. There is less poverty and homicide, and more democracy than ever before.

And this article from Psychology Today also states that violence against women and children has decreased worldwide. We are more likely to die of old age than in a hail of bullets.

And, lest we forget, the average life expectancy for the residents of this planet is now up in the 70’s, as opposed to age 48 back in 1950. That’s pretty remarkable, don’t you think? So stop what you’re doing, look about you, and breathe. It’s going to be okay. Odds are pretty good that you won’t encounter any lions or tigers or bears. Oh, my.

dorothy

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Basic Economics

Many people fall for the fantasy of the American Dream. Who could blame them? It’s a beautiful story. Its moral is that you are completely in control of your own destiny. If you work hard enough, do everything you’re supposed to, and floss your teeth once a day, you’ll live happily ever after. Pffft. If that were true I’d be a millionaire.

There are several flaws with this theory. First of all, it’s fairly safe to assume that most rich people aren’t self-made. God knows Donald Trump isn’t. If it weren’t for daddy, the Donald would probably be one of those loudmouth losers sitting on the last bar stool at the corner pub, and everyone would go out of the way to avoid him. And do you think Paris Hilton would be rich from her own efforts? Please.

Second, getting you to buy into the American Dream has some very nefarious results. It undermines your confidence. You’ll always be able to look around and see people who are doing better than you are. What are you doing wrong? Aren’t you working hard enough? What’s wrong with you? Work harder! And it also makes you focus on what you should have, rather than taking a hard look at your current circumstances.

Rich people need all of us down here being worker-bees, so they won’t have to. They need us down here focused on grinding out our widgets rather than getting uptight about our current situations. We are commodities to them. The more they can get us to produce, the more valuable we are to them. It’s the same in a slave-holding society. The hardest workers are sold for the highest prices.

Third, the American Dream is based on the concept that there’s an unlimited amount of wealth in the world. Rich people would have you believe that wealth is like kudzu. Just provide the right conditions for it, and soon you are up to your eyeballs in the weeds of abundance. You’ll be so darned rich that you’ll be chopping money down with a machete in a desperate attempt to see daylight.

Kudzu

Poppycock. Wealth is finite. If it were infinite, it wouldn’t be worth anything. If our economy were based on the kudzu standard, you’d need acres of the stuff just to buy a loaf of bread. This is why so many economies were originally based on the gold standard. There’s only so much gold on the planet. When something is rare and hard to obtain, it’s considered precious. It is said to have worth. But really, gold is just a lump of metal. It’s just that we all agree to assign it value.

Now that we’ve established that there’s only so much wealth out there, you have to face a hard fact. In order for people to accumulate wealth, they have to take it away from the rest of us. In other words, they are rich because we are poor. The system is set up to keep you down.

But here’s where it gets really weird. Even the rich people are now bumping up against the problem that wealth is finite. They want more, but there isn’t more. Not really. So they create all sorts of fictitious types of wealth that are based on… well… nothing. More and more rectangular pieces of paper that are called money for no good reason other than that we all agree it has worth. Credit. Stocks, bonds, loans, unsustainable mortgages, liens that will never be honored… All of these things are starting to get further and further away from actual substantive value, and that’s why we have things like the economic disaster of 2008. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.

I think the thing that scares the 1% more than anything else right now is the internet. The 99% are starting to share information with each other. We are starting to pull our heads out of the sand and actually see things. We’re getting smarter, and they’re not able to get away with as much. And when they do, we’re getting angrier. We’re starting to share our anger with each other.

We are also starting to reevaluate what has worth. We are talking about quality of life issues such as human rights and healthcare and climate and education and housing. These are things that you can’t fake or inflate.

That’s got to be terrifying for rich people. They’re sitting there, jealously guarding their pots of gold. What will they do if we all decide that gold is no different than lead? If that happens, then the Trumps of the world will be revealed to be the fools that they are.

I think economics is going to be a vital and dynamic field during the rest of this century. Change is coming. I, personally, am looking forward to it.

Monopoly
It’s just paper.

It’s a Jungle Out There

When I moved from Florida to Seattle, one of the things that shocked me the most was the number of homeless people in this city. You’d think that Florida would have cornered the market on the homeless because the weather is so much warmer, but apparently not. I have no idea why that is.

Here they are everywhere. Not a day goes by when I don’t see dozens slogging through the rain or huddled on street corners or begging at the exit ramps. It’s truly heartbreaking, and it’s a constant reminder of how fragile financial security truly is in a city where the cost of living is completely out of control.

Ever since I volunteered with Operation Sack Lunch, the homeless situation has been in the forefront of my mind. Recently the mayor of Seattle declared a state of emergency on homelessness, and even as he was giving a speech about it, 5 homeless people were getting shot in the Jungle.

The Jungle is a mile long stretch under Interstate 5 in the South Seattle/Georgetown area. It’s a lawless, dangerous area where hundreds of homeless people sleep each night. There’s no sanitation, rats and garbage are everywhere, and you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting a dilapidated tent or a used syringe.

On the night in question, the police suspect a drug deal went wrong. The result was a 45 year old woman and a 33 year old man were shot dead, and 3 other people were severely wounded and taken to the hospital.

I can’t think of a more horrible way to end your life than to bleed out in a fetid, disease-ridden no-man’s land in the middle of one of the most prosperous cities in the richest country on earth. It’s just not right. It’s an outrage. I don’t know what else to say.

Jungle
The Jungle, Seattle. [Image credit: kuow.org]

Anti-Climax Heights

I was taking a trip down memory lane the other day and decided to Google Earth all my former houses. What an eye opening experience. The house I lived in right after college has been painted hot pink. The one I lived in after that, which was a total dump with rotting floors, questionable plumbing, and a seemingly incurable cockroach infestation, is now a high-end bed and breakfast. The house I used to own has been stripped of its shrubbery, has a brand new gorgeous front door, and the brick stairway I had labored over so diligently during the course of one hot summer week has been ripped out.

But the most gut-wrenching change was to the best home I ever lived in. Age 7 to 10 was the sweet spot in my childhood. For the first time in my life we weren’t held firmly in the grip of brutal poverty. (Little did I know how brief my vacation from that would be.) And the house we lived in was completely amazing.

Actually, it was a mansion, complete with fireplaces, front and back stairways, a full-sized pantry off the kitchen, a gigantic side porch, and an even bigger front and back yard. It was perched atop a hill, and there was even a secret path through the woods, and lots of trees to climb. My best friend lived right across the street. Essentially it was a kid’s paradise. I had my very own room for the first time, which my mother made the mistake of allowing me to paint, so it was purple.

We didn’t own this mansion. It came with my stepfather’s job, which was managing the industrial park in which it stood. And we had to share the house with a company, something vaguely to do with publishing as I recall, which occupied the front half of the first floor. We had to be quiet during business hours. But still, it was the coolest house ever. I was completely in love with it.

It was after that that everything turned to shit. My stepfather lost the job, we moved to Florida to live in a tent, the abuse began, and the crushing poverty settled back over us like a blanket infected with smallpox. Thus ended what little childhood innocence I was allowed to enjoy.

Needless to say, that house on Climax Heights Road holds a special place in my heart. So imagine my shock when I went to Google Earth and found out the street as I knew it no longer exists. The houses were torn down. Hills were leveled. Buildings were constructed. I contacted my friend who once lived across the street from me, and she confirmed that the area is completely unrecognizable.

Days later, I’m still having a hard time digesting this news. I liked to think that no matter how turbulent my life became, there would always be a place, long ago, far away, that was an oasis, where things were good and safe and calm. My own little Brigadoon.

Sometimes when time marches on, it tramples right over your memories.

[Image credit: mrkate.com]
[Image credit: mrkate.com]

The REAL Sword of Damocles

Most of us are sort of familiar with this Greek story. The sword represents peril. It hangs by a single horse hair over Damocles’ head. All well and good. But the moral of the story is actually that people in positions of power can never rest easy in spite of their luxurious lives. They have too much responsibility and too many things can go wrong.

To that I say boo freakin’ hoo. People in positions of power ask to be there. They work for it. They often lie, cheat and steal for it.

If you really want to know what it’s like to sit beneath the sword of Damocles, try being poor and powerless sometime. Try struggling every single day just to make sure your kids have enough to eat. Try knowing that you’re one flat tire away from losing what little financial cushion you’ve managed to scrape together. Try living under a viaduct and worrying that if you sleep too soundly, one of your fellow homeless people may rob or attack you. Try living with the knowledge that if your boss doesn’t like you, he’ll find a way to make you lose your job, and then you’ll lose everything. That is the real sword of Damocles.

According to Bernie Sanders, half of the people in America have less than $10,000 in their savings accounts. In other words, the majority of the people in this land of supposed  milk and honey will have to work until they drop dead. Retirement is a pure fantasy. I personally would give my left arm to have as much as 10k in my account. I’ve never had it, and probably never will, even though I’ve been working since I was 10 years old.

Okay, rich people, I’m sure you lead stressful lives, too. But you have something the rest of us don’t have: options. So don’t you dare expect me to feel sorry for you.

End of rant.

Try living my life for even two seconds, you pompous gasbag. (Image credit: crooksandliars.com)
Try living my life for even two seconds, you pompous gasbag. (Image credit: crooksandliars.com)