Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When love just isn’t in the cards


Excuse my bed head and puffy eyes. I’m coming off Valentine’s Day with another Hallmark hangover.

I don’t know what exactly I said last night, via the greeting card I gave my wife, but I’m certain that it was probably stupid.

There she is, this woman I love. Before we met, my life teetered upon aged pilings with dry rot. She came along and built a stone foundation for my soul. And what does she receive in return?

Envelope, please …

A wise-cracking Valentine’s Day card saying something about keeping up the good work?

I’m a fool.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

New heroes for the downwardly mobile


This is not defeatism. This is forward thinking. For downwardly mobile times, our children need downwardly mobile heroes.


Since our nation is now officially getting reacquainted with the generations-old notion of wishing a better life for our children, who can we point to as role models? Not the carnie shysters of Wall Street who guessed our weight in Chinese yuan while we rubbed sun block on our credit cards during a decades’ long Indian summer of affluence.

And not our own parents. Sorry Mom. Sorry Dad. Love ya! But most of them have pensions. And we don’t. And neither will our children, most likely.


In downwardly mobile times, wouldn’t it be wiser to have heroes who never bought into the dream of upward mobility to begin with?


In other words, these heroes are not what the immigrant steamfitter in the 1800s had in mind when he dreamed of a better life for his children as he trundled home after a long day of hard work and low wages against a backdrop of nativist discrimination.


They are probably not what the soot-smeared coalminer in the 1930s had in mind when he wished for a better life for his children as he walked home against the backdrop of another methane explosion.

They are probably not what the cod fisherman in the 1980s had in mind as he pointed his hull homeward with empty ice chests against the backdrop of a decimated fishery.

What separates us dreaming parents today from those dreaming parents then is that upward mobility — the expectation of a better life for our children — can no longer be presumed. We (you and me) have lived the better life. Most of us were raised in it. And now we are witnesses, by varying degrees, to its disassembly.

So what now?

For me, prompted by my first grader son who recently announced he wishes to grow up to join that most upwardly mobile of upwardly mobile occupations — being an astronaut — I’m rehearsing a speech that I’ll eventually give to him while he still trusts me. The working title of the speech is "Strive to Be More Like the Amish."

Granted, so far my speech sounds way more “Ted Kaczynski” than “Henry David Thoreau,” and I’m working on that. I removed the part about steadfastly rooting himself in the receding end of an advancing society. And I’ve added some parts about the need for him to pluck the iron strings that will put his soul in accord with creation. But basically the gist of it is this: “Son, the future is food. Go be a farmer.”

I’ll explain to him how the Amish are the horseshoe crabs of humanity. Built for the long haul, perpetually headstrong, perpetually prepared, they never bought into the Industrial Revolution, or any other revolution for that matter, so they have nothing to lose by its demise. They don't have to worry that China and India are now competing for the oil we Americans burn like a birthright. Hobbling in horses and buggies across our furious freeways, the Amish are not concerned the oil will run out, that probably nothing could replace oil at the same scale, that the subprime mortgage market would collapse along with our currency, that home equity would evaporate, and that life may get mighty uncomfortable. They have lived uncomfortably all along. But they probably won't go hungry.

"Strive to be downwardly mobile,” is how my speech goes. “Get some land. Learn to grow edible plants. Retrofit a house with the monochromatic plumage of photovoltaics or whatever. Get off the grid. Lead a life of quiet disconnection.

"Get a cow. Maybe some pigs. Have the grit, the pluck, the courage to wet the stone, to sharpen the blade, to turn a feathery fowl on a bed of wood shavings into a golden main course on a bed of homegrown potatoes. Let this be your dream.”

For good measure, I’ll recite some words from the American poet Edwin Markham about a farmer: "Bowed by the weight of centuries/ he leans upon his hoe and gazes on the ground/ The emptiness of ages in his face/ And on his back the burden of the world" — which, while really depressing, is not nearly as depressing as the fact I actually memorized that quote as a part of my upwardly mobile education in an upwardly mobile age in which being a farmer was frowned upon.

Anyway, that’s the speech so far. Tell me I’m wacko, or forever hold your peace. But like the steamfitter, like the coalminer, like the cod fisherman, like all of our forefathers — but perhaps excluding our parents — we have come to an age where we must once again wish for better lives for our children. It’s a notion that built this nation.

The difference is we parents today may have a more difficult time discerning what this better life might look like.

At this moment, the largest leap for mankind may be the one that involves a few small steps backward. That's why when my son draws a picture of himself riding in a rocket ship and asks me how to spell “astronaut,” I spell it for him thusly: “A-m-i-s-h.”