They liked my house! They didn’t buy it, but they liked it. At least they liked it more than one of the other houses in the neighborhood. Friends frequently comment on my upbeat attitude in the midst of financial mayhem. Maybe I should hit the lecture circuit telling folks how to stay optimistic regardless of the situation. I’d be happy to; but, I suspect I’d deliver a bit too much truth at the same time. We want our stories simple and clear. Ambiguity doesn’t sell well, even if it is the nature of reality. Maybe I’ve passed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s test, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” I don’t know if it is a sign of intelligence, but it is a characteristic I see in the hard workers who are barely getting by. They simultaneously see the positive and negative potentials and persevere.
Hard work has become incredibly common. I can’t think of anyone who has more free time, who is socializing more than they did before, except for those that are millionaires or have impressive incomes. Shop owners, lumberjacks, consultants, and construction workers are working as many hours as possible, but few expect their work will ever enable retirement. That part of the American Dream has faded for many. On average, one in six Americans you see are in poverty. Half of America is living paycheck-to-paycheck. The applauded health care initiative has insured millions, but for many it is an added expense which has benefits they can’t afford to use. Paycheck-to-paycheck doesn’t leave room for co-pays, deductibles, prescriptions, tests, or procedures.
The Old American Dream lives on; but, it’s incarnation in Cadillac’s Super Bowl ad came across as incredibly insensitive. “Americans work harder than Europeans because we want the best things in life.” That’s true for a shrinking few. The rest are working to somehow maintain the necessities of life. Cadillacs aren’t on the shopping list.
Can you hear the Wagnerian music swelling as indignation rises? Pardon me as I produce a well-used pin that pops that ballooning emotion.
If I concentrated on the injustice and inequity I’d live a much shorter life. I like myself more than that. I don’t ignore the issues, as regular readers know, but I actively search for balancing forces.
My Litany of Optimism continues. Some folks call it Counting Your Blessings, which is a fine way to focus on the present. I do that too. But I also must set goals for re-attaining a healthy dose of ease in my life. Working seven days a week is not healthy, yet as with many others, that’s what is necessary – for now.
Every other Tuesday night is dance practice. Swing, waltz, latin, maybe a bit of country – some volunteer produces a playlist. Someone else hosts the event at one of the community-owned local dance halls. We all contribute a few dollars and for two hours we practice or play. I look forward to it, and wish it happened more often – but I don’t have the time to volunteer so I won’t complain. (Besides, I did my stint a few years ago.)
I got there early so I took a detour and dropped in on some friends who have a fine art print shop nearby. They’ve been nice enough to host an annual show and include my art. (Thanks.) Let me check. Yep. Their hours are 10am to 5pm – except for the fact that they are likely to show up early, stay late, and work weekends. When I got there, it was more than an hour past closing and they had hours of work to do. Sounds successful; except that, like so many small businesses, they’re scrambling as they wait for checks to come in for work that’s already delivered. Paying people, like themselves, waits. They love their work, but like so many people I know they’ve also had to give up too much of their lives, in my opinion. (They do impressive work, which I’ve much appreciated.)
They exemplify that balance between loving their work and needing to work less. Others find balance by creating art, because it is fulfilling and the cheapest entertainment. Dancing provides a big dose of my balance. When I dance I smile. No analysis required. More dancing highly recommended. At least for a couple of hours, I get to move to the music instead of thinking through every thing I do.
But dancing isn’t the solution for every day, though it does sound appealing. (Imagine the shape I’d be in then.) For most days I find the balance by reminding myself of the possible positives.
Hard work alone is no longer the answer, but it can lead to raises and better offers. Investments exist within a more skewed environment due to unregulated markets, but a contrarian always has reason to hope. My mortgage issues could be solved by a significant modification or a rising market or a full-price buyer. Sales of my books and photos could resurge. My clients could become more frequent and pay for upgraded services. I hear I’m on a lot of short lists for nice jobs, so maybe I’ll get an unsolicited call for a job that is better than I imagine and pays me to do something I’d be willing to do for free because it is so fun.
I know I am not alone. The American Dream may have faded to the point that its appearance in ads seems like farce; but, I am encouraged that of all the hardworking people I know, dreams based on their desires and values are replacing old stereotypes. Cadillacs in three car garages are being replaced with plans for small houses with big gardens and eventually more time for each other and for each self. The present is being balanced by the future because that’s where the optimism lives.