Monday, November 2, 2009

In my new way of writing - not focusing so much on hard news, I want to share some soft news about something wonderful that has happened to me. Recently I wanted to find out more info on a person I met and had to register on a website to read the only solid information out there. In the process I linked my married and maiden names online for the first time. ANd then voila, 3 days later comes an email from my best friend from over 40 years ago. I joined the site for $10 to read it.

I knew the person had been my dearest friend at one point, but after a hurt that occurred a long time ago, her attempted amends were thwarted by my scar tissue; healing remained dormant. The injured tissues were covered over, long forgotten until my procrastinating forays online invited this blast from my past.

It was odd because for me being online is an anonymous grazing activity. It has supplanted just about every other technique that I formerly used to procrastinate. I no longer do much housecleaning or fiction writing, because being on the computer gives me a feeling of busyness and production that seems to meet many of my needs for achievement and accomplishment. But never before has it produced such a surprise visitor.

This dear soul from so long ago in my life has really touched me. It's as if something buried all of those years ago, which had apparently caused a lot of pain for us both, went underground but didn't heal. It is now being unearthed it seems - to heal. And the amount of loving kindness and healing that she has heaped on me - via her writing and warmth - has come at just the right time for me.

In my fifties now and reviewing my life and decisions I made, and the course I took and where I'm headed, I've been seeking a good "story" of my life - an explanation - sort of like an elevator speech - for what's up with me now. The truth is that mostly I'm at a loss as to how to explain myself - even to myself. Like many overachievers it was going to be difficult for me to measure up to my own standards. Yet as a professional storyteller, I'd like to have one about myself. A good one, and yes, I like happy endings.

My old friend has never heard my story and in my retelling, a great byproduct has been gaining a deeper insight into myself and seeing why I did what I did through a more mature and forgiving lens. I am so so grateful this friend has refreshed my recollections of me when I was so young, at such a formative time in my life. In truth I can barely remember that time. As the glimpses sink in, and get filled out with more details, I want to remember more fully who I was then and what I wished for. I think it would help me now to know it.

You know how when a building is constructed, a cornerstone is often created and buried beneath a precious box contains keepsakes of the era. Years later, if the building is torn down to make way for something new, the box gets opened and memories depicting another era see the light of day. And in a flash there it is - instant karma - to the full flavor of another time and if you're lucky, a fleeting glimpse of what that other time meant to you.

That's what this reunion has meant for me. It has provided me with a new perspective on something buried long ago.

I'm sure many people have had these internet reunions. I often read about long lost twins or siblings reuniting after 50 years. And yet I wonder how many little healings occur all over the planet because of people like my friend who had the courage to reach out. My new friend has opened me in a way I've not experienced. By remembering who I was then, I see things I hadn't realized may have mattered. Back then I was more open and free-spirited. I'm glad to be in touch with that. I want my dear friend to know how much I am grateful that she had the courage to search for me. It seems I too have been looking for myself for a long time. Thanks for helping me connect some of the dots.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Musings from the Sunshine State

I've been meaning to write here sooner - but my perfectionistic tendencies have caused 2 months to pass before I can write something noteworthy or newsy or "important" to help inform others. And guess what? This won't be it!!!! Yeah, I've been reading the news and I have my take on it, but mostly I find myself overwhelmed. I started living in a new location (paradise of sorts) and reading two newspapers daily and find I don't care as much as I "should." These things just seem too remote from my life and the life of people I know. I mean has the compensation czar contacted you to cut back your pay or bonus because it is excessive in view of the government loans you received?

One thing nice about my new locale on the east coast of Florida is that most people are from somewhere else and heat induces a relaxation response. And although the work ethic of many tradespeople would not fly in the Northeast (I hail from NY) it is a great relief not to have explain myself by what I do for a living. It seems that in NY anyway,people are defined by where they live, their job titles and their net worth. If any of those arenas are shaky, it gets hard to explain yourself.

But here in the sunshine state people are defined by whether they can drive, see above the steering wheel or eat dinner at an early bird special. The first thing is not where you live, where you went to school, or how much money you make. Actually the quality of your life matters more than the other stuff. Whether you have time to enjoy your life counts for a lot.

Plus being here is like the reverse of "Cheers." Remember that TV bar where everyone knows your name? I am grateful to be where no one knows my name and is unconcerned about my status or merit points. Sometimes it feels like I'm taking a breather or even hiding out a bit, but in a strange way I'm percolating on seeing what matters to me now - now that I have been liberated from the job, the title, the treadmill of achievement that I had been on for a long long time.

The sunshine can be startling, as can the heat, but it's hard not to smile at the balmy breezes, the magnificent cloud formations and the knowledge that tomorrow might be just like today. A bad mood can be lifted by a walk to the beach. It's giving me time to think and realize that life really has been too much for me to take in at times - despite all my efforts. Maybe I wasn't meant to be in the rat race so maybe it is a blessing that I no longer am?

As I read the same newspapers from my perch in Florida, I realize that although my healthcare is exorbitant, and I am technically part of the long term unemployed and my investments tumbled like everyone else's, nothing I read anywhere leads me to believe that me, or people like me will benefit from anything on the government's list of fixes.

I have been thinking how in my life I did the "right things" - You know college, post-grad education, worked hard, had a skill and thought if I did all the right stuff, life would be good. Yet I can see that the tradespeople got the pensions, steady work and opportunity to fund a second career. Some of those folks now offer to do handyman work in my house and will only take cash - so they don't have to pay taxes. I am not confident that my native honesty and integrity and hard work got me anywhere. But I do know I am happy with who I am and can live with what I've done. I am, however, surprised that it didn't lead to a more successful turn of events. When I read the happenings of wall streeters and top business people, I see that greed does pay.

I know many people took the path I did, and are now in the same boat. They feel themselves oddly to be over the hill because they are out of work at 50, and wonder if they will get back on track. I wonder what the track was and why I clung to it so. The payoff wasn't what I expected and now I see that forging one's own path may be the way to go.

But for now, when it seems I have a hard time navigating in my own simple life - to find meaning and purpose and put one foot in front of the other, I don't know that reading the news is really a help at all. I think I'm keeping informed, but it all seems far away. I am truly grateful there are others out there who are trying to sort out the problems of the world and make things better. I would like to join the ranks of people making a difference and maybe it will turn out to be the case.

But for now, the news about ridiculous pay for executives, whopping profits reported by companies about to go under 12 months ago and war news from places I feel we should not be - well that all seems quite remote from my world; from the day to day stories that people share with me of their hardships, challenges and fears; they seem to have so many more "real" worries than anyone in the media seems to acknowledge. And so I wanted to do that here. I feel your pain. I know it is real. I wish and hope that we all find a way to get things growing again.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Take: The Rebounding Economy?

As I waited on line at my favorite coffee spot, I spied the headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Economic Confidence Rebounds.” Since I hadn’t read the paper in about a week, I happily plunked down $2 for the weekend edition – just to see what magic had occurred. I was hoping that I missed something that would make me feel better.

But reading the article was like finding you were in the drug study group that was given the placebo. I should have guessed this was the case since it seems every person I know, regardless of age or experience has stress, anxiety and bad feelings about their jobs, their lack of jobs or what will happen to them. Those out of work feel increasingly desperate and those who have jobs know they should feel lucky, but the stress and fear in their day-to-day lives takes an awful toll.

For the most part, conversations about work are like jabbing a hard thumb into an aching black and blue mark. The unemployed feel angry, cheated, frightened, overlooked, discounted and totally ill prepared to deal with what’s happening. Nothing in their lives, or their parents’ lives have prepared them for this scenario. As they try to hold on, the look in their eyes shows the truth – they don’t see any rebounding economy. Most are grateful if a submitted resume gets a response. Even that is rare to come by, despite years of solid experience, advanced education, years of paying their dues or playing the game. Holding on to one’s sanity and self-esteem are at stake.

The “lucky” employed among us also suffer. Often their life’s work has less meaning; it was torn out a long time ago as they’ve survived firings, mismanagement and the increasing stress and anxiety that comes with the workplace terrain: colleagues being axed routinely for no reason and clients disappearing. The employed know they “should” be grateful to have jobs, but they often face hell daily. In the new economic order they are expected to do the job of 2 or 3 people, for only part of a week or for less pay – or perhaps for 12-14 hour days with no raises and the threat of job loss if they don’t deliver what their unreasonable employers request.

Barely a week ago, the NY Times acknowledged in a cover story that the unemployment numbers are deceiving. It was not news to me that most of the long term unemployed (those who have given up looking for a job, no longer get unemployment benefits, answer every want ad or job posting to be found and never even get an acknowledgment) are not even counted. If the government really wants to know what’s going on, surely the IRS databases have the true story: the numbers of W-2 employees, wages and hours. Why is this vast resource not tapped for a reality check?

As you may have guessed, the Wall Street Journal report that consumer optimism is rising did not make me feel better. The only place I get the impression that things are better is in business headlines. For example, when I read that U.S. Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner declares a “victory” over the financial crisis – by virtue of payback of the financial bailout funds, I mostly wondered what he was drinking or thinking. I didn’t feel encouraged.

Many people don’t allow themselves to believe that we’ve not hit bottom, because we are unprepared and frightened. Many are already facing this reality – and these faux reality reports are in the same category as “reality tv.” Exactly what's real about it?

This concerns me because for many Americans, busy-ness and shopping have been the addictions of choice to numb us from some tough realities. When funds are scarce, we may get back to basics, home cooking and more quality family time, but our stress levels may soar as we navigate the obligations and responsibilities that we took on when times were flush. Until our expectations and economic reality are in sync with this new financial reality, no rosy headline will make me believe that an end to the tough times is at hand.

The good news, and I mean this sincerely, is that we Americans are a pioneering bunch. I am confident that one way or another, we will brave this new frontier. But placating the masses with statements like “there is a general feeling that the worst is behind us” are not helpful when they are based on the opinions of forecasters and not the underlying statistics or trends. Rather than learning that the government gets good marks for “handling” the crisis, I’d rather see a survey that says American employers are hiring more workers, paying more wages, increasing production, increasing sales and investing in R& D or new equipment. Then I will believe we are “recovering.”

But the fact that banks with overpaid executives paid back their loans on time, that corporate misdeeds are being looked into, that unemployment is not rising faster than it could be rising – well these sound bites don’t sound like recovery to me. Especially not when most people I know are either working desperately hard to afford their lives and obligations or figuring out how to make their savings last until they can get back to earning money.