In the maturing stages of dealing in the No Job Vacuum - 6 months in - I am not modest about much. Indeed, the stigma once attached to being laid off is a laughing matter these days, when more than half of the parents in the Orthodontist's waiting room are fathers. So I'm not going to be bashful when I tell you that I am one of those shallow Americans Kurt Anderson describes in his article "The End Of Excess" in this week's issue of Time. Anderson writes that the excesses we've experienced during the Reagan-and-beyond years were so bizarrely taken for granted, that "even smart, proudly rational people engaged in magical thinking, acting as if the new power of the Internet and its New Economy would miraculously make everything copacetic... We all clapped our hands and believed in fairies."
Since the bubble burst, I've asked out loud: Did people really not question 12% annual dividends on the money they invested with Madoff, even in recessionary cycles? Did we really drive by 25,000sf homes and sigh at the beauty and grandeur? Were millions of dollars in bonus honestly the norm?
The Time cover article positions the fact that the Screeching Halt is good, healthy, positive. Though we didn't ask for it, we all - every one of us - agree. We've got to agree, we're in it, what's to fight? In a quiet moment, do we close our eyes tight and wish it would all go away? Absolutely. But here we are. We're mid-diet and haven't lost the weight. We're partway through summer camp and we want to go home. We're 2 hours into a 16 hour car ride through the Plain States. Even given our epic denial before all this went down, we Americans are American - we'll make it through, stronger, intact. We've spoken out loud our worst case scenario: we'll lose the house. We'll have to move. We'll spend every dime of our savings. But we'll be alive and together.
John and my parents teamed up to give me an experience for my Christmas present this year. John used his last airmiles to get me to Italy. My parents met me there and covered accomodations and food. I spent 6 days around Rome last week with not even a camera. I was with my parents, basked in being taken care of, the 45-year-old dependant, their child. I didn't reach for the bill, I didn't plan the itinerary. Their gift to me was the opportunity to get out of my skin.
It was heavenly. We read a paper maybe twice. The stories played like celebrity news from that distance: American grown ups getting on buses to drive by the homes of AIG executives; Obama's Press Secretary scoffing at Dick Cheney for saying our war in Afghanistan was reckless; American auto brands disappearing because there's no market for gigantic vehicles. All this, while riding around Italian villages in a dented Fiat with a stick shift. Such perspective. I didn't want to leave.
I did not want to leave. My beloved children were sending me texts, and my hard-working Husband was fighting the good fight back in Connecticut, and yet there was a small voice in my head that said "drop your Passport in the toilet and FLUSH!"
Getting out of my skin felt so incredibly good. I'd forgotten what it was like for time to fly because I was having fun. I wandered from catacomb to catacomb with no extra weight. The message is good. We must get out of our skin, we need to lose the weight. But given that, what idiot wants to go back?
When only 2 days remained of this glorious Roman holiday, I asked myself - is it worth it? If I know how hard it is to go home, so hard I feel dread, nausea, why on earth do I subject myself to the pain? Why go at all?
The answer, friends, is of course it's worth it. We cannot cope, we cannot guide, we cannot laugh even the shallow laughs without taking the break. You snicker because my break was in Rome, who'd say no? Our opportunities to peel out of this skin can be far or near. Going to the Y for a swim doesn't count. An exhibit at the Met followed by a $10 glass of wine does. Because that's the escape it's hard to go home from.
So we admit it, we were in denial during the boom time, we embraced the bons temps rouler attitude and we reaped the riches. But we can't make where we are go away. This crisis, as Kurt Anderson writes in Time, will define us. Get out of your skin, though, take back a little denial. It'll get you through.