Friday, March 6, 2009

The Great Recession

Oh, boy--another recession!

I started making pots on my own in Prescott, Arizona, in 1976. I still remember a woman looking wistfully at a piece I had at a show and saying, "I'm sorry, but I have to feed the kids." I felt demoralized but I couldn't fault her. In a year and a half, I worked really, really hard but slowly and surely went under financially. I finally packed up, tucked my tail between my legs, and went "home to momma." I didn't set up my pottery again until mmm, 1986 or '87.

But of course I was busy during the "rebuilding the bruised ego" interval. I didn't actually live with Mom but in the same small town she'd retired to. I had a house built (I found I qualified as an indigent person for a Farmers Home Administration subsidy loan to get a lot bought and a house built, which was built according to my own design pretty much)(that was a window of opportunity which could NEVER reoccur!), got into and out of a short marriage, did Tee shirt designs, computer graphics, stained glass; I tried hard to make it at art shows with my watercolor-and-inks, worked a year and a half as an advertising manager for a newspaper, was a Park Aide at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park -- lots of little stuff. I hated the 8 to 5 job at the paper. I think I'm allergic to deadlines.

But, I digress. That recession, right at the time I was starting to make my own way in the world, wreaked havoc with my self-esteem (or is it wrought?). I empathize with all those who are now emerging from college and finding their hopes and dreams (and expectations, even) are ... elusive.

Yet, the recession focused me. As an "artist type," I had never been interested in money, or understood much about what the point was of saving. But finding that earning a living in art was SO much harder than I thought it should have been made me rethink, sober up, and get downright miserly with every hard-earned penny. I should add that having the advertising job--which paid fine money and had great benefits (Copley Press), also focused me. Meaning, I wanted to save every cent so that I could get OUT of that job ASAP. Shudder.

Certainly, times eased: I got more of a pottery-buying clientele after 1987, my savings built up, I married a man with an astounding clarity about paying with cash and how to manage money, and the nation's recession melted away and turned into a boom. I--we--have made ends meet and then some, and I have been able to do serious pottery work without the devastation of having zero buyers. I have been able to give away pots.

And now, here we are again, whee! I feel I'm in the rockin' chair generation, shakin' my geezer finger and tellin' youse young'uns that it's all been seen and done before. Not that knowing that will make you feel one stinkin' whit better! What you will see is your efforts flow like sand between your fingers. The advice you got from people (who should have been more fiscally conservative like me) to go buy that condo and all the furniture to start your boomlet life with? Bogus! Now you're upside down in a mortgage, up the ying yang in credit card debt, and you're wondering if that job that you may or may not like is even going to be there for you next week.

I am reminded of the words to a song, "Blow Up Your TV, throw away your paper, Go to the country, build you a home. Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches,Try and find Jesus on your own..." This time it might be, "Rethink your cellphone plan, trade down your Mazda, skip the new Ipod, eat more beans." The part about Jesus is still the same...

Anyway, you will hurt. You will experience doom and gloom. But it WILL focus you. It WILL make you ask what is important (good to figure that one out, young'un). You may take government handouts (welfare, unemployment, food stamps, or even bankruptcy). Hopefully you will realize that doing so is demeaning to your soul after awhile, and refuse to partake any more. Hopefully you will find your gumption, your core of iron, your truly independence-desiring spirit, and climb out of the hole you fell into in ignorance--even if you have to scrabble out by your fingernails--with wisdom and a lot more paranoia about all that Free Lunch that's been advertised through the last twenty-five boom years.

The precious flower that will have grown in all the pain, disappointment and anger is this: you will eventually be free to be yourself--even an "artist," if that's who you really are--because you'll know that even if you make a cruddy, meager living, you'll have been there, done that, and you'll know you can survive it. You will never be flattered away into working at something that's not really you for a bunch of money, because YOU AND MONEY HAVE HAD A LONG DISCUSSION, AND NOW YOU SEE IT FOR WHAT IT IS--JUST A MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE. You will never fear being poor, because you've had to go through it already. You will be unbuyable, unbribable, and confident in your abilities to improvise. Life will (at last) be yours.

This will not happen tomorrow, but will take years. We will be (this is my blogo-prediction) in this Great Recession or Great Correction or whatever, for at least another five years. Face it. Adjust. Have hope.