Monday, October 25, 2010


Sometime during the Clinton/Bush administrations, American life changed. We're still living in the fallout of those changes, and I don't know if anyone has yet written the definitive historical analysis of what happened, but I certainly know the day-to-day ramifications. I have far less money than I used to have. It is almost impossible to find a job. And the things that used to matter in terms of stability and planning for the future don't seem to matter at all.

Here's the way it used to work: Go to school. Stay in school a long time. Pile up some degrees because historically the more degrees you pile up, the more money you will earn in your career. Then go to work. Make a couple strategic career changes along the way to bolster your earning potential. Sock some savings away every paycheck, and watch with wonder, year after year, as the cumulative effects of time and compound interest work their magic. Retire at 60, or, if, hard pressed, at 65, and enjoy your golden years in a gated community on a golf course.

I belong to the last generation that bought into this bullshit. The kids know better. It actually worked out, more or less, for the one or two generations ahead of me, and I suspect us Boomers just assumed that this was the way it would always work. But the great unspoken outcome of this recession is not just that the profligate and over-extended have lost their shirts, but that the fiscally conservative -- those who have played the game by the rules -- have as well. What has happened is that we have now lost most of that savings that had been piling up paycheck by paycheck, decade after decade. When the stock market tanks, the more you have, the more you have to lose. This is an incontrovertible law of the universe, like Banks Cannot Go Out Of Business and Anybody Can Write, So What The Hell Is A Professional Communicator?

I and my piled-up degrees and my 28 years of corporate experience interviewed for a job last week. The hiring manager told me that he had received more than 500 resumes for the position. It is almost miraculous that I was granted a face-to-face interview. But here's the kicker. If, by some equally improbable miracle I am actually offered the job, I will be able to work for 6 months. That assumes that the corporate budget doesn't get tweaked in the meantime. Then I get to start the process all over again, 1 vs. 500. And I hate the very terms of the engagement. These people are not my enemies. I know some of them. They are my friends. They are as qualified to work as I am, and just as deserving.

The American Dream? Psssst, here's a secret: it's a Nightmare. It doesn't work anymore because nobody works.

So I was thinking about all of that in relation to yesterday's sermon which, among other things, concerned an old, rich dude named Abraham. Abraham had entered into the golden years, a time when he should have been lounging, single malt Scotch in hand, on the golf course in Dubai, or wherever the hell Ur was. Instead, his life was uprooted. His retirement planning was shot to smithereens by the call of God, and he ended up a wandering nomad, believing in some vague, impossible promise that it was all going to work out in the end.

I'm not ready for retirement, and I hate golf in any case. But there might be some lessons there. So here's what I'm currently thinking the call of God might entail for me. I think I'm being uprooted, and I think that might be okay. I think I'm being called to share my life more and more with other people. As in, you know, living with other people. Our kids are gone, and we now have a housemate, a single woman who moved in with Kate and me about a month ago. It's been great. And I'm thinking that trend is likely to continue, and, if possible, expand. I think it's highly likely that we'll move out of this 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath monstrosity that we no longer need, and that we'll move to a much smaller place that will, I'm sure, still have room for others. I have no idea what that's going to look like. But if this country is changing in the ways I think it is changing, then good old American independence is no longer an option, and it's debatable whether it's even desirable in the first place. I'm fairly sure that for better, or more probably for worse, we're in this together.

And it's okay. Really. Life is going to hell, and I am crazily optimistic about the future.

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