Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Dance

I've been so beaten down; so tired; so frustrated and angry. When I started Hooterville in November of 2004, I thought I was angry, frustrated and confused, but that was nothing compared to what has happened in the last two years, when the chickens finally came home to roost - when the last available dollar had been wrung out of the middle class and we were hung out to dry.

As anyone who has visited my blog knows by now, I have not spent much time writing in the last couple of years. I wrote my book "The Price of Right: How the Conservative Agenda Has Failed America (and Always Will)"  during 2006-2007, while I was working a day job and gigging at night and being a mom to 3 kids. Somehow, I was able to find a way to do all that and write on a consistent basis as well.

But the housing market crashed and the economy crashed with it; our predatory mortgage loan became harder and harder to pay as my hours got shorter and shorter. A management change at my job made it very clear that older, more expensive teachers such as myself were no longer wanted, and it would be just a matter of time before I got the boot. There were cobwebs in the mailbox that, once upon a time, was stuffed with my husband's residual checks - cobwebs now only disturbed by bills and scam solicitations.

Then, the foreclosure notices started coming in, and my husband and I began to do The Dance.

You know The Dance - it has many names, like the "Bankruptcy Boogaloo", the "Chapter 13 Cha-Cha", the "Please-Don't-Turn-Our-Power-Off Pirouette", the "Work-Till-You-Drop Watusi", the "Juggle-the-Bills Jitterbug", the "Credit-Card Conga", the "Second-Mortgage Shuffle",  the "Hope-This-Deposit-Goes-Through-Before-That-Check-Gets-Cashed Hustle", the "Try-To-Stretch-The-Dollar-Till-It-Screams Tango", the "Just-Go-Without Jig", the "Put-Off-Going-To-The-Doctor Polka", the "Late-Payment Limbo" (also known as "How Low Can You Go?") and, of course, everyone's favorite, the "Bill-Collector Bolero".

Whatever you call it, whatever your particular dance is, The Dance will wear you out. Like the Red Shoes, it makes you dance and dance and dance and dance until you collapse. And you still haven't gotten anywhere; you're still right where you started, except you're dizzy and exhausted.

You'd think that with all this free time from not working, it would be easy to get things done, but that is not the case. The bills start piling up on the kitchen table, but you can't even look at them when you don't have anything to pay them with. All you can think about is how you can make some money right now - now, before they cut off the cable/power/gas; now, before your bank balance gets so low that a $5 charge will turn into a $35 overdraft fee; now, so you can give your kid lunch money, so you can replace the tire that just blew out - the spare that you've been putting off replacing with a real tire for three months.

You take any job or project or gig you can get, no matter how small or cheap; if you get some work, you put in four or five times the amount of time and effort that you're getting paid for, in the hopes that the people you're working for will be impressed enough to give you some more work. You stay up till 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning on the computer, working on things that you might be able to make some money on. You put things off for a day or two, like going to the grocery store; or for a year or two, like the dentist (what's the Musician's Dental Plan? Chew on the other side); some things you avoid altogether, like replacing or fixing things that break around the house. Broken window? Duct tape and cardboard. Broken doorknob? Duct tape and cardboard. After a while you stop seeing them. You stop seeing a lot of things, including your friends - you don't want to invite anyone over, and when the family is sharing one old car on its last legs, driving around for social occasions seems a little self-indulgent.

When you spend every day like this, for a few years, as I have, finding the wherewithal to do something so immediately un-financially-rewarding as writing a book or even blogging seems to be out of reach. Although technically unemployed, dancing The Dance and staying on my feet has taken every ounce of energy I have.

Being out of work is a full-time job.

Having said that, let me also say that I in no way feel sorry for myself or that I am deserving of pity. I may have to put off going to the grocery store, but I eventually get there. My husband and I are eating; our kids are eating. Our house is falling apart, but we're still in it. And I have a husband whom I love and who loves me back, who is my rock; I have kids who are so good-hearted, uncomplaining, helpful and loving that they take my breath away. We have family and friends who will always be there for us. We have it better than a lot of people, and most of the people I know personally (except the wealthiest of my friends) are in very much the same boat.

This is what the 99% is all about.

So many of us have been dancing The Dance for years, and I have been wondering what it would take to make people realize that it's not their fault; that we have been stolen from by the most brazen, audacious criminals in the world. They have stolen the money, the jobs, the health, and the houses of an entire segment of society! That, my friends, is thievery on so magnificent a scale that it almost defies description - that makes the current denizens of our prisons look like toddlers stealing cookies.

Take my money, my job, my health, my house, and my hope - now, what's left?

My family, my friends, my principles, and my daily decision to appreciate what I have that the crooks cannot steal - unless I hand it to them personally. Hope? Who needs it? What matters is whether you do what's right and fight what's wrong - with hope or without it. Hope is not a bad thing in and of itself but if you only fight if you have hope, then it becomes a crutch, not a motivator.

But I do feel hope when I see the 99% like me standing up, speaking out, getting mad, and fighting back. Is it naïve of me? Perhaps - but it surely beats the alternative, which has been going on for far too long. If I have to dance The Dance, at least I'm not alone - my brothers and sisters are out there dancing too, and if we hold one another's hands and lift one another up, we can start dancing a new dance - a beautiful, powerful dance that will move us all forward together, instead of spinning around in circles by ourselves till we collapse.