Monday, March 01, 2010

Footnote and header

This is going to be one of those personal sidebars which you should treasure because they occur here pretty rarely. (Yes, that is sarcasm. Jeez.) Unlike some political bloggers, I do not post completely anonymously, but unlike some others, I reveal little of my personal life because I think it's not particularly relevant to what I'm writing about. On the other hand, this does sort of lead into something I have been planning to write about, so perhaps it can be justified on those grounds.

The thing is, and this is the footnote part, I know, obviously, I've been AWOL for a week now. I apologize for that. I simply have felt disconnected from the world at large, uninterested in events, and so tended to hear about them a couple of days after the fact, if at all. (Interestingly, I did continue to watch Countdown, Rachel Maddow, and "the guys" - Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert - pretty much every night, which only served to emphasize how much you do not learn from TV.) Perhaps it was just a bit of cocooning, but more likely it was just my emotional emphasis being placed elsewhere.

Start with the fact that I have been without full-time work for two years now. My particular field - in which I had worked pretty steadily for the preceding 20 years - is, oddly, rather specialized but also crowded. I am (and I say this with the ability to back it up) quite good at what I do but the simple truth is there are for all practical purposes no full-time openings here - and few enough anywhere else. Plus, we really really really do not want to move again.

So when my wife had to stop working because of her heart condition, our income took a really big hit as well as costing us our health insurance. The combination of her disability benefits and my seasonal work leaves us with an income about 160% of the federal poverty line. That qualifies us for some benefits.

We didn't apply for any right away, at least partly because, well, I admit to feeling this way more than my wife does, but the truth is, I don't feel poor. I have a roof over my head, enough food and clothing (perhaps too much of the former), a little money in the bank - I mean, I have high-speed internet and cable TV, f'r goo'ness sake. I am deeply aware, sometimes literally physically painfully aware, of how many are far worse off. Still, we are both aware of how much that we have, we have because it was secured before things went south for us and looking down the road we could see the bank account draining away so we decided to investigate and discovered that we do legitimately qualify for some programs of assistance.

So we went to one agency with all the documents they needed and after a brief interview - a relaxed and friendly one lacking any of the sense of condescension too often experienced by those in need - we were told how much aid we qualified for.

Quite literally, my jaw dropped and I said "You're kidding." It was far more than we expected, more even than we'd hoped. Which in a roundabout way is how this serves as a header to the following post. On the way home and for most of the evening, we were almost giddy. It was such good news that we had a "celebration." (Dinner out at a Chinese buffet. Big spenders.) The point here is, we, perhaps especially I, hadn't realized just how great the stress, how deep the worry, was until some of it was relieved.

We've all heard it said, I believe accurately, that the stress of financial worries drives more divorces than any other single cause. (Parenthetical note in case you're wondering, as I would be, we were in no danger of that.) It's also a truism that much of our sense of self-worth is tied up in our jobs, I personally think because they become the means by which we measure both how much we matter and how much we contribute. (I also think self-worth and jobs are too closely tied since, as should be clear, the jobs part is not always under one's control, but that's a discussion for another time.) The struggles that people are going through right now are more than financial, they are also physical, emotional, and in the broadest sense of the term, spiritual. But we have no easy way to express that on more than an individual level, no way to directly express the sum total of that struggle. So we resort to what we hope are illustrative examples, to anecdotes - which are then used as sources of mockery by rightwing dipwads who not only do not feel for others, they want to not feel for others.

Yes, we have the numbers expressing the economy, numbers depressing in and of themselves but which can't express the day-to-day stress of worrying about your next rent or electric or heat or phone bill, your next doctor's appointment, your next car repair, even your next (or your children's next) meal. It is when those numbers are taken in their deeper sense, as expressing the lives of those who are feeling distressed, disturbed, even defeated, who are frustrated by the present and fearful of the future, when they are no longer the calculations of economists but are felt as the pain of millions, that they achieve their true importance. The numbers are not only a measurement, they are a moral judgment about our society.

That is a cue for me to go off on the roots of the tea baggers, a movement populated largely by frustrated, frightened people looking for someone to blame for their feelings of loss and confusion who are being manipulated into directing that anger away from its rightful targets and toward convenient, traditional ones - but that, too, is a story for another day. As is something related which Glenn Beck said in his rant at CPAC. But I will get to it.


tim said...

Great post. Numbers and stats can both reveal and obscure the fundamental injustice of the sick society we live in. I don't mean to sound like a 'Socialist' or worse, a dreaded 'Marxist', but I don't really know any other way to say this: Most of us are forced to sell and rent something called labor to those who 'own' the means of production in order to survive. I wish it wasn't this way. I wish we could just tweak a thing here and a thing there and everything would be alright. I wish we could just elect a president, a senator, and/or a congressman to fix things. But unfortunately, we have a profound problem on our hands, as a society and as people living on this planet today, that goes much deeper than that. I wish it wasn't so. But it is.

Lotus said...

What's wrong with sounding like a socialist? ;-)

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