Stop Motion Economy

Square dancing in a monetary blur...

We're weathering a time that not even the experts and historians who study these things understand what is really happening with our global economy. If they claim to they're either bluffing, deluding themselves or lying. We are in an historical upheaval of epic proportions that contains common threads with similar chronological events of the past yet is different because it is distinctly in the here and now.

It is disquieting to our daily lives and will not be truly understood until the future. Meanwhile we are stuck in the present square dancing with partners we may or may not know and doing our best to keep time with the fiddle at a hoedown we'd rather not participate in. We're romping in a blur of light and dark, clarity and reflection, in a utilitarian fashion to keep our balance.

On the continuum of personal finances it's fair to say that many people are not being truthful to themselves or others. An old ethic that one never talks about money has revived with a strong resurgence; probably because there isn't a lot left to brag about. Almost everyone has been affected in some way and if they act and say as if they're not, then they are either bluffing, deluding themselves or lying. No one will come out of this decade without some markings of having changed for better or worse.

Meanwhile all we can do is square dance in a haze making sure we keep time and keep our footing while we whirl around. It's "Places all. Bow to your corner, bow to your partner, three hands up and around you go. Promenade around the ring, big foot up and little foot down, make that big foot jar the ground, back you go and forward again. Allemande left with the old left hand, meet your partner with a great big smile, promenade across the floor and now your home, bow to your partner, bow to the gent across the hall. And that is all."

Remaining positive during a hazy tenuous new economic age that expands beyond our known boundaries goes a long way to calming the disquietude of the storm. Coming up clean, being honest and truthful will not explain the disorder of economic, social and political change of the big picture but will comfort us individually on the home front.


Moving On

When a city has lost a way of life...

How a western city became a model of modern boom and bust.

There comes a time when it is time to move on, get back to where you started from and remove yourself from the once small city that grew up around you and become a big one. You can't change a place, only your attitude toward it or remove yourself from it, especially when you feel as if you no longer belong there. You have the choice, the control and the ability to move on and improve your way of life. Living is not to be wasted in a place you don't want to be because it is no longer what it once was.

This city and I have a long history with each other. There was a brief moment of time in the late sixties and seventies when it was just the right size and mix of people. It still retained an air of a western way of life, live and let live, without being totally bereft of the conveniences of city life. In hindsight real change began to occur after the floods of November 1978 through March 1979 which paralyzed traffic in the metro area. This was followed by floods the next winter season of 1979-1980 where flood waters were polluted by sewage. The infrastructure couldn't sustain what growth that had developed. This was also an era of unexpected political change coupled with public reaction to the floods and the legacy that led to is too lengthy for this writing. The summary is the infrastructure was built and the people did come. In droves. That was the beginning of a series of events that brought us explosive growth that really detonated after the recession of 1992-93.

The nineties was a pivotal period when most of my family left and returned to our original hometown of Prescott. I fled for Tucson that by 2000 started beginning to quickly replicate the frenzied thoughtless growth of Phoenix. The few things it had going for it couldn't be fought off by the housing boom that was occurring all over the country, particularly the western and southern regions. Fueled by subprime money coupled with shrinking employment made for a combustible mixture that caused me to leave in 2005 and return to Phoenix for better employment. It was at the height of the craziest years to be here when it seemed as if every inch of the city was crammed with people and oversized houses and automobiles. The proverbial jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Even with good employment it was impossible for people like myself who were not borrowers to keep up with the pace and cost of living.

We are a contemporary ghost town now. Although there is some job growth in low paying jobs, higher paying employment and many well educated people have fled. Housing is essentially frozen, suspended in some tract that no one really knows what is going to happen. There is not a political answer although we have elected city officials and bureaucrats who have an over-inflated view of themselves and their sense of control. We are an urban heat island with searing heat summers, year round pollution and rarely does it rain now in the urban core to wash of the dust and ash.

The economic crisis hit hard here and by now the entire country has awakened to the fact that this is a long term disruption that will take a decade to resolve itself into whatever the new average standard will be. Since I didn't buy into the frenzy that preceded the crash I am maintaining and have preserved enough to be able to build for the future. My attitude has adjusted to accept that I may be here a little longer. I am of the fortunate ones not living on borrowed money or time and that I am not alone and share a life with someone else with similar ideas. Neither one of us grew up in large city Arizona but the smaller cities of the state. When I left in the nineties I didn't feel as if I belonged here and haven't since I returned. It is now time for a call to action and a plan to remove ourselves as soon as we are able.


Restoring Ourselves

Reconstructing America as a shining city on a hill...

When I was a kid growing up on Bermuda, a British island about 700 miles off the coast of North Carolina, there were symbols that were emblematic of America. It was a different world in the fifties and sixties than it is now. There was another view of the United States then and with the island's unique history of being British but having played some role in the American Revolution generally the British and American population got along. There were certain hallmarks that represented America for reasons that made sense at the time. Pan American Airways, American Express, the Stars and Stripes at the US Consulate and Coca-Cola. Those symbols also represented ideals that America stood for just as much as the Statue of Liberty does.

Sometimes I wonder now what the perception of our country is to the rest of the globe. My gut tells me it's McDonalds, Mickey Mouse and Reality TV shows and rampant consumerism. This is disappointing to me but not a surprise. The global view of "America as a shining city on a hill" is already tarnishing to some but not to others who want to immigrate here because they still see the gleam of American Exceptionalism. Those are people who will help us help ourselves just as immigrants have from the beginning. When I emigrated here in 1968 the country was rife with strife but that is not what I was looking for or saw. It was the chance for reinvention, opportunity to be who I wanted to be, liberate myself from the tiny limited, although paradise-like, island I came from and invigorate my life.

We are a country now of several generations that have never known a really bad time economically, socially and politically. We are not prepared for what is going to happen to us psychologically due to the disruption of our way of life. The death of consumerism, personal financial problems, troops returning from war, structural unemployment, lack of social and medical services, alcohol and drug abuse are a few things that come to mind. We are in desperate need of reconstructing ourselves. In The Sense of Beauty Santayana wrote "The only kind of reform usually possible is the kind from within; a more intimate study and intelligent use of the traditional reforms." He also noted "Nothing enhances a good so much as to make sacrifices for it." Our problems, individually and as a country will not be solved by politicians and bureaucrats in government nor medical doctors and scientists with medicinal cures. They will only be resolved by recalling our ideals and working from within ourselves and reaching outward to help each other.


A Man and His Hog

He Rides Alone...

Americans like to characterize people and put them in categories of what they think they are and how they will act. If they don't think of bikers as having a bad reputation at the minimum they believe they're on the fringe of society. There are outlaw riders, motorcycle club riders, boomers out for the thrill of it, Harley riders, Kawasaki crotch rocket riders, people who ride them because they like to or it's their only means of transportation. Mostly my experience has been a lot of bikers who look scary to others are pretty much regular people. They choose to live life differently, out of the mainstream culture, just as a lot of people do who do not fit in.

There are many people who do not fit into everyday society nor do they want to. You can make of them what you want but they are integral to what America is really about. You don't have to conform if you don't want to although there are a lot of people who will argue that you do. In the sixties and seventies the common quip about those who had long hair and wore jeans and boots were not noncomformists at all but actually conforming to a different norm. They missed the point. They were refusing to follow the standard rules of society, go to school, wear the usual clothes, get a regular job, get married and have kids.

Zen and the Art of Maintaining Individuality.

Some of us held on to an independent life for awhile and then tried the norm. In the vernacular: "Hated It!" It didn't take many of us long to realize that we would never fit in no matter what we tried. It's in the head, the personality type, the thinking brain and there's no changing it, so why fight it? I decided a long time ago that I was not cut out for a "career" and that I didn't need the stress or hassle not only of trying to meet the compliance a corporation demanded of me but that it also required me to work even harder at fitting ino being somebody I wasn't.

Far, far easier to be comfortable with myself, be who I am naturally with people that accept me for what I am and in turn I accept them for what they are. My friends and acquaintances run the gamut. I have friends in their seventies who are livelier than people who are in their forties. There are retailers in their twenties who are the best conversationalists I know and much more interesting than talking with lawyers I've worked with. I'm familiar with an architect who is the dullest person with a small imagination. On the other side of the coin is the handyman that does work around here and is probably one of the smartest guys I know, not just in craft work, but also in worldly topics.

Make your own noise. If you're happy being an accountant I'm happy for you, all I ask is that you be accepting of the rest of us who don't want to do that. If you want to travel cross-country in an RV go for it. What we all should remember is that America was built on people who were different and that is why they left where they were and came here. Don't characterize anyone who doesn't conform to what are considered societal norms because the most creative ideas and innovative products usually emerge from those that others consider unconventional. What is not in the mainstream culture very often later becomes accepted as the norm. Then the cycle begins again.


Arizona Sunrise and Sunset

Azure sky tinged with indigo, gold and copper...

In Arizona it's not difficult to get photographs of spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Like most people here I probably shoot too many but I try to get something a little different in mine. A theme of some kind.

On my list of "top ten" things I like to photograph is telephone poles, crossboxes, cannisters, workout terminals, lines, switching stations. It is kismet that I would work for the old Bell System for almost thirty years since I was fascinated by phones and communications before I can remember. An old family photo taken by my father is of me playing with a telephone. There is something intriguing that telephone lines are cables with strands of copper, which is a color mirrored in the sky.

Street lamps, power derricks, cell towers, traffic lights also rank high on my list of things that draw my attention. Perhaps it is my fascination with the sky, sun and clouds combined with above ground utilities that transport the infrastructure that make our lives work that causes me to look up.

 There are beautiful skies all over the world. Don't miss them, sunrises and sunsets, clouds, stars, sun and moon and look for themes. You can never get enough.


Both Sides Now

I've looked at clouds...

When I was a kid in the summer I would read laying on the ground. If something struck me in what I was reading that I wondered about I would gaze up at the sky and clouds. I never looked at clouds and tried to figure out what they looked like in real life, such as a bunny rabbit or something. I thought that was silly. They fascinated me because of their ever changing shapes and colors and movement. They allowed me to gaze into them and think about whatever had made me stop reading with a fluidity and motion in my mind that matched the movement of clouds.

I still look at clouds, although not laying on my back reading a book as I did when I was young. More often I notice them when I'm on the road, another form of motion, whether that is in the city or travelling through the landscape of Arizona or New Mexico. In the city and out in the urban areas I stop and look and take photos because I'm still fascinated by them. Whether they are cirrus or stratus or cumulus I long ago forgot from my college days. I only know the difference between what kind of weather they will bring by pure experience and instinct.

What is great about life at a mature age is as a friend wrote "isn't it wonderful to be at peace with yourselves and your lives?" We were having an email exchange about how the tumultuous events of the world do not disrupt us as much as they once did. We know we have little control over what happens in the big picture, although they may change our lives, we can't change them. We only control how we react and adjust to events in our country and the world. We are past the age of worry, in solid long term relationships, satisfied with where we are as people. Our lives are in the second half now and we still think and marvel with liquidity about all kinds of things. The difference is we are in a sense reverting back to our youth and still wonder about things with a fluidity and motion of the mind now tempered by the wisdom of having lived longer.


The Power Within You

What is your perception of who is in control?...

We live in an era of change of great magnitude. On Monday the stock market tumbled and the world as the financial people viewed it was coming to an end. Like lemmings to the sea the next day stocks went slightly "back in the green" clinging to a thread of hope that the Federal Reserve meeting yesterday holding interest rates until mid-2013 will bring restoration. Never mind that the underlying fundamental financial problems of nations are unlikely to be solved by any intervention. The bottom line is the world is overleveraged, unemployment is high and demand for goods is down and these elemental circumstances are unlikely to be changed in the short term. It is going to require a long term effort of hard work to restore the world's economies and reshape our society. How we cope as individuals to global events determines how we maintain or physical and mental well being.

A lot of people in the US have been financially hurt and will continue to be by the rocking of the markets since they believed in them and invested their savings and retirement funds in stock market vehicles. How people react and cope with financial losses as well as changes in style of living, breaks in personal relationships and upheaval in daily life will be built on how they perceive life. Who is in control, themselves or external forces?

This concept in psychology is called locus of control. It is based on the degree an individual considers they control the events of life that effect them and their reaction to them. If you believe that what the government, your employer, the financial markets, events external to you determine the direction of your life, then they will. The path your life takes and your outlook towards it will determine the direction it goes in. If you are expecting the government, your employer or the amount in your bank account to fix what is wrong with you, our economy, society or politics then you are likely to be hanging out a long time and unhappy while you wait.

On the other hand if you decide that the losses you may have taken financially, your lack of employment or income, what is going on in world events is not going to determine how you react, you stand a much better chance of living through them in a healthy manner. If your approach is proactive and positive, keeping your mind healthy and determined to ride out any storm, then you will. This is not to say it will be easy. Those of us who have weathered a few tough storms in life have at times felt we weren't so sure we had the self control or willpower to overcome but still persevered. In the end I've been glad I did. There are proven scientific models that indicate how we think and view events in our life does determine the manner in which our brain waves react. In turn this affects the outcome of how we perceive our lives and resolve problems.

Whatever it takes that suits you to direct your brain matter in a positive direction is what is important and not what other people may think about it. You have control over your mind and attitude, no one else does. The power of positive thinking, belief in a higher power, meditation and prayer, hypnotherapy, self-talk and other methods have helped millions of people overcome when they think things couldn't be any worse. It is crucial to keep in mind that just when you think nothing is happening, suddenly a simple thing occurs that creates a wind of change in direction, causing you to catch the crest of a wave in thinking differently. An opening of the mind and insight usually happens when you're not looking for it. Prior to it happening your brain must be prepared for it by working toward and maintaining a confident outlook.

We can't change the monumental events of our times and sometimes we can't change the things that have happened to us that cause our losses. What we can change is the way we view them and redirect our energies into something better, one step at a time. We can work to restore our lives, help others do so and reshape the society around us. It is hard work well worth the rewards.


Living Life Creatively

The upside of a downturn...

Point of view is essential in thriving during difficult circumstances. In his book Man's Searching For Meaning Viktor Frankl made a crucial observation about the psychology of those who survived the Holocaust and those who didn't. It was in the art of living. While in concentration camp he was determining that if there was meaning in life, then suffering had some meaning and mental attitude towards it determined the outcome of having suffered. This lead him to the conclusion that inner strength and refusal to surrender to the horrors of the concentration camp and instead looking to the future made the difference in who made it and who didn't.

While we live in an economic downturn that means a long term recovery period is ahead it cannot be compared to the horrors of a concentration camp. It means difficult times and the need to readjust standards of living but it is not the tragedy some people will take it as. Those are the people who will not do well because they are not looking toward the future down the road to better times but are living in the past and not accepting the present. Those of us who look across a barren empty lot and see the one flower blooming will flourish and see the future as blossoming into something better.

Yesterday I was driving through the high desert of dry grassland and off in the distance I could see the one large hardy tree that had drilled a taproot deep into the earth and was drawing water to live. I saw beauty in that landscape and that tree. It was a marvelous thing and had nothing to do with economic indicators being all down, whether the debt ceiling was raised by Congress, whether Obama settled for "The Deal." There was only one person who had any beauty in the questionable politics of the vote in Congress, although she may not match the political beliefs of some of us, in the ceremony of mockery our politicians made of our country she stood out.

It was Gabrielle Giffords who exemplified someone who tragically suffered at the hands of someone else and saw the future and fought not only to survive but thrive and come back from the calamity that struck her.

If we are to not only live and survive through the next decade in rebuilding our lives and our country we must adopt a vantage point of survival that is conducive to thriving and conquering arduous times. My suggestion is not only to live creatively, but devise ways to make what appears at first to be ugly, turning them beautiful. You do not need to be an artist to do this. You don't have to be able to paint, draw, take photographs or create videos, do crafts, lathe fine furniture, grow a beautiful garden. You simply have to find the aesthetic out of even the bleakest of scenes.

When I was growing up my father did work that took him to third and fourth world countries, some are now emerging economies but at the time they were not. Although we had to be mindful of our safety it was not as dangerous as today and we went to far flung places. The education I received was more than I could learn in any school. I will share one story that has stuck with me my entire life. It was in a place quite close to the US and under the most deplorable conditions we went to visit a family that he had come to know. They treasured knowledge and were especially grateful to him because he would bring them books. All over the walls of the shack they lived in a shantytown were cutouts from magazines or any source they could find of pictures of things of beauty. They might have come from advertisements that depicted something unique or a work of fine art. Outside the home was ugly, inside they were surrounded by pictorial items to inspire and comfort them.

There is a lot we can learn from that.