Friday, July 3, 2009

An Economy in Winter...

Even though it's Friday, it's technically the weekend. It's nice to have that bonus day. I slept in this morning and reveled in that fact. Of course, my idea of sleeping in is to just not have to get up for an alarm. Try as I might, rarely can I sleep past 8:30 a.m. anymore. I really don't mind that fact any more. I like to go to bed a little earlier and get up a little earlier. That's the way my body clock works and there's no point in fighting it.

I think it's a marvellous thing we have weekends. While I was being lazy in bed this morning and ignoring the million things I should do if I got up, I wondered what life would be like without weekends. We're a spoiled bunch if you compare us to the workers of yore. Back a few centuries, people used to get Sundays off as it was the Sabbath. That was it. They started earlier, worked later and didn't get time for much frivolity. One of the most depressing books I've ever read, Jude the Obscure, details working life during Thomas Hardy's period and, let me tell you, it was not fun times back then. Poor Jude always fancied himself an academic and dreams of going to University. When he finally does, naturally, being a Thomas Hardy book, it goes wrong and Jude ends up married with a lot of children, poor and miserable.

What I like about that book is it puts you into that time period; the first half of the book is Jude's early life in which he is manipulated into marrying a local girl and you get a feel for his working life. A stonemason, Jude's life is hard, exhausting and not the life he dreamed of as a young man. Reading the book, the simplicity of the hard lower-class life Jude inhabits, you can see how hard it must be. Daylight hours are spent working to provide a way to feed your wife and inevitable child.

It sounds weird but on weekends where I'm allowed to be a little lazy and not follow a schedule, I often think of Jude and his hard working life. I complain about my job but I have nothing to really complain about. I have a job; it's a white-collar one. My hands don't get chapped and blistered from manual labour. The worst that happens is I have carpal tunnel from working on computers and our office is always way too cold because we have to crank the air conditioning up to keep our computer servers cool.

I'm spoiled in more than one sense of the word. As I've mentioned before, I'm truly lucky to have a steady job. Each day that I watch the news, more and more factories and businesses are closing their doors and with the shutdown comes an enormous loss of jobs. It's already affected my family; my brother and brother-in-law have both been laid off. It's tough times. I hold out hope that this is just the darkness before the light comes trickling back in. I read someone's criticism of President Obama on Facebook yesterday. They want to know why his efforts to stimulate the economy aren't working. I say let the man be. It took eight years of George W. Bush in office to bring the economy down to the pits in which he left it. Obama's been in office less than eight months. Give him a chance.

That's the problem, I think. We're impatient. As a civilization, we have moved away from the slow and plodding times in which Jude the Obscure lived. Those were days in which horses pulled carts and ploughed fields, in which people went to bed when it got dark because there was nothing else to do. They were slower times. These days, we get frustrated if we don't get our instant gratification. Online shopping has become popular because there's no waiting in lines, no waiting for that annoying lady who decides to write a check in front of you and then can't find her driver's license to prove her identity. These are days when we scoff at people like her because who uses checks anymore? We connect to the internet like lightning, we cook our food in the microwave because it's quick: Who cares if it's soggy and doesn't taste that nice? It's nourishment and it's quick and yes, we forget that it's still hot and try to eat it before it's cooled down enough to put in our mouths and inevitably, we burn our mouths. We drive fast, the speed limits slowly increasing on the roads over time to accomodate the increasing speed of life.

So why, when we expect speed and instant gratification in everything else, should we expect to have to wait for President Obama to fix everything? I mean, shouldn't he be able to work magic? We elected him to fix things, to make the U.S. a better place. What's he doing? Twiddling his thumbs?

Yes, I'm being fascicious. When I read that comment on Facebook yesterday, I was irritated. I wouldn't want to be the President of the United States for anything in the world. No matter how popular you are when you're elected, unless you make everyone happy, that won't last. We tend to forget that sometimes, we have to take time to do things, we're still humans, after all. We can't yet teleport nor can we control the world by the touch of a button. For that matter, I'm glad about the button-thing. Though teleportation would be nice.

I think the economy is terrible now. It saddens me to drive by stores, factories and restaurants that were once busy and teeming with life fading in the sun, their windows taped over, the signs identifying them removed or sitting their sadly in the grey light of day. Yet I know it'll take time for things to move towards an upswing, to start to improve slowly. In a way, it's like we're in a Winter Phase of the Economy. The bright, sunny days of success and extravagence we had in earlier years have faded away like summer and now we're caught in the barren, yellow-and-grey frozen stage of winter.

Yet, for every Winter there is a Spring to follow. I firmly believe that. I'd like to think that Spring will come sooner than later but, as it was back in Jude the Obscure's Day, when there was no Weather Channel or local news to tell him whether it was going to warm up, I'd like to think it's just a question of waiting for the storms to pass. It may take months, it may take years but eventually Spring will come and our economy will improve.

So, on days like this when I get to be lazy in bed, knowing that it's a long weekend, I take pleasure in that fact. I take pleasure in the fact that even though the world outside my apartment is one of a winter-economy-landscape, we at least don't have the long, dark life of Jude the Obscure. It's all about looking at the small pleasures in life. Sometimes that's all you can do.

Happy Friday (and Independence Day, to all my U.S. readers).

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