I am a 54-year-old musician and audio craftsman who has recently become acutely aware of the fragile nature of the current economic times and the lives of my peer group.
Many things that were taken for granted over the last 30 years have changed drastically in the shifting landscape of economics and employment, livelihood and survival.
10 years ago I was living in LA and making a good living as a Musician/Teacher/Sound engineer. I owned my own home in a nice part of North Hollywood. It took me 20 years to save the down-payment when I bought my home. I bought it because my son’s best friends lived next door and I wanted him to grow up next to them. I was a single dad and had been raised by parents who literally moved every year of my childhood life, and I wanted to offer my son the stability of a home.
I, like so many others, believed in the basic system: work hard, pay bills on time, save money, raise my kid, pay my mortgage. I was often told by Dad to protect my credit rating and always pay bills and taxes on time! And so I did, for 40 years!
When the economy collapsed—because unscrupulous “entrepreneurs” and bankers sold homes as bundled commodities and vastly overinflated the values to line their pockets—the end result was a huge series of karmic ripples which destroyed the structures and lives of millions of people.
In LA, unemployment in the freelance production community, for TV and Music, jumped to almost 80 %, not the reported 22 % of Fox news. Work disappeared, money dried up and many people were forced to either abandon their homes, or be foreclosed on, or bankruptcy, etc. The media wanted to portray the people who lost their homes as over-leveraged and in debt beyond their means, as irresponsible and at fault—but that was not a real or accurate picture.
To this day, not one single banker was ever convicted or punished. Maddoff went to jail because he dared to rob the rich, and was caught and punished, but the Banks stole trillions of dollars, then borrowed billions interest free to bail themselves out, turned around with record profits generated by the hardships and devastation millions suffered, and then had the unmitigated gall to charge students insane interest rates, deny hard working Americans credit and act with impunity, and in all likelihood building yet another bubble that will eventually crash and harm all the same people again!
By bundling and selling homes as commodity-driven objects, along with the sudden devaluation, and a serious economic slowdown, people simply could not earn what they needed to survive. In my case my home became affordable because work in LA had all but disappeared. I had saved for twenty years to buy my home, and had put down over $200,000.00 cash as a downpayment.
In the 12 years I owned it I had accrued a lot of equity, and in fact had sunk my life savings into my home. Aurora banks decided they liked my home and the robo-signed commodity it had become, and began a three year systematic attempt to foreclose on my home. The only problem was that I was current, had huge equity and never missed a payment.
Eventually, they found a way to double my mortgage, and I was forced to sell at the bottom of the market, eradicating my life savings in a single blow.
As an artist and freelance craftsman I live outside the mainstream structures of economics and systems most of my life. I am not eligible for Medicaid, have very little in social security, could not afford Obama care, have no retirement or 401k, etc…I live by working way too hard and finding creative solutions for Life on a daily basis. Many people in my generation are living this way now.
In the news they talk about the jobless rate. That it is at a new Low, but that number does not account for the portion of the workforce that has given up looking for work. In my age group the unemployment number is very high. Craftsmanship and experience are not as valued as expedience and cost effectiveness. So companies will hire less experienced workers and people and squeeze all they can and not hire older workers.
The reality is our culture does not value our elders. The tribe no longer sees the value in age and experience and wisdom, and so marginalizes and displaces the elderly. Social security, (which is not an entitlement, but a savings account that millions have paid into, and are being ripped off, because the government has squandered that money), is disappearing. The mechanisms of safety and well being for the elderly are disappearing, and a displaced generation who lost everything in the crash is about to face the four marks of existence in very real terms.
If there is no safety net or protocol in place where will all these people go? How will people in their 50’s find a means to create health and well being if the system in place is designed to encumber and enslave them? Noam Chomsky talks a lot about the nature of instilled corporate fear and the message of self-reliance and debt as a means of controlling the populace.
Americans are now working harder to survive, and not making progress, because essentially the system in place is a Feudal Technocracy and the masses are essentially the indentured servants serving the corporate feudal lords, who are in turn disrupting the function and purpose of the governing body, whose main responsibility should be to insure the safety and well being of the population it governs. Rather than serving the fiscal agendas of the Corporate masters.
So as I am aging and feeling the weight of this transition in my body and work life. As I see employment and livelihood change and my health shift in mid-life issues, I have begun to look at and wonder about aging and my place within this evolving paradigm.
I have begun to really look at what I need and what is important to me.
Having lost everything in the crash was devastating. My safety net was gone, my retirement and my home all lost in the blink of an eye.
I had to start re-imagining my life.
In the last five years I have moved 20 times. I have rented and stayed in unimaginable situations. I was displaced twice in the Boulder floods and injured badly. I have learned that I am infinitely adaptable and need very little to survive. Living out of a suitcase for five years teaches you that. I have learned that what I want to do, with whatever time I may have left, is to be in community and of service to the greater good.
I volunteer for different causes, I host the Dharma Punx meditation group at Naropa, I work for non-profits and I offer my skills and experience at far less than market value. I do this because I believe that acquiring experiences and serving in community is more important than acquiring objects and things. I know clearly I will eventually have to surrender any objects I acquire, as my time in this body ends, but I know that I can carry my story and my experiences with me.
Yes I would like to have my own home again. Yes I would like my wife and step-son to be able to immigrate to the US, but the reality is that the inequitable distribution of wealth is real and ongoing, and all we can do is band together in community and try and effect change through dissent.
I personally believe that the working class should stage a strike, and in the tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, shut down the corporate agenda and show them where the real power is.
What if we shifted our collective attention away from fear and consumerism, and tried re-imagining the world as a collective work of art? What if we prioritized the health and well being of all of us, over the mindless gossip and global focus on economics as religion, and political and spiritual certainty as gospel? Nothing is certain but the eventual dissolution of the body.
Death is a great equalizer, and yet we live culturally as if we were immortal and not subject to impermanence and entropy.
As I enter this next phase of my life, I know that I am forced by circumstance to really look at my place in the community and see what I can do to find balance and create opportunities that allow me not just to survive, but to thrive.
This is a birthright all of us should share.
The French say that “One should work to Live, not Live to work!”
My Zen teacher would always say; “The quality of your life is dependent on the focus of your attention.” Maybe it is time to re-focus our collective attention, engage the value and wisdom of the elders, and create a place that has a real future?
Just a thought.
May all beings be free from the root causes of suffering.
Author: John March
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Wiki Commons public domain