Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade From Hell?

Something that surprised me a bit when I was surfing Facebook earlier in the week was how universally awful everyone thought the year 2009 was. I agreed reflexively, immediately thinking of my grandmother's cancer diagnosis and the five months I spend laid off searching for jobs in a dismal, insulting employment market while the threat of a mortgage foreclosure on our overpriced condo loomed over my head. But there was a deeper crappiness to this year as well. Something that affected all of us regardless of our individual experiences. A slew of strange celebrity deaths danced through this year, reawakening our own consciousness of mortality. Another whackjob decided to try and blow up a plane, succeeding only (we can hope) in immolating his own genitals. Obama's grand ideas of reform for the health care system were taken apart brick by brick by a congress so bought-and-paid-for by the pharmaceutical and insurance industries that the most obvious no-brainer money-saving strategies for accomplishing what the legislation set out to do to begin with were the very first things to get tossed out with the bathwater. Single payor? Nah. Tort reform? Not even considered. It was at this point that most of the thinking world recognized the hands of powerful people with money pulling the strings of even our most beloved new president, the man on whom we pinned so much hope in 2008 and who even now struggles to disappoint us.

But I found myself wondering as I read all the Facebook posts about the general awfulness of 2009 why I didn't feel the same acute sense of dislike for it. I think it has more to do with this entire decade being such a colossal disappointment to my generation. Our first homes, bought not with equity but with hard-earned and hard-leveraged cash, declined in value by something like 30%. Our first near-decade of paying off our school loans only to see the balance not change after 100+ payments of $300 a month has given us a huge reality-slap in the face. We are never going to be out of debt. We have no choice but to fuel this endless march for more education, more credit, more debt leverage, just to live our lives. Even now, eight years after the fact, businesses continue to use 9/11 as an excuse to rate-hike and surcharge us to bleed us of what little income we do get to hold onto. Even the government gets in on the fun with "9/11" taxes added into our cell phone bills or airline tickets. Air travel, with its barebones service, baggage fees, and endless security hassles has become one of my last choices in transportation. And to top it off, the ticket prices have inflated 300% in less than ten years. On the bright side, the 300% gasoline inflation insures that we'll be worried less about whether we can fly to see our friends and families and more about whether we'll be able to afford driving to work.

After 9/11, Hunter S. Thompson wrote that "the decade that's coming will make the last one seem like a wild party for rich kids". He was eerily right about that. One thing I did notice, however, was how hard everyone seemed willing to party this year around the holidays. Work and family parties included copious amounts of food, alcohol, and all-out merry-making. This, at least, did ring of something exciting perhaps just over the horizon and out of sight. If I can say a prayer at the start of this coming decade, it's in the hope that if the awful aughts were our generation's Great Recession, the twenty-teens (or whatever) are our generation's Roaring Twenties.

2009 wasn't a total bust however, and neither was this decade. In the past decade I earned a bachelor's degree, a massage therapy national certificate and license, a limited x-ray license, I moved away from NY to St. Petersburg and Chicago, both of which were fun cities to live in, I met and married my beautiful wife and we bought a home and had my son John. I owned two fun, sporty cars and visited my friend Jeramy in Seattle for our 30th, bacon-themed birthday party. I learned to cook and fell in love with lots of new types of food. I became a published author and this year specifically I made it my goal to connect to the larger literary community with great success due largely to meeting a couple of terrific new friends.

In 2009 alone, I finished Thank You, Death Robot (a project which had been on my plate since 2006), I learned to fly fish, I visited Mountain Home, Arkansas where my aunt and uncle live, fished and floated on the Hudson river with my father in the summer, lost 15 pounds, repaired my own bathtub, bought new leather living room furniture, Beth bought me an iPhone which I still can't put down, I discovered Korean food, and after being laid off found a job which I adore working for some of the nicest people I've ever met. And I spent the time I was laid off meeting a new cadre of literary friends from across the country at the Pilcrow and Printer's Row lit fests and the Printer's Ball. I sat on my first author panels and made a rebuilt book out of Red Ivy Afternoon. I wrote two more long works, one novel and one novella, and got approximately halfway through a third long story.

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