A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pressed Up Against History

Despite the fact that I'm a fairly politically conscious person who has been glued to the Obama/McCain/Palin drama for quite some time now, I've tried not to write about that too much in this particular blog. I want to have a forum to write about my life as a graduate student, because I think that I live in this strange twilight zone of being an adult and yet still a student--with all the responsibilities of an adult, plus all the responsibilities of a student, yet very little of the fun of a student. Yet I was rereading an essay that I love by Salman Rushdie--entitled "Imaginary Homelands"-- and I came across a passage where he discusses writing his Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight's Children:

In Midnight's Children, my narrator Saleem uses, at one point, the metaphor of a cinema screen to discuss this business of perception: "Suppose youself in a large cinema, sitting at first in the back row, and gradually moving up. . .

Gradually moving up until your nose is almost pressed against the screen. Gradually the stars' faces dissolve into dancing grain; tiny details assume grotesque proportions; . . . it becomes clear that the illusion itself is reality."

The movement towards the cinema screen is a metaphor for the narrative's movement through time towards the present, and the book itself, as it nears contemporary events, quite deliberately loses deep perspective, becomes more "partial." I wasn't trying to write about (for instance) the Emergency in the same way as I wrote about events half a century earlier. I felt it would be dishonest to pretend, when writing about the day before yesterday, that it was possible to see the whole picture. I showed certain blobs and slabs of the [contemporary] scene.

It struck me that this is how I feel about the economic situation at the moment. I can look back on the stories that my grandparents have told me about the Great Depression (over and over again, because I'm very close to my grandparents, and they are fabulous storytellers), and I can get a sense of rising action-tension-climax-denoument. Reading history is not so different from reading fiction--they are both narratives, after all. But even when I hear on the news that we face another depression like the Great Depression if Congress doesn't put together some sort of bailout package, I still don't quite understand. I am pressed up close against the movie screen, able only to see blobs and slabs of this week's events, only blurry pieces of images that frustrate me and fill me with thoughts like, "Will we be able to afford to buy Lindt chocolate bars if the stock market crashes?"

Forget chocolate. That's how much of a princess I am--I think of luxury items first. And of course, those would be the first to go. But even worse, will the grocery store start running out of things like eggs and milk? Will I have to eat pancakes made of flour and water, like my grandmother was often forced to do? I may seem dramatic, but I'm very close with my grandma, so the conditions of a serious economic depression are etched into my mind. Patched clothing, cardboard stuffed into holes in your shoes--making do with what you've got and not getting anything new for a long time. This could be psychologically disturbing for a shopaholic like me.

And even my last sentence makes light of the situation, while part of me feels frightened that I shouldn't make jokes. (Yet if you can't make jokes, you won't survive something like this at all.) I don't really understand everything that's going on with the markets, but I know what will happen if we have a honest-to-goodness crash, and I can't figure out why we (yes, all of us) let politics become so petty. I could raise unending examples, rant until I am blue in the face about how different politicians have said-this-and-done-that, but why bother? There are enough internet bloggers out there who throw in their two cents and a whole lot more without really understanding the political scene. That's what I want to avoid doing, in fact.

I just want to talk about fear. There's a fear that comes from being pressed up against history, being forced to confront the reality that we're living in more than our every day existance. When we think we're at a noble turning point in history--like being about to elect the first African American or female president, for example--we can feel good about ourselves. This is a momentous occasion, after all. Give yourself a pat on the back. We think we see things clearly.

But the price of milk gets higher, the price of gas gets higher, and suddenly we're pressed up against something that's not so noble, not so grand. We realize that we're always walking alongside the precipice of history, always teetering and about to slip. Maybe even if we don't go into a Great Depression, we (as a nation) should take our heads out of the sand and realize that our actions have greater consequences than we often bother to consider.

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