Photo by Jeanne RiceAre you in the same mood as me? As we scamper into 2002, are you feeling somewhat less than scamperific? Does it seem like it's not so much a new year as the same exhausted old one, where only the odometer has ticked over to let you know it's just that much older?
Does it bear noting that on Dick Clark's New Year's Eve countdown, the final two commercials heading into the new year were for prescription medications, one an anti-depressant? Between 1987 and 1997, the number of Americans being treated for depression nearly quadrupled, and that was largely during the happy, America-ascendant, peace-on-the-land, not-entirely environmentally disastrous, dot-com-booming, blowjob-getting Clinton years. Can you imagine how use has jumped in these bleak days?
Perhaps you have doubts about the economic outlook—specific doubts, such as, "Where the fuck did my job go?" I scarcely know anyone, my cheerful self included, who hasn't been affected and affrighted by the relentless surf of layoffs, cutbacks, downsizings, bankruptcies and just plain old flat-brokedness that's going around. It's a good thing for me that entertainment fares well in a depression, as I do a mean Boris Karloff impression. Will that be enough to carry me through?
Or maybe you're perturbed by the constant boom of the war drums as we go after a jackrabbit foe with a jackhammer; or by the rampant post-Sept. 11 profiteering (one group of arms investors, with the president's ex-prez pappy on the payroll, has made staggering profits, including a one-day $247 million windfall. Patriotism pays!); or by the new war on the environment, in which Enron, now the subject of a criminal investigation, has the president's ear but you don't. Maybe you're perturbed that a handful of corporations has bought up and dumbed down our culture.
I could go on with the reasons to be mopey, but let's accentuate the positive. I know I already wrote a "cheer up and face it" column at the beginning of last year called "Surviving the Bush Years" or something I'm too enthusiastic to look up right now, but I anticipate the need for a little pep talk for at least a couple of more turns of the calendar. The working titles: "Dress Like Me in 2003" and "Please, Not Four More in 2004." Maybe I can compile them all into the self-help book I intend to write someday: How to Profit From Your Coming Extinction.
I'm not sitting on the mountain of glee here. It is because I am not Mr. Happy that I'm casting about for reminders of how bitchen life really is. Maybe this is not a problem for you: maybe at this very moment, you are screwing your eyes out in some dark corner of Club Rubber, only reading this so you'll notice when your eyes pop out.
Well, more power to you, brothers and sisters. You're already with the program, at least the fun, not-particularly socially conscious part of it. Because here's one piece of advice:
Live in your body. It's the only sure home you have. You may be living in your car in three years. You may not have a car. Chances are you'll still have a body. Take care of it. It is your soul's interface with the world, and if you can read that without gagging at the "interface" part, you are spending entirely too much time looking at a computer screen. Just because you're hitched to a workstation doesn't mean that you are one. Move. Swim. Dance. Leave the car parked and ride a bike.
And you might as well fuck. It can be a profoundly spiritual, soul-connecting, life-enhancing thing, and even if it isn't, at least you're fucking, right? It's the best entertainment there is and practically the only one that's free, at least until HIV is universal and they've got us all paying for prescription drugs. But despite an uncaring, state-religion-minded government, you have the biggest say in that, so be careful out there and wear your mittens.
If you're on anti-depressants, get the hell off them. What are you, a crybaby? Do you think Jesus took antidepressants when he had a rough day on the cross? If you're depressed, it's probably because you're supposed to be depressed. Take a look around! Then do something about it.
Make your home bitchen. Whether you live in a craftsman home or a rattrap in the Argyros Arms, there you are. It helps to own the joint, but even if you rent, you're the one who has to look at it, so fix it up to suit you. And then have people over.
Entertain. You can complain about high prices, sucky entertainment and restaurant food, or you can do it yourself. Have three-hour dinners. Have slide shows. Strum the goddamned banjo and sing "Jimmy Crack Corn." If that's too low-tech for you, with an inexpensive computer-based recording studio, the Internet or a CD burner, you can be your own record company. Be a person, not a consumer.
Buy organic. It's one of the simplest things you can do toward a better world. Along with being better for you, it's better for the soil, the waterways, the field worker and the small farmer, who, growing organic, sees a bit more money for his effort than most farmers, who typically get 3 cents of the $3 you spend on a box of corn flakes. Sure, the morality has been muddied a bit by agribusiness moving in: Cascadian Farm, one of the largest organic brands, is now owned by General Mills, and other players include Dole, ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland, the latter being the same civic-minded company convicted of the largest price-fixing scheme in history. (Much of their plotting took place in a hotel suite right here in Irvine!) Buying organic is still far better than the alternative. Better yet: plant your own garden.
When you spend your money, realize that every dollar you spend is a vote—perhaps the only vote we have, given the last election. We're being told by Washington, D.C., that it's our duty to jump-start the economy by going out and spending money we don't have, while the government hands billions back to billionaires who aren't spending what they already have. So spend the money, but spend it with businesses you'd want to work for, ones that act as if you and their employees matter. Frequent small, local businesses, and let them know they matter to you.
Let the people you appreciate know that they are appreciated. Don't assume the cool, dedicated people out there know how cool and dedicated they are or that others are doing your job of telling them. We're all supposed to be doing the best we can, and we can all use some outside ratification sometimes. Here's a sample letter to guide you: "Dear Mr. Washburn, I can't tell you how much your columns have lifted my heart during these dark times, so I'll let this $20 bill and the enclosed Polaroid do the talking for me. Thanks, Your Name Here."
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Let businesses and our representatives know what matters to you. Your voice matters, even if it's just to demand that your local market carry eggnog year-round.
Read! I may be going out on a limb here, but I'm of the opinion that books are good. One I'm reading now is Democracy at Risk by OC resident Jeff Gates. He outlines in the clearest ways I've yet seen how inequitable and undemocratic our nation has become, and he offers pro-business solutions to the still-widening gap of wealth and influence. I haven't read past the depressing part yet (Hurry, give me pills!) but I suspect I'm going to have to interview this guy.
Volunteer! No matter what a miserable Milk Dud you may be, there is always someone worse off. If you don't feel a sense of community around here, it may be because you're not helping to build one. Unless you're the person who's reading this while screwing your eyes out at Club Rubber, don't try telling me you've got something better to do.
Tell Jim Washburn he has lifted your heart: firstname.lastname@example.org.