by Thomas Davis
The unemployment rate during this time of the Great Recession is haltingly going downward. It is acting like a rusted pair of gears that have been unused for years, but now someone has decided to make them do their old work again. They turn, but so slowly they barely seem to move. A little oil might help the economy’s gears, but that, coagulated in the veins of political discourse, seems to be in short supply. Republicans are into magical thinking: Motivate the rich, and they will invest the new money they get, even though they are not investing the piles they have piled up now, and the gears will not be only oiled, but greased. They seem to be incapable of understanding that money is not the central reason for living and therefore not the Great Motivator they would make it seem.
Of course, maybe they have not learned what Midas learned. If all you care about is gold you run the risk of turning into a Midas-shaped gold bar. Maybe they are so tuned into the vibrations of the wealthy’s economic machinery that they have forgotten to feel how sharp wind is as snow pelts out of the dark skies of early morning. Maybe they can no longer see the beauty in a mountain chickadee braving the storm for the last seeds left in bird feeders in the pinyon tree outside the kitchen window. Eyes made of gold have trouble seeing out of their golden pupils.
The Democrats are a little better. They seem to understand that when people buy and use the goods and services of commerce, the gears work a little better, but they seem caught in a spider’s web of Republican actions and words and their own dreams of golden sunrises pouring lucre in their pockets from the Great Wealthy. Even Obama, who I once thought was the Great Hope, does not seem to be able to maneuver even modest amounts of oil onto the gears. You can sense he is trying when the great Golden Powers That Be are not yanking his chain toward the magical thinking they espouse, but the gears are moving slowly.
As I sit my cluttered home office in Continental Divide, New Mexico touching my keyboard’s keys, I am haunted by so many things I can hardly visualize them. They flit in and out of existence as if thoughts are more miasma than words.
If I am motivated by anything, it is poetry: The words, thoughts, visualization of a graceful pinyon growing out of a crack in a sandstone slope so steep it is almost a cliff, ideas, symbols and metaphors echoing back into the history of human writing and thought, deepness of my love for Ethel, my wife for going-on 44 years. To sit down and write a sonnet is a joy that has always, even in grief’s entrails, made life worth living. But, of course, poetry is not enough. Not really.
Family, wives, sons, daughters, granddaughters, grandsons, all the relationships that make us who we are as humans, is more important than poetry, or the words that sound endlessly in our human heads, or anything else that comes solely from ourselves. Neither our selves nor those who make up our relationships will last forever, but while we are here, flailing about in the noise and contemporary world’s tumult, they provide a place where joy and happiness can exist. The people in the family have to be strong and gentle in their relationship to you and each other. Love true and generous can lift you past the humdrum of everyday while living through the everyday, but a good family and good relationships are much more important than even poetry, though God knows I love poetry and sometimes (if they are not too full of themselves and what they do) poets.
But inside these goodnesses is the canker of how to make a living, how to be part of the middle class always striving to make ends meet and go out on the town by buying a meal at a restaurant. Poets can starve. That’s the poet’s old image. Families can struggle. Relationships always take work and struggle. But if a nation has a purpose, its purpose is to take care of its people, to make both poetry and family possible in a way that does not force poets to starve and struggle does not wholly define and mar relationships in a family.
The Great Recession is not a blessing for either poetry or families or much of anything else. Ethel and I have been lucky. As an educator, working hard to make the future better for students and the Navajo Nation, I have been joyfully employed during this difficult time. But my students and their families are struggling even more than they struggled with poverty during better economic times, and as the middle class my parents struggled so hard to find their way into thrashes like a blind, caught beast in the trap it finds itself in, feeling like it is dying a slow death if not actually dying that death, I despair. What is going on? What is the answer?
Is technology the culprit underlying the foolish and miasmic words and actions of the political elite? Does it eat jobs as if they are a great crocodile’s prey, threatening the livelihoods people all over the world need in order to have the chance to live good lives? I have embraced technology and the future it promises all my life, but maybe I was wrong. Will innovation, the panacea offered by political speeches and my instincts, truly be the savior? Does one profession really die only to be replaced by another that spins human society on down the road to an improving future?
Has education, the deepest of my passions after poetry and family, become obsolete?
I reject that notion with every fiber in who I am, but I also know that a teacher, trying to teach with thirty-five students anything in a classroom, is just a talking head, and all over the nation Governors of the Great State Of are forcing more and more students into classrooms that cannot effectively act as places where learning can occur. Accountability! the pundits cry out. Accountability! All the while saying you can’t throw good money at problems. You have to solve the problem, forgetting that once this country had the greatest education system and greatest economy that ever existed until their wisdom started tinkering with it. The day Accountability! became the mantra and Those Who Raised Themselves By Their Bootstraps after inheriting their Daddy’s money began wanting the education system to increase their personal wealth by training students in a way that took the burden of training workers off them and their business, the performance of public schools began spiraling downward. Charter schools, tax breaks for property owners, especially for the elderly (meaning, of course, for the guy who owned the factory in the center of town and the rich Cadillac dealer on the corner), databased outcomes, and testing, testing, testing! followed the creation of an issue that has now become a crisis. The education system is broken, they say. Teachers are freeloaders living off the fat cats’ largesse that they have to give out in taxes their tax breaks fail to save them from, and it is wrong.
In the end Midas had no regrets. He was a golden statue looking out with sightless eyes at the universe’s beauty around him. Hopefully the Occupy and 99% movement, flaring in cities around the world, will wake up politicians and get them to provide at least a little grease for the economy’s rusted gears. May God grant that there is still room in the universe for poetry and families that have a chance of living the American dream inside a cocoon of the middle class. May the Education Reform movement choke on its numbers so that teachers can teach again and awake the genius of innovation and art in our wonderful children. May poets and teachers both celebrate the honors that they deserve.
And, as I move into the twilight of my life, may I be at peace, believing that the arrow of time is not carrying us toward a dead statue standing in a pool of greed that shines as golden as an indifferent sun.