Monday, December 22, 2008

On Christmas in the Time of Doom and a pirates point of view

Its almost Christmas. It is a Christmas off a different sort this year. Not so much Holly Jolly. More of a Blue Christmas. As I drive around town, I see less red, green, and white lights shining merrily in people's yards than in past years. Too many houses are dark and empty looking and many yards have 'for sale' signs, some of which have been stuck in the ground for nearly two years now. There are no buyers. The storefront windows beckon the sparce crowds on the sidewalks with 50-70% off signs. At Lowe's the Christmas decor was completely gone last night as if Christmas itself was non existent. I don't think they sold out of trees and lights and blow up Santas. I read in this morning's paper that retailers are taking things off the shelf and selling to wholesalers for dollar stores and Big Lots type discounters. Desperation is in the air instead of roasting chestnuts. I hear no silver bells or any other kind. The charity bells ringers are gone, too.

My own shopping habits are different than in past years. I haven't bought anything in a department store in longer than I can remember. Generally I shop in Target or Ikea or yes, I admit it, Wall mart and K Mart. As far as I can tell, so does pretty much everyone else I know. I wish the money would go directly to American business instead of China but at least the stores employ local folks and benefits the economy indirectly...somehow...I think.

These are tough times: the worst since the great Depression of the 1930s. We all know that. Over a half million people in my own state are out of work. Job hiring is frozen in most places. Folks are uninsured. People who have saved are watching their 401Ks and stocks tank day by day. Nobody can sell their houses. Many have faced or are facing imminent foreclosure. We are angry that big business bankers and CEOs got government bucks for running the economy of the county nearly into the ground itself when the middle class can't make it and the poor get poorer. Many of us hope the new administration in Washington can halt the disaster and get us on the road to recovery. The Christmas message is one of hope. We must embrace that message. What else can we do?

Thankfully, due to a little inheritance from my parents I am in better shape than most folks right now although I know that financial security (and indeed life itself) is never really a sure bet for anyone. Recently, I was given a not so welcome prediction that my future financial picture may not be as rosy. So, I asked myself, am I making responsible financial choices? Upon reflection, I think, yes, I am. I was able (thanks to my mother) to pay all my credit debts and pay off the mortgage on my house. I no longer use credit cards. I paid cash for necessary upgrades and repairs on my house and saved enough to buy a new roof and replumb when necessary. I have started a HSA and secured less expensive health insurance. I got rid of my luxury car and bought a much less expensive but good quality one I plan to keep a long time. I spend no money on travel. I spent a grand total of $300.00 on clothes for self in 2008. I invested in the stock market and in other areas recommended to me and put more money into my retirement funds. Unfortunately, that area isn't going well. But investing isn't going well for anyone else in America either, so I won't beat myself over the head for that. My only real indulgence, aside from buying books to read, is eating out several times a week ...and that at least does help the local economy.

I do need to decrease my carbon footprint and be more aware of ways to 'go green'. That's one of my New Year's resolutions along with eating less fat, lifting weights and doing Yoga more times a week. Actually, these are good goals for everybody! Good health practices and take care of the planet too.

As for the doom sayers and those who live their lives according to their moods which are usually gloomy( and which they usually try to infect everybody around them with), as well as surviving the crappy economy, I offer the Captain Jack Sparrow Philosophy, according to me. The key is adaption and optimism. Yes, Jack is a fictional character and yes he is a pirate. In his films, he doesn't stick to a plan but makes it all up as he goes along. But, he has something to teach. Jack is full of self reliance. Jack believes in Jack. Jack knows that if he depends on government or on friends to save him, he may get roasted by cannibals or hung by a foppish East India Company merchant snuffling snuff and clothed in velvet. Or a corrupt politician. Or scammed by another pirate. So, Jack assesses whatever situation the he is thrust into, doesn't panic, uses his brains, assumes that there is a solution, changes his behavior to effect a favorable to Jack outcome (which in the films usually involves staying alive , drinking rum, and getting away with some cash), and does it all with a bit of witty dialogue. The witty dialogue may be a bit of a stretch for many but the rest is doable.

Yes, Jack is a pirate and his friends mostly assume he will let them down, but in fact, he never does. What he is really is, to put it in practical terms, is an individual who doesn't follow the company line. By the end of each of his films, Jack trips up the real villians, sets his friends free and exits smiling. One of my favorite Jack moments was when it seemed in his second film that Davy Jones would win and Jack's doom was assured as The Krakken climbed over the sinking ship to eat him, he lifted his sword, strode over to the monster and said with a smile, "Hello Beastie!" So yo ho me hearties, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.... and take that all ye Krakkens. Good old Jack. Confidence and self assurance, self reliance and the refusal to accept doom as inevitable, taking the initiative with attitude again.

Okay, I heard that negative tut tutting. Is a fictional pirate any worse than a real businessman or stockbroker or your neighborhood banker or company CEO? I think not, so suspend your moral tut tuts. Jack ain't asking for no government bailouts after all.

So,like Jack, I thumb my nose at predctions that we are all doomed. As Jack would say, "You shall always remember this as the day you almost captured Jack Sparrow." Or to put it another way, as Molly Brown who was a real person said while stepping on the life boat just before the Titanic sunk, "I ain't down yet."

Enough analogy you say? Okay. I will close. There will always be Krakkens and there will always be Jacks to spit in their eyes. At least I hope so. So, let us enjoy Christmas in whatever ways we may. Bring on 2009. "Hello beastie."

I hope that those who are having the toughest of times don't lose hope. And for those that are better off I ask you to make just one person smile today. Give what you can, whatever that may be. A hug, a letter, visit, a check, or even a joke. Ta.

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