All That We Leave Behind

Monday, March 28, 2011


I've been pondering degradation lately—the breakdown of systems, of decay and dissolution.  I wonder if we're really, finally coming to that point of losing something vital in our country.  

This train of thought was born from two seemingly unrelated occurrences: the downturn of book sales across the nation and a photo collection I ran across recently of the demise of Detroit, Michigan.  

First, let's take Detroit.  These images haunted me and gave me more than a moment's pause.  On first look, they are sadly beautiful.  There is a grace to decay; that inexorable slide into nonexistence.  But then there is the realization—Detroit is turning into a ghost town.  In the 1950s, it was the 4th largest city in America.  One perspective is that Detroit's decline is largely due to the fact that so much of our labor is being outsourced, and so many of the goods we purchase now come from outside our nation's borders.  We've sold our soul to China.  Unfortunately, I don't think that's too far off the mark.  

Don't get me wrong—I have nothing against China in a historical sense... but they do disappoint in their current state.  Such a rich history... such beautiful culture and art... and now the only thing we see from them is the oppression of their people, and plastic, poorly made crap from Walmart.  How depressing is that?  This is the country we are in debt to... we, the “Leaders of the Free World,” are financially beholden to a country whose politics we (as a nation) diametrically oppose.  All in the name of “they can make it cheaper.”  They undercut the world by using cheap labor, cheap materials, and lax (if not entirely nonexistent) health/safety/workmanship standards.  It's to the point that, though I'm no economics expert, I'm pretty sure our economy would collapse if we stopped getting our cheap crap from China.  Whatever would McDonald's put in the Happy Meals?  Wherever would we get our computer parts and Levi's?

Just to humor me, take a look around your house and see how many of the things you own were Made in China.  If you'd bought that same item Made in America, it would've cost more... so, we go with the Chinese version.  It might not last as long (meaning we'll have to turn around and buy another one in a few months or a year... probably another Made in China model, 'cause it'll be cheap) and it might have been made by someone whose wage is a pittance of what we pay our burger flippers here in the States, but hey, it's cheaper, and that means we can buy two for the price of one!  The really hilarious thing about all this is, while our people are being laid off right and left, and places like Detroit are on life-support, you might not be able to find an American-made version of this whatsis if you wanted one... because China has the corner on the stuff-that's-made market.  

We've entered into a lose-lose situation.  Well, I take that back.  China is winning.  China and Charlie Sheen.  Hooray for tiger blood.

And then there are books... books that a lot of people have stopped buying, apparently.  I learned about this when all the Borders stores started closing in my town.  Granted, Borders made some mistakes and didn't really plan their business strategy too well, but I'm seeing reports of book sales falling for Barnes & Noble, too, and they're supposed to be doing just fine.  A friend of mine brought up the point that “everyone's going to Kindles now.”  This actually scared me a little.  

I'm trying to imagine a world where people... especially the lower middle class and lower class, can afford to buy Kindles or any other e-book reader on the market.  I've looked on these devices all go for somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 - $300.  

Have you ever been poor?  Are you poor now?  I have been, and am pretty close to that at the present.  I remember the days when it was worse, though.  When I was on food stamps and then WIC and suddenly very aware of what government assistance won't pay for.  Things like toilet paper and cleaning supplies.  Things like Kindles.  It's been nigh on 14 years for me now, but not so long ago in the grand scheme of my life.  I can tell you, if I was there now, there's no way I'd be able to afford something as grand as a Kindle.  I wouldn't even be able to afford this laptop I'm typing away on, which is infinitely more useful than a mere e-book reader, and which, in my current financial condition, was procured by the skin of my teeth.  But I could probably afford the occasional paperback. 

So, let's say my friend's prediction is correct... let's say it's all going Kindle.  Are actual, physical books going to become as “vintage” as tape cassettes?  Or CDs, for that matter?  All the used CD shops in my town have gone or are going under.  Nobody buys them anymore.  It's all mp3s.  Are books going the same way?

Some would say this perspective is paranoid, I suppose, and normally I'd agree.  But it doesn't look that way to me anymore.  It looks a little like the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening still.  It makes me wonder how many people all of this technology is leaving behind.  

There are nights when my son has to use the internet to do his homework.  Not all the children in his school come from families who are “making it.”  Do they all have internet at home?  There's always the library, I suppose, but it gives me a sinking feeling, all the same.  

And, sure, there will probably be used books available for a long time to come... online, if all the traditional bookstores close up shop, but you can't buy things via the internet if you only operate in cash.  Many, many “disadvantaged people” (such a pompous term, but it does the trick) do not have credit cards or even bank accounts—therefore no bank cards—with which to make these internet purchases.  Why?  The reasons are various and sundry, but I used to be one of them, so just take my word for it, ok?  Perhaps you can't imagine a life without plastic money.  Or, perhaps, you can.  But it exists, either way.  And, I daresay, that portion of the population is growing, not dwindling.

So I wonder... I wonder who we're abandoning in all of this “progress”... is it ourselves?  I wonder, and I worry. 

Magenta Sun

Monday, March 7, 2011

Once upon a time there was a little girl
whose favorite color was magenta.
Of all the crayons in her Big Box,
magenta was the most wondrous.
She colored the whole world magenta, this girl
Magic magenta people
Magenta trees
Magenta sun

Until one day, when she had grown big and strong
and wasn't a little girl anymore,
the world turned red.
Candy-apple red, the red of sports cars
and funky hats.
Red was the most wondrous of colors.
Strong and vibrant 
The color of pure conviction
The color of a dare 
The color of wildfires and will.

Her world was red, true Indian Paint Brush red,
for so long that at first she didn't notice
that her red was slowly being tinged 
with black, with purple, with dark.
The next time she looked, the red world was no longer the color of candy apples and sports cars
But the red of garnets, of blood, of wine
the red of being-all-grown-up.
Now she breathed the red of child birth and pain and regret
She walked the red of deep, real love 
The red of contradiction and betrayal
And the messy red of acceptance-- 
The deep, primal red of life.

She looked around, this blood-red woman,
this lady of deep crimson and poisoned apples
this woman of redemption,
and saw a little magenta girl
behind her.
The red lady walked back a pace
knelt down a little
and smiled
the magenta girl took the lady's all-grown-up hand,
tinting it a bit with her own magical hue
and the two of them began to walk
into the magenta sun.

So now I have to know.  What's your favorite color(s)?  And what does it mean to you?