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Wired, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Wired, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




F. Scott Fitzgerald was born September 24th, 1896 on Cathedral Hill in St. Paul, Minnesota. I wrote a post last year celebrating his birthday. When I reread it last week, I made a note to drop a comment there, a Happy Birthday wish. Then I watched Bill Moyers Journal last weekend, and the short comment took a longer turn.


Moyers began the Journal by quoting a few lines from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, about his protagonists, the Buchanans:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.


The characters were fresh for me. I saw The Great Gatsby at the Guthrie Theater a few summers ago. Moyers continued:


It’s happening all over again, except this time Tom and Daisy are the titans and speculators on Wall Street who took the money and ran. Their bubble burst, as it did in the roaring twenties, leaving the mess for you and me, our children and our grandchildren, to clean up. The big bad government — so despised in Wall Street boardrooms and beltway think tanks — has stepped in, hoping to save capitalism from the capitalists…



Here we are — cleaning up the mess. I was reminded of our recent Writing Topic, Where Do You Go In Times Of Crisis?. We are a two-tiered culture, steeped in debt: a wealthy culture that privatizes gains and socializes losses; a poorer culture of working class, middle, and lower income people, forced to take more and more personal financial risks to stay afloat.

Bill Moyers Journal digs into some of the deeper social issues behind the current financial crisis. And how everyday people — people like us — are going to pay a heavy price. I’m not good with numbers. I don’t understand the details of financial wizardry. But his words made sense to me, and inspired critical thinking about the future of finance in this country.


Fitzgerald, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Fitzgerald, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Fitzgerald, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Who wins and who loses? New York Times financial columnists, Gretchen Morgenson and Floyd Norris shed some light on that question. And Moyers interviewed former Nixon White House strategist, and political and economic critic, Kevin Phillips on the “7 sharks in the tank with the economy.” Phillips, author of Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, said financialization has made us dependant on an industry that’s lost half its marbles, and strapped us with debt unprecedented anywhere else in the world.

The experts also talked about how the state of our money union does not play politics. Reaganomics may have started the economic downslide. But Democratic and Republican administrations have both contributed to the problem. According to Phillips, “the flush of the Democrats (the labor movement) carries a lunchbox; the new soul of the Democratic Party wears a pinstripe suit.” And neither of the current candidates is addressing the reality of the situation. Campaign promises are not going to bail us out this time.


Face To A Name, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Face To A Name, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Face To A Name, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


The show has the perfect climax — a personal essay on the decision to tear down Yankee Stadium. How the new stadium will be subsidized by the public with tax-free bonds. How the greed and disregard for local community trickles down to neighborhoods, cities, and towns across this country:

And so this Sunday evening we will bid farewell to dear old Yankee Stadium, and await the new colossus to rise from its ruins. It will cast its majestic shadow across one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods, whose residents will watch from the outside as suburban drivers avail themselves of 9,000 new or refurbished parking spaces. Never mind all the exhaust, even though in this part of town respiratory disease is already so high they call it “asthma alley.”


I thought of the new Twins stadium in Minnesota, the same stadium that we the people voted over and over again not to build. Its skeleton now rises like a Phoenix from a giant parking lot behind the Target Center, and towers over a small downtown shelter that feeds and houses the homeless.

I can’t help but wonder — is anyone going to step up and take responsibility for all this debt? How have American lifestyles and personal debt contributed to the problem? Where are our priorities? When will we get back to supporting what is important and vital to a culture – community centers, education for children, the Arts, having enough food on the table, and enough money to live through old age.

Have you been able to save for the future? How is your retirement growing? It might not surprise you to know — not all of us are struggling. (Are we really entertaining a bailout?) I was stunned by this list from Moyers:


  • Lehman Brothers – in the last 5 years of his tenure, CEO of Lehman Brothers, Richard S. Fuld, Jr. earned $354 million
  • Merrill Lynch – the current chair who has been on job for 9 months, John A. Thain, pocketed a $15 million dollar signing bonus. His predecessor, the retired E. Stanley O’Neal, pocketed $161 million after the company reported an 8 billion loss in single quarter.
  • Bear Stearns – former CEO James Cayne sold his stake for more than $60 million after the Bear Stearns stock collapse
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – former heads, Daniel H. Mudd & Richard F. Syron, received 24 million combined in severance packages on top of their salaries


Retreating back into their money. I think there are more than 7 sharks in the tank with the economy, and someone has surely lost their marbles. The question is — who’s counting?




           Face, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.    West, The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

               Face, West,  The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota,
               October 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey.
               All rights reserved.



So we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

-last sentence of The Great Gatsby, inscribed on the tombstone of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre at their grave in Rockville, Maryland


VIDEO LINKS:

BILL MOYERS JOURNAL Headlines of Gloom or Doom? Wall Street Woes Around the Globe – September 19th 2008

KEVIN PHILLIPS – discussion with author of Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, and former Nixon White House strategist and political and economic critic (great sense of humor)

WINNERS AND LOSERS – segment with New York Times business and financial columnists Gretchen Morgenson and Floyd Norris as they discuss who wins and who loses in the financial turmoil

YANKEE STADIUM: A BILL MOYERS ESSAY – great essay on the demise of Yankee Stadium and how it relates to the current economic situation



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, September 25th, 2008

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By Robin*


When I think of the word “crisis,” I’m reminded of an earlier life. Not in the sense of Shirley McLaine living past lives but in the sense of my years before and my years after my own life-changing crisis. It was the ultimate crisis, the one that prepared me for every other one—even as they come for me now.

The old saying, “God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle”—well, it’s not one I buy in to. I believe we torture and smear ourselves up in our own personal crises and then God pulls us out of the muck. If we’re willing. I am surrounded by “muck survivors,” and I promise you, God had nothing to do with the pain inflicted on each of them. But they are all survivors, and thankfully, so am I.

I grew up the youngest of three daughters, separated in age from my sisters by the eleven and seven years between us. My father, the best man I ever knew, worked at three jobs to provide for us. Seems now like he worked the better part of his life. My mother, a woman with extraordinary Movie Star looks, suffered from mental illness—schizophrenia.

My beautiful eldest sister left home at 18 to marry a man she did not love. She sacrificed her dreams and her body to find some form of unattainable inner peace. She searches for it even now. My middle sister ran away a month later, to escape the private Hell—our own dark secret—we lived in. She was only 15-1/2 but she was strong and grew into a fearless warrior of the streets. My father would frantically search for her and then drag her back to “safety,” only to find her missing again. Finally he gave in.

When you’re nine and left behind, you have no choices really. You’re too young to make any. I clung to my father whenever he was home, taking in all of his kindness and his unspoken heartache. He did what he thought was best for me at the time and I did everything I could to please him.

When he wasn’t there, I was left in my Mother’s “care” and I was just too small to know how to fight back. (He later discovered that his youngest daughter with the beaming smile was just not strong enough.) I learned to turn inward, to hold it all in, trying to escape the madness that surrounded this terrified, shy little girl.

I learned to never ask for help, never to draw attention to myself, never to tell anyone about my home-life, never to show anything but absolute harmony and my big wide grin. I faked my way through school, church, and every friendship I managed to cling to. I survived by performing, as if in a hideous play that never ended.

Eventually, blessedly, I grew up, moved out (that’s a story in itself) and scraped by with what money I had. I landed a good job, a nice home, and a wonderful partner who I thought I would hang on to forever. I had done everything by the book—working hard, not making waves, and never, ever showing a sign of weakness.

Things were going well until at 30, my “perfected life” took a nosedive and I lost my forever partner. I was tougher by then, plus I was still young, so I dusted myself off and kept my head high knowing I had weathered far worse.

Within a month, I got laid off from my job. A fingers-tightening-around-my-throat panic started to seep in. Within six months I lost my beautiful home and everything else that I thought defined me as a successful, “normal” person. I moved in with a friend, and for the first time in my adult life I had to admit defeat.

From there, it was a small step from a life with fulfillment to a life without meaning and I became totally enveloped in the old terror of the past. I got up, ate, went back to bed, slept and maintained that cruel existence without understanding what was happening to me, nor knowing I needed help—badly.

There’s an insidious thing called “depression” that eats at your soul, making you feel unworthy. Most of us have been down that road at some time in our lives. But within my family tree, there’s a villain that is far worse—extreme psychotic depression. If your life takes that road, chances are you will not return whole, if you return at all.

At 30, I knew nothing of either ailment and when voices began to fill my head, they seemed to have an answer for finally eliminating my crisis and all my pain. Oh, I fought them with everything my will had left, but my will was scarred and battered. Eventually, I lost the battle.

I stood at the mirror and watched another person—a weathered, beaten version of myself, older in body yet terrified like the little girl—put her hand to her mouth, repeatedly, and swallow the pills. I was helpless to stop her.

I awoke in a strange bed with no recollection of where I was or how I had arrived there. I remember a woman talking to me, her voice full of fear, saying she had just driven her car into a tree but somehow survived and that she would try again. I was later taken to a room to be evaluated by a Doctor who gently told me that I was in the psychiatric ward, in a wing for the “less dangerous,” and that I had survived swallowing over 400 pills. I believe the words he used were “a damn lucky walking miracle.” The pills had no lasting physical effects.

Here’s what happened in my biggest moment of crisis: everything I knew before that moment became my past and every minute aftewards became my future. My future, now crystal clear, was all the life I had in front of me, come what may.

I was released within 48 hours, completely altered from the ghostly human that had arrived, reborn as someone new. As God as my witness, from that moment to this one now, I have never looked back for an answer or questioned why I survived. I knew.

There were 21 people in the entire world that knew this story. They have honored me these past 20 years with their protection, their silence, and more important, their love. And now, there are more who know.

Today, I take each crisis as it is. I deal with it the best way I know how, and I move on stronger than before. Everything from that moment taught me how to live, how to forgive, and to have absolute faith in miracles. And as I age, I grow younger. I’m now a laughing child whose heart is free.




Robin (*not her real name) is a friend and fellow creative spirit. She wrote this piece in response to red Ravine post, WRITING TOPIC – WHERE DO YOU GO IN TIMES OF CRISIS? Because of the personal nature of her story, Robin chose to use a pseudonym.

Here’s what she had to say about writing this piece: It was tough to write those words, but I thought maybe anonymously, I might be able reach someone who’s in trouble or thinks they’re alone in their own crisis. People close to the edge are not as easily recognizable as the general public seems to think.

Thank you, Robin, for sharing your story with red Ravine.

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In personal crisis, my first response is to go inside. That’s when a turtle shell really comes in handy. I’ve had several knee-bending crises in my lifetime. They come about once or twice a decade. The earliest I remember as an adult was after I had moved to Montana in my early twenties. I had a few friends but no job; I was plum out of money. I was scared. I cried myself to sleep every night.

I didn’t own a car. I biked through Missoula, Montana on an old $20 Schwinn 10-speed I had picked up at a garage sale. It was blood red and welded at the crossbars. I bought a used red carcoat at Good Will. I wore black corduroys and a sturdy pair of Vasque hiking boots. I kept going.

I was taught by my parents that if you take the next right step, have faith, eventually things will turn. I took a big risk moving to Montana by myself. It was a dream. I couldn’t turn my back on it. In talking to friends, I found places to go to get help. But I waited way too long to ask. This is another family trait — waiting until we are absolutely devastated to reach out for help. Is it shame? Is it fear? In my case, a little of both.

I did finally call my parents and told them I was in dire straits. They sent me lots of love and $200; that was all it took. I used the money wisely – food and shelter. I finally landed a job as a gas station cashier making $2.50 an hour. I worked until midnight where I closed up by myself and rode my bike home across wintry black city streets.

Jobs were scarce in small-town Missoula. I wanted to better myself. I went to an employment agency and took the necessary skills test to land a job as a dental tool sharpener on Reserve Street. It paid well and wasn’t as physically demanding as some of the U.S. Forest Service jobs that many Montanans had at the time. I worked there for quite a few years before I moved to Minnesota.

My instinct is to go inside. To weather the storm alone. To keep secrets. Relationship crises are harder to me than economical. Busting out of personal relationships is painful and haunting. The endings of relationships have given me bleeding ulcers, the body’s version of a broken heart. I like to think I am wiser now. But it is best to maintain humility. We are all the same distance from the ditch.

In global crises, I am saddened. I send prayers to those in need, but I try to act locally. There is so much suffering in the world. Why does it take a catastrophe for us to notice? In personal crisis, I turn to family, to prayer, to therapy, to recovery. I have bottomed out and been willing to do the work to keep going. I have also holed up, frozen and scared, afraid to do the work. I’ve gotten stuck.

That’s where some kind of practice comes in. Something that takes me back to center. Writing every day. Going to a meeting. Calling and talking to someone I trust. I’m not good at emergencies. If someone is bleeding or needs immediate medical attention, I can be squeamish and fearful. But over the long haul, I will stick with you. I’m a sticker.

Last night we watched In The Land Of Women. It’s about a 20-something erotica writer, Carter, who after breaking up with his famous model girlfriend, moves from Los Angeles to Michigan to live with his aging grandmother for a while in hopes of writing a novel. He lives across the street from Sarah Hardwicke (Meg Ryan), her husband (who is having an affair), and their two daughters; at that exact moment in time, Sarah discovers she has breast cancer.

I turned to Liz just yesterday, “If something happened to me, if I got sick, would you stick it out with me?” She looked at me with her kind blue eyes, “Absolutely,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’d stick, too,” I said. Then I smiled, blinking back tears, and turned to watch the end of the movie. The truth is you never know what you will do in a situation until it happens to you. But faith, and the face of that smiling Buddha, teach me that things will turn. Sit like the mountain. Prayer, practice, community, can help navigate treacherous and rocky terrain. But I have to do my part.

Show up. Continue. Give back. Reach out. I still battle with waiting too long to ask for help. But I am getting better. And to anyone who has stood by me along the way — thank you.


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, September 18th, 2008

-related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC – WHERE DO YOU GO IN TIMES OF CRISIS?

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I have to say, I’m not terribly saavy when it comes to finances. One of my first bosses once told me that you should hold on to stock as long as you can. Boy was that bad advice.

I’m thinking now about the crash of 2001. I remember D., how she’d accumulated thousands of shares of company stock. She was going to sell them off when she retired and go to her hometown in Georgia, create a foundation, build a school, give back. Then the stock went from $140-something a share to $17 a share. When it hit $13, she thought of selling. Then it hit $10 and her stockbroker called, panicked. He said it was going to drop to zero. She sold it every last bit of it, thousands and thousands of shares. The point at which she sold happened to be the lowest it reached before slowly climbing back up.

Sell high, buy low. That’s what they say. Some people, people like me, aren’t built for stock markets. We don’t have a good sense of where the high point is. Some people are built for other markets, slapping the skin of a melon to tell if its ripe, or knowing how to contrast colors, or being able to predict whether the baby in your belly is a boy or a girl. Odd that I should be the one in our family to be the money person. It’s not a role I relish.

I wonder what Dad thinks about the financial crisis. I wonder if it’s going to affect him much. I think we all lost money, although one could argue the money never really was ours to lose, just money on paper, back in 2001. That’s the thing about stocks and equity. It’s all paper money. Like those dollars you get in Monopoly, orange-yellow for the $20 bill, baby blue for $5, yellow for $1.

Honestly, I can still see and smell all of that game, remember which properties cost the most and which were good buys. Park Avenue and Broadway were on the side of the board you never wanted to land on. I always went for infrastructure—Reading Railroad and Water Works. Those seemed solid and cheap, I think it only cost $75 to buy most of them.

I’m trying to remember now, what little doodad did I pick for my Monopoly self? Was it the Scottish terrier? Or was there a big high heel shoe, a woman’s shoe? For some reason that rings a bell. I liked things that had denseness to them, none of those hollow ones. I would never had gone for the thimble or the top hat. I liked weight, something I could feel in my hand.

Where I go in times of financial crisis? Certainly not to my stockbroker. I won’t call him for a while, assuming he still has his job. I don’t want to know the damage, and I’m certainly not going to sell low like D. I’ll wait for the value to grow again, if it grows again. It did after 2001. Call me in ten years and once it grows, I’ll probably take it all out. Never do stocks again. They’re too light-weight, like the thimble in Monopoly, not enough meat on their bones. If I could invest in dirt, I would, and I suppose that’s what land and buildings are all about, although those don’t seem like a good risk at this point either.

When I’m in personal crisis, I go inward. I’m thinking now of each night when I go to bed, how I tuck my hands into the waistband of my pajama bottoms. I go to warmth, pull my arms in tight so they touch the rest of my body. Some day when I’m old I will be folded in and tiny, all of me caving in towards my heart. That’s the place I go to. To my heart, to where I can protect it.

If it’s a family crisis, I go to my parents. I go to my siblings, the place where I feel the most comfortable. The place I grew up. But if the crisis is my very own, I deal with it on my own. It’s just how I am.



-related to post WRITING TOPIC – WHERE DO YOU GO IN TIMES OF CRISIS?

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Smiling Buddha, statue in a Buddhist temple in Cai Be, Vietnam,
August 31, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




Today chatting with a friend, talk turns to the financial crisis. The stock market dropped over 500 points in a single day earlier this week, and major financial institutions are on the brink of collapse. Am I worried? Yes. Is it going to get worse? Probably. Have I looked at the value of my 401(k) to see what the damage is? Hell no!

Nor do I have plans to. Where I go in times of financial crisis is to the future. One foot after the other, I keep moving forward. If it’s totally out of my control and the damage is done, I try not to worry (although, how can I not?). The truth is, I do my best not to think about it.

Call it optimism, faith, or naiveté—I admit to possessing all three. You could say my theme song is Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t worry, be happy.

I don’t mean to make light of any of this. I know people are financially devastated. Old people living off retirement accounts, people on fixed incomes, and all those folks who not only don’t have the luxury of a 401(k) but who will also feel the pain in other ways—rising prices, home foreclosures, job loss. Often, denial just doesn’t work as a coping mechanism.

How do you respond to crisis? And do you respond differently if the crisis is personal versus when it’s happening outside of you?

Each person handles crisis in his or her own way. If the crisis is dangerous in nature—living through violence or trauma—professional intervention may be necessary. Do you seek help as soon as you know you need it, or do you wait until you’ve reached a point of total despair? And when crisis is manageable through your own devices—prayer, meditation, action, avoidance—what measures do you take?







John F. Kennedy once said, When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters—one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.








I’ve been lucky or blessed. Maybe both. I’ve only had to deal with personal crisis (as opposed to this current financial crisis) one time in my adult life. Oddly, I found that I acted rather than avoided in that instance.

I did everything I could to take the bull by the horns and steer it in a different direction. I also sought solace in family, and when the going got really rough and I got really scared, I prayed.

Think of the different crises you’ve experienced in your life. Did you deny? Sink into despair? Act? Did you turn to God?

Do you see crisis as a moment of torment or a moment of opportunity? Or both?

Where do you go in times of crisis? Write, for 15 minutes, no stopping.



Crises refine life. In them you discover what you are.
                                                                      ~Allan K. Chalmers




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