December 18, 2008

How I read my way through the last economic depression

The theme at Goat Rope lately is hard times and how to get through them. The series began a week ago Monday. If you feel so inclined, please click on earlier posts. You'll also find links and comments about current events.

As I mentioned before, the 1980s hit West Virginia really hard, with massive layoffs and high unemployment. And the cavalry was not on the way. I remember it as a time of poverty as I scrambled to provide for two young children.

When hard times hit, of course you have to try to get yourself out of them. I looked for more and better work and scrambled to finish a degree. But you also have to stay alive in the meantime, physically and otherwise.

For me, reading was a kind of salvation. For some reason, I stumbled upon The Story of Civilization, a massive 11 volume popularized version of world history by Will and Ariel Durant. It was far from academic history and contained any number of howlers that would drive sticklers up the wall. But it was engagingly written and was a constant companion for many months during work breaks, sleepless nights and stolen moments.

The Durants would include discussions of literary classics in their rambles through history and I made a list and went back and read as many as I could.

All of which is to say that I made it through the Reagan era with the help of Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Plato, Herodotus, Thucydides, Shakespeare, and the like.

As poor as I was and as hopeless as the times seemed, I still remember the awe I felt on finishing Plato's Republic, the Oresteia of Aeschylus, and several of Shakespeare's tragedies and histories that I'd missed. That experience took me out, however briefly, from the grind and gave me a chance to think and reflect--and not to feel like a hunted animal.

There are some things you do that seem to take the life force out of you and leave you less than you were before, like zoning out in front of a television or playing video games during all your free time. But there are other kinds of things that seem to build you up. It could be a course of study, some physical discipline or learning an art or skill. These take effort and discipline but they can richly reward the time and trouble.

In my case, it helped me both to endure and eventually escape dire poverty--and left me with the will to do something about it when I had the chance.

R.I.P. the Bush administration's "ownership society."

WHAT A DIFFERENCE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE MAKES. In another op-ed, economist Dean Baker points out that if General Motors was a Canadian company, it wouldn't be in need of a bailout.

HERE WE GO AGAIN. Welfare rolls are increasing for the first time since it was "reformed" in 1996.

MORE BAD WV NEWS. Century Aluminum in Ravenswood may close.


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