Sunday, March 9, 2008


This is one of those points in life at which I wish I'd been a novelist. Someone born with one undeniable talent for putting images and complex emotional concepts directly into the mind of the reader. Someone with an outlet, with the respect of the establishment. I like to imagine the New York Times book review of my best-selling novel; complete with speculation about its autobiographical potential, but above suspicion as fiction, right up there with Roth or Graham Greene. And when they examine me as a person and an artist, I'll be accused of all the typical artistic excesses -- self-absorbed, self-destructive, bad with money, questionable parenting skills -- but ultimately exonerated by my own brilliance, as one who perceives the essence of human hope and frailty.

Fat chance, eh? Nope, I suspect this is not my fate. As I sit here with one leg up on the ironing board that also serves as my computer desk, I listen to the refrigerator making its mysterious ticking noises (a giant time bomb for my thighs), and hear the cats beating each other up in the living room --- my husband goes to the kitchen for nasal spray, then sticks his head in the door and frowns, wondering why I'm writing instead of sewing as I said I'd be --- and I notice that I need a shower, and hope I get one before he leaves for his 14 hours at school tomorrow. I drink from my second glass of wine, and ponder the situation.

"Your little Disneyland, this job you love at your little church and all these things that you think are important, are gonna crash down around you. This Disneyland you live in is coming to an end. I'm not a stupid guy, I can see this coming. It's all gonna come crashing down, and you'll see that I'm right."

My husband had a few on Friday night, and started in on me (for at least the fourth time, in the last week) about how he's certain to lose his job and we need to leave the country. The teaching position he has held for several years is finally supposed to become permanent next year, but tenure involves a competitive interviewing procedure and (not for the first time) he's feeling the pressure and ignominy of having to beg for his own job. Moreover, the union is negotiating a contract change with the state college system that could mean a ten thousand dollar annual pay cut for him, should he get tenure. Plus, the governor has just announced a 26 million dollar cut to state colleges that will almost surely mean layoffs, so even if it's not a hiring freeze, a newly tenured professor could still get pink slipped based on seniority. Plus, the housing market sucks so bad that if he loses his job, we would almost certainly wind up using his retirement account to either pay the mortgage or sell the house -- in less than two years the property value has dropped more than $15,000. And my job provides no health insurance, so even though we could float for six to nine months on savings and my income, the cobra costs for insurance would be bitter. In short there's a lot riding on the outcomes of the next few months.

So he thinks we should trash the retirement account and bail on the US altogether, before we become victims of the recession. He is certain we are doomed, and equally certain that life in Sweden or Canada or Argentina far exceeds that of the US in terms of quality of life for someone with his education. Which may be true on some abstract, academic level; but things are tough all over, and by the way everything and everyone I love is right here, right now.

I just cannot describe how serious he is about this, or how intense and angry he gets when he's been drinking, and how hard he works me over to convince me that it's the only way we'll survive. Not being able to adequately describe this is why I'll never write the great American novel, incidentally.

The five years we lived in Georgia were personally productive, but being away from home just about killed me, that five years. It was a constant source of despair. He didn't want to come back to Minnesota -- that was me. I basically forced him to return to the Cities after he finished his doctorate, by taking a job up here five months before he was done and separating us long enough that he knew he'd have to choose between being married and taking a job in Springfield Anywhere. I just couldn't handle it. I need to be here. My family ties aren't the most rewarding, but my local friendships mean a great deal to me, and my job is second only to my son as my reason for being.

If we become like some long-ago generation of emigrants, who could only survive by fleeing the motherland, it had better not be a response to what might happen. He wants to bail before the thing he most fears comes to pass; for me, it's strictly a last resort, and only if he has secured a damned job in our next port of call. I told him last week: I won't throw away everything we have over your fear of losing it all. But he looks at me with contempt and desperation, and he assures me that my "Disneyland," my life, is marked for demolition.

A whole week of this, plus a day of laying around doing absolutely nothing, and tonight he expects a "date." What he needs is a good anti-depressant. But he hasn't gone to the doctor in ten years, and he doesn't think he's depressed anyway. He is living in fear, in absolute terror of failure, and there's not much I can do even when I'm feeling disposed to compassion. He has caused me so much fear in the past week (and the past couple of months off and on), reducing me to a curled-up ball of anxiety and anger night after night with his at-the-edge behavior, worried about him and worried for myself and my son -- I'm crying on my four-year-old's pillow while my husband sleeps.

Hey Doc, the goodies are on the house, help yourself. Compliments of your Disneyland concierge. This will all make great fiction in the hands of a better writer, and art will go on distracting us from the ugly smells, strange noises and awkward revelations of midnight blogging.

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