Friday, May 22, 2015

A 28 Year Old's Perception

(Having just finished writing this out, do understand it is strictly stream of thought and I've stumbled over my words enormously with generalization and hyperbole. It was simply a train of thought that needed open release lest it fester into something worse as the night wore on. So please, do read, and leave your thoughts on the subject, but understand I may very well not be nearly as subscribed to these notions as my elaborate monologue might indicate. Thank you.)

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No matter how well off I may be doing relative to the economies of the town in which I live and city to whom I'm near, I feel decidedly mired in the same relative degree of idle misery as everyone around me.

Pardon me as I run down a tangential thought that struck as I pulled into my garage this evening.

The mean, median, and mode incomes of denizens in the Nation that often lauds itself as being the richest and most immediately swelling with growth and opportunity are wildly separated from those people most noted for making such egalitarian statements. Glen Burnie is my home town, a very blue collar town, much as Baltimore is notorious historically for being a blue collar city. And much like anything historically stamped with the label "Blue Collar", both suffer, their people suffer, from a marked disconnect from what modern times have labeled valuable economically. This region was the powerhouse of industry. Industry no longer possesses value.

Blue collar workers of old, a generation born into companies with clear ethics, morality, and a sense of responsibility for their workers, retired into pensions and satisfying retirement funds, with houses paid for and, today, their children pushed out into what they think is still their world (the one of good jobs with gracious wages for those with steadfast work ethic). But that is not the world of today. That is not the world anymore. We are a generation born of an overpopulated species in a world keen on automation and digital transference (neither of which are inherently bad things in and of themselves). Jobs of old no longer exist. Companies no longer care for their flock. An admirable notion of independence and self reliance entered our rhetoric and our culture, but decades of consumerist leanings allocated nearly all the resources with which to do so in the pockets of an immensely small band of individuals who felt compelled to push their own capabilities and capacity for "winning" so far as to leave all the world at enormous detriment. Not only people of this Nation (of which, comparatively speaking, even the poor do well for themselves), but of all Nations, of all people. And there is no meaningful avenue by which these individuals can undo this damage without enduring significant harm themselves. They are stuck with a global perception as villains whether or not they intended wrongdoing or merit the label. We are stuck dealing with the world in a lesser state than it was when we were born.

I look around every day and observe distractions. People of the former blue collar caste, I'll refer to us as the "Working Poor", are drawn to distractions like LED lit bug lamps. From our cell phones to our video games to our television (or Netflix, these days) to the unfortunate condensed world of Web 2.0 governed by Facebook and BuzzFeed and Twitter, the only saving grace with which we have been left in this post-wealth society is a bounty of distractions fed forth by cheap technology. We will never afford a vacation to Europe or experience sunset in the Sahara. But we will see a picture of it on Flickr and pin it to Pinterest. A Nation populated by those who would live vicariously at all times.

Most individuals are simple. Like any species, our brains operate on evolved logic patterns and we can be cognitively "gamed" to tame the unrest that festers in a population saturated with boredom. This is not to say most individuals are stupid, that is itself another relative judgment given the variety of peoples' inherent strengths and weaknesses. I make the statement simply to indicate that there are those of us for whom the game does not work. Whether actively or passively due to irritation, the distractions are shunned, mentally ousted, or simply ignored. And for us unrest is a daily struggle that seems a thing forever unsatisfied in a climate of complacency. Most individuals, aware of the failed state of our lots in life and misfortune of our place in the societal timeline, will seek the passing distraction to afford some contentment in their lives. But for us there is no ample distraction, only the enduring, excruciating idleness of our lives, no matter what mechanisms we employ to overcome the very low glass ceiling.

My affinity for the photographic documentation of abandoned properties, especially the industrial, is very tied to this sense of unrest. Unlike any other activity, simply experiencing the asbestos ridden rotting husks of old industry was enough to leave me satisfied, in tune and at peace with the state of things although nothing had directly been changed. To this day I walk away from blighted properties with the thought that everything will be alright, no matter how bad things come crashing down. But these are buildings with which I have no history, locations in which I have not previously developed memories while they were still in heavy operation. Anymore I drive down the roads of my town and see stores and strip malls with vacancy signs and a number to call to lease the property. The Nation's first shopping mall in Harundale was closed down years ago, transformed today into a grocery store and Burlington Coat Factory. Marley Station Mall is still marred by a long abandoned 3-story department store addition and the entire wing where First National Bank used to be, the place I opened my first bank account 14 years ago, is completely empty. Glen Burnie Mall is in much the same state, and despite a face lift on the side facing the road, the rear entrances and parking lots of the property show the real state of things, with grass growing from the sidewalk and a busted up Toys-r-Us sign. This is all in a 5 mile strip north and south of where I live. Everything gone. Everything abandoned. Broken. Our potential is gone. And we all know it, but, as a majority, we simply stare into the soothing LED void in our palms, like an optically ingested heroin (drugs are another matter altogether around here).

Anymore I'm not sure if I'm sick and tired of us all being so hopelessly broken or sick and tired of being surrounded by the hopelessly broken. As I stated in the beginning of this post (vaguely), I am arguably successful beyond the mean, median, and mode denizens of my own hometown, but for sake of an odd perception of guilt and fear that leaving this area behind is most akin to abandoning any sense of compassion, I stay. But I am at a new point in my life, finally, no longer wishing to idolize permanent brokenness and wanting to achieve more, attain more, become more. And I feel guilty even entertaining the thought that my home town demographics, the aura of the place I've called home for decades, could ever possibly be an anchor in the calculations I make in how to push just a little farther ahead. I would rather see a rally, a shock to the system, a home brewed renaissance that restores the glory of places I grew up in, places with a history. The long shot hope of every blue collar town today.

When the promise and opportunity of the world dried up as my generation first entered adulthood, we still held onto a sense of community, involvement, we went out and did things. As things got worse, we retreated because the world could not harm us more so long as we stayed shuttered within the walls of whatever run down apartment we called home. We're still shuttered behind those walls, no matter how much nicer they may have become over time. We still don't risk the world, living it vicariously with LED heroin. Assuming anyone other than the offspring of those who have collected wealth ever impact the world again, maybe then we will finally be able to risk the world again. But much like the rich hold onto their wealth, we hoard what we have as safely as we can from those who might tempt its surrender and will do so until we're either dead or it hemorrhages from under us like a bleeding wound. A very lightly nicked artery.

We were meant for more than this.