Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Examination of Life a.k.a. The George Bailey Trap

It all started last Saturday. We were delivering a little wagon full of family treasures to the Neighborhood Associations Yard Sale down the street. As we unloaded I discovered that someone was selling a full size proffesional Bessler photo enlarger complete with sets of filters, a variety of negative carriers, and lenses. They wanted ten dollars for it. Ten dollars for approximately $1,200 worth of equipment in perfect condition.

That's how this week started. It seems this week was to be devoted to the problem of trying to have a valuable life and maintaining one's existence while doing it. Heavy heavy stuff, almost beyond my ability to deal with, despite my combined daily dosage of 450 mg of psychotropic drugs. But I've never let my lack of ability deter me from authoritatively addressing an unsolvable dilemma.

I kind of think our culture has finally worked itself into a proverbial "DEAD END". OK, that's my typical doomsday approach to things which is not so positive a way to do it when people are in pain and need support. A full half dozen people this week have discussed with me in one degree or another the value of their life, the reason for their existence, and questioned how they were going to make a living or continue on living in this "unfair, uncaring, and nasty" little world of ours. One was wondering if his life has had any meaning. One was wondering if his life was going to have any meaning. One was wondering how they were going to carry on with their life under the negative conditions they now lived, and the remaining three just wanted to know how they were going to make a living and support their families because their jobs were coming to an end. None of them were living the life they thought they would live. All were under-employed or mis-employed.

How much time do you spend evaluating your life? You know someone important said, " The unexamined life is not worth living." I've haven't seen so much angst and anomie since the early 1970s when I sat under a shade tree on a college campus in Southern California and listened to six brand new Master degree graduates in Geography lament the start of a recession that meant few jobs were available. This recession of 2008-11 is deeper and meaner than that one in 1974. Not only are people looking for meaning in their lives these days they are looking for means to stay alive.

So what does any of this have to do with a photo enlarger? Well I'm coming to that. That photo enlarger was in perfect shape. It could have performed its designed function perfectly. It was a really nice piece of equipment, exactly like the one I had used in professional photography labs years before. The resultant photographs would have been great. But... it was a total historical artifact. All of the functions it once performed are now done by a few micro chips and a computer program interacting with a digital printer. Indeed, the new system can do it better faster and cheaper with the photographer having one tenth the skill they once had to have. It was a perfect tool that was perfectly obsolete.

That's me. A perfectly obsolete perfect tool. I got lucky. I became obsolete and retired just before they noticed it. But I'm the exception. These other fellows range in age early 30s to early 60s. They can't stop or retire and don't have the time or energy to work on a "meaningful" life. They've got to be worried that someone or something is coming up from behind to make them redundant, obsolete, or left over. What kind of world is this that not only can we no longer work towards our dreams, but we can't even work to provide the basic human needs. Not even the guys like me that made through and out, get to relax much. I care about these people. I can't stand to just sit here and watch it happen. But what the hell....

Maybe I should have bought that enlarger.

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