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Will Creativity Become a Victim of the Economy?

Or will tough economic times become a springboard for innovation and change?
 
 
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The headlines are filled with news of the downturn economy, and a few weeks ago, I was still relatively untouched.  But last week, things changed.  My husband was officially Laid Off.  I marvel at how quickly yesterday's headlines become personal narrative.  Our own.

It's odd, yet not particularly surprising, to find ourselves so instantly and intimately situated smack in the middle of the economic tragedy that's pulsing through our nation like a scourge.  Infesting every sector, it takes us down like dominos before many of us even know what hit.  I am a freelance writer.  My husband is in graphic design.  We are culture creators, right-brain types.  What happens to creativity in a free society when economic pressures come bearing down?

Last week, I was part of a dynamic duo excited about the prospect of upgrading to a two-bedroom apartment in which to start our family and where I could have a little more space in which to write my books.  Today, I am the sole breadwinner, recommitting to my projects and widening my consulting practice on the side.  As someone who writes largely about women's issues, my mind reels.  So quickly the stories change.  What happens to the discussion about work/life balance when our partners get laid off or, for increasing numbers of us, there is simply not enough work to go around?

A writer's mind gets busy.  Five seconds after my husband Marco told me the news, I became an observer of my own little drama, obsessed with the psychology of resilience, and inextricably connected to the larger drama playing on our national stage.  I am in the creativity business.  When the tears subsided, my hands got active.  I sent out emails, twittered, Facebooked, and pimped my husband on my blog.

By evening, I found myself abstracting from our situation, brainstorming how we might use this crisis as an opportunity to put forth new theorizing, new cultural interventions.  How might we recreate our value, how might we serve?  Marco blogs about the narratives behind images.  If bread lines were a symbol of the Great Depression, I find myself thinking, surely the anxious fingers of the middle class updating their LinkedIn profiles will become one symbol of this Great Recession.  Perhaps during his impending downtime, Marco could blog the visual narrative of recession, and I could blog its vocabulary.  Who invented that clunky phrase "laid off" after all -- I suddenly needed to know!

Marco, I whisper the other night on the edge of sleep, you should blog about it.

Uh huh, Marco mumbles, cradling both our cat and me.

Let's make a website, www.downsized.com, I hear myself say.  You know, a social networking site with a national database where all those newly laid off can network and ask for contacts.  People can share resources!  Send donations to those in need!  We can sell ads!

Stepping back the next morning, I'm embarrassed that my inner entrepreneur is trying to make lemonade from shit so quickly.  My excitement wears off each time I look at my husband's face and remember that he's out of a job.  This is not a game, it's not fun, and it's hardly romantic.  Still, I can't help looking for the bright spots, and my scheming mind won't seem to stop.

While Marco and I are busy trying to "fix" the problem that's hit our personal lives and embrace this moment as a springboard for innovation and change, there are many families and individuals for whom this current crisis constitutes a breaking point.  My heart goes out to each and every one of them.  I pray that we will not be among the broken, and that this experience will strengthen us, a newly married couple, as we forge on.

So what does our small story tell us, if anything, about the downsizing of the creative industry?  Perhaps it's that creativity cannot be downsized.  Marco may have been laid off, but we will hardly be laying low.

I am frightened about our new reality, but I remain focused on moving forward -- on starting a family with my beloved, on making do with less, on greeting others with compassion at this tender moment in our collective story, and on writing about what's happening to us in ways that I hope might help others deal with what's happening to them too.  Because really, at the end of the day, what other choice do we have?

May our economy heal quickly.  May friends and families across America hold each other close and hang together.  May my mind keep working overtime.  And may Marco find a new job very soon.

 

Deborah Siegel, PhD, is the author of Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild. She blogs at Girl w/Pen (www.girlwpen.com). You can read more about her work at www.deborahsiegel.net
 
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