Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The New Reality

So last week I shared a link on FB about the percentage of people below the poverty line being the highest since 1993, and in hard numbers this puts the US at the highest number of poor people ever. This led to a great debate among a couple of my FB friends—very civil and with lots of back-up sources—it was pretty cool, actually, to have civilized dialog from very different views, but then, I DO have fabulous friends.

Family living in car in Atlanta - source
One of the things brought up in this debate was the 'new oil boom'. Now I'd heard a little something on this, as one of my long-time friends has been unemployed (he's a civil engineer and cash-strapped states have badly tightened their belts, so a lot of the work that kept him going for 15 years has dried up), and HE mentioned the oil fields... at the time, I was 'say what?'--I just hadn't paid attention to that level of news.

Anyway, this oil boom has led to a housing shortage... in Eastern Montana, of all places. But then just that night I learn a 2nd degree relative (technically once removed... erm...) is MOVING to one of these fields in North Dakota. (in a 5th wheel trailer with a daughter—so yes, housing shortage... I can tell you, I'm not sure I'd want to winter in North Dakota in a trailer)

And it got me thinking...

Construction Grand Coulee Dam, Grand Coulee, WA
Digression: My Stepdad, the Dam Kid

My stepdad grew up in the 50s with his father, an electrician who specialized in the set-up of dams... you heard me, hydro-electric power—those giant things that block rivers in exchange for electricity... there was a TIME there weren't all that many, but post-WW2, America wanted MORE POWER... Anyway, he and his family moved all over the US as his dad worked on one dam and then another. He went to 3 high schools... for a while he and his dad moved on to the next place while his mom and sisters stayed (his older sister wanting to finish high school in a place she wasn't a stranger). I think it was hard on their family in some ways, but really developed character in others. And I think several families moved together—the same type of crew needed for each new location—almost like the military that way.

Back to My Story

So is this happening again? Or might it? I can see a reasonable application of this model in wind. Windmills can be built pretty much anywhere with open land... and there surely is some specialized skill in the building. Now oil is limited to where there are oil reserves, so the set up there isn't going to jump place to place to place. But it just seemed there may, in this economy, be a new, necessary mobilization.

I wonder how long this stuff will take to come to books. What comes to mind is Steinbeck's Dustbowl stuff, but maybe that is the pessimist in me. Still, can you imagine living in a normal city, leading a normal life, and being uprooted to move to a trailer in North Dakota. (don't get me wrong, North Dakota has some charm—I actually think Bismark is a charming little city, even if I only spent a lunch there on my drive moving here from Oregon). But MAN, those winters! And the emotional upheaval of moving to pretty much the middle of nowhere... what stories might there be?

You have any first or second degree experiences with the new realities?  You think any of them might make your books?


Michael Offutt said...

Hart, don't get me started. I'm so angry at the conservative elite in our country that harbor the cash and scream bloody murder whenever Obama brings up the topic of closing the Bush-Era tax cuts for the wealthy. I'm so angry at the top 1% that control trillions in wealth. I'm so angry at the hoity toity wealthy and their smug flaunting of their riches before those that are struggling. And I'm angry at anyone that thinks they are better than another person because they have money.

I guess I'm a pretty angry person these days.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Sounds like things are getting really rough over there. Australia has experienced a lot of drops in home values and some job loss, but no where near as bad.
Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I watched that story on the news the other night and couldn't imagine it. I'm not as flexible about moving as I used to be (although I'd definitely do it if we ran out of jobs/money here!)

Will Burke said...

My family moved across country when I just finished High School (1992), and i thought it was great. My sister had two years left, so it was harder on her. They lived in a camp ground for 2 months while I 'worked' at a summer camp. I got off easy there...

Journaling Woman said...

I just watched the movie Grapes of Wrath again. It's very scary our world.

I believe people are tough when tough is required, but of course there is suffering.

Our county is one of the poorest in our state. This makes my job sadder (is that a word?). When children hurt that is the hardest to watch.

Old Kitty said...

What's needed is a most NAKED revolution!

But seriously!!! Can't get away from these realities and they do tend to seep into one's writing! Take care

Hart Johnson said...

Michael, I can work myself up pretty good too... and do with some regularity. I try to keep most of my venom to my personal profile (or Lisa Golden's--she's beautiful at writing about it) but I definitely feel like you do on the matter.

Charmaine-yeah, the worst of it is there is too large a mass of people working against their own self interest, so it's become very hard to address--i fear it will get worse before it gets better.

Elizabeth-I guess people do what they have to, but yeah, at least while the kids are little, I am fairly inflexible. Fortunately my job has been stable.

Will-very interesting. I pushed beer through that recession--I know it hurt some people, but I hadn't heard stories at that level.

Teresa-I totally agree on the kids--that really IS the saddest part. And in addition to deprivation now, there are risks to the future (how easy is it to do your Algebra sitting in a car with 5 people for the night?) Sort of puts things in perspective.

Jenny-YES! Naked World Domination would solve ALL of this!

GigglesandGuns said...

Just this morning on our news was a story o men selling everything and following the east/west paths of migrant workers. Depressing to say the least.
I'm trying to keep what going on in my life out of things I write. I think in time we will have more writing about this new great depression.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Some of this sounds like dystopia in real life, doesn't it?

Creepy Query Girl said...

wow, I missed this conversation- but these times are causing changes in unexpected ways for many families in the U.S. Your step dad must have had an interesting childhood!

KarenG said...

You can bet this stuff will make it into my books, because I like to write about how outside forces shape personal and family choices. Farm Girl was about the Dust Bowl and Depression in Nebraska, Uncut Diamonds about the 1970's recession in the Midwest (which btw puts the current recession to shame it was so bad, try fuel bills higher than house payments!) My current wip is about a woman whose husband walks out and then she loses her job.

Reality fiction, that's what I love!

Hart Johnson said...

Mary-I think it depends so much on what we write, but I would say writing about it either requires opening a vein and being true to it, or stepping back for some objectivity.

Carolyn, it really does--very scary.

Katie-definitely. And sadly, as the US goes, so goes the world. (He really did have a pretty interesting childhood, I think)

Karen-Excellent! I'm glad to hear about someone facing it directly already!

ViolaNut said...

Yeah, I go the other way - when real life sucks, I escape into fantasy, both reading and writing. I'm an ostrich, yup yup yup... :-P

Michael Di Gesu said...

Times are certainly changing and history always repeats itself.

I agree with Karen G, it will show up in books at some point in time.

It is sad that people have to uproot to survive. But, that's what our country was based on.

Ah, Hart, winters in the midwest are now picnic in the park. How much worse can a North Dakota winter be than a Midwest one. I know Chicago dips way below O and the WIND! Please. COLD is COLD! Two feet of snow, seventy-five mile an hour winds and thundersnow. That's what we had last year. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Jeanette said...

Hi, there! *waves* I wandered over here after reading your guest blog with Stacy Gail and then stuck around to read some more.

The current climate absolutely feels like the setup for a new Dust Bowl era, and it's definitely fertile ground for fiction. Oddly enough, I've been writing a lot of dystopias recently. Wonder if it's subconscious expectations of impending doom.

Here's hoping we as a society get our collective heads out of our asses soon.

Arlee Bird said...

This is a very interesting topic. These boom economy situations are good in the short run, but this is also where ghost towns and abandonment come from. I can recall when West Texas was really booming and then as time went on places like Odessa and Midland became rather depressing looking. I don't know what it's like now--I guess that area hangs on but with nowhere near the flourish it once had.

Not much in East Montana. Interesting area to visit, but I don't know about living there. And sure not much housing either.

We do live in interesting times.

Tossing It Out

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Won't make it into my books due to the genre I write. But from personal experience as a military brat, I know that moving around is difficult. Glad we always had a house to go to, though.

Helena said...

You're showing us the reason why Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath is an American classic that will never go out of style: because the story is always being repeated. Meanwhile, it was just in the news that Wal-Mart heiress (company of the crappy low-paying jobs) is worth $24.5 BILLION. And she's not the only Wal-Mart heir.

Deb said...

Funny you should mention Grapes of Wrath. It is playing at the Stratford Festival this summer. Wonderful production but the chill of history repeating itself over and over is sobering.

Trisha said...

What Michael said up the top there is pretty much what I think in general - I'm not American but I'm angry all the same! Similar things happen here. We're having this CHOGM thing in my city, and the govt is actually spending money on moving the homeless people out so that nobody has to see least until CHOGM is over.

It's really sickening.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

The photo of the family just made me weep. I feel so awful for the children and the mom looks so exhausted. :(

I'm not sure about writing new realities. That's something that would have to hit me for inspiration, but if it hit me, I would....


LTM said...

oh, man, my dad grew up like that moving from place to place. His dad was a contractor, and they had a little group of families that all moved around together--Penn., Okla., Texas, La., Kansas... he didn't mind it, but he said his older brother HATED it.

As for those poor homeless folks, there was a photo exhibit like that on tour that was in south Ala. when I was still there. Generated a ton of donations to our local food bank. :o\ I do wonder what stories will come of these times~ <3

Tonja said...

Both of my parents are from Appalachia - dads were coal miners. One had black lung by the time I was born. I think they were too poor to move.

Loved Grapes of Wrath the book.

My ex refiled for child support after losing his job. Together we are technically below the poverty line for child support purposes (spouses don't count). But for federal financial aid for college, our children won't qualify for a dime because of spouses who technically aren't legally responsible. WTF?

Tonja said...

Meant to say my parents' dads were coalminers - too much vodka (not really).