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Pauline Lerner

The World's Financial Mess and Violin Lessons

November 13, 2008 at 9:08 AM

I fell asleep the other day while listening to the radio.  I awoke with the memory of the newscaster saying, "fear of a global depression."  At least I think that's what he said.  Maybe he said the more commonly used phrase "global recession."

I don't understand economics at all.  At first I heard and believed that the current economic situation was caused by something with moral overtones:  People buying houses with mortgages greater than what they can afford or, alternatively, banks giving mortgages to people who couldn't afford them.  Then I think that I read that the cause was farther back in time than that.     

I remember studying the Great Depression when I was in school and asking whether this could happen again.  I suppose that a lot of people had the same question because the New York Times ran an article about it.  I think that the gist of the article was that laws and regulations have been changed.  It might also have said that times have changed, and the current recession was precipitated by factors which were not present in the Great Depression.

The NY Times carried a different story, one that I could understand because of the big photos.  New houses in a new community had sold at enormous prices, in spite of the fact that the residents would have a two hour commute to jobs in the nearest big city.  Almost everyone in that community could not make their mortgage payments.  As the houses were going to foreclosure, the residents tried to make as much money as they could with giant yard sales.  People put their beds, lamps, other furniture, kids' toys, and even objects of great sentimental value outside for a huge, general auction.  I liked looking at the story and especially the photos because they put human faces on the economic news.      

In the early days of the stock market crash, someone I knew stayed glued to his computer monitor all day, following the value of his considerable investments rise and fall.  I somehow got the idea that if the Dow went up and stayed up, the trouble would be over.  Then I started following the Dow at the days end (not all day) hoping for a great and lasting rise.  Alas, my theory was proven wrong by the facts.  Reporters said that stockholders were behaving irrationally, trying to sell their stocks when there were no good reason to.  They were motivated by fear.  I stopped watching the Dow bounce up and down. 

By this time, I was getting more personal messages of bad news.  One of my friends has been told that 30% of the staff in her department will be laid off, and she has good reason to believe that she will be among that 30%.  Another friend told me that half of the staff at his company had been laid off.  I saw him a few days ago and now he, too,has been laid off.  He is an immigrant who has been in this country for 25 years, and we both agree that he is much better off here than in his country of origin.  He asked me, "What happened to the American dream?  America land of opportunity?"

I know the story.  In fact, I'm living it.  I was laid off from my job as a scientific reviewer seven years ago and have not found a permanent job, although I have had a few -- very few -- temp and freelance jobs.  I know where to find the lowest prices of every thing, and I enjoy shopping at second hand stores.  My biggest problem now is not having health insurance.  I have several chronic or chronic intermittent ailments.  Asthma and migraines are the worst.  Asthma medicines are incredibly expensive.  I just can't afford them.

A few years ago I changed careers and became a violin teacher.  I love my work, but I'll never get rich.  Right now, my teaching roster is lower than it's ever been, and some people take lessons every other week.  I know that financial stress is the cause for some students.  The parents of one of my former students are divorcing, and the mother has primary custody of the daughter.  The mother was doing quite well financially until recently.  She was a realtor.  Now the boom has fallen.  The mother and daughter had to move out of their home with only a few days notice.  The mother is looking desperately for a more stable job.  Meanwhile, there are no more violin lessons.  Another student is quite talented and loves playing the violin.  Another student is quite talented and loves playing the violin.  Her mother told me that she would have to stop taking lessons because the family-owned business was not doing well.  I could not let this student go, so I suggested that she come for a lesson every other week.  The parents discussed it and agreed to it.  I suppose that other students who have dropped out or did not start lessons did so because of financial needs.

Somehow, I believe that things will get better, if not for me, then for many others.  However, I believe that things will get worse before they get better.

I've been vacillating between two sentences to end with:  "Frankly, I'm scared." and "We always have hope for change."  I'll leave it to my readers to decide for themselves.

From Terez Mertes
Posted via on November 15, 2008 at 2:50 AM

 Pauline, this was very powerful and very pertinent. My husband will probably hear next week whether he has a job, and it's a daunting thought. As for this comment: 

>Right now, my teaching roster is lower than it's ever been, and some people take lessons every other week.  I know that financial stress is the cause for some students. 

Well, my teacher and I discussed this (b/c I told her that in the event of a spousal layoff, I will need to reduce lesson time) and it's the same with her.

Really enjoyed reading this - it was insightful and personal without being alarmist. I guess in the end we're all in this together, b/c we're all connected one way or another. (Zen 101!)

From Pauline Lerner
Posted via on November 15, 2008 at 9:47 AM


I really hope your husband remains employed.  These are tough times for many people.

I especially appreciate your feedback on my writing because you are a professional writer.



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