I find that I am living much the same way I was living before this financial crisis, though I should explain this a little. I am a Romanian-born American citizen, and I have been in the US since I was 8 years old. I was raised by a single mother, who was 45 when she and I immigrated to the US, who not only struggled to make ends meet in a language she hardly spoke initially, but also to live a bigger story (touching on Rachel Naomi Remen's interview), that is, to practice as a licensed pharmacist, as she had for 23 years in Romania. She currently runs a moderately successful practice as a homeopathic pharmacist. I attended a small, private, all-girls' high school in Connecticut, received a BA in English from Yale and an MA from Johns Hopkins. I reconnected with my father while I was in college and have a good relationship with him, found great mentors and colleagues in all three of the aforementioned institutions. My childhood was marked particularly by the kindness of my second grade teacher (my first teacher in the US), who took my mother and me under her care during our private financial crisis, investing more than would generally be expected of any teacher: paying for my piano lessons, making visits to the apartment she had found for my mother and me when we weren't home -- she had arranged to have her own key -- and stocking the fridge, laying out new school clothes on my bed every September for a number of years. One December, my mother and I arrived home to find a decorated Christmas tree, with gifts underneath. Needless to say, her family is my family, and to this day my mother still spends every holiday with them, as do I, when I happen to be able to make it home.
This lengthy introduction was meant merely to illustrate that I have lived something like the American Dream (my mother, even more so). The genuine one. We are an American "Success Story." And yet, my college years, and particularly the year I spent in the writing program at Johns Hopkins were marked by a lot of anxiety and intermittent bouts with depression. Not unusual, one might say; one's twenties are tough years of confusion, self-doubt and self-discovery. I took leaves of absence. I traveled abroad. I returned. A critical unease with my life in the US continued to mount, until, sometime around 2003, I felt that if I didn't leave the US, I would face some kind of irrevocable death of the soul. There was no logical explanation for my return to Romania, the country both of my parents had fought hard to leave not long before the fall of Communism. Two things made that return (and departure) vitally necessary: the realization that the institution that was generously funding my education in poetry was able to do so partly because of heavy financial investment in national defense (I opposed the war and felt helpless in my complicity), and the nervous breakdown of a close friend, which forced me to consider the fact that the majority of the talented, creative people in my life were on various forms of anti-depressive, anti-psychotic, anti-anxiety, anti-- you get the point -- medication. I realize now how subjectively my own self-preservation mechanisms were integrating the symbolic events around me to make me feel that if I didn't leave, find some alternate path to the one I was on, I would literally die. This is the stuff of spiritual crisis, of extensive self-evaluation, but most importantly, intuitive action toward some possibility of "living life well," or, at least, better than I had been to that point. I didn't understand what was driving me away and what I thought I'd find in Romania, though, in retrospect, I see an obvious search for a different kind of independence, which I found in the pursuit of a creative engagement with filmmaking. But it could have been theater, or another collaborative art form. Romania was a good backdrop because it was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, allowing for a unique exploration of who I was and from where I'd come.
Now to bring things to the present. I live in Los Angeles, where I work in the film industry, an industry defined by uncertainty, risk, dreams and largely egotistical ambitions. For the non-union filmmaker, there is no health insurance (I have not had any formal health insurance since I left Johns Hopkins). Paying work comes unexpectedly, or not at all. Rewarding work is sporadic, but great communities are possible as a result. I have worked for and with people I admire. There is a tenuous sense of meaning in all this -- tenuous, but meaning nonetheless, and I can honestly say that during the past five years I have had the fullest, most enriching experiences of my life, though I was broke or badly bent the majority of the time. I only mean to say that I am no stranger to the uncertainty that is gripping so many people right now -- and I say this with neither self-pity nor self-righteousness. I only have myself to look after, and I have chosen this way of life (though, choice and necessity are terms both open to debate). I am sorry for people who are finding themselves entirely unprepared for this painful -- but absolutely necessary -- period of adjustment. I wish that we could all have been raised with the gentle wisdom of Parker Palmer's father. I am looking for ways to apply my own experiences to an effort to help. I find wisdom and leadership in people around me, the American producer who encouraged me while we were working together in Romania to come to Los Angeles and pursue my dream, who then financed my first effort in filmmaking; my wonderful boss, the chef and radio host Evan Kleiman, who is a natural community-builder, whose restaurant serves as a surrogate family for everyone employed there, as well as its loyal customers (her decision to provide an "economic crisis discount" for all customers was a generous and inspiring gesture); the insightful guests on this radio show -- perhaps one thing I am doing now that I did not do before is to contribute to the show. Not to do so, in light of pervasive budget cuts seems almost reprehensible. I find leadership in the likes of Lewis Hyde (who defends the value of the artist in a market economy) and other academics, writers, artists, for whom their work is a form of activism aimed at protecting the integrity and vitality of culture. It is an exciting time to be alive, almost overwhelmingly exciting.
I don't know how useful I have been here -- I don't think this is exactly the kind of response you were seeking -- but I have been finding the show so heartening and had to respond to a very personal need to voice these thoughts. Thank you, whomever you are who has taken the time to read them.
Oana Sanziana Marian
P.S. I include a photo of my mother and me, in Romania, and some time later.
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