Bedtime story for the governor

Published on: 2/15/2011

Once upon a time there was a pretty land, green in summer, white in winter, and green-and-gold all of the time in its heart.

As most places, and not just in fairy tales, there were times that felt pretty calm and good.

Just yesterday, most of the people were doing a little better than okay. They had jobs and time to go fishing now and then. They could eat the fish they caught, as long as they didn't do it too often. Their children kicked or tossed balls around and went to decent schools and grew up well, planning to do a little better than their parents.

But then things shifted. They always do, but we always forget. That's one of the magic spells cast on human beings, forgetting what we need to know until something or someone, usually an unlikely, even unpleasant Rumplestiltskinny source, comes along to lift the veil.

Then we smack our foreheads and say things like "Duh!" Or "Hey, that emperor really wasn't wearing any clothes," or "wait a minute: hope and change are good things."

But back to the shift. For reasons in their personal control, like spending too much for the wrong things, and for reasons out of their personal control, like population pressures and financial skullduggery, things got worse for a lot of people.

(They also got a lot better for a very few people, but that's not my story. I sort of wish it were, but if I say that someone will pop up and holler "class envy," which isn't really it. It's having-enough-not-to-worry-so-much envy.)

Anyway, the population, which used to have barbecues and baby showers together as they cheered for their kids or the Packers, began to divide.

One tribe was the Notax tribe. The other was the It'smorecomplicated tribe.

The Notaxes liked simple messages, like, well, No New Taxes. Or Open for Business. You can't blame them because really, it would be lovely if life were that simple.

The It'smorecomplicated tribe couldn't really pull together a nice slogan because, well, it is more complicated. But not that complicated. Personally, I think they let despair drive them down. But for whatever reason, they lost their story. And it's one of the stories that keeps our spirits alive.

The Notaxes used to have some stories like that too, but they lost all the stories but the one.

What no one remembered is that the magic of this place lay in all the parts coming together.

The Notaxes liked to talk about household budgets. But they had only one half of the story of keeping solvent: lowering spending. The other half, increasing income, seemed to belong to the It'smorecomplicateds, who didn't come up with a good story about how to do that, and so the Notaxes prevailed. At least they had some kind of half story.

(And if you want to know what happens to your house when you don't spend any money on it over time, you should come visit me. Somewhere, in this bigger land, all the tending and stewardship got lost, the stitches in time that save nine or nine thousand later.)

The leader of the Notaxes was a strong-minded (some might say buttheaded, but not me because I'm polite), clear speaking, no ambiguity, no fluff kind of guy. No one ever saw him cry or lose his temper, which makes you wonder what all's bottled up there, but I digress.

Dispassionately, he started talking about cutting people's incomes, taking away their places at the table, calling up the warriors to maintain order. "We all need to make sacrifices," he said, while choosing who to sacrifice from the working classes.

And no one had even mentioned the poor yet. They were next on the list. Only the very rich escaped the sacrifical lists.

The stories people were telling each other now were stories of catastrophe, chaos, darkness, and pain. The kind of stories you tell when you no longer really trust other people and it makes you feel more comfortable to dream about  big strong guys calling the shots, protecting you, making things peaceful if not better.

No one told the leader he wasn't wearing any clothes. He was wearing plenty clothes, sort of armory clothes. And even if you didn't like him, you couldn't call him vain or a hypocrite: he wasn't. He never made any bones about being exactly who he was.

The one thing he forgot was a story. A really big story, full of heroism and promise for better times. That's the manna you give to people in the wilderness. They'll become heroes if you give them a reason that's deep and true. They had done it time and time again.

But not "Open for Business": that's not a big story. It's what happens after the heroism, the work of scraping and saving, planning and investing, imagining and inventing, researching and learning and trying and failing and trying again.

So all around the green or white, green and gold place, people started praying. Or meditating if they weren't praying types. Or assembling if they were the very best types, the acting types. They prayed or meditated or raised signs for the leader to have a little of that hopey changey thing, not just the busting crushing cutting thing.

And they asked him to tell them a story.

"Tell us a story, they said, "about a time when things looked really bad but they turned out well. When people came up with miraculous and savvy solutions to problems. Tell us what this sacrifice is for, beyond cutting taxes. And tell us all together, around the campfire."

"And maybe you will listen to our stories, too. The more, the better. Don't you think?"