Dh & I are big Woody Allen fans, and a couple of weekends ago, we went to see his latest movie, Blue Jasmine, with Cate Blanchett in the title role.
The performances all round were excellent -- Blanchett is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination -- but it was NOT a comedy. By the end of the movie, Jasmine, the once-pampered, now-penniless ex-wife of a Bernie Madoff-type financier, has been abandoned by her friends and family (or what's left of it), and is left sitting alone on a park bench talking to herself, popping pills and clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Jasmine is not a particularly sympathetic character and, as we come to realize, she is (at least in part) the author of her own misfortune. Still, dh & I walked away feeling rather stunned and unsettled.
In a recent Sunday New York Times Magazine article, Lisa Schwarzbaum suggests one reason for our reaction -- or, at least, mine:
...Allen deposits Jasmine in financial and psychic limbo, offering no clue as to what her fate will be. No clue, that is, except to me, and to every woman of my (baby boomer) generation or older who can read the signs in a fibrillating heartbeat: Jasmine will become a bag lady.
She will wander the streets — poor, homeless, alone, unable to earn a wage or survive on her own. She will be shunned as crazy even when she’s not. She will become invisible. And she will be forgotten....
Jasmine is my secret nightmare made flesh. I have no heights of luxury to fall from, no jewels to lose. But I do have the nice, self-sufficient little life that I have worked to put together for myself: the funds allocated for rent, for food, for clothes and tickets to Woody Allen movies and a little bit allocated for old age. What if I lost that security and with it my standing in the world? “Blue Jasmine” hit me hard and depressed me silly. There but for the grace of a Chanel jacket go I.
This is true of so many women I know. We can intuit Jasmine’s fate because ending up a bag lady is our darkest and clammiest fear. The possibility of falling into bag-ladydom is a terror so deep, so longstanding, so embarrassing to admit yet so matter of fact that we accept it as simply a part of being a woman. I joke with these friends — “I don’t want to end up like one of those, ha ha” — and they comprehend the confession behind the nervous laugh immediately. I also know that our shared dread has little to do with rationality and everything to do with what we understand about how we precariously bagless ladies get by in this world.It IS irrational. I realize that by virtue of being born Canadian in the 1960s, I am among the most fortunate creatures on the planet. Growing up, my family was far from wealthy -- we ate a lot of fried bologna & Kraft Dinner when I was growing up -- but most people we knew in the small towns where I grew up were in a similar situation, so we seldom felt deprived. The gap between rich & poor at that time & place was much smaller, and with just one TV channel in my pre-teen years and no social media, there were fewer visions of a different lifestyle to aspire to.
The affluence of the 1960s gave way to the economic & political uncertainty of the 1970s and early 1980s -- energy shortages, the Cold War, high unemployment, skyrocketing lending rates (I remember when mortgages were 21%!!). Maybe that's where this lurking uncertainty in the back of my mind (and probably many others') has its roots? I know much has been said & written about the rotten job market facing today's millennial generation, but things weren't that great when I graduated from high school in 1979 or from university in the early 1980s either. I knew several kids who were engineering students at school; at the time we entered university in the early 1980s, business was booming and there were three jobs waiting for every engineering graduate. By the time we graduated a few years later, though, things had reversed and there were three engineering grads for every available job.
Somehow, dh & I managed to finish school, get married, find & hold onto jobs, buy a house and pay off a mortgage, sock away some savings, carve out a reasonably comfortable life for ourselves and even consider early retirement. And even though dh lost his job earlier this year, and even though the message is that more and more of us will need to keep working until 65 or longer, it looks like that dream is still within our reach. After going over the numbers ourselves (& over... & over... & over), we consulted a financial planner last month who assured us that it's still do-able.
I did feel better after that. And yet there is always this small nagging voice of fear and doubt at the back of my mind... What if we're wrong? What if something happens to our health, to our pensions, to our savings?
Even if we're not just one paycheque away from disaster, there's always this nagging feeling that one wrong decision -- one bad investment -- external forces beyond our control -- and we'll be screwed and all our carefully honed plans will be for naught.
I can't help but think that being childless has something to do with this too. (In the movie, Jasmine has no children of her own, although she does have a stepson that she helped to raise -- who now rejects her.) Having children is no guarantee that you'll have someone to look out for you in your old age, of course -- there are an awful lot of lonely aging parents out there.
But it helps.
Of course, so many of us don't live anywhere near the people and places where we grew up, the support networks that families of the past relied on -- and even if we do, everyone is so wrapped up in their own lives and families these days. And of course, when you're not a parent, you're not plugged into those parent networks. Even then, it's hard not to feel like an outsider sometimes. I was reading Peesticks and Stones' recent post about loneliness and there was a lot there I could relate to.
Dh gets exasperated with me -- he's run the numbers over & over again, taken me to a financial planner -- and I can still write about my lingering fear of being left alone and in poverty. He likes to joke that, should I ever be left alone, he'll come back & haunt the nephews to make sure they take good care of me. ;)
Reading this article brought those old fears to the forefront. At the same time, it confirmed for me that I'm definitely not the only woman who thinks about these things, at least once in awhile.
What about you?