Dark clouds pass quickly overhead, rolling and spreading as if angry. Invisible strings pull the air and suck the energy out of small human plans, charging life with dark cold winds. They have surprise on their side because just two days before it was bright and sticky hot, a lazy weekend that now seems like nothing more than a set-up for a sick joke.
Yet in those moments of sun there has been time to get together with friends in a casual summer wander. Most have come with a shared secret. “I have this project I’m working on, don’t tell anyone.” Bright eyes push ahead a little stutter, a speech being practiced for when the real pitch-day comes. In front of us is something new, a craft moving through the art of being perfected. We talk about plans, possibilities, work and energy. Then, eventually, a few clouds roll into the conversation – Europe, stalling employment, huge banks losing tons of money, and the rigged stock market. They suck the energy out of the moment and set aside the craft and plans.
This is the reluctant Spring that arrived early but can’t stay with us.
As early as 2009 Ben Bernanke talked about “green shoots”, the visible signs that Spring is arriving. That talk has come and gone ever since. But as anyone in the middle of the continent can tell you, green shoots that come up too early are the best way to kill off delicate plants like tulips forever, because in that state they are the most vulnerable. At the first sign of frost you have to cover them with straw or leaves, hiding them away until the time is ready.
Many of my friends right now have such projects, little secrets that they hope will one day be their ticket to a better life. Most of these dabblers work as I do, one gig at a time attempting to string together a living that will get them through what feel like the last days of an economic Winter. At least, that’s what we hope. For all the signs that there is a Spring on the way, the clouds still roll over the prairie and the temperature plummets. The projects, the plans, and the hopes all have to stay under cover just a bit longer.
This is exactly how Spring has to come, however. Most of the projects I hear about are web based with low barriers to actually being implemented. Not needing any capital, they can move ahead on little more than time and energy. Smart people with too much time on their hands don’t simply sit down and starve, they engage themselves any way they can – and work to make something happen.
But there are still those clouds and rolling chill. The darkest one to move over lately has been the sickening IPO from Facebook, the final proof that all of us have to find a way to make it on our own. Every single person I have talked with felt the energy sucked out of the air itself as this cloud passed through. I offer that it’s not all that different from the groupon IPO of just six months ago, another cynical fleecing of people with a little scratch to invest. I relate how JP Morgan lost $3B for no apparent reason. But these are weak examples that fall flat. The Facebook cloud was bigger, darker, and after a bit of sunshine even more discouraging. A real Spring is further away than we thought.
It’s not all dark, and on good days we have plenty of time to get out and enjoy our life. The world around us is indeed green and alive, even if the economic Spring is still reluctant. But there is something far too surreal about the up and down, the hot and the cold, to give anyone confidence. Something good has to happen, something that will erase the hope that was lost in the flurry of news of clouds rolling through.
Meanwhile, nearly everyone I know has plans. They have their own small shoots, carefully nurtured indoors and protected. All they need is proof that the economic weather is finally going to stop being so capricious and nasty.