Click Your Heels

When I first met Hal five years ago, he had nothing. He had lost everything in the dot com crash, including his high-rise Apartment in South Beach, his luxury car, his once successful dot com business, his pride. He pawned everything he owned in Miami, sold his Audi and flew West, pockets empty, ego shattered, heart hopeful. He was going to start over. He was going to look ahead, wipe the slate clean, start new.

When we first met, Hal was living on Ramen noodles and American Sprits, sleeping in a kitchen pantry converted into a bedroom the size of a mattress where not even a bedside lamp could fit inside.

"It used to be the snake's room," he said to me. "Before I moved in."

The night we first had sex, we fell asleep with our feet out the little pantry window, and slept that way an entire summer, soles freckled with spider bites and on our first date he took me to he 99 Cent Store, bought me a kid's Kung Fu DVD and a bottle of Captain Morgan. (Whoever says money can't but love is a liar. $1.98 later, I was done for.)

I bring up this story because I've been collecting your portraits for the last three weeks and have been blown away by their honesty, bravery and hope. Because although I cannot personally relate to losing everything (I will be the first to admit that I am absolutely spoiled and incredibly blessed in my life and I'm so beyond grateful for every second of happiness I have acquired), my husband can.

Since the beginning of the recession when news started breaking of extreme home loss, job loss, everywhere you look loss, Hal has been reading the news with his head in his hands.

"It's the worst feeling," he says. "There were days when I thought I wanted to die, that I would never be able to rebuild and succeed again."

But he did. He rebuilt a career for himself in television. Working as a Production Assistant throughout my pregnancy with Archer. Graduating to Production Coordinator, Associate Producer and then Producer/Story Producer in a mere four years. He rebuilt his credit, his happiness, created for himself a new, improved life, born and nurtured in the ruins of his previous one; a home.

"It took losing it all to really find myself," he tells me and I listen. I tell his story to friends and strangers staring out the peepholes of their locked doors, waiting for the Repo man.

Sometimes one must rebuild in order to move forward. Trouble is, it can be difficult to focus on such distant flecks of light when surrounded by so much darkness. Is it Pollyanna of me to believe that years from now, we just might be grateful? Perhaps so but what is the alternative? I've always believed Camus to be truthful when he claimed to find invincible summers inside of himself.

Three weeks ago I posted the submitted portrait
of a Bronx-based nurse who couldn't find a job. Last week, from the same woman, the following email came:
I submitted an entry for your blog, Portraits of an Economy... I just wanted to share some good news with you. I found a job!!! I'm so excited. I start Monday. I know we don't know each other, but I thought it would be nice to share my news with you. Hopefully things start turning around for everyone else in this country who was in my situation really soon...
Things are going to be okay.

Rainbows are signs.

From the sounds of your stories, many of you are on the move. And a great many more are preparing to uproot. To leave old homes, new homes, your homes. There are many of you holding fast to secrets, mourning jobs lost, family members lost, peace of mind gone and with it your pride. Selling luxury cars, pawning watches, moving back in with parents, sleeping on friend's couches, feeling overwhelmed. But you're also strong and optimistic and hopeful and grateful. You hold on. You rebound.

I'm not an economist or a scholar or even a college graduate. I know nothing of economic turn-arounds. I cannot punch numbers. I do not understand the stock market to save my life. But I do know, based on life experience that the areas burned by wild fires are always the greenest come Springtime, that there is an invincible summer in all of us, even as so many weather meters tip the scales at 20 below.

Your American Dream will not be lost with your house because "America" and "Dreams" were never built on the promise of home-ownership, but the challenge that was and is man's ability to turn a kitchen pantry into a bedroom into the humble beginnings of a new life. To start over again, and again, and sometimes even again. And to persevere. One pair of ruby slippers at a time.



Petunia Face | 9:45 PM

Lordie me, thank you for this. You wrote my heart, my fear and the tiny pinhole of light that I know will grow bigger.

Angelica | 10:03 PM

Very Inspiring. Hal is quite the man. Rebuilding must be very difficult. Love the picture of Fable, always so cute. I too am looking for a job and have a little one to take care of but my faith and hope is alive. Love your blog as always.

People in the Sun | 10:13 PM

Although it's harder to imagine a new beginning the older we get, I do believe it's possible. And just trying to create that, especially as we get a little older, could make us feel younger and more alive. It could help us realize the world belongs to us just as it had been when we were in our early twenties.

Anonymous | 10:52 PM

God, Rebecca. Fantastic.

mames | 10:57 PM

did not really think that reading here would ever make me cry, laugh yes, but not cry. thanks for sharing hal's story, what a wonderful person you have there to be and grow with.

and cheers to the nurse that found work. awesome!

Cheryl | 12:13 AM

Beautiful. One of your best posts ever.

Anonymous | 1:29 AM

Wow .. thanks for making me cry so early in the morning. You have such a way with words and I LOVE reading what you write. Thank you, thank you , thank you. .

kittenpie | 1:35 AM

You'll excuse me, I know, for finding it a bit ironic to be posting about losing homes and showing ruby slippers - "There's no place like home."

I think it must be incredibly scary to face losing everything, and Hal sounds like a smart, brave guy for choosing the route he did. Misterpie lost his job in the dot-com crash, too, which prompted his move from computers to teaching. As a new teacher, he's making a third what he did before, but he's happier, has or will have good security, and he'll work his way up to half, at least. I think we'll weather this time around okay.

Anonymous | 3:32 AM

What a wonderful post. I feel uplifted and more optimistic than I have for a long while - thankyou.

Anonymous | 4:04 AM

You have no idea how much I needed this (or maybe you do). Thank you.

Anonymous | 5:02 AM

"My barn having burned to the ground I can now see the moon."

Brooke | 5:04 AM

Once again, your words are so beautiful and true.

Bellamarin | 5:19 AM

love this

I've gotta write it to right it. | 5:51 AM

beautiful, beautiful post. gorgeous writing

Paulita | 5:55 AM

shining love back to you

off to check out the other blog...I have a story to submit..

I am the poster child right now

Wicked Step Mom | 6:01 AM

After hearing all day about how bad things are, it is nice to see someone with hope. Thank you for sharing Hal's story and your own.

Anonymous | 6:18 AM

choked up with emotion. great piece.

Anonymous | 6:18 AM


Brooke | 6:41 AM

My friend sent me a link to your blog. Our home burned down in August while I was 8 months pregnant (my son is now 5 months old). I've written about some of these very things on my blog It is hard to lose everything. It is hard to remember that our identity isn't an accumulation of things, the size of our TVs. And it is also hard to accept that this present moment is all that is. I love the idea that the areas that are burned are often the greenest come spring. I'm going to hold that image with me today.

Em | 6:44 AM

Great post. So nice to be reminded that optimism and hope don't have to disappear when there are challenges in life.

Anonymous | 6:52 AM

Such a wonderful post.

p.s. Your baby is so stinkin' cute. I want to squeeze her!

Caroline | 7:58 AM

Thank you for this inspiring post! I think times will get better. Two of my friends who have been looking for work for months got hired last week. Hopefully, we will emerge from this recession stronger with a heightened sense of awareness.


Ah, but ruby slippers aren't about losing homes but finding the strength in self to reclaim and redefine what it means to "be home"... At least that's how I always interpreted it. Dorothy had the power within her all along. She (and we) still do. Its just a matter of reminding ourselves that"home" will not be lost with the house.

Anonymous | 8:15 AM

That's a really beautiful post. And I think you're right...:

"Sometimes one must rebuild in order to move forward. Trouble is, it can be difficult to focus on such distant flecks of light when surrounded by so much darkness. Is it Pollyanna of me to believe that years from now, we just might be grateful?"

I also think will be grateful. Sometimes I feel embarrassed for believing it but I can't help myself. It will be more years than we'd like and more uncertainty than we'd like. And for some of us it will be much, much harder than for others, and through no fault of our own. But the world will be better in the end, not least because the cynicism of the last thirty years will finally be gone - out of vogue, voted out, done with.

The stock market is not the only measure of human society. The richest people in this country are not the ones who make the best decisions for all of us. Focusing on marketing products or just turning money into money instead of making good and beautiful and useful things that make life better for people is not the best way to run businesses.

Many of us knew this already. But now the world itself, the larger economic systems, have, I think, proved it too.

What's hard is that what worked in the past - the kinds of markets, ways of conducting business, ways of financing things, and so on - will never work again. And the birth of something new can be terrifying and painful.

Anonymous | 8:16 AM

At 22 I had my own home, new car, great job, savings, a hot body (LOL). At 30, I am living in my four-generation dysfunctional childhood home with my two fatherless children and another on the way. There are six -- soon to be seven -- of us living on ONE income. Talk about a blow to your ego! Talk about going back to square one! Talk about things not going as planned! I feel hopeful, though. It will take time, but getting back on my feet is not impossible -- just difficult.

Allison the Meep | 8:34 AM

Man, that made me want to stand up and applaud. You should be writing presidential speeches with that kind of optimism.

:::pumps fist in the air for you:::

Mrs. Cline | 8:48 AM

brilliant. you are fantastic.

Jaelithe | 8:49 AM

I think it's important to note, too, that Hal had that kitchen pantry "bedroom" because someone let him sleep there.

We all need to work together, and care for one another, to get through this crisis.

Much of my life has been a story of losing everything and rebuilding, again and again. I've been homeless before. I've been hungry.

So I am prepared. I am prepared much more than most to build something from nothing, to make do, should this new wave sweep over me.

But I also know from experience that sometimes the only thing between you and a hard, cold bed on the street is another human being who can look into your eyes and realize we're all in this crazy world together, and that sometimes bad things happen to good people who were trying their best, and that the only way to make up for that unfair truth in an unfair world is to be kind and generous and helpful to one another. To work together.

Dorothy would never have made it to the Emerald City without friends. So yes, click your heels.

But be sure that when you do it, you're holding your neighbors' hands.

Marie-Ève | 9:29 AM

Amen, Rebecca. Amen.

I really needed this.

Heather | 9:43 AM

How awesome are you? I fall in love more and more with your blog every time I come here.

tor | 10:01 AM

you are so inspiring!!!!

Unknown | 10:50 AM

Geez Louise! I'm crying over here. I hope you know what a positive impact your words have on others. I too am blessed beyond measure. Instead of losing a job last year, I gained one. But I know so many who've been pummeled by this economic downturn. THANKYOU, for reminding us all that beautiful flowers grow from treacherous rain. Continue to be blessed!

Unknown | 10:52 AM

Thank you!...not "thankyou" :) Anal perhaps?

snic | 11:25 AM

What a wonderful post. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

Tammi | 11:47 AM

Beautifully written. I may be a bit hormonal right now but I got a little teary eyed.

hoppytoddle | 12:08 PM

Love you.

Biggie was living out of his car when I met him. It didn't really matter because he was working 80 hours a week. He did build back. & has now lost it again.

But he says it doesn't matter because he has MiniMe & I. His, our, everything is different now.

Carrie Nicole | 12:15 PM

So well said, beautifully written. Thank you for this.

Alicia | 12:21 PM

Just beautiful!

Anonymous | 1:20 PM

Find a way to share this with even more people - I think it's the perfect mixture of raw truth and faithful hope. At the very least, it was dose of something I know I am in desperate need of. Thank you.

Motherhood Uncensored | 5:55 PM

amazing bec.

Anonymous | 6:35 PM

BRAVO! That was beautiful. Your husband really did live, "The American Dream Story!" I'm happy for you both that he got through it and that he met you (I don't know you but I'm happy for you both anyhow). =o)

Question: You said Hal lived in a kitchen pantry. Does that mean that the owner of the house rented him the kitchen pantry as a single room? I've never heard of that before. But anyhow: he really did start off with humble beginnings. In the end it teaches you though to always be humble no matter where you stand. And no matter how much money you have in your bank account.

Take, care.

P.S. I love how you started and ended this entry with Fable's photo, just in different shades. Adorable. ;o)


Hal actually rented the room, yeah. It was in a large house where a bunch of his friends were living and he was able to live in the pantry room for a small amount of rent, the infamous "closet" as it was deemed forevermore.

Anonymous | 8:05 PM

Beautiful. Thank you. Thank you for inspiring hope and a reminder of who we are and what we come from. That it is not simply our possessions that make our souls. I think that is an easy thing to forget in times like these when possession and homes are flying out the door like nobody's business. However, people like you have the ability to uplift with words and pictures and connections. So, thank you.

Cindy | 8:27 PM

Wow. Thank you. That was just beautiful.

cathartic | 8:48 PM

I lost my job last year while I was 8 months pregnant. I feel your story. I just hope the same thing does not happen to my husband. (working for the same company, just different department). I love following your blog, photos and videos. This one, however, really got to me. It is a beautiful thing, that your family is what it is today. Just spendid.

Veronica Vaughn | 10:56 PM

you always have her dressed so freakin cute! i think my favs are the tiny leg warmers!

i just love you and your writing!

Amy | 6:32 AM

I saw Watchmen last night with my husband, and the entire time I was so distracted, thinking, "Damn, she looks like GGC!"


Anonymous | 2:45 PM

Thank you for your thoughts on this, borne from your husband's true experience. Throughout this time, I am trying to remain optimistic, that maybe we Americans will emerge with a new not based on accumulation of material things, but a spirit of loving the simple things. At least that's what I find myself gravitating towards.

Anonymous | 3:00 PM

Not for the first time you give me (and many others, I think) both goosebumps & inspiration (is that the name of a really bad indie band/film?). too many parenthesis, but none for my Thank You to you, for this & your many other touching, hit-the-spot, not to mention funny-as-hell, writings.

Mom101 | 5:19 PM

I think I need to print this out and carry it with me always.

Colleen | 6:16 PM

I wish I'd read this while I was unemployed following a layoff! Good thing I got a job, because now my reaction is "Yeah - she's right" and now "ugh, not that song and dance again!" Well put.

Anonymous | 10:52 PM

Finally! I thought I was the only person who looked on the brighter side of the current state of affairs(and I have plenty of reasons not to--ie. 'holding fast to secrets'). I live in SF and everyone is so pessimistic about the economy, etc., I was starting to feel crazy/naive to believe there will be life beyond the recession. This world has gone through hard times before and I'm sure it will happen again. The key is to maintain hope. Never accept defeat. One never knows exactly what the future will hold. Keep the faith!

Erin | 6:51 AM


Mel | 5:03 PM

In times of such despair surrounding me it is such a breath of fresh air to read something so positive. I agree with you that sometimes you must hit rock bottom to then be able to reach the top. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right?? We just must hold tight and keep clicking our heels until we find our true Americn Dream.

Stephanie Greenwell | 8:43 AM

damn, you rocked it out girl! i'm sitting here with tears in my eyes[at work, no less], but it's real what's happening to this great country. but, at the same time, i've seen resilience and the things that matter most to people aren't their things anymore. it's their loved ones, their health, and the hope of a brighter future. although my husband and i struggle with bills which still get paid, i know i'm far better off than alot of Americans, and we found out that we are expecting another baby!! total surprise, but it's in God's hands. God bless you, Hal and your beautiful babies, you've got the full grasp of life under your belt. Excellent post!

Stacy Quarty | 10:48 AM

The colored photograph at the end was a nice touch.

Anonymous | 12:35 PM

I think I might cry.

Deanna | 2:00 PM

Thanks. I needed that right about now.

guarros | 3:29 PM

I don't know that I can say it any better than any of the other comments, this was amazing. Thank you! ps. The picture contrast rocked my world.

Anonymous | 3:58 PM

Hi, Rebecca! It's me! The Nurse!
Great post! you put it all so beautifully.
My first week at work was hard, tiring, and there is so much for me to learn...I LOVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT! I'm not a very religious person, but I do believe in prayer and in visualization. I just kept faith in what was meant to be for me will be. Everything happens for a reason. Even the worst things! I learned a lot about myself during my job hunt. I know things will start turning around for this country and the whole world.
Here's an article that I read over the weekend from the Daily News. Amazing! :)
And here's the article it was based on

Anonymous | 4:03 PM

oh and my friend (also a nurse), who was also looking for work, also found a job! She started today! Good things are a comin'!

Brooke - Little Miss Moi | 12:21 PM

Beautiful photos. What brand are the socks? I have mary janes for my daughter, they are Tippy Toes brand but they are quite baggy on her foot, and I want some that fit more snugly...

Brooke - Little Miss Moi | 12:23 PM

argh, just clicked through to the straight from the bottle piece and my question is answered. Thanks!

stacymichelle | 12:41 PM

You have no idea how badly I needed to read this today. I keep re-reading it, as it is sparking my hope. You.effin.rock.

Tenakim | 9:49 AM

great pictures! First time here- sent through Twitter- glad I was. Trying to find my optimism- like many- thank you.

Veronica Milan | 3:03 PM

Ah, that my dear was beyond wonderful! Thank you for sharing Hal's story. These words bring so much hope! It seriously needs to be published in newspapers across the globe!

Anonymous | 1:44 PM

I left my story for you awhile back. I wanted to share something else, some good news. The Man and I have been talking about getting married for years now. (We have been together 5 years now) But we have never been able to find the money for a proper wedding, and with the way things are going, its just not something we could do. So, we've been waiting until we could afford it.
Just a few weeks ago, we discovered I was pregnant. So, we realized it was finally time, and decided to just go to the courthouse and get it done.
Upon telling some of the friends we have been fortunate to make here, in this place-which is neither of our hometowns- they all banded together and are THROWING us a wedding.
Yes. I cry every time I think about it. It is just SO amazing. It's not a fancy ordeal, it's a simple backyard potluck style party this Saturday. Someone is making the cake, someone else is taking pictures, people are bringing food, and flowers and some have even offered to rip apart their OWN wedding dresses to make me one.
That these people, people we have only known for a few years, pulled together for us like this gives me such an awesome feeling, and I wanted to share that with you. Even without money, if you have good people around you, you are rich. And if we all hold together during this time, we will all be okay!

end | 9:36 PM

I pretty much LOVE you the way you write and what you have to say. Just wanted to let you know the happiness your blog brings me. Thank you for sharing so much.