Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Pandagon recently did a post about poverty. Many people, of course, came in with their self-righteous, "I did it, so can you" smug stories of how the "worked hard" and made it. I hate those stories, mainly because they can't see their own blessings, just their own challenges. I posted about poverty before, so I don't need to repeat myself.

But one thing just popped out at me, and this was a comment by Flat Out Running.

My family has always been poor. It’s a socialization issue. Mom had 11 siblings and lived in tents, houses with no plumbing, and moved around all the time because her dad got odd jobs and went where the (hard, dangerous) work was. She married someone smart and had intelligent kids, and my brother is a manager in a department store, has a wife and adopted boy, and while they don’t spend so wisely as they could, they’re doing okay. Me, I got through college (parents contributed a grand total of 2k, I worked and took out loans for the rest of the more than 13k/year tuition/room/board cost - private school 20 years ago), worked anywhere I could making less than 12/hr, paid off loans, got into a loser marriage, got out, got stuck with some debt he wouldn’t pay - I knew that the battle would be long and arduous so I sucked it up and paid more than I should have of the collective debt, it was far cheaper than the alternative because lawyers are beyond me. Once all that was over, I got back into school and got a 2 year masters in four years, because I was also working full time on top of the schooling and could not quit my job for summer term; classes ran four hours a day for three weeks, with four three week classes per summer, and there was no financial aid available for summer either. So automatically I paid way more for my education than most of my classmates, who were married and could get by, or older than I am and switching from more lucrative careers, and saved up for it better than I could.

And now I have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and I’m still pretty much where I started financially, though I do have savings (small potatoes but it’s there) I’m trying desparately not to use. I have a temporary part time job and a roommate. I can’t even get a clinic to take me as a volunteer so I can gain experience because I have very little of it, just the fieldwork I was doing as a student. What I do not have that classmates do is the savvy and connections — it’s taken me a long, long time to learn about things like networking and being professional and sane, because my previous history taught me how to be codependant, noncommunicative, angry and helpless. And I have no network of family buddies and so on, like so many people do - no directors of clinics, or their daughters, on my list of friends.

I got over the helpless early; it’s the rest, the ability to travel gracefully in white collar circles and communicate with those folks, that’s taken me forever to get. I’m much, much better but I still have a ways to go. Working at nonprofits sometimes when I can helps, but as a wage slave in social services jobs, you still get looked down on. It’s subtle but it’s there, just like racism. I was taking karate, swapping office services for lessons after my day job, and had bruises up my arms from blocking kicks (I bruise way easy). One of the Junior League ladies noticed and got this horrible ‘poor you’ thing going - she didn’t believe the karate story. I wondered if she would if I weren’t low rent, wearing thrift store clothes. I’m decent, hardworking, honest, and no one’s victim - but I’ll never be Junior League. On the other hand, I am also not poor, but I am a gnat’s eyelash from it if I start to give up. And frankly, I’m starting to wear myself out worrying that I won’t catch a break, that there won’t be jobs to get me the intern hours I need so I can get a license and start my own practice. People who know people who know people get them first. Classmates I still have contact with who have jobs say things like “I talked to my mom’s friend who - ” and classmates who are unemployed like me say things like “I don’t know why I can’t get them to call me back.” Maybe it’s just the place I am - but I can’t afford to move, either.

The ceiling hurts. Can someone up there open the window? I’ll climb the outside of the building if I have to. Fingernails grow back. Please let me do what I want to do, so I can pay for the cost I paid to do it. My loans are due soon.

This makes me feel, by turns, like crying and then extrodinarily guilty. You see, for as hard as it is for me to make ends meet, and as much debt as I'm going to accrue, I will have the connections. I've already had internships I had from networking, and jobs I've had because they were a friend of my mom. I found cheap places to live because I had connections with my friends. The bank I bank with charges no fees, and in fact waived a few of my overdraft fees because they knew me so well. I am damned lucky, but should I be taking advantage of this luck? Should I take my parents' and my friends' help?

Simone Weil paid her parents rent, refused to eat food that the poor couldn't have, and worked factory and farming jobs instead of higher paying ones. She felt the need to live her morals: no benefits because of a random chance of fate.

She also died alone and young.


At 10:18 PM, Anonymous robert said...

I think regardless of whether or not a person with connections uses them, the confidence that they are there would prevent the true understanding of someone without.

At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Belok said...

I know you like to barf on Christianity but consider this: Christians believe that Jesus is both the Son of God and God AND that he was born into poverty. This really makes the Christian message different from all other religions, i.e. our God searches us out, and is often in the poorest of the poor ("the least of my people"). The implication is, that if you want to be a good Christian you should worship Jesus in the people who are poor. This is what Mother Teresa said in her Nobel lecture. Also, working with the poor and helping them out teaches you so many things -- like how much of an illusion our lives are. We don't realize how much we depend on other people and on God unless we loose it all. When we get past the fear of not having things and security we find that we see things the way they really are. No matter how rich someone is if they are not loved, their life is precarious, and happiness is always out of reach. When it comes down to it, the only things a person truly needs is Love, food, water, air and more Love. Helping the poor means taking care of their material needs, but more important, showing them love.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Goddess Cassandra said...

Robert- You may have a point. There is a point that I cannot relate to people not like me. That doesn't mean I shouldn't, merely that I recognize the limitations.


I don't barf on Christianity. I don't like all Christians, and I don't like every interpretation, but what Christ said was okay.

And I don't need an invisible sky fairy telling me to do something to do what's right.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Teddy said...

There are many things my (abusive) dad taught me, the biggest one that somebody who hurts you might still give you good advice.

I apply that to religion a lot. They help people, yes, but they also believe absolutely in something, which is just plain unsafe. It fosters a close-minded attitude because they believe that they are right and others aren't, as well as a rigidity to their deity's lawset and rule structure. So as much as it seems nice that they help people, it discomforts me that they're not thinking about helping me, or even about it coming full circle to me helping them someday, but about getting into paradise, even if not consciously.

Help people because they really do deserve helping. If everybody does that, this kind of story might start to become less and less common. Helping when convenient isn't enough.


At 1:35 PM, Anonymous help me said...

"and there was no financial aid available for summer either. So automatically I paid way more for my education than most of my classmates, who were married and could get by, or older than I am and switching from more lucrative careers, and saved up for it better than I could."

Can someone make sense out of this for me. Why would she have to pay more than any other classmate?

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Goddess Cassandra said...

help me-

You don't get as much financial aid during the summer as during the fall AND you are resticted in the hours you can work. So she wasn't making as much funds and she was getting less financial aid (more debt)

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous help me said...

But she didnt pay $600 for a class comapared to someone else paying $400. Thats what I thought she was saying. Paying different amounts shouldnt be allowed.

At 8:40 PM, Blogger Richard said...

You're going to have a anxious, frustrating and confusing life if you think we're all suppose to start out at the same place, or that life ought to be "fair." Has your "extrodinarily guilty" conscience even considered that hundreds of thousands of people probably have far superior connections than yours? Should this realization make you feel victimized and disadvantaged? How would you propose bringing yourself "up" to their level of connectiveness? When you start thinking about it this way, you will eventually notice that your guilt is not only unnecessary, but it stymies your own potential as well.

At 9:15 PM, Blogger Teddy said...

I'm bad with people. Don't like them, don't know how to communicate with them, frankly terrified of them. If there's one thing I hate more than anything else, it's one of those people that says "just believe in yourself!" Plenty of assholes assume that the rest of us can put a silver spoon in our own mouths. It's exceedingly difficult to simply suddenly have connections like that, or to simply start trusting people. Stop telling us to "chin up" and other useless crap. We don't want it, we want a detailed set of instructions, who to talk to, what to say. Networking is a set of specific skills, not a mindset.

At 6:57 AM, Blogger Goddess Cassandra said...

Richard the "life's not fair" canard is a cop-out. Of course life's not fair: if I thought life was fair, I wouldn't bother doing activism.

Quit being a moron: I do feel oppressed in this system. Everybody has varying levels of oppression in a hierchy (and I'm not going to get in the oppression wars, so don't ask me who has it worse and better et cetera). But, I can't exactly throw off my own oppression individually. I can, however, fess up to having priveleges and recognizing them (and rejecting them as the case may be).

I don't want the world to continue the way it is. If you are comfortable with the world as it is, than that's your thing. But I actually care about the rest of humanity.


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