It’s been awhile.
But I found my way back. I am not a constant force on this site, rather a mere occasional intruder. I, for better or worse, use this blog to vent my feelings of betrayal, love or hatred, and hopefully, once in a while to shed some insight into why I am as I am.
All of my (over)analyzing has led me to a sometimes painful, but ultimately important, self-discovery: all of the pain and disgust of my present circumstance; the longing for something better, but my inexplicable inability to articulate what; the dislike of what is so visible around. . .well, I have finally put a name to it.
I know, I know. . .American society lacks class (yes, our lack of class would be obvious to anyone watching American television and witnessing someone eating bugs or backstabbing their best friend), but no, I am referring to the idea that we do not have social classes.
I have always been ill-at-ease around my contemporaries (I live in rural Pennsylvania, aka the Rust Belt, or Redneck heaven, whichever you prefer). I have railed against the anti-intellectualism, the ultimately self-destructive tendencies of our holocaust on the only environment that can sustain us as a species, and the supposed conservatism that aims to strip the rights of our citizens, one by one. But here we are just the same.
Let me explain what I am driving at. I need to start with those closest to me. I have long been aware of the three distinct classes within my extended family.
My mother’s family, in my recently acquired sense and sudden desire to use some form of terminology, is low working class. The traits that expose them as such are some, most, or any of the following: their lack of knowledge in regard to politics, nutrition, culture, science, literature, nature, government etc. They work in retail and are content to remain there. They are not ambitious. They watch whatever show caters to the lowest common denominator, drinking cheap beer while eating only meat and starch. They do like to hunt, it is an entertainment. Their idea of cooking is to mix processed foods together. A cake mix with pudding and a can of fruit, topped with cool whip. They listen to country music almost exclusively. Their highest education level is high school (if that). They rarely if ever notice that we have politics, let alone participate. With one look you would recognize them, without one word’s uttering: they exhibit some or all of the following: dirty nails, obesity, unkempt hair, dirty clothes, beer-bellies, jeans/t-shirt/camo/flannel, no teeth or bad teeth etc. Their kids are dirty, but they don’t notice because, after all, whose aren’t?
Slightly above this is my father’s family. They are skilled laborers. In a good economy, they slide delicately into lower middle class. In a bad economy, they sink down into working class. Their children may have gone to college. They notice the government, economy, and politics. They are ultra conservative and likely Christian fundamentalists; so often voting, if they vote at all, against their own best interests. They know just enough to be dangerous. They have the sense to wash their hands before heading to town to cash their checks. They dress a little better than the first group, and probably have dentures. They grow their own food, raise their own beef and pork. They know how to cook. They bake, can their own jellies, and freeze fruits for pies in the winter. They eat their vegetables and fruits, but love their meats. They love to hunt, it is a matter of pride. They are not lazy. They love country music, it too is a matter of pride. They do not own dress clothes, but they have a more sophisticated sense of style than the first group. They wear their Muck boots over their jeans and a Carhartt jacket over their t-shirt.
And then there is my mother’s extended family. They pride themselves on having escaped working class a generation ago. Or maybe they don’t even notice. They went to college, they might even have their Master’s degree. They may even consider getting their doctorate. They are knowledgeable about government and politics, and nutrition and literature and culture. They have their own teeth, wear professional clothing when appropriate, and would never consider going into public dirty.
It’s amazing that we all, and all of the above, watch television and fail to notice the gaps and discrepancies between shows and characters and the world around them. We exist in our own little spheres, enclaves of security, shielding us from one another. We see the wealthy with their fancy cars and the working class as they park said cars. The division of class is visible. But we fail to notice it. We willfully deny its very existence.
The funny thing is, even the poorest of the poor have things like cellphones and pretty cars. Nothin’ purtier than a jacked up diesel pick-up in front of crappy trailer. They buy them on credit and go into debt just to have that little piece of heaven. We see them on the street but fail to recognize why we feel slightly uncomfortable. We attribute it to something else, we ignore it.
Where do I fall in all of this? In which class do I belong? I have been that waitress you ignored, assuming that you were better. I watched you eat the food that I either prepared or at least carried to your table. I was that girl in the checkout line using an Access card to buy food with your tax dollars. I had Medicaid for years. My daughter still has it. I go without insurance. I do not have money, but I am better educated that 90 percent of the American population. Like all good Americans, I strive for something better, even if I don’t know what it is exactly. I work hard, probably that Redneck or Protestant work ethic that I am inherited from my immigrant ancestors, brought here to escape the abject poverty in various parts of Europe. Not that they did, they just found more discrimination and poverty here. Am I what they were dreaming of? Would they approve? Like my grandmothers before me, I can’t sit still. I am constantly moving, cleaning, working, caring for others. But in many ways I am no better off than a hamster running circles on his wheel. I run and run, strive and strive, work and work, but never seem to end up anywhere. It’s like an invisible ceiling.
It has been a long, bumpy road to this epiphany, fork in the road, precipice; whichever it may be. I have long understood that I will never fit in here; and that I would equally fail to fit in anywhere else. I have spent too much time along this divide, in this wild country where they really ought to require passports. But it has given me an understanding of why our country is traveling on its current path. A great read in this regard is Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant.
Ultimately, I believe that I have been growing as a person. It feels good to stretch my legs, tackle things that scare me, be more myself. Yes, I went back to school. I am officially a graduate student (again), but this time in Master’s of Library Science. And no, I don’t expect that job prospects will get any better with a second Master’s degree, in a related field. I am doing it for me. I like being a student. I bask in the joy of knowing. I like being smart, if I dare call myself that, probably more than I like smart people (which is a lot, those sexy devils :-) ).
More importantly, I hope to move the heck away from here.
And if this path leads me to reaching out for the seemingly unattainable doctorate, so be it. I am starting to be able to see it. The picture is coming into focus. Maybe I’ll even study class and poverty. Because that’s the rub. Living here, amongst this mentality, those anti-intellectuals, I wasn’t able to see. For my thesis (for my Master’s in Education), I questioned boys and their attitudes toward education. I didn’t get it. Why couldn’t they see beyond the here and now? But now I see it too. . .neither did I. I was stuck in that world too. But I have only had a glimpse of what’s beyond that camouflage-colored wall: everything.
What I’m listening to: It’s Been Awhile by Staind