Been Down So Long

July 11, 2011

(In which I loosely construct paragraphs that are thinly related to each other but that all together have something to do with a feeling I wish to express this evening.)

Poverty comes in many forms. Some are more dire than others. Years ago I was a daily reader and contributor to an online message board for parents that leaned toward the radical, politically speaking. It was a fascinating experience, to be a part of that, and some of the strongest convictions I have were nurtured there.

One of the most profound things I read on that message board was a quietly held belief that it is not constructive to battle over what group of people is most discriminated against. I have read, in other places, political commentaries on the lack of cohesiveness in the American Left that claim different groups within the Left have a tendency to value their own interests to the detriment of others. This tendency, it is claimed, leads to fragmentation with people working against each other rather than with each other.

Anti-consumer groups can work with environmentalist groups, who can work with women’s rights groups, who can work with immigrants’ rights groups, who can work with anti-death-penalty groups, who can work with ….well, yes, and so on. I believe this to be true.

But back to poverty. I understand that when I say “I’m poor,” it is not the same as being poor in Afghanistan or poor and Black. The fact that other groups or individuals are MORE poor in ways I cannot fathom doesn’t take away from the fact that I am poor and that my poverty is not fair or right or good. Nobody, in this world of plenty, should have to be poor. And yet most of the world’s people are.

I’ve fronted pretty well, and I’ve passed as a Middle-Class American for years at a time. It took me a lot of living to realize I wasn’t middle-class and never have been. I suspect a lot of poor people don’t realize they aren’t middle-class. I suspect there isn’t much of a middle-class left in the U.S.A., and that is a shameful thing.

In the grand scheme of things, I have some things going for me: I’m White, heterosexual, from California. I was smart enough to do well in school, and my parents cared for me deeply and did not harm me. I have an imagination and a lot of dreams. Some of those things matter even though they shouldn’t, in this culture of mine. I’ve visited many kinds of poverty – I’ve been welfare poor, solid job but deeply in debt poor, grad student poor, recently divorced poor. I’ve managed through it, but it gets old after a while.

I’ve been falling down particularly hard the past three years, and just when I think I’ve made the right step to start standing up again, things get even harder, money gets tighter, the future gets scarier.

I have now reached the lowest point in my ability to Keep It Together thus far. Money’s not just tight, it doesn’t exist. The scary future isn’t two or three or seven months away, it was last month. I didn’t think it would go this deep, I’d fall this far. Of course I still have dreams. I’ll be fulfilled and secure, someday. I’m still alive. But right now, all I can do is laugh. I used to work in a used bookstore when I was in college, and one of the titles of the paperback books that often came in and out of the store has stuck with me, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. It’s by Richard Fariña, who died two days after the book was published. I tried to read the book once, but the masculine 1960s counter-cultural vibe I perceived was boring and obvious to 19 year old me. I don’t know what the book is about, but the title is really superb, don’t you think?

Well I’ve reached that Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me point. I really don’t know how I’m going to make it, but I have to, so I shall. And I’m going to laugh with every step, up or down. Because now it’s just absurd.


One Response to “Been Down So Long”

  1. Alesia Says:

    Hey you,

    Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

    You are an amazing person and an inspiration.

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