Thursday, February 13, 2020

WHY AM I POOR? (Continued)

Over the years I've occasionally asked in print "why am I poor"?  The answers are clear: changing jobs, not compromising, going to school for long periods of time, and being codependent on strong men who offered both protection and a top limit.  I mean, if you got better than them at whatever, you were gone.  And I always took jobs that were too idealistic to pay good money, like clergy and teaching.

But there are two other things: I'm really bad at self-care, esp if it has a cosmetic dimension, and I never form a support group, mostly because they argue with my purposes.  What a narcissist.  What a defiant oppositional example.  What a funny story!  Because not playing it safe means lots of narrow escapes, but also lots of adventures.

I did learn that one must save oneself.  There is no going home where it was safe.  Twice I was near to living on the sidewalk and asked my mother to let me stay with her until I got another job.  The first time she said fine.  But soon I realized that it was because she thought that I had given up my wild ideas about artists and rezzes, and would now settle down to being her mainstay and puppet, her little sister.  This was part of her "implicit" frame of life, how it all worked.  Not mine.

Strangely, part of her "frame" was from her impetuous father, who wanted to be a bigshot but always evaded responsibility -- my example is that he was prominent in his church but always picked a fight and left when it was time to pledge.  My mother got the "being important" part but NEVER stepped away from responsibility.  Her life was consumed by her family, including me.  So when I needed to come back for shelter the second time, she refused.

But it turned out that I had a support system after all.  A former teacher invited me to live with her.  A clergy colleague said I could use his church for a safety net.  In Browning an educated member suggested a year serving that congregation.  There were some who helped me because they hated Bob Scriver and wanted to offend him.  But he wasn't offended.  He wrote a letter of support that got me my animal control job, because I had to prove I'd taken care of animals.

There were bigger forces.  In Browning I was not poor, I was white.  White people are presumed to have money and powerful relatives.  It's part of the stereotype that becomes partly a stigma and partly an advantage.  I kept a low profile most of the time.  Sometimes the word was "that woman should be controlled."  I never suffered violence, unlike the women of color.  I did a little drinking alone but was never hooked.  Not genetic, just stingy.  I'd rather buy a book.  Because I didn't dress well and drive a nice car, most people thought I wasn't worth any attention.  Advanced degrees and ordination mean nothing to them.  But we had history together.

National economics meant little to me, which was a mistake.  But over and over I ran into the same kind of forces that we are wrestling with now at the national level.  It got me fired for reporting abuse, defying bullies, and so on, but never quite brought down the institution.  A very bad moment was when Mayor Goldschmidt was screwing his babysitter, but he survived -- mostly.  A quick job in Washington, DC. and a remarriage for him.  My animal control boss was finally fired because he caught a shelter attendant selling drugs and for nepotism: officers objected to having to get up in the night for animal emergencies so he got his grown son to do it.  He had a support system and got a new job cleaning up a troubled AC program in another city.

And so it goes, a labyrinth worthy of fat novels and demographically defined indignations.  My real problem was that I never gave wealth any priority.  My real best decision was never to let anyone become dependent on me.  There were times when my brother or others needed someone to spend money and intervene, but I couldn't.  No cousin responded or even sympathized.  That's not quite right.  One brother was taken in for a while.  We were -- are -- a dispersed family, divided by education, territory and lifestyle.

So I sat down with legal pads and wrote lists.  What do I really NEED?  In the most direct sense, a table and chair, a cup and a spoon, and a mattress.  When I moved, I put everything in storage until I was established again.  It felt good that way, for a while.  In my new apartment I'd arrange my chair/table/cup/spoon plus a microwave and computer, and it would be enough.  Then I'd go get my storage contents, mostly books.  This is not being poor.

But it's being mysterious and unknown.  I've been here twenty years now.  People say to me, "I never SEE you!"  I seem dangerous, impossible to control, a person from outside, unknown.  They don't read my blog because "I have no time for those intellectual things."  The internet datascrapers think because I'm an old woman, I must want recipes and cozy novels.  I don't keep any guns, but if I did, they'd never assume that I did.

The most disconcerting is when people from the Sixties who still think of me as being a compliant assistant to a famous man, engulfed in the fantasy of the wild West of hunters and "Indian fighters", find out I'm here but they don't "grok" that I've changed.  "You're so negative!" they say.  "Why aren't you rich?"  But most of those people are dead now.  A week ago another one of my high-tracked 7th grade students in my earliest 1961 English classes showed up in the newspaper obits.  He DID do well, he was loved, he had family, he was not poor.

At the other end I get newsletters from the retired clergy, the ones who were hired by big well-paying churches and who often had funds from previous marriage/divorce/widowhood.  They knit and do crafts and do good and have meetings and go on trips and have conferences.  They are not poor.  They are very nice and have good lives.  They don't matter.

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