I’ve been planning to start this blog for a while, but until now, I wasn’t sure how I’d kick it off. Then I read Linda Tirado’s article about poverty, and the reactions (like this one, this one, and this response), and that answered that.
I’m not going to lie, folks. I did not want to write about this topic, even before those articles came out. Watching the internet take its ritualistic bite out of Tirado, as it turns out, did not make me want to write about it more. But apparently this isn’t going to leave me alone until I write it, so here it is.
Long story short, over the next four entries, you will rapidly notice that I have a lot to say about this subject.(1) But poverty is just one of the things we’ll talk about on this blog.
Ok. Let’s do it.
A round of Introductions
Hello! My Name Is: Wealthy
Hi there. We’ve just met. You may know me as a happy, successful person, on a fast track to an exciting professional future. Things have picked up for me in the last year. I’m being regularly introduced to people I’ve previously heard of on the internet. Colleagues have begun to ask me – even badger me – to speak about my work at schools and conferences. I am contacted about twice a week by recruiters; in fact, I was recently recruited for an executive role at a large international corporation.
To be fair, this isn’t that unusual for someone who moves in my circles. I’d say at least 60% of my friends nowadays have advanced degrees. I have one, too. At least half of my friends make over six figures’ income. And, there are a lot of those friends. They are kind, balanced, interesting, intelligent people about whom I genuinely care, and who genuinely care about me. I’m active in my community. My input is valued. Friends of all ages come to me for advice. I’m athletic, attractive and charismatic. I live in a safe neighborhood in a beautiful condo with a security door and a loving spouse.
In short: I live well. Specifically: I live wealth.
What is wealth?
This is wealth.
I don’t need to know anything about the cost of the furniture in this photo to know it is a picture of wealth. This room is a statement – a fantasy – of its inhabitants’ complete mastery over their environment, options and circumstances. It is an urban dream of peace, stability, cleanliness and safety. These people have the time to change in some fresh flowers, and to balance pretty things precariously upon other things. A week from today, it will still look just so. Their white will stay white, their vases intact. Knowing nothing else about this family, we can say with 99% certainty that dad has not just come home drunk and thrown the Christmas tree across the room. Nor is he expected to. This is a world composed entirely of knowns.
What is poverty?
This is poverty.
World, meet my 18th year. Eighteenth year, meet world.
Right after I graduated from high school, my main parent succumbed to long-term illness and began quickly to die. My other parent, a distant, abusive psychopath, had chosen that moment to cut off my only other trickle of financial support. We had never had much. Now, “we” became “I,” and I had nothing. I followed a classified newspaper ad to a woman who was willing to rent me her unfinished, unheated basement for $125 a month. She was a petty tyrant, like many I have met before and since. She and her series of thug boyfriends had loud sex and louder arguments, stomping over the thin, spider-infested floorboards above my mattress. During my first week, a recently ousted tenant returned for her things with a full police escort.
The landlady had had me move her boxes aside to make room for my things: boxes on one side, me on the other. There was no lock on my door, and she and her partners would wander in and out of my room to rummage through boxes or do laundry. It was late fall. The walls weren’t sealed, and the first time it rained, it flooded, soaking my mattress and my meager belongings. My problem, she said. She could evict me at any moment, for any reason, and I knew it. And if the truth be told, I was paying my rent by stealing someone else’s social security checks. I would have done anything, and said anything, to be allowed to stay in that hellhole for another month.
One morning, in some weird fit of inspiration, I took a piece of white chalk and wrote words all over the white concrete walls. I wrote words like “hope”, “safe”, “love” and “home.” I tried to make them just bright enough that I might read them subliminally, but not bright enough that I would get caught. I hoped they would make me feel a little better. If you look very closely at that picture, above the green dresser on the left, you can see the word “kind.”
And if you think this is my only story about poverty, well, have I ever got news for you.
That was then. This is now.
I live wealth. But I am not wealthy. I will never be wealthy, no matter how much money I make or what title I hold, because I have spent over thirty years of my life, the overwhelming majority, orbiting poverty’s gravity well. I have not just “been poor.” I have drunk poverty straight from the jug. I’ve been over, under, and through it. I have at various times hated it, hidden it, rebelled against it and worshiped it, and after 35 very long years, I seem to have clawed my way out of it. But no matter how long or far I walk in the other direction, it’s there. It’s always there.
It’s hard to capture the depth of my sincerity when I said I didn’t want to write about this. If I’m any indication, the last thing your average Recovering Poverty Citizen (RPC) wants to do, is talk about being poor. You don’t climb out of the poverty tar pits by accident. If you get out, it’s because you really want out. Talking takes you back in.
But you know the other thing your average Recovering Poverty Citizen doesn’t do? Besides talk about poverty on the internet? The other thing we don’t do is exist. Because the view from where I’m sitting is that almost nobody makes it out.
And the ones that do? We have to talk about it. There is just no other way to beat this thing.
So. Here, you can find me, talking.
Over the next couple of months, I’m going to post what’s currently looking like five follow up entries about poverty. I predict that they will be as full of opinion and subjectivity as this one was. You do not have to agree with them. In fact, don’t! Disagree with them all over the place. Nothing would please me more. As long as you talk about poverty.
To Linda Tirado, I say this: You got people talking. A lot of people. For that, I thank you. I don’t need to know one thing about you beyond that. Thank you. Your article caused me to write this one, and the many more I expect to follow it. Maybe they will cause someone else to write, and lather, rinse, repeat until we figure out what to do about this shit. Linda, you could be Little Orphan Annie in a pinafore or a trophy wife with diamonds on the soles of your shoes. In the inimitable words of Bo$$: I don’t give a single, solitary fuck. You keep doing your thing.
To the internet, I say: with respect, you are watching the wrong metric here.
The measurement of truth of an article about poverty, is not the financial status of the person who wrote the article. It is the number of times the article was shared by poor people.
Put another way, if you’re not sure whether Tirado’s reflections on poverty are right, I have good news for you. Linda Tirado is not the only poor person you can talk to about this topic. You see, we are right here on the internet with you. We may not be in your offices, your schools or your neighborhoods. But we are here.
A whole lot of us.
So be a sport, would ya, internet? And don’t be a dick about this. All it will accomplish is making a lot of already miserable people, even more miserable. Show us your good side this time. Show me your best impression of the chalk words on the concrete walls. Because god help us all and damn the odds, I believe in you.
Now let’s talk.
Footnote: this “wealth” image is not a picture of my home. It is a random picture off the internet. It is a metaphor.
Wondering what’s up with the comment threads on this blog? Check here.