Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Class issues revisited


Maybe I'll Quit

My subtitle last week never got fulfilled. What I wanted to say about class never got written last week because I was all bunched-up and angry still at myself and the old roomies. But let me tell you about class, as I see it now -

When I was a kid and my parents moved me to (what was then) a rural factory town half an hour outside of Nashville, I suddenly became rich. It wasn't that my parents suddenly had more money or anything; it was simply that they had bought their first house, a small but new-ish thing covered in aluminum siding in a subdivision, one that possessed a generous front and back yard. When I went to school in this community, I discovered that I was relatively well off compared to my classmates. After all, I had clothes from stores in Nashville that they had never visited. As a teen, I was the first to have a Nintendo Gameboy, and my Junior year my parents bought me a little black and white television of my very own for my room. In a community where WIC rules were taught in the parenting class and most kids had no intention of going to college, I was considered well off.

My husband grew up in a far more affluent community just inside the Nashville city limits. His family traveled the world with him as a little boy, and he saw India, Egypt, and Japan all before the age of 13. He attended a very prestigious prep school, and would, over several years, ask his mother more than once if they were rich. Her answer was always to No. While I and my friends in the rural factory town would certainly have considered my husband's family rich, my mother-in-law did not think so, because she was looking at an entirely different group of people whom she considered to be wealthy.

My mother-in-law grew up surrounded by horses, and became a rider in horse shows in her youth. She rode horses in competition for wealthy horse breeders and owners, and so, to her, she wasn't rich because in her professional life she was surrounded by people who could afford to own the most luxurious pets of all, pedigreed horses. Some of these people not only traveled the world, but might own vacation homes in other countries as well.

My husband and I, we are not as well off as his parents, but we are more well off than my parents. By the standards of many in the world, we are wrapped in luxury. But to me, luxury means that I have been able to stay home for my unpaid maternity leave for the whole 12 weeks. I am certain that most families I know could not afford 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. I think of myself as middle-class, but who doesn't? I am sure that my mother law thinks she is middle-class, and that many of the kids in that factory town who had never seen a dentist thought they were middle class too.

Why do I think so much about class issues? What does it matter, really? I suppose ever since I went to Boston - ever since I went from walking around Murfreesboro, dirt-ass poor, to walking around the Harvard campus still dirt-ass poor but surrounded by a kind of wealth that I had never seen - I've been changed. I can't look at the world and not think about class divisions and comparisons. You can't go from using the foodbank because you can't feed yourself to eating at 4 star restaurants all within a space of less than a decade without creating some kind of schism in your head.

I bring all this up because I know that many of my friends now think I'm wealthy. I might well be wealthy one day, but I don't think I am today. Of course, it all depends on where you're standing when you think about these things.

Within a few hours of writing my last post, I realized how bitter I sounded when talking about the last few years. While I didn't take the post down after reviewing it (I have done so to other writings I didn't like in the past, only to suffer from deletion regret), this did kick off a series of thoughts about stopping this blog.

I've considered quitting blogging only once seriously in the past - that was right around the time I got married. Of course, the one time I let the blog sit fallow for a month was the time I won an award, and this blog got more traffic than it's ever seen. Devon has recently taken down all of her old blogs and journals; you can't see the livejournal entry where she writes about this, and about becoming a new person every seven years, because now she's only blogging behind a livejournal friendslock. Maybe it's time to quit this show. I've been blogging for one year less than Devon - I am almost a completely different person, cell by cell, than I was six years ago. Or maybe I should keep up this blog for just one more year to make the seven year cycle complete. I feel sort of defeated by open access blogging. The truth is that I've been cheating on this blog with my livejournal for almost three years, and I can poinpoint where this journal got less fun and livejournal got more interesting almost exactly. Livejournal gives one far more positive social feedback, and because one can friendslock entries - hide them behind a lock with selective access - sometimes I am torn over what to write there and what to write here. The livejournal was just supposed to be for writing about my pop culture obsessions and collecting links. Now it's more about who I am than this blog.

Maybe personal blogging is dead. It certainly isn't as fashionable as it once was, with people being mentioned in Newsweek and the phenomenon getting academic study. Nowadays, blogging is what you do for your workplace project, and even that's considered kind of tired. Next week I return to work, and soon I'll have to start thinking about writing professionally (publish or perish, it's called). I hate professional writing, ever since that job where my boss used to nit-pick every damn word I wrote. This blog is, and has, been, a great pressure-release valve for things I'd like to do or say. I can talk about rude subjects and over-use hyphens here and there's not a damn person who can make me stop. So maybe I'll go on just a little bit longer.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Long walks past and present
Class issues and friends revisited

I'm back to taking long walks through the neighborhood and parks again, now that I've recovered from having Dot. Earlier this week I decided to retrace my steps to old rental places in the neighborhood. I've lived here for three years now, and the walk down old familiar lanes was triggered by contact from a past acquaintance in Tennessee, Carl. Carl was looking for my old roomies, and I knew how to find them, even though we haven't spoken in since everything went so, so badly. After contacting the past room mates, Carl asked if I wanted him to pass along my information. I said, if they ask for it, OK.

Later I thought better of my answer. I tried to picture talking with my old roomies, and I couldn't see the conversation, I couldn't figure out what we would talk about. Still, it's not like I don't wonder what they're up to some times. In particular, I miss the roomie with whom I had shared my Freshman college year. I felt weird and conflicted, so I decided to walk back to our old rental house and figure out my frame of mind regarding people who were my friends for nearly a decade before we learned to hate each other. I hadn't been back to the house we shared since I moved away, but I've stayed within the same five or six blocks in Inman Park/Little 5 Points this whole time, so it's not like I don't pass by the place occasionally. I went down to the old place and walked up the steps, around the side, and to the back yard. It's a pretty huge rental house with more than one unit, so I figured if anyone saw me I could just say I was waiting around for a friend. I sat in my old back yard right next to Mr. Puck's grave, and thought on how much had changed in my life since the day I moved into this neighborhood three years ago.

Some things haven't changed; the owners of that rental property on Austin Avenue are still negligent, the bushes full of trash and the pond out back still dark and muddy. Mr. Puck's grave now has a small flowering tree planted over it, where neighbors are trying to screen out the badly maintained rental property. I don't mind that there's a tree over Mr. Puck now. I petted the leaves, wondering how much of my cat was in there.

My situation in life has changed so much in three years. It used to that I had emergencies all the time; a nail in my tire could once leave me scrambling to pay the bills, but three years of solid, well paying jobs have cleared me of that hurdle. The process begun when I went away to grad school is now complete; I'm white collar, and reasonably comfortable. I have no illusions that marrying well helped me along in this, but I'm certain I'd own a home and have a baby by now even if I hadn't married at all.

I've finally got the job I always wanted, working in a university library as an Archivist and Special Collections librarian. I have a husband who adores me, a healthy baby, and I can pay my bills on time. While we only have one car and don't go on all the trips we'd like too, it's because we choose to live within our means. I couldn't ask for a happier home life. I have achieved all the goals I set for myself when I moved here. I have achieved all the goals I set for myself when I went to grad school. I live in the place of my choosing with my sister just blocks away, and more success than I dared dream of.

So, sitting in that place, that backyard, I suddenly found I had to ask myself why I keep pushing myself to do better, both professionally and personally, while I seem to have gone backwards in the close friends department.

I am trying to further my professional reputation by working hard on exhibits and collections, and by being more active in my professional groups. I could just sit back and enjoy my job quietly; no need to risk my reputation by sticking my neck out, trying to be forward. I am constantly trying to think of ways to help my sisters. My mother is much better at helping them now that she's away from my father, and our new step-father has been nothing but supportive and kind, going out of his way to help both of my sisters. I needn't be so involved now, especially now that I've got my own baby to worry over. Why am I willing to keep pushing work and family boundaries, but when it comes to friends I'm so willing to let go?

Aside from not speaking to the old roomies for two and a half years (for very good reasons), I've been letting a number of friends drift from me since the pregnancy. I can tell the whole mommy thing makes them uncomfortable, and, well, there are only a handful of friendships I've been putting the work into since the whole falling out on Austin Avenue. As I sat in that backyard, I realized that the roomie falling out had made me kind of bitter; that winter in the rental house had been the beginning of me officially Not Giving A Shit about a number of friendships. I realized I was still hanging onto some of the hurt and anger generated in that house. I'm not ready, I don't think, to talk to the old roomies. I don't know if I'll ever be ready. I accept that I was just as bad in that situation as they were; while I'll never be able to forget some of the horrible things that one of the roomies said to me, I doubt he'll ever be able to forgive me for photoshopping him into Bush's visit to England. Oh, well. When given verbal abuse, I repaid in ridicule. I used to get so angry with him, and the way he behaved, that I would go into my room and shake with anger. There's no coming back from that kind of situation. I don't think it's the kind of thing one gets over.

I hope the old roomies are happy and well. I hope they're successful, and that they have a comfortable home and space that makes them content. I hope everything has gone as well for them as it has for me; I hope they've accomplished their goals. But I could no more pretend that I could go back to that friendship than I could pretend to be in the place professionally and personally that I was three years ago.

I'm sorry that our friendship got fucked up. I'm sorry that it made me trust people a little bit less, that the roomie experience was so bad that I quit letting people get that close to me, friendship-wise. I'm sorry that I know the old roomies check this blog from time to time and are likely to read this. No; wait; I'm not sorry. I do wish them well. Maybe in another three years I won't sound so bitter over the whole thing, and I'll be back to making and keeping friends in the way that I used to, with ease and grace and an ability to let people in and plan big dinners and brunches.

Soon Tony and Andrew, two other old friends, will be moving to Atlanta. I will never let the kind of things that happened with the roomies happen with them. But then, I don't think we'd ever get to that point with each other anyway. A problem as big as the one I had on Austin Avenue takes two people who work against each other to truly get off the ground.

I don't think I'll ever need to visit the old rental house again.