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.

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