I just put my son down to sleep for the fifth time tonight. He has a special ability to shirk sleep; he sees it as an inevitable torture, one that he will endure when everything else is done and played and experienced. Kiss. Hug. Tickle tuck. Over and over, I repeat the same routine, striving desperately for nothing more than a little peace and quiet. It would be truly remarkable to have an hour all to myself. To take a bath. To read a book. To exercise off some of this weight that I’ve gained since I quit working five days a week. Yet every night it is the same repetition of excuses (“I had a bad dream!” or “The cats are keeping me awake!”) and somehow, it’s just like the rest of my life.
I have written and discarded piece after piece after piece for my blog, and my life. Unfinished drafts plague both my online accounts and countless notebooks in my home. I have written things through to their final paragraph, and then I lose my train of thought, or my interest in the matter entirely. Here are my thoughts on slut-shaming. Here are pictures of my wedding. Here is my frustration with politics and its inability to accomplish anything- here it all is, and there’s no conclusion. Nothing, I think, is so debilitating and discouraging to a writer as the inability to write something through to the end. My theories and ideas are habitually tossed to the wind. Days, weeks, and even months of careful planning and rewording are thrown into the garbage heap after hours and hours of fine-tuning. Is it all really so terrible? Or does it come down to something slightly… darker? Perhaps, in the end, I feel I have nothing to say.
The Huffington Post has recently been publishing a series on the real circumstances of the impoverished and I sometimes find solace there. It is encouraging to know that there people out there who share the same battles as I- who wrestle with a decent intellect and good work ethic, but who, for some reason or another, remain mired in the cycle of not having enough. I am intelligent and attractive and articulate, but my inability to afford dental care has often spoken for me before I uttered a single word myself. I clean houses, scrubbing shit from people’s toilets and shining up their trash cans, and see nothing wrong with it. I earn a decent wage- yes, it is below what it takes to live comfortably, but it’s also much more than minimum wage people even dream of. Still, there is something soul-shattering about finding receipts for political contributions in people’s homes that support representatives who wish to cut or completely eliminate the programs my family survives with, such as SNAP and Medicaid. It is okay for me to wash these people’s thousand square feet floors on my hands and knees, it is good for me to scour their showers and commodes and garbage disposals and expose myself to the risk of contagious diseases in their bathrooms- but at the end of the day, they resent me feeding my family, or going to the doctor to get medicine so I can clean their home without getting them sick. In the end, they actively contribute against my survival, and, to be honest, that truly hurts. The fact that they can be so sweet and pleasant to our faces, and not see the disconnect by voting the way they do- I mean, you must be utterly naive if you think the cleaning ladies in your house make an admirable living. When you only pay twenty dollars an hour, there’s no way the actual workers are taking home more than half of that. And ten dollars an hour is the absolute minimum that even a single worker can receive to support themselves- yet somehow, these clients ask about our children and seem to care about our lives… all while donating money to politicians who promise to end government handouts, to put a stop to the “welfare” state. My boss refuses to raise her prices because she insists she would lose too many customers. So most of us employees quietly draw assistance, while knowing that the people we work for don’t even think we should eat.
It is utterly demoralizing to be a poor person in the world we live in, that much is irrefutable. I wait through checkout lines with a cart full of healthy food options- after all, I’m educated and was born into a middle-class family- and the people around me still judge me for using food stamps. They set their faces in ugly ways and make nasty comments to their companions. I long to turn to them and tell them of my struggles, of how hard my husband works, and how my mental illness severely inhibits my ability to hold a full-time job. Sometimes, because I am cute and white and look middle-class, I have had cashiers complain to me of their frustration with “Mexicans and their food stamps and smart phones”, only to turn beet red when they approve the debit purchase from their side of the terminal. (My own smart phone exists because we were able to purchase it with a credit plan for an extra six dollars on the phone bill a month. There were no stolen welfare dollars that paid for my phone, just the sacrifice of getting cheaper shampoo and conditioner each month for the technology.) Though I am an outspoken critic of social and cultural norms in my academic and writing life, I generally remain quiet or try to empathize with the complainers on my own time. I understand that they are having a rather difficult time getting by themselves- they aren’t really hateful, they’ve just misdirected their frustration. It is not the food stamp recipients who make their lives miserable, it is their own employers who refuse to give them a living wage. Even though I stand in their judgement and it sometimes hurts, it is important to me that they understand that I understand. That we are just trying to get by in this thing called life, and I do not hate them for venting their frustration. I smile and try to reassure them. “It will all get better, for all of us,” I promise with a convincing smile. I really do believe, that if we all keep trying together, things will get better. Often, though, it is hard to keep up that faith, especially when the weight of the world seems to be descending upon you, and especially when we all seem so needlessly divided, which I suspect is just a trick of those in power.
I see the name-calling and finger-pointing each day, on Facebook and in real life. Just yesterday, I participated in a conversation where I tried to point out that not all Muslims are evil or believe in abusing women and children- and my very rational arguments fell on many deaf ears. Though millions of Muslims the world round believe in equality and progress, some bigoted people choose to believe that Islam is evil. While it is true that some extremist Muslim groups support child marriage, is it not also true that Western Christian men travel to Asian countries every year to purchase sex from young boys and girls? Or that some Mormon sects approve of the marriages of young girls to much older men? Surely, not all (not even most) Western, Christian people support these practices. And I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that most Muslim people see the sacredness and beauty in children. I do not believe they are all trying to trade and hurt their youth with underage sex acts. It is the sick exception, to any religion, that tries to violate the purity of children. And perpetuating the notion that an entire religion is working to hurt and degrade children is disgusting. Most people are good. I have learned this throughout my life. We each have our own prejudices and deficiencies, but overall, people want to live good lives, and to help other people live good lives as much as possible.
In the town I live in, there is a high percentage of Somalian refugees. They have an awful reputation, for being unkempt and rude and dirty. I find this sincerely confusing. Where is the slightest bit of empathy for these people? If you lived in war conditions for most of your life, if you had no running water or working toilets or access to things to make you look presentable, why would you automatically recognize these things if you were exposed to them? What is the cultural adjustment made when going from “no running water” to “full service facilities”? Why would you behave politely when you are used to being written off, ignored, or killed? Surely, these people need aid and direction as to what their new resources are, not hatred for not bathing right. I am infinitely more likely to befriend someone and guide them in the advantages they have in this world than to ostracize them for what they cannot possibly know. Further, when I process the fact that Somalia has something like a 98% rate of defibulation (female genital mutilation), I can’t even imagine the absolute hell these poor people went through. I see these stunningly beautiful women, waiting at bus stops and in the welfare office, and I know… These women had their clitorises brutally chopped off in a ceremony to ensure their purity. Their ability to experience sexual pleasure has forever been destroyed, and still they are here, rallying to support their families and daughters. What greater act of love is there than living when your very right to humanity and pleasure has been destroyed?
I do not understand the workings of the world, and I am far past the point of pretending to do so. I am poor, and it is difficult, yet I survive and love life regardless. I desperately wish to do better, to provide my family with the resources they need (and yes, I will be straightforward and say I don’t care so much about the resources they want. Ian and I believe in books and music and friendship, not Apple computers and Playstation 4. We can be completely happy with the bare minimum and each other, and I feel no guilt teaching my children to want for less when there is so much more we can DO for others in the world.) Still, the stigma can be crippling, as I have struggled with for months recently. Who in the world cares what a poor, unaccredited woman says about the world? Who gives a further thought to the wants or needs of the impoverished, the mentally ill, or the disabled?
I do. And it’s about time we started a movement of people who see and recognize each other’s humanity, and the potential we can all fulfill if we are only given a simple chance.