Sunday, October 12, 2008

"We was po' ": College and a Low SES girl go head to head

She meant nothing by it. I know that, hence the reason I won't name her or rail against her personally. However, a few things must be said. A girl in one of my religion classes was commenting on something or other and made the following statement, "His family was fairly well-off, upper middle class, as all of us are." Maybe she felt safe in assuming, but...

I resent being assumed to be in one of these upper brackets. Now, don't get me wrong. I am in no way romanticizing poverty or the state of semi-poverty that we generally find ourselves in. Struggling sucks. A lot. I would much rather not live paycheck-to-paycheck, but such is our lot for now and the largest part of our lives up until now. But there are expectations of certain ideas when assuming economic class. People assume that your belief structures and experiences are built on the same foundations as theirs, and that simply isn't true.

"Impoverished" and "poor" are not separate planets from "upper middle class", but they can seem so. And I never saw as much distance between the groups (ideologically at least) until coming back to college. And maybe it's not the same everywhere, but at Florida State, there is this huge majority of well-off upper-middle (and maybe middle-middle) class kids. To the point that I think I know one person here who did not grow up that way. Many people I've talked to use such a different version of vocabulary that I find it impossible to talk to them.

Before someone jumps down my throat for the following examples, let me clarify that they are all from actual conversations.

1. "Broke"--me: no money or just enough to put gas in the car if we roll change. them: "I can buy the $150 bag, but not the $200 shoes to match."
2. "My checking account is all fucked up."--me: "We're overdrawn by a lot and have no way of fixing it." them: "I had to dip into my savings/trust fund/stock/$100 buffer to go out partying."
3. "I have, like, no food."--me: "really, none, well maybe some Ramen or something." them: "I ran out of chips/beer/Coke."
4. "I have no [financial aid] money left after tuition."--me: "really, I don't. I hope the financial aid office finds me enough to pay for books." them: "I only had enough to pay all of my bills for the entire semester,so I couldn't go shopping [or at least not where I really wanted to]."
5. "So this is how the other half lives."--me: we had $30-40 left over this week, or we unexpectedly came into a couple hundred dollars. them: "we had to eat Ramen last week until my dad came up and bought us groceries for the month."

Now, lots of kids here work and go to school so they can pay rent and such. Not everyone's parents pay their way, but they seem to think that this Ramen-noodle pseudo poverty qualifies them for some "welfare club" and it does not.

I'm not saying all this to get a pity party started. We have been too broke for too long for me to even give a damn about really feeling sorry for myself over it. We're just low income/poor/broke ass/low SES, and that's it. I hope to one day work up out of that, but it's reality for now. The whole point of this long-ass post is best made by the following:

I mentioned in a conversation in some random class or other that I am considering using whatever graduate degrees I get to work with low income women in the rural south (Alabama to be more precise). I don't know what or how yet, but it's a possibility. They replied, "That sounds interesting. I've always been fascinated with how those people function and deal...blah blah blah...I think I want to do something in an area I'm unfamiliar with too." [emphasis mine] Okay, first off, "those people' pissed me off, but...I promptly informed this sadly misinformed trust fund baby (she really was) that I was thinking of this because it's where I come from. "Those people" are my people--my family and friends. Not some alien race I would be descending from my ivory
tower to study and assist. We are them, just shifted to this weird planet temporarily. She had the good sense to look relatively ashamed, and then just said, "I'm sorry. I guess you poor people do need to stick together, huh?"

What do you really say to people with these mentalities?

What worries me is that this will only get worse as I progress in my studies. Grad school is even worse. Barbara Ehrenreich mentions a book in one of her fabulous books about attending grad school coming from low SES background. The author has terrible troubles adjusting to the environment and even has friends from similar backgrounds that had nervous breakdowns. The expectations and general belief structures among peers in those groups are so much different than what they were used to at home and what they were struggling not so much to overcome as to keep but with a higher salary that they just snapped. Goddess knows, if grad school is anything worse than this elitist snake pit, nervous breakdown is a possibility.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Back of the Bus

I missed the actual VP debates because I was at an awesome Indian dinner, but I was watching parts of them on youtube. Let me preface this by saying that I will be voting--for OBAMA. I do not think that not voting will help anything.

That said, I am highly unimpressed and pissed off by the Obama/Biden response to gay marriage. Biden specifically said that he thinks the definition of marriage should be left up to "the faith communities". Um, is it just me, or does letting the "faith communities" decide ANYTHING legal such as that seem like a serious breach of the separation of church and state?! Maybe that's just me...

Aside from that, I am happy that Obama supports civil union-like legislation. We would have many of the things that, because we don't right now, keep me and many other gay and lesbian couples in constant fear. However, civil unions strike me as simply a newer version of "separate but equal". by naming our relationships anything but marriage, it opens the door for the changing of wording in contracts, employment policies, etc. All opponents would have to do is say only married couples are included in whatever, and our frail little civil unions are worth nothing. Our families are worth so much more than a "shut-up" change. Yeah, we may not have to ride in the back of the bus, but they are sure doing their damnedest to make us uncomfortable enough at the front that we go there anyway.

Thoughts on Meditation and Nothingness

As some of you know, I have been occasionally attending the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Tallahassee. Yesterday, Rev. Robin talked about prayer and meditation using types from a book whose title escapes me now. Anyway, she talked about prayer as not needing a deity to focus on and then discussed meditation as, to her, the most difficult form of prayer, at least in regards to the clearing of the mind. The nothingness that Buddhists and others who meditate seek seemed to her the hardest thing, and it very well may be.

Years ago after becoming Pagan, I took up periodic meditation mainly as a stress reliever and centering action. I do not do it as much as I probably should, but nonetheless, I do practice in my own way. In any case, after only a short time attempting to meditate as I thought you should...the stiff posture, blank mind search for the black nothingness...I realized that it really didn't do much for me. I could clear my mind and relax after a bit, and if you have silence then, it is truly fabulous in its own way. However, I have come to realize that the most effective meditation for me is to sit and relax quietly and look at the trees, water, whatever nature is handy. Sometimes, if the need is great enough, even a flower on someone's desk or a picture is sufficient. I do not try to force thoughts away, but allow them to float through on whatever topic they wish. And I have found that after a while, the thoughts quiet down on their own, though they never disappear completely. I can compose pieces of whatever I'm writing at the time or think of what I need to do later in the day without rush and anxiety.

This type of meditation, to me, seems more difficult than the other. We constantly push thoughts and duties aside during the day. We quiet our inner voices to the point that they feel they must scream at us to be heard. Yes, we need silence, but I think outside silence is more important than that on the inside. By silencing the inner voice completely, even for short stretches, we may miss something incredible. In our search for periodic inner nothingness, blankness, quiet, we may find it, but we may also lose moments of wonder---which considering the state of the world, are too few and much too far between.