Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Tear In My Tights... Or, Broke

This winter, I was hurriedly getting dressed for a poetry reading when I noticed a small tear in my tights.  I almost cried.

Because I am perpetually running late, finding a small tear was a disaster because I didn't have had time to go buy another pair.  That moment felt especially shitty, as I was completely broke and there was no way I could buy new tights even if I had the time to do so.  I took a deep breath and applied clear nail polish to the tear, made sure it was tucked into my boot and hoped with everything that the tear wouldn't get any bigger.  I left the house feeling really bad about myself and spent the evening painfully aware that at any moment, my tights could tear all the way up my leg - when I was on stage.

Jeez, talk about your first world problems.

As I've written before, I left my really well-paying job (and benefits) last October.  There is a lot of privilege in being able to quit a job with no plan.  I have the luxury of doing so because I don't have anyone who is counting on me - no kids, no mortgage, no family to support.  Just me.  For a while I did okay off my savings (especially when my back gave out - there was no way I could have worked), then I worked a stint at the flower shop and at a grocery store, where I realized there is a special place in hell for people who treat employees badly (both management and customers).  Upon getting some really great opportunities to do contract work, I quit the grocery store.  Again, that's a privilege I have that many of my peers did not.

Privilege is a word we don't like to use very often.  It's very easy to talk about racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc. but privilege is a doozy because it forces us to look at ourselves and the privilege we carry in this world.  As a thick, female Chicana from a working class background, there are many ways in which I have been oppressed.  On the flip side, I have a formal education; I am a US citizen (therefore I have the right to vote, apply for a job, benefits and I don't have the threat of deportation hanging over my head); I can hold hands (or make out) in public with my partner without the threat of violence; I have pretty good health and I can walk and have use of my hands, eyes, etc.  Get the picture?  Privilege exists in a lot of ways.

That isn't to say, however, that oppression is just a fluffy notion that doesn't really exist because of the privilege I carry.  As a woman, the threat of violence (intimate partner violence, sexual violence, physical violence) are a reality that I have to be aware of every day.  Women are paid less than men and our bodies are the subject of every political battle on the local, state and federal level.  On a personal level, I know that as a Brown woman there is an implied racism that follows me - even if it isn't blatantly in my face, it exists and I am constantly aware of it.

When I think about my current state of being broke, I don't think of it as a form of oppression.  I made a choice to leave my  job.  I made a choice to find my way and do contract work.  Much like the Great Dating Strike of 2010-11, I've been very deliberate and thoughtful in my choice, but it doesn't make it easy at times.     Just like being lonely, being broke has made me feel like a failure - borrowing $10 to put gas in my car feels like shit, no matter how you dice it.

My friend OB wrote a piece about being broke and having to make dinner.  She wrote about her initial feeling of helplessness and then realized she had an abundance.
"They [her grandmas] remind me of so many others I am around each and every day.  Women (and men) who give and give.  Others are just seriously resourceful.  They make magic happen with their meager means.  I love and miss my grandmas greatly.  Yet, each day I see them in wonderful people I share my time with.  I love you guys too.  Tonight I was also remind [sic] how fortunate I actually am.  Broke or not I have what I need.  I have my home.  There is gas in my car and food in my house.  We always have sweet tea.  I am sending a son to college.  I have lots of blessings."
This piece reminded me that regardless of how broke I am, there are blessings everywhere.  I have a really great contract position right now that is not only paying my bills, but teaching me about health disparities and giving me a clearer vision of the work I want to be doing in my community.

There is a difference between being broke and living in poverty, which is a reality that approximately 46 million people in this country face each day.  There are social and political factors that influence poverty and I don't buy into the notion that people are poor because they want to be, and as long as they pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they can live the American Dream (whatever that is).  Poverty is a system of oppression that has been built very carefully and regardless of how broke I may be at times, I am not living in poverty.  When the backlash of the 99% hit, I had a hard time supporting it because it felt like a middle-class movement.  Where is the outrage over poverty?  People have been poor for a long time in this country, why wait until the middle class is affected to hold the 1% accountable?

Instead of feeling guilty about my privilege, I choose to use it to further the work I want to do.  I am honest about it just like I am honest about oppression.  The sooner we can have honest conversations (with the understanding that there will be anger and conflict, and that's okay), the sooner we can create change in our communities - or at least, within ourselves.

I was able to buy new tights last winter after working at the flower shop.  They will eventually tear and even if I can't buy a new pair immediately, I'll be able to eventually.

Next time: Speak, Poet 

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