Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Missing Class

“Oh, there you go, bringing class into it again.”

I’ve lived most of my life entirely missing class. By that I don’t mean I was a low-rent, no class kind of gal (at least not until recently), but that I really had no framework in which to PUT an idea like class. I thought it was something America didn’t have—you know… American Dream, land of equal opportunity, all that.

I understood that I couldn’t marry a prince, because I wasn’t born with royal blood (thanks mom, for wrecking THAT illusion), but that was only relevant in countries that HAD princes. Ours, my mother assured me, did NOT.

Even into graduate school I felt like Education was the great equalizer—if only we could improve the education of the poor and downtrodden—the people who, through no fault of their own, hadn’t had the same kind of opportunities… all they needed were educational opportunities and all would be GRAND!

After all, if ANYONE had had low class roots, it was me.

Shot-gun wedding by an 18 and 20 year old who met at the burger joint they worked in… six months later… moi. Dad dropped out of college. Mom FLUNKED out of college. He got a hardware store job where he never DID make as much as it cost him to drink. She became a ‘key punch operator’ (my understanding is this is the predecessor of computers, but without having to KNOW anything). They were destined to raise a child who fell into ruts.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen in some ruts, but I learned early that if you dived into the roll, you could roll all the way through and land on your feet again. No reason to pretend I never fell in—I had the shit all over me to prove it… but isn’t it better to have swum in the muck and lived a little than to have driven the long way and not know what dirt looks like? I always thought so.

And thus we arrive at the source of my lifetime Reverse Class Discrimination.

I happen to think (though there are some wonderful exceptions) that people who live a life of leisure, who have everything handed to them in a shiny silver Nordstom box, lack compassion. People whose parents are wealthy, faithful, and sober have vast areas of knowledge they just don’t get. In fact they often deal with life as if people get what they deserve, when in fact if that were true, no kid would be without. (I have dived dangerrously close to the source of my politics here, but note I managed delete the partisan joke, with some difficulty).

I have confessed to mother issues, but in my formative years, there were a number of things my mom did REALLY well that I think led to my class oblivion…

1) She repeated again and again that if I had my dad’s brains and my mom’s ‘try hard’ I could accomplish anything I wanted.

2) She reinforced my self esteem around every turn.

3) She reiterated the importance of making sure I had CHOICES (that an educated person was never stuck—she could support herself if she needed to)

And probably most importantly:

4) She proved the priority of a college education by returning herself when I was 10.

So I always figured class lines didn’t apply to me (or anyone for that matter). In fact it took moving to the other side of the Mississippi before I got it. You see… I always thought Ivy League meant Fancy Schmancy Private University that was hard to get into… I didn’t GET that there were specific schools that qualified and lowly schools next door that did not (are you freaks kidding me? If less than 10% get in, it’s a picky freaking school and people should be impressed when someone gets in.)

So what does this have to do with writing?

I guess there are implications for both class and geography. I KNOW there are ‘high class’ people west of the Mississippi—I dated a guy in college whose step father ‘owned things’—seriously… he made his living owning things. Don’t ask me how that works but among the wealthy, it is apparently quite common. They thought the shot-gun kid from hickville Idaho was the best thing that ever happened because I kept their son from flunking out of school (try hard thing... works for everyone)… they were high class but NOT CLASS CONSCIOUS (except the whole pretending to know movie stars thing, but that is endemic of anyone who lives near Los Angeles). Someone from the East Coast might not GET that. Likewise they would not get the Pacific Northwest anti-materialism chic... that people who have STUFF in Portland or Seattle are sort of 'sneered at' by the educated as having faulty priorities.  I mean you can have SOME stuff, but money is better spent learning about the world via travel, buying art to support third world villages... you know... stuff with value added, not just toys.

Just like yours truly doesn’t get the class thing. I can write about people with and without means, and I can write about social problems (sheesh, I study disparities for a LIVING)… but meandering through the meanings of social hierarchy (like the East Coast Aristocracy) or even the appropriate etiquette (like my vast stereotypes about the south)… I just have no class.


CC Chronicles

I got an award today for being UGLY! (but that is the GOOD kind of Ugly). I had a friend Brian once who used to refer to the ‘Ugly to Cool’ Scale—if you’ve ever spent any time in the Pacific Northwest you’ll know this goes right with my reverse classism… when something is SO Ugly, it is cool again... like orange shag rugs. I sort of figure this is like that… A little Class in the form of a flasher…


Chary Johnson said...

I also have issues with social class. I was raised in a poor section of the Bronx where crime and drugs were prevalent. I would say because of education, I was able to become a special education teacher and provide a better life for my children (at least better than the one I had). Excellent post!

Congrats on the award. I love your blog. You deserve it, girl!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Congratulations! I agree with Chary--you have an awesome blog.

Class issues are interesting. It's still around a little....mostly evident in the 'old money' vs. 'new money' discrimination among folks who have it.

And no wonder you got where you are today--you have great common sense. And your mom's advice was sound.

Mystery Writing is Murder