Food Chain

I’ve watched this progression happening inside my home over the past month or so.  The container garden in my sun porch at some point brought little flying bugs into the environment.  Whether they came from the soil or from the great outdoors is unclear, but they arrived, nonetheless.  And I have tried several remedies that promise to remove the microcosmic infestation in the front window, to no avail.

But the progressive part is that as the population of the tiny insects increased, so did the incidence of spotting arachnids.  Spiders.  I hate them.  I have an irrational fear of the spiders.  I’m the Ron Weasley of the real world—freezing, crying, losing the ability to speak, and basically freaking out when a spider comes calling.

For the most part, the arachnids have been tiny, in correlation to the tiny bugs, I suppose.  So, I am coping with relative sanity.

Next have come the “creepy bugs”.  Someone once told me not to kill them, because they consume spiders, so they are apparently a friend to the arachnophobe.  But they are no friend to me, because I consider them creepy.  They look downright scary.  They are some sort of centipede, I suppose, but they have legs jutting out the bottom en masse, and they have a symmetrical wealth of leg-like protrusions on the top of their bodies.  I’m getting a shiver up my spine just imagining them for long enough to describe them.

I remember a time with my friends Nic and Adam had a snake in their second floor apartment.  We lived in the same apartment complex, and when the snake showed up in their environment, I immediately jumped into anti-snake mode.  That meant a concerted effort to trap and kill any and all mice or rats that could be present in or around my apartment.  I’m not sure how you snake-proof a home, but the concern I addressed was the food supply for snakes, not the snakes themselves.

I never had a snake in my apartment.  I did catch some mice.  And the mice were present because some lady in another building on the complex had made it her personal mission to capture and send to shelters the cats that lived around the apartments.  Had she left them be, the cats would be eating the mice, and the snakes wouldn’t move in because they would have no food supply and a potential predator in the cats.

So, as I watch this little cycle of life in my window sill, I think about where I sit on the food chain.  And by this I do not mean that I am concerned with who or what might consider me meat.  By this I mean, what threats and resources are affecting my life, and why.

I’m not high on the list as far as human hierarchy goes.  I’m a disabled, impoverished, woman.  So that is at least three strikes against me.  I’m also white and educated, so I am offered some privilege.  I suppose if we were to consider the hierarchy of my society (and several others) a food chain, I might be the spider. (Ironic, since I am petrified of them.)

I might be the one who had a few being “below” and a few “above”.  I am not in the worst position, but I am not in the best.  I assist others, but I also need assistance.  I live in this middle space, clinging to a rung halfway up the ladder.  And it gives me, I believe, an interesting perspective.  I can relate to those with more and those with less.  I can relate with the “haves” and I can relate with the “have nots”.  But there are days that I cannot relate with either—or I don’t want to.

There are days when I want to leave this underserved, loud, dirty, potentially dangerous area.  I get tired of the noise—the sirens, the yelling, the gunfire.  I get tired of the long commute to anything and everything.  I get tired of not fitting in or looking right or getting stopped by the cops because of my white skin.  I get tired of being followed by dudes yelling “damn” at my ass.  I get tired of trying to explain away how or why I live here without outing myself as poor.  And I get tired of all the other people who seize stereotypes and make assumptions about this place I am tired of being in, because despite its faults, this is my home, and there is much beauty and strength in this place.

There are days when I want to be a person with greater means.  There are times that I feel jealous of the friends with cars and homes and second homes.  There are times I want the “American Dream”.

There are more days, however, when I want to scream at the people who have all of this, and to tell them what selfish, self-serving, privileged bullshit they participate in, without even knowing.  I get tired of people who are wealthy pretending they are poor.  I get tired of people whining about the inconveniences of their gigantic remodel.  I get tired of people saying they are broke and then going out to dinner every night.  I get tired of being associated with this type of upper-middle class person just because I am white and educated.  I get tired of people assuming that I belong with the “them” while I feel like an “us”.

Frankly, it is exhausting to be in this middle space, between two worlds, because I feel like I must constantly critique and defend one to the other.  I want everyone in my neighborhood to know that there are some generous and kind, rich, white people.  I want everyone who would not desire to set foot in my neighborhood to know that it is filled with intelligent, hard-working, kind people.  I need to constantly justify all the things to all the people.

And then there is the added stress of my own situation needing to be constantly justified.  I need money.  I need help.  I need time.  I need energy.  I need surgery.  I need to make it sound acceptable to have all of these needs, or people refuse to take seriously or meet those needs.

The middle is an impossible place to live.  You can almost touch the better things, but if you reach up you risk falling back down into a worse space.  So you stay, clinging to the little that you have.  Hustling and hoping.  Wanting more but not able to live through less.  Clinging to the place where you have barely enough to survive.

If that sounds depressing, it is.

There are no questions as to why my antidepressant medication dose keeps increasing.  This rung is a depressing one.  This middle of the food chain feels like a constant threat, but also like a huge blessing.  I’m not at my worst.  But I am also not at my best.

And here we arrive at the statement “ignorance is bliss”.  Because if I didn’t know the best, or the worst, I wouldn’t feel trapped in this middle, fearful of losing my grip and too paralyzed to attempt upward mobility.  The people around me hope with an unyielding strength I have never seen before.  They keep believing in the more, in the higher rungs, and in a new and better day.  I know that the new and better day is not what it appears to be.  I know that there is just a dollar or two between rungs.  I know that there is prejudice at the top that keeps those with enough dollars to move up tumbling back down.  I know that there is abundance and that it isn’t being offered to the people on the lower rungs.  I know that if the people above would just share, the whole fucking ladder could turn on its side, leaving us with equity, and even footing, and no need to compete at the climbing.  I know that those people don’t share unless it is in their self-interest, and their dollars come with strings attached.  I know because I am in the middle.  I know because I am the spider.  I know because I have one foot in poverty and one foot in opportunity.

The proverbial food chain allows for ignorance at the bottom and ignorance at the top.  But the middle is the space filled with knowledge—frustrating, hope-stealing, anger inducing, devastating knowledge.

I know poverty and possibility.  And I am not better off for it.  I am tortured by it.

The wealth of the top is achieved upon the backs of the ones at the bottom.  We are the macrocosm of the microcosmic activity in my window sill.  We consume one and escape the other.

And I can’t stop thinking that this is wrong.  I can’t stop thinking that humanity should be behaving with a more evolved and more educated system than the insects.  I can’t stop feeling that we are very far from what we were intended to be, and that the ladder and the food chain and the striving and the inequity are all distractions from where our attention ought to be placed.  I can’t stop believing that we should be placing our attention and energy on justice—on ending the ladder.

There is this line spoken by Daenerys Targaryen, a character in J.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire Series, that mimics the sentiment that I often put forth.  After the many powerful houses of the era are named and called spokes on a wheel, she says with great conviction, “I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel.”

In saying this, she expresses that she will not simply be the newest in the line of leaders that overtake the current system.  She is, instead, going to destroy that system.  She is going to make a new way of being possible by taking apart the system of injustice currently in place.

I’m going to break the wheel.  I’m going to break the ladder.

I’m going to create a new system, and not allow the once unjust and oppressive way of being to survive.  I’m not going to tolerate the present and hope for a better future, but I am going to smash through the present to create a new present.

What if we stopped being a glorified food chain and broke the ladder?  What if we let go of the ideas of “earned” and “deserved” things and status?  What would Daenerys do today?

WWDD: What Would Dany Do?

How do we break the wheel in our own society?  How do I stop being the spider and consuming the fly?  How do I keep the creepy bugs from chasing me?  How do we create a system that doesn’t look like the unevolved and inhumane clamoring for power and money and resources, and instead looks like cooperative and compassionate co-existence?

I’m tired of being in the middle, but I am more tired of the idea of the middle.  I’m tired of caste systems and hierarchies and patriarchy and all the other systems of oppression and power that make us predators or make us lunch, depending on the situation.

It is time to function on a higher plane.  It is time to break the wheel.  It is time to end this system and find a new one.   It is time for human beings to step outside of the food chain, and use our enlightenment for good and not for evil.

It is time to stop treating one another like meat.

 

 

Wealth

I won $25 in the form of an Amazon gift code.  I feel rich.

Just kidding.  I am still super poor, but I wanted to make the point here that most people could lose $25 and not be terribly upset by the loss, while for me it feels like frigging Christmas wrapped in the lottery to gain $25.

Wealth is both relative and not relative.  I have far more than someone living in a hut in the jungle in South America, perhaps, monetarily speaking.  But I also have far less than most people living in North America, monetarily speaking.  So that makes it relative in nature.  But there are really easily applied formulas for figuring out what it costs to live in a particular place, and being from North America, and having no income, I rest way down at the very bottom of the poverty scale.  There isn’t anything relative about that.  I can’t be considered wealthy based on the conditions in which I live. And, frankly, I can’t afford to move to a hut in South America either, so I am stuck within those conditions, and my situation would likely not change were I to live elsewhere in the United States. (Canada is a whole other, and I dare say better, story than here. But I don’t think they give you a visa to utilize better social programs.  They probably prefer people emigrate with useful skills, not disability status.)

So, if we understand that I am stuck where I am physically and financially, we can also understand that I don’t have monetary wealth.  And that presents challenges that I often never considered.

There was a commercial on today for ADT security service that said something along the lines of “even in your nice neighborhood”.  And I was taken aback as a person whose neighborhood would rarely, if ever, be considered nice.  Are they specifically marketing to people in “nice” neighborhoods?  What defines nice?  Who thinks that bad things can’t happen in their neighborhood, even if it fits the criteria set forth for one that is nice?  And aren’t there enough neighborhoods that are not meeting the nice criteria for ADT to make plenty of money?  I know my building has an alarm system on every floor, even though there are no less than four deadbolts between the street and my apartment from any entrance. And it began to sink in that what nice means is a neighborhood with wealth.

Wealth, with regard to neighborhood safety, is also relative and not relative.  There are far more shootings in the south side and west side neighborhoods of Chicago than in other areas, and these neighborhoods are also those that have the most poor households. (We will ignore for the moment that they also have the most people of color—or, rather, are composed almost solely of people of color.) It would seem that money equates with safety.  But when we look closer, and assess types of crime, there are far fewer home invasions in my area on the west side than in wealthier areas.  Nobody wants my not techie, super-old, very cheap electronics, or my Salvation Army furniture.  I’m relatively safe, in that regard.  I’m also relatively safe because my block is filled with families who own their homes and take pride in being good, Christian people, so they either don’t participate in criminal activity, or do so quietly and without drama and violence.  (The neighbor lady sits out back and smokes weed every nice evening, for instance, but she isn’t dealing in heroin and guns.)  So, being impoverished doesn’t necessarily mean you are unsafe, in a relative sense.  But, there is also the issue of extreme poverty—the kind that leads to homelessness, prostitution, hunger, and the like.  This poverty makes you very unsafe.  Have you ever wondered why many homeless sleep in public parks during the day?  It is because sleeping alone in the dark corners of the city is very dangerous, especially for women or children.  The elements are dangerous.  The alternate economies, like selling drugs or your body, are dangerous.  There is no safety in extreme poverty.  This is not relative.  It is simply the truth.

And lately I sit on the precipice of this extreme sort of poverty.

I’ve learned to live in the burden of the relative poverty and the relative safety without too much difficulty.  There were a few years between an innocent youth and aware adult that included sex and drugs and homelessness, and that I do not regret, because it taught me the truth.  It made me know, beyond any uncertainty, that extreme poverty should never be, because you cannot be in it without being in constant danger.  I was in constant danger during those years.  Those years broke me, and started the process of rebuilding me anew.

What I lived then, I never wanted another human being to experience.  I never wanted another human being to choose sex with a stranger over possibly freezing to death in the car.  I never wanted another human being to steal tampons or soap from Walmart, because there wasn’t another way to get them.  I never wanted another human being to learn the schedule upon which the McDonald’s dumpster received uneaten burgers from the previous shift, still slightly warm and wrapped in their lovely papers inside that plastic garbage bag, and ready for consumption.  I never wanted another human being to sleep with an aerosol hairspray and a lighter at the ready, to create an instant blow torch to the face of any who might attack in the night.  Nobody should ever live that way.

I moved from the extreme poverty to the relative poverty category when I had a child.  Then you got all the wealth–$361 of wealth every month!  It was like a heaven.  A heaven where you had to decide between socks and diapers, or medicine and transportation, or tampons and toilet paper.  A heaven where I would unroll all the toilet paper from the church bathroom stall into my purse every Sunday.  A heaven where my daughter missed the 1st grade class trip because I couldn’t come up with $6.  A heaven where I cried myself to sleep at midnight and then got up at five in the morning to do my own homework before I had to wake my daughter for school.

That heaven, sadly, is gone.  I’m no longer eligible for more student loans, and I haven’t qualified for TANF since my daughter was five, and while I do get food stamps and a housing voucher, I don’t get any other assistance.  My light bill and my gas bill and my phone bill and my medications not covered by insurance and my clothes and my toilet paper and a haircut and soap and laundry detergent and whatever else I need, that comes from nowhere.  I’ve maxed out my credit cards and borrowed all that I was able from family, and now there is nothing.  Now it is over.  Now I stare at that space between here and sleeping with aerosol and lighters, and I see it narrowing, and I am afraid.  Can I survive on the street now?  No.  I wouldn’t make it a week out in the elements.  Would it come to that?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that nobody on this planet, and certainly nobody in the United States, should see $25 as wealth when others wouldn’t notice if it went missing.

When I was younger, I had these friends who would take checks out of their mom’s checkbook and forge her signature and go out to eat and such.  They would take my relative poverty butt along for the ride.  I don’t think their mom ever noticed that they were essentially stealing her money, or she, at least, didn’t care and simply allowed them to continue the practice.  Either way, it was a huge departure from the way I lived.  I could not imagine a world where every penny was accounted for in the budget weeks before any income was expected.  I could not imagine a world where money could just leave your bank account without you freaking the fuck out and tracking down the evil person who took it.  I could not imagine wealth.

I still can’t.

I have friends who I would consider wealthy, and relatives that I would consider wealthy, so I see wealth and have been close to wealth, but my own mind doesn’t know wealth.  It only knows scarcity.  And when you only know scarcity, it is extremely difficult to comprehend or imagine wealth.

I do strange things out of scarcity and the fear of scarcity.  I save bottles of product that are clearly empty, just in case I can somehow get more out, by pressing on the pump a thousand times, or turning it upside down and banging it on a hard surface, or by adding some water to dilute the product and potentially get at least partial benefit from the watery substance that is left.  I keep clothes with holes and things that don’t fit, just in case there is never a way to replace what is in my closet with something else.  I imagine everything needs to be saved and kept, albeit neatly, in the closet.  I accept things from others that I would never choose for myself.  I always take home leftovers, even if I didn’t like the food the first time and know I won’t eat them.  It just seems like I always need to be prepared for a period where I am destitute.  That day seems moments away.  Always.

The stress on my body and mind from believing in this destitute day and my needed readiness must be outrageous.  It is no wonder that people in poverty have shorter life spans.  Stress alone is killing us, never mind exposure or illness or starvation or infection or assault.

I should feel wealth, and not scarcity.  We all should feel wealth and not scarcity.

The other day on the bus I recognized a voice.  It was a man I had spent some time talking with on the bus a year or so ago.  I remembered this interaction vividly, because he was a pianist and a piano teacher, and also homeless.  My mother was a piano teacher and a pianist, so we connected on that topic and he began telling me all sorts of stories about his days as a professional musician.  He traveled to places exotic and new and he performed in all sorts of famous or glamorous or beautiful venues, but people gawked and made scowling faces as I spoke with him about his wealth of experience, because it was obvious that he now had no monetary wealth to speak of.  I heard him telling a woman next to him that he was a piano teacher, and immediately was taken back to the memory of him and our lovely conversation.  I looked over, and I hardly recognized him.  He had the same glasses and the same torn pants, he still had a jacket too light for the weather and curly blonde/gray hair sticking out in all directions, but he had lost maybe 70 pounds and he looked gaunt and ashen about the face, instead of plump and rosy as he had been the day I first met him.  Tears formed in the corners of my eyes and I looked away, putting on my headphones and immersing myself in something other than the empty feeling in my gut.  He had slipped down the slope into extreme poverty.  He is dying.  Slowly, but with certainty, he is dying.  And he reminded me once more of my mother, and the frailty she showed as her body slipped into death.  All the wealth this man possessed was leaving him.  But it should not have been.  That history, that life, that wealth of experience should have been valued and respected and honored.  It wasn’t, because he was poor and homeless.

I deserve to feel my own wealth, for once.  I should be allowed to feel the wealth of knowledge and intellect I possess, and the giftedness of an artist and a writer and a poet, and the depth and the breadth of a life lived with fire and passion and play and purpose.  I rarely feel that wealth.  I never feel that wealth without doing so deliberately.  Because the poverty pushes out all else.  The monetary scarcity—the lack of financial resources—overwhelms any other wealth that we might possess, and leaves us bathed in insecurities and unable to promote our strength.  It strips us of the goodness and leaves us only the worries of never having—never being—enough.

So, today I won $25.  And all of this came out of that little Amazon gift card.  All of this was the result of that one moment, when I declared that I am rich, even when I know that I am clinging to relative poverty with every cell in my body right now.  Even though I know it is a lie.  Even though I believe in scarcity, when I wish beyond all telling that I could trust in abundance.  I don’t.  I don’t know abundance anymore.  Maybe I never did.  And maybe I will go the way of my pianist friend, slowly losing life to homelessness and hunger once more, or maybe I will go the way of others, and win the lottery or write a best-seller or start a business and have millions to spend.  But, somehow, I think that I might always be stuck in this pattern of thinking, no matter which way I go.  Because being poor has become a part of me, and fighting to survive is the only fight I know, and scarcity has been my reality for so long that I don’t know that I could ever believe that it won’t be stripped from me, and that my true, scarce self will be exposed for all to see.

I find that really sad and terrible.  And I do not have a beautiful expression with which to leave you, and a happy ending to this post.  Because this is me thinking aloud and finding the truth in my own post, not me solving the problem to make you feel better.  And, maybe you are a person who would benefit from sitting in this space with me, and acknowledging that the solution isn’t evident.  Maybe sitting in my scarcity will help you see your own abundance, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will give you comfort that you are not the only one, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will inspire you to become passionate about sharing abundance and honoring wealth not monetary in nature.  I don’t know.

All I can say for certain right now is that I am really excited to spend my $25.  Now, should I buy socks or medicine?