When I was in North Carolina, at one time while my dentist was asking me questions while she had both hands and instruments in my mouth, she finished one of my sentences that started with “Oh, we grew up poor” with “But honest” which was not at all what I meant to say. Oh, we were honest, as in we didn’t steal, but mostly for two reasons: one, grandma would have given us her “more in sorrow than in anger” look, and second, we weren’t conscious of needing anything.
Don’t get me wrong, I was a kid like other kids, and when there was a faddish toy I would drool over it. But, perhaps because we didn’t have a TV till I was eight, it just never occurred to me that we were poor. When I was six I asked grandma what we were and she said “We’re not poor, we’re not rich. We make do.”
That’s about right. In the same message in which my brother said we’d been poor as Job, he also mentioned we were rich as kings, much richer than we’re now when grandma would objectively describe our lifestyles as “what a luxury” what with running hot water and a bathroom per person in this house right now.
If you just said “Wut?”
Look, the only reason I knew there were people much better off than us is that at 12 mom contrived to have me attend a high school in the “rich” area of town. (Theoretically, we all lived in a rented room down the street from the school. In point of fact, mom paid a lady to forward our mail.) For the village we were between middle class and upper middle class. In fact, when truly rich people came to the village or had their kids visit, I was among the small number of kids invited to play with them.
My childhood is, in point of fact, unclassifiable in US terms. Sarah C. wrote a thing which I might post later, about all this, about the nostalgie de la bue and saying “but I was even poorer” that goes on on the other side, which quickly becomes “but I drank a cup of cold poison.” She pointed out anyone born in the US (with the possible exception of Appalachia and other small pockets, such as the one Larry grew up in) was automatically better off than anyone born abroad. From what I’ve seen, probably still is, except for the very rich.
OTOH the American assumption that those who come from Latin countries that my dentist reflected must have been starving in tar shacks is almost — almost — infuriating. The reason it’s not infuriating is that it is so funny. Built into this is the idea that either Latin people are discriminated against in their own countries (wut?) or that they need leftists to enlighten them and make their lives bearable. Note this doesn’t apply if you come from English Speaking countries, where in point of fact, many people lived like we did when I was a kid, because then, of course, you have privilege, so you couldn’t have been poor-poor.
My delving into my childhood was more to show that I don’t impress conventionally. And it’s really hard to sell me the Marxist theory of oppression that must be broken by government.
We’ve been damn broke. And we’ve been enviably rich in many ways. And we faced “you can’t come in” with “you and whose army”.
I grew up poor by US standards, but everyone was poor. Okay, not everyone. I remember going to the architect’s house when my parents were having the house built, when I was 5? 6? and being very impressed at the shiny woodwork. We lived in a 100 plus year old house and our doors were painted and repainted with thick white paint.
My grandparents owned land and houses (grandma’s dad had bought most of the village before dying young. He was a cattle dealer. Yeah, yeah, I have cowboys in my ancestry) but in an era of rent control it didn’t do much, except for the fact we retained “right of cultivation” to a lot of the backyards, (lawn was sort of unknown in our circles) so we could grow twice the potatoes, had a chestnut tree and a lot of vines.
My parents lived extremely tight because dad has a religious hatred of credit. Not just credit card debt, a hatred he passed on to me, or loans, but of any credit, including mortgage. The first fifteen years of their marriage (I was born around year ten) were spent saving to buy a house outright. They didn’t manage it, but built a house with a ten year mortgage. And after that was paid off, when I was about 16, our lifestyle APPROACHED middle class US.
I still didn’t go to coffee shops as much as my friends, because I had no allowance, and earned my pocket money, but that was good as it saved me from the “coffee and pool” circle who usually repeated every year.
OTOH in my twenties I had some very rich friends who didn’t give a d*mn if they had to pay for me, so I got to vacation in really expensive resorts. Mind you I came home to mom turning off the hot water (which the new house had) in summer because it was wasteful, but I got to go to places where the British nobility hung out. And by the time I was in college, I was invited to embassy and consulate parties, due to my grades in foreign languages. (Italian consulate had the BEST ice cream because most ice cream parlors in Porto were owned by Italians.)
Anyway, the reason for delving into my background was to point out that it rendered me singularly immune to Marxism.
When I was in 10th grade, one of my friends drank the koolaid and disputed with me that my family was upper class. I asked her how, since her dad — skilled blue collar, manager — made about twice as much as my dad did. Her sputtering reaction was that my parents were better educated, they had books, they–
They had the markers of upper class in the village. Though in mom’s case, she was as educated as my friend’s mom, at least formally. But mom took an interest in world affairs and history (mostly through the radio) while her mom took an interest in gossip and recipes.
I stiffly pointed out to said friend that Marx’s “classes” were economic only. She didn’t like like. She is still, I think, communist. Eh.
My best friend at the time came from hereditary-upper-class meaning that her family had some noble ancestors (oh, who doesn’t in Europe? Keeping it in their pants just didn’t apply to those people) and a lot of manners and parents who were both educated. But I used to give her my used sweaters (when we got to the point mom was retired and, I swear, made those for recreation) because her family had 13 kids and therefore were a little tighter than we were with 2. (Though I’m sure her dad too made more than mine.)
The completely insane background and the fact my dad acted like the dad in Have Space Suit “Dad, I want a radio.” “Go ahead, I have no objections” — Which meant I built one from parts of broken radios in the attic — left me singularly unimpressed by both wealth and poverty. Later when my brother replaced his crappy and now broken tape player,(which he’d bought with his tutoring income) I bought it off him for 20 escudos and spent more time fixing it than listening to it, until mom got tired of her kitchen table getting used to perform surgery on the beasty and gave me a tape player bought from the smugglers (What? Well, the shop was in Smuggler street which was a dead give away. Yep, I grew up in a fantasy town) when I was 19.
I learned there was absolutely no virtue in being poor. A lot of the truly very poor in the village made more than we did but spent it on either wine or frivolous stuff (mom classified meat every day as frivolous stuff, mind.)
In fact, when government started rendering assistance, most of the welfare cases lived in crappy houses and went through broke periods through what mom called “lack of head.” When they had money they ran through it, then pawned everything the second half of the month.
(Mind you mom thinks I do the same, because while I have two kids in college, I can’t drop 10k to come over with the kids when she wants me to. To an extent she’s right. No matter how tight the money, you can plan to make it plenty. We choose not to live in a tiny apartment with the kids. OTOH it’s our investment: buying more house than strictly needed, in places headed up and trading up regularly that allowed us to own a house that our peers couldn’t with double the income. Now if we can sell it and downsize, when we no longer need the space and good schools are of no consequence, we can come close to debt free, which we couldn’t otherwise.)
All of this and dad’s cavalier attitude to anything I wanted to do “I need to go to Germany to improve my German.” “Go ahead. I trust you abroad.” (I got a job as a hotel maid for a summer.) his absolute assumption that if I wanted I could figure out how to do it, and his certainty that he didn’t really care how difficult it wold be to get into college for instance, both of his kids WOULD make to college made me singularly unimpressed by people who complain of micro aggressions and discrimination.
And it made me singularly unimpressed by wealth, too. My rich friends had it easier, of course, but they were also easily impressed by brands, and they had never had to fight for what they wanted. If grades didn’t qualify them to enter public — free — college, that was all right. Mommy and daddy would buy them a spot in the private one.
I think this is why the plot lines that consist of “victim is oppressed and spit upon and dies in gutter/gets bloody revenge” have always bored me. The idea that you have to “make way” for someone and make their path easy because they’re a one-footed Patagonian Lesbian makes me laugh.
You are a minority/poor/oppressed and want to write science fiction? Fine, I give you my dad’s answer “Go ahead. I have no objection.”
You want to feature a minority/poor/oppressed in your story? Go ahead, I have no objection. Just don’t make them sad sacks who need the help of the enlightened to get anywhere. Sad sack characters and ex-machina socialists are BORING. I don’t care what they taught you in school, getting there on your own is much more fun, both to do and to read about.
This is something the establishment doesn’t get — both the genuine upper class and strivers. It’s amazing how many of the puppy kickers are in point of fact well off, upper class in the Marxist sense, even if they feel “downtrodden” for whatever reason. And the rest, the strivers, have adopted the attitudes of the “upper class” and their class-signaling Marxism. As I said originally, more papist than the pope — It’s something they can’t seem to grasp.
The working class gets rescued by benevolent Marxists (or even attacks academics while drinking gin — good Lord, pull the other one, it plays Elvis) is only exciting to Marxists with messianic illusions.
From the rest of us it elicits a yawn and an itch of the middle finger.
Write people of whatever color, orientation, wealth level you want. Make them live. Make them interesting.
We don’t add special points for flagellation of Marxist stereotypes and we do deduct them for predictability.
Or write whatever the heck you want. I mean, the pap has its fans — but it’s not us.
Just don’t demand we doff our hats and bow and scrape and tell you that stuff we don’t like and which is formulaic and poorly written is “of course, better” because it “fights the patriarchy” or whatever other idea you’re obsessed with at the time.
We don’t care. You’re in an entertainment job. Your job is to entertain the public.
The public is rarely entertained by lectures.
If it makes you feel better, I’ll make grandma’s face when someone was bragging to her about how special they were, and I’ll say “Oh wow.”
But I still won’t tell you boring stories that conform to whatever the new Marxists are peddling are better. Learn your craft. Then write whatever the crap you want. And let the rest of us write whatever the crap we want.
Go ahead. we have no objections.