Back in college and just after, in my hippier and less materalistic days, I used to like this song by T.R. Kelley called "Downwardly Mobile" (aka Government Cheez)." I can't remember all the lyrics now, but one refrain was, "you gotta pay somebody money to do things you ain't got time to do because you are too busy earning money." It repeated several times over to reinforce the circular logic. The song was all about living a low budget life that focused on valuing time over money. Another lyric said that "time is the one thing you can't buy back." At the time, I found that to be wise advise--do something you love, take off as much time as possible, live low on the food chain, reduce, reuse, etc. I never romanticized poverty the way some of my peers did--I grew up in it, so I had a better idea of the realities than most people--but I never intended to be wealthy, either, and I certainly didn't intend to be a big consumer.
The me of ten years ago would definitely scoff at the today's me--her makeup, her fancy bath products, her mortgage and car loan, and especially her very straight desk job. This was not what my younger self had in mind for us, for sure. So what happened?
A lot of things, I'm sure, but the biggest single one? I started making money. Unexpectedly, mid-grad school, I got a job that paid twice as much as the highest paying job I'd ever had before. So we bought a house. And a new car. And my lifestyle, without me much noticing, changed to accomodate my income. I'd been on my way to a class change since college, based on my educatio, but when I actually started having the income to match, it was complete. I took my place, unwittingly, maybe, but fully, in the American middle class.
The extent to which this has happened has been driven home this week, as Mark and I have been deciding who to hire to work on our house. We aren't just hiring someone to do the work we aren't qualified to do, like some electrical repair and intalling carpet, but to do the work we are, like cleaning up the landscape and painting. We're not hiring expertise; we're hiring labor. We're paying someone else to do something we could do ourselves, and it is a better economic argument for us to do so, as our labor (mine, in particular) is worth far more per hour than the labor of our painters and landscapers.
Just typing that makes my heart hurt. Ladies and gentlemen, I have become The Man.
It is information I'm not quite sure what to do with. On one hand, I am glad I'm not painting and landscaping in 100+ heat. And I recognize that I have put quite a bit of time and money into developing the skill set that allows my labor to be worth enough that hiring someone to do those things for me is feasible. But I also recognize that my time and money aren't the only reasons I'm here and not painting or weeding--it also has to do with luck. The luck of being born white and an American citizen. The luck of being born into a supportive family. The luck of being born without physical or cognitive obstacles to overcome. None of those things have anything to do with my effort. None of those are things I "deserve," they are just things I got. Given that, how can it possibly be right for me to make more sitting at a desk than the men who are sweating at my house are making from me?