Recently, I've begun to shy away from too many personal posts on this here blog. This has been a fairly conscious decision--I'm not sure my personal thoughts and anecdotes are really all that interesting or help to build a readership. In part, it has been laziness, too--it's much easier to post links, write reviews, and point out things that I think are cool than it is to dive into my innermost thoughts and try to fish something usable out and write about it.
Still, the days of the personal post are not gone. They may be more infrequent, but I suspect they'll never disappear. I just have too much shit bottled up inside me that needs to go somewhere. And today, as is often the case, that bottled up shit is all about money, class, and guilt.
I grew up working class. My family is, largely, working class (with a few exceptions), as is the town in which I grew up. As is the case, I think, with many class straddlers (I take this term from this book), my life looks much, much different now than it would if I still lived in the society in which I grew up. I am still sometimes shocked by the amounts I pay for things, and by the things I pay for. This has been true for as long as I've lived in a city, to some extent--city prices and country prices are just different--but it's far more so now, in an expensive suburb, living an expensive suburban lifestyle. My rent is outrageous (as is the size of my house). My organic grocery bills are mind-blowing. So is what we'll spend on a nice dinner out. I get manicures. I pay someone to cut the lawn. These are things I expect always so struggle with, and to feel some guilt about.
The new feeling of guilt, however, comes not from comparing myself to my family, but to my friends. I've come to realize, over the past few months, that Mark and I have more money than most of our cohort (with a few notable exceptions). This seems new, though I guess it's not all that new. When we were all just out of college, with stupid jobs or going to graduate school, everybody was similarly broke. We had junker cars, or no cars. We lived in groups. We ate on the cheap. We didn't travel (well, those of us who weren't under parental subsidy didn't, anyway). Slowly, though, things have changed. Some of us, including me, have moved into professional jobs, then moved up in those jobs, and are now making nice salaries. Others have obtained professional degrees, or PhDs, and moved into the highest social class, if not the highest economic one. For the most part, none of us have had children, but we've bought houses, cars, taken expensive trips. These things, taken as they come, have seemed reasonable and natural, but in total, paint a rather striking picture of the class we're now in.
And others of our cohort haven't been so lucky. Some can't find jobs at all, some can find only subsistence work. Student loans stay in deferment, credit card debt piles up. I try to figure out what I should be contributing to my retirement account and I have friends who can barely pay their rent. I recently posted a Groupon for Whole Foods on my Facebook, and got a response from a good friend who couldn't believe the people he knew could afford Whole Foods. Mark and I have been shopping there for years. It's become so normal, I'd almost forgotten it is a luxury market.
There is no reason, beyond luck, for this discrepancy. I fell into a career that pays quite well. Mark has been successful in his field, has met the right people, and is now in a position that could, with continued luck, set him up for exactly the career he planned as a best-case scenario. We're not smarter than our friends. We didn't work harder. We got lucky. And yeah, I think we've done a pretty good job capitalizing on our luck, building on it and making good decisions, but really, the luck is all that separates us from those who aren't doing as well.
How do you reconcile that? How do you look at the people you love, watch them struggle, and feel OK about not having to struggle that way yourself? More than anything else, I think, this keeps me up at night. As I turn into this extraordinarily privileged person, this upper middle class white lady, with a new car and a big house, who shops at Whole Foods without considering the cost, how do I make sure to remember how lucky I am, and that this isn't about my being gifted in any way, or "earning" anything? Is there a way to keep that in mind without being so paralyzed by the guilt that you don't even try? Guilt is so rarely a useful emotion--how can I make it one?