on "being poor"

back on september 3, 2005, john scalzi wrote a post titled, "Being Poor," in which he listed his own experiences of poverty. the post is powerful, but the comments are what really make the post -- hundreds of readers contributed their own experiences.

an excerpt from Being Poor:

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger's trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can't find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she'll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you'll be invited for dinner.

and there's much, much more >

many of the things on that list, and the lists in the comments, are things i either once did, or things i still do. i spent much of my childhood poor, and almost all my adult life struggling to keep afloat. it's definitely shaped my image of how the world works; made me resolve to never live at a level where i had to depend on anyone else for support; and i've learned how to keep a shred of dignity when surrounded by middle-class and rich friends and coworkers.

if you're someone whose main source of support is someone else, you especially might want to read the list, and the comments. it might give you some insight into why i, and other formerly poor people, work so hard, and why complaining about not getting what you think you're entitled to don't go over well with us.

i'm very grateful that i no longer have to do so many of the things on that list to get by; that not nearly as many things on the list apply to me; and that the day when i won't have to do any of them is in sight. art direction as a profession is not exactly lucrative, and making a six-figure salary is very rare. in spite of that, i've managed to come a long way from the days when well-meaning people anonymously left bags of groceries on my family's doorstep, and we'd eaten so many cheerios for so many meals that not even the dog could stomach them, anymore.

speaking of bags of groceries -- now that you've read the list, and you want to help, but you're not sure what to do?

  • modestneeds.org is a charity well worth checking out. it gives grants for small, concrete things, like electric bills, a new water pump, a new tire, a visit to an optometrist, a computer -- all the sudden emergencies that are just minor potholes when you've got money, but utter sinkholes when you're trying to decide between the 10¢ or the 12¢ ramen.
  • call your congressman's office, and push for universal health care, a better mental health system, affordable housing, and a living wage.
  • vote your values.
  • support the arts, and help make the creative professions viable fields for the everyday artist, writer, actor, and musician, not just the rockstars.

and most importantly, next time you run into someone who's poor, think of that list, and be kind.

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