Our Fortunate Tortured Selves

Remember liberal guilt? The idea that because we had so much, we felt guilty, and so to assuage our consciouses, we were happy to give some back. I still think giving to the poor is a noble cause, but I never thought guilt was what social programs were about. I thought those programs were in place because of  love. Because of generosity.

I’ve been poor, even homeless, but I’ve always worked. My income, when I have one worth reporting to the IRS, has always hovered close to the poverty level, which is now $13,444. My jobs have been waitress, secretary, high school teacher, college teacher, writer. The only government assistance I’ve ever used was a Pell Grant to start my college education. After I married, the Pell Grant went away. I pursued education anyway because I believed it was my way to a better job than waitress, bartender, or secretary.

Now I have two degrees in English, two jobs (writing and teaching) and I couldn’t buy myself a used car. Forget about a house! My husband is the reason I am living in a new house, buying new things to furnish it with, and feeling twinges of guilt. I have so much. Most of the world has so little. It doesn’t seem fair.

Land a man, land on your feet. This uncomfortable truth has been the reality of my life. Yes of course I cook and clean and so forth. That’s the unpaid work we women who marry take on. Well, some of us.

Had I not been married, I would have pursued full time teaching with more zeal. But the way things happened, I was able to teach part-time and write for great chunks of time, taking years off the day job. Without that time  off from teaching, I never would have been able to pursue things like writing for magazines. I would not have been able to write novels or find a publisher. I probably wouldn’t be writing this post or have the time to worry about all the poor people in the world. I’d be too busy grading papers or flying the freeways.

When I told my husband about a post I wrote a week or so ago, all about moving to the country and buying new curtains, he said I should be careful. He said I should not flaunt our situation. He said it would make some people with less feel bad. He was right. And ever since, I’ve been feeling guilty about my good fortune.

8 Comments on “Our Fortunate Tortured Selves

  1. You have both worked hard for what you have,be grateful and don’t feel bad about it.You can’t change the world or help everybody in it,enjoy what you have with no guilt that you worked all your life to get it. I don’t think you flaunt anything,your just excited about moving up alittle,it’s ok to happy about it. love you aunt Wese xo

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    • Thanks Aunt Wese. It’s true. I think I had the bad part of my life early. These are the good old days:) Last night I asked Al why now? (As he brought in the new television). He said essentially what you did. We worked hard all our lives, now is the time to reap the benefits.

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  2. I have not once thought you were flaunting this move. You have shared this experience like you honestly share other aspects of your life. I have felt nothing but happiness for you. I know what you mean about the internal guilt…I think we do that to ourselves, our generation raised by people who were born during or right after the depression – can’t you resuse that yogurt container one more time and why would you need a new pair of shoes when those soles have wear left on them? It took me many years to feel okay about new curtains when the old ones, no matter how old, still looked alright. I discovered the exhilaration of dropping off usable goods at Goodwill so someone else could enjoy the things I had taken care of and was ready to share:)

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    • Thank you Sharon. I so appreciate the support. I do think this ties into the Depression. We are not that far removed from being homeless and hungry. But the trick is to enjoy what we have now. Without the guilt. And you are helping me do that:)

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  3. Don’t feel bad for what you have.

    Though I kind of understand some of the sentiments you make about your life circumstances helping you be able to do what you want to do. I think it would be great if there was more patronage of the arts generally. I think that is something that is missing somewhat from the modern world.

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    • Thanks for understanding. I do wish my husband had equal opportunity to enjoy his hobbies, like golf. That will come soon. Meanwhile, he makes so much more money than I do that it just makes sense for him to work full time. He doesn’t have the option of part time work anyway. I think this is a thing many women do, and some of them defend their pursuits by saying “my job is a mom” or “my job is to make a home for my family” and all that is also true, but those unpaid “jobs” are really acts of love, not work. Well, maybe cooking and cleaning are work:)

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  4. Cindy, funny you brought up this topic … I’ve been wrestling with the same guilt. Because of my husband, I live in a wonderful home with many perks, and have been able to pursue a freelance writing career that rarely paid well (except for the years I was a freelance magazine editor, working almost full time). Guilt, guilt … I try to measure out how much I spend on frivolous treats, based on checks from my writing, even though my husband doesn’t expect it.

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  5. Yes. Guilt for being able to write while hubby toils. But the other side of that is that men make way more money than women, especially if a woman decides to take five years off to raise a child or two, which I did and never regretted. But it’s still an either/or world. Either you are raising your kids, or you are working at a well paying job. I’m feeling okay about it today, Cindy. My husband certainly never complained and I bet yours doesn’t either:)

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