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.