Okay, time to get real. I was not happy at all with yesterday’s blog post. It felt good to blog again, and I felt eager to get some words down about our Arizona experience thus far, but afterward (and ever since), I couldn’t shake this needling feeling that it just wasn’t truthful. It wasn’t authentic. It wasn’t honest. I painted a picture of our trip that is rosy, warm and enlightened, but it was pretty much a boring list of facts about our travels.
There were tidbits of truth mixed in, but what purpose does that serve if I’m not willing to share the journey behind the life lessons we’re learning?
Let’s back up a bit. When I started journaling (which, with the help of bright, shiny technology, later became “blogging”) at the tender age of eight, it was because I needed an outlet. I was a quirky child with a rich inner world (translation: I was/ am a total weirdo). I once spent an entire summer at my cousins’ house in Tennessee watching Shirley Temple movies, playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega, and following my cousins around in an attempt to read aloud from my Babysitters’ Club books. All the while, there was a perfectly nice, brand new pool right out the back door, along with about 10 acres of unexplored woodlands. When I mention this to my husband, I’m met with a head shake, an eye roll, and a distinct feeling that, perhaps, I wasted my youth.
But here I am today, a perfectly functional, married mom of two, and I thank God and journaling for that. My goal and purpose in journaling/ blogging has always been honesty above all. The truth may look like a steaming pile of cow dung sometimes, but it’s there, digging around in that cow dung that you discover who you are, at your core.
Once you get even a tiny handle on who you are and what you’re about, you can finally begin to live life with purpose and intention. In short, you can’t fix your shit if you don’t know where it’s broken.
So, without further ado, here is the truth behind our travels. Please bear with me while I bear it all, and try to refrain from judgment, because we’re all a little fucked up inside (and the people who don’t know it are the most fucked up of all of us).
I am pretty stinkin’ privileged. I know this because of a 12-question quiz I took in my Racial Justice college course, but I probably could have figured it out simply from the fact that I felt so cultured and “woke” (a word that wouldn’t enter the lexicon for another 10-ish years or so) for taking that course. Since then, “privileged” has come to mean a great many things (none of them positive), and I’m pretty sure you’re never supposed to admit that you embody them. Officially (according to Google), it means to “have special rights, advantages, or immunities; to have a rare opportunity to do something that brings particular pleasure.”
I’m not arguing with this definition. I agree with it, actually. But to me, privilege shows up as the ability to shield myself from discomfort.
I suppose that would fall under the category of “having a special advantage.” Sure, when Joey was first born and I was out of a job, we were on the WIC program. Financially, we’ve had times of bounty and times of drought. But I’ve always had a roof over my head, a working car in the driveway, and access to a washer and dryer. I’ve also been privileged to make my home in cities and geographical areas that feel “safe” and “comfortable” for me. The streets were relatively well maintained, sidewalks were kept clear, and the neighborhood folk appeared friendly, approachable, and looked a lot like me.
Santa Fe felt much like this. We were privileged to stay at an AirBNB in a middle-class neighborhood, surrounded by kind elderly couples and young, vibrant families. The city itself was beautiful, in part due to strict guidelines about architecture and careful attention to a little thing called “property value.” After just a few nights in our rental, I felt at home. It felt like a place in which I, myself, might choose to live. It met with my high standards. It made me feel comfortable and safe.
Then, I discovered there was no washer or dryer in the house. Suddenly, I felt uncomfortable, inconvenienced. I tried like hell to focus on the positive – that the home owner provided us with laundry baskets, soap, and directions to the nearest laundromat – but all I could think about was the horror of spending 2-3 hours of my day parading my unmentionables around a germ-infested laundromat, in front of God-knows-who. But for 30 days, we made it work. Mostly because Nick took over the task of doing laundry, while I took the kids to the playground. At month’s end, I felt as though I’d climbed Everest. My back is still sore from all the patting I gave it for having surmounted the world’s largest obstacle of having no washer or dryer.
Then, we drove to Arizona. Now, Arizona itself is gorgeous. Sweeping vistas, beautiful red rock cliffs, it boasts a lot of the same aesthetics that I so loved about New Mexico. But the town in which we’re renting is… not what I’d expected. Let’s just say that it poses an extreme challenge to my privilege. The moment we drove across the county line, I sensed that something was amiss. As we made the final turn onto our street, my mind just kept pleading please God, no… please God, no…
This town is not so well maintained, and the inhabitants probably don’t waste time fretting over property value. There are no sidewalks. There are no health food stores. There are broken down cars in driveways and rusty nails evvvvverywhere. There are dogs barking at all hours. The neighbors are brusque, to say the least. We are one block from a homeless shelter, miles from a Starbucks, and three nights ago, I was awakened to the unfamiliar sight and sound of a helicopter search light beaming overhead.
For the rest of the night, I slept very little, with one part of my brain screaming at me that a murderer was going to bust through my front door, and the other part scolding me for being so. fucking. whiiiiiiiite.
And, apparently, I’m the only one in this boat. Nick – who has been to war – has experienced these things before. They don’t phase him. I, on the other hand, am a nervous wreck, slowly devolving into Arizona’s own Gladys Kravitz, peeking out my windows at every odd sound. I wasted almost half an hour this afternoon peeping through my shutters at two gentlemen dressed like troubadours, each with a cigarette hanging from the side of his flat cap, slowly cruising down my street, revving the engine of their tiny, banged up orange sports car (during naptime!!!!! Goddddd!!!!) and intermittently stopping to talk to all of my neighbors. Oh my God, oh my God, are they going to come HERE? What do they WANT? I double checked the locks about 500 times and laid in the fetal position on my sofa, ears perked for a knock at the door.
All of this paranoia and discomfort makes me wish away this month, which, admittedly, really sucks. I wish I could snap my fingers and be a different person. I just can’t help it.
I am white. I am privileged. It’s hard to shake these things when they’re such an engrained part of my psyche.
Today, while my husband went fishing with a friend, I intentionally drove my kids to the neighboring town – a more affluent area – to find a playground. The minute I pulled up to the first stoplight and saw two ladies in yoga pants with iced lattes, I actually said OUT LOUD, these are my people.
I know. I’m a horrible person. It pains me to tell you all of this, and I definitely don’t want my kids to be like this when they grow up. But you know, I also can’t exactly help how I grew up, or the fact that this is who I am. I’m embracing it, I’m acknowledging it, and, most importantly, I’m trying (I really, really am) to move past it.
And I’m making progress. I’m pushing past my discomfort to talk to my scary neighbors, sit outside on my front porch when there’s a high possibility of experiencing a sports car drive by. Those guys might (gulp) talk to me. I might feel unsafe. I might feel completely out of my element. But I’m fucking doing it. The thought has crossed my mind multiple times to flee – find another rental in the next town over, where I can befriend white ladies in yoga pants with lattes.
But I’m staying right here. I’m staying because the discomfort caused by my unfamiliar surroundings isn’t nearly as uncomfortable as the disgust and shame I feel at being so unbelievably privileged.
And for the record, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with being privileged. I mean, isn’t that why most people go to work every day? To try to give their kids a more comfortable upbringing than they experienced? To “have” more? I think the bigger problem is learning to recognize when you’re allowing privilege and the comforts to which you’re accustomed stop you from connecting with and recognizing other human beings.
For now, that’s my truth. My cow dung. And, God help me, I’m gonna sit in it and dig around until I am able to make something resembling progress.