Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another Way to Say I'm Learning When to Talk

Conversation at a Seattle Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner

Me:  “I spend a lot of time translating my life when I talk to people. My lower income background didn’t give me the skills to talk to wealthier people or the middle class. The conversations in my head go between saying what I’m thinking and figuring out how to say it in a way that won’t offend someone or won’t clue them in to the fact that I am not middle class.”

Reply: “You are creating a user interface.” (A UI to those not from the tech world.)

My shoulder and arm hurt and I want to type this before I lose capability to type. I want to be responsible to the people who are caring for me and helping me to get better. I will get better but I have to write this now.

Last night I went to a “Rent Party” after going to that dinner. My friend, who works in the Seattle area to help people and bring people up in so many ways, can’t pay rent this month. The friend invited me at the last minute. The friend knows I’m hurting too so thought it wasn’t right to ask.  The person’s friends said, “Ask those who know what it’s like.”, and I do know what it’s like.

I’m falling down on my desk. I can hardly get up. I just had a discussion with another friend who is on the edge and wondering what to do—how to pay the rent. My UI is trying to kick in but I’m suppressing it a bit. I had a tiny bit to drink yesterday and I’m a little hung over. That opens the doors and lets me through the UI door a bit.

I am tired of placards with 1-paragraph statements about the 99%. I’m tired of “supporters” who for whatever reason think that their words will help this movement. It will help some. Personally I’m ambivalent. The demonstrations and placards are a good start but these are real people not to be objectified and turned into symbols for a movement. Invite them to your house and sit down with them. Learn how you can really help—not how you can help them stand in the street longer—how you can help get them off that street be it real or metaphorical; forever.

I’m white. I can tell you what it’s like to be poor from childhood; that’s all. It’s hard enough to be honest about my own experience because I know that when I am in a room full of people, be they activists or potential donors, it makes me awkward and them uncomfortable. People think I’m hostile. That’s because of the UI I’m always focusing on creating in my head so I can talk to them "politely". I do tell the truth where I see inconsistency and delusion. But when I talk about difficulty with my injury or my finances, it makes them more uncomfortable. What I’m trying to do, trying to say is that they once accepted me, called me friend as long as I could screen out what my true life experiences were. Now, I stand beside them and it’s too much. Poverty and financial stress are an analytical problem to them. I become no longer a person but something to solve. I’m invisible. I make them feel powerless even though they aren’t.

That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’ve thought about this a lot this year. I have grey hair. I have a nice car. I sort of own a condo. I look successful but I’m not and I’m not the only person out there who is in this situation. I’m trying to say to them, I am the ”they” you want to help. I’m not over the edge yet. I’m have not  completely fallen down yet. I still want to be your friend but I’m not alone and I understand that if you stay friends with me it opens doors you’re scared to go through. Because I am not the only person you know in this place. The 99% are there right behind me. They’re creating the collective UI of the Occupy movements. Two people, three if you include me, are right in front of you falling down.

I’m still falling down on my desk. I have to stop. This is how I write when I’m crying. It’s unedited. 

I don’t want to make you uncomfortable but I want to be able to stand in front of you and tell the truth. If you allow yourself to cry, you will write this way too. You will do more than you think you could.

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