Intersection 1: Poverty and Resentment

Poverty is exhausting.

Every choice is fraught with uncertainty and looming consequences. Last night I had to decide whether to drive to a church coffee house 30 miles away (2 gallons of gas = $7.00) or buy minimal groceries locally. The extra $7 just was not in the budget.

I’m working at holding down the resentment that I have to choose between eating and what is essentially free entertainment, social engagement, and opportunities to sing with friends.

Last week I attended a fundraising reception as part of one of my jobs. I was originally told that staff was not invited because it was hoped that all the places would be subscribed by donors. At the last minute, when it was clear that there would be some openings, staff were notified. I was able to piggyback it on to an errand in the area (saving gas $$) and it was a wonderful event. Afterwards, when the caterer was clearing up, I asked what would happen to the food. Since it would be thrown away, I asked if I could have it. The caterer and the venue were able to give me some bags and paper plates, and I walked away with four meals and a couple of desserts.

I sort of feel moderately okay about that one; the food did not go to waste, after all. Still, I live a life that requires me to ask for other people’s leftovers to make ends meet.  I’m working on not resenting that.

I loaned some money to a friend a few months ago, which is a great privilege. Being able to help someone else is a huge boost to my sense of self-worth. This friend is rather disorganized, and he makes a whole lot more than I do from a steady job, but he needed a lump sum all at once. So I offered the elastic portion of my savings on the understanding that he would have it all paid back by summer—by around now, actually—which is when I expected to need it. Other reverses hit him unexpectedly (mostly due to his lack of awareness and disorganization, he himself admits), so we have re-organized his payment plan to something he can handle. In other words, he has not in any way welshed on the debt itself, but he’s paying it back very much more slowly than was the original idea.

This week he and his partner have been posting selfies of their road trip to a large city about 4 hours drive from here. There are photos of them at the Hotel Swanky and comments about a marvelous dinner out. The likelihood is that they either got a really great deal, or stayed at Motelpickanumber and just took photos in the lobby of Hotel Swanky. They needed a trip; his schedule has kept him away from home a lot lately.
But I’m sitting here calculating gas money vs. food while they are having great time on the road. I won’t get any kind of vacation or space for myself this summer, in part because he’s taking so long to pay me back.

I’m trying like hell not to resent him taking care of his relationship—something I’ve actually encouraged him to do—on my dime.

A friend is helping me put together a website which might, over time, earn me a little income. A friend of hers, a professional designer, is creating the look-and-feel. I have been invited to weigh in, and it’s terrifying. All of this is a gift; I don’t feel comfortable giving directions for a gift. I was trained to accept what is given—if you don’t like it, you exchange it quietly later or use it somewhere out of the way, or even (shhh) re-gift it after a suitable time. [Once upon a time, children, it was more acceptable to give unwanted gifts to charity than to another friend or family member.]

This is going to be my website. It’s going to represent me in some way. If it’s even moderately successful, the look-and-feel becomes part of the recognition value; I can’t just change it later or put it in the hall closet to bring out when my friends come to visit. I have to weigh in.

The folks involved in the project know this. They are encouraging me to provide input. There is no judgment coming from them. It’s all me. It’s all my central-European-Roman-Catholic-heritage, how-to-be-a-nice-girl, mom’s-voice, Miss-Manners-says training. You do not dictate gifts. Not. Ever.

I am stuck in a vise-grip of my training versus practical reality. And I’m trying not to resent the ability of my friends to be generous with their time and talent.

I am without funds in a world that bases worth on social class, and social class on behaviors that are connected to certain levels of financial liquidity. I have the training (and the wardrobe) to enact the behaviors, but I don’t have the cash to back up the manners.

Having no money makes one extremely dependent. It also, at least for me, makes me extremely sensitive to the resources of others. I’ve always thought waste was a cardinal sin, and wasting someone else’s resources is a compound cardinal sin: waste + thoughtlessness.

I’m trying not to resent the fact that other people have different training and different, perfectly reasonable definitions of waste and of thoughtless than I do.

The fact that I had savings at all sets me apart from most people living in poverty. Almost everyone who lives below poverty in the US works. Most of us work full time or more. Most of us have dependents (kids, parents, partners) and most of us live paycheck to paycheck—barely. Few of us have any savings. I’m one of the lucky few—if it’s ‘lucky’ to have gained access to money on the death of a loved one.

I’m single and alone. My daughter is moving out on her own this month, and that’s good and also hard. Is part of my resentment about the fact that all these people either have stable relationships or are able to date while I feel abandoned? Is part of this about my own sense of worthlessness? Is there a distinction between having no net worth and feeling worthless? Isn’t that one of the lead weights of poverty?

The likelihood is that most people living in poverty do not obsess about why and how they find poverty depressing and exhausting; they don’t have the time or energy, especially with dependents. The ones who manage poverty well make the time to plan and budget and make decisions about what is and is not affordable today; they worry and squeeze, which adds strain to an already burdened reality. But they get by. Those who manage poverty exceptionally well accept the choices as necessary, make them, and move on; they enjoy what they have and do not worry about what they can’t have right now.

I’m evidently not one of those who do it exceptionally well.

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