I didn’t find anything that expressed the compulsion to listen to the album well enough to use as a quote. I didn’t find anything because I started with the title track and not the first song on the album, Cannonball. What I did find was a portion of the nearly seventeen minute video that the band released before the album as a promotion for their musical change of course.
Hodgson’s departure placed the burden of delivering new material squarely on Davies, but the absence of a full-time guitarist opened up new opportunities for the band when it came time to record the title track. Although Marty Walsh filled the guitar spot for much of the record, “Brother Where You Bound” featured some major-league pinch-hitting from David Gilmour and Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham.
A quote from 1984 begins the album track, a much better intro to the album and the song than the intro that is part of the above video. Here is the album track,
It starts the second side on the cassette tape that I first heard the album on. When I would plug it into the tape player in my car, I would get to Brother Where you Bound somewhere on the back side of Lake Sweetwater. The album was the perfect length to start at the beginning of an evening ramble because it ended about the time I would get to the highway that either lead me further away from home or back home in Sweetwater, back in 1984 when the album came out. It’s more of an EP than an LP since it only contains six songs. In my searching for the full video version of the song, I stumbled across this mashup of the audio from the song with video segments from Brazil that was was worth watching.
I never did find the full video as I remember seeing it on MTV back in the day. I was bitter about my breakup with my then fiancee who had cheated on me in my absence from Garden City, Kansas where I had attended the middle years of high school. She did me a favor. I should probably thank her, as I should thank Mom or Mr. Polk for allowing me the chance to get past the volcanic rage I felt towards him. She did me a favor because her infidelity lead me to take alternate paths in life, leading me ultimately to the Wife and kids that I still call family.
but this album resonated with me because the first three songs were solidly about getting through a breakup, while I was going through a breakup myself. Cannonball, Still in Love and No Inbetween all continue the theme of the pain of separation. (Like In the Air Tonight does with violent rage) Better Days, the last song on side one of the album/cassette is an intro to the song that takes up most of side two, the title track, Brother Where you Bound.
Rick Davies and his bandmates in Supertramp going through the loss of Roger Hodgson’s input impacted me and my life directly. It is weird how the music you embrace in any given time and place reflects the emotional turmoil of one’s own life. Or maybe that is completely predictable. In any case, the miskey by some of my family on asking them for feedback on Divorce clearly caused me to retreat to music that I was listening to the last time I was spending any real time with them. Or maybe I grieve for the breakup of my extended family in World of Warcraft. Probably the latter, but the music would not have come to me without family not understanding what it was I was driving at.
So it is in all relationships. The question that remains unanswered for me, in retrospect, is what the album that featured both Brother Where you Bound and Had a Dream might have sounded like. It would have been better than Famous Last Words, there is no doubt of that. Breakups are like that.
Had a dream it was war And they couldn’t tell me what it was for But it was something they could lie about Something we could die about, you know
Anytime, anyplace When you look that man in the face Well it is not a face you wanna see Sleeping with the enemy, you know
The inspiration for this post sprang out of the destruction of my World of Warcraft raiding guild a few days previously. A group of friends that I’ve spent six hours a week, minimum, talking to and working closely with to solve problems in a game that we jointly enjoy. A game we couldn’t enjoy if we didn’t have each other to rely on day-in and day-out. It took twenty people to raid successfully in World of Warcraft when I started playing the end-game content during Wrath of the Lich King. Working closely with twenty people to master the mechanics of a battle for weeks on end draws you closer than most casual friendships.
What happens when these groups of closely-knit battle-hardened companions suddenly decide that they can’t play with each other anymore? I don’t know what else to call that situation other than divorce. A bit extreme you say? It’s not that traumatic? Spend ten years reliably sitting down with the same twenty people and experiencing the adrenaline surge of beating a difficult boss fight through precise coordination, and then get back to me after you tell the other nineteen people to kiss your ass. Let me know how that goes.
Divorce. I’ve been to this dance quite a few times. I’ve never been an invited guest, always the chosen onlooker. When intimacies turn to hostilities, the invited guests always look to the involuntary participants to pick sides. As Bartleby said yesterday I prefer not to.
I’ve never been the invited guest to a divorce because that was one of the ground rules I set for myself a long time ago, when I witnessed the first divorce. The divorce of my adopted father and my biological mother. This was the first time I was encouraged to pick sides as an involuntary participant, just a child of fourteen. I had nowhere else to go, so was forced to witness the folly of adults that should have known better than to let things fall apart as far as they did.
It’s easy. No really, it is easy, not the easy thing that really is hard (any kind of group effort in an MMO)Talk to your intimate relations. Don’t keep secrets unless they are secrets the others have already told you they want kept. Don’t betray agreed-to standards of behavior without talking out the changes first. Don’t close off channels of discussion unless you are prepared to never speak to these people again except in the presence of a lawyer.
But it never fails. Someone thinks they can get by without communicating something. Then that something turns to a thing that can’t be spoken of. Turns into a barrier between two people. Turns into a weight around the neck of the relationship. Turns into a wall preventing communication. Then the secret is found out and the accusations of betrayal begin.
These are adults, but they sure don’t act like adults. Adults that understand even the uncomfortable subjects have to be discussed, and discussed endlessly. This is the nature of being humans, like it or not. Talk. Endless talk. Talk that makes you want to cut off your own tongue or gouge out your ears. If you stop talking, you will eventually cease to be intimate with the other in question. That is the point where they become other.
Other rather than same. The outgroup. The other.
Doesn’t matter. It wasn’t done against me, because I fucking talked it out first. I understand ownership and value and don’t take it for granted. I resent being asked to lend weight to one side or the other of a separation when I have no clear understanding of the fault that led to the separation. I will not willingly pick sides when both sides seem to be at fault and there is no clear reason for the separation in the first place aside from childish insistence on having your own way in a relationship.
The closest I have come to divorce is quitting a job, being fired from a job. There are employers that I can’t speak to again because of what transpired between myself and them. Always it was something kept from me that required that separation, not something I failed to tell them. I am what I present myself to be, take it or leave it, warts and all.
I remained Dad’s friend after the divorce despite his actions. Despite the facts of his behavior that I had to drag kicking and screaming out of the woman who expected me to follow her without reason. She was a little bit crazy like that, my mom. A conflict avoided was a win in her book. As if she could avoid the permanent void created in her children’s hearts by simply not talking about the cause of the divorce. It’s not that I had a choice in the matter, dad didn’t want us children, he just wanted things to remain the same in the daylight as they were in the dark. The philandering. The silence. I eventually forgave him, because, what else can you do with family? You will have to see them again. That is a given.
I won’t willingly speak with the employers that betrayed my trust. They earned my enmity by keeping essential facts from me. One day those betrayals may cost them dearly, if that day of judgement comes. Most of them are probably dead already, personally safe from further judgments against them. They are the lucky ones.
Lucky like the stepfather, the Polk in mom’s name, who publicly betrayed everything the word father means. Safe from judgment by being dead by some other hands than mine. Saving me the trouble of having his blood on my hands. I should have thanked him for that, but I never spoke to him after the betrayal of that day. The opportunity to strike or to speak never presented itself. Mercy, after a fashion. Probably a mercy crafted by mom’s hands. She never liked conflict, evaded it at every opportunity. Her unwillingness to engage probably being the the first miscommunication in a long series of misunderstandings. But she’s dead now too. Beyond the reach of judgement.
So here I am asked to take sides in another messy divorce. A smaller, less life-altering conflict than the ones I’ve been in before. If I never log on to World of Warcraft again, a game that for me is like softball or bowling was to my father, it is the social connection that keeps me active among my group of friends. If I never play the game again I won’t have to talk to any of the participants of this messy break-up again.
On the upside, unlike family, I’ll never have to look at any of them again or have to listen to any of their excuses for their inexcusable behavior. So not quite as demeaning as the dissolution of a marriage is to the children of that marriage. The children of our in-game collaboration are the characters that we’ve worked so hard to level, over and over again, just to have the most powerful characters we could construct to bring to the next battle. Those children you can delete and no one will accuse you of murder when you do.
It might be a form of self-mutilation, if self-mutilation can be performed mentally. Investing all that time only to discard it by typing six characters and hitting enter? It ranks up there with self-mutilation in my mind. But it isn’t illegal to delete that part of yourself. That piece of your history. If only all mistakes could be erased that easily.
If I quit playing World of Warcraft I’ll lose those friends. I’ll lose those parts of myself and the parts of themselves that I’ve grown to love as part of the game we play together. I’ll make new friends. I’ll find other games to play, other ways to connect to the outside world. The other games and other friends won’t have fifteen years of history for me to bank on. I’ll have to start over.
So I probably won’t quit World of Warcraft. I probably will log on and play the game. I like the game, even after all this time. Probably because of all this time, not because the game has been mindlessly enjoyable. It wasn’t and it isn’t. It presented challenges, but it offered social connections, connections that are simply not present in most other games. Social connection is why I am still playing the game, and now that very social connection threatens to destroy any remaining pleasure I find in it. I’m tempted to delete all my toons and start over fresh. A fresh start, like I’ve never played the game before. Maybe this week is the week to download and log on to World of Warcraft – Classic. Play a game that I’ve never played before, but sure does seem like what I’ve been playing for the last fifteen years.
At the very least, I will have to log onto the voice chat service and have those discussions that have to be had before either calling it quits or picking a side. I still would prefer not to, but the post-mortem must be performed if I am to have any closure for this latest divorce. I’m beginning to wonder if closure is overrated.
The family asked “why did you go there?” after I wrote this. My guildmates in a game I’ve played for almost as long as my children have been alive, 15 years now, wanted to know why I wouldn’t willingly just pick a side in the diaspora of the guild. This is the explanation for why I try not to pick sides. I’ve been used as a weapon before and I won’t willingly go there again. My insistence on knowing the gory details of a conflict has cost me dearly, many times. I’ll still ask those questions, every time. It is who I am. Take it or leave it. Warts and all.
It is worth noting that both the leader of my former guild as well as members of the diaspora tried to tell me just how wrong the other side was. The guildmaster made it his duty to try to keep me from joining the diaspora by telling me just how bad the people I love and cherish like family really are. It should come as no surprise to anyone that all my Alliance toons are now back in my own guild (Frosty Wyrm Riders) for the time being. I need a bit of a break after that orchestrated trauma to my psyche.
There have been several podcasts in my feed over the last year dissecting and observing the subject of poverty. This is probably because of the over-hyped evidence that the majority of Trump (OHM) supporters were poor, rural whites. The podcasters in their turn feel they need to address the issues raised by these people. The issues that made these poor, rural whites feel so desperate that they would hazard the welfare of us all on a known liar and con artist.
I say over-hyped with no intention of belittling the plight of the poor, or the fact that poverty runs rampant in the modern United States. Poverty is more widespread and more painfully felt now than it has been at any point since the end of World War Two. The disparity between rich and poor today is comparative to 1929, in the time leading up to the crash and the Great Depression. People are poorer now and paid worse than at any point in modern American history.
But it isn’t trade deals that are causing this problem. It isn’t illegal aliens in the US taking our jobs. It isn’t any of the things the OHM says is causing poverty; and his solutions to fix poverty are solutions that not only have been tried before but failed to work previously. So why do them again?
No, I say over-hyped because the rural poor more than likely voted for Trump because the rural poor have been the largest viewing block for reality TV. The rural poor have little other entertainment they can access aside from television. The Apprentice was popular with the same people who voted for Trump. Why is it so hard to admit that these people thought that the character on that show was the guy they voted for in the election? That the lack of broadband access in the rural areas of the US have lead to an information gap that resulted in the election of a con artist to the presidency? That poverty is merely a factor in the larger problem of inequality in America?
All of these podcasts have struck a chord with me. I have blogged both directly and tangentially about this subject in the past. It is not a subject I like writing about. The nerves are raw and the wounds are kept fresh in my current situation of disability and poverty. The series from On the Media, Busted: America’s Poverty Mythsbrought me to tears. I recognized so many tropes from my own childhood. Things family members and friends both have uttered in my hearing. Things that I have been guilty of believing in the past. In this article I will take a more purposeful walk down that memory lane, painful as it is. I want to do this in the light of these discussions by scholars, writers and journalists.
…and I will start this journey of introspection with the writer/journalist Stephen Dubner and his podcast Freakonomics,
James Truslow Adams, born in 1878 to a wealthy New York family, became a financier and, later, an author. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of New England; and later he wrote a book called The Epic of America. Even though it was written during the Great Depression, Adams took a fundamentally bullish view of the United States.
His book was hugely popular, and as best as we can tell, it introduced the phrase “The American Dream.” Adams defined this as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The phrase caught on, and not just a little bit. Especially among our presidents…
…The Stanford economist Raj Chetty has been working with large data sets to try to understand why so many Americans are no longer living the American Dream. When it comes to economic opportunity, Chetty and his colleagues found huge regional and even local differences throughout the U.S.
As he told us, kids growing up in San Francisco have about twice the chance of living the American Dream as kids from just across the bridge, in Oakland. Why? One easy explanation would be that the people in those different areas are just different – they have different abilities, different cultures, different job opportunities. And that certainly has some explanatory power. But Chetty and his colleagues found the story isn’t that simple…
…This is hardly a new idea – that growing up in a poor neighborhood isn’t the best launching ground for economic success. This idea, in fact, led the Clinton Administration to experiment in the mid-1990s with a program called Moving to Opportunity.
Okay, so young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on. What, exactly, does this signify? What’s going on in the poor neighborhoods to depress income mobility and what’s going on in the better neighborhoods to increase it? Answering those questions has become a big part of Raj Chetty’s work.
The above hits the high points of that Freakonomics episode, without getting into the meat of it, which is excellent. The scholar Raj Chetty‘s five factors address my personal experiences of poverty directly. It was because of this episode that I felt the need to write more on this subject, but the title of the post comes from a segment of another podcast, which was introduced to me through this episode of Radiolab,
In a 5-part series called “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” On the Media picked apart numerous oft-repeated narratives about what it’s like to be poor in America. From Ben Franklin to a brutal eviction, Brooke gives us just a little taste of what she learned and shares a couple stories of the struggle to get ahead, or even just get by.
This episode features an excellent overview of the 5-part series; enough for the casually interested, but not enough for someone who remembers the shock of sudden poverty as a child. A now old man who lives in poverty due to illness, disability, a truly lackluster US economy, sexism/ageism in the workplace directed at the Wife, etc. But I don’t want to get ahead of the narrative, and discussing the particulars of my experience in poverty even in the general sense gets ahead of the introduction provided in the full five part series from On the Media.
As the Freakonomics episode mentioned, It is actually twice as easy to move up the income ladder in Canada as it is in the US. This is a travesty, an ongoing insult to America, this delusion we live under. What delusion is that? The delusion that the US is the best country in the world to live in, that we provide more access to social mobility than anyplace else in the world. It simply isn’t true. Hasn’t been true for a good, long time.
The first episode of the On the Media series is an introduction to the reality of poverty in America. It is the boxing glove on the fist of the next three episodes that drive home the fact that we Americans really don’t have a clue what it is to be desperately poor in the US. Even I only vaguely recognize the lives that the truly poverty stricken must live. The reason for this is; I profited from the status of my parents. My parents, in their turn, benefited from the status of their parents; white, working class, upwardly mobile christians with land. My paternal grandparents had enough property that they farmed at first, and then sold land to the city and to new families moving into the bustling township that Leoti, Kansas was after the dust bowl. They sold and profited as the town grew around them, just like the dreams of all Americans play out.
“Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.”
The possession of land leads to wealth, if one is lucky enough to own the right piece of land at the right time. The Steele family in Wichita county, Kansas were those people. The fact of their ownership of land made them powerful within the township. The location near a then-growing town gave them a chance to sell off some of their property for cash, something that there is never enough of in any small town. People have to eat, after all. They have to have somewhere safe to sleep. All of this costs money in the modern economy, and the only way to get money is to work or be born into it. So I wasn’t born into poverty, at least.
I was born overseas to a father who was stationed there in the military, a mother who enjoyed being overseas for the first time but really didn’t enjoy the constraints of a military wife in the 60’s. She returned to the states not too long after my birth, and my father left the military as soon as his mandatory term of service was up. They returned to my father’s home on the high plains of Kansas as I mentioned. My father grew up in a little town named Leoti that would be so small you would miss it if you blinked, if only the main roads went anywhere near the place. My father’s family had settled there a few decades previously and Grampa had several thriving businesses in the town. One of those businesses was sold/given to my father when he left the military, and he settled down with my mother for the happily ever after that all young people believe in.
Did I say “happily ever after?” Yeah, that never showed up. Dad took to drinking a fifth of bourbon every single day as he struggled to deal with bringing in enough cash to support his growing family. Mother was unhappy because the family kept growing and her husband didn’t seem to be around much to help. The fighting got worse until it damaged the furnishings and frightened the children, and the divorce wasn’t long after that. Coming out of the 40’s and 50’s and the attitudes about women and families, the ridiculous notions of money and politics, wealth and poverty and the meaning of all these things all wrapped up together, the surprising part of this story is that some women put up with the way life was for them. They put up with it instead of leaving. Maybe they had better husbands?
The story of my pre-teen life was pretty common for the time. By the mid-70’s when the divorce happened fully half of all marriages went that way. Prior to World War Two women were expected to stay home, raise children and provide for the running of the household which encompassed pretty much everything you can imagine. Everything you can imagine, if you imagined a self-sufficient household operation that was a day’s horseback ride from the next nearest town, a train ride away from the nearest city with running retail businesses in it. A household without running water or electricity. That is what frontier life was like just two generations into the past for me, four generations now. My grandparents remembered towns without electricity, the introduction of indoor plumbing and the automobile.
Automobiles made the difference. This fact is spelled out in the heaps of rusted metal you can find dotting most older farmsteads. When the old car dies you leave it where it sits and buy another one, just as you did the tractor and the harvester. On the Wife’s family farm you can still see her dad’s first tractor, parked on the edge of the field where it died, rusting into nothing as the decades fly by. It still sits there even though the farm itself has changed hands twice since her mom sold it. Sold it because there just wasn’t any reason to keep it any longer.
We weren’t farmers. We were never going to sign up for that life. The automobile made city life bearable because you could live in the outskirts of the city and commute downtown for work. In the city you don’t need to make your own clothes, you can go to the store and buy them. You can go to the store and buy them, that is, if you have the money. Money has been the limiting factor imposed on the poor for longer than any of the now living can remember. Longer than those who came before us can remember. Further back than even our great-grandparents and their parents time.
Brooke meets Carla Scott, a young woman in Cleveland forced to sell her plasma for bus fare after a series of events derailed her life, as well as Carla’s nonagenarian grandmother, Grace, a hard-line believer in “personal responsibility.”
Personal responsibility or paying for every mistake you’ve made for your entire life. That would be costly, and hasn’t been my experience. This is the privilege of white skin in the United States. It certainly hasn’t been luck that has seen me through to now. I’ve told myself all my life I make my own luck. I make my own luck because 50/50 chances almost never fall my way. Even so, there are many behaviors that I have engaged in that would have resulted in imprisonment and probably death, had I been caught doing them while black.
While I was near homeless for a few years living in friend’s spare rooms and sleeping on enclosed porches, I never had to sell plasma. I didn’t have children of my own to tend to before I was ready largely because I knew what a pain children could be. That was one of the many lessons I learned being raised by a single mom.
The benefit of city living masques the machinery of poverty creation. Having everything you want or need available at a store for purchase makes the delusion of self-sufficiency seem quite real. Self sufficient, if you have the money to buy these things. Self sufficient, if you have work that pays money. I have always had work because I would do just about any job offered to me. White, young, male, with no tattoos and no piercings. This was important above all things; maintain the illusion of a fine, upstanding middle class status. That illusion kept me working.
Poverty waits for those who fail to maintain the illusion. Jobs that go to others. Careless sex that leads to children. Drug addiction. Tattoos and piercings that announce your rejection of white bread America. That inner-city poverty of slums and ghettos? The tattooed and the peirced? The drug addicted and the ne’er-do-well? That poverty that has moved out into the country from the cities. The rebellion that motivated the election of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) was generated in rural America, in the persons of the last victims of a grinding poverty that has plagued the poorer neighborhoods of cities since their creation. I noted the rural American bellyaching rang hollow to me in the essay I named after him,
Listening to the people who attempt to defend their affinity for the Orange Hate-Monkey in the podcast isn’t helping. Oh poor, misunderstood me whining by rural whites strikes me as just this side of pathetic. As if urban blacks don’t have problems, haven’t had worse problems for the better part of two hundred years. The fact that the researchers on this podcast are so divorced from the truth of the matter, that the reality-disconnected people they have been interviewing actually turned out to be the ones who had the last laugh, that they got their American Psycho candidate on a collision course with the White House, in the face of the researcher’s own blithe belief that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the presidency, isn’t helping with the surreality of this moment in time.
I know what grinding poverty looks like even though my experience with it was mercifully brief. That time was right after my parent’s divorce. For a time my mom made the best of life in rural Kansas. We got to keep the house. Dad moved into a trailer parked behind his service station. He managed to wrangle down his child support to $300 which wasn’t enough to cover the cost of keeping a roof over our heads, even though that roof had been home for as long as we could remember. Mom took her first job outside the house since going to college, a job teaching Head Start to Leoti preschoolers, a job that was taken from her because she didn’t have a teaching certificate. She left college to get married and had no saleable skills aside from homemaking, a job she couldn’t do anymore without a husband.
So mom remarried. He was a nice enough guy when we met in Leoti. As soon as we left Kansas and moved to Texas, the trouble started. The poverty got worse. Dad stopped paying the child support and only restarted it after mom sued him to get it. The stepdad started drinking heavily, and he was a mean drunk. There were a number of times where my mouth got me in trouble and I ended up on the floor. The last time I saw him was the day he brought another woman to the house. After watching him abuse my mother wordlessly for months, after being the victim of his abuse during that time, having him show up and flaunt his girlfriend in my mother’s face was too much. When mom sent us into the house and told us to hide, I waited behind a door I knew he would come through if he did come in for his stuff. I waited with a high vantage point and a heavy blunt object. I wanted to make sure that if the opportunity presented itself, there would be a near guarantee of killing him. I hated him that much.
Luckily for both of us, the opportunity never occurred. He left without his stuff. I was on a plane to stay with my father in Kansas within the week. Psychotherapy was part of that process. I was the lucky one. The luckiest of the four children who endured the stepfather. I had a room of my own in my father’s house. I had running hot water at the tap. I had a mother and father who were concerned for me. I never appreciated this fact, this blessing, until visiting my mother in Texas and seeing what hitching her cart to the stepfather’s wagon had wrought in the end.
The unlucky ones? They had one bed for the four of them to share. Mom went through another divorce, which means those three siblings went through it with her. The garage apartment they found in the tiny town they had ended up in didn’t have a reliable roof or much in the way of indoor plumbing. They had to heat water on the stove to fill the bathtub so that they all could bath each night. My mother had taken the next of dozens of jobs she would eventually hold, working the night shift running that blight of the American landscape, a convenience store. Virtually the only profitable business in yet another small town whose only claim to fame was being on the road to somewhere else.
When I saw how bad their living conditions were, I cried. We siblings then made the first of several pacts that followed over the years. After a few weeks of mutual badgering, our parents in their separate hostile camps were convinced to let the rest of the kids move back up with dad and his new wife. I didn’t appreciate having to share a bed with my brother again, but at least they had hot water to shower with. Television to watch. Decent schools to attend, back in the good old days, when Kansas still believed in investing in young people.
For the first time in my mother’s short life, she was free. No children to supervise. No husband to cook for or tend to. Free to try and advance her skills by returning to school. So she did that. She moved to a larger town in the area, a town called Sweetwater. It was a town with a school, a town big enough for a trade school, but not so big that it became expensive to live in. She took business classes and worked odd jobs. She was probably about as happy as she had ever been.
This happiness was short-lived. This is a section of the story that I wrote about at length here,
Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.
…She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.
It was a point of pride to my mom that she never took food stamps. That she never had to go on welfare. Her memory is a bit more selective than mine. We may never have needed food stamps, but we certainly ate a lot of government bread and cheese. Drank a lot of government milk. I got a job as soon as I could after moving back in with mom. I knew even before she explained it to me, there was no way we’d survive if I wasn’t working. So I started sacking groceries and cleaning up at night at one of the two grocery stores in that mid-sized Texas town. I took a lot of food that the store was going to throw away home with me instead, one of the benefits of being the flunky who throws out the trash. We never went hungry, but that is just barely the truth.
I spent my senior year in high school as a stranger in a school I didn’t really want to attend. I preferred the Kansas schools of the time. Kansas’ investment in higher education (now abandoned) Kansas’ belief in better times ahead (ditto) Texas was meaner. Texas was harsher both in climate and attitude. That mythical Southern hospitality is the velvet glove over the iron fist of crony capitalism and repressive social structures designed to keep the poor in their place.
I attended the same trade school my mom had moved to Sweetwater to attend and I made the best of the illusions I had been fed as a child. That I could be whatever I wanted to be. That I had no limitations. That all I had to do was work hard and I would make the grade. That I could live happily ever after, too.
In the third installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we take on one of our country’s most fundamental notions: that America is a land of equal opportunity and upward mobility for all. And we ask why, in spite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, does this idea persist?
With the help of historian Jill Lepore, Brooke traces the history of the “rags to riches” narrative, beginning with Benjamin Franklin, whose 18th century paper manufacturing business literally turned rags into riches. We hear from Natasha Boyer, a young Ohio woman who was saved from eviction by a generous surprise from strangers… only for the miracle to prove fleeting. And we consider the efficacy of “random acts of kindness” and the fateful role of luck — where you’re born, and to whom — in determining success.
Much like Benjamin Franklin in reality, as detailed in this segment of the story, I moved away from the family that was a drag on my ability to succeed on my own. Their poverty making my poverty that much harder to ignore, that much harder to escape. After a brief, heartbreaking few months trying to establish myself in Kansas back living with my father, trying to make good on promises made to a girlfriend I had left in Kansas and failing at that rather spectacularly, I returned to Texas and moved up the road from Sweetwater to Abilene for a brief time, living on my own. Like everyone who transitions to life on their own, that was quite a shock. I think it was the month driving on a leaky tire because I couldn’t afford a new one that brought home just how hard it was going to be to make the grade. Just how remote the possibility that happily ever after might ever occur.
“It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
It was while living in Abilene that I noticed that I effectively had no boots and thusly no bootstraps to draw myself up by. I had limited education, most of which I provided for myself through voracious reading. I clearly had a problem producing work in my chosen profession, a barrier that I had never realized was mine alone until that time. There was no one with money in my immediate family. I knew no one in Abilene aside from co-workers at jobs I no longer had, and I wore out their welcomes in pretty short order. I even had to borrow mom’s pride and joy, the first new car she had ever bought for herself, just to get myself out of the rut I’d made in Abilene and move myself to a new, hopefully more promising locale, San Angelo.
It was in San Angelo that I met the Wife, working at one of the many odd jobs that came my way. It was there that I dragged the rest of my Texas family, after I finally found a job that paid money and had rented a house that would fit all of them. It was there that all of them eventually went to college. It was a long, hard struggle even getting to that level, the level where I felt I could attempt to repay a debt to my mother that I knew I still owed. But I was still poor, just not as poor as I had been. In order to not be poor I knew I was going to have to find a bigger city. Bigger cities require more architecture, more planning, more design, and I knew that was a demand that I could help satisfy if I could just get there.
In the fourth installment of our series “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we examine the strengths and shortcomings of our nation’s safety net. Government assistance does help lift millions out of poverty each year — indeed, without it, poverty would be twice as high — but those in the most dire circumstances often slip through the cracks.
With the help of Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, we consider how anti-poverty programs can actually keep people poor and offer little hope for a way out.
Also, Brooke meets Margaret Smith, a Columbus woman made homeless after a violent crime derailed the life she’d carefully built with her six children. And we visit an Athens County food pantry that provides not just meals to the community, but also school supplies, clothing, furniture, job training, home repairs, disaster relief…even burial plots.
In the city there is no illusion about the temporariness of prosperity, of hearth and home. If there is any real difference between city life and country life, it is the illusion of permanence that country life affords. In the city you pay by the month for everything including hearth and home. You never stop paying for anything, ever. New cars, bigger houses, longer commutes, more roads, taller buildings, denser usage. The city is a meatgrinder, and the meat it grinds is human. Best not to watch it happen if you have a weak stomach.
It’s true, there are more opportunities in the city if you can afford to go there and look for them. I took that leap almost thirty years ago now. Left what I see now as a quiet little town of a hundred thousand people; ten times the size, and more, of my hometown of Leoti at its peak. Austin boasts more than a million citizens now. if you incorporate its far-flung suburbs, there is something closer to two million people who work and live here because of Austin being here and pretty much for no other reason. It certainly isn’t for the weather, which is Texas hot nine months out of the year.
There is a little joke in Austin that if you move here and don’t have allergies, wait five years. You’ll have them, just wait. I had allergies before moving here and I never intended to stay here. Fate has kept me here, year after year in spite of my intentions to leave as soon as I was assured of an ability to provide for my family. I was ill before I got to Austin, and my illness has gotten worse every year I’ve been here. The symptoms which had no name eventually got so bad that I found a name for them, Meniere’s. Finding that my symptoms had a name is the only reason I’m alive to write this uplifting little post today. Having a name for what keeps me from working is what gets me disability payments that kept my now-grown children fed while they were still growing. The disability made me worth more alive than dead; so I’ve kept living, to the consternation of many.
Disability isn’t a carefree life of freedom and bliss. Ill health is generally hard to endure even without the grinding poverty that accompanies it in most cases. The poverty is inflicted on those of ill-health by the system itself, not as a function of their relative worth. The cost of treating illness is itself a function of building the wealth of countless millions of healthcare professionals, people who would be as poor as I am without people like me coming to them for treatment. Without Social Security and Medicare paying my bills, I’d have taken my own life years ago. All those thousands spent to educate my children, house, clothe and feed them, would never have existed. Their promising careers, the careers of my Texas family who went to college because I brought them somewhere that had a college, all of the people who benefitted in some way from the work that I’ve done if not by the simple existence of my health issues, none of them would be where they are now had I simply not existed. Had I been cast aside like the poster-waving homeless visible on every city street corner in the US.
Nothing hits so hard for me as being in my car pulling up to an intersection, and having someone come to me with their hand out. I can’t look because I know that if I give in to my desire to help everyone around me, I will soon be the one standing on the street corner holding a sign. See to your own needs first, as any properly trained triage attendant knows. You can’t help others if you end up needing help yourself. I have clung to the top edge of a vertical drop into non-existence for more than a decade now. Every single cent of every dollar spent in the last ten years having to be justified in some way. Kicking myself for ever frivolously spending anything in the years that I had money, not realizing that those years would be the briefest of all.
When reporting on poverty, the media fall into familiar traps and pundits make prescriptions that disregard the facts. So, in the fifth and final installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we present a Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Poverty in America Edition. It’ll equip you with the tools to spot shoddy reporting and the knowledge to identify coverage with insight.
With help from Jack Frech, former Athens County welfare director; Kathryn Edin, co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org; Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; and Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.
Like him I really don’t have any answers aside from the plain observation that what we have attempted so far in the realm of aid to the poor has failed, utterly. We must begin again if we ever hope to improve the human condition. The only sane way is to approach the problem with the knowledge that we don’t know what will work before we try it. So it will profit all of us to make sure that what we are attempting can be tested for effectiveness before we embrace it as true and real.
I celebrate the secularized solstice holiday referred to in the US as ‘Christmas‘, which involves a jolly fat guy who delivers presents dressed in a red suit. We spend the holiday with family and friends, giving gifts and trying to brighten the ‘Winter’ (Winter in central Texas is a frame of mind more than anything else; it certainly doesn’t have much to do with the weather) I also spend time reflecting on what the passing of this year means to me, and preparing to celebrate the New Year.
The Wife and I discussed whether or not to share the myth of Santa Claus with our children before they were born. I was all for bursting that bubble; better yet, just not even going there. My memories of Santa Claus are anything but pleasant. My mother and father did Christmas to the hilt. Large tree, Santa decorations, pictures with Santa, the works. Once, when we were staying at our grandfather’s house in Sacramento, my sister and I heard a noise in the living room. We nearly made it to the door before our fear of being discovered, and not getting any presents, sent us scurrying back under our covers where we finally fell back to sleep. When we awoke the next morning, there were snow footprints on the fireplace hearth. That was the best year. The next to worst was the year when we were particularly nasty to mom and dad, and got switches (sticks to get spankings with, for the uninitiated) in our stockings instead of candy.
Why is that the next to worst? Because the worst year was when we found out that there was no Santa, and suddenly the magic was gone from the Holiday. Santa never came to our house again. Not too long after that, there was divorce and hardship of an all too real nature as the family was torn apart, and there was no more talk of silly little things like Santa Claus. So you can imagine the mindset that I carried with me to the discussion.
For her part, The Wife never experienced an end to the myth. Even after she knew there was no physical person named Santa Claus that visited her house on Christmas eve, the presents from Santa still showed up. The stockings still were filled, even for mom and dad. It wasn’t until I met and married her that there was any magic during the Holidays for me, and then only because of her.
She presented an argument that I couldn’t defeat. That there was something good in nurturing a sense of wonder in the children. That perhaps Santa isn’t a person, but is instead the charitable spirit that lives inside all of us. That the giving (and receiving) doesn’t have to end at all.
So, I tell my children that Santa comes to our house, and there is no lie involved in that statement. Santa Claus is the Spirit of Giving, the anonymous benefactor who gives out of the kindness of his heart and doesn’t seek to be recognized for his charity. He leaves presents that are from no one, and fills stockings for the people sleeping under our roof, no matter the age. His is a kindly old soul that doesn’t get recognized enough these days.
The Daughter figured out that spirit meant just that, a feeling that comes from within, a few years ago. I know that she has figured it out, because gifts appear under the tree, or in the stockings, that The Wife and I have never seen before. Santa Claus lives on in my house.
Oh, you can point to the Wiki entry on Santa Claus, and tell me how he’s actually St. Nicholas, and how his gifts were given personally. That he was a real person and he is really, very dead now. Or you can say that he’s the mythological figure, Father Christmas, and that as a mythological figure he never existed at all. It’s all fine by me, I love a good story. The Red Ranger came calling is an excellent story about Santa Claus, and it’s just about as true as any of the rest of them.
You just go right on believing whatever suits you. I know Santa will visit this house on Christmas Eve, no matter what anybody else believes.
FWIW, any group organized around an idea can be labeled a cult. Libertarianism, Real Money, Environmentalism, etc. Someone quite rightly labeled the board this was posted on as a cult. I just used FWIW (For What It’s Worth) a type of special language developed for conversations with ‘those in the know’, a telltale sign of ‘cult like’ behavior.
But are they cults? Cults are damaging to the individual, warping their individual will and stealing their wealth. People damage their lives spending too much time on the ‘net, too much time volunteering for political efforts, etc. Is it really any different?
I don’t like the term ‘cult’. It’s one of the words that gets applied simply to discredit an organization, prior to attempting to dismember it from the outside. Where does freedom of association fit into that sort of scenario?
With tongue firmly implanted in cheek, let’s look at another ‘cult’ that is prevalent in society. The cult of Family.
TACTIC 1. The individual is prepared for thought reform through increased suggestibility and/or “softening up,” specifically through hypnotic or other suggestibility-increasing techniques such as: A. Extended audio, visual, verbal, or tactile fixation drills; B. Excessive exact repetition of routine activities; C. Decreased sleep; D. Nutritional restriction.
New parents are subject to extreme sleep deprivation and nutritional restriction, and new routines are introduced and repeated frequently. Feeding times for a new baby occur every few hours for several months, interrupting all normal patterns of life previously known including sleeping and eating. Feeding, burping, diaper changing, etc. are all new routines which, while simple and easy to learn, must be repeated when the audio fixation drill (crying) occurs.
TACTIC 2. Using rewards and punishments, efforts are made to establish considerable control over a person’s social environment, time, and sources of social support. Social isolation is promoted. Contact with family and friends is abridged, as is contact with persons who do not share group-approved attitudes. Economic and other dependence on the group is fostered. (In the forerunner to coercive persuasion, brainwashing, this was rather easy to achieve through simple imprisonment.)
New parents are frequently trapped in their own homes for months at a time, with only the new cult member for company. Former family members are excluded in favor of the new family member. Any former friends without children find themselves unable to connect to the new parent due to unfamiliarity with the new group attitude.
TACTIC 3. Disconfirming information and nonsupporting opinions are prohibited in group communication. Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss with outsiders. Communication is highly controlled. An “in-group” language is usually constructed.
A child so ugly you’d have to hang a steak around his neck to get the dog to play with him, will always be described as a “beautiful baby” in the presence of the new parent. Every new cult member (hereinafter referred to as ‘the child’) is a genius according to the parent, even if the child attempts to eat every object that he can get his hands on.
As for an in-group language, does the phrase ‘baby talk’ mean anything to you?
TACTIC 4. Frequent and intense attempts are made to cause a person to re-evaluate the most central aspects of his or her experience of self and prior conduct in negative ways. Efforts are designed to destabilize and undermine the subject’s basic consciousness, reality awareness, world view, emotional control, and defense mechanisms as well as getting them to reinterpret their life’s history, and adopt a new version of causality.
Every confrontation with the child causes the new parent to reflect on interactions with their parents, and to inevitably fail in comparison. Everything in the parents world is reoriented on the child and his safety, there is no other valid concern in existence. A parent can frequently be found hovering near windows and doors that provide a view of the child at sleep or at play, so strong is the concern for safety even in a house and yard known to be without serious threat.
This is caused by the fact that the genius child will attempt to eat anything he finds, and many things which the parent did not perceive as a threat previously, are in fact deadly when swallowed.
There is no life before children, once you have had children. Don’t believe me? Try to remember a time without them. If you don’t have children, ask the parent sitting next to you to remember.
TACTIC 5. Intense and frequent attempts are made to undermine a person’s confidence in himself and his judgment, creating a sense of powerlessness.
If the average parent was paid a nickel for every time they heard “but Johnny’s parents let him do it”, there wouldn’t be a need for social security. All grandparents would be rich people. This is not to mention the tantrums, the wheedling and cajoling that goes on in addition to the citations of the superiority of other children’s parents.
When the attempts to undermine the parents judgment meet with failure, disobedience on the subject simply underlines the powerlessness of the parent.
TACTIC 6. Nonphysical punishments are used such as intense humiliation, loss of privilege, social isolation, social status changes, intense guilt, anxiety, manipulation and other techniques for creating strong aversive emotional arousals, etc.
You have no clue what humiliation is until your child is dusting the supermarket floor with his backside in a screaming fit because you won’t get him the cereal he wants.
This tactic is, in essence, the same as tactic two. Imprisonment could be considered a holiday compared to colic and 4 am feedings. Social isolation and status changes? Gimme a break.
TACTIC 7. Certain secular psychological threats [force] are used or are present: That failure to adopt the approved attitude, belief, or consequent behavior will lead to severe punishment or dire consequence, (e.g. physical or mental illness, the reappearance of a prior physical illness, drug dependence, economic collapse, social failure, divorce, disintegration, failure to find a mate, etc.).
Fail to do your part with the child, and the other parent will make you wish you had a drug dependency to fall back on as a crutch. All of the listed consequences can and will be used as threats by either parent to ensure the continued support of the child.
Additionally, the cult is perpetuated by the parent insisting on the need for grandchildren, which must be provided by the child as soon as it is of age to have children of it’s own. All of the above tactics will be applied to the child in turn in order to ensure that the cult of family continues into the next generation.
Editor’s note: 2017. I hate this entire flippant fucking post. If I hadn’t made a pact with myself not to delete shit off this fucking blog this would be fucking gone in an instant. I wrote it and I can’t even bring myself to read all the way through it. Chirpy, stupid, juvenile, simplistic, saccharine bullshit.
I think that pretty much covers it. I could go on and tell my old self just what I really think; you know, just not pull any punches, but I’m going to do this instead,
Polygamy was the norm in Carolyn Jessop’s life. After all, her own father had three wives by the time she was in fourth grade. Her family was part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a radical offshoot of the Mormon Church. But Jessop’s own experience in the cult was so disturbing that she ran away with her eight children four years ago. Last month, the FLDS was in the news when its leader, Warren Jeffs, was found guilty of being an accessory to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl in the group to marry her 19-year-old cousin. Jessop, 38, tells her extraordinary story in a riveting new book, Escape
As O’Shea tells it, Jones’s idealism was a large part of what made him so lethal. He tapped into the zeitgeist of the late 1960s and 1970s, feeding on people’s fears and promising to create a “rainbow family” where everyone would truly be equal. He was charismatic enough to lure hundreds of people to a South American jungle, where he cut off all their ties with the outside world.
If you have not heard of the Quiverfull movement, I’ll sum it up by saying that Quiverfull is an all-encompassing vision of a big, happy, godly family which affects every aspect of a so-called True Believer’s life. Probably the most recognizable Quiverfull family in America is reality TV’s Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting fame.
You’ll find Quiverfull families in nearly all types of churches in every community. Quiverfull is simply the “pro-life” idea that truly godly families will “trust the Lord” with their family planning. Children are viewed as unmitigated blessings (“As arrows in the hand of the mighty man, so are the children of ones youth, happy is the man who hath his quiver full of them:” Psalm 123), so couples are willing to have as many children as the Lord chooses. All methods of conception control are considered a lack of trust in God to provide for the “children of the righteous.”
At the heart of Quiverfull is patriarchy: the ideal of biblical headship and submission. This is the belief that by God’s perfect design, the father is the head of the home. The father serves as protector, provider and shepherd for his wife and children. He is primarily responsible for the wife’s and children’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and with such responsibility comes the (divinely granted) commensurate authority over the members of his household. According to this view, God works through the father and he serves as an intermediary for his wife and children. Honor, obedience and submission are highly valued qualities because they are necessary to maintain order and work together to accomplish the Lord’s vision for a godly family.
This emphasis on patriarchy guarantees that, to the degree in which a Christian family puts Quiverfull ideals into practice, the family is living a dysfunctional relationship dynamic which necessarily involves mental, emotional and spiritual abuse.
This was my life for over 16 years. Shunning birth control resulted in seven children, who we homeschooled and sheltered from “godless society.” But these days, I think Christian fundamentalism is just as bizarre as you do. After deconverting, I started a blog, No Longer Quivering, as a way to process my Quiverfull life and try to understand how I’d come to embrace such a fanatical lifestyle. Over time, NLQ has grown into a movement of women escaping and healing from spiritual abuse. I’ve met many people whose lives and families have been devastated by this ideology, and the stories they tell are heartbreaking.
You may well ask at this point, how many of these will you be posting examples from? I’m asking the same thing myself right now. I’m thinking, until I feel the guilt from ever having written this piece is at least evenly leavened. Given my tendency to self-abuse, that might be a good long while.
I remember when this happened pretty vividly, pretty much the same way I thought I remembered the events in Jonestown, Guyana. Thought I remembered them and still wrote this stupid fucking article.
The most damning thing about this particular post is this; I wrote it at the time with the knowledge that the circles I was moving in were highly correlated with all the warning signs of cult behavior, and I refused to acknowledge it. I did not want my beliefs to be challenged. I wanted so fervently to be proven right about everything libertarians had been saying since libertarianism was founded in the 70’s. But most of it is bullshit, has always been bullshit.
The parts that aren’t bullshit? They are irrelevant due to the nature of power and the political systems none of us like but are stuck with anyway. If only we could agree on where to go from where we are now, we could fix most of the broken shit in the current system tomorrow. Too bad everyone is too busy screaming with their ears plugged to notice that no one is listening anymore.
But the harder subject to broach is, the subject of dysfunctional families and their effect on the children of those families. Dysfunctional families like my family was. Mercifully our family never included the sexual side of abusive relationships, but pretty much everything short of that were things that simply did not work in my family when I was growing up. The fact that my family experiences were so bad combined with the fact that the philosophy and politics I had adopted were deeply delusional made for a perfect storm of bad information that made me believe that making fun of mental health workers trying to deal with real trauma would be amusing to anyone else aside from me. For that I do sincerely apologize.